From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Cragos at GurkuBy Tom Crago, CoB Volunteer in Nigeria

This past week, visiting the resettlement camp in Gurku (near Nigeria’s Capital Abuja) was an eye-opener for me. This was our first visit to the camp, and we had a special opportunity to worship with them on Sunday, the 16th of August.  Church attendance was 142 people that Sunday, down from 152 the previous Sunday. When we asked about this difference, we heard a heart-wrenching tale.  And,                                                          therein lies the story —

It seems that many of the displaced families who are staying in the Gurku resettlement camp were desperate to find educational opportunities for their children. Stretched financially, they heard of several private schools near Benin in Edo State that were offering free tuition and board for the IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) from Northeastern Nigeria.  So, many of them sent their children, many Secondary School age boys and girls, to Edo State to continue their education.

Then, last week an incident occurred which caused considerable alarm.  A group of about 40 buses showed up at one of these private schools, announcing that the children were being relocated to another place.  The school Principal, not understanding this move, called Nigerian security authorities who intervened to stop the movement.  It seems there was no official documentation for authorizing such a move, and those attempting to remove the children have been arrested.  It remains unclear, as I write this short note, whether this was an elaborate attempt to sell these children into household and/or sexual slavery, or possibly even an attempt by Boko Haram to carry out yet another mass abduction. It seems that Benin is known here in Nigeria as a “hotspot” for movement of children into the sex slave trade. Many children end up as slaves in Middle Eastern households, or as sex workers in Europe, and even occasionally in America. We plan to follow up on this incident as the investigation continues.

Classes for younger students are held under this tree

Classes for younger students are held under this tree

But — getting back to the Sunday worship attendance figures — about a dozen fathers had traveled that Sunday from Gurku to Benin to retrieve their children, and bring them back to the camp.  The incident, and the desperation we see in this attempt by parents to continue the education of their children in spite of the risks, points to just one problem facing the many thousands of IDP’s from the EYN (or Church of the Brethren, in English). One EYN leader has estimated that more than a thousand children may have been relocated to Delta and Edo states — many to further their education!

Gurku Church service held in a temporary spot

Gurku Church service held in a temporary spot

The Gurku camp we were visiting is a new development, and has no school, either primary or secondary, associated with it.  All of EYN’s resettlement camps face similar problems (Jalingo, Jos and Masaka are all being developed, and another is planned in Yola).  EYN’s Comprehensive Secondary School and Kulp Bible College are located in Kwarhi, in an area over-run by the Boko Haram last year, and they have not been open for most of the past year. Ultimately, another Secondary School is planned for Chinka on a large parcel of land owned by EYN, located between Abuja and Kaduna, but it is still under development.  But, there is clearly an immediate need for more safe schooling opportunities in the EYN, and the insurgency and refugee situation has only made a stretched EYN educational system even worse.

Our hopes and prayers, of course, are focused on EYN finding safe alternatives and solutions for these children, who may be faced with the rhetorical – and diabolical – choice of “sitting in the frying pan, or jumping into the fire”, as they struggle to continue their schooling.  Pray, with us, that safe solutions can be found, that schools can be set up in the resettlement camps, and that educating this next generation of children will continue safely.

Be strong and courageous

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

A reflection by Laura Whitman

It’s that time again. If you stay still you can almost feel it. Change. It’s constantly happening, but seems more prevalent this time of year: vacations end; a final burst of heat before the cool of fall; kids return to school. Even the General Offices feel this shift as summer busyness subsides, people return to their offices after summer travel, goodbyes are shared with Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers, and new volunteers arrive. Change.

With the uncertainty of change and transitions, there are three uninvited hitchhikers that tag along: anxiousness, worry, and fear. Swirling thoughts can keep us up at night: How will we get through this? What if something goes terribly wrong? These thoughts can become debilitating fears.

Deuteronomy 31 reveals a time of change and unknown. Moses was retiring from leadership and appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites to the promised land. I’m sure both Joshua and the Israelites felt anxious in this transition. In verse 6, Moses gives them a pep talk: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you”(NIV).

Be strong and courageous. I don’t know about you, but when I get lost in worry and anxiousness, I don’t feel strong and courageous—I feel like putting on sweatpants, hiding from my problems, and seeking temporary comfort from a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In these moments, I also need a pep talk. Recently my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, shared a story that spoke directly into my anxious soul.

Elizabeth wrote about a recent vacation to Miami Beach, Fla., where she was startled by a cell phone notification about a tornado warning in her vicinity. She began to panic and quickly sought shelter in a dressing room at a store. After another notification said the storm had passed, she realized that the warning was not for Miami, but rather for her hometown over 1,000 miles away. She wrote: “99.9% of the time I panic over NOTHING — allowing myself to become saturated with anxiety over imaginary tornadoes.… When the actual tornadoes of our life do come, my experience is this: we tend to be able to handle them. Oftentimes we handle real disasters better than we handle the FEAR of possible disasters.”

How many times are we like Elizabeth? Letting the fear of the unknown—tornadoes we invent during times of change—steer us off track until we find ourselves cowering in a dressing room unsure of what led us there. Instead of letting worries distract us, we can remain calm because God is with us through storms, imagined or real, and helps us face transitions and changes courageously.

Laura Whitman serves through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) August 30 – September 5, 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 Devotions Aug 30 – Sept 5, 2015

Iran Deal: An Analysis by the Office of Public Witness

After twenty months of negotiations, President Obama and other international leaders made a landmark agreement that will curb Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. The agreement stipulates that the United States lift economic sanctions that forced Iran to the table in the first place. Israel and Saudi Arabia have spoken out about the proposed deal since Iran’s economic influence would expand, but the global community generally sees this deal as a way of promoting stability in the region. Iranian public opinion even stands in strong support of the deal since the lifted sanctions would greatly improve their crippled economy.

With international opinion on his side, President Obama has been campaigning to guarantee that the negotiated settlement with Iran passes in Congress. A vote will likely happen soon after Labor Day when Congress is back in session, so time is running out to garner support. Many members of Congress have already released statements for or against the agreement, and President Obama announced that he would veto Congress’s decision if the agreement did not pass. For Congress to override the veto, each house would need a two-thirds majority rejecting the Iran deal.

Since the deal is contingent upon sanctions being lifted, many opponents of the deal insist that the growth of the Iranian economy will allow Tehran to more easily produce nuclear weapons and conduct terrorist operations. This line of thought, however, ignores the great unlikelihood that Iran could get away with such a feat.

The intrusiveness of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program is unprecedented under this new agreement. The media has generated concern about the IAEA’s practices, suggesting that Iranian scientists will be testing their own inspection sites. This procedure is actually only a part of the IAEA’s practices, which requires that samples are tested by both Iranian scientists and IAEA officials to ensure that data is not misrepresented.

By having both parties administering tests, both groups are held accountable; in other words, Iran cannot tamper with data since it will conflict with IAEA data and vice versa. This double accountability is actually a strength of the deal, and when combined with the deactivation of over half of Iran’s centrifuges and the repurposing of Iran’s nuclear reactor, the negotiated agreement effectively guarantees that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon for the next fifteen years while the deal is in effect. Without the provisions in this agreement, we cannot guarantee Iran’s nuclear program will be stifled.

As stated in a letter signed by fifty-one Christian leaders, including the General Secretary Stan Noffsinger, “There is no question we are all better off with this deal than without it.” This unified Christian front shows the great moral significance of this deal. Too often politics controls conversations by talking strictly in terms of US interests. If we wish to be Christians committed to inviting the Kingdom of God, we cannot allow this opportunity to de-escalate conflict and address our neighbor slip away. We need to remember our kinship to others, as Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Our sisters and brothers in Iran struggle, and now they too have a chance for at least a small measure of liberation. Even more, an Iran with a diminished nuclear program helps place the already unstable region on a pathway to peace and opens the door to reconciliation between Iran and the United States.

On the Road to Damascus: When the scales fall from our eyes

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated our country. It not only flooded cities, destroyed buildings, and displaced people off the Gulf region– it somehow displaced all of us. I remember being struck by a photo of an older, Black woman, suddenly homeless, wrapped in an American flag. It seemed impossible to believe that this could happen to “us” – Americans in America. The storm unfolded layers of complications and injustices that revealed people of color were disproportionately impacted by the storm – in part because their lives were tenuous before the storm began. That systematic racism and poverty had swept them away like so much debris in the force of the storm and the country’s response to it.

a small sign of hope - a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

a small sign of hope – a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

Ten years ago, it felt like the scales had fallen from our eyes and in the bright, new light we repented. From the robust conversation about power, privilege, and prejudice, it seemed we were on the verge of understanding something fundamentally “wrong” with ourselves and how we treat one another. That with this understanding we would be able to bring about the kind of change that would genuinely support our national vision where all people are created equal, with right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness – where no one would be abandoned on their rooftop in times of storm or calm.

Like now, in 2005 the conversation about race in our nation seemed urgent and important. Then it went silent. Not all at once, but gradually fading away. There was other news. The post-storm “normal” was not worth reporting and we became swept up in our daily lives. We forgot the urgency around race. We left the conversation mid-sentence. The underlying realities, inequalities and injustices remained and we forgot that the next storm would mean people returning to the roof.

Now, current events related to race, are sweeping the nation like a storm and breaking the levees of the status quo. After the shootings in Charleston and the publicity about mass incarceration and the public awareness about police brutality, we are again on the road to Damascus. We are seeing with new eyes and a repentant heart that racism is a sin that destroys us all. We are vowing to make a change.

And I can only pray this is true. That, this time, we will stay the course. I pray that we will finish what we have begun, truly addressing the issues and social forces that divide us from one another. I pray that we will heed the call to care for the widow, the orphan – those most vulnerable in our society. My hope is that our hearts will remember the urgency to see the work to completion.

My fear is that we will look away, work unfinished, again.

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

Food Distributions

Rhoda - member of Relief Team

Rhoda – member of Relief Team

Thank you for your support of the Nigeria Crisis Response. (Consolidated from a report by Rhoda)

Ekklesiayar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) Relief Team has been very busy with food distributions.  In the last two weeks, your donations have provided food for 988 families (about 6000 individuals). Food was distributed to three remote districts that had never received help because they were still in dangerous and unsafe areas.

Bags of Maize (corn)

Bags of Maize (corn)

Mussa District: Most of the people had relocated back home but they were attacked for the second and third time by the Boko Haram. The community was burned and many were killed. They have taken refuge in Wamdeo (a neighboring village). EYN relief team provided about 277 households with rice, detergent, cooking oil, Maggi (cooking flavoring), soap, salt and personal care items.

Dille District: The people of Dille have also returned home.  The EYN Disaster Management Team assisted in this relocation of 654 families. Dille was attacked a few days before the distribution. However, soldiers around the community were been able to restore order and the people are living well and going about their normal activities. The Disaster team along with Glenn and Marcus from Christian Aid Ministries went under Nigerian Military escort to ensure a safe distribution.

Military Escort assisting

Military Escort assisting

Ado Kasa: Ado Kasa is another community in Nassarawa state where IDPs  have relocated and are staying.  It is not a camp, but a community where people stay in rented houses. 57 households have found refuge at Ado Kasa; they have a church with a Pastor assigned to them from the EYN Headquarters. They face many health challenges especially the pregnant women who have to travel to another town for medical services.  When the people of  Ado Kasa received the bags of corn, they danced and were happy and they said it was more than anything they have ever received.

Nigeria: Office of Public Witness analysis and update

In July, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the United States for his first Presidential visit to D.C. President Buhari’s visit came just seven weeks after an historic electoral victory over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, which marked the nation’s first successful and peaceful transition of power from an incumbent to an opposition party.

This success took center stage as President Obama sat down with President Buhari on Monday to commend him on this achievement.  But looming over Buhari’s visit and his recent electoral victory, is Boko Haram’s renewed bloody campaign.

The visit included a series of several high-profile meetings with President Obama, senior members of the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders. Framing these dialogues is a surge in Boko Haram-related violence throughout Nigeria and into neighboring Chad and Cameroon despite increased presence and funding of multi-national security forces.

As such, much of the official visit and its media coverage has focused on the expansion of US-Nigeria military cooperation in countering Boko Haram. Yet this is only one piece of the puzzle.

There is, however, a great resource that continues to go ignored and untapped in countering violent extremism—namely the brave and resilient communities on the frontlines of the violence. And if we are to take a more holistic approach that addresses the underlying causes of terrorism, as asserted by President Obama and Buhari, then there should be a greater concerted effort to develop a strategy that ensures accountability of military forces to local communities and puts civil society leaders and peacebuilders at the center of countering violent extremism.

Even though displaced to Yola, Jos, Abuja and many places in between, the Church of the Brethren Nigeria (EYN) have already begun to rebuild. During these weeks the region has experienced increasing attacks from Boko Haram, which has left more than 625 more people dead since President Buhari’s inauguration. To be sure, they have felt the acute brutality of Boko Haram. Their hearts are still heavy from the loss of the 273 Chibok girls, most of whom were members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), taken by Boko Haram. Since 2009, more than 1350 women and children have been kidnapped, confirmed 10,000 EYN members killed, over 280,000 members displaced, and 70% of EYN churches burned or abandoned due to the conflict.

As the violence spread in the fall of 2014, EYN Liaison Officer, Markus Gamache, opened his home to displace family friends and others.  Soon 50 people were living in his 2-bedroom home located in Jos.  As the violence spread and the needs grew, Markus developed the vision for an interfaith camp to relocate both Muslim and Christian families while demonstrating how people of different faiths can live in peace.  Working with an interfaith group called Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives, Markus started with a plan to build 10 homes to help those living in his home.  By the spring of 2015 the list grew to 100 families, even as the construction on the first 62 homes, sanitation, water well and kitchens are completed.

When the EYN Church headquarters near Mubi where over run by Boko Haram in October 2014, displacing all national church leadership and the related Bible College staff and students, the loss and shock of the situation was more than overwhelming, we wondered if the Church would continue.  With support coming from the US Church of the Brethren, EYN leadership soon found new footing and created a crisis response team.  In an impressive show of resiliency and leadership the EYN team have provided relief to thousands through the remaining church structure of districts.  Under the inspired leadership of Reverend Dr. Samuel Dali, EYN president, construction is underway for care centers that will support those displaced from the current crisis and future violence in Nigeria.  The Church is not only helping serve those in need, it is imagining how to better serve beyond this crisis.  An impressive effort with displaced staff and only 30% of the Church body intact.

Yet in the face of such tragedy, our faith and relationship with the Church of the Brethren US and the Swiss and German Mission 21 has united us, fortifying our resolve to live together in peace.  Indeed, over the last year, Church of the Brethren has raised $3.1 million dedicated to a five-year plan for crisis response in the affected areas. In our efforts, thousands are receiving food and shelter, EYN’s Peace program is providing trauma healing workshops for pastors, women’s groups, and lay leaders to help those suffering from spiritual and emotional trauma, and a special interfaith relocation project is building homes that will house more than 100 families or 800 people.

Through these efforts of response, recovery, and rebuilding we have strengthened our communities and connections with our Muslim kindred and brought hope to a people that have been brutalized.  Many times over the populations in the northeast have felt abandoned by their government and international community.

Improved diplomatic relations between the most populous country in Africa and the USA may help Nigeria fight its insurgency more effectively, but only to the extent that the relationship encourages a more holistic response to the Boko Haram insurgency–and not one focused exclusively on the battlefield.  This insurgency will only end when there are real and robust attempts to tackle what is at the root of Boko Haram’s insurgency: political and economic marginalization, corruption, inequality, and abuses committed by political elites and military personnel without recourse. While this visit might not yield any substantial initiatives or agreements in the short term, ideally this initial diplomatic visit could serve to more clearly define the long-term, shared work to be done eradicating the conditions that bring about groups like Boko Haram.

And while state diplomacy and cooperation is an important bulwark against terrorism, the responsiveness and flexibility of civil society cannot be underestimated as an integral part to the solution. Therefore, we encourage both Administrations to consider a more prominent role for civil society and religious organizations in developing a more holistic and regional approach to counter Boko Haram.

Office of Public Witness
Church of the Brethren
Washington, DC

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) August 23 – 29, 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 Devotions August 23 – 29, 2015

Thinking About Ferguson – Again

This is not a one year old problem –Efrem Smith

A year ago, I had never heard of Ferguson – despite having traveled to Missouri several times, and despite loving a sci-fi show set in St. Louis. Or if I heard of it, it didn’t register. Not the way it does now.

Now I cannot hear “Ferguson” without flinching.

As we approached the first “anniversary” of the shooting of Michael Brown, I found myself reflecting on what had happened in the past year. I have been completely overwhelmed and saddened by the long list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed. I have been inspired by the national conversation this awareness has sparked. I have been afraid that nothing is going to change.

I had a feeling of déjà vu when I heard there were protests in Ferguson – again. Of course, I expected something to happen but I was not prepared for more violence and another state of emergency. I was not expecting me to be looking away from the news with tears in my eyes and too discouraged to find solace in prayer.

EFREM 44 DSC_0192
Efrem Smith, a pastor at the Covenant Church who spoke at the 2014 Church Planting Conference, has written eloquently on it. He has kept his eyes on our faith, the role of Christ in all of this.

I encourage you to read: http://www.efremsmith.com/category/blog/2015/08/a-year-from-ferguson/?utm_content=buffer6a679&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“Wearing” the Cross of Christ

By Janet Crago

Lalai is an EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria) pastor.  He was serving in the town of Biu

Lalai - EYN Pastor

Lalai – EYN Pastor

at EYN #1.  At that time it had approximately 2000 attendees.  He shared with us recently some of the events leading up to the insurgencey often referred to simply as the “Boko Haram”.

He started his story in 2009, when a man in Biu was trying to make a bomb and blew up his house.  He explained that this type of person transitioned into the group that later took the name of Boko Haram.  At that time they were simply thugs.

In 2011, they came to the church in the morning, broke all the windows and were starting a fire in the pulpit area.  Lalai confronted them and begged them saying, “Please don’t burn the church”.  They ignored his plea and set fire to the church anyway.  After they left, Lalai and others were able to quench the fire.  Lalai called the police and begged for help, but the police never responded to his call.

Biu church

Biu church

In 2012, they came to the church in the night.  They broke through the gate and broke all the windows again.  They tried to break through the doors, but were unsuccessful, so they ran away.

Then the “silent” killings started.  The thugs would unexpectedly come in the night, and kill targeted persons.  Some of the local Imams (Muslim leaders) had criticized the actions of this group without a name.  The Imams were then selected for killing and were individually visited in the night and killed.  Some members of EYN Biu #1 were targeted because of their outspoken criticism of this group.  They, too, were visited in the night and killed.  The thugs visited a prominent family group that attended EYN Biu #1.  They were all in their house at night.  The thugs set fire to the house so that the family all ran out to escape the fire. Then they killed the man of the house and two of his sons.  They spared the wife and three other children.  It got so bad that everyone in Biu was afraid to say anything.

In July of 2013, five more Muslim men were targeted and killed.  Then, many young men were killed and their very young widows left bereft.  Lalai said that he buried so many EYN church members that his heart was almost broken. His nerves are affected.  He was again swamped with overwhelming grief when the Chibok girls were abducted, for he is a Chibok man.

Still, the authorities did nothing.  Finally, late in 2013 soldiers, vigilantes, and volunteers teamed up to guard Biu, and prevent the silent killings.  The thugs, now known as the Boko Haram, found it much more difficult to carry out their horrible activities.

Lalai says that he has been truly traumatized.  Before these events he knew he was a wearing the crossChristian, but seeing all these things, passing through it, and touching all those affected pushed him down a path he has never walked before.  He now knows how much stronger in Christ he is.  He’s not interested in the politics surrounding the Boko Haram insurgency.  He sees his job as “walking the Jesus way” and “talking the Jesus talk.”  He says he may not wear the cross hanging around his neck very often, but his life, his being, his very existence is fully in Christ.  He truly “wears” the cross.