Fear and I: Cliff and Boko Haram

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria

Fear of Boko Haram has a major impact on the people of EYN today. Fear has driven most of the members of EYN to move from their homes. That fear impacts where I am allowed to travel as one who works with EYN. That same fear shapes the impressions that members of the Church of the Brethren have of Nigeria.

Fear is the primary tool of violence. Fear is used to immobilize an enemy. Fear can terrorize and incapacitate an enemy. Fear prevents an enemy from considering ways to overcome its power. Fear is used by Boko Haram. Fear is used by the Islamic State. Fear is used by Al Qaeda. The attack on the World Trade Center was an act to stimulate fear. Of course the Islamic State learned its tactics in the prisons and torture chambers of the United States when it controlled Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

The Bible is full of passages that try to debunk fear. The angel’s words to Zachariah in the temple, to Mary when she was told she would carry the Messiah, to the shepherds waiting on their flocks in the dark of night and Jesus’ words to his disciples hidden behind locked doors are all paths to alleviate fear and build courage for the road ahead.

Boko Haram is a new manifestation of fear. It is mostly invisible because few people from the outside have spent time with this group. Those who have experienced the violence of Boko Haram are often immobilized by the shock of the acts carried out by Boko Haram. But what if burial teams of Christians and Muslims went into the areas conceded to Boko Haram and offered to bury the bodies? Those teams might take back conceded space in their willingness to face down fear.

Night and invisibility assist the growth of terror. Boko Haram has learned its lessons well. Surely torture and fear have a long bloody history. The torture chambers of the Inquisition, the hell holes of the Nazi Holocaust, the cells of Guantanamo Prison and the hidden rendition sites of the United States all are training schools of terror and terrorist groups. Their invisibility allows imagination to blow things out of proportion and then glimpses of them can be used to increase fear and terror. The training manual of the School of the Americas (the school now in Ft. Benning, Georgia) refined the tools of fear. Those tools of fear became the tools to “re-form” civil society to fit the needs of Empire. So religious leaders, political activists, union leaders, human rights workers and ordinary farmers became the targets of pressure, torture and death. The parallel school comes from the Israeli military. Its experiences and the tools used to destroy Palestinian society are marketed around the world for dominant political societies to control or eliminate their opposition.

Learning to deal with fear is an important tool for followers of the Prince of Peace, for nonviolent practitioners. I compare the learning process to Arlene’s (my wife) steps in preparing to cook for large numbers of people. She is a good cook but she didn’t start out cooking for a crowd of three hundred. I don’t start out facing down Boko Haram in the village streets of Gwoza, their center of operation in eastern Nigeria. But I do want to reach the place where I would be willing to go there. What if a team went to take gifts to the leaders of Boko Haram? Gifts of one thousand moringa tree (miracle healing tree of Nigeria) starts, a peace choir from the women’s fellowship (ZME) of EYN, a tool box of nonviolent tools to replace the dysfunctional violent tools they use, and a trauma healing team of Muslims and Christians? Acting with this spirit counteracts fear.

When Arlene prepares raised donuts for three hundred people she works in a helpful context. 1) She has cooked donuts often, 2) she has helpers, 3) she has favorite recipes which she has tested, 4) she has tools that expedite the process and 5) she has spaces to let the dough rise, cook in hot fat, cool, hang from dripping racks after icing and 6) spaces to feed hungry people.

When I visit a war zone I try to build a favorable context by reading all I can find about the place. I pray while working in the garden. I dream scenarios of possible situations and my responses. I go by invitation so I know that there are others to walk with me and teammates with whom to work.

I have practiced fear management in other places while working with Christian Peacemaker Teams. When suicide bombers came to our house in Baghdad or when the armed robbers raided our compound in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we spent hours debriefing the experiences. Deconstructing the experiences helps me to understand the pieces and also deal with the trauma.

Yes, trauma does affect most of us in these and other types of situations. Trauma healing works to frame the experience in ways other than terror. Trauma is our body’s safety fuse that blows when fear is about to overwhelm our body’s capacity to cope. But then trauma comes back to haunt us because the normal emotional circuits have been broken and need to be rebuilt through long patient work. Forgiveness is one way that can change the dynamics and understanding of an event. Or if I can understand violence and fear in a way that allows me to envision a positive future then I regain control of my responses in both energizing and life giving ways. So dealing with fear both before it happens and after it happens, and doing it many times, allows me to understand the construction and deconstruction of fear. Maybe this parallels the ease with which Arlene can undertake a cooking assignment for a large group of people.

Realizing that fear impacts any nonviolent actions that I use helps me to recognize my reactions to fear and move to minimize its effect so that I can be the one who takes the initiative rather than being immobilized by the fear that an “enemy” throws at me. What if we held a 50,000 person march from central Nigeria toward the northeast where Boko Haram is ensconced? It would attract heavy media coverage. Muslims and Christians would make up the marchers since both are about equally impacted by Boko Haram’s violence. Invite the Catholic archbishop, the Muslim Emir of Kano and Pope Francis to participate. Take the choir of ZME, the Muslim youth who protected the churches of Christians during Christmas celebrations and the Christian youth who protected the mosques during Muslim holy days. The message would be that together we desire a different and better future from what Boko Haram is creating. Invite them to help shape the future in ways that all benefit. Clearly a caliphate with no people, with wells containing dead bodies, destroyed homes, burned medical clinics and destroyed harvests does not lead to a workable future.

I carry tools that counteract fear too. The New Testament is full of tools that re-take the initiative for peace. Paul invites us to overcome evil with good. Jesus says to love our enemies, pray for those who misuse us, feed our enemies if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty. He said that the peacemakers are blessed!

Sure, we could encourage Nigeria to do what the United States military did in Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, Syria and Yemen… I don’t wish that on Nigeria. I think we have much more effective tools at our disposal. The suggestions I have peppered through this writing may not be the ones for Nigeria but perhaps they can stimulate even better and more creative ideas for Nigerian peacemakers to use.

Ananias in Acts 9 is resistant to the prodding of Jesus because of his fear but finally agrees to lay hands on the Boko Haram leader of the early church. So Saul/Paul regains his sight and receives the Holy Spirit. He is transformed, as is Ananias. This Paul goes on to write about half of my New Testament. So where are the Ananiases in Nigeria who, in spite of their fear, will lay hands on the Sauls of Boko Haram? See, one needs to be close to them to do that — close enough to share some of Arlene’s donuts with Boko Haram.

Awakened to flee

AWAKE_ADVENT_4

Matthew 2:13-18

Question for reflection:
Are there any circumstances in your life which cause you to fear for your children or grandchildren? How do you connect with this impulse to “take the children and flee?”


Prayer for the day:

Sheltering God, who promises there is no place where we can go that you are not, calm our fears and empower us to make choices which further your kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

~ Becky Ullom Naugle, Director for Youth and Young Adult Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word

A woman teaches Jesus

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

For Even a Crumb is Enough

Mark 7:24-30

Prayer for the day:
I come before You needing healing –not just for myself but for those I love. I have tried everything and asked so many people for help. Now, I come with a need greater than my faith, greater than my patience, and greater than my hope. I come because others have said I must turn to God, must return to faith, and must believe. I come with thanksgiving in my heart, because you will not turn me away. Amen.

Question for reflection:
Syrophoenician – I can barely even say it. I certainly can’t point to Syrophenicia on a map. Yet, the Syrophoenician woman is my sister. Her daughter, frightening in the fits that held her, is beloved to my heart as my family. When I read this story, I am with her, barely tolerated, before another tribe’s leader. I am frightened Jesus will turn her away for her impertinence. Instead, her daughter is healed and I am as grateful as if it were my daughter.

The Syrophoenician woman is you sister too, for this is how we all come to Jesus, not by birth or by family, but by faith. And by desperation, needing to be healed, wanting to save our families, and finally ready to believe.

  • When have you asked God impossible, impertinent questions out frustration and fear?
  • When have you come to God needing a miracle?
  • Do you return, as if with an untested faith, again and again?

 

~ Gimbiya Kettering, Intercultural Ministries Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Calmly present

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

Psalm 46

Prayer for the day:
You are my refuge and my strength, O God, yet I am still fearful when things change. Forgive me my lack of faith, and remind me that I need only be still and know that you are God.


Question for reflection:

When, in a time of chaos and uncertainty in your life, did you hear the still, small voice of God? What did it sound like?

~ Donna Kline, Director of Denominational Deacon Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Enabled to serve

2013 Advent good_news_hi_res  Luke 1:67- 80

Prayer for the day:
God, calm our fears. You gave us breath: remind us to stop and breathe. Give us your peace, and help us find ways to share it. Amen.

Question for reflection:
It has been said that the words “fear not” appear somewhere around 365 times in the Bible. Yet we are such a fearful people! What are you afraid of?

~ Donna Kline, Director of Denominational Deacon Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Tim’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Do not be afraid

2013 Advent good_news_hi_res Luke 1:13-17

Prayer for the day:
Present spirit, move within me to quiet my fears. For Lord you have already heard my prayer. Give me patience in my anticipation of what is yet to come.

Question for reflection:
What is your deepest fear? Where do you see hope that washes way your fear?

~ Sarah Neher, National Youth Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Tim’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

 

Fear not

2013 Advent good_news_hi_res  Luke 1:12

Prayer for the day:
God, surprise us this week with your hopeful presence, in an area of our lives where we doubt and are fearful. Help us to notice and not be afraid. Amen.

Question for reflection:
In what areas of life do you have doubts, concerns, and fears? How can you share those with God and invite God in to walk with you through them?

~ Tim Heishman, National Youth Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Tim’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

 

Reconciliation before celebration

Lent 2013 Cover  Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18

Question for reflection:
If you’re like me, when you hear reconciliation, you also hear confrontation. There is little that I, and a lot of other Brethren, fear more than confrontation. Worse than that is admitting that something was my fault. How do you overcome stubbornness or fears of confrontation–in yourself or in those you wish to reconcile with–in order to reach a mutual goal?

Prayer for the day:
Healing God, may we, this Lenten season, push past our fear of confrontation or our fear of being wrong to be able to reconcile with each other. Let us see an argument as merely an exchange of wits and not hold grudges. Whether it’s over too many sheep on one land or someone’s car parked the wrong way on the street, help us to solve our differences kindly as Lot and Abram before us.  Amen.

~ Rachel Witkovsky, National Junior High Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten devotional, The Practice of Paying Attention, written by Dana Cassell, Minister of Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Herod: King of cruelty

Matthew 2:16-18


Question for Reflection:

Fear can make us do awful things. Awful doesn’t start to name what Herod did, but it’s still plain that it was done out of fear. Fear in the animal kingdom is translated into an attack. Sometimes, as in the case of honey bees, this fear leads to their own undoing. When was a time you let fear get the better of you? How did you overcome your fear?

Prayer for the day:
Fearless God, watch over us in our endeavors. Help us to overcome our obstacles and know you are with us. When we are afraid, remind us that you will never leave us and you will help us through. Thank you for your unwavering companionship and love that gives us courage. Amen.

~ Rachel Witkovsky, National Junior High Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Walt Wiltschek, campus pastor of Manchester University. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

The star: How I wonder

Matthew 2:7-10

 

Question for Reflection:
This passage is like a suspenseful movie. “No don’t do it!” you yell at the screen, “It’s a trick!” But we know how it ends. We can sit back, for now, and enjoy the wonder of the moment, the brilliance of the star, with the scholars. What moments do we miss because we’re too concerned about what’s going to happen next?

Prayer for the day:
God, teach us to let go of fear and anxiety. We want to live in the moment and be in your presence but sometimes our worries get in the way. Please help us to learn to stop and look around us, taking in your wonders and glory. Amen.

~ Rachel Witkovsky, National Junior High Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Walt Wiltschek, campus pastor of Manchester University. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.