A Newsline Special in Honor of the Chibok Girls

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26a).

Artwork by Brian Meyer

1) Remembering the Chibok girls, one year later
2) Endless horror: Stories from the parents of the Chibok girls
3) Tales of escape: Bible college student interviews displaced Nigerians
4) Spiritual resources to remember and honor the Chibok girls
5) Office of Public Witness offers webinar on Nigeria conflict and the environment


TO READERS: This issue of Newsline is published in honor of the schoolgirls abducted from Chibok one year ago today. Most of the Nigerians who are quoted or interviewed in this issue of Newsline are not identified by their full names because of continuing security concerns.


1) Remembering the Chibok girls, one year later

By Carl Hill

With the one-year anniversary of the abduction of Nigeria’s Chibok girls, many are wondering, “Where are the girls now?” This is a great question and one for which there is no definitive answer at this time.

Last April 14, the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their secondary boarding school in the remote village of Chibok. This evil work made international news. The cry of outrage went out far and wide, “Bring back our girls!”

Most people, including political figures, entertainers, and the media were up in arms that innocent school girls were carried off in the dead of night, reportedly to serve as “wives” and concubines (an Old Testament word for a kept woman) to these blood-thirsty extremists of northeast Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the worldwide attention died down quickly as the media focus shifted to other spectacular stories like the ISIS barbarity in Syria and Iraq, and the murderous rampage of religious extremists in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters. For a year now there has been little or no news about the fate of the Chibok girls.

Some of the only reports have come from the 57 girls that have managed to escape from the clutches of Boko Haram. Even these stories are mainly about how these lucky ones were able to slip away from their captors.

There is little accurate information available as to where the girls have been held and what they have been forced to endure while in the clutches of these men. One can only guess at the conditions and degrading activities these young girls had to face.

Recently the Nigerian military along with soldiers from Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, have been making military progress against the insurgents, and many areas once held by Boko Haram have been regained. Many of the Boko Haram have been killed, captured, or driven off in the last six weeks that led up to Nigeria’s presidential elections. Observers have seen this concerted push by the military as the last-ditch effort of President Goodluck Jonathan to retain his office. Perhaps it was too little, too late. Jonathan lost last month’s election, leaving the security of the northeast, the continued existence of Boko Haram, and the fate and whereabouts of most of the Chibok girls unknown.

Church of the Brethren staff wear t-shirts for the Chibok girls on April 14, 2015, the one-year anniversary of the abduction. The shirts say, “CHIBOK 365 days + Leave NO Child Out of School.” The shirts were provided by EYN members who have begun an NGO dedicated to educating Nigerian children who have been displaced by violence.

A member of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) who has had a leading role in aiding Chibok girls who escaped, said in a telephone interview: “We feel depressed. No one is doing anything to relieve the anxiety felt by the parents of these girls. All we can do is continue to pray for them. Rumors are many here in Nigeria. Have the girls been killed? It could be a reality but not one we want to face just yet. We will hold out hope until there is nothing to hold on to. Until that time we will pray for a miracle.”

[Author’s note: It was reported in Newsline on March 31, 2015, that an escaped Chibok girl named Hauwa did not know if her parents were alive or dead. EYN members have spoken to her parents and they are alive and well.]

— Carl Hill is co-director of the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren, along with his wife, Roxane Hill. For more information about the Nigeria Crisis Response, a cooperative effort with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .

2) Endless horror: Stories from the parents of the Chibok girls

By Rebecca Dali

Photo courtesy of CCEPI
A Chibok mother still waiting for her daughter. The suitcase is full of her daughter’s clothes and shoes, ready for her return.

