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


A Criminal Justice System

With his characteristic humility, Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States included a stop at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility outside of Philadelphia, where the pontiff met and blessed several inmates. Though visit was not punctuated with any direct comments about US prisons, the Pope’s visit highlights the need to lovingly engage those on the edge of society, just as Jesus dined with prostitutes and tax collectors.

The harsh reality, however, is that those in the US prison system have largely been forgotten, floundering in a criminal justice system that consistently lacks justice. From the call to be “tough on crime” in the 1980s and 1990s has emerged a system of mass incarceration that punishes minor drug offenders with multi-year sentences, removes parole opportunities, and strips individuals of their dignity.

This is the first of a multi-post blog series analyzing the US criminal justice system, where I hope to inject questions of morality and human dignity into the discussion of mass incarceration. This installment will focus on the genesis and presuppositions of our current predicament, while subsequent posts will explore the racist character of mass incarceration and the abject cruelty of solitary confinement.

The US now struggles with costly, overcrowded prisons. With longer sentences and few opportunities to get out early, about 2.2 million individuals are incarcerated in US prisons – higher than any other country in the world. In fact, despite having only 5% of the world’s population, the US contributes 25% to the world’s prison population. The sheer scale of the US prison system presents many questions to policy makers hoping to balance budgets while keeping their communities safe, but few fail to critically and honestly examine the efficacy of such a bloated and tragic system, much less its moral implications.

A primary shortcoming of the US criminal justice system is its overemphasis on punishing and sequestering those who commit crimes. In 1968, President Nixon commented, “Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do far more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for [the] War on Poverty.” Getting violent individuals off the streets certainly is important, but US criminal justice is now primarily retributive, limiting its capacity to ensure public safety. Instead of looking for ways to rehabilitate criminals or tackling the root causes of crime, US criminal justice is much less proactive, opting to simply segregate criminals from society.

This simplistic perspective has questionable short term benefits and undeniable long term consequences, including prison growth, high recidivism rates, and unjust imprisonment. The most obvious problem is the expansive growth of the prison population, which has increased from 24,000 federal prisoners in 1980 to an unprecedented 216,000 federal prisoners in 2013. At a cost of over $29,000 per year per prisoner, this attitude is a multi-billion dollar investment that fails to deliver meaningful results.

This failure can especially be seen in the number of prisoners that recidivate. Within three years of being released, two-thirds of all prisoners are rearrested. The vehement desire to punish masks the need for compassion to help transform individuals, leaving us with a prison system that creates a vicious cycle of criminality. Many families struggle to get by with family members in prison, and without proper support networks, a criminal record often becomes hereditary. As a result, when an individual leaves prison, they often return to broken homes and find themselves reengaging in criminal activity. This is a tragic failure. One study shows that “the most successful strategy in reducing crime is to optimally allocate resources so that after being punished, criminals experience impactful intervention programs, especially during the first stages of their return to society.” Such programs are a necessary part of a sustainable, loving solution. In disrupting paths to recidivism, prison costs should go down since fewer prisoners would return for subsequent offenses, but more importantly, they extend grace to those coming from brokenness.

Grace, faith, forgiveness – Christ calls us to these virtues, yet our current system suggests that they don’t apply to criminals. Our present system’s commitment to retribution consequently sentences thousands of individuals each year to unjust punishments. The mandatory minimum sentences developed in the 1980s and 1990s have fundamentally changed our justice system. They create strict guidelines that judges have to follow when sentencing an individual – even if they do not believe the punishment is just. Mandatory minimums were originally developed to get drug kingpins off the streets more easily, but this goal has not been met. In 2012, only 6.6 percent of all drug offenders were considered a leader of a drug conspiracy and over half of all convicted federal drug offenders had little or no criminal record. Because mandatory minimums lessen a judge’s capacity to account for an individual’s circumstances during sentencing, this “one size fits all” policy often causes even minor, nonviolent drug offenders to spend years in prison (6 years on average), greatly contributing to our current prison bloat.

These sentences are probably the most blatant example of a defunct justice system addicted to mere punishment and not social restoration. Even worse, a recent study shows that mandatory minimums do very little to actually prevent crime. It is a needless, costly system – both to taxpayers and those put behind bars. The kingpins are not the ones being punished. Instead, individuals caught in vicious cycles of poverty and drug use are sent to prison, which in turn further destabilizes their communities. Thankfully, progress is being made in Congress with the introduction of a sentencing reform bill, and more information about new legislation will likely appear in further posts. However, this bill is still only one step towards addressing the problem of mass incarceration.

Because criminals are purposefully put out of our sight, their lives as human beings are often easy to ignore. We have been trying to cut corners in criminal justice for the past 40 years, and now there is national awareness about the seriousness of mass incarceration. Jesus – a criminal under Roman law – called out during his crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But we know what we are doing and we know the crisis that is before us. During his visit to the US, Pope Francis commented, “Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain.” Christ calls us to compassion, and if we ourselves want to avoid being criminal in our justice, we need to transform the mindset behind our system of mass incarceration. The first step is acknowledging the humanity of those who commit crimes, and offer solutions that are corrective and restorative, not just punitive. We must instill the values of compassion and grace into our corrective practices, for we believe in a merciful God that redeems.

Jesse Winter

Peacebuilding and Policy Associate

Office of Public Witness

Washington, DC



Devotions (EYN Daily Link) October 11-17, 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

Click on this link for Devotions for October 11-17

In God’s family we all belong

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

By Ann Ziegler, former Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer

Throughout the last two years as I lived at the Hogar de Niños Emanuel (Emanuel Children’s Home) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, I learned more about what it means to be part of the family of God. When I arrived I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there were about 80 children being cared for by employees, but I knew nothing about these children, their backgrounds, or what they were like.

After two months, I learned the name of each child, and that many were siblings. I was sometimes surprised to find out who was a sibling to whom. In time though, I learned what it meant to be a member of the family that is Hogar de Niños Emanuel.

There is no doubt that on that plot of land surrounded by the city, there is a family of over 100 members—a family that is one of the most welcoming families I have ever met.

After living there for 8 months, 12 new children were brought to the home. It was an exciting day and everyone was curious about the newcomers. For me, these new children seemed out of place. Even after the first day, I felt as though they just didn’t quite belong. What I learned, however, was that in this giant family, everyone belongs. For this family there was no such thing as being a stranger. I saw every child welcome each of the new children to the table for lunch, proudly give newcomers tours of the home, and they all became brothers and sisters right before my eyes.

This experience was incredible, and it taught me a bit about my own prejudices and struggles with accepting change. This is not to say that everyone in the family of Hogar Emanuel always gets along, or even that they like each other all the time, and there are always “black sheep” in a family. However, all are loved as siblings, and everyone knows that they belong in this family.

I was privileged to be a member of that family. A glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven shines through those children. The way in which they live is an example for all of us. We are all called to invite one another to the table, regardless of someone’s background, and to become brothers and sisters in God’s great big family.

Ann Ziegler recently completed her term of BVS in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. To support the work of Global Mission and Service, including Brethren Volunteer Service visit

(Read this issue of eBrethren)


by Katherine Edelen

Amid similar announcements made by his European counterparts, Secretary of State John Kerry, announced that the U.S. would accept 85,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 and 100,000 by 2017.  This, no doubt, is welcomed news. Yet, while we celebrate this extension of good will to Syria’s refugees, there is another conflict that rages on with little attention to the humanitarian crisis it has wrought. In Nigeria, humanitarian interventions remain woefully under-resourced by the international community, leaving Nigerian civilians and churches to fill the void unsupported. The international community must and can do more.

Despite President Buhari’s campaign promise to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram, violence has escalated.  Since Nigeria’s national election, the already severe situation in Nigeria has deteriorated into a major humanitarian crisis. Not only are the 1.5 million internally displaced peoples (IDP) fleeing from the conflict targets of direct violence, they are also going without food. More than 4 million are facing severe acute levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in northeast Nigeria alone. The number grows to 5.5 million when you include neighboring countries, and these numbers are expected to increase in anticipation of an exceptionally rainy season

The Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency, the State Emergency Management Agencies, Nigerian civil society, INGOs, and UN agencies are frantically attempting to scale up their response, however, lack of capacity and chronic underfunding remain major challenges. Few humanitarian actors remain in the Northeast and many can only reach those in government-sponsored camps, which only account for 8-10% of those affected by the conflict. The remaining 90% of IDPs live hidden in host communities and informal settlements, resulting in vast unmet needs.  The UN OCHA estimates that only 50% of all conflict-affected peoples are receiving any assistance. The Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa A Nigeria (EYN), or Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, is one of the few local groups filling in the gaps. With support coming from the US Church of the Brethren, EYN leadership found new footing and created a crisis response team.

As the violence spread in the fall of 2014, EYN Liaison Officer, Markus Gamache, opened his home to displaced families, friends, and others.  Soon 50 people were living in his two bedroom home located in Jos.  As the violence spread and needs grew, Markus developed the vision for an interfaith camp to assist displaced Muslim and Christian families and promote interfaith co-existence.  Working with the interfaith group, Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives, Markus developed a plan to build ten houses.  By the spring of 2015, 62 homes neared completion with a projected goal to help 100 families. These efforts have resulted in thousands receiving food, water, and shelter. EYN’s Peace program is providing trauma-healing workshops for pastors, women’s groups, and lay leaders to help those suffering from spiritual and emotional trauma.

Roy Winter, Associate Executive Director of the Church of the Brethren Global Disaster Ministries, highlighted the impressive show of resiliency and leadership the EYN team has demonstrated in providing relief to thousands through the remaining church structures.

“Under the inspired leadership of Reverend Dr. Samuel Dali, EYN president, construction is underway for care centers that will support those displaced from the current crisis and future violence in Nigeria.  The Church is not only helping serve those in need, it is imagining how to better serve beyond this crisis.  An impressive effort with displaced staff and only 30% of the Church body intact.”

Despite the incredible work of this organization, and others like it, the needs of displaced people in Nigeria continue to outpace capacity and assistance, and barriers persist.  Reports on the Nigerian Federal Government’s limited, and sometimes counterproductive, response to the IDP situation have included the forced resettlement of IDPs back to conflict zones in an attempt to present a good image of the government’s efforts against Boko Haram. Trucks carrying hundreds of IDPs, without access to food, water, or health assistance during the journey, have made their way from Maiduguri to Gwoza, a stronghold of Boko Haram.  Even among those who aren’t physically relocated back to active conflict zones, there are many who have decided to return, despite the security risk, when met with the harsh reality of limited assistance and conditions at IDP camps.

The international community must act to properly fund operational humanitarian organizations and ensure that there is adequate funding for capacity training for local government agencies, civil society, and church organizations that are on the front lines of relief efforts. Moreover, the U.S. can do more to address and investigate allegations of forced migrations conducted by the Federal government. Civilian protection and assistance, particularly those most vulnerable, such as the elderly, women, and children, should be the priority.

Authors: Kate Edelen and Nathan Holser, Director of Office of Public Witness. He formerly worked in Nigeria on peacebuilding programs.