The world has followed the tragic abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. Yet that tragedy is just one incident in an increasingly bloody attempt by Boko Haram insurgents to make northeast Nigeria into an Islamic caliphate.
Caught in the middle is Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), the largest Christian denomination in the area of northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram is taking territory. This year EYN has seen many of its churches and congregations destroyed, as thousands of church members have been killed and pastors and their families have been among the hundreds more abducted since the Chibok schoolgirls were taken. Most of the schoolgirls were from EYN. Estimates are that more than 90,000 EYN church members have been displaced by the fighting this year.
Now the situation of EYN is dire as its headquarters property and Kulp Bible College have been taken by Boko Haram. The attack on the headquarters on Oct. 29 occurred as Boko Haram fighters were on their way to attack and take the nearby city of Mubi, near the Cameroon border.
People living at the EYN headquarters fled for their lives, including families of denominational staff and Bible college students. It is believed most of those at the EYN headquarters escaped alive, but many people in Mubi and surrounding villages were killed and others are now trapped in the control of Boko Haram.
The EYN staff is now displaced, and the church leadership is working to regroup. They are faced with the prospect of having to rebuild church offices and relocate staff and their families, at the same time the church continues to aid thousands of members who have been displaced. In addition, hundreds of pastors who were serving churches in the conflict zone also are displaced without jobs or means to provide for families. These are crucial issues for the church’s survival.
EYN president Samuel Dante Dali is calling for urgent help from the international community for the people affected by violence in northeast Nigeria. In a letter he sent to the Church of the Brethren in the US this weekend, he also called for the Nigerian government to give serious attention to the suffering of the people.
“We need urgent help from the international community if the global community can have compassion on us,” he wrote in the e-mail letter. “The future of Nigeria is getting darker and darker day by day but, Nigerian political leadership do not seem to take the suffering of the people very seriously. The government of Nigeria with all its security seems very weak and helpless in handling the crisis.” (See the full text of his letter below.)
“Our hearts are broken about what’s happening in Nigeria,” said Stanley J. Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren. “However, we’re not so overwhelmed by this horror that we have become inactive. We are making a bold response. The board of the Church of the Brethren has committed up to $1.5 million to a new relief effort in Nigeria, working in cooperation with EYN.”
The American church also is beginning a more concerted advocacy effort to bring international attention to the crisis in northeast Nigeria. The effort encourages nonviolent solutions, such as an international effort to cut off Boko Haram’s weaponry and funding, and humanitarian aid for the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who are internally displaced or are refugees in Cameroon and Niger. The Church of the Brethren calls for international pressure on the Nigerian government to better serve its people–those who have lost loved ones in the conflict, orphans, women who have been brutalized, men who have lost jobs and the means to support their families, those living in camps or sheltering with extended family elsewhere without the means for basic necessities of food, shelter, and medical care.
The relief work that the Church of the Brethren is helping to carry out with EYN already has begun, including providing food and supplies to the displaced, and building temporary shelters at “care centers” in safer locations in central Nigeria, among other priorities that now include the relocation of the EYN offices and staff.
In 1923, Church of the Brethren members from the United States began the mission effort that led to the emergence of EYN as an indigenous African Christian church that–up until recent destruction wrought by the insurgency–was estimated to have an attendance of close to 1 million in Nigeria, and has mission efforts in neighboring countries.
For more information about Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria and the Church of the Brethren mission in Nigeria, go to www.brethren.org/nigeria .
Letter from The Rev. Dr. Samuel Dante Dali
President, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, let me on behalf of the entire membership of EYN Church of the Brethren in Nigeria thank you for your concern and prayers. It is very comforting to us to hear that many brothers and sisters in the body of Christ are praying with us.
Indeed, the suffering of the communities of the northeast Nigeria where EYN is predominant is getting unbearable with the recent attack on Michika, Uba town, EYN headquarters, and Mubi town. Families have been separated as they run in different directions. Some are yet to know where their wife or children are. Others are crowded into Yola town, the capital city of the state.
Mostly these people are sleeping in open air with a little or nothing to eat. However, with the generous and compassionate help from the Church of the Brethren in the United States we have been able to assist many of the families and pastors through the leadership of the District Church Councils in Yola. While we continue trying to distribute the materials needed our Relief Committee are now refuges themselves all scattered in different directions.
Now, all the villages and towns from Bama, Gwoza, Madagali, Gulak, Michika, Baza, Uba, EYN headquarters, and Mubi town are under the control of the BH [Boko Haram]. Most of the able communities in these areas are living as refugees scattered in different parts of northern Nigeria.
Also, it is very difficult to know how many have been killed, kidnapped, and no one knows what is happening with our properties at headquarters. We have cried emotionally and to God for help but the situation is still helpless.
The future of Nigeria is getting darker and darker day by day but, Nigerian political leadership do not seem to take the suffering of the people very seriously. The government of Nigeria with all its security seems very weak and helpless in handling the crisis.
I think we need urgent help from the international community if the global community can have compassion on us.
I am writing this mail from Jos where I am at present trying to prepare temporary offices where the [EYN] leadership can provide skeletal service. All the pastors and the District Secretaries are now asking me to find a place where they can relocate their families and I do not know how to handle this serous request.
So, please, continue to pray for the leadership of EYN, members, and the entire communities of northeastern Nigeria. Thank you so much again.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Dali