The Story of Lami

by Rhoda Maina (A member of the Nigeria Disaster Team)

I met Lami during the relief distribution exercise at Uba last week. She received food and clothing as part of the EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria) effort.

Her Story

Lami is a 27 year old widow that lost her husband to Boko haram in February 2015. She is from my village (Lassa). As a matter of fact, they stayed in the same neighborhood with my parents before the dreaded attack. Lami and her late husband (Ujulu) and their three children were able to run to a nearby community for safety. However people in that community were also at risk because of the presence of Boko Haram in the area. After a few days, Ujulu’s elder brother, (Bitrus) who lives in Maiduguri sent a message to Ujulu that he should contact him. Bitrus had made arrangements for the family to leave that community and travel to Maiduguri.

On that fateful day, narrated Lami, ‘’My husband took a motor cycle and told me to make sure I stayed safe. He was going to look for a place where he could access the phone network to call his brother. It was after two days without his return that I knew what I greatly feared had happened.”

Ujulu met Boko Haram members on his way to the community called Sabongari. There they tied his hands behind his back and slit his throat, at least that was what Lami said with a very emotional voice.

 Ujulu burial:

Lami continued, ‘’Before I got the information, his friends in that community had already identified his body but could only dig a shallow grave. We went back for a proper burial and while they were burying him I hid myself in a bushy area to act as their lookout in case any Boko Haram were passing.’’

 How is Lami coping?

“All hope was lost after the death of my husband. My children became sick and always asked when their father was coming home. I would look at them with tearful eyes and tell them that they would see him one day.  However, in March, I attended a trauma healing workshop organized by an EYN pastor here in Uba.  There I received encouragement and strength from the teaching. Many other women shared stories sadder than mine. Since then, I have picked up the courage to be strong and take care of my kids and see what God will do.’’

Beautiful Things

This post comes from Jenn Hosler, pastor at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Jenn recently shared this sermon as a reflection on Earth Day.

Daffodils, tulips, cherry blossoms, and magnolia trees. Hyacinths and dandelions, sprouting leaves and singing birds. Friends, spring is here and it is beautiful. Last Sunday was one of my favorite days in DC, when I had the joy of taking my annual visit down to the cherry blossoms in peak bloom. I am always astounded by the magnificence of the cherry blossoms. The sea of pinkish white trees gleaming in the sun makes my heart sing. Each year I go, the cherry blossoms remind me that the world is good and beautiful and that God the Creator is reigning.

You may know that Earth Day is this Wednesday, April 22nd. Because of this, I thought it apt that we should spend this Sunday’s worship reflecting on the Earth. Earth Day, however, does not have a place in the Lectionary, the calendar of readings and scriptures used by many denominations. On that calendar, today is the third Sunday of Easter. Does Earth Day have anything to do with Easter? Should Earth Day be on the church calendar?

What exactly does Scripture teach us about this world in which we live? Do we have a biblical theology of creation? How does creation relate to other parts of theology, like how we understand Christ or salvation? If we look across scripture, we can see three truths that the Bible teaches about creation. First, the earth is created by God and it is good. Second, human sin impacts the earth and all of creation. Third, through Christ, both we and the earth are being reconciled to God and made beautiful.

Created and Good

If we are looking at what the Bible says about the earth, a logical place to start would be at the beginning, at the Creation story presented in Genesis 1. In the Creation story in Genesis, God repeatedly calls the earth “good”. What does it mean to say that something is good? The word “good” has a wide semantic range – we use it for a lot of things. One of my Australian friends found my use of “good” to be very perplexing.

When waiting for him to finish something up so that we could leave and go sightseeing in DC, I asked him, “Are you good?” He replied, “Do you mean ontologically good? Am I in fact a good person, good by nature?” What I meant was, “are you ready?” Are you “good to go?” In North America, we say “good to go” and shorten it to good, which can be a bit perplexing or funny for other English speakers. We use good in a lot of ways: it can mean favorable, righteous, or pleasant. It can mean something is suitable, adequate (or good enough), or even just “okay”.

