Volunteer Observes a Trauma Healing Workshop in Nigeria

Church of the Brethren volunteer Jim Mitchell (at front left) attends one of the Trauma Healing Workshops being offered in Nigeria through the Nigeria Crisis Response effort of EYN and the Church of the Brethren, along with other partner organizations.

By Jim Mitchell

The Trauma Healing Workshop is held at a displacement camp that is filled with EYN members from the northeast area of Nigeria where the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency has done much of its terror, killing, and destruction. EYN stands for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

The people who are here speak mostly Hausa and a few are not literate. When we start, 21 persons show up–10 men and 12 women, three with babies. The three facilitators are Dlama K.*, Peace Project Officer for EYN; Suzan M., director of EYN’s Women’s Ministry; and Rhoda N. My presence is to observe the process so that I can begin to participate as a facilitator.

Day One is as follows: song and prayer, devotional/Word of God, opening and introduction, group guidelines and norms, Johari’s Window, understanding and defining trauma, morning tea break, causes of trauma, symptoms of trauma reactions, reflection: discussion groups, gathering: Name Game, consequences of trauma, lunch, Web of Healing, reflection: discussion groups, conclusion, evaluation of the day

Beyond observing the process and how the facilitators engage and interact with the participants, I find myself becoming a prayerful presence, calling upon God’s presence to fill the hall, for Jesus to be with the facilitators, and for the Holy Spirit to grace the participants that they are able to open their minds, hearts, and souls to what is being offering them for healing, reconciliation, peace, and new life.

Several of them had expressed that they didn’t want to come, but attended at the encouraging of others who are here.

For the discussion groups, there are four groups and they have assignments to write down on flip chart paper responses to the question and bring back their responses. This they do with conviction and a growing sense of ownership for the healing process. This is exciting to see and experience. There are times I look around upon the faces and at the body language of the participants, and throughout the day see more and more individuals open up and share a new sense of hope and promise of something happening in them, because of the presentations and discussions.

At the end of our time together that first day, everyone gives thumbs up when Dlama goes through the agenda in the evaluation process. It is a real affirmation of the workings of God and the facilitators’ passion.

During different breaks between presentations, I seek out each of the facilitator’s focus during their presentation and interaction with the participants. In talking with Suzan, I share how I use an image to describe trauma and she wants me to present that towards the end of the day. I prayerfully do so, as she interprets for me. It is a humbling moment and graciously received through the expressions of the people. It has been an awesome day and the kingdom of God is making its presence known.

Day Two is as follows: song and prayer, devotional, gathering: Empty Chair of Someone Speaking Who Loves Me, definitions of loss, grief, and mourning, reflection: personal sharing of stories, morning tea break, stages of grief, healing from grief, visioning exercise, lunch, distinguishing anger caused by trauma, how to handle anger, closing and evaluation.

This is a very intense and draining day as the participants begin to open up and freely share their stories of what they experienced, saw, and heard regarding the terror, killings, and destruction caused by Boko Haram. Their stories: a woman saw nine brothers killed in front of her and dumped into a pit, women saw husbands killed in front of them, women were severely tortured because of not renouncing their faith in Jesus Christ, one young man was the sole survivor of his village. Hundreds of men, women, children, and the elderly were killed in caves by tear gas or as they were trying to escape. Many individuals were killed in the bush or on tops of mountains trying to escape. People traveled many weeks to find help and shelter, passing through villages burned to the ground and fields destroyed of crops. There are bodies left behind that have not been buried. Participants are hearing that family members have died from starvation and distress…and many, many, many more such traumas.

Everyone is in tears and paper napkins are passed out to everyone. I am over taken with very deep sadness and sorrow as Suzan gives me the gist of their stories. Yet, there is a noticeable lightness and a greater spontaneity of newness as they participate in the large and small groups during the rest of the day. As we get back into the van, everyone is exhausted and praising God for his mighty works of grace.

Day Three is as follows: song and prayer, devotional, gathering: who do you trust and why, and how does that make you feel, Trust Walk, Tree of Mistrust, Tree of Trust, morning tea break, What Can We Do to Build Trust, gathering: Acceptance Circle, question and answer period, lunch, What Have We Learned, recommendations for the Trauma Healing Program, general evaluation, closing.

Developing trust within and among the participants comes to be an essential part of the healing process after the exercises and presentations are finished. The focus becomes prayer, forgiveness, and fellowshiping at church. Individuals around the circle begin to share that they now see how forgiveness is the way of healing trauma.

Here is some of their sharing:

— Statements of faith, like calling the Muslim who betrayed him and his family to say “hello and that he is forgiven,” and no longer having resentment, fear, and doubt in his heart. Now he is feeling a real lightness in his soul that the burden is gone.

— The hate he has been carrying in his heart for so long, that has caused so much darkness and uselessness, is now disappearing. He feels his spirit is coming back to him by the Holy Spirit.

— Even though he has food, shelter, and clothing, he now has received life from EYN Headquarters and is grateful.

— She has carried around a burden like a mountain because she saw her nine brothers killed and buried, and now that burden is gone and she free and happy.

— Her husband was killed, her house burned down, and all of her goods and possessions are gone. She felt that there was nothing left for herself, but now she has hope that God will somehow provide for her.

— He was planning to return his village and take revenge on his Muslim neighbors, but now he has let go of revenge and has forgiven them and wants to live in peace.

— He has forgiven the man who killed his father.

Others who have shared about bitterness, guilt, overwhelming distress, desolation, and helplessness, now are feeling relief, joy, hope, and love from God because of being here at the workshop. We celebrate with a “Circle of Healing” and celebrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

All in all, it is an indescribable and awesome experience. Praise the Lord!

*Full names are withheld in an effort to protect EYN staff living and working in areas of northern Nigeria still subject to terrorist violence.

— Jim Mitchell is one of the three current Church of the Brethren volunteers with the Nigeria Crisis Response, a joint effort of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.

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