Hope in Starting Again – A visit to Yola IDP camp

Contributed by Pat Krabacher

Salamatu Billi singing with the women at the Yola camp

Salamatu Billi singing with the women at the Yola camp

We arrived at the Yola camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) and Salamatu Billi (wife of the EYN President, Rev. Joel Billi) seemed very happy to be with the women and she joined them in energetically singing warm songs of welcome to our Fellowship Tour. I could not help but wonder how many of the women were widows (as there were noticeably fewer men in the camp). The women’s choir, nonetheless sang with great joy. )

Michelle Gibel and Palace

Michelle Gibbel and Palace

Michele Gibbel of the Litiz, PA church shared the following “take-away” experience: “During the worship/introduction time at the IPD camp in Yola, a young girl named Palace sat on my lap.  She kept playing with my hands, trying to scratch off my freckles, noticing the small blister, and looking at my uneven fingernails.  And then she started to count my fingers.  She touched each one.  And then she touched each of her fingers. 10 – the same number. For me, this moment was so profound.  Our lives could not be any more different.  BUT, we are both created by the same loving God, who has formed each of our fingers, and calls each of us by name.  And so, we are really not that different after all.  My heart will forever remain with my new Little Sister, Palace.” hands

After the welcome singing and the remarks, we toured the camp and saw the sparse living conditions, but the concrete block homes at least were sturdy and permanent. The children were so excited to show Michelle the new water well which seemed to be a symbol of great hope.  We played games and left some mementos of our love (soccer balls, crayons and paper, Frisbees, etc.) with the camp director, Rev. Jerry Tizhe.)

Children around the well

Children around the well

 

EYN’s Continuing Challenge with Education

Julie Heisey in Nigeria

Julie Heisey in Nigeria

As part of the Take 10/Tell 10 Group from the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren visiting Nigeria in January 2016, Julie Heisey was graciously given the opportunity to interview Safina Doma, EYN Director of Education, and listen to
her story.

Education in government schools, particularly in Nigeria’s northeastern states, is of poor quality due to corruption, crumbling infrastructure and lack of teacher training. As a result, parents banding together had been sending their children to
schools operated by EYN which at least was able to provide Christian education
not allowed in public schools. Dr. Safiya has become Director of Education at a
time when the Boko-Haram insurgency, opposed to both Christian and Muslim
education, is placing great pressure on 45 EYN schools. Dr. Safiya expressed
“deep pain in my heart and tears” when she visits schools like the one at the
Stephanos Camp for Internally Displaced Persons where 100 children have only
one trained volunteer teacher.

Dr. Safiya

Dr. Safiya

Dr. Safiya has been visiting as many schools as she can, gathering materials that were left behind after Boko-Haram attacks and encouraging school staff who
have not received salaries in the last year. This has taken great courage. In June 2015, Dr. Safiya started out toward Yola with a car and driver visiting EYN
headquarters and many schools. In Mubi the head of the school had lost her husband and Safiya prayed with her in her home. At the EYN Comprehensive (secondary) School she asked students to write an essay on how Boko-Haram has affected their education. In an attempt to reach Chibok her car was stopped from proceeding, but that didn’t stop Safiya. Telling her driver to stay with the car for his own safety, Safiya said, “I bought a box of water and started walking, wondering what I would say if I encountered any terrorists.” Upon arriving at Chibok she found that the school staff had not seen anyone from EYN for one year. They were greatly encouraged by her presence.

As past coordinator of Women Theologians, Dr. Sfiya helped to organize the
workshop on trauma healing and vocational training in Yola in November 2015.
The women were encouraged to forgive their attackers, to reach out to others, and share what they have. Safina has also provided support and encouragement to a colleague who lost her husband and three children in an attack. Her own wedding, planned for last fall, was relocated because of an attack which “scattered all my plans”, but it went on in a safer location. She has received support and encouragement from her new husband, a
retired pastor and former collegue at ECWA seminary.

