#BringBackOurGirls

Over the past few days, #BringBackOurGirls has been receiving widespread media attention.  As a result, we have been getting all sorts of comments and questions:

  • Did this happen close to where you lived?
  • Aren’t you glad to be out of Nigeria now with all of the violence there?
  • What is the feeling there now with the increase in Boko Haram activity?
  • What can we do to help in this situation?
  • We’re so glad you’re back in the U.S. now!

I’ll try to address each of these here, partially as our response to the kidnappings but also as a reflection on the overall security situation that we left behind in Nigeria.

First, though, two pieces of background to make you aware of:

  • Part of my job in Nigeria was to monitor and evaluate the security situation.  This meant time each day reading media reports and learning from other sources about what was happening in different parts of the country.  I then analyzed this data to determine what impact, if any, there might be for our staff.  Many of my thoughts on this subject are rooted in the knowledge that I acquired over the five years I was in that role.
  • For those who don’t know, we are relocating to the States.  We had a blog series ready to go – the first post was going to be today – to bring you up to speed on this transition, but in light of how much #BringBackOurGirls has been in the news, we wanted to first share our thoughts on Boko Haram, the kidnappings, and the Nigeria security situation.  In some ways, we don’t feel that we can add much to the many, many voices who have already spoken out about what is going on there now, who have prayed, demanded, cried, blogged, and begged for the release of these girls, but in other ways, silence seems like an affront, especially considering God’s heart for people and the responsibility that we have to be a voice for the voiceless… and really, well, it hits close to home for us.  Our hearts hurt for the families of these girls, for the questions and heartache their parents must feel, for the fear that the girls themselves must be filled with, but our hearts also ache for the many other girls, boys, women, men and families across the world who endure this kind of injustice and atrocity every day.  We hope that the outcry that this incident is receiving will be a catalyst for change not just within the country of Nigeria but worldwide.

“Did this happen close to where you lived?”  The kidnappings happened several hours from where we lived — in the same area as where the vast majority of Boko Haram’s activity has been over the past couple of years.  Close enough that we would monitor events like this and how they might affect us, but far enough away that we didn’t feel any imminent danger.

“Aren’t you glad to be out of Nigeria now with all of the violence there?”  As with many things in life, we have many mixed feelings about moving and are actually quite sad to have left our friends (many of whom became like family) and impactful ministry in Nigeria.  As we’ll talk about in an upcoming post, when we returned to the States to have our baby, we did not plan to return to the States indefinitely, nor had we sought out the change in position that led to our not returning to Nigeria.  We loved living in Nigeria, but we’re also very glad to be where God has called us!  As we process some of the events that took place while we lived in Nigeria, we think that those events have not had too many lasting negative ramifications for us, though our hearts continue to grieve for the violence there and the people who are impacted by it.

“What is the feeling there now with the increase in Boko Haram activity?”  In actual fact, what has increased is the media coverage of the Boko Haram activity; it doesn’t seem that there has been a significant rise in the number of attacks or the number of people affected by the attacks.  I won’t comment much more on this here, since one of our favorite bloggers, Rachel Pieh Jones, said it so well on her blog and elsewhere.  I will say, though, that I’m grateful that this situation seems to be increasing the number of people praying for our adopted country!

“What can we do to help in this situation?”  The most obvious response is to pray.  Our friend Ruth posted some great thoughts and a video on this, which you can read here.  The video (below) has some beautiful images of people in Nigeria (though a few disturbing ones are in there as well) and is a heartfelt reminder to pray fervently.

Signing petitions couldn’t hurt, either, like this one from change.org.

But I’d also like to make some recommendations about getting to the root of terrorism in places like Nigeria (surely elsewhere as well, but Nigeria is the context that I know).  Similar to reasons for joining a gang in North America, many people latch onto Boko Haram not because of religious fervor or a strong belief in the group’s goals but rather for a sense of belonging — or even simply for a job.  What can be done to address these issues?  Improvement in educational opportunities is a great step and an area that is really lacking in Nigeria, particularly in the north where Boko Haram is based.  Our friends direct the ministry of Back2Back Ministries in Nigeria, which offers great educational opportunities for orphans in a village near Jos.  Our own ministry, Wycliffe, is involved in literacy and education efforts worldwide, which you can learn more about in this video:

The Seed Company, an affiliate of Wycliffe, has also joined forces with Ann Voskamp to promote The Esther Initiative, a project jumpstarted when Dr. Larry Jones, who is on the Board of Directors of Wycliffe USA and is the Senior Vice President of Bible Translation for The Seed Company, asked God, “What can I do as a Bible translator for the plight of women? What can we do in Bible translation to come to the aid of women?” (quoted from Ann Voskamp).   The Esther Initiative is a pilot project that will empower women – initially in South Asia and one would hope that it will spread to Africa and other areas of the world – by training them in oral biblical storytelling, especially focusing on narratives of women in the Bible and the God who created them.  As Ann Voskamp asks,

“What if women Bible translators could gather with women, most who can’t read because education has been denied them based on their body and their chemicals, not on their value and their worth.  And voiceless, invisible women were given voice to share their stories and trials and lives and female Bible translators would open up God’s Word and give them stories of women of the Bible and the God who values them?  What if women gathered with women to see the value and worth God gives women? What if women empowered women through that which has the ultimate life-changing power: His Word…. How would it change the world if men and women around the world knew that God chose to make His entry point into the world through the holy space of a woman, to enfold Himself inside of a woman, to drink of a woman, be held and nourished and cared for by a woman — that’s the jolting truth of how God loves His daughters with His honor…. God sees His daughters and God longs for His daughters to be brought back to His heart and God wants His daughters and His sons and the mothers and the fathers and this world to know His Word can’t stop speaking loud and sure of their worth.”

Peace and reconciliation efforts are also a great way to get involved in underlying root causes leading to violence and terrorism.  Two of the organizations that some of our friends in Nigeria work with are Building Relationships in City Center (BRiCC) and Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation (YACPIF).  The bottom line is, yes, it is horrific what has happened to these girls, and they need to be rescued, period.  But there are long-term, underlying issues that are also in play here, and I hope that more and more people will be able to strategically engage with these issues even once this story fades from the headlines.

As we join our voices in solidarity with others around the world, we are heartened that maybe the media that has turned the attention to Nigeria can also help change the situation not just for these precious girls but for others across the land who have been the target of these violent acts for far too long.  Several years ago women across Jos marched in protest of the rising violence, hopeful that their voices would bring about a change for their country, but it doesn’t seem to have had the impact that they hoped it would.  A group of colleagues would often talk about what might bring about that change for Nigeria, what event might be a turning point for the country; some speculated that it might have to be a significant incident involving a foreigner that would turn the world’s head and make the government finally do something.  Perhaps, though, this tragic event involving these innocent girls will finally be the force the helps to change the situation not only for these girls but for the nation.

“We’re so glad you’re back in the U.S. now!”  Well, thanks!  But please do realize that it grieves us to not be in Nigeria, because despite all of the challenges of living there, it was home for us for nearly five years and we loved it.  Our children loved it and consider it more of a home than the U.S., and for them, Nigeria does not represent a place that comes up in the nightly news; it is a place where their friends are, where they played and learned to ride bikes, where their church and home were, one that they didn’t want to leave and that we are still struggling to help them work through their grief about having to.  Even though we’ll take full advantage of things in the States like Chick-fil-A and not worrying about constant security challenges or electricity, we will also take up our friend Heidi (another transplant to Orlando from Nigeria) on her offer to make us red stew, beans and rice to bring back fond memories for us.

…And our memories of Nigeria are indeed fond, of a beautiful country and people, and it is an impression that we hope one day more and more people will have of Nigeria rather than that of the horrifying event like the Chibok kidnapping.

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4 thoughts on “#BringBackOurGirls

  1. This is a great blog post— Very honestly written. It’s nice to hear someone finally address that these atrocities have been happening in great numbers for years without much media attention. It is no coincidence that it happens now…with elections coming in 2015 and oil /energy contracts up for the taking.

    From the day you left the states, I too, have been watching what’s been happening in Nigeria…conversing with bloggers in the country, befriending academics stateside…initially because of the concern for my friends, then it grew into a very complex lesson in geopolitics that coincided with my graduate readings.

    If you recall, after you came to our wedding (so grateful) last year, I was worried about you traveling back. I ran across a series of blogs that exposed the 20 billion dollars missing in Nigerian oil funds, stories of a corrupt government, stories of Western complicity that aided that corruption. While I ache for the lost girls that were kidnapped, I am not shocked at the media’s timing and viral spread of this news.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/western-intervention-nigeria-kidnapped-girls-corruption-boko-haram

    While I pray… and join you in commending the efforts that are happening in West Africa, I’m also incredibly aware that how we live HERE greatly effects policy THERE. If we are called to peace, then this peace is not something that comes out of nowhere. It’s a global call to action. It’s more than a hashtag.

    “Some speculated that it might have to be a significant incident involving a foreigner that would turn the world’s head…”

    To that, I say…lasting political change for Nigeria should come from Nigerians.

    From Chimamanda Adichie:

    “My uncle’s return illustrates a feeling shared by many Nigerians about Boko Haram: a lack of hope, a lack of confidence in our leadership. We are experiencing what is, apart from the Biafran war, the most violent period in our nation’s existence. Like many Nigerians, I am distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok. I am furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness.

    And I find our president’s actions and non-actions unbelievably surreal.
    I do not want a president who, weeks after girls are abducted from a school and days after brave Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest the abductions, merely announces a fact-finding committee to find the girls.

    I want President Jonathan to be consumed, utterly consumed