In my five weeks in Nigeria, I had been hearing stories of people escaping or seeing family members killed by Boko Haram, but it became more real to me as we accompanied a team from the Swiss Embassy to visit the city of Mubi. It was difficult to see the destroyed and ransacked EYN headquarters, schools, and several burned EYN churches. The clinic at EYN headquarters was totally destroyed. Among the groups of people we met, who had returned to the city to try to rebuild their lives, I sensed that they have held on to hope, rising from their faith and their strong sense of community. Congregations continue to worship out under shady trees next to the church buildings that had been burned.
At one of the churches, a woman shared about her family’s trying to escape the attacks on Oct 29, 2014. She was at home, the children were in school, and her husband was out on the farm. She heard gun shots and people screaming to run for your life. She didn’t know what was going on or where her family was. Filled with terror she started to run. There was no time to take anything. Her children escaped from their school through holes in the wall. She and her younger children headed for the mountains, as they are traditionally thought of as safe places. They escaped to Cameroon. Meanwhile her husband and oldest son tried to escape with others by road. The roads were blocked, and many of the men were shot, including her husband. Her son hid himself under sheaves of maize until the soldiers were gone and was able to escape. Several months later she still had no word of her husband. When Mubi was reopened she went to search for him. The soldiers had left his ID with him. He had been shot and killed and was left by the road. She was able to identify him by his clothes and identification.
We met with women’s groups from several other EYN churches and discussed their trials, concerns, and needs. Food and water are the two most prevalent needs. They escaped without taking anything, and all of their possessions and food were taken or destroyed. The rainy season is quickly approaching, and all crops have been destroyed and there is not time to replant. The livestock has all been taken. The bore holes have been vandalized so there is not access to clean water. There is no source of income. Their homes have been destroyed. They are still living in constant fear and find it difficult to trust their Muslim neighbors.
The challenges are great and there is much work to do for healing of the trauma they have experienced and of healing broken relationships between Christians and Muslims. Yet, as the displaced people return home, they are finding strength in their faith, their drive to rebuild their lives, and in their caring for one another.
Peggy Gish, 29 April 2015