(A report from the EYN Disaster Ministry)
At campfire one night, a little girl was playing around – pulling the strings of my sweater and moving my hand around to touch my face. She suddenly moved my hand to her chest. She breathed deep.
“Ask me what do I do with my heart?” She said.
“What do you do with your heart?” I replied, curious as to what she meant.
“I don’t know. I’m trying to think in my body.”
This girl was about 4 years old. I don’t know what prompted the question or if she was really thinking about the answer, but I think it is a question all of Camp Stover has been asking this week. What do we do with our hearts? If God’s love really can encompass more than we could possibly imagine, what do we do with our hearts? If God is bigger than we think, what do we do with our hearts? What groups of people have we been excluding from our love because we haven’t believed God is truly bigger than our differences? How can we even begin to try to express that type of love to the world? To love so much can feel like an overwhelming task. It sounds like too large of a task; it sounds exhausting, not to mention stronger and bigger than us.
In a Bible study I attended, we were talking about prayer and the ways we pray. In one Bible verse we read, Jesus prayed for those around him – clarifying that he was not praying for the whole world but just for those people God had given to him. What do we do with our hearts? Maybe we should share them with those people God has given to us to love. We will have differences and hardships, but our job is to love one another.
When we talk about what it means to be peaceful, I think sometimes we take the conversation to extremes: no wars – wow, what a big answer! Or sitting in silence – what a small step! But maybe it would be more beneficial to talk about peace in a practical sense. I love talking in extremes, don’t get me wrong. I think we all do. But if we recognize that God gives us certain people, the people in our lives who we can love and learn peace with, then we are truly doing our best to follow in the way of Jesus.
Visiting Camp Stover yielded many joyous conversations. Some were complicated and others simple, but I think the most profound question I heard all week was: “What do you do with your heart?”
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!
Food Distribution at the Yola Relocation camp. Patience, a widow and mother of 8, expressed her thankfulness to the Disaster Ministry. “You can see my tears of joy for what your help means to me and my children.”
Educational assistance for 56 children. School fees were paid for both elementary and high school students. Most high schools are boarding schools with students living at the school. Thousands have been widowed by the Boko Haram insurgence and they cannot afford to send their children to school. The mothers are very thankful for the assistance.
Re-roofing of burned homes continues for the most vulnerable. “We never thought of assistance coming to us this way. (20 homes in the area were given new roofs) We continue to have challenges including lack of good water and fear when going to our farms.”
Medical help was given to around 400 persons. Adequate medical care is still unavailable without traveling long distances and then most cannot afford to pay for the care. EYN Disaster Ministry medical staff helped 5000 persons last year.
Please continue to pray for Nigeria and donations are greatly appreciated.
This interview was submitted by EYN’s Disaster Team Correspondent. Bear in mind that some of the blog may be difficult to read due to the horrific nature of the content. As we read news of the Dapchi girls being released and we near the 4th anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok girls (April 14th), we remember and pray for the hundreds of women, young men and girls who remain in captivity under Boko Haram.
Here is what was shared by one of the rescued/released Chibok girls.
“ We stayed under trees, even when it was raining, no room, we were surrounded with thorns. When we were abducted, they gave us food. Sometime 2 to 3 cows were slaughtered for us. Ah! But afterward when we refused to get married, while some were married, they denied us food. We had to feed on bush yam, leaves and soup that was what we ate. Those that agreed to be married left and were married in Gwoza when Boko Haram captured the place, but we that refused to be married are those released.”
On what about those that are married? “I don’t know. But for us, Shakau wanted to know our stand, ‘you are not doing sallah, I don’t understand which religion you are practicing?’ Then we said not that we are not doing sallah but we don’t believe the religion (Islam). He said ‘do you mean you still have your religion in mind since you are not following what is being taught? We did not bring you here for love or clothes. But those of you asked for marriage’.
