Alan Jenkins, Rector, St Nicolas, Great Bookham
Sometimes you sense that the right time has come. Having had a bit of a latent interest in Nigeria for a number of years,
when invited to accompany Baroness Caroline Cox and a small delegation from HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), I was keen to explore further.
Our main hosts were the Anglican Diocese of Jos who made us truly welcome. Spending time with Rt Revd Ben Kwashi, Archbishop of Jos, and his wife Gloria, Rt Revd Musa M Tula, Bishop of Bauchi, and his wife Naomi, as well as with a good many other godly servants of Christ in and around the Diocese of Jos, was an immense privilege and blessing.
"I was invited to preach at St Piran’s. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or indeed what they expected. Meanwhile, two of my colleagues went to the cathedral for a mere three-and-a-half-hour service."
I was invited to preach at St Piran’s. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or indeed what they expected - but they seemed grateful. Meanwhile, two of my colleagues went to the cathedral for a mere three and a half hour service (the sermon was an hour and a half). They assured me the time went fast!
We also visited a number of church-initiated projects. The Centre for Gospel Health and Development (CGHAD), promotes and provides better health care, particularly with regards to malaria prevention, for those living in remote villages. The Christian Institute, under the leadership of ex-CMS missionary, Susan Essam, equips and trains students to work either as priests or Health & Community workers.
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Zmbiri (meaning ‘Life is not an accident’) was started by Gloria Kwashi to provide education for those who have been orphaned. Amazingly, Gloria gets up at 4am to help prepare a midday meal for the children – possibly the only meal they will enjoy in a day. The Mai Adiko Project in Rayfield, Jos, brings Muslim and Christian women together to give them employment skills, particularly jewellery-making and dressmaking – we were treated to a fantastic fashion parade! An on-site school has also just started. Meanwhile, the Ningi Academy in Bauchi State is an innovative project by the Diocese to educate Muslims and Christians together.
"Amazingly, Gloria gets up at 4am to help prepare a midday meal for the children – possibly the only meal they will enjoy in a day."
And all this against a backdrop of continuing political and religious unrest. Whether it be churches that have been burnt down, villages that have been destroyed, lives that have been lost, or a general sense that at any time terror might strike, many have experienced personal suffering. In the north, Boko Haram is the main threat, whilst in the Middle Belt (where we spent most of our time), Fulani herdsman raze villages to the ground, killing with either AK47s or machetes.
It was both a privilege but also desperately saddening to visit four villages that suffered an attack in May last year. Twenty-one people were killed and their homes demolished. Indeed, on the afternoon of our visit, we heard later that we probably left with only minutes to spare as an ambush was intended. At a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (Nigeria has over two million), I listened to the stories of Elisha (16) and Omar (15). Elisha had to flee his village when he refused to give up his Christian faith, escaping Boko Haram on one occasion by dressing as a girl, and on another seeking the help of a Muslim woman who in turn had to flee. Meanwhile, Omar fled Boko Haram when they came to his village although, sadly, his father was killed and his sister accepted Islam by force.
"It was both a privilege but also desperately saddening to visit four villages that suffered an attack in May last year... we heard later that we probably left with only minutes to spare as an ambush was intended."
I return to the UK immensely grateful for the opportunity to visit, somewhat humbled by so much of what I witnessed and heard about, and enthused by the vibrancy of the faith of the Christians I met (they have much to teach us) and the work they are doing. But also deeply concerned for a part of the world where suffering is endemic and militant Islam is very much on the move. Surely stronger ties between the Diocese of Guildford and the church in Nigeria will be mutually beneficial…if we can find imaginative ways to do that.