The Leftovers – Widows and Children

By Janet Crago

Many Nigerian widows and children are having a very difficult time adjusting to their new family situation, and “moving on” with their lives.  They’re often left feeling like “leftovers”.  But, let me explain.  Like widows in many places, they often don’t know what to do to survive, and in Nigeria, they often find themselves begging for help with their living situation and/or begging for money for the education of their remaining children.  Many of the men and boys have been killed.  Boko Haram doesn’t kidnap men.  The men are slaughtered (i.e., throats cut).  Sometimes they’ll even slaughter small boys.  They only kidnap women and children.  They’re the “leftovers” in this conflict.

Dr. Rebecca Dali

Dr. Rebecca Dali

As I talked to Rebecca Dali, who started the non-profit organization CCEPI (Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives), she told me that she’s recorded the names of over 10,000 widows who are the result of the Boko Haram insurgency.  Many of them are very young, and almost all of them have multiple children, with very few boys still living.  So, what are some of the problems faced by those newly widowed? —

  • Virtually all of them live in poverty, and struggle daily to have enough to eat.
  • Many have inadequate shelter.  If they’re still living in their home area, most houses have been burned.  If they’re displaced, they might need to go to a refugee camp or live with relatives.  Traditional culture in Nigeria dictates that when a man dies his property becomes the property of the deceased man’s family, so the widow often cannot go back to the house she was living in even if it is still standing.  Also, if a widow remarries, her children that were born from the marriage with her late husband now become the “property” of her deceased husband’s family.  Unfortunately, children inherited in this way are sometimes abused, treated as house servants, and get very little education.
  • If a woman manages to escape from Boko Haram and returns to her husband, she is sometimes rejected even by him.  He can refuse to allow her back into her previous home.  Even if he allows her to come back, sometimes his family will reject her and make her life miserable (i.e., she is now a “spoiled” woman!).
  • Physically, the women who manage to escape from their Boko Haram kidnappers frequently come back home savaged and very thin.  If they refused to convert to Islam, they were not allowed to eat until everyone else had their fill, which meant they very often went away hungry.  The food and supplies furnished in the Boko Haram camps were stolen from villages they’ve invaded and destroyed.  But, the women of the Boko Haram will not even share the necessary products for cleanliness, so any woman who escapes will come back very dirty.

The purpose of CCEPI is to assist women who became widows because of Boko Haram.  CCEPI helps them learn skills to be able to live on their own, and operates a livelihood center where they teach knitting, sewing, livestock farming, and computer skills.  They also have a department that assists widows who have been the target of gender based violence, an education department which assists widows and their children with school fees for the primary or secondary school of their choice, and a child protection department that takes care of orphans and displaced children.  The children are assigned a guardian who ensures that they’re taken care of.  CCEPI also has a Health department where widows can purchase common drugs.  CCEPI also teaches sanitation skills and helps to provide shelter for the shelter-less.

ZME - Women's Ministry

ZME – Women’s Ministry

But, CCEPI is not alone in these efforts.  Widows are also getting help from the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (known as the EYN).  EYN now has a Director of Women’s Ministry, Suzan Mark Zira, who has started a very important ministry for the assistance of widows.  Each DCC Secretary (District Church Council), and the Women’s Leader in that district, make a list of the widows in their district who need assistance.  When this is done, the Women’s Ministry has planned a four-step process to help them.  This four-step process is:

  1. Provide emergency relief assistance as needed
  2. Conduct Trauma Healing Workshops where needed
  3. Enable Skill Acquisition – The purpose is to enable them to earn enough money to live on their own.  The Women’s Leader in each district is first trained in how to make the following products:  liquid soap, Vaseline, room deodorizer, perfume, shampoo, Dettol (liquid antiseptic), and Izal (bleach).  She then teaches the widows in her district how to make these products.  Each are taught a different product so they don’t need to compete against each other.
  4. Provide money to start their businesses – Each widow is given just 2,000 Naira ($10) to start their business.  They are also given the first products that they will sell.  This gives each of them a start for their business.