“Then he gathered those that are married and asked them, all of you who are married if you want to go back to your homes we can take you back. Then they replied that they prefer being killed in the forest and proceed to Aljan (Paradise). They are up to 60. Those of us killed by bomb are up to 10, and 9 died in the process of delivering, some are paralyzed, others lost their hands or legs, others can no longer hear properly, to communicate with them one has to shout before they are able to hear. The forest where we stayed has no house but they (BH) have tents where they cover themselves when it is raining. There were many guards around us”.
“We continued praying when they are not around us. We were 205 abducted, 106 are freed. We were not allowed to stay alone. No. When we were to come home, 4 among us refused to come with us, they said they want to stay and follow Islam. They said if their parents would come and join them they will receive them to Islam. “When we refused to be married they forced us to do some hard work, breaking of stone, cutting trees, washing their wife’s clothes, constructing of their thatch houses. they said we are slaves, so we were forced to do different works. We cannot describe where we were. Some of us attempted to escape. When they were caught they were given 100 lashes, denied food for good two days, and were tied with ropes and thrown under trees. They were separated from us for short distances where we could see them, but we cannot help them. But we sometimes hide and snuck under grasses to assist them with water, when we see BH then we ran.”
“One day Shekau’s deputy came to us – he dug a hole and lay down one of the girls in front of the hole, that she is going to be slaughtered. They called one girl, said to have been abducted when she visited her boyfriend in military barrack in Chibok. She was asked to slaughter the girl laying down. She said ‘is she a sheep or goat? ’one Boko Haram member replied her, yes she is a goat but not edible. She refused, that she cannot slaughter her. As she persisted, she was told to lie down so that she could be slaughtered instead, which she did. Then some of them (BH) said leave her while other members of BH said free them but would punish her when they would be freed.
We were not allowed to look at them in the face. They beat us. When we were in the forest, a man appeared from the air to rescue us, but he fell in the midst of BH and was tied with rope dragged to forest and was killed. Another man, a father of one of us, went to free his daughter, that why his daughter should could be abducted. We made to understand that he is one of the sect members. Then BH told him if we are to free any not only one but all others.
“It is not true that NGOs (Red Cross) take food to the forest by plane. They only went there when they wanted to pick us, even that day, they did not carry anything along; they were even waylaid by BH and were warned if they are coming to take us by force they (BH) will kill them along with us. So, they were afraid and left. Later on, Boko Haram called them that they can come. Shekau and Buhari communicated.”
By Tim Joseph (Pictures by Pat Krabacher)
It is certainly a profound and life-changing experience to visit Nigeria and work and fellowship with the Nigerian Brethren. I had previously been part of a work camp in February, 2009, (just months before the emergence of Boko Haram) and my experiences then have been a real touchstone in my life ever since. I went this time with my wife Wanda, and I gave special attention and thought to changes in Nigeria in the intervening nine years. I am fully aware that I can only see the surface and maybe one or two layers beneath, and that I carry my own mindset and preconceptions that color everything I see. So here some highly subjective thoughts:
The Nigerians we worked, played, traveled and worshiped with are for the most part as hospitable, optimistic, fun-filled and humorous as I remembered. Their faith in the goodness and protection of God is strong and deep. I believe I saw more sadness in more eyes than I saw nine years ago, which is to be expected from the brutality and losses they have suffered, but their resilience and determination to live happily and trust in God is amazing, to say the least, to this American.
The actual work we American Brethren did in building foundations for that huge church in Michika was negligible, considering the scope of the project and the fact that almost all the work is done by simple muscle and sweat. But there is no doubt our presence was extremely encouraging, inspiring and soul-filling to the people there, for they told us of their appreciation countless times and in many ways. Many people told us that our just being there eased their fear. Folks often commented on the great sacrifice we had made, leaving our comfortable, safe homes and traveling to a place so rough and dangerous. I didn’t feel that way at all, of course, and felt the deepest gratitude and joy to be so well taken care of, so loved, not to mention just getting to be in Africa!
