(A report from the EYN Disaster Ministry)
My back stings from a sunburn. My arms creak, my eyes sting. I have scabs up and down my legs from itching my bug bites too much. My shoes are soaking wet and I have dirt in my hair.
And… my cheeks ache from smiling.
I am incredibly happy. Being the Youth Peace Advocate, this week and every week, has brought me so much joy! Sure, I feel the skin peeling off my back and I’ve had about 40 gnats fly into my eyes, but I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of it.
Yesterday, a boy asked me what my favorite color was. When I said “orange,” he smiled, took off his bracelet, and put it on my wrist.
The day before that, one of the campers made me a card and a peace wand. (How cool is that?!)
The day before that, I was initiated into “the order of the forks.”
Every day, I have 10 kids running up to hug me.
I have been on the receiving end of so much generosity and kindness this summer, it’s kind of hard to believe. The amount of love I have been shown could outshine the sun.
“Hi, I’m Laura Hay, the Youth Peace Advocate” have become my favorite words.
I’d like to say that I’ve grown up: that I’m super peaceful now and I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings ever…that I never get competitive and push people out of safety zones during capture the flag to tag them. But the people at the Missouri/Arkansas camp know that’s not true. This week I’ve struggled more than ever with the fact that I’m still human. I’m struggling to be more peaceful and to not let myself be overwhelmed by the little things. I wish I could just wave my “peace wand” and suddenly there would no longer be discord at camp.
But I can’t.
I still say the wrong things sometimes, but I’m getting better. I’m catching myself in times of harshness and trying to give people grace in theirs. I’m trying to be more honest and trusting of people. We like to think that keeping an idea in our heads or a hope in our heart, that things will change. But it’s a process and it takes action. I pray that I continue to practice peace in the days, weeks, months and years moving forward, and that I forgive myself when I’m not as peaceful as I wish I would be. I hope that in the future there will be more youth, eager to get sunburnt faces and sore muscles in the name of peace.
My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I’m ready for peace.
Peace and Prayers,
The Youth Peace Advocate (Laura Hay)
On June 23rd Fulani Herdsmen in the Jos Plateau area attacked numerous villages. Officials report 238 persons killed in 17 villages. The attackers also burnt and vandalized the villages, destroying homes, churches and properties. The people cannot return home. Some reports indicated that roads to outlaying villages are blocked by the Fulani. Many families are displaced and living with relatives or in temporary camps.
Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria’s (EYN) main area is in Northeast Nigeria but it has a presence in the Jos Plateau area where the June attacks occurred. The Middle Belt of Nigeria has many Christians from numerous denominations. When EYN’s Disaster Response Ministry got word of the numerous displaced persons in Bokkos LGA, they were ready to help. The Disaster team organized a large distribution for 1639 persons in the Bokkos area. 9000 pounds of corn, 7,700 pounds of rice along with beans, gari, palm oil, spices and blankets were distributed.
Recipients of the food distribution were so grateful. They noted that EYN’s methods were different than other relief/government agencies; they actually stayed to distribute the materials, gather data and listen to people’s stories. The devastation of these villages will have long reaching consequences for all those involved. The Disaster team is well aware of this because of their work in the Northeast.
Despite all the work the Disaster team has going on as they help in the Northeast, they came to the aid of their fellow Nigerians in a time of desperate need . Well Done Nigerian Brethren!
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wreck like me. I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see.”
One voice, low and hard to hear over the sound of the booming fireworks, was an 8th grade boy singing gruffly this well-known and moving song. No one joined him, but he didn’t seem to care. He carried on until the end and took no note if anyone was paying attention. I’m not sure anyone else heard him but me. God invites us to sing, to sing his praises not minding if anyone joins in – but to persist and sing nonetheless.
One of the sessions that our worship leader, Nick, talked about was being a “weirdo” and the implications that word has. Where Nick would use “weirdo,” I would say “rebel.” Christianity is mainstream. Being a “one hour a week Christian” is mainstream. But what if we had the rebellious spirit of that boy raising his voice above the fireworks? What if our actions, and not our words, called others to us and through us allowed them to see good in the world? That’s what being Brethren is to me.
One of the first days of camp there was a trash can that had been knocked over by a cat at the pavilion. One person began to pick up the trash. No one helping at first, but slowly more hands joined to help with the clean-up. That’s who Brethren are, that’s what we do. We live the life we feel is the best representation of Jesus and hope people see that and join in. Jesus was a “weirdo,” and he was rebellious. Be a “weirdo!” Be a rebel in the way Jesus was. Picking up that trash wasn’t the coolest thing to do. Getting all dirty and touching a bunch of disgusting garbage is gross. But it’s what this person felt was right.
While I was in Pennsylvania at Camp Harmony, many people from our denomination came together at Annual Conference to work at what it means to be Brethren and how we do that on the national level. I wasn’t there, but I hope that the conference kept that value in mind: Brethren show our faith through action, boldly following the rebellious spirit of Jesus and continuing that work – peacefully, simply, and together!
By Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate
The mean age in Nigeria is 18. That means there are as many people under 18 as there are over 18. That also means there are a lot of children in Nigeria. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by kids. It was especially fun to take Carter Beecham with us on our last visit to Nigeria. Carter is 14 and he had fun interacting with all the children. Some places we visited the children could hardly speak English so communication was difficult. The Favored Sisters School in Jos has worked hard at teaching and using English and Carter had fun conversations with the children who live at the school. We brought beach balls, soccer balls, and jump ropes to give out to each school and camp that we visited. It was probably the first beach balls the kids had seen and they had a lot of fun keeping them in the air.
Children in Nigeria do a lot of chores to help out around the home. Fetching water, watching younger siblings and helping with the farm are all jobs the children help with. School is not free in Nigeria and parents must come up with money for school fees. This is very difficult especially for the Internally Displaced Person’s who don’t have a way to earn a living. Some of the camps have makeshift schools but still many children have not received adequate education over the last 3 years.
We continue to pray for all the children in Nigeria!
EYN Disaster Ministry put in 2 wells and 2 bore holes around Shaffa and Kwajaffa area. Many wells were destroyed during the occupation by Boko Haram. These water sources will serve 300 families each. At one site, the majority of the people accessing the water are Internally Displaced Persons from the Gwoza area (they are mainly farmers who cannot return to their homes.) At another area, the well will be used by mostly Muslim families. Peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians is one of the goals for Northeast Nigeria. This water source put in by the church is a big step toward maintaining peace.
Dr. Rebecca Dali is the founder and executive director of the Non-profit called Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). For several years the Church of the Brethren has been providing funds for CCEPI’s work. The last two years we have sponsored three Livelihood Centers in Jos, Yola, and Michika. The students are either widows or orphans (Muslims and Christians) who have no way to support themselves. The attend classes for nine months at the Centers and are trained in computer, sewing, or knitting and taught skills for running a successful business. At the graduation, the students are given a computer, sewing or knitting machine and sent out to start their own businesses.
This fall 119 students graduated in joyful ceremonies that included dancing, singing and some tears. In addition to the specific training, all the students learn how to make shampoo, lotion and dish soap that they can use or sell. The students have all been traumatized in one way or another so they form close bonds and are an informal support group. During the nine months at the Livelihood training center, they also have a chance to tell their stories and these are written down.
Here are stories from two participants:
HAJARA – On the 06-08-2012 my husband, Abubakar, of the Nigerian Army Rukuba Cantonment was drafted to Military for peace keeping. He spent almost four years in this exercise. From time to time he would collect a pass which enabled him come and see me and the children.
0n 10-7-2016 in the morning some soldiers came to my block and told me that on 10-6-2016 boko-haram attacked the Military unit in Sambisa Forest and killed Officers/Men and that my husband was among those killed. I just burst into tears and fainted.
His death has left me with five children to look after. His death benefit is yet to be worked out so life has not been easy for me and the children. I am very thankful to have been selected to attend the CCEPI Skills Acquisition Center.
ESTHER – I lived in Gava II with by mother and siblings. On the 5/9/2014 by 9:00am, I was down with fever but I still had to fetch the water and check to see if my corn was ground. On the way from the well to the mill, I heard people shouting “ku gudu, ku gudu” in Hausa, meaning “lets run let’s run”. I started running but due to my ill-health, I could not run fast enough and when I was about to climb up the mountain, the boko haram caught me and brought me to Pulka along with five other women.
After five days under the care of one man called Aliyu, he took us to Gwoza. Here we joined Chibok girls by name Saratu Yahi and Saratu Tabbji who were kidnapped along with their mates in G.S.S Chibok. While in Gwoza, a man named Bana bought me as a slave/wife from Aliyu. I was taken to another village; while there, I got pregnant by the man, Bana.
My owner/husband, Bana, along with other boko haram members went for attack on innocent people. Unfortunately, he was killed by the soldiers. It was then that I began to plan my escape. With the help of God, I was able to follow one small road and then joined a vehicle traveling to Maiduguri. When the soldiers started asking questions during checks on the road, I told them that I had escaped from a boko haram camp. They immediately took me to their barracks in Maiduguri where they interrogated me on how I survived in the Sambisa. They asked me to call my parents to take me home.
Before I was kidnapped I was married to Ubale. When I came out of the Sambisa forest heavily pregnant by boko haram, I came to my husband but he drove me away and said that he was no longer interested in our marriage. When the Director of CCEPI, Dr. Rebecca S. Dali, heard of my case, she gave me a room, food, cooking utensils, mattress, and blanket. Then she enrolled me into her center where I am learning how to sew. I am very grateful to God and Dr. Rebeca S. Dali.
The following blog is a guest post from David Young, the founder of Capstone Community Gardens in New Orleans. You can learn more about his work at www.capstone118.org.
I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. from September 20 through 23, 2017. This was made possible by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and the Global Food Initiative. The main purpose was to do a presentation with Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, at the University of D.C. during their Urban Agriculture Symposium and Association of Vertical Farmers Summit. Our presentation topic was: Food and Faith; The New Orleans Story of the Church of the Brethren. It ended up being so much more than that.
One of the things the Office of Public Witness does is look at policy and how they effect Brethren and projects of the Brethren.
Having had previous meetings and discussions with Nathan he was familiar with some of the challenges Capstone faces as an urban farm. One of those is being in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Orleans Parish (county in other states) has a 100% urban designation by USDA which prevent us from using many of the benefits USDA makes available to those with rural designation.
Nathan and Tori from the Office of Public Witness arranged for me to meet with staff of the three legislators from Louisiana. Within a few hours of arriving I found myself on Capitol Hill, spending about 30 minutes with each staff person, explaining how federal, state, and local policy effect how we can operate with our mission to grow food and share it with those in need.
One of the most pleasant surprises was a World Day of Peace service at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Multiple churches of different denominations worked together to coordinate the service on the evening of September 20th, a day early, since Nathan and I would be occupied at the symposium on the 21st. The garden theme was included as part of the service. It was a nice gathering with a handful of denominations represented as one worshiping and praying for peace.
The Urban Ag Symposium started with Nathan and I doing a brief TV interview about what the Office of Public Witness provides and the community mission of Capstone. Since the mid 70’s I have understood the important role our land grant colleges play with agriculture. The University of D.C. is the only Urban Land Grant College. I also found it surprising to hear the Dean of the University talk about the faith based involvement the university has.
