Children’s Trauma Training in Nigeria: a huge success

Leaders Kathy Fry-Miller and John Kinsel with Participants of the training

Leaders Kathy Fry-Miller and John Kinsel with Participants of the training

Fourteen women theologians including our host Suzan Mark, Women’s Ministry Director for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), attended the two-day training on trauma healing for children.

Day 1 of training was spent learning to know each other and learning about how people

Training time

Training time

respond to trauma and how to support resilience. The group was then presented with the Healing Hearts Curriculum that consists of nine sessions based on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, with accompanying Bible stories from “Shine On: A Story Bible.”

Participants received a small version of the Kit of Comfort that CDS volunteers use with children who are affected by disasters, with art materials, bean bags, and beautiful hand-made dolls and animals that Church of the Brethren congregations and individuals across the country created for this work.

Day 2 was spent completing the nine sessions and planning for the afternoon practicum at Favored Sisters school and orphanage. The practicum work was enthusiastically received by the children, as well as the trainers.

Reflections

Kathy Fry-Miller

All of the women in our training group have been affected by the violence of the Boko Haram. They all had to flee at some point, some many times. They have taken other families into their homes; they have taken children/orphans into their homes. They have responded to the crisis with compassion and faith. These women were inspiring to us. They have found amazing ways to cope with crisis through their love of God, through music, prayer, showing compassion, and being helpers.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to travel to Nigeria and work with the wonderful people we met! Such gracious hospitality! Our relationships were full of friendship, warmth, joy, compassion. It really was a life-changing experience.

John Kinsel:

My biggest take-away was the strength, intelligence, hospitality, love and resilience of the Nigerian folks we met.  I have never experienced such pure integration of faith in my life, and it left me amazed, humbled and challenged.  The training itself, as I’ve been telling folks, couldn’t have gone better, due primarily to the receptiveness of the women theologians.  We had designed the presentation to be emergent versus didactic, and boy did it emerge via the insightful, energetic and hungry response from the women.  They took it all in, made it their own and, during their “practicum” at Favored Sisters School, demonstrated a capacity for loving connection with the children that left us awe-struck.  So many stories emerge from this experience, but they can be summed up by saying that I am convinced that children’s lives were changed that day!  The continuity and sustaining of this work is assured by the strength of these amazing women.  We were pleased also to meet with representatives from the Mennonite Central Committee who, while disappointed they had not been a part of the training, were enthusiastic about finding something that could feed their newly recognized awareness of the need to address the trauma of children, as well as adults.  They challenged us to adapt the curriculum to be appropriate for Christians and Muslims alike and Kathy and I have accepted that challenge.  Our vision is that this work can expand and provide psychological comfort to many children.

Children at the Practicum

Children at the Practicum

A Child holds her drawing

A Child holds her drawing

Stories from the Practicum

One little girl (under age 2) started screaming and ran away when one of the trainers was on the ground during the dramatization of the “Good Samaritan”. She thought it was a dead body.

One group did the session, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” which included making an origami paper cup, bringing a stone to leave at the “altar” in the cup, and taking a piece of sweet bread back with them. They sang, “Come, bring your burdens to God” as they did this. The trainer said, “The children needed something like that. They immediately learned the song. They immediately did the dramatic experience, bringing their burdens, leaving them, and taking the sweet bread. They feel burdens. They put their trust in God. One girl said that she knows now that she can carry her burden to God and remove that burden from her.”

One girl told her trainer, “When we fled from Boko Haram, I prayed that God would never forgive them. Now I will pray that God will forgive Boko Haram.”

One group did the activity where they held dolls/stuffed animals and sang “Jesus loves me”.

One of the directors at the Favored Sisters School said, “Some of these children will never, never forget that you came to us today.”

One little girl told her trainer, “You. You are my mother, because my mother is not here.” The trainer was so touched that even after a short 45 minute session, they bonded with these precious children. Another trainer said that children told her, “They were so happy, it was as if they had seen their parents.”

Response after the training

Suzan (Director of Women for EYN)

“I’ve been getting calls during our session, people who heard about this and have children who are traumatized and need help.Our future generations will live to tell stories about how the Church of the Brethren came to them.”

Suzan, a couple days later,

“I’ve been getting so many texts, calls, and emails from the women theologians over the past two days. They are so excited about doing this work.”