We listened to a lot of stories; that is probably the most important work we did. Hair-raising, heartbreaking stories often. One young man at Michika, Elisha Bitrus Sengere II, told and wrote down for me the story of his escape by motorbike the Sunday morning, 7 September 2014 when the terrorists stormed into Michika shooting and throwing bombs and the people ran to the mountains, to their homes, some to their deaths. We visited many churches and bible schools which had been destroyed and were in various stages of rebuilding. There are many widows and orphans. We stayed at Kulp Bible College, at Kwarhi, which the terrorists had invaded and vandalized, but not destroyed, and we traveled an hour each day to Michika. On that daily trip we went through nine military checkpoints and crossed two bomb-collapsed bridges. For all that, life and commerce do seem to go on fairly normally in that region these days. (But what do I know?)
The Nigerian Brethren’s relation/stance toward Muslims is complicated. The church is remarkably faithful to Jesus’ teaching of loving and forgiving our enemies. I can’t even imagine Americans being so faithful and obedient. At the same time, there is a whole lot of bitterness and resentment toward Muslims in Nigerian Brethren I was with. In many places in Nigeria Christians are second-class citizens. Nigeria is the only country with roughly equivalent numbers of Muslims and Christians. They have to get along. Add to that five hundred different languages and hundreds of different tribes, as well as castes…. It is a rough place to have a nation. Is it any wonder the church is so vital to our brothers and sisters of the EYN? Pray for them. Pray hard.
I had the opportunity to go to Chibok for a short visit, where I never dreamed I would be able to go. Markus Gamache had some business up there one Saturday and took Sharon Franzen and I along. I had visited in 2009 and had vivid memories. The military were not happy that we foreigners were there. We went to the Bible School to investigate the location for a bore hole they are planning to dig, and we visited a church and a family nearby. Some huge trees which had provided shade and a gathering place at the Bible School had been cut down by the army as some kind of military precaution. I know there are much deeper harms that have been done at Chibok, but it was painful to see those dead trunks in the hot sun. War is the work of the Devil, no doubt about it.
Another day after work we visited Lassa, where again I had thought I would not be able to go. It was kind of a spur of the moment trip, and we traveled a rough dirt road through forest and bush from Michika to Lassa. I had spent a couple of days there in 2009 and two boys had adopted me and hung with me the whole time–Siliarnad and Paul. I had no way of knowing what had happened to them when Boko Haram overran Lassa, but I knew teenage boys would have been prime targets for killing or kidnapping. We arrived at Lassa EYN #1 church (which was rebuilt by Muslim-dominated Borno State–there’s a story there which I do not know) and there were few people in the church compound, but there was a boy sitting alone in a large courtyard playing a drum. In conversation with the boy I soon discovered that he is a younger brother of Siliarnad. Siliarnad was off in Yola taking a college entrance exam and Paul was alive and well in the town. Some days God just takes a direct hand.
That’s enough for now. Get me going and it’s hard to stop…. Tim Joseph
Nigeria Crisis Response has been sponsoring the Favored Sister’s School in Jos, Nigeria since January 2015.The school was founded by Na’omi MANKILIK along with a Nigerian women’s organization called Favored Sister’s Christian Fellowship. The school was started for the many orphans and displaced persons that resulted from Boko Haram insurgency. At first, 60 orphans were housed on the large piece of property and an addition 60 students were picked up daily and brought to the school. The first classes went from pre-school through 6th grade. The school has since expanded to 263 students, pre-school through high school. There are now 240 orphans living at the school. Favored Sister’s School has been working hard to bring quality education to these students. It employs displaced teachers and has a pastor and wife that live with the orphans. There is real care for the whole student, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Christian Aid Ministries (from Ohio) (CAM) has partnered with Church of the Brethren and has another program in place in Nigeria. When they visited Favored Sister’s School, they began to wonder what the older orphans would do when they left school. They have started a program on the orphanage property to teach these youth an occupational skill for the future. Tailoring, Shoemaking and Carpentry will be taught as a 12 month course. Skilled locals have been employed for each trade and they teach a half day course (3) days a week.
