By Carl Hill
Samuel Dante Dali, president of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), addressed the nation of Nigeria from the capital city of Abuja as part of a national Christmas celebration. Dr. Dali spoke to the country in a televised address on Sunday, Dec. 13, from the National Christian Center. The theme of his presentation was, “We Thank Thee, O Lord.”
Following is a summary of the televised speech. Dr. Dali has attended Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., and holds a doctorate from the University of Birmingham in England. This past summer he and his wife Rebecca Dali visited the United States with an EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir and other members of EYN, and attended the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Tampa, Fla. He continues to be grateful to Church of the Brethren for all that the American Brethren are doing for Nigeria and the church there.
A summary of the EYN president’s speech
During his talk, Dr. Dali recounted the loss suffered by EYN during the past several years at the hands of Boko Haram. More than 1,600 EYN churches have been destroyed or abandoned, more than 8,000 EYN members have lost their lives, and countless women and girls as well as men and boys have been kidnapped, including the schoolgirls from Chibok.
Dr. Dali said that all these things that have happened have greatly impacted life in northeast Nigeria. But he said he did not intend just to dwell on the misfortune of the church and the people he leads. Instead, Dr. Dali said the real reason he wanted to speak before all the people of Nigeria is to thank God.
After all, he said, it is Christmas, a time to celebrate the birth of Christ into this world. As part of his personal celebration for the season, Dr. Dali focused on four common events that capture the significance of the Christmas celebration: Christmas as a social event, Christmas as a commercial event, a Christmas message to political leaders, and Christmas and the message of salvation for the world.
Christmas as a Social Event: The Christmas season is a time for family and good friends to be together. We know this tradition in the United States and we can come to understand the commonality we share with Nigerians, which, for them, includes the exchange of gifts. Because of the wonderful feelings that go along with the social aspects of Christmas, Dr. Dali said, “We thank thee, O Lord.”
Christmas as a Commercial Event: Next, Dr. Dali recounted the fact that Christmastime is a commercial event. The world, he said, took its cue from the wise men who came to pay tribute to the new King. They brought expensive gifts, and this tradition is followed all over the world at this time of year. He used the United States as an example of the commercial aspects of Christmas–we will spend more than $3.5 billion this year on Christmas! But, he pointed out if we are really to honor the Messiah and become part of the Kingdom of God we must share our wealth with the poor and needy. He said one way the rich can thank God is to remember the poor and needy and come to their aid.
A Message to Political Leaders: Dr. Dali reminded his listeners that Christmas is the celebration of God sending his son into the world. The first to hear the message were the political rulers of Judah back in the seventh century BCE. When King Ahaz and his kingdom were threatened by a huge Assyrian invasion force, he was ready to give up. But the prophet Isaiah appeared and gave him a message of hope. Even today those words are part of many Christmas celebrations: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Dali reminded the rulers of today that no human can take the place of God. The only answer to the political turmoil faced by Nigeria–or any nation–comes through Jesus Christ, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Dali acknowledged the mistakes that have been made by his government in the past, but despite these errors he praised God that many are still counted among the living. For that he said, “We thank thee, O Lord.”
Salvation for the World: Lastly, Dali emphasized the coming of Jesus as God’s method of saving all creation from the ravages brought on by sin. Christmas is the celebration of God’s saving love, God’s gift of salvation, and God’s presence with us in all our life experiences. When Christ came into the world 2,000 years ago, the world was characterized by ignorance, superstition, greed, hatred, and hypocrisy. Purity was a forgotten value and morality was neglected. People had no thoughts of God, and lived their lives as they thought best. The human condition has not changed in all the passing years. Men and women everywhere need the transforming presence and influence of Jesus in their lives. There can be no “peace” on earth or real “joy” in human hearts apart from the Spirit of Jesus Christ living in them. And only Christ can transform the human heart, and free us from corruption, so that we become morally just and peace loving people. In conclusion, Dr. Dali again praised God and said, “We thank Thee, O Lord,” wishing all a happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.
–– Carl and Roxane Hill are co-directors of the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren, acooperative effort with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). For more about the Nigeria Crisis Response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .