By Carl and Roxane Hill
In this two-part article, Nigeria Crisis Response co-directors Carl and Roxane Hill introduce two leaders of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria): Rev. Mbode M. Ndirmbita, who serves as EYN vice president; and Rev. Ayuba, pastor of the EYN church in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.
Meeting EYN’s vice president
The vice president of EYN is a graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary. Mbode M. Ndirmbita graduated from Bethany in 2004 with a master of divinity degree. That year, those graduating with an M.Div were few in number. Two others graduated alongside Rev. Mbode: Paul Liepelt and Andrew Sampson.
It just so happens, I know both of these men, in one way or another. Andrew Sampson was pastor of Eel River Church of the Brethren in Indiana when I assisted him during the funeral of my father-in-law, Ralph Royer, in 2012. Paul Liepelt preceded me and my wife as a teacher at EYN’s Kulp Bible College in northeast Nigeria. It was there that Paul married his wife, Brandy. Officiating at the ceremony: Rev. Mbode.
Being Brethren has a tendency to make the world seem a little smaller.
When I interviewed Rev. Mbode a couple of weeks ago, the pronunciation of his name was one of the topics of our discussion. When I was first introduced to the vice president almost three years ago, I just couldn’t get my tongue and brain around the pronunciation of those first two consonants. I was told that you start with the “M” sound and quickly make the “B” sound before the “M” is completely finished. Then out comes the “O” and the “D” and the “E,” which also is pronounced with a long sound.
A few weeks ago this is where our conversation began. “What kind of name is Mbode?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “it’s like any name someone from America might have. I was named for my great uncle.” Then he told me the story.
“My great uncle was a very special man. Besides being my mother’s uncle he had quite a reputation. In the early days of life around the village of Chibok there were many wandering herdsmen. As farmers, we were always cautious about Fulani herdsmen. If there was ever any trouble in our area it was usually between the farmers and the herdsmen. Anyway, the herdsmen respected my great uncle. In fact, they were afraid of him. They would come close to his home just to watch him catch snakes. He could catch snakes with his bare hands. Everyone figured, if he could catch dangerous snakes with his bare hands he is someone to be feared and respected. His name, Mbode, means ‘snake’ or ‘snake catcher.’” When Rev. Mbode’s mother was pregnant with him, this uncle came and asked her, “If it is a boy, name him after me.”
However, the main reason I went to talk with Rev. Mbode was to learn what he knew about the Chibok girls who had been abducted last April by the Boko Haram. Someone told me that he had some information about the girls. It turns out that Rev. Mbode was not just raised in Chibok but spent some time there as pastor of one of the EYN churches. It was long enough ago that he didn’t just know the parents of the girls but the grandparents as well. This gained him direct access to lots of the news swirling around Chibok due to the disappearance of the 276 schoolgirls last year.
Rev. Mbode has access to the families of the escaped girls and he has been helping them find refuge away from most of the potential trouble that still exists in the Chibok area. EYN members who live in central Nigeria have been housing some of the escaped Chibok girls in their home. Based on the personal knowledge provided by Rev. Mbode, the couple are providing a stopover place for these girls before they are sent to the United States to continue their studies and find a safer place to live. Currently, there are 10 Chibok girls in the United States attending private boarding schools.
As vice president of EYN, Rev. Mbode is continuing his work as one of the main leaders of the church. The job is like many vice-presidential positions–he is counted on to provide support to the president. But besides lending his support to EYN’s president Dr. Samuel Dante Dali, he also organizes and encourages many of the larger church groups that were functioning before the violence altered the life of the church. When we talked, he was busy helping to organize the national ZME conference. ZME is the largest women’s ministry group of EYN. At the national level they were anticipating this year’s convention to be held at the site of the temporary EYN headquarters annex. Unlike most of the other groups that function in almost every church of EYN, the ZME is the only one that has remained self-sufficient. Their conference will meet and conduct business with no outside financial help.
Vice president Mbode also is responsible for organizing other national conventions. At this critical time he is putting many of the groups back together. He is organizing the men’s ministry, the boys’ and girls’ brigades, the national youth convention, and many others despite the horrific devastation experienced by 80 percent of the churches throughout the denomination. Because of dedicated and trained men like Rev. Mbode, EYN is beginning to pick up the pieces, help the denomination stay together, and move forward even during this challenging time.
Meeting the Lagos pastor
“Who is this EYN church?” This is the question people in Lagos have been asking. Lagos is the major city in southwestern Nigeria. It is about 1,000 miles from the original EYN headquarters and takes more than 20 hours to reach by car.
In January, Rev. Ayuba, pastor at the EYN church in Lagos, coordinated the distribution of over $10,000 in relief aid. The money came from a local NGO to help the IDPs (internally displaced people) in the Lagos area. The combined effort reached people of all denominations and all faiths. The congregation was able to give assistance to everyone.
The excellence of the effort got people’s attention in the Lagos area. To those interested, Rev. Ayuba gave the history of EYN and directed them to the website.
Many local people were investigating the EYN church and sought to become involved. But the Lagos church is mainly made up of transplanted people from the northeast, and services are conducted in Hausa, which is not spoken in the south. Rev. Ayuba lamented, “If only we could reach them in their Yoruba tongue, then we could spread the good news and share our message of peace.”
Let’s join Rev. Ayuba and the Lagos church as they pray that God will provide someone to bring the gospel message of peace to the Yoruba people in southern Nigeria.
— Carl and Roxane Hill are co-directors of the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren, in cooperation 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 .