The following report from a visit to Chibok is provided by Dr. Rebecca Dali, founder of CCEPI, the Center for Compassionate Empowerment and Peace Initiative–an NGO that has been providing care for Nigerians affected by violence including parents of the girls abducted from Chibok. Dali is the wife of EYN president Samuel Dali. Last week she met with parents and other family members of some of the abducted girls who are still missing, accompanied by other CCEPI staff and security personnel. CCEPI also took relief materials and letters of support from American Brethren to the Chibok parents:

“April 14 was a horrible day,” said Hanatu. “Boko Haram came around 12 midnight, forcing us at gun point to follow their orders. We cried, they battered us, we ran, they shot us, we begged them to spare our lives, they told us our lives are in their hands, we told them we are writing our exams, they told us that we do not need education. We cannot hide inside our rooms, because they set our school hostel ablaze.”

Chibok girls were forced to unknown destinations, where they had no freedom of religion, 95 percent of them were hindered from studying their Bible and singing praises unto Jesus Christ the Son of God, [forced] to reciting a foreign creed. They went from sleeping, cooking, and eating in secure homes to a place of ostracism where the future has been murky for a year.

My sixth visit to Chibok from April 8-10, 2015, was a very risky journey, but I decided to go and deliver letters from the Church of the Brethren congregations in America and express how brothers and sisters from the Church of the Brethren love, care, and have great concern for the abducted Chibok girls’ parents. A lot of people from other churches and other individuals’ hearts ache for them as well.

The aim of my visit was to make my observations about what is going on with the parents after losing their daughters for a year, as well as listening to their stories.

In Chibok I saw few parents of the abducted, mostly women and children and the elderly. The majority of the men are sleeping in the bush overnight. Few people are moving in the town, and the atmosphere is still tense. The men were security conscience because Chibok and surrounding villages have been constantly under attack by Boko Haram. Many parents of the abducted girls were killed and more than 400 other people were killed. Their houses and property worth millions of Naira, and worship places, were burnt. They look angry, confused, and fearful.

Photo courtesy of CCEPI
CCEPI delivers relief goods to Chibok families who lost daughters in the abduction of schoolgirls on April 14, 2014.

In Chibok, children are confined in their homes. I did not see many children on the streets of Chibok. I visited parents of the abducted girls, and there I saw children. They were not free, joyful, nor playful. In Chibok the children were sad, despairing, and sorrowful, still mourning their abducted sisters. Some of the children are not healthy, some were injured during the attack. One of the parents, Thlur, told me that one of her eight-year-old son’s limb was cut.

One of the parents, the mother of Naomi, sustained injuries and the Boko Haram cut her leg in Kwada village.

During my interviews I observed most of them are not getting enough nutritional food and lack basic things of life. Most of their health clinics were set ablaze, and there are no medical doctors, good medicines, or medical services. The Nigerian government is giving them some relief material but it is not enough to feed their families. They depend on humanitarian assistance but no NGO is aiding them–only CCEPI, which is not constant and is like a drop of water in a problem like a sea.

Pindar said, “My daughter Maimuna loved to study, she wanted to be a medical doctor. Whenever I was sick she took care of me, comforted me, and affirmed to me that when she becomes a doctor she will help. Now I am left alone suffering and mourning, no Maimuna, no food, no shelter, and nothing.”

Rachel told me that she sees no reason of staying alive without her daughter Deborah.

Hanatu, who lost two of her daughters–Ladi and Mary Paul–blames the Nigerian government for insecurity, corruption, and a lack of dignifying human beings. She wants her girls back immediately.

Riftatu is the only daughter to Yana, and she has been abducted. Both parents could not speak because of emotion.

Photo courtesy of CCEPI
EYN’s Rebecca Dali (at right) traveled to Chibok in April 2015 to meet with parents of girls who were abducted by Boko Haram one year earlier. Shown here, she comforts two of the Chibok parents.

I can go on and on. The odious stories are so much. More than 35 percent of the parents are no longer in Chibok. Some are in Internally Displaced Persons camps in Abuja, Maiduguri, etc. Some went to Kaduna, Lagos, Gombe, etc. to look for livelihood because in Chibok their farms have been destroyed. They will not go to farm because they are still surrounded by Boko Haram. They could not do business, since nothing is moving and the road leading to Chibok is very dangerous.

