Critical seeds project is underway

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

A large part of the Nigeria Crisis Response in 2016 is providing seeds for this planting season. The first distribution took place at one of our care-centers near Abuja. The disaster team coordinated the distribution. The care-center includes enough land to give each of the 70 households a small plot. People can also rent additional lands to produce more crops.

Elizabethtown members who visited Nigeria in January have been sharing their stories with churches. They have been tirelessly promoting the seed distribution and their efforts have brought in significant funds towards the goal of  $347,000.

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Distribution to each of 70 household

Distribution to each of 70 households

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an excerpt from a Newsline piece about the seeds project.                                       The Nigerians of the northeast are traditionally an agrarian people. Many make their living from farming or they subsidize their incomes or their diets by tending small farms or gardens.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, once considered Nigeria’s poet laureate, wrote a book titled, “Things Fall Apart.” The book was about the rhythms of life associated with the agricultural life in Nigeria and how things changed when white missionaries came bearing the gospel message. But what we learned from this book was the importance of the planting and harvest times to life in Nigeria. The planting comes as the annual rains begin in May and June. Then, after a productive growing season, the harvest takes place in the fall, providing food and incomes for the coming year.

Over the last few years, the violence and destruction carried out by Boko Haram have adversely affected farming as well as communities and church life. Now, since the return of Nigeria’s military to the area, tensions have lessened and people are returning to their traditional homes and villages. Among the biggest needs we see for the coming year are seeds, herbicides, and fertilizer so that planting can begin again on a large scale. Our plan is to help provide the means for the people to get back to the land and return to the one thing that has sustained them in the past–farming.

Through the Nigeria Crisis Fund, we are planning to provide money to purchase seeds, herbicides, and fertilizer that will assist Nigerians in helping themselves. If we can do this, then come harvest time this fall, we can reduce the amount of funds required to provide food distributions, and may be able to close out that phase of our response.

Caring for Caribou

This sermon was given by Katie Furrow as a way to celebrate Earth Day Sunday at the Washington City Church of the Brethren in Washington, DC. It is based around Genesis 1:20-31.

“The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” For the Gwich’in people, this place is the coastal plains of Northern Alaska. The coastal plains are home to the breeding grounds of countless migratory bird species, polar bears, and the Porcupine Caribou which plays a significant role in the lives of the Gwich’in as a means of sustenance and spirituality. When one learns of the role of the coastal plains in regard to the breeding and calving grounds for all of these animals, it is hard to dispute that is anything less than divine Creation at work—it is a space that is temperate enough for mothers and newborns to have proper nutrients from vegetation but not so warm to allow breeding of the hoards of mosquitoes that will descend upon the area in warmer months as a nuisance to everything that has blood, and the plains are often safer from predators allowing newborns to grow well. It is truly sacred ground.

Fortunately, the value and importance of this land as a sacred space that creates new life and helps species and cultures flourish has been known for some time, and in 1960, legislation was passed protecting over 19 million acres of this area, creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And even just last January, President Obama proposed to designate over 12 million acres of the refuge as wilderness, further protecting it.

However, some would consider the coastal plains and the refuge sacred for other reasons. You see, this place where life begins is also where United States-owned oil reserves begin.

According to the US Geological Survey, there are approximately “896 million barrels of conventional, undiscovered oil,” located underneath the coastal plains and many individuals, corporations, and members of the government have been clamoring to drill there since the mid-1970s despite the location’s status as a wilderness refuge. While the monetary profits of such drilling are certain, the reality is that the oil that comes from the refuge would provide only 1 to 2 percent of the oil that the United States consumes each day—in that knowledge, one must consider if it is truly worth it.

Drilling in this delicate habitat would irreparably change the landscape of the environment—altering migration patterns and threatening survival rates of newborns animals and entire species, for that matter. Unfortunately, this is a pattern that we have seen too often throughout human history; we are many times willing to forego the protection of Creation and all that is in if for the “betterment” of human society, or so we think.

Scientists are actually calling this period of time the sixth extinction crisis in geological history, and according to the World Wildlife Fund, the current rate of species loss is between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. It is nearly indisputable that there is one species causing this to happen. Who guessed humans? Well, you would be correct.

We find ourselves as the most dangerous predator to other species on the planet; we are superior, and our needs far outweigh the needs of creation. Or so we far too often like to think. This is not the life that we were called to, though, as our scripture today shows us.

The Creation narrative is one of the most familiar books of the Bible, yet it still holds key lessons for us to learn (or relearn) today. It’s where it all started—quite literally “In the beginning…” God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and the land, day and night, and every living creature that swims, crawls, slithers, burrows, flies, and walks. God saw what God had created and declared all of it—every last bit of it, in its original and undefiled state, as good.

