A visit with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) by Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer and News Services director Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford took place Nov. 1-19.
The two Church of the Brethren staff were welcomed with generous hospitality by the Nigerian Brethren, led by EYN president Joel Billi, vice president Anthony Ndamsai, and general secretary Daniel Mbaya. EYN staff liaison Markus Gamache hosted the visit and provided logistics.
Wittmeyer’s goal for the trip was to strengthen the Church of the Brethren relationship with EYN and bring encouragement to Nigerian Brethren as the country’s crisis continues. Violent attacks by Boko Haram insurgents and violence by extremist Fulani herdsmen continue in the northeast and central belts of Nigeria.
A photo album of the trip is at www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/globalmissiontriptonigeria-november2018. More in-depth reporting and interviews with EYN leaders will appear in Messenger,the Church of the Brethren magazine. To subscribe contact your congregation’s Messenger representative or go to www.brethren.org/messenger/subscribe.
A church committed to ministry
The trip included several days spent at the EYN headquarters in Kwarhi, with side trips to nearby sites of importance to the Brethren including Garkida—former headquarters of the Church of the Brethren Mission. Wittmeyer and Brumbaugh-Cayford also visited ten EYN congregations around the northeast of the country, four camps for displaced people, and several schools. Brumbaugh-Cayford had an opportunity to attend part of the annual meeting of the EYN Female Theologians Association.
EYN’s top leadership and staff in the areas of education, community development, agriculture, health care, disaster relief, women’s ministry, communications, micro-finance, and more made time for meetings with the American visitors. Conversations revealed a commitment by the Nigerian church to continue and renew ministries that have been threatened by the crisis. Only four years previously, EYN staff had fled Kwarhi when Boko Haram overran the area and occupied the church headquarters, and the future of many church ministries had been in jeopardy.
However, EYN is now experiencing growth in several areas: the number of congregations and districts, attendance at congregations–many of which have been rebuilding churches that were destroyed in the violence, and new facilities in Kwarhi. For example, EYN celebrated the “autonomy” or full congregational status of a new congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Relocation Camp. The camp was founded by Gamache, and the celebration happened to be scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18, the last day of the trip. Wittmeyer was asked to preach.
A tour of the newly re-named Kulp Theological Seminary (formerly Kulp Bible College) by provost Dauda Gava highlighted the school’s certification as a seminary through its relationship with the University of Jos. A visit to the library found boxes of books donated by the American Brethren being prepared for cataloging.
EYN president Billi led a tour of a new office building under construction at the EYN headquarters, designed to adjoin and connect with the large conference center on campus. A new banquet hall also is being built. The new buildings will greatly increase and improve office facilities for EYN staff, and will allow EYN to host a large ecumenical conference of Nigerian churches in January.
In Jos, the visit included time with Brethren Volunteer Service worker Judy Minnich Stout. She is placed with EYN to work on preparing Nigerian Brethren to improve their English skills for participating in Bethany Seminary classes at the EYN Tech Center.
Although the ministries and departments of EYN are returning to normal or even growing, four of EYN’s districts are still not functional because of the violence and displacement of church members. This is even as EYN celebrated the start of a new district in Lagos, the largest Nigerian city located in the south of the country.
Many Nigerian Brethren are still displaced and unable to return to communities such as Gwoza and Bama, where attacks occurred while Wittmeyer and Brumbaugh-Cayford were in the country. During a visit to EYN #1 Maiduguri, still the largest EYN congregation counting some 3,500 members despite its history of twice being destroyed and rebuilt, pastor Joseph Tizhe Kwaha told about violent attacks on nearby villages. He shared his grief about the killing of a church member just two weeks previously. The city is protected by Nigerian military and an air force base, but Boko Haram attacks continue in the countryside all around. Kwaha, who led a tour of the nearby IDP camp that is supported by the church, spoke of the difficulties for a congregation and displaced community that cannot safely go out of the city to farm.
Pastors, retired ministers, and other community leaders spent time with the visitors in various towns and at the IDP camps, telling the stories of their communities and the efforts to return and rebuild in places where violence has taken a large toll. During an afternoon in Michika, the visitors toured a couple of EYN congregations that have been rebuilding. All of the Christian churches in Michika were destroyed when Boko Haram took the area in 2014. EYN Watu has rebuilt its church, but EYN #1 Michika is still working to construct a very large new building, and has received help from workcamp groups from the US. During the visit to EYN #1 Michika, Gamache presented two boxes of Bibles and hymnals in Hausa and English donated by the workcamp group.
The trip culminated with an invitation to meet with US ambassador W. Stuart Symington. EYN president Billi, general secretary Mbaya, staff liaison Gamache, Wittmeyer, and Brumbaugh-Cayford took part in the meeting on the last afternoon of the trip. The event was considered an important opening for new connections between EYN and the US diplomatic community in Nigeria.