To ensure that the money given to the women reaches its destination, the Women’s Leader from the district must sign for the money she will give to the widows in her district.  Then the individual widows must sign when they receive it from the Women’s Leader of her district.

Widows (picture courtesy of EYN)

Widows (picture courtesy of EYN)

The Women’s Ministry has also given a very important Project Management workshop.  They call the Women’s Leader, the Women’s Secretary, and the Women’s Treasurer from each district to come to a training workshop to teach them how to write reports so the Women’s Ministry can receive regular updates on what’s happening in each DCC.  They’re also being trained on accountability and transparency, leadership and mentoring, and the ministry guidelines for a woman ministering to others.

This Women’s Ministry Program was established in the last six months.  There are currently two women serving full-time in this ministry.  They’re facing the following challenges:

  • They don’t have a vehicle to transport the various ingredients they need to take to leaders who will then train others to make the products mentioned earlier.
  • They don’t have adequate staff to accomplish their goals.
  • They lack a stove for the preparation of their products.
  • They need dedicated paid Women’s Ministry staff at the DCC level.

 

Respond like the Shepherds

Shepherds Quake

Shepherds Quake

 

 

Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing
Alleluia.
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!

Luke 2:8-20

When I think about Christmas’s spent in Nigeria, I remember fondly the Christmas play which was performed every year. When the angel visited the shepherds, they fell down and shook violently which put new meaning to the line from Silent Night – shepherds quake at the sight.

This year I also found myself taking a look at how the shepherds responded to the message from the angels.

First, the shepherds were in the fields, doing what they did every night; watching over their sheep. But that night they had a surprise visit from an angel. When the angel spoke, they listened to the message and identified the important aspects of it. NIV Luke 2:10-12”…I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Second, after hearing and identifying the message they chose to verify it for themselves. v 15-16 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Third, after verifying that the message was true, the shepherds gave their testimony to everyone they came in contact with. v 17-18 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Fourth, after testifying and telling others, they went back to their jobs giving the glory to God for all they had seen and heard. v 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

hqdefaultSo this year as we hear the familiar Christmas story let us think of responding like the shepherds. We can do this by: Identifying the message, Verifying the truth of the message, Testifying about the message (tell others), and Glorifying and Praising God for the message.

by Roxane Hill

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) December 27 – 31, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015

EYN Devotions graphicA 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 December 27 – 31, 2015

Trauma Workshops – A Story of Healing

Sharing of stories aids healing

Sharing of stories aids healing

Comfort Michael:

One of the things I found interesting about this training is the healing from grief; before the training I thought that life was meaningless to me looking at my children and the challenge of having to bring them up. I think the training was specifically organized for me.

 

Comfort was one of the participants that attended the trauma healing workshops in Mubi. As at the time we met her, she was still basking in the feeling of guilt and remorse of the experience of the attack on Mubi town. She is from Michika LGA but was married to a Margi man from Askira-uba LGA of Borno state and the union is blessed with five children namely; Adamu, 15, Ibrahim 14, Ishaku 12, Anna 7 and Chiroma the youngest was 3 and half years old. Comfort proceeded to narrate her experience in the hand of the dreaded group Boko-Haram; I am a 38 year old house wife, and my husband before the incident was lecturing with the Federal Polytechnic Mubi. On that fateful day being 29th October, 2014, we received a distressed call from my younger brother who resides in Hilde, a town about five kilometers away from Mubi that the group was nearing to engulf Mubi a night before. On hearing that, I now intimated my husband about a likely impending attack on Mubi, and sought her husband consent on the necessity of relocating to Yola since we have witnessed a mass exodus of people to safer haven. I tried to persuade my husband to leave, but he was reluctant, and rebuked me of spreading rumor.

Until when it became clear to us that Mararaba was under siege that night and people in Mubi were already scrambling to other zones for safety. After, several attempts to assuage him to start moving, he finally agreed to my proposition but that last conformity could be seeing to be too little and too late.

We finally set out of Mubi; My husband, one of his younger brothers with us, my five children, my younger sister and a student of the Federal Polytechnic Mubi who we opted to help. Incidentally, after a two kilometers drive within Mubi we failed into the hands of this group of improbable youth on motor-bikes, which at first did not appear to us as members of the Boko-Haram, with guns and machetes and were looking infuriated. As they approach us, they stopped the cars we were driving in and inquired to know about our identity. My husband responded to them that he is a lecturer with the Federal Polytechnic Mubi and with him were members of his family.

They practically ordered the men out and tied their hands to their back and laid them just a few meters away from where we parked. I remember the only thing I overheard them discussion with my husband was that you are running away to leave us with who to have supremacy over; they told him it is their type they are looking for.

Trauma is like walking with a stone in your shoe

Trauma is like walking with a stone in your shoe

This conversation was short lived, when all of a sudden I heard some gun shots targeted directly on them and looking out I saw my husband, his younger brother and the student shot dead. Seeing that, I became apprehensive and wanted to come out of the car, but my sister would not allow me, she kept cautioning me to remain in the car for fear of turning their guns on my children, but I cried profusely. I and the children were taken captives in a building with others numbering about three hundred women and children and were tightly guided by some armed girls.

In that building we do the cooking from what they supply us possibly from part of the looting. They also had severally tried to compel us to Islam, but we remained adamant, even though there were people among us who were willing to mortgage their faith, to be converted to Islam. At some point, the  girls guiding us kept urging us to read our Bible perhaps God would make them have a change of heart to free us; they were encouraging us not to disobey certain house rules, and forewarned that anybody who does that will be met with strict penalty. They confessed that they were tied of killing and that their hands were stained with blood.

It was on that account that one of the hostages held alongside with us a student with the Federal Polytechnic Mubi, sent a text message to a relation of hers, an officer with the Nigeria Air force, indicating the premise and in detail the nature of the attack, after being held for about a week in that building. The building was struck by the Nigeria Air force fighter jet targeted on the insurgents gathered outside and some of the few people with them killing seventeen of them. But fortunately for us, we found an opening through a glass narrow window where we escaped with my children and treked for a whole day a distance of about seventeen kilometers to Malanda en route to Gashala.

Unity circle - we are all in this together

Unity circle – we are all in this together

One of the things I found interesting about this training is the healing from grief; before the training I thought that life was meaningless to me looking at my children and the challenge of having to bring them up. I think the training was specifically organized for me.

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) December 20 – 26, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015

EYN Devotions graphicA 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 December 20-26, 2015

Encounters with God

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org. Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org.
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

A reflection by Stanley Noffsinger

When I graduated from Manchester University, my eyes were set on the future. I was filled with anticipation, hope, relief, and a modicum of anxiety. Little did I know that the path ahead would take unusual and unexpected twists and turns beyond my wildest imagination.

I am reminded of the story of Moses—a trusted and experienced shepherd—who was asked by his father-in-law, Jethro, to lead a flock through the wilderness. Moses set out with his faith and experience to get the flock moving, feed them, protect them, and return them home.

But Moses’ serenity was interrupted in an unexpected way—by an angel of the Lord through the burning bush. The last thing Moses expected was to be in the presence of the Divine, but as Moses heard God through a burning bush, he entered into an unimagined reality. Moses knew he was in the presence of Yahweh, the Lord God.

Moses was prepared for the future just like each of us. And like Moses, we will encounter a day when unexpected events will alter our journey. These unplanned detours may not be as dramatic as a burning bush but, nonetheless will change the course of our lives.

I never thought I would become the first lay person to hold the office of general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. Nor could I have imagined this position would allow me the privilege to have audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the former president of Iran, or the President of United States. All of these events and opportunities to interact with people from all over the world were moments when I experienced God’s presence.

During my time of service to the Church of the Brethren, we have seen spiritual growth with congregations the United States and around the world. We have witnessed lives changed and faith strengthened at conferences like National Youth ConferenceNational Older Adult ConferenceNational Junior High Conference, and WorkChristian Citizenship Seminar. We have responded to extreme national and international disasters, walking alongside leaders as they served their communities in a manner consistent with their context of living. We have persevered in a tradition of service through ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service and workcamps. We have spoken to the world and its leaders on important issues, hopeful that we might find alternative paths to resolving conflicts. In all of these things, we have truly witnessed God in our midst.

Looking to the future, we will be heading forward with great expectation, even though the paths we will take are truly unknown. While we still have much to learn about showing love to one another, I have the utmost confidence and trust that our faith and experience will serve us well. Inspired by our appointment with the Divine, we will persevere in our pursuit of life, relationships, and Christian service.

Learn more about the 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)

Education Must Continue Initiative is changing the statistics

Logo for EMCI

Logo for EMCI

Education for children in Northeast Nigeria has suffered immensely. Here is a description of the problems from an article in International Business Times.

Destroying Nigeria’s Children – Before Boko Haram launched its brutal insurgency in northeast Nigeria six years ago, the region recorded the lowest school enrollment rate in the country, especially for girls, as well as the lowest level of literacy and highest incidence of poverty. The insurgency has exacerbated the situation. Over half a million children in northeast Nigeria have had to flee to safety in the past five months, bringing the total number of displaced children in the conflict-torn region to 1.4 million, the United Nations said in September. More than 208,000 of them are not in school.

But the NGO, Education Must Continue Initiative, refuses to let these statistics stand. They are working hard to get the children back in schools. Here are some pictures(by Jay Wittmeyer and Roy Winter) from a recent visit to one of their temporary school in Yola.

Makeshift classrooms

Makeshift classrooms

Teachers at the Yola temporary school

Teachers at the Yola temporary school

School in a tent donated by Unicef

School in a tent donated by Unicef

More tentative classes

More temporary classes

Advocating for Change Through a Soup Kitchen

On an average day, I spend my time in an office—sending emails, reading updates about relevant hunger-focused legislation, and planning the future of Going to the Garden, but some days give me the opportunity to have firsthand experiences that overlap with my work. The Office of Public Witness is based out of the Washington City Church of the Brethren, and the Brethren Nutrition Program soup kitchen is also located in the church, and that means that I am sometimes called on to help in the kitchen on busy days or if the kitchen needs more  on volunteers.

Earlier this week, the kitchen was in short supply on volunteers, so I was asked to help cook, serve, and clean up lunch. In my work, it’s easy to get caught up on the statistics surrounding hunger. I know that 1 in 6 Americans face hunger and that nearly 46 million people receive SNAP benefits, and I know that low-income communities of color are more likely to face food insecurity than any other population in the United States. However, knowing all of these facts is still not enough to get the full picture of how hunger affects our society. Volunteering in the soup kitchen gives me the opportunity to see the faces of hunger.

By serving and eating with the guests, I’m able to hear people’s stories of how they’ve come to be at the soup kitchen. I met the older adult couple who eat their lunch at the kitchen in order to save money to pay their other expenses. I met the guest-turned-volunteer who still eats at the kitchen but who also regularly helps with meal preparation and cleanup as a way to give back. I met some who are just temporarily down on their luck and others who are facing insurmountable odds that are keeping them in systemic poverty.

Often, it is easy to think that going on visits to Capitol Hill to share our faith values with lawmakers does enough by asking for their support for legislation that bolsters hunger programs like SNAP. This work certainly is invaluable, but being able to put our faith and beliefs into service is an equally important part of the equation. By working in a soup kitchen, even for a day, it is possible to become more connected to our cause.

