Circle of Hands – Circle of Hope

Peggy Gish, 19 April, 2015

“When I came home after escaping the attack, our home had been bombed, and everything was destroyed,” one woman said, expressing a lot of pain.

“I was away when Boko Haram attacked my village,” a man voiced with regret.  ”I still feel horrible that my wife had to face it and flee alone.”

“Everyone else in my village fled when Boko Haram came. I was the only one who stayed, and miraculously, I was not found and killed,” a third said, expressing his gratefulness.

“I ran home when our church was attacked,” another shared. “My husband was at home and was able to go in the car to the next village. When he called me, I told him to go ahead and escape. He answered, ‘I will wait for you to find me. We will stay together, and if we die, we will die together.’”

circle of handsHeartbreaking stories flowed out from the group gathered at a trauma healing workshop in Yola, in early April 2015, sponsored by the crisis team of EYN (Nigerian Brethren Church) for members now living in displacement camps or crowded in relatives’ homes. This was one of many such workshops to help members support each other in the process of healing from the violence of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. And more trainers are being trained so that more of the estimated two hundred to six hundred thousand (200,000 – 600,000) EYN members who have been impacted by trauma, can be included.

There was no expectation that these three days of meeting together and sharing would bring any quick fix, or that it would take care of more intense traumas that called for more intensive pastoral or psychological counseling. The sessions give a framework for understanding how trauma affects them and others, and helps them choose positive ways of dealing with the emotions connected with trauma and open themselves to healing. This program is carried out with the hope of preventing the cycle of violence and trauma from continuing, knowing that when trauma is not dealt with, those who have been traumatized, in turn, can perpetrate violence and traumatize another group of people.

Exercises such as the “empty chair,” gave participants space in which to “speak” to someone they lost.  Remembering that the person, they lost, loved them, offered them grounding for dealing with their loss. Understanding the different stages of grief and allowing themselves and others patience as they navigate these at their own pace and order, provided some guidance for the process. Guessing what was in a small purse, and having its surprising contents dumped out, helped the group to see that what is inside a person who is grieving may not be what you would expect or “reasonable,” and that getting the grief out, frees the heart.

Especially moving, was and exercise called, “circle of hands.” One by one, in the circle, each person said, “I love this family; I wish this family____” and filled in the blank with something, such as, ”hope,” “healing,” or “strength.” After his or her statement, the person put her closed hand in the circle and around the prior person’s thumb, holding out her thumb for the next one to take. The result was a circle of hands joined together, symbolic of the strength and beauty they and others who have just experienced great trauma from violence, can be given as they walk together through this difficult time, within a community of love and support.

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.

Reports from Nigeria: A phone report from Cliff Kindy

Phone Report from Cliff Kindy to Carl and Roxane Hill on Feb. 3, 2015. Cliff is currently a Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria.

  • Cliff is helping organize a
    Cliff at Garku

    Cliff Kindy (right) volunteering in Nigeria. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

    Peace and Democracy Conference in Yola: promoting civic responsibility as the national elections draw near (scheduled for 14 February)

  • He will accompany delegates from the Swiss Embassy as they visit IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Yola and survey the conditions in Mubi
  • Boko Haram insurgents continue their campaign of fear with bomb blasts in Gombe where President Goodluck Jonathan was campaigning earlier this week
  • Cliff has been instrumental in encouraging and participating in various Trauma Healing workshops – Mennonite Central Committee is sponsoring one for EYN leadership this week, helping these leaders to lead despite the trauma they may be experiencing
  • Cliff received reports that the Nigerian military attacked Boko Haram headquarters in the Sambisa Forest. With the successful defense of the city of Maiduguri, it appears that Boko Haram is being limited to hit-and-run tactics
  • With Cliff’s encouragement, EYN’s director of education has established a teacher-training program and set up locations to begin teaching at the five IDP camps in Jos
  • Cliff is asking for prayers for his mother who was recently hospitalized
  • Continued prayer for Cliff’s safety and health as he continues his important work in Nigeria
  • Lastly, as most of us are digging out of the recent snow storm, Cliff is enduring 100-degree heat with failing electricity and fighting mosquitoes in humid east Nigeria – way to go, Cliff!

Reports from Nigeria: Progress Report for the Week of Jan 26, 2015

PROGRESS in our Nigeria Crisis Response

  • New Headquarters for EYN has been established
  • EYN staff have been housed and their children have been enrolled in local schools
  • Building of staff housing is going on at Headquarters
  • 2 trucks were purchased to use in the distribution of food and construction supplies
  • Lifeline Interfaith project – 100 Christian and Muslim families are being settled, water bore hole was dug, building of semi-permanent houses has commenced
  • Food was distributed to over 12,000 displaced persons in the last 2 weeks
  • Land has been purchased and is being cleared for care centers for the displaced people
  • WYEAHI (Women and Youth Empowerment For Advancement & Health Initiative) – has begun registration for the sustainability projects
  • Numerous trauma healing seminars for pastors, men and women have been held (Mennonite Central Committee in Nigeria is assisting in this effort)
Lifelines Interfaith project Jan 2015

Building houses at the Lifelines Interfaith project. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

EYN staff quarters at HQ 1.28.14

Building of the staff quarters at EYN Headquarters. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

 

 

WYEAHI IDP registration table

Registration table with WYEAHI staff busy registering the Internally Displaced Persons. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

Aishatu, head of WYEAHI

Aishatu, head of WYEAHI, with two Muslim women among those that came for registration. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

Highlighting WYEAHI (Women and Youth Empowerment For Advancement & Health Initiative)
Aishatu Margima is the Executive Director of the NGO (Non-government organization). She will be assisting in the Nigeria Crisis by providing sustainability projects to displaced persons especially women who are widowed or separated from their husbands. These sustainability projects will include setting them up in small business ventures i.e. sewing machines, grinding machines, cooking & selling food items, giving animals for breeding and selling, and providing farming assistance with seeds, plows, and fertilizer. The first step in this process was an information session where Aishatu told about her program and registered individuals. This first session was completed at a church and both Muslims and Christians were successfully registered. One challenge is that funds are limited and she can only help so many; the organization will first concentrate on the most vulnerable.

Snapshots  (edited for grammar and security)
Amina
“Tragedy befell me during the insurgency attack in Maiduguri, Borno State of Nigeria on Tuesday 2nd October, 2014. On that fateful day they attacked, my beloved husband and two (2) of my lovely children were slaughtered before my naked eyes. They (the Boko Haram) took away our two cars and all valuable things in our house and left me a widow with five children.”

Maria testified that she has not seen her husband since the Michika crisis (July 2014). She is left with her kids and she is now six months pregnant.

Reports from Nigeria: A Rocky Beginning

Article by Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria

trauma workshop used 1.22.15

Photo by Cliff Kindy.

The EYN church at Vinikilang was the first city congregation as EYN intentionally expanded from the country and the smaller villages in about 1978. The meeting place is a large structure in the shape of a cross with roof trusses built like others I have seen only near North Manchester, IL, as in a former barn of Harold and Rosemary Bolinger. The space will hold up to 1500 people easily. [One pastor noted to the writer that in his district the smallest of the twelve churches that Boko Haram had leveled as they destroyed his district completely was larger than Vinikilang.] This structure is built on a massive outcropping of rock that rises above the Benue River which cuts through this portion of Nigeria.

Vinikilang #1 was the site of the first trauma healing workshop led by Rev. Toma Ragnjiya and his assistant Dlama. Providing opportunities to heal from the trauma implicit in the tragedy that has overwhelmed EYN is a focus of the Crisis Management Team. Rev. Toma has taken on this task as director of the Peace Program of EYN. This was the first of the ongoing trauma healing workshops that are taking place.

Thirty-four mostly displaced pastors were there for this three-day workshop on top of the rock. Themes of the training ranged from stress, trauma, anger and grief to trust and healing from trauma with ample time for sharing personal experiences with each other. Stress, anger and grief are normal human emotions but trauma is an emotional experience that overwhelms the human capacity to recover. What are the steps that help individuals and groups move through trauma to trust, acceptance and healing? How can pastors facilitate that process for their families, congregations and communities?

At the end of the first day one pastor noted, “My blood pressure has dropped significantly. I am no longer carrying immense anger toward Boko Haram.” Participants were invited to imagine Boko Haram fighters also dealing with trauma, perhaps sitting with them in the same circle.

Rev. Toma estimates that trauma has impacted hundreds of thousands of people in EYN alone. There is a long road ahead for their communities in northeast Nigeria, but these first steps were taken before Christmas, 2014 on the rocky outcropping above the Benue River near Yola.

For more information on the Church of the Brethren Nigeria Crisis Response or to donate, visit www.nigeriacrsis.org.