The meaning here in Genesis 1 is much more than “just okay”. In Genesis, good is pleasing, pleasant, pure, and delightful. “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” God then creates the sun, moon, and stars, calls into existence the sky and land, gathers the waters, makes vegetation, plants, and animals, and He after He is finished each one, He calls each of them “good.”

The Creator gazes upon oceans and rivers and trees and streams and birds and mammals and fish and declares all of them pleasing, pleasant, pure, and delightful.  From the beginning of our human story, we see that physical matter, the biological world around us, and the environment—they are all God-designed, God-crafted, and God-approved.

Genesis 1 teaches us that God created this earth and that He called it good. Genesis 1 also details the creation of human beings. Humans are shown to be in unique relationship with God, the only part of creation that is made in the image of God. In verses 26 through 28, we see God speaking humanity into existence: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” When God is finished, He looks upon the humans and says that it is “very good.”

Being made in the image of God gives us a special relationship with God—and also a special relationship with the rest of creation. Being made in the image of God brings with it a functional authority: there is a task to keep, guard, and protect the earth under human care.

While the words used in our English translation—fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion—seem exploitative, the biblical understanding is anything but. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann (1982) describes how “The ‘dominion’ here mandated is with reference to the animals. The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals… Thus the task of ‘dominion does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition” (p. 32).

From the start, humans were to have an ongoing relationship with the created world, caring for it, tending it, and protecting the earth and its creatures.

Cursed and Broken

In Genesis 1, the beautiful creation story is presented at a macro level. In chapter 2, we get a closer up look at human beings, with God creating people out of the earth itself, out of dust from the ground. Again, we see humans and the earth intertwined—physically this time. From dust we are made. Things get darker, however, as the book of Genesis continues. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebel against God. The consequences of human sin proceed to spread across creation. These consequences include a broken relationship between humans and also a combative relationship between humans and the earth.

In Genesis 3 and other parts of the Old Testament, we see that human sin impacts creation, both directly and indirectly. In Deuteronomy, the Mosaic Covenant between the Israelites and Yahweh contained within it both blessings and curses tied to the Land of Israel. Devotion to Yahweh would bring blessings and the land would produce bountifully.  Turning away from Yahweh—and toward idol worship, greed, and injustice—would lead to drought, devastation, and barrenness.

In the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and others, the effects of human sin on the land are described in vivid terms of desolation and brokenness. The land is personified as mourning the sin of the Israelites. Jeremiah 12:4 reads, “How long will the grass mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For [Because of] the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away…”

The prophet Hosea proclaimed something similar in chapter 4, verses 1-3, “Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing [oaths], lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish, together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hos. 4: 1-3).

In the Old Testament, human sin is not just an individual problem. Sin affects the well-being of the community and also the well-being of the environment. If human sin impacts all of creation, it would make sense that God’s story of salvation and redemption would not bring healing to our relationship with God, but also to all of creation.

Flesh vs. Spirit? Reconciling all Things

At times throughout history, Christians have had difficulty understanding salvation beyond what it means for an individual soul. Christians have struggled with strains of philosophy that denigrate the physical world, or think that the physical world is something to get past. In dualism and Gnosticism, to use technical terms for some of these philosophies, the immaterial world is spiritual, while the material world is evil, imperfect, and to be shunned.

Some biblical illustrations, like Paul’s use of the word “flesh” for sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 8), have given the impression that dualism is biblical or scriptural. They’ve pointed to some scriptures and said, “See, the Bible says the physical world is bad.” One of these scriptures is in Romans 8:5-6. Here, Paul says that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

This contrast between flesh and Spirit, death and life, can leave us confused and perplexed. Does salvation mean we don’t care for the earth – we only the Spirit? As with many theological concepts, it is important to read widely in scripture to get the full context of Christian teaching.

With Paul’s writings, we hear “flesh” bad and Spirit good and can easily assume that Paul was speaking universally. But Paul used “flesh” to describe the sinful nature, but still maintained that God’s creation was good and part of God’s overall all plan. Looking further just within Romans 8, the same chapter that talks about flesh versus Spirit, we can see that Paul is not a dualist. Paul teaches that it is not only humanity that needs Christ’s redemptive power. The earth and all creatures in it also eagerly await Jesus’ redemption.

Paul writes in Romans that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption [as God’s children], the redemption of our bodies” (8:19-23).