“I saw three children last evening walking around. I was showing them some pictures on my phone. They saw the picture of me standing by my car that was burned out, and asked about it. I told them the story of the Good Samaritan. I gave them paper to draw someone who has helped them. They each were so thoughtful, then they drew someone. Each one of them had someone in mind to draw. They told me the stories of their pictures and who helped them.”

One of the trainers said, “I went to school before, but here I REALLY went to school.”

(Information and pictures for this report wer provided by Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director Children’s Disaster Ministries)

Workshop held for Medical Clinic workers

by Norman S. Waggy, M.D.

Group of dispensary staff and ICBDP medical workers that met for 2.5 days in Jos for a refresher course led by Norm and Paul

Group of dispensary staff and ICBDP medical workers that met for 2.5 days in Jos for a refresher course led by Norm and Paul

I had served as the medical consultant to the EYN Rural Health Program during the 1980’s, so the current status and well-being of the program was of particular interest to me.  Carl and Roxane Hill, coordinators for the Nigeria Crisis Fund, also asked me to assess the program as much as possible, and to provide observations and recommendations if appropriate.  Although I only was able to visit 3 dispensaries and the RHP Headquarters in Garkida during a VERY brief trip to Yola, Kwarhi, Fadama Rake, and Garkida, I did have the chance to listen to many who are working with the programme.

As a result of these visits and discussions, we determined that a “refresher course” for the dispensers in charge could be beneficial.  I had provided one-week refresher courses twice annually during the 1980’s for the EYN RHP dispensers, so I had a bit of an understanding of the types of teaching which might be beneficial.  I was able to contact people back in the US to e-mail copies of some of my teaching materials, some of which I rewrote as handouts.  Using that material as well as information from the internet and textbooks, I was able to write and print 9 handouts on various topics for each person.

Fortuantely, Paul Fry-Miller, a friend and Physician Assistant from North Manchester, IN arrived in Nigeria with his wife Kathy just the day before this course started.  Paul and I have worked together previously in Nicaragua, and I very much valued his advice, expertise, and friendship as we together taught this course.

We did not give the 16 participants much chance to catch their breath!  After they had travelled for over 10 hours in the bus on Sunday, we ate our evening meal together, had an opening worship, then during an opening session discussed their concerns and topics that they wanted to address.  By 9 pm they were ready to sleep at the EYN Guest House, before returning the next morning at 7 am for worship and teaching!  Our devotional topics during the course included “Health, Wellness, and Healing as part of God’s Plan”, “Servant Leadership and Humility”, and “Hope”.  The course ended late on Tuesday with a worship time led by Rev. James T. Mamza, Director of the EYN ICBDP, who encouraged participants to wisely use the gifts/talents that God has given each.

During our 12 teaching sessions over the 2 full days (a total of over 15 hours), we were able to address every one of the topics they requested.  Teachings included human sexuality/family planning/infertility, pharmacology, viruses, bacteria, appropriate use of antibiotics and antipyretics, sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, diabetes, hypertension, lipids, hepatitis, gastritis/ulcers, typhoid, diarrhea, worms, oral rehydration solution, nosebleeds, sickle cell anemia, Lassa and Ebola viruses, childhood diseases and vaccines, and oral hygiene.  We were also able to discuss some of the case studies about which they had particular concerns.  Obviously, given the time constraints, we were only able to provide a very superficial treatment of each topic!

Overall, I believe that this course was well-received, and hopefully it will be helpful to the dispensers of the EYN RHP.  I felt that we all worked well together, and I appreciate the chance to provide this course.  The larger management issues facing the RHP will need to be addressed if the programme is to continue.  I hope we will have a chance to discuss these in the near future.

Value and Values: Perspectives on Israel and Puerto Rico

How we spend our money shows what we think is important. In the past few years, the U.S. government has struggled to pass a budget, but some fiscal decisions are easier to make than others. With the support of Congress, the Administration has discussed expanding U.S. funds to Israel to further expand Israel’s already excessive military edge. While Israel is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, policymakers have failed to make progress on a more pressing fiscal issue that directly affects U.S. citizens: the debt crisis in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s expansive debt has crippled its economy and forced many citizens to leave the island territory.