In the middle of all of that creating and declaring of goodness, humans were given a special role to fill as the keepers of everything that had come before; from the beginning, God made us stewards over all of Creation, and in that moment of divine decision making, once again, God thought that doing so was good. We have been given dominion over creation and all the creatures in it; we have been given this Earth as a source of sustenance, but the Earth has also been given us to tend and care for it.

Our friends from the Gwich’in tribe know the fine balance of this role well. Earlier, I spoke about how important the Porcupine caribou is to this group of people; throughout their history, they have been tied to the caribou through countless ways.

Princess Johnson, a Gwich’in leader, wrote in a recent blog post for Sojourners that “our communities still rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou herd for sustenance, as well as our culture and spiritual wellbeing. Our elders have taught us that our connection is sacred.” Without the caribou, they would lose not only a meal source but also a connection to their culture. It seems safe to say that the caribou, and consequently the coastal plains where they breed, are a lifeline for the Gwich’in.

Yet, in spite of this, or maybe because of it, they have very specific rules about how they will or will not interact with the animals. Even in seasons where caribou are scarce, they will not go into the coastal plains to hunt, despite knowing that the hunting would be easy and the reward would be great. The Gwich’in respect the need for the caribou to have a safe space to breed and raise their calves without fear of predation in order to maintain the herd, and they would rather choose to go without than to threaten the balance of their relationship; they are willing to forego the domination that they could have over the caribou in place of having a right relationship with Creation. They see and understand the sacredness of their relationship with the caribou and the land.

Given that Genesis is only the beginning of our story, it seems fitting that we see reminders of this role we were assigned to play throughout the rest of the Bible–from the Wisdom books in the Old Testament to Paul’s letters. One scripture that reinforces the importance of taking care of what has been given to us comes from Ecclesiates 3:19– “For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals.”

It’s made clear in those few sentences that we are tied much more closely to the animal kingdom than many of us would like to think. In God’s infinite wisdom, God made our planet into a finely woven and delicately balanced ecosystem. This connection reminds me of a game that we would often play with the kids at the summer camp where I worked through high school and college. Standing in a circle, one person would throw a ball of yarn across to someone else, holding on to their end of the string. This would continue until everyone in the circle had received and thrown the yarn, always holding on to their piece before throwing it.

In the end, what was created was a web, connecting each of us to the rest. If one person were to pull on their end of the string, it would cause a chain reaction forcing everyone else to lean in or loosen their hold. Or if another person dropped their end, the rest of the group would have to pick up the slack to keep the web together.

In this way, much like the yarn connected our group, we are all connected in Creation with one another. Anything that I can do, will affect Creation around me. Every time I drive a car or water the garden or throw away trash, I’m altering the environment; sometimes that’s a good thing as I watch the baby spinach plants grow right outside, a product of tender care, but sometimes what I do causes pollution or harm–to animals, to the earth, or even to other people. And sometimes I don’t even realize the impact of what I’m doing.

We live in a world where we are fairly far removed from seeing the results of our choices. Driving a car or using a plastic anything requires petroleum, which has to come from somewhere. It’s easy to fill up the gas tank or drink out of a water bottle and not consider the line of production that it took to get to me. Without seeing how the coastal plains will be damaged, and the caribou herds being driven out, and the Gwich’in losing a part of their heritage, it makes it a lot easier to drop the ball on being a good steward to the earth. And God sees what is being done, and knows that it is not good.

On the sixth day, God created humankind and put us in charge. While we’ve veered off course, often choosing domination over creation instead of serving and tending to it, it is not too late–for us or for the earth. We can take simple steps every day to be stewards, whether that’s just taking the time to learn more about the impacts that our choices make, like where our food comes from or how the things we buy impact the earth, or if it means taking concrete steps like choosing to walk or bike more or even just turning off the water while we brush our teeth. Little steps add up to make big changes.

God saw what God made, and knew that it was good. If we each took a little more time out of our days to see the good in creation, we would probably end up with a greater appreciation and a greater caring for what is around us. By choosing to see the divine spark that all of us–people, animals, and even plants–were created with, we would not so quickly take the easy path of destruction or harm. I know it is a lot harder for me to take the lazy way of unsustainable choices or to want to see the end of certain species (mosquitoes) when I remember that we all belong to God.

Perhaps the best thought comes from one Gwich’in leader. When asked how to say “wilderness” in the Gwich’in language, she responded that there is no word for that, but that the closest phrase is to “leave it the way the Creator made.” Whether we are looking to drill in far away places for nonrenewable oil or to make changes in our own communities that would hurt God’s creation, we should take this lesson with us. Let us work as best we can to leave it as God created. And it will be declared good. Amen.

Currently, the Office is Public Witness is working with an ecumenical coalition to bring attention to the importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to our leaders in Washington, DC. One way that you can become involved is to sign and share this petition calling on the President and Congress to permanently protect this sacred land, keeping it beautiful and well-preserved for many more generations.