There was a heavy presence of military in Chibok, and we were stopped at checkpoints. There were a lot of vigilante groups, some members might not have reached 18 years. They barricaded the Government Girls Secondary School with no snapshots allowed near the sign boards and the gates are locked. Movement of persons and public gathering is restricted. We spent hours seeking permissions from the soldiers. They are skeptical of new faces. We heard sounds of heavy bombing and saw mounted armory. The Damboa Local Government was destroyed, it was just 30 minutes drive from Chibok. We spent the night in Damboa Army Camp because they told us it was not save to travel.

Destruction of infrastructure by the members of Boko Haram in villages surrounding Chibok affected houses, clinics, and school buildings. People made temporary roofs with thatch. Some are still building with mud. There is water scarcity.

CCEPI went with Nigerian Television Authority to anchor the visit, and a Swedish journalist took her own stories. All will be aired, and I hope the world will come to their aid. The parents have never heard anything about their daughters. The government keeps promising but up to now they did not hear anything.

There are a lot of stories from some who escaped from Boko Haram that they saw the Chibok girls. Some are saying maybe Boko Haram killed them while in Gwoza. We pray they are still alive and will be back soon.

Thank you Church of the Brethren members for your generous offerings. Without you CCEPI could not give relief and humanitarian assistance to Chibok. God bless each and every one of you.

— Rebecca Samuel Dali, Ph.D, is executive director of CCEPI, the Center for Compassionate Empowerment and Peace Initiative. CCEPI is one of the Nigerian NGOs that are working in the Nigeria Crisis Response along with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and the Church of the Brethren.

3) Tales of escape: Bible college student interviews displaced Nigerians

By Carl Hill

Joshua on the run

Our newest Nigerian correspondent, Joshua, is a fourth year student at Kulp Bible College. Like many others who lived in Nigeria’s northeast he is living as a displaced person. When my wife and I went and visited Nigeria in Nov. 2104, Joshua looked much thinner than the last time we had seen him. His eyes lacked the spark we had come to know from him. We tried to encourage him and spend some quality time with him. Now, just three months later when we returned to Nigeria, Joshua had regained his healthy glow and seemed to have made a considerable adjustment to his circumstances.

Joshua is now living with the family of his older sister. But like many displaced people, he was idle. So, to give him something worthwhile to do we asked him if he could interview some other displaced people and write up some stories about his fellow countrymen and women. Here are stories of people he encountered:

Felix

Felix ran all the way from Mubi to Cameroon on foot. It took him three days and nights. He was a student of Federal Polytechnic School in Mubi. He is Fali by tribe. After the three-day journey, he had a very tough time finding food, accommodations, health care, and clothing. He stayed in Cameroon for one week. That week was one of the worst weeks of his life. He said, “I decided to die rather than to go through all those tribulations.” He then decided to turn back to Nigeria. He spent another four days and three nights this time before he could get to Yola. He arrived in Yola with only one set of clothes, and some people helped him with clean clothes and food to eat. He was in Yola for another 48 hours until his brother sent transportation money for him to travel to where he is now living.

Esther

Esther was living in Dille when the Boko Haram attacked the town. She was ill and could not run with the others. This resulted in a flying bullet hitting her right hand. At first she did not know she had been injured, but when she found herself in the neighboring village of Lassa, people asked her, “What happened with your hand?” Then she started feeling the pain and suddenly started crying. Some of God’s willing people helped her by taking her to the hospital where she got treatment. From Lassa she fled to Mubi then to Yola and Bauchi before she got help and has found a place to stay in another town.