The program is well underway. The sewing class has moved from practicing on paper to sewing outfits for themselves. Shoemakers have made and sold over 40 pairs of shoes. The carpenters made 40 desks for the school and are now making couches they can sell to help run the school. Thank you CAM for the dream and for helping it come to fruition.
For less than $150 per youth, you could help sponsor the program. The students will be able to learn a vocation and then will graduate the program with a sewing machine or the basic hand tools of their own that will equip them to support themselves. Check can be made to Church of the Brethren, with Nigeria Crisis – Favored Sisters in the memo line.
Please continue to pray for the students, teachers and administrators of Favored Sister’s School.
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 months from July until late October are called the “Lean Period” because people’s food from last year’s harvest is almost gone and the new crop is not yet ready. The Boko Haram insurgency has compounded this problem with a decreased ability to even plant crops. Statistics from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Nigeria) states that 8.5 Million people in the area are still in need of humanitarian assistance.
The EYN Disaster Ministry Response team has been very active in the last few months with eight food distributions. A lot of planning and effort goes into providing an organized distribution to around 300 families at a time. Food must be bought in the local market, loaded on trucks and taken to the distribution point (often a church). The district leaders must have made a list of needy families in their area and contacted them to convene for the distribution. There is a lot of waiting as the process unfolds. There is the visual reminder of the insecurity in the area and the devastation that has affected their lives when they receive the food in a destroyed church. There is happiness in receiving the much needed food. Please continue to pray for the people of Northeast Nigeria.
Welcome to a Nigeria Workcamp by Peggy Gish
“Aiki! Aik! Aiki!” men called out from time to time, “Work! work! work! (in Hausa). Under a hot sun, a continuous line of men carried cement blocks up a wooden ramp with nailed on rungs, to the second floor of what will be a new office building for the EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) staff, at the church headquarters in Kwarhi, in Adamawa State. On the second floor, groups of men mixed up mortar, and lay block to form the walls and doorways of the new building.
This was the first week of a two-week workcamp (August 17-September 3) co-sponsored by EYN and the Church of the Brethren. About 17-20 Nigerian men came each week from churches to help with the building. Three of us, Johnathan Ogburn, Dana McNeil, and Peggy Gish, representing the Church of the Brethren in the U.S., joined in and were warmly welcomed.
The construction of this building was started in 2014, before Boko Haram looted and damaged the staff buildings. Because the EYN staff and other people from the area fled and temporarily based its headquarters in Jos, the construction stopped. This is the second workcamp to work on this building since the EYN staff returned in 2016.
When asked why they came to the workcamp, the men, who left their jobs at home to work here, gave answers such as the following: “This is a way I can serve God.” “When people drive by, I want them to see a church whose headquarters show the dedication and support of its people.” “After Boko Haram’s attempt to destroy the church, we want to rebuild and make it strong.”
The camaraderie and festive mood of the group attracted a number of boys and girls—children of EYN staff and others living near the compound—who joined in the work. They filled metal dishpans with sand and carrying them up to the second floor to be mixed with concrete. Two of the older boys proudly found that they could carry on their heads or shoulders half blocks. There would be moments, however, when the children or adults erupted into play. Suddenly the children would be flying paper airplanes around the site or playing impromptu games.
As the time went on, there were more playful moments among the men—joking around, working to music, or tossing plastic water bags to or at each other that burst. During a break young men spontaneously formed a percussion band and sang together. Another time the words in Hausa to “Holy, holy, holy” or “Count Your Blessings” could be heard through the building as they worked.
Long after the participants go home, we expect the impact of this workcamp to extend beyond the almost 5,000 cement blocks that had been trucked in and mortared in place. Forged together in these two weeks will be the ongoing friendships across tribes and cultures, and increased dedication to and joy of serving their church. The work here will not only strengthen EYN as a church, but stand as a symbol of hope—as out of the crisis it rebuilds and is renewed.