By Frances Townsend
Much of Monday afternoon’s business session was devoted to the crisis of sister church in Nigeria, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). EYN has been facing the assault of violent extremist Islamist group Boko Haram.
The EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir began the presentation with a song about children and parents. Although written to teach families, it also describes some of the spiritual and relational aspects of the connection between EYN and the Church of the Brethren. Translated, part of the song goes, “We thank and glorify Jesus because he gave us children. We did not buy them with money but they are a gift from heaven.” Among the many verses was an admonition to children: “We, your parents suffered to bring you up. We brought you up to support and help us.”
The relationship of the American church with the church in Nigeria is no longer that of mother and child, but it is a God-given family bond, calling us to respond in this time of need.
Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service, outlined the longterm plans to support the Nigerian church. He described the preparation the Brethren received to deal with an extensive crisis as the church worked in Haiti following hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake, doing everything from building homes to feeding people.
Samuel Dali, president of EYN, came to the podium to describe the depth of the crisis and to express thanks for the strong support of the American church. He described how the area in which Boko Haram is active is the same part of Nigeria where EYN has been established. He said that 1,674 churches have been burned, more than 8,000 church members murdered by Boko Haram, and almost 1,400 pastors displaced from their homes without churches to serve and without incomes.
Dali shared many thanks for the support from the Church of the Brethren, and especially the support of particular individuals. He was grateful to Wittmeyer, to general secretary Stanley Noffsinger, to Roy Winter of Brethren Disaster Ministries, and to other volunteers who traveled to Nigeria when it was not safe. He spoke of receiving telephone calls offering help, more help than he would have asked for–not only money but expertise in emergency planning. All of this came from the church at a time when he said the international community was saying that the “problem” in Nigeria was too small to bother with.
He said of the American Brethren: “You came and strengthened our hope to live. You came and wiped our eyes to see a clearer and better future…. We believe the future of the church will be better than before.”
Rebecca Gadzama also was invited to tell her story to the delegate body. She has been working to bring to safety the Chibok schoolgirls who have manage to escape their captors. Several of the girls are now in the United States attending school. It is hoped that more of them will receive that opportunity in the future.
Wittmeyer presented financial information about what has been spent so far on the Nigeria Crisis Response, and what is planned for the next five years. As of the end of June, over $1.9 million has been spent, and in the next five years, the projected budget to fund the work in Nigeria is over $11 million.
As part of this special report on Nigeria, the delegates also viewed a video by David Sollenberger, and prayer in the presence of a “Wall of Healing” naming more than 10,000 Nigerian Brethren who have been killed by Boko Haram or who have lost their lives as a result of terrorism and violence. It was a strong visual reminder of the crisis, with 17 posters, each about 6 feet high, unrolled and displayed, covered with names.
The 10,000 names were researched and recorded by Rebecca Dali and her nonprofit organization CCEPI, which has interviewed survivors and family members of those killed since 2008. The “Wall of Healing” features names, along with home village or town, and the date they were killed. For some victims, additional information is given, such as the man who was killed after he refused to save his life by recanting his Christian faith and converting to Islam.
This summer the violence and the grip of Boko Haram has lessened in some areas of Nigeria, but it continues in other places. Many hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced, living far from their homes, jobs, and churches. The need for aid, for rebuilding, and for healing from trauma will continue for some time to come, as will the need for prayer.
— Frances Townsend is a member of the volunteer news team for Annual Conference, and pastors Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren.