By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) has celebrated its 100th anniversary with many thousands of church members and guests attending more than a dozen centenary events held in 13 zones across the country. The theme for the centenary events was inspired by Deuteronomy 7:9, “Great Is God’s Faithfulness.”
EYN president Joel S. Billi characterized the celebration as “this all-important event that is observed once in a lifetime. We are eager to celebrate the faithfulness of God in the life of our ministries and in the lives of our members.”
March 17, 1923, is commemorated by EYN as the date of its founding by Church of the Brethren mission workers H. Stover Kulp and Albert Helser. The Nigerian Brethren remember a gathering on this date, led by the two American missionaries under a tamarind tree in the village of Garkida, as the first worship service that started the Nigerian church.
Weeks of zonal celebrations started in January and culminated with two special centenary events in mid-March:
Find more photos from the celebrations of EYN’s Centenary at www.brethren.org/photos
On March 16, the EYN Headquarters in Kwarhi, Adamawa State, hosted a finale celebration with an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people in attendance.
On March 19, every seat was filled and it was standing-room-only at a Centenary Farewell Service in the National Christian Center–nicknamed the “national cathedral”–in the capital city of Abuja.
Each centenary celebration was also a worship service, featuring prayer and scripture, preaching, singing, music, and traditional dances by groups representing the local tribes of each zone of the church. The Boys and Girls Brigades formally opened each event by presenting a set of flags including the national flag of Nigeria and a special EYN centenary flag. Greetings were brought by local dignitaries and representatives of ecumenical partners. Organizers made sure that water and snacks were distributed to the crowds, as typically went on for many hours. Decorative cakes were made by local bakeries for each celebration, and the ceremonial cutting of the anniversary cakes were a highlight at each location, with many attendees taking selfies with the cakes afterwards.
Church members showed their enthusiasm for EYN by attending centenary events clothed in the special anniversary cloth. Church members had the opportunity to purchase “wrappers” of the cloth in advance, printed with the images of founding missionaries H. Stover Kulp and Albert Helser, and had clothing tailor-made for the occasion.
EYN’s top leadership was at every celebration in person, including president Joel S. Billi, vice president Anthony A. Ndamsai, and general secretary Daniel Y. C. Mbaya. Each zonal celebration had its own planning committee but a central planning committee oversaw the events and made crucial decisions about the schedule and more.
The central planning committee included Musa Pukuma, chair; general secretary Mbaya, secretary; Usman B. Mshelia; Ayuba U. Balami; James D. Kwaha; Ijidai A. Waba; and Salamatu J. Billi.
An international delegation attended three of the celebrations: the zonal celebration in Jos, the finale at the EYN Headquarters, and the farewell event in Abuja. (For reasons of safety for the international delegation and their hosts, and in consideration of EYN communications, Newsline deliberately did not post reports from onsite.)
Representing the church in the United States were Annual Conference moderator Tim McElwee; Global Mission executive Eric Miller; Service Ministries and Brethren Disaster Ministries executive Roy Winter; News Services director Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, who was born in and grew up in Nigeria; former Nigeria Crisis Response staff Carl Hill and Roxane Hill, who grew up in Nigeria; former Nigeria Crisis Response volunteers Pat and John Krabacher; Marla Bieber Abe, who has volunteered with Global Mission in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and who was born in Nigeria; Nigeria volunteer Donna Parcell, who was the photographer for We Bear It in Tears, a Brethren Press book about Nigerian survivors of Boko Haram violence.
Representing Churches of the Brethren in the Great Lakes region of Africa were Lubungo Abeleci Ron, founder and leading pastor of the Church of the Brethren in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Etienne Nsanzimana, founder and leading pastor of the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda; Theoneste Sentabire of Rwanda, who is principal of the Great Lakes Bible School in Uganda; Edison Sabwenge, a pastor in Rwanda; and Expert Bukene, founder and bishop of the Church of the Brethren in Burundi.
Representing the German Chapter of the Basel Mission, which in past decades was a partner mission with EYN, was Riley Edwards-Raudonat, who has been a pastor in Abuja.
The timing of the centenary events in relationship to Nigeria’s 2023 elections posed unexpected difficulties. Just about a week before the finale at the EYN Headquarters, originally scheduled for March 17, the Nigerian government suddenly announced that state-level elections were to be held on March 18.
Plans for the finale were threatened with chaos, because of the travel ban that would be enforced on the day of the state elections. The central planning committee held an emergency meeting to decide what to do. If they went ahead with the finale on March 17, people traveling a distance to the EYN Headquarters would either have to leave early to avoid travel on the next day, or stay over an extra day and lose their opportunity to vote. If the finale was postponed until after the day of state elections, it might conflict with the farewell event in Abuja on March 19, and the international delegation might not have been able to stay in Nigeria for more days.
The central planning committee’s decision was to hold the finale a day early, on March 16. The news of the date change was sent to each district, to be shared with each congregation for a special announcement in worship on Sunday, March 12. In an amazing show of flexibility and grace, the finale event at the EYN Headquarters was a great success despite the sudden change of date.
One of the most striking parts of the centenary events were the commendations of EYN shared by ecumenical guests.
High-level ecumenical dignitaries attending the finale at the EYN Headquarters included Musa Panti Fillibus, archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria who is currently serving as president of the Lutheran World Federation; Moses J. Ebuga, the general secretary of TEKAN, a leading ecumenical organization in Nigeria; along with other leaders from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the archbishop of the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, the president and general secretary of the Reformed Church of Christ in Nigeria, and more.
“EYN has made a name for itself in its 100 years of existence,” said one. “This is a milestone not only for EYN but of Christianity in Nigeria,” said another. Others commended EYN as a peace church that is inspiring other denominations across Nigeria to seek the gospel of peace as well.
Ebuga called EYN to remember those it has lost to violence. “As you celebrate, I know those who have been lost, injured, attacked by Boko Haram, as well as the burning down of your churches…. Immense pains, suffering, and loss. I cannot begin to imagine what you have gone through in the face of senseless adversity,” he said. “And yet you have continued to stand firm in your convictions, and the power of your community…. The EYN church has remained a beacon of hope and inspiration. You have been an inspiration to us all, a beacon of the compassion of Christ that is at the heart of your faith.”
— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren, and associate editor of Messenger magazine.
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