This created world, plants and animals and ecosystems, is tied up in the spiritual and physical fate of humanity. God’s plan of salvation does not just lead to souls being saved, but our physical bodies and the rest of Creation are also being redeemed.

Earlier, I asked, does Earth Day have anything to do with Easter? I think the answer is yes. This morning’s passage in Colossians says that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (1:19). Through Christ Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Through His death and resurrection, God is reconciling to himself all things. He is making all things new. We experience the first fruits through the Holy Spirit now and some day it will all be brought to fulfillment. Destruction, death, and decay will be replaced with wholeness, life, and beauty.

Agents of Reconciliation

So what does this mean for our lives as followers of Jesus? Through Christ, we have been brought from death to life. Because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are freed from sin, freed from hatred, freed from greed, freed from our tendency to exploit and consume. It is in this freedom that we learn to love God, learn to love others, and also learn to reclaim our role as shepherds and keepers of the earth. Made in the image of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be agents of God’s reconciliation. We are called to proclaim and live out and model reconciliation in our relationships and also in how we relate to the earth. God is making all things new – and He’s doing this in us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit – transforming the broken into beautiful things.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to fixing our relationship with our environment. This is because our culture and our standard of living has emphasized consumption and comfort over caring for the earth. Overconsumption and disregard for the earth pervade much of our lives – how we transport ourselves, how we eat, what we buy, whether we fix things, and more. Transforming our relationship with the earth is a long process, one that we are called to undertake both as individuals and as a faith community.

As a church, we have taken some steps to be stewards of the earth, such as our rain barrel and our rain landscaping. Through the Office of Public Witness, we will soon install a demonstration and kitchen garden beside the church. These are all great steps. Yet if reconciliation is a process, we should be asking together, “What is our next step of in reconciling ourselves to God’s good earth?”

This is a question we also ask in our individual lives: how can I make one step further toward being a good steward of God’s creation. How can I reduce what I send to a landfill, maybe by recycling or composting or just buying less? How can I reduce pollution – can I go meatless one day a week? Can I drive less and walk, bike, or metro more? Can I carpool? There isn’t one set plan for everyone: the key goal is to understand how our actions impact the earth which has been entrusted to our care.

Sisters and brothers, let us rejoice. The earth is good and beautiful. Jesus is reconciling us to God, reconciling us with each other, and reconciling us with this earth. We are not passive bystanders in this plan, but active agents of God’s reconciliation. May we be faithful to our call to guard and protect and tend God’s good creation. Amen.

 

References

Brueggemann, W. (1982). Genesis. Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

EYN Devotions April 26th – May 2nd

Link

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for the April 26th – May 2nd 2015

Circle of Hands – Circle of Hope

Peggy Gish, 19 April, 2015

“When I came home after escaping the attack, our home had been bombed, and everything was destroyed,” one woman said, expressing a lot of pain.

“I was away when Boko Haram attacked my village,” a man voiced with regret.  ”I still feel horrible that my wife had to face it and flee alone.”

“Everyone else in my village fled when Boko Haram came. I was the only one who stayed, and miraculously, I was not found and killed,” a third said, expressing his gratefulness.

“I ran home when our church was attacked,” another shared. “My husband was at home and was able to go in the car to the next village. When he called me, I told him to go ahead and escape. He answered, ‘I will wait for you to find me. We will stay together, and if we die, we will die together.’”

circle of handsHeartbreaking stories flowed out from the group gathered at a trauma healing workshop in Yola, in early April 2015, sponsored by the crisis team of EYN (Nigerian Brethren Church) for members now living in displacement camps or crowded in relatives’ homes. This was one of many such workshops to help members support each other in the process of healing from the violence of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. And more trainers are being trained so that more of the estimated two hundred to six hundred thousand (200,000 – 600,000) EYN members who have been impacted by trauma, can be included.

There was no expectation that these three days of meeting together and sharing would bring any quick fix, or that it would take care of more intense traumas that called for more intensive pastoral or psychological counseling. The sessions give a framework for understanding how trauma affects them and others, and helps them choose positive ways of dealing with the emotions connected with trauma and open themselves to healing. This program is carried out with the hope of preventing the cycle of violence and trauma from continuing, knowing that when trauma is not dealt with, those who have been traumatized, in turn, can perpetrate violence and traumatize another group of people.