In Christ’s Peace,

Katie Furrow
Food, Hunger, and Gardening Associate
Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and
Global Food Crisis Fund

 

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) December 13 – 19, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015

EYN Devotions graphicA 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 December 13 – 19, 2015

Justice in a Pizza Shop

Stepping off Pennsylvania Avenue for lunch, we opened the door as the smell of tomato sauce and bubbly cheese streamed out into the December cold. It was my first time eating at We the Pizza, one of the many aptly-named DC eateries, and while the rich ricotta on my slice of Greek pizza did not disappoint, my new pastor friends from Philadelphia truly made the experience memorable. After ordering two hearty slices of pepperoni, Pastor Keith from the Church of the Overcomer led our merry band of advocates to a booth protected by a six-foot-tall picture of Jimi Hendrix.

Though they just met the day before, Pastor Keith, Pastor Billy, and Ph.D. candidate Drew Hart carried on like old friends. Laughter erupted between greasy bites of pizza as the three of them shared stories about their work and ministry. Invited by the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, of which the Office of Public Witness is a member, Pastor Keith, Pastor Billy, and Drew were in DC for a national lobby day advocating for sentencing reform in the criminal justice system. Faith leaders from over 20 states attended, and I had the privilege of escorting the Pennsylvania delegation. After visiting with Representatives Fattah and Meehan and Senator Casey, the chance for fellowship and good food was more than welcome.

But the seriousness of the day was not lost on them as we ate. Drew, who has written and spoken passionately about the problems of racism in Christian theology and mass incarceration, often punctuated the conversation with thoughtful insights about power and privilege. Pastor Billy, whose ministry involves helping persons overcome drug addiction, spoke about a member of his church who was recently released. “He went to prison for nearly half of his adult life just for doing drugs,” he said. “After his ‘long vacation,’ as he calls it, he put a lot of effort into staying clean and tried to spend time with his father.

“He was doing really great,” Pastor Billy said with a smile. “But then just like that, his father got cancer and died. He couldn’t cope and started hanging around with a crack addict. He’s back in there now.” All of them have heard too many stories like that one. Two members of Drew’s family have spent time in prison, and Pastor Keith runs a community house to help reintegrate ex-prisoners.

“It’s just hard,” Pastor Billy says. “He really is a good man. He had the keys to the church and could have gone in and been like, ‘All of that’s worth about $3000 right there.’ But he didn’t. And now he’s back in prison and they are trying to decide if this is his third strike. It’s crazy. The real problem is drugs, but it’s hard because the resources aren’t there to help him.”

Pastor Billy Thompson, Jesse Winter (OPW), Drew Hart, and Pastor Keith Collins visiting the Office of Public Witness

Pastor Billy Thompson, Jesse Winter (OPW), Drew Hart, and Pastor Keith Collins visiting the Office of Public Witness

I have written about mass incarceration and the racial disparity in our prison system, but stories like these really show the need for sentencing reform. Because of long mandatory sentences and unfair three strike laws, drug use has been over-criminalized to the point that half of all prisoners in US prisons are nonviolent drug offenders. These persons are not dangerous threats to society, but rather are victims of drug addiction. The US spent $60 billion on prisoners in 2012, but the way this money is being used is wasteful and single-mindedly punitive. If more of that money was used on drug rehabilitation and not on incarcerating so many nonviolent offenders, we could curb the problem of growing prison populations while doing a better job at preserving human dignity.

These were the big goals for the four of us in that pizza shop. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that we lobbied for on Thursday makes strides in the right direction. It reduces enhanced mandatory minimums for drug felons and gives judges more discretion when sentencing low level drug offenders. It also makes the reduced mandatory minimums of Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Significant to Pastor Billy’s story, the SRCA offers anti-recidivism programming to inmates to help them qualify for early release. While many of the previsions in this bill are good, there are many steps left to take for a true overhaul of our criminal justice system.

Jimi Hendrix famously said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” With Brother Jimi watching over the table, these three advocates found wisdom by listening to each others’ stories, forming bonds worthy of their City of Brotherly Love. With our pizza finished, we left the now-hallowed halls of We the Pizza, braved the breezy afternoon chill, and ventured towards our final Hill visit, hoping one more soul could find wisdom in their words.

In Christ’s Peace,

Jesse Winter

Peacebuilding and Policy Associate

Office of Public Witness

Washington, DC