“The God we serve will never leave us,” words of dauntless hope spoken by a displaced woman after suffering violence at the hands of Boko Haram in Nigeria. She is member of the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) church, an affiliate of the Church of the Brethren, and one of the estimated 700,000 members of this church who were forced to flee their homes under the threat of Boko Haram.
Roy Winter, Executive Director of Brethren Disaster Ministries, explains that Christians comprise the majority of Nigerians who have been afflicted by direct persecution by Boko Haram over the course of the past few years. Although 60% of displaced EYN members have been able to return to their hometowns in recent months, they have returned to find much ruin: destroyed homes and businesses, dilapidated fields, burned churches, and traumatic memories.
Continued and unpredictable violence also threatens those who return; Winter observed the ongoing instability during his recent trip to Nigeria in March of this year, recalling snipers and continued suicide bombings. “Despite all this violence, we are still maintaining that we shall be people of peace,” explains, Pastor Yuguda Zbagai of the EYN. In fact, the church has become a powerful force for peace in the region, offering classes and camps on peacebuilding and trauma-healing for Christians and Muslims alike.
Their dire need for basic goods--especially food, water and shelter--makes this commitment all the more difficult to keep. Supported by Week of Compassion, the Church of the Brethren formed the Nigeria Crisis Response Program in 2014 to respond to these needs. This program helps the EYN reestablish stability and ongoing ministry in the area, provides extensive relief and recovery programs for vulnerable and displaced Nigerians, and facilitates partnerships with local NGOs working in the region.
Key priorities for this year include home repair for burned and vandalized homes, as well as providing critical home supplies, such as sleeping mats, toiletries, and kitchenware, to returning families. Another priority this year is to work toward breaking the ongoing cycles of violence through trauma recovery programs for adults and for children. Another Brethren ministry (and Week of Compassion partner) Children’s Disaster Services, developed and is implementing the trauma recovery trainings.
Over the long-term, one of the most effective ways to help a person recover from trauma is to enable them to work and earn their own money. Toward this vision, partners will provide agricultural supports, like seeds, farm tools and vaccines for chickens, to nurture returnees’ ability to raise and sell food again. Currently, efforts are underway to purchase tractors to improve farming abilities. Computer courses, sewing, knitting and soap making courses will also be available.
Returning formerly displaced children who have been out of school—some for more than two years—to the classroom is also essential. In partnership with local leaders, the Nigeria Crisis Response Program will help return over 3,5000 children to school this year as well as employ previously out of work teachers and school administrators.
Nevertheless, the journey back home for the returning Christian families in Nigeria will be challenging. Winter emphasized that despite the declining news coverage of Nigeria, the situation there remains an ongoing and desperate crisis. Just this month, the UN World Food Programme announced that they are running out of funds to supply food aid for the millions of Nigerians on the brink of famine as a result of this human-made crisis, and violence continues even in areas where families have returned.
After experiencing such violence and in light of these ongoing challenges, it is understandable that some would lose hope. As one EYN trauma-recovery workshop participant admitted, “Before this training I looked at life as meaningless.” With the support of EYN, however, despair does not have the last word: “Now, because of the workshop, I see a future, one built on forgiveness and peace.”