In Christ’s Peace,

Katie Furrow
Food, Hunger, and Gardening Associate
Office of Public Witness & Global Food Crisis Fund
Washington, DC

 

Pastor puts Peace in Practice

Norm and Carol Waggy

Norm and Carol Waggy

Contributed by Norm & Carol Waggy

Several days ago during a break at Majalisa, a pastor handed Norm a picture of 8 members of his congregation who were killed by Boko Haram, along with pictures of his church and parsonage which were also destroyed last year.  We had listened several weeks ago as he shared some of his experiences, but we had not found the time to return for a second visit.  He wanted us to see, as well as to hear, of his congregation’s suffering.  He related that the EYN Nassarawo church had outgrown its facility, so a new church and parsonage were built just 1 year prior to the destruction of all three by the Boko Haram.

Nassarawo church members who were killed

Nassarawo church members who were killed

Norm asked him if he found it hard not to hate those who caused the damage.  Without hesitation, he responded, “No, the Bible makes It clear that we are to love our enemies, so I cannot hate them.”  He went on to tell that the 2 men who destroyed the structures were found to be his neighbors.  When the police captured them, they asked him “Pastor, what shall we do with these men?”  He responded that as a Christian, he did not want the police to kill them, but rather to set them free.  He noted that “even though the two are still Muslim, I know that Islam does not condone such violence.  Boko Haram is just a fanatical, fringe hate group that does not follow God.”  Later one of the two helped to clean up the burned buildings.  Our EYN brother said “Remember, God CAN turn ANYONE around.”  In a sermon at Majalisa, we were reminded that even the apostle Paul started out as one who hated and killed Christians!  There is always hope for each child of God, so we must be careful not to hate them.

Nassarawo:  Destroyed church

Nassarawo: Destroyed church

Lifting Every Voice: Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2016

This past weekend the Office of Public Witness participated in Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a conference of people of faith from around the country.  We worshiped and attended workshops together on the theme of “Lift Every Voice! – Racism, Class & Power.”  The weekend began powerfully as Rev. Dr. William Barber implored us to prophesy, to call out injustice in the world, and to demand policies that recognize that God’s image in everyone.  That call to unite as a moral voice for justice continued to frame the weekend as we delved more deeply into the issues of voting rights and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The event concluded on Monday as together we met with our congressional representatives.

OPW’s work sometimes feels isolated, but the expressions of solidarity and love in word, song, and action expressed this weekend left us all feeling revitalized and empowered.  As we stood and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” we knew that we were surrounded by a powerful and determined community. Though we returned to our daily work this week, we have EAD powerfully reminds us  that our work represents deep sentiments shared by many throughout the country.

Yet this empowerment brings many challenges.  As all of the speakers reminded us, we are called continually to be perturbed by injustice, to wrestle with our faith, and to not stay silent.  On Saturday night we had the privilege of meeting with the other Brethren, Mennonite, and Friends in attendance.  Members of a Mennonite church in Cleveland, Ohio had many members graciously shared their experiences as a predominately African-American congregation.  As we think about how every voice can be lifted on the national level, they called us to begin by considering whose voices are not being heard in our own congregations.

As we consider the importance of lifting every voice, the personal stories such as the one’s shared by our sisters from Cleveland are essential.  Everyone is created in the image of God and thus any work for justice must necessarily be personal, connected to the realities of all people’s lives.  Perhaps that is the greatest message that we had to bring to our legislators this Monday. Justice is personal; when not all voices can be heard singing its refrains, we are silencing God’s beloved.

Thus,

 “Lift every voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;”

May you too be energized and uplifted for your work and your journey with God.

In Christ’s Peace,

Sara White
Intern
Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

If you are interested in learning more about the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or view additional material from the conference, visit advocacydays.org.

Brethren Collaborate on Nigeria Research

As part of the Church of the Brethren’s work on Nigeria through Global Mission and Service, Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), the Office of Public Witness, and students at Elizabethtown College have partnered to begin data collection and analysis of Boko Haram violence in northeastern Nigeria. The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) has a strong presence in the northeast, an area terrorized by Boko Haram. Because of the Brethren presence in northeast Nigeria, the Church is in a unique position to shed light on the impact of Boko Haram’s violence, especially as it targets Christian communities in the northeast. 

IMG_0534

Using data gathered by Dr. Rebecca Dali, Center for Caring, Empowerment, and  Peace Initiative (CCEPI), BVSers John and Pat Krabacher initiated organizing Dr. Rebecca’s raw data last year to display the 9745 killed by Boko Haram in the northeast in a “Wall of Healing” seen at Annual Conference 2015. Pat Krabacher is updating the “Wall” data with the latest data from CCEPI and integrating short stories of victims into new visual data displays with assistance from Justin North (CoB Columbus, OH).  