In the midst of all the suffering and hardship, Safina sees God’s spirit working.
She quoted the words to a song about “blessings of God coming down like
raindrops to those who love God.” Among those blessings she includes:

• opportunities to reflect on the meaning of life, (one’s place in the world, why
God has allowed this suffering and the challenge of unanswered prayers.)
• God has helped many people to escape.
• God has provided “what we need. If God doesn’t provide it, we don’t need
it.”
• Although attacked, Kulp Bible College and EYN headquarters were not
burned and some things were able to be salvaged.
• Unexpected help came from the Church of the Brethren in America inspired
by God. Although the millions of nira that have been contributed by
Americans are important, they are not as important as the people who have
come. EYN will be stronger because of the “fellowship of the feet.”

The next challenges Dr. Safiya sees are praying for the insurgents and telling the
world about how the girl-child, made in the image of God, is affected by rape and
becoming sex slaves. She asked what will become of the resulting babies these
girls will have? How can they, with already lowered status, help their children?
How can we prevent this from becoming an ongoing multi-generational tragedy?
Dr. Safiya has written an article about the The Girl Child: Bobo-Haram’s New
Weapon of War. She has plans to publish a book on the subject in two years.
We have listened to the deep caring, dedication, faith and courage in Safiya’s
story. As she has received inspiration from the presence of the Take 10/Tell 10
Group in Nigeria, her story and the stories of many Nigerian Brethren like her are
bringing inspiration and renewed faith to the church in America.

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) October 25-31, 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 atwww.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions Oct 25-31, 2015

Final Thoughts

Jim Mitchell

Jim Mitchell

Some final thoughts on being in Nigeria by Jim Mitchell

Usually I am full of words to share and have regarded myself as a wordsmith in composing letters and reports and such.  Yet I now find myself struggling to come up with words to express the depth and breadth of what I have experienced and received in my call to and mission in Nigeria.  The one thing I do very much want to say first, is, how honored and grateful I am to have been a representative and spiritual presence for the Church of the Brethren here in Nigeria.  The support, encouragement, and prayers from abroad for EYN and the people here is touching the hearts of so many and changing countless lives through the various distributions, purchases of land, new homes, trauma healing workshops and seminar, crisis counseling, and other responses.  To see, hear, and experience the joy, hope, life, and love return in the lives of the people here is priceless and strongly affirms the presence and working of God through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.  Truly, we are one body in Christ Jesus.  So much more could be said regarding the tears and thanksgivings I have witnessed in my journey here regarding this new partnership between CoB and EYN.

Personally, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into in coming; but I really didn’t.  All of my personal and spiritual preparation really didn’t prepare me for what I initially was confronted with and being here. The ongoing challenges and adaptations to the hard life in Nigeria truly tested my faith beyond what I have been tested before and I am humbly and truly grateful for all of it.

Spiritually speaking, it has led me into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God, a closer walk with Jesus, and a greater reliance upon the Holy Spirit in my daily interactions and encounters with what is present and not present regarding life in Nigeria and the ministry I heard and saw needed and in which I participated.  I sense now that I have a surer sense of peace, joy, hope, and compassion that was freely and blessedly present and shared in my recent trip to Jalingo and Yola.

Foot washing at Kulp Bible College

Foot washing at Kulp Bible College

Foot Washing on World Communion Sunday

Foot Washing on World Communion Sunday

I am also very thankful for the wide variety of opportunities that came my way to be of ministry in Nigeria (crisis counseling, spiritual support of EYN staff, Trauma Healing Workshops, helping out at a relief distribution, the one-on-one time with EYN Staff for crisis counseling, preaching at a New Church Opening Service, being the Acting General Secretary, the Trauma Healing Seminar for Displaced Pastors and others.)  These and other moments and happenings have by God’s grace enriched and changed me in ways that I could have never imagined.

I feel as though I leave Nigeria with so much more (spiritual blessings) than what I came with, for what I came with was not as sufficient as I thought.  Granted, my training, many years of experience, skill base, and spiritual gifts served me well.  Yet it was entering into totally new and uncharted territories that I realized that I needed to acutely seek out God’s will and purpose and learn all the more to surrender to and rely upon God’s presence to reveal and guide me in my ministry with others.  Therefore, I have had the ride of my life (not referring to the roads and highways of Nigeria) in being here as a missionary and I have had fun in being about God’s work of salvation with the people and staff of EYN in the ways God has utilized me and my presence.  I continually praise and glorify God for all of the goodness and greatness I have received in participating in the life and coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth in Nigeria.  As I continue to say, “It is all about God, not about me.”