Later that afternoon Nathan and I completed our presentation at the symposium which was well received. The symposium partnered with the Association of Vertical Farmers. There were presentations that talked about some of the various vertical farming systems. Capstone has a combination of in -ground farming, elevated farming (raised beds), as well as some vertical farming with the aquaculture systems.
The second day started the Association for Vertical Farming Summit. The make-up of those in attendance changed from the previous day. The Vertical Farmcing Summit included more people who held titles of Scientist, PhD, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).
There was dialogue and presentations on controlled environment, high capacity, 6 to 30-foot-high vertical growing systems. Complete grow systems self-contained in shipping containers. There was also an emphasis on using technology and Artificial Intelligence to analyze and evaluate plant needs. This ranged from mini drones gathering samples in mid-air to leaf mounted cameras and scopes.
Going back to when I was part of commercial agriculture in the late 70 and 80’s and currently doing urban farming I ask, what are you testing for? Most people I know now typically do more harm to their crops by overreacting to the test results. The group agreed with me. I’ve never tested much, I look at the plant and figure out what if any corrections I should take. The group said we don’t have that experience or knowledge to do that.
It comes very close to feeling like I’m watching a movie that was made a long time ago and this would have been considered sci-fi. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I ask myself are these scientists, PhDs, and Artificial Intelligence people our next generation of farmers even though they admit they don’t have any experience in growing food. One representative from USDA said this type of farming will never replace conventional farming.
One three story vertical system in Jackson Wyoming cost 4.5 Million dollars to build. While they are at the other end of the spectrum of production and a for profit business I think back to my first two seasons with the gardens at Capstone. 4’x14’ and I spent $100 each growing season. If someone wanted to help I asked them to bring the plants or seeds they wanted to have grown. We’ve grown considerably since then. Going to the Garden Grants and Global Food Initiative grants have been beneficial to our success. Even as we continue to grow I feel we maintain a solid well-grounded relationship between the food we grow and our community we share it with.
On the last day, we took a tour of two urban gardens that were operated by Cultivate the City. These two gardens have a combination of raised and vertical farming and are doing some aquaculture. Even though both were rooftop gardens these gardens had a more familiar feel to them. At one farm the founder said we have people water the plants with a watering can. I feel it makes them more attuned with what they are growing. Quite a contrast to having micro drones collect samples.
Here is where I share my lack of following sports or having TV coverage. While I was in Washington I kept seeing a large cursive “W”. I kept thinking a certain large drug store chain was doing a lot of advertising. It was only when we went to the baseball stadium to see their roof top garden and the “W” was more prominent that I realized the “W” was for the Washington sports teams.
In D.C. there are many rooftop gardens because there is a storm water fee. If you allow storm water to openly drain away from a building or hard surface such as a parking lot you pay a fee on that. The roof top gardens make flat roof areas green space for growing plants or food which in turn offers relief from the storm water fee.
The University of D.C has a large green roof including a greenhouse. They grow succulents as well as produce. At the baseball stadium, the roof top gardens are on top of the concession stands. You open a gate on an upper level in the parking garage, climb up a ladder, down the other side of a wall, and onto the roof. It’s covered with hundreds of milk crates. Each milk crate contains a 5-gallon bag made of recycled material. This holds soil or compost and the plants.
One benefit to this type of garden is if you have to relocate the garden due to turning over ownership of the site or other factors you simply pick up the milk crate with the soil and plants, load them and move them to their new location. When we harvest honey, we put the 5 gallons buckets containing honey in a milk crate to make them more stable for transport and easier to handle.
While the material expense may be above our budget I think the concept in an urban setting is great. Having rehabbed a total of 40 lots in the Lower 9th Ward and returning many of them to families or organizations who decided it was time to develop that property it would have made things much easier in some cases to be able to just load the entire garden on a trailer and move it to another site.
I don’t know that my visit to D.C. is going to change anything or even influence any of the policy decisions. I do know the response from several of the smaller urban farms has been positive as we look to continue the discussion and enhance our relationships and collaboration.