At Elizabethtown College, a Church of the Brethren institution, Religious Studies and Interfaith Leadership Studies majors will supplement Dr. Dali’s data by gathering a comprehensive collection of existing news reports about Boko Haram. Advised by Assistant Professor Dr. Richard Newton, they are charting the role of geography, demography, and religion in the conflict. By capturing these two data sets, we hope this research can better represent the impact of Boko Haram violence which can be communicated to U.S. and international humanitarian aid organizations .

Nathan Hosler, Director of the Office of Public Witness, and BVS worker Jesse Winter will work to create a report of this data to be shared with church members and potential advocacy partners. Visual representations of preliminary data should be available through Global Mission and Service at Annual Conference in Greensboro, NC. As we look at the persisting crisis in Nigeria, now two years after Chibok and nearly seven years after the beginning of Boko Haram’s insurgency in 2009, we hope this partnership and analysis can help communicate the pain and suffering of our EYN and Muslim neighbors and bring about meaningful peacemaking initiatives.

In Christ’s peace,

Jesse Winter

Peacebuilding and Policy Associate

Office of Public Witness

Washington, DC

Drought and Food Security in Haiti

It has been over three years since Haitians have seen an average amount of rainfall in their country. This drought, currently being made worse as a result of El Niño weather patterns, is a prime example of climate related natural disasters which have plagued the country for the last decade and the resulting impacts they have made on poverty and hunger.

Due to the impacts of these natural disasters, such as drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes, Haitian markets have struggled to provide enough food at fair prices. Much of this stems from the markets being inundated with foreign food aid given after crises occur, often from the United States in the form of massive rice subsidies. By flooding Haiti with inexpensive American grains, the market value for Haitian products is severely undercut, making it difficult for Haitian farmers to grow and sell their rice. This destroys the farmers’ livelihoods while also creating a dependence on foreign aid. Soon after the devastating 2010 earthquake, one report noted that the country’s “agricultural production accounted for nearly half of gross domestic product in the 1970s. It now amounts to less than a third”[1]. This drop in domestic production has contributed to financial hardship throughout the country, often making it difficult for both farmers and the overall economy to get back on their feet after a disaster.

Poverty is ubiquitous in Haiti where three-quarters of Haitians live on less than $2 per day[2], and in parts of the country, food insecure households total over 40 percent “even in ‘good years”[3]. Due to the ongoing drought, farmers across the country are losing extensive amounts of their crop yield; some farmers had crop losses of up to 70 percent during the 2015 harvest. This loss, combined with a depreciation of Haitian currency, has led to a price increase for many foods like rice, maize, and beans; for families already struggling with spending most of their income on food, these increases could lead to greater rates of malnutrition as meals become less frequent.

According to Oxfam, “since 2000, climate changes have been observed: increased episodes of cyclones, as well as increased frequency and intensity of localized drought.” These changes have left Haiti vulnerable to the effects of flooding, drought, and destruction caused by storms. Further, such climate changes have led to such irregular weather patterns that planning for crop seasons has become difficult, and yields are often variable depending on the changing weather.

Haitian Brethren have been strongly affected by the ongoing drought, as many farmers experienced crop failures when the rains stopped suddenly last summer. Jeff Boshart, the manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund, recently visited Haiti and remarked on how he and his wife “helped plant some citrus trees over 20 years ago that had been fruiting but were now dead” as a result of the drought. Without the income from these lost crops, there is greater potential for hunger as well as a potential loss for children’s education given a loss of extra income to send them to school.

It is likely that this drought will continue for some time, and Haiti will continue to feel the effects through crop loss and resulting economic struggles. In response to this, the long-term impacts of any incoming foreign aid on Haitian farmers, as well as overall economy, must be considered. Haitian economist Fritz Jean has said “the crisis underscores the need for the country’s future leaders to take a holistic approach to supporting farmers”[4]. By working internally or supporting aid that empowers the Haitian people, a stronger approach to facing hunger can be taken.

[1] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35608836/ns/world_news-americas/t/food-imports-hurt-struggling-haitian-farmers/#.VwPOf_krK00
[2] https://www.wfp.org/countries/haiti
[3] http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/2014/04/haiti-drought-opportunity-build-climate-change-resilience/
[4] http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article59399683.html#storylink=cpy

Emir of Kano and the Boko Haram

Emir of Kano holds #bringbackourgirls poster

Emir of Kano holds #bringbackourgirls poster

by Carl Hill

This week the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, is reported to have warned Nigeria and the world that starvation in northeast Nigeria could be a reality due the destruction caused by Boko Haram. In an article from Nigeria’s NAIJ.com, the Emir is quoted as saying, “More children from Borno State may die as a result of famine.” He believes that Borno State, maybe the hardest hit by Boko Haram, in the northeast, is so devastated that food will soon be the biggest issue there. “If things continue as they are,” the Emir continued, “then we may soon start seeing the children of Borno like the pictures of those children we used to see in Ethiopia who were dropping dead on the streets, dying of hunger.”