Again, words don’t come close to describing the feelings and emotions I have from God uniting me with the sufferings of the people and staff of EYN and in their prayers and desires not only for recovery, but also for expanded the presence of EYN to be about the Kingdom in new and challenging ways.  I have made so many new friends, brothers and sisters in Christ here in Nigeria and I will continue to pray for them as they pray for wisdom, guidance, direction, and strength to discern God’s will and obey it.

In the future, I hope to be able to go out and give presentations on the “Crisis in Nigeria” and share about a) the tremendous response of the Church of the Brethren b) EYN’s overwhelming sense of gratitude for what has happen so far in what it has meant for the leaders and people of EYN c) the long-term needs that are still present and needing to be attended to on down the road.

Peace, Hope, and Joy, Jim

 

Testimonies from Nigeria

Testimonies – Thank yous from our Nigerian Brothers & Sisters

Abel - Medical Officer for Nigeria Disaster Team

Abel – Medical Officer for Nigeria Disaster Team

Medical Relief testimony

The medical team brought medical care and supplies to Madagali. An elderly Muslim woman named Fadi was sick and could not leave her home when the violence erupted. Upon receiving medical attention, she exclaimed, “I have seen the wickedness of these people, how they mercilessly killed the innocent. Look at me, I have been abandoned here to die of hunger and starvation but thanks to the Christians who treated me and gave me back my life. I am no longer a Muslim, I want to be a Christian, I am a Christian!”

Medical Team with supplies

Medical Team with supplies

Livelihood Gifts through WYEAHI

Livelihood Gifts through WYEAHI

Livelihood Testimonies

Village head of Lassa,

Picture courtesy of WYEAHI

Picture courtesy of WYEAHI

“These livelihood gifts have made the people self employed without stress or hardship of looking for money. I don’t know how to express my gratitude and I pray with utmost faith that God will continue to bless Church of the Brethren and Women Youth Empowerment for Advancement and Health Initiatives (WYEAHI) for their concern toward IDP’s and the less privileged.”

A young Muslim women who received a processing machine,

Picture1“Shame to Boko Haram, this gift has helped in paying my monthly rent and feeding my six fatherless children. Many thanks and blessings to Church of the Brethren and WYEAHI who God has used to provide us with a means of livelihood. “

Another family has been able to move back home and the gift of livelihood is enabling her to renovate her burnt house and she feels her life has been stabilized. She calls her new processing machine, “Savior Materials.”

Are you sleeping?

AWAKE_ADVENT_4

Isaiah 64:1-12

Question for reflection:
When have you been awakened to the refining work of God?

Prayer for the day:
Lord, in our profession of faith we proclaim that you reign over all creation. Yet, we look about us and can only wonder how this can be the case. For we are a people who cry out “Peace, Peace” and there is no peace. As we wait, remember, and hope in this season, awaken us to the movements of your Spirit among us. Refine us with your love and transform our world by your grace. In the name of the one for whom we wait, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

~ Josh Brockway, Director for Spiritual Life & Discipleship

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 an 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 through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

#BringBackOurGirls: Zooming Out But Staying Focused

The world has been watching, lamenting, and agitating for over a month now about the 276 kidnapped girls from Chibok. We are still waiting and praying for their release or rescue, and while we wait, the world’s powers have been trying to catch up and see what they can do to help our Nigerian sisters.

Nigerian Girls in Captivity

The #BringBackOurGirls movement has gone from obscurity to oversaturating the media in the span of a couple weeks. It has garnered so much attention that on Thursday May 15th the US Senate convened a hearing with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in its title. But has all this attention even been helpful or what exactly can the US do that wouldn’t make things worse than they already are?

Our Action Alert called upon Brethren to contact their elected leaders to raise awareness and ask them to encourage the State Department and other government actors to take notice and assess how we could help. But what is it that they’ve determined and how is the US getting involved? That’s what we went to this hearing to find out.

Much of what was discussed by the Subcommittee on African Affairs revolved around Boko Haram’s origins, the contextual situation of Northern/Northeastern Nigeria, and finally how the US and international community is already involved and how it plans to continue its involvement. Speakers from the State Department, USAID, and Pentagon all testified, and by the end of their testimony it was clear that although the concern was great, there are many tangible realities limiting any effective outside response to the kidnapping.