Exercises such as the “empty chair,” gave participants space in which to “speak” to someone they lost.  Remembering that the person, they lost, loved them, offered them grounding for dealing with their loss. Understanding the different stages of grief and allowing themselves and others patience as they navigate these at their own pace and order, provided some guidance for the process. Guessing what was in a small purse, and having its surprising contents dumped out, helped the group to see that what is inside a person who is grieving may not be what you would expect or “reasonable,” and that getting the grief out, frees the heart.

Especially moving, was and exercise called, “circle of hands.” One by one, in the circle, each person said, “I love this family; I wish this family____” and filled in the blank with something, such as, ”hope,” “healing,” or “strength.” After his or her statement, the person put her closed hand in the circle and around the prior person’s thumb, holding out her thumb for the next one to take. The result was a circle of hands joined together, symbolic of the strength and beauty they and others who have just experienced great trauma from violence, can be given as they walk together through this difficult time, within a community of love and support.

EYN Devotions April 19-25, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for the EYN Devotion Blog Apr 19-25 2015

Dr. Paul Petcher remembers Nigeria

Do Your Best and Trust the Lord for the Rest

By Carl Hill – Co-Director of Nigeria Crisis Response

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a man who has some real experience working with the people of Nigeria. Dr. Paul Petcher called me from Millry, Alabama. He worked in Nigeria on two separate occasions. From 1951-53 he served as medical missionary in Garkida and then in 1957-61 he was the doctor associated with the Brethren hospital in Lassa.

According to the good doctor, he delivered over 200 babies a year and performed more than 2000 major operations during his seven+ years in Nigeria. Dr Paul is now 94 and his wife, Pat, is 93 and both live in rural Alabama. Dr. Paul is also blind.

Dr. Paul’s memory of his time in Nigeria is very sharp. He recalls the many Nigerians he helped in one way or another. He remembers, especially, the people of Lassa as part of his family. When he thinks about some of his fondest memories of the people of Nigeria, it is usually about someone who was facing a near impossible medical condition. Miraculously, says Dr. Paul, I just did the best I could with the limited medical equipment available and I trusted the Lord for the rest. More often than not God did His part. Dr. Paul Petcher remembers his time in Nigeria as some of the best days of his life. He is praying for peace for his beloved people as well as contributing to the Nigeria Crisis Fund. What an amazing man!

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Nigeria: Conflict and the Environment

going-to-the-garden-title

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

7pm EDT

While there are many causes to crisis in Nigeria, natural resources, both plentiful and scarce, contribute to the ongoing situation.  From oil in the south to the rapidly expanding desert in the north many layers of the conflict connect to the environment. This webinar will consider these issues as well as our relationship to them.

As a nation, our consumption of goods is leading to ever increasing strain on our global resources, causing harm to our environment, and is promoting conflicts in parts of the world that have limited resources. The reality of these impacts can be witnessed in the current Nigerian conflict. Join the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness as we discuss the environmental impacts of our actions on our world and our global neighbors in the context of the crisis in Nigeria, as well as how we think theologically about this.

During this second webinar of the Going to the Garden spring series, we will focus on ways to live out the call to love our neighbors through our choices that affect all of creation.

To register for this webinar, please visit: http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=EB57D886854C3D. Any questions can be directed to kfurrow@brethren.org.

Presenters:

Kate Edelen is a Research Associate at the Friends Committee on National Legislation where she conducts research and analysis at the nexus of peacebuilding, environment, and counterterrorism policy, with special focus on Africa. Previously, Edelen was a Fulbright Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway where she conducted research on the relationship between political violence and climatologically-affected water resources in South Asia. She holds a M.Sc. in Water Science, Policy, and Management from the University of Oxford.

Nathan Hosler is the Director of the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC and a minister at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Previously he worked with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (CoB, Nigeria) for two years teaching peacebuilding theology and practice.