This is a shocking disclosure, coming from one of the major leaders of the Muslim faith in Nigeria. The Emir of Kano, former head of the country’s Central Bank, spoke from Lagos at a meeting of the University of Lagos’ Alumni lecture over the weekend. Kano is located in northern Nigeria and the city is the second largest one in Nigeria following Lagos. The Emir is considered the second highest ranking Muslim cleric in the country. He has been standing against the violent tactics of Boko Haram for some time. He had urged former President, Goodluck Jonathan, to deal more aggressively with Boko Haram.

This public statement against the Islamic insurgent movement has placed him in direct opposition to many political forces in Nigeria that are suspected of secretly backing the radical Islamists in the northeast. A few other Muslim opponents of the Boko Haram have been eliminated over the last few years for taking strong stands against the Boko Haram. In 2014, the Emir of Gwoza was assassinated by Boko Haram gunman as he drove to a funeral. Two other Emirs were in the same convoy but escaped without injury. In January of 2013, the most influential Muslim in Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, dodged an assassination attempt by Boko Haram. The Sultan was protected by his body guard and driver who died in the failed attempt on the Sultan’s life.

The Emir of Kano sees the Boko Haram as the unlawful terrorists that they are. Now, because the government of Nigeria has let the violence persist for too long, he sees other problems emerging that the government will have to deal with. The people of northeast Nigeria are an agricultural people. Subsistence farming has been their way of life for a very long time. The Emir stated, “There is no farming, no fishing and no industry in Borno State. The vast majority of people of Borno wake up to eat breakfast and not sure of where to eat again for the rest of the day.”

Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria Crisis Response is trying to get seeds and other farm materials into the hands of the people of southern Borno and northern Adamawa State this planting season. Together with the EYN Disaster Team, led by Reverend Yuguda Mdurvwa, Church of the Brethren funds are going to purchase these much needed supplies so that the people can plant this Spring and harvest in the Fall. “We are trying to provide the people with something so they can begin to help themselves,” said Carl Hill, co-Director of the Church’s response. “As we can see, the Nigeria crisis in the northeast is not over. It is only entering a new and equally critical phase. Our prayer is that the Church in the US can continue to help.”

We are grateful to the Emir of Kano for speaking out and making us aware of the potential problems that still persist in northeast Nigeria. Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of the Church Global Mission and Service, is working on a national Peace Conference that will be hosted by Church of the Brethren along with our sister church EYN. As this Peace Conference is being organized we would like to include the Emir of Kano as he is an important person to be included in this ground breaking work.

Two Years Since Chibok

The following is a statement from Nathan Hosler, Director of the Office of Public Witness, given at a Congressional briefing entitled, “Nigeria after the Chibok Abductions: An Update on Human Rights and Governance.” The briefing took place on April 13, 2016, the day before the two year anniversary of the Chibok abductions.

Other speakers at the briefing included Omolola Adele-Oso (Co-founder and Executive Director, Act4Accountability), Madeline Rose (Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Mercy Corps), and Lauren Ploch Blanchard (Specialist in African Affairs, Congressional Research Service), with Dr. Carl Levan (Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University) moderating. Opening Remarks were given by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

 

Affected communities of northeast Nigeria, religion, and peacebuilding

The Church of the Brethren is a Protestant denomination and is, along with the Mennonites and Quakers, a Historic Peace Church. In 1922 the first workers from the Church of the Brethren in the United States arrived in Nigeria and immediately traveled to the northeastern part of the country. Since we are gathered today with particular focus on the abductions from Chibok two years ago it is also important to note that the Brethren have been present in Chibok since 1937 and established the first school in either 1939 or 1946 (there are different dates recorded). Additionally, not only was the school where the abductions took place founded by Brethren before being a government school, but the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (in Hausa Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria—EYN ) reports that a majority of the girls kidnapped two years ago were Brethren. As we consider the 2nd anniversary of these abductions it is vital that we remember the larger regional context, insecurity, and displacement.

Nigeria Briefing 4-13-16

In January this year I traveled to Nigeria and into the northeastern region. Though I had worked with EYN doing peacebuilding work in northeast from September 2009 to December 2011 (which was about a month after the first Boko Haram attacks until the situation began to get dramatically worse), I had not returned until earlier this year. On my trip at the end of January I traveled by car from Abuja through Jos and Bauchi to Yola, the capital of Adamawa state. We then continued north to Mubi and on to Lassa which is in southern Borno state and not far from what is still said to be a “no-go” zone past Michika. I will make several observations based on this trip and the US Church of the Brethren’s work with EYN to address the ongoing crisis of displacement and insecurity.

