Reports from Nigeria: Returning Home

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer who wrote this while in Nigeria. He has since returned home safely.

The dynamics of the violence in Nigeria are changing dramatically in the recent weeks. Boko Haram has lost the momentum that they previously had in waging battles where they chose and usually overcoming any opposition. They have been unable to hold the initiative in any recent conflicts. They have sustained heavy losses, had hundreds of fighters arrested by Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Their camps and headquarters have been overrun by Nigerian troops supported by heavy air bombardment.

Boko Haram fighters are scattered but in their frustration are striking out at any soft targets. So places like Chibok are again facing attacks from those groups. An EYN member from Chibok reported that Boko Haram had gone door to door in that community killing inhabitants and burning houses. Suicide bombings are scattered across the north of Nigeria. Individuals carry out those bombings – one seven year old girl was strapped with a bomb and the other recent suicide attack was a man boarding a long distance bus when his explosives detonated. But Boko Haram is no longer able to rally large forces for any major attacks. There are even reports that Nigeria has arrested the Boko Haram leadership.

With these changing dynamics and some communities protected by Nigerian security for a couple months already, individuals and families are anxious to return home. But what does that mean on the ground?

They return with nothing in most cases. Where do they start? What do they eat? Where will there be protection from the rains that have arrived in Jos? What about tools? Seeds? Animals? Electricity? Community infrastructure?

Homes have been burned. Churches are leveled, clinics bombed. Belongings have been looted and carried off. There are no longer stores or shops in most communities. Bridges are destroyed. Cars were stolen. Tools are missing or unusable. Wells in some communities have dead bodies in them. Maybe the departing Boko Haram raiders left explosives to greet returnees. Energy is sapped by the original trauma and there is new trauma facing those returning home.

Government is not likely to generate the massive aid needed in this kind of situation. Relief aid will only make a small dent in the total rebuilding of society that will be required. How does a community gather the united energy required to begin the process of starting over from scratch?

Churches thrive on hope. The love of the church provides encouragement and support when everything is at the bottom. Just as the early church in Acts lived an alternative reality from the Roman political system, so that will be true today with a church like EYN in Nigeria. The woman who told me about Chibok under attack again will be among the leaders of the trauma healing group that crisscrosses EYN in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Returning home will start with little steps from NGOs like Women and Youth Empowerment for Advancement and Health Initiative supplying families with machines to generate income, animals and seeds for providing food. Other NGOs like Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives through their interfaith efforts with displaced families are building the relationships for healed societies that will be required if communities will succeed in overcoming enormous obstacles. Both of these NGOs are among others that are funded by the Church of the Brethren through Brethren Disaster Ministries.

The Crisis Management Team of EYN is still doing emergency feeding, is just starting on building temporary housing for displaced families and is ready to begin the training of a large cadre of trauma trainers who face an enormously daunting task. At the same time the Team is helping EYN itself recover from the total displacement of its organization. But what lies ahead is larger by far than all they have tackled thus far. Re-establishing devastated communities from scratch is nearly impossible for strong organizations that have done the work previously, but for a group like EYN which has no experience in disaster response, can it even be imagined?!?

Yes, the hard work of thinking ahead is started in EYN. Church of the Brethren volunteers are walking alongside EYN. The experience of EYN-related NGOs can pave the way for larger responses. EYN is a strong church with creative leaders. EYN’s reliance on God’s care and leading will cover many stumbles in the months and years ahead. The future is rising from the ashes. People are returning home.

Stories from Nigeria: Rev. L

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria
Names abbreviated for security purposes.

Rev. L explains he is the district secretary for Attagara District of EYN and is from Attagara Village. On June 3, 2014, Boko Haram raided Attagara. Sixty-eight people died in the attack and sixty-five of them were from EYN. The raiders burned seven churches including the only EYN congregation. Unfortunately the other eleven churches in his district fell to the flames of Boko Haram as well as most of the EYN churches in the three neighboring districts.

Rev. L fled across the border to Cameroon while his wife and children fled to Michika. When Michika came under attack in early September the family reunited in Cameroon. Their new home was a refugee camp run by the United Nations. There were thirty thousand neighbors in their new home. The well that supplied the camp ran dry, the nearby river is without water now during the dry season and the nearest village is far enough away that those going for water may choose to stay overnight.

The UN sometimes only brings enough food for seven thousand people so the community has been good and shared what is available. The camp is far enough from the border that Boko Haram raids into Cameroon have not reached the camp but security officials from Cameroon recently rounded up nine people from the camp they accused of being Boko Haram.

People want to return to Nigeria but there continues to be very high risk in their home communities. Boko Haram dumped dead bodies in the wells of Attagara. All the homes are burned there. Even if Boko Haram leaves will they plant explosives as they depart and what about the family members who joined Boko Haram and choose to live in Attagara? But how long will Cameroon continue to host these visitors in the UN camp? Is there a safe place to go in Nigeria?

Most of the EYN refugees are farmers and would be willing to stay in Cameroon. Rev. L plans to visit the government to see if there is a large plot of land where the refugees could settle and farm. He also wants to see about some smaller plots to build five EYN churches. He has decided to stay in Cameroon and work with the church.

You see there are fifteen thousand EYN members in the camp. Since the camp is divided into five wards or sections each ward has an EYN congregation that numbers about three thousand people. There are three ordained EYN pastors and twenty-three evangelists very engaged in the life of these congregations. There have been fifty-three baptisms and two hundred thirty-five births among the EYN members. Their neighbors in the camp are about nine thousand Catholics, four thousand Muslims and one or two thousand Christians from other denominations. Are you interested in helping to plant new EYN churches in Cameroon?