What does it say about our country that efforts to bolster Israel’s military receive high praise, while Congressional efforts to offer financial support for Puerto Rico continue to stall? While these two issues are wholly separate in both their justifications and mechanisms for receiving U.S. support, juxtaposing these two cases reveals misplaced priorities in the American agenda relevant to people of faith.

After receiving a widely-supported letter from the U.S. Senate, the Administration has stated that it aims to enhance Israel’s annual $3 billion military aid package to nearly $4 billion. Since Israel became a nation in 1946, U.S. military aid to Israel has exceeded $130 billion, which is nearly half of all military aid sent to the Middle East in that same time period. With such sustained support, Israel clearly meets any arbitrary threshold for defense, making an increase in Israel’s superlative aid excessive and irresponsible.

Israel has proved its military independence in defense expenditures and by its arms manufacturing industry that exports to 130 countries, including the U.S. and U.K. Israel’s arms trade is problematic in itself since many of Israel’s arms exports contribute to conflicts in places such as the Ivory Coast and South Sudan. The question of military support for Israel consequently goes beyond a matter of fiscal responsibility to one of moral responsibility. Does Israel need our support? Does it even deserve it?

The Puerto Rico’s debt crisis poses another moral problem, though one exacerbated by U.S. inaction rather than direct financial endorsement. The Puerto Rican government is currently $72 billion in debt and has a $2 billion debt payment to make by June 1. In addition to irresponsible governing, Puerto Rico’s special designation as a U.S. territory helped create the current crisis. Puerto Rican statehood is debated even among its citizens, but without many state protections, financial loopholes enabled large corporations and hedge funds to lend money to the Puerto Rican government at irresistible rates. In the wake of aggressive lending and borrowing, Puerto Rico’s debt ballooned out of control.

The Puerto Rican government and several members of Congress have pushed legislation to help lessen the impact of Puerto Rico’s debt on its struggling population. The proposed aid to Puerto Rico is frequently couched as a bailout, but unlike financial assistance to Israel, the current debate is not about distributing U.S. taxpayer money. Rather, the current legislation has the modest goal of providing debt relief to Puerto Rico by granting it municipal bankruptcy protection, a privilege held by all U.S. states but not the Puerto Rican territory.

Bankruptcy protection would restructure debt payments to ensure the well-being of the 3.5 million Puerto Rican people, about 45% of whom live in poverty because of this financial crisis. Without this protection, Puerto Rico could be required to further defund essential emergency services and continue to raise taxes in order to meet payment deadlines. Sales taxes in Puerto Rico already sit at a soaring 11.5% and thousands have left the island to escape an economy that leaves many overqualified and unsupported. Efforts to pass helpful legislation to aid Puerto Rico continue to falter, begging the question: Do we have our priorities right?

While military aid to Israel uses taxpayer money to further equip the most militarized nation in the Middle East, debt relief to Puerto Rico addresses the immediate need of struggling U.S. taxpayers. Too frequently it seems our fiscal sense is disconnected from common sense. Our country was founded on the self-evident truths that everyone is created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. In a world filled with money and potential profit, however, these rights often become mere footnotes in discussions about dividends and economic growth. U.S. arms manufacturers receive good business from Israel because of military aid, while Puerto Rico doesn’t seem to have much to offer.

As Brethren, we tout our tagline “Peacefully, Simply, Together” but often forget its implications. We are called to be peaceful, acting from a place of love and support. We are called to live simply, to walk with God rather than join the rat race. Finally, we are called together to be strengthened as a community of faith. These three pillars rest on the recognition that every person is a precious creation made in the image of God. This belief undergirds our work through Global Mission and Service and within our own communities. It is a foundation for witness that gives us a prophetic voice.

Recalling that our political system is founded on the equal rights of everyone to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must use our prophetic voice to remind those with power that such rights cannot be ignored, that each person has inherent value deeper and more beautiful than market value, that military excess works against the pursuit of peace and simplicity. Our elected officials must be reminded that they serve the People, especially the citizens of Puerto Rico.

Today, the Office of Public Witness joined several other faith-based organizations in denouncing U.S. military aid and arms trade in the Middle East, including Israel. The Office also works with Jubilee USA, an organization focused on providing debt relief. Check out their website for more information about Puerto Rico and how you can get involved.

In Christ’s Peace,

Jesse Winter
Peacebuilding and Policy Associate
Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

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.