1. Though many more people had returned than typically reported, security and food security was still tenuous at best.

I observed that at first look things appeared more normal than I expected, however the security situation remains tenuous with many smaller attacks going unreported. Additionally, reporting, verifying, and predicting the number of persons killed, the relative security of certain villages, and general safety is difficult because the area is difficult to access. Though many people have returned, the legitimate fear of attacks continues to disrupt schools, markets, farming, and life in general in a region that had poor development indicators even before Boko Haram arrived. Despite improved security in many areas and the waning attention to the crisis, it is imperative that the Nigerian government and international community expand relief, education, and peacebuilding efforts.

2. Numbers of killed and displaced are likely higher than official reports.

Many who watch Nigeria, do relief work, or attempt to report on the situation say that the officially reported numbers are doubtful. The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria reports that at least 10,000 of its members have been killed and 1,668, or 70%, of its church buildings have been destroyed or abandoned. Boko Haram largely (but not solely) focused on government structures, churches, and Christian communities early on in the insurgency, but has increasingly become more indiscriminant, targeted mosques, Muslim communities, and public spaces such as markets. The massive scale of abductions and deaths as well as displacement and destruction of homes, infrastructure such as bridges, government buildings, places of worship, and schools demand sustained attention and support.

3. Peacebuilding between religious communities is imperative.

On my trip earlier this year I observed expanding efforts in trauma healing and continued interfaith peacebuilding efforts. While working in Nigeria from 2009-2011 I focused almost solely on peacebuilding efforts, especially in equipping the Nigerian Church of the Brethren to engage in multiple levels of peacebuilding with a strong emphasis on interfaith peace efforts. One of the efforts came to be called CAMPI, Christians and Muslims for Peacebuilding Initiatives. This interfaith effort sought to build stronger inter-community relationships and capacity for peace as interfaith relationships and trust weakened from the ongoing crisis in Jos, political violence around the 2011 federal elections, and the resurgence of Boko Haram after the initial government clamp-down on the group. Upon returning I had hoped that religious divisions and tensions would have decreased since Boko Haram is obviously also targeting Muslims. Instead, I heard of deep distrust. Even if Boko Haram were to be defeated tomorrow and the girls from Chibok returned, support for peacebuilding efforts would remain vital for a sustainable peace.

Critical to this work is trauma healing, trust building, and reintegration of those thought to have aided Boko Haram as well as the imperative to reintegrate and care for women and girls who were abducted and then returned through escape or military intervention.

4. Coordination on humanitarian assistance and longer term development is essential.

Some of the hardest hit areas are in southern Borno and northern Adamawa states along the Cameroonian border. I visited a non-registered school in Lassa in southern Borno State, not far from Chibok and areas still considered “no-go” zones. Lassa had been attacked twice near the end of 2014.  Even before this crisis, which started in 2009, there were millions of children out of school. In many of these areas, kids who were in school have been out for at least 2 years. At the school in Lassa, which is called “Education Must Continue” there were less than 20 teachers over 2000 students. They were meeting in nearly destroyed police barracks only partially covered by roofs and outside the buildings under trees. The teachers were essentially volunteering and working without any books, paper, desks, or chairs. While these efforts are remarkable, they are only the beginning and cannot be sustained long-term. Greater coordination between international NGOs, the UN, international community, and Nigerian government is necessary. While in Lassa I was escorted around town by local vigilantes to witness a destroyed large Church of the Brethren building, a heavily damaged seminary, and a partially destroyed hospital. Though attacked more than a year earlier and though the hospital had been in communication with the government, to date they had received no support.

Nathan Hosler

Director

Office of Public Witness

Washington, DC

 

PRAYER – a great way to start the year

Crossover Service

Crossover Service

A Crossover Service                By Debra A. Ziegler

 

A Crossover Service

A celebration for crossing over to a new year.

From 2015 to 2016

A gathering of people

One Church, many tribes, many languages

Singing, praise, drums, electric guitar, keyboard, shakers, harmonica

Yukelelie, rhythm and song.

Dancing and music are a part of the service

Dancing and music are a part of the service

A testimony-of the faithful prayer of an aunt, who for 17 years prayed.

Her prayers answered, a relationship begun.

A child now knows who his father is.  Praise to God who is faithful.

Humble thanks for the prayers of God’s children, and for His visions that guide us.

A sermon from Joshua 3

Challenging us to cross over into 2016 on the Lord’s side, to sanctify ourselves,

To leave our sinful trouble behind,

To stand firm in the testimony of the Lord.

This EYN church has many tribes

This EYN church has many tribes

A time of serious prayers in many languages.

Prayers …

For the Chibok community; the girls that were kidnapped and are still missing.  May they know God’s presence and their families be comforted.

For the EYN church – for unity and growth, for good relations with neighbors.

For Boko Haram- to turn from their violent ways and turn to the light.