Mercy

Mercy was studying at a college of business in Kunduga, a town about 35 kilometers from Maiduguri. The Boko Haram attacked this town and she was wounded while she tried to escape. She spent a month and three days at a hospital. After the doctor discharged her she went to her home town of Chibok. However, the Boko Haram attacked Chibok again and she barely escaped  to Maiduguri. There was no one in Maiduguri who could offer her help so now she is living with her sister. Mercy’s sister is married to a Nigerian soldier who is also from the Northeast. They are responsible for many of his sisters and brothers and have 10 people living with them. Life is not easy; feeding, clothing, and educating all these people is a huge problem on their modest income.

— Carl Hill is co-director of the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren, along with his wife, Roxane Hill. The crisis response is a cooperative effort with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). For more information go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .

4) Spiritual resources to remember and honor the Chibok girls

The following resources for worship and individual meditation on the one-year anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls were prepared by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship for the Church of the Brethren:

Service of Lament for the Chibok Girls
A Liturgy for Private Prayer

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, whose resurrection we have celebrated, we stand once again in the shadow of death. While we trust in your life everlasting, we cannot but mourn the loss of your children by the violent hands of others. Wipe our tears with your compassionate love, a love that both suffered and yet lives, so that we may be a people who hope in you.

Light a small candle as a sign of this time of prayer.

Read aloud Isaiah 25:1-8:
O Lord, you are my God;
   I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
   plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
   the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
   it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
   cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
   a refuge to the needy in their distress,
   a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
   the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
   the song of the ruthless was stilled.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken.

Spend time in silent reflection and prayer.

Closing prayer, adapted from “For All Who Minister,” 432:
O God, you are present here and with our sisters and brothers in Nigeria, and sit beside each one who mourns.
When a hand touches another,
or arms meet arms,
or eyes look deeply into other eyes,
or words are spoken,
you are both here and there–
in a handshake,
an embrace,
a gaze,
a voice.

You are with us, even if we are not sure,
for nothing can separate us from you and your love.
It is a time of questions, a time of tears.
Help us to feel your presence.
Accept our thoughts and feelings, no matter what they are.
Help us to accept our thoughts and feelings no matter what they are.
Grant us the peace
that knows there is hope on the other side of crying and separation.
Give us your love
as we hold up these young ones to you (or insert the name of one of the kidnapped girls).
Bless their families (her family) and give to them strength and peace.
Amen.

Extinguish the candle.

Words of assurance from Romans 8:38:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

Service of Lament for the Chibok Girls
A Time for Worship Together as People of Faith

Notes about preparation for this service: Gather a number of small stones to be arranged on a worship center, surrounding a single candle. You will need to have enough stones to share one with each person present.

Words for gathering hearts and minds:
Sisters and brothers, we come together without knowing how to pray in the face of such violence and uncertainty, but we are reminded that the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). So, then, let us pray together.

Hymn of prayer: “Stay with Me,” 242 in “Hymnal: A Worship Book”

A reading from the Gospel: John 11:17-38a
“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’”

Meditation
We know the story of Lazarus well, for it is a story that foreshadows the very death and resurrection of Jesus. John, in his masterful way, weaves together a story of great grief and hope, bringing the reader along with Jesus to the tomb. Just a few verses before our reading, the disciples warned Jesus that many were waiting for him, ready to stone him. And when Jesus comes to the tomb, his first words were to command that the stone be rolled away. In just a few sentences, John symbolizes both life and death with these stones–ones meant to kill and one meant to reveal new life.

Yet we are like Mary, running to Jesus and collapsing in our grief. We come, asking why such things could happen. Asking how God could lets such precious ones be lost.

So we are stuck in this middle place between loss and hope.

In this past year, we have prayed for the girls of Chibok. If we are part of a congregation that received the name of a girl to pray for, we have especially poured out prayers for that one girl by name. We have written letters. We have searched the news from Nigeria for any sign of hope. And we have waited, longing for their return. Now, with the Chibok girls’ families, we are hoping for word that violence has not taken them once again.