Tales of Escape

Joshua - On the run from Kulp Bible College late October

Joshua – On the run from Kulp Bible College late October

Our newest Nigerian correspondent, Joshua Ishaya, is a fourth year student at Kulp Bible College. Like many others who lived in Nigeria’s northeast he is living as a displaced person. When my wife and I went and visited Nigeria in November, Joshua looked much thinner than the last time we had seen him. His eyes lacked the spark we had come to know from him. We tried to encourage him and spend some quality time with him. Now, just three months later when we returned to Nigeria, Joshua had regained his healthy glow and seemed to have made a considerable adjustment to his circumstances.

Correspondent Joshua Ishaya in March

Correspondent Joshua Ishaya in March

Joshua is now living with the family of his older sister in Kano. But like many displaced people, he was idle. So, to give him something worthwhile to do we asked him if he could interview some other displaced people and write up some short stories about his fellow countrymen and women. Here are stories of people he encountered in Kano

 

 

Felix from Mubi

Felix from Mubi

Felix ran all the way from Mubi to Cameroon on foot. It took him 3 days and nights. He was a student of Federal Polytechnic School in Mubi. He is Fali by tribe. After the 3 days journey, he had a very tough time finding food, accommodations, health care, and clothing. He stayed in Cameroon for 1 week. That week was one of the worst weeks of his life. He said, “I decided to die rather than to go through all those tribulations.” He then decided to turn back to Nigeria. He spent another 4 days and 3 nights this time before he could get to Yola. He arrived in Yola with only one set of clothes and some people helped him with clean clothes and food to eat. He was in Yola for another 48hrs until his brother in Kano sent transportation money for him to travel to Kano where he is now living.

Esther from Dille

Esther from Dille

Esther was living in Dille when the Boko Haram attacked the town. She was down ill and could not run with the others. This resulted in a flying bullet hitting her right hand. At first she did not know she had been injured but when she found herself in the neighboring village called Lassa, people asked her, “What happened with your hand?” Then she started feeling the pain and suddenly started crying. Some of God’s willing people helped her by taking her to the hospital where she got treatment. From Lassa hospital she fled to Mubi then to Yola and Bauchi before she got help and has found a place to stay in Kano.

Mercy from Maiduguri

Mercy from Maiduguri

Mercy was studying at a college of business in Kunduga a town about 35 kilometer from Maiduguri. The BH attacked this town and she was wounded while she tried to escape. She spent a month and 3 days at hospital. After the doctor discharged her she went to her home town of Chibok. However, they (BH) attacked Chibok again and she barely escaped  to Maiduguri. There was no one in Maiduguri who could offer her help so now she is in Kano with a sister.
Mercy’s sister is married to a Nigerian soldier who is also from the Northeast. They are responsible for many of his sisters and brothers and have 10 people living with them. Life is not easy; feeding, clothing and educating all these people is a huge problem on their modest income.

EYN Devotions April 12-18, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for the EYN Devotion Blog Apr 12-18 2015

Office of Public Witness Welcomes Nuclear Framework Agreement Between P5+1 and Iran

The framework agreement reached last week between the P5+1 and Iran is a welcome sign for the future of US relations in the Middle East and nuclear weapons policy more generally. The framework agreement significantly limits Iran’s capacity to produce material for a nuclear weapon in the near future and is hopefully a building block towards more diplomacy with Iran and other important countries in the region. It took political will and courage for all sides to come together despite their differences and hammer out this framework for an agreement that will benefit all sides in different ways. We commend these diplomatic leaders for coming together and finding common ground even after many groups and actions threatened the potential for an agreement. Anytime diplomacy pushes the world towards peace we applaud these efforts, and we also hope that this agreement will lead to a more substantial conversation about nuclear weapons across the globe.Office of Public Witness

As a Church that has publicly declared and believes, “that peace is the will of God and all war is sin”, we believe that much more must be done on the issue of nuclear weapons. It is not enough to simply limit countries that do not currently have these capabilities from getting them. Rather, as the only country to have employed a nuclear weapon during war, we believe the United States has the unique burden of leading the world towards nuclear disarmament. For decades we have called for and worked towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament through denominational, political, ecumenical and interfaith avenues, and we hope that this recent multi-lateral agreement with Iran will be the first step in a radical rethinking of our country’s and the world’s relationship with nuclear weapons.