For church leadership

For marriage and families

For following Christ with a renewed commitment

For safety in travel

And so we began our prayers in 2015 and prayed into 2016

Mary’s Room: A Lenten Reflection

Based on John 12:1-8

I remember when our family first moved to Maryland from Kansas. Leaving behind family, friends, and a familiar home felt overwhelming for that distraught 9 year old. I generally like road trips and the adventure that comes with it, but that first drive to Maryland turned me into a puddle in the backseat. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to play with Legos in my room. I wanted ride my bike through the neighborhood and skid on the dusty streets. Out of this longing grew fear, confusion, anger, helplessness, and I stewed in it for 22 hours in that car.

Once we got to our new home, I explored it with my characteristic shyness, slowly and cautiously entering each room as though I was being introduced to someone for the first time. Quietly considering every fiber and tile and curtain, I moved from room to room until we got to the one my parents promised me. I got to have the bigger room since I was the older brother, but there was one little stipulation: the carpet. As I followed the long hallway to my room, I happily saw that my room had more than enough space for Lego-building, but it all had to happen, for the time being, on the most luminous, voluptuous, striking swath of shaggy pink carpet to grace all of humanity. It was beyond my wildest dreams – and not in a good way.

The best way I can describe this shock is through a thought experiment called Mary’s Room. Mary is a scientist that knows everything about color – about light waves, the architecture of the rods and cones in the human eye, the neural pathways that interpret color in the brain, all of it. The only catch is that she is isolated in a black and white room for her entire life and has thus never experienced color for herself. The thought experiment suggests that when she finally leaves the room, her experience of color for the first time is profound and new, despite supposedly knowing everything about color.

Ignoring the philosophical headache that comes from analyzing this thought experiment too closely, let’s return to the headaches I inevitably got from staring at that neon monstrosity for too long. Nothing could prepare me for that carpet. I knew it was going to be there, pink and shaggy, but there is no way that words could fully capture the essence of that mutated Muppet pelt of a floor. It was like seeing pink for the first time, and I couldn’t fathom why people would do that to their room, to their eyes. Let’s just say I felt very motivated to unload the moving truck and cover the floor as quickly as possible.

The season of Lent is largely about expectation. The Lenten season follows Jesus’ march towards the cross. We know the importance of death in his story, but even more recognize the renewing resurrection that follows. All of this is expected. As much as we expect and know the outcome of this Gospel story, the more we need to recognize the ways it defies expectations. Jesus’ ministry, his death, his resurrection challenged Roman authority and even the most pious Jews. In defying expectations, this story becomes transformative and creates a new way of looking at the world that cannot be unseen. Was Mary the scientist forever changed when she saw color for the first time? Could you go back to that dark room knowing that reds and greens and blues lay right outside your door? The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection causes a similar, though more profound, transformation that challenges the way things were before.

Our passage today looks at another Mary, the sister of Martha, whose timeliness, humility, and vulnerability reveals Christ’s radical love. We expect to hear this story during Lent, but just as I expected pink shag carpet and still managed to be surprised and more than a little unsettled, maybe we can still be surprised and unsettled by this familiar story. Mary takes a costly perfume worth a years’ salary and anoints Jesus’ feet. Taken aback, Judas criticizes Mary for not spending the 300 denarii spent for the perfume on the poor, at which point Jesus says, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

To be fair to Judas, this scene is rather odd. Commentators argue that the scene symbolically prepares Jesus for death, but that alone does not justify Mary’s actions in the context of the story. This story seems to emphasize the value of timeliness. Jesus has been in hiding because of a plot to kill him, making this a tense time Jesus and his followers. Despair is setting in for many of those close to Jesus, but Mary, in an grand display expresses love and appreciation for the one who is about to die. Jesus’ statement about the poor is not meant to discount their value or needs, but rather respects and affirms the timely response to immediate opportunities for discipleship. The notion of witness is closely tied to this call for timely action.

Last fall, the news headlines almost always involved Syrian refugees and that ISIS was going to invade our country through the US refugee program. The terrorist attacks in Paris inflamed this debate further and spawned anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric that caused many of the DC faith-based organizations to mobilize and counter unwarranted hate speech and misinformation. Representing the Office of Public Witness, I joined several of these coalitions, which aimed at fighting discriminatory legislation, attending Congressional hearings, and educating lawmakers about the importance of refugee resettlement. When thinking of refugees, I think about how jarring my own experience was when I moved away from Kansas. That these persons feel compelled to leave their home country, spend years in refugee camps, and then maybe get settled somewhere else speaks to the desperateness of the situation in Syria and Iraq, to the great need of these persons, and to the power of human resiliency and courage. When I came to Maryland, I left behind a house and some friends. Refugees leave everything behind with no guarantee for a better future. And like 9 year old me, they want nothing more than to go back home. Though Islamophobia and demonization of refugees still scores political points in some circles, the witness of these coalitions offers inspiration for those pursuing the Kingdom of God on earth.

