By Zakariya Musa, EYN Media
President Joel S. Billi of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) has said God in his faithfulness used the insurgency to propagate the gospel. He stated this during an international press conference held on March 15 at EYN Headquarters in Kwarhi, Hong Local Government Area, Adamawa State.
It was the eve of the EYN Centenary grand finale, which brought national and international partners from America, Germany, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Cameroun to testify to the faithfulness of God and to encourage the church in making an evangelistic impact in a time of spiritual, economic, educational, political, environmental, and social development.
Billi started by thanking God:
“It is with great delight and gratitude to God as always, I address you this day on the eve of the centenary celebration of the church. This day marks a turning point in the history of our church as we witness a century of God’s guidance in our work as a ministry in Nigeria. We have continued to make progress in all aspects of our fellowship, programs, and institutions.
“Today, the gospel seed sowed in tears by our pioneer missionaries Harold Stover Kulp and Dr. Albert Helser have been watered and nurtured by God.” Billi continued, “At 100, we are not celebrating any race, individual, tribe, or community but what God has done in the life of EYN, formerly called ‘Lardin Gabas,’ as a denomination.
“When the missionaries came, we were living in bondage to the devil, serving strange gods, engaging in all kinds of ungodliness, without God and without hope. Without good clothes, water, and access to quality health care, education, and housing. But today at 100, through the mission work in northeastern Nigeria and the faithfulness of God, we have become a people of hope that have been delivered from serving strange gods.
“Some of the achievements of the church over the years are the educational strengths impacting the lives of people, Christians and non-Christians. Today, we have sons and daughters soundly educated in all fields of human endeavor and flourishing in different career paths they have chosen for themselves. We have also been providing quality education and affordable health care, agricultural support to farmers, housing and livelihood support to thousands of people, because of the faithfulness of God in the life of the church, where the dividing walls of hostilities are broken down.”
President Billi said, “The church has relied solely on tithes and offerings and support from our mission partners as her sources of funding. However, the current economic and social realities of our times prove again and again that this is not sustainable.”
In a bid to overcome this challenge, EYN has established the following:
— The Brethren Microfinance Bank, which has impacted positively on the lives of not just members of the church but even non-Christians through various loan facilities. This has only been made possible because of the grace and faithfulness of God.
— The NAFDAC certified table water factory and bakery.
— A block industry that has been in operation and has saved the church costs in her infrastructure development as well as serving as a source of income for the church and employment for our youths.
— Nine subgroups organized at the national level under the office of the EYN vice president. They have been playing enormous roles in ensuring the mission and vision of the church.
— The central payment system for paying pastor and staff salaries. The church centralized the payment of all staff salaries across all areas of operation in January 2019. This was necessitated by the untold hardship faced by pastors in some locations due to nonpayment of salaries for long periods of time. So far, God has helped EYN and we are making steady progress in this area that many thought was not feasible. To God be the glory.
Billi continued to list gracious achievements:
— 61 operational church districts (District Church Councils or DCCs) with 4 (Gwoza, Ngoshe, Barawa, and Attagara) still displaced by the insurgency.
— The number of congregations (Local Church Councils or LCCs) has risen to 589.
— 950 pastors in active service.
— 500 pastors retired from active service.
— Staff strength of the EYN Headquarters.
— 16 programs and institutions under the EYN Headquarters.
Pres. Billi also spoke about the state of the nation: “Nigeria has never been faced with this kind of economic crisis being experienced due to the currency redesign, cash withdrawal limits, incessant power outages from the national grid, scarcity of petroleum products and rising inflation. This has brought untold economic hardship on the citizens as a result high cost of living and non-availability of cash.
“A lot of small-scale businesses have packed off while the political elites are busy stealing from our common wealth. I call on the leadership of the country as a matter of urgency to rejig the economic management team so that the economic woes of the nation will be abated. I also call upon the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to truly fight corruption in its entirety fairly and squarely and not pay lip service to it or witch-hunt political opponents.”
Pres. Billi listed challenges of EYN in her centenary journey:
— The major challenge that has confronted the church in the history of her existence is the insurgency in Nigeria, especially in the northeast. Orchestrated by Jama’atul ahalid sunna lidda watiwal jihad, popularly called Boko Haram, the insurgency came with very fierce persecution of Christians in Borno and Adamawa States, the ancestral home of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria.
— The insurgents killed uncountable number of Christians, and especially EYN members and pastors, and destroyed churches and the sources of livelihood of members of the church. You will recall that a prominent pastor of the church, Rev. Lawan Andimi, one of the 21st century martyrs, was brutally murdered because of his steadfastness in the faith in a bid to weaken our faith and resolve to follow Christ.
— Among those displaced, some have become and are still refugees in neighboring Cameroun and others are internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps across the country, most of them with no stable means of livelihood but rather living from hand to mouth and at the mercies of NGOs.
— At the peak of the insurgency 36 of the then 50 church districts were completely displaced, 7 were partially closed, some congregations within such districts being displaced, with only 7 districts not affected directly by the insurgency. Those periods were times of distress. Of the 456 congregations and 2,280 local church branches at that time, 278 congregational buildings and 1,390 local church branch auditoriums were destroyed by the insurgents.
— Several EYN sons and daughters were abducted by the insurgents, and the fate of some of them today is still unknown. The abductions of the Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu are still fresh in our minds.
— The good news is that during the period of the insurgency, God in his faithfulness gave us a Barnabas (a son of encouragement) in our mission partners and some well-spirited individuals who mobilized resources to financially support displaced persons and pastors, provide livelihood support and shelters for the IDPs through our Disaster Relief Management and Women’s Ministry, as well as church reconstruction. These efforts no doubt brought succor to the pains and confusion of church members.
— All glory to God because although the insurgency was orchestrated to uproot Christianity in the area, God in his faithfulness used the insurgency to propagate the gospel and expand the frontiers of EYN in Nigeria and Cameroun as those who were displaced carried their faith wherever they went. Today, several EYN churches have sprang up in places where our members went to sojourn because of the insurgency.
Future prospects for EYN:
As we march into the next century, our desire is to:
— Continue to expand the frontiers of church operations so as to win more souls for Christ.
— Build a more united, faithful, and dedicated membership.
— Become more self-reliant in the areas of funding and financing of projects and programs.
— Invest more in the manpower development of the church.
Pres. Billi appreciated all partners for standing by the church:
“What would we have done without the tremendous support received from our mission partners? They have stood by us in good times and in our most challenging times. Despite the fact that autonomy to operate was granted to Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, our mission partners have continued to support the church morally, financially, and in kind by intervening in different programs and institutions of the church,” he said.
“In conclusion, I appreciate God almighty for the journey so far. Though it has been rough, it has not been as rough as the time of our pioneer missionaries. The gospel is never smooth and easy if we are historical students of the Bible. However, we thank God for the successes so far. I am praying as Jesus prayed in John 17:21 to his father, that he is going away but that we should be one. It is my prayer that we will continue to be one in Christ.”
— Zakariya Musa is head of EYN Media, serving on the Headquarters staff of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).
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