As Brethren are all too aware, life in Northern Nigeria is tough, and it has been that way for a while. This kidnapping did not happen in a vacuum, but rather is a grotesque manifestation of the insecurity that exists there all the time. The lack of good governance, quality education, reliable infrastructure, widespread peacebuilding practices, and stable local policing has created a region in Northern Nigeria where corruption is rife and many Nigerians are left to fend for themselves. Especially children. We heard in a separate Congressional briefing the day before that 10.5 million of the world’s 57.5 million primary school aged children that do not attend school are Nigerian. And of those 10.5 million Nigerians, 9 million are from the North. According to A World At School, these figures mean Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children in the whole world.

I say these things not to distract us from the plight of our girls, but instead to point us to some of the larger issues that this crisis was born out of. We are mistaken if we think that all of a sudden these social problems will be solved if the Nigerian government gets its act together and safely rescues the girls. We cannot allow ourselves to entertain such fantasies or even the idea that the US can solve these issues for the Nigerians. The problems that have presented themselves are much more complex than that. This last point was hammered home at the hearing.

We heard that an inter-agency team had been deployed to Nigeria with representatives from State/USAID/Pentagon “to provide military and law enforcement assistance, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support” (Jackson 2). But all of the panelists testifying would not go any further in speculating what the US would do in response, and although that seems very frustrating, it is probably a good sign.

Too often the United States has jumped head first into conflicts without thinking through what exactly its goals are or what unforeseen consequences could arise. Obviously we want to bring back the girls who have been kidnapped, but we also don’t want to go in and make more of a mess than what is already present. And we definitely don’t want to perpetuate the idea that once these girls are back home safe, that everything will be hunky dory in Nigeria. There is no easy solution, and that’s scary.

What we truly have to do is zoom out and see the big picture while still holding the plight of the girls in our hearts. This is where the final testimony from Nigerian peacebuilder Lantana Adbullahi comes in to play. Ms. Abdullahi, a Muslim peacebuilder who works for Search For Common Ground in Jos, Nigeria, praised the US and other countries for raising up the plight of the girls, but she was quick to add,

“While securing the girls’ release will be a short term gain, ensuring lasting peace in the region requires that the militancy issue be addressed from multiple angles. It also requires the engagement of all stakeholders – communities, civil society, government, and its international partners – to ensure context-specific and sustainable solutions to improve human security, peacebuilding, and the prevention of future atrocities.”

This is the tough pill that we must swallow. Peace does not come instantaneously or with a swift military response, but rather through the consistent embodiment of Christ’s peace through the hard work of reconciliation and empowerment that people like Ms. Abdullahi and our EYN brothers and sisters do each day in their communities. We must continue to pray for God’s great power to save these girls, but we must also pray for the guidance and humility to become faithful disciples that learn how to build and teach peace in our communities and around the world.

In situations like this, the world can feel utterly broken beyond repair, but we must never forget that our savior remains, as Pastor Brian Zahnd recently remarked, a carpenter who is repairing and restoring God’s good world.

Amen.

-Bryan Hanger

NOTE:

Too Much Armor, Too Little Brain: The Risks of Political Advocacy & the Hope Our God Offers

Working for peace in Washington often feels like a losing battle, but perhaps the problem is that we often view the work of peace through a combative lens. Whether the issue is gun violence, drones, or any other issue of militarism, we often talk of “fighting back” against these issues and eventually building up enough support to “defeat our opposition”. But what if this paradigm is limiting our imagination and holding us back from working for and embodying Christ’s transformative kingdom?

I reflected on this tension after attending a conference held at the United States Institute of Peace that covered the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. There were speakers from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist backgrounds, and their testimonies and stories of the religious community’s advocacy were very compelling and in stark contrast to the message of perhaps the most anticipated speaker at the event, Anita Friedt, who works for the State Department on US Nuclear Policy.

Mrs. Friedt’s speech was a fairly typical DC speech that was short on concrete ideas or promises and chock full of vague legalese that boiled down to an appreciation of the work the religious community does to make the world safe from nuclear weapons, while simultaneously patting us on the head to let us know that the political reality was much more complicated. She even tried to reassure us that the United States would never consider using these weapons except in the most extreme circumstances, but neglected to enlighten us as to what those circumstances might look like.