Jesus’ defense of Mary arises from this emphasis on timeliness and witness, but also from the humility she learned from him. In a sermon entitled, “Putting Ourselves in Question: The Triumphal Entry and the Renunciation of Triumphalism,” Mennonite scholar Chris Huebner reminds us “that Jesus emptied himself, became humble, and took the form of a servant. Unlike other rulers, he does not rule by forceful imposition. He rules, not by wielding power, but as a servant.” Jesus spends much of his life avoiding glorification and challenges traditional conceptions of Messiah that anticipate a powerful Jewish warlord tossing off the yolk of Roman rule. Instead they got a tektōn laborer, born in a manger, from the backwater of Galilee, home of thieves and simpletons. Jesus’ embraced this humble past and made it a core part of his ministry. In the Gospel of Mark, he even does all he can to hide his Messianic identity. Considering the rest of his ministry, it is doubtful that Jesus’ defense of Mary springs from a need to be lauded or worshiped or imply that his value is intrinsically greater than the poor who suffer.

This humility is central to the love Jesus calls us to, and he sees this type of love as Mary anoints him. Because her actions are so extravagant, she embodies a love that defies reason, challenges our expectations, and centralizes the humility Jesus himself exhibited. Mary humbly gives of herself both monetarily and physically as she kneels to anoint Jesus’ feet. Exposed to the judging gaze of those present, Mary’s actions recalls the vulnerability necessary to heed Jesus’ call to love our neighbor, the stranger, and even our enemies. When we consider that Jesus soon would wash his disciple’s feet, the collusion of humility and love in this scene is all the more poignant.

Much like the Mary of the thought experiment, the biblical Mary transforms as abstract knowledge becomes a lived experience. Jesus’ anointing is Mary’s instantiation of a learned, Christ-like way of living and reveals the hallmark of discipleship. Jesus ultimately supports Mary because of her actions for her actions, not out of a sense of entitlement or need to be worshiped. She has learned that Jesus calls for love based on vulnerability and intimate connection, flowing from a witness that is sincere, timely, and humble. She is able to see the color that Judas can’t.

We are not to avoid vulnerability, but rather defy reason and embrace it. I received a lot of critical emails about the refugee Action Alerts the Office put out last fall and was told, very bluntly, that because I supported policies that kept doors open to refugees, I would be morally responsible for the Americans killed by members of ISIS infiltrating our country. I didn’t challenge the point directly, but mentioned that the lengthy 1 to 2 year vetting process by the UN and US that makes malicious infiltration impractical and infeasible. Besides that point, there is a more important question: Wouldn’t we be equally responsible for the harm caused to the people we turn away?

Responding directly to people’s concerns sometimes made them more sympathetic. Their concerns for safety mirror the concerns of those fleeing violence in Iraq, Syria, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. For the ones I could not persuade, I really wish that I emphasized the vulnerability inherent in a deep theological expression of love. Isn’t love greatest when there is risk, when we are vulnerable? We see Christ’s death on the cross as an act of untamed love, but isn’t that only so because Christ became vulnerable? The trust we extend in that vulnerability reveals a genuine desire for connection and honesty that can’t be replicated otherwise and reaches deep into a person. As uncomfortable as it is, this is the challenge before us.

As I close this reflection on Mary’s story, let me go back to the beginning and offer one more thought. Because the scene occurs in Lazarus’ home in Bethany, the scene begins with the acknowledgement that death has been conquered. Inasmuch as this scene foreshadows Jesus impeding death and resurrection, it is situated in liminal space that sits at the threshold of both life and death. This tension and instability is central to Jesus’ ministry. The love that he offers disrupts traditional ways of thinking, disrupts what is comfortable and asks us to witness with humble vulnerability. Inasmuch as we strive to live, to be triumphant, the meaning of resurrection means that we must first accept death and embrace its destabilizing power for transformation. Though some commentators emphasize that Mary prepares Jesus’ body for death, I think we should go a step further and say that Mary is preparing Jesus for resurrection, ushering in new life and a new way of seeing that challenges expectations. How can we be that catalyst for renewal? Sometimes it involves returning to something familiar. Sometimes it’s in embracing something or someone new. Either way, we can end up surprised.

The Office of Public Witness offers many chances to be engaged in this kind of transformation, and I encourage you to sign up for our Action Alerts to stay connected with us. The Office plans help organize events for World Refugee Day in June to show support for refugees across the world. If you are interested in helping with one of these events individually or as a congregation, sign up for Action Alerts and contact me directly at jwinter@brethren.org. May we walk together, unsettled and empowered by this radical vision of love that hinges on humility and vulnerability. May our actions be timely as we pursue God’s work.

In Christ’s Peace,

Jesse Winter

Peacebuilding and Policy Associate

Office of Public Witness

Washington, DC