As we sing the simple refrain of “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Give Us Peace,” come forward to take a stone from the worship center as a sign of our continuing hope in resurrection. With this stone, remember that one day, all stones will be rolled away and we all will be restored to life everlasting.

Song of prayer: “Dona Nobis Pacem,” 294 in “Hymnal: A Worship Book”

Each person may come forward to prayerfully take a stone from the worship center. Repeat the song until all have been seated.

Pastoral prayer, 414-415 in “For All Who Minister”:
Lord Jesus, you grieved when you heard of the death of your good friend, Lazarus. We find strength in your promise that you will not leave your people comfortless, but will come to them. Comfort those who grieve. Reveal yourself to those who, this day, feel the burden of their loss. Cause them to hear in new ways the truth of your promise that we are not to be troubled, for you have a place for each of us and will call us to be with you. Help all of us to find true strength in you–those who have a short distance yet to go in life’s journey and those who may have a long time to experience the fullness of life. Give us grace to turn to you in full discernment, that the strength we have in you may bless our pilgrim days and be a blessing to others around us.

O Lord, you are willing to receive and answer simple prayers. Be especially with the Chibok girls’ families and the family of (Chibok girl’s name). Give them an unusual measure of comfort and inner peace. Send good memories to temper their loneliness. And gird us all with the support of the church as an earthly manifestation of your divine love and care. Amen.

Closing blessing, 433 in “For All Who Minister”:
May the love of God be above you to overshadow you,
beneath you to uphold you,
before you to guide you,
behind you to protect you,
close beside you and within you to make you able for all things, and to reward both your faith and your faithfulness with a joy and a peace that the world cannot give, neither can it take away.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory in your lives now and forever. Amen.

— “For All Who Minister” is a minister’s manual published by Brethren Press. “Hymnal: A Worship Book” is a hymnal published jointly by Brethren Press and MennoMedia. For more information about these resources go to www.BrethrenPress.com .

5) Office of Public Witness offers webinar on Nigeria conflict and the environment

By Katie Furrow

A webinar on “Nigeria: Conflict and the Environment” is offered on Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. (eastern time). While there are many causes for crisis in Nigeria, natural resources–both plentiful and scarce–contribute to the ongoing situation. From oil in the south to the rapidly expanding desert in the north, many layers of the conflict connect to the environment. This webinar will consider these issues as well as our relationship to them.

As a nation, our consumption of goods is leading to ever-increasing strain on our global resources, causing harm to our environment, and is promoting conflicts in parts of the world that have limited resources. The reality of these impacts can be witnessed in the current Nigerian conflict. Join the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness as we discuss the environmental impacts of our actions on our world and our global neighbors in the context of the crisis in Nigeria, as well as how we think theologically about this.

During this second webinar of the Going to the Garden spring series, we will focus on ways to live out the call to love our neighbors through our choices that affect all of creation. To register for this webinar, please visit: http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=EB57D886854C3D  . Any questions can be directed to kfurrow@brethren.org .

Presenters:

Kate Edelen is a research associate at the Friends Committee on National Legislation where she conducts research and analysis at the nexus of peacebuilding, environment, and counterterrorism policy, with special focus on Africa. Previously, Edelen was a Fulbright Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway where she conducted research on the relationship between political violence and climatologically affected water resources in South Asia. She holds an M.Sc. degree in Water Science, Policy, and Management from the University of Oxford.

Nathan Hosler is director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and is a minister at Washington City Church of the Brethren. Previously he worked with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) for two years teaching peacebuilding theology and practice.

— Katie Furrow is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving at the Office of Public Witness.


Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Josh Brockway, Rebecca Dali, Katie Furrow, Kendra Harbeck, Carl and Roxane Hill, Roy Winter, Jay Wittmeyer, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. The next regularly scheduled issue of Newsline is set for April 21. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at cobnews@brethren.org . Newsline appears every week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source.