My friend and colleague, Rev. Michael Neuroth summed up many of our reactions to Mrs. Friedt’s remarks by ending his subsequent presentation with a quote from longtime peace activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin who once said, “We are beginning to resemble extinct dinosaurs who suffered from too much armor and too little brain”.

We all approvingly applauded the succinct remark, but if we are not careful, the Church’s political advocacy and activism can become confined by this same armor employed by Mrs. Friedt. When the real life problems of our communities and world become “issues” we talk about abstractly, we can speak and act on them divorced from their context and the people actually affected. To do this betrays not only the people affected but also our vocation as the Church.

When we engage in this manner, we’ve allowed our own armor to shroud and influence our vision to the point that we cannot even begin to imagine a world that is wildly different and more restorative than the reality we currently inhabit. Scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann speaks about this tension at length in his book the Prophetic Imagination. In our line of work, we often like to talk about hope and peace in our world, but Brueggemann rightly reminds us that these words mean nothing out of their context:

“Hope expressed only in the present tense will no doubt be co-opted by the managers of this age…Therefore the symbols of hope cannot be general and universal but must be those that have been known concretely in this particular history…The memory of this community begins in God’s promissory address to the darkness of chaos, to barren Sarah, and to oppressed Egyptian slaves. The speech of God is first about an alternative future. (The Prophetic Imagination, pg. 64)

We are not a people without a history and we are not a people without a God. We know and believe that the status quo is not the best we can hope for because we have this unique story of God’s freedom and liberation working in the world. The same spirit in the “Cloud by Day/Fire by Night” that guided the Israelites out of the wilderness continues to pull us forward today into new possibilities of liberation and reconciliation.

Francisco de Goya's "Fire By Night"

Francisco de Goya’s “Fire By Night”

To speak of such things in our society makes us sound strange and unfamiliar, but speaking about them also gives us a clinging hope that feels unwarranted and yet incredibly necessary

Especially necessary when we’re confronted with inexplicable madness like the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls in Chibok. To respond with disembodied calls for peace and hope in Nigeria from a cozy office in Washington feels inadequate at best and totally disingenuous at worst. But when we ground our work in communion and solidarity with our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we can once again plug back into our story and remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are.

Only when grounded in this context can we faithfully speak an energizing word of hope, advocate for a just policy, or pray a prayer for peace. Only when we tap into the imagination and creativity of the Spirit can we begin to embody the reality of God that is here waiting to be shared and lived into.

This is our hope as an office. To witness to the story we’ve been given and grafted into by Christ. To recognize the areas of our country and world where this witness and promise of God’s alternative reality can make a difference, and pray that our work is not in vain.

May we learn to strip off the armor that limits our hope and shrouds our vision. And may we remember that we are clothed in Christ, the one who renews our mind and spirit to be courageous disciples who have no need of any armor but the Spirit of the Lord that goes with us.

Amen.

-Bryan Hanger

Peace by piece

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

Luke 24:36-49

Question for reflection:
How will you carry the peace and promise of this Easter celebration into your daily living this week? Who do you know that needs you to represent the living Christ to them?

Prayer for the day:

God, thank you for making me a witness to the resurrection. Help me carry the hope and promise of Easter into the dark and doubting places of the world. With gratitude for the gift of your presence and your peace, I pray. AMEN

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

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.

Hope

By Allison Snyder

Allison Snyder

Allison Snyder, BVS unit #304

Hope should reach down into a person
and sing the desires of their heart.
It should inspire poets and painters
to strive for artwork where their pens tread.
Hope should inspire nations
to abandon nationalism and self-interest
for a better world for all.
Hope is not crazy or idealist
it is the yearning in our hearts
that tells us that magic and wonder are possible
that we are possible.
When we hope
we let others know that we exist
and believe so much even when it seems futile.
We hope, the daydreamers and wishers
that we might find a slice of Eden
hidden within our days.

Since April is National Poetry Month, we are featuring poems by volunteers. If you are a past or present BVS volunteer, share a poem by e-mailing it to bvs@brethren.org or adding it in the comments section!