By Bob Krouse
Following the closing worship service of the 229th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, in Tampa, Fla., there was a second gathering of Brethren at Camp Ithiel in Atlantic Southeast District. The EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir and a number of other guests from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) stayed at the camp for a time of rest and recovery following a demanding tour that took them to Church of the Brethren congregations across the United States.
My wife and I lived and served in Nigeria in the 1980s and then again from 2004-06. We now live in Florida and were delighted to spend some extra time with our Nigerian brothers and sisters. The years we spent in Nigeria were brief compared to other missionaries who spent most of their lives there. Nevertheless, we have a deep affection for the people and culture of Nigeria.
When our plane touched down in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, nearly 20 years after our earlier time of service there, it felt remarkably like returning home. The fragrant scents of charcoal fires, kerosene lamps, and the reddish dust of Nigerian earth conjured up vivid memories and emotions. On our return to Nigeria we sensed the familiar fragrance of home.
The gathering of Nigerian and US Brethren at Camp Ithiel provided a similar sense of coming home. Following the closing worship service of Annual Conference, the Nigerian group headed to the camp about two hours away, and prepared for their final concert of the tour which took place later that evening.
When they arrived at the camp they discovered that their drums and other instruments were in another vehicle that was on its way to Lancaster, Pa. No worries. The concert went off without a hitch with the help of a couple of trash cans as drums, a set of bongos, and a beaded shaker from the office of camp director Mike Neff. The dining hall at Camp Ithiel has seldom been livelier.
The following morning was set aside for conversation. The day began with impromptu conversations, followed by an open conversation moderated by John Mueller, district executive of Atlantic Southeast District. For nearly three hours, the little white chapel at Camp Ithiel buzzed with conversation. Nigerian guests shared stories of tragedy and triumph, thanksgiving and praise. They were generous in their appreciation for the financial aid and prayer support offered by US Brethren.
When the conversation concluded, the group prepared to celebrate love feast. Brethren from Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Nigeria gathered in the dining hall for the love feast meal, then returned to the chapel for feetwashing and the bread and the cup of communion. The Nigerians significantly outnumbered the Americans, like at that first Brethren worship service in Garkida, Nigeria, in 1923.
A bronze plague has been placed under the Tamarind tree where that first gathering in Nigeria took place, inscribed with the scripture lesson mission founder Stover Kulp read that day: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
That was the essence of the love feast service at Camp Ithiel–members of the family of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as cornerstone. Mixed among the Nigerians were former missionaries, Brethren Volunteer Service workers, Global Mission and Service staff, and people who have never set foot in Nigeria. I was amazed to discover that one of the Nigerians had visited our home when he was just a boy, when we lived in the Nigeria in the 1980s. I still have the picture I took of him 30 years ago, when he and several other boys were sitting on our front porch.
When we gathered that afternoon for love feast, we thought we had come together as strangers. We were reminded once again that in Christ Jesus we are no longer strangers but members of the same family. Our family may be scattered in many placed around the globe, but when we come together as the family of God, it feels very much like we have come home.
— Bob Krouse is project director of the Gathering, a church planting project of Atlantic Southeast District, and a former moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference.