A light on the hill at Pegi Church: Unexpected encounters in Nigeria

By Pat Krabacher

I recently visited northeast Nigeria after a three-year absence. This was my fifth trip to Nigeria and my travel was centered around my role as an international adviser to a UNESCO World Heritage Site encampment at Sukur near Madagali on Aug 1-10, 2021 (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/938). However, what I came to discern as the “theme” of this trip was unexpected encounters–people, places, and things.

Here is the story of two of those unexpected encounters:

I arrived in Abuja on July 21 and was warmly received by Malame and Ngamariju Titus Mangzha of the Utako #1 Church of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Malame Mangzha runs the African International Documentary Film Festival (AFIDFF, https://afidff.org/en), a nonprofit that is the implementing partner for the United Nations encampment at Sukur. I arrived early to assist in the final planning for the event, and we had much to do as the “elephant in the room” was security as Nigeria still struggles to provide basic security for those living in or visiting the country.

My second day in Nigeria, Mangzha asked me to fly to meet her in Yola, to join in a meeting with the governor of Adamawa State. Upon arriving at the hotel in Yola, there in the lobby I saw Markus Gamache, former EYN staff liaison: the first unexpected encounter! He was visiting Yola to work on peacemaking with local leaders. It was wonderful to greet a brother in Christ and catch up. He had been the EYN liaison for a workcamp in January 2016 in which my husband, John, and I had participated and helped build EYN’s Pegi Church for an encampment of internally displaced people (IDPs) from Chibok.

Before and after: above, the Pegi Church under construction; below, the Pegi Church in August 2021. Photos by Pat Krabacher

Later, after the Sukur event, back in Abuja Markus agreed to drive me for a return visit to the Pegi Church, joining them in worship there on Sunday, Aug. 15: a second unexpected encounter!

Gamache and a pastor friend picked me up for the drive to the church, confessing that he hoped he could find it as this area–once a remote area south of Abuja–had been developing rapidly. Our workcamp had taken place nearly 5 years prior. During the workcamp, we had finished the walls, the pitch, the bell tower, and a property wall for the church building. When it was done, we had the privilege of attending the dedication service in the new, but unfinished Pegi Church building on Jan 29, 2017. One of the highlights of that worship service was the blowing of the shofar, the women’s choirs, and the presentation of the banner commemorating the three workcamp teams and the EYN volunteers who had all volunteered at Pegi.

Fortunately, mountains don’t move and a landmark on top of a mountain was our “guiding star” as Gamache found the church again–although the road that our workcamp van had taken no longer existed.

Markus Gamache (at left) and Pat Krabacher (at right) with the pastor of the Pegi Church. Krabacher presented a copy of a book about the Chibok people written by the late Gerald Neher, a former Church of the Brethren mission worker in Chibok.

Because of the travel delay, we arrived just after the worship service started–so you can imagine the surprise of the Pegi pastor when we entered the building. There were hurried introductions and greetings to the congregation. I was smiling and waving to people I recognized. The pastor announced that the Pegi Church would be recognized by EYN in October 2021 as a full congregation–exciting news!

My first impression was that the Pegi Church was largely as we had left it, with a dirt floor and open windows, crude benches, and the plastic banner that commemorated the workcamps still on the wall. But as I looked more closely, I noticed improvements to the building, window frames, doors and door frames, soffits and facia. After the worship and singing, the women’s choir stayed to practice and I was able to greet many of the women I had met in 2016–we are one in the Lord!

Hoping that the growing and vibrant Pegi congregation can get some funds to continue to improve their building, I realize that they already have the joy of the Lord and they love to worship our God. Well done workcampers, volunteers, and Pegi EYN–a beacon of light on the hill!

— Pat Krabacher is a former Brethren Volunteer Service worker whose project related to Nigeria (2015-2019), volunteering for the Global Mission program of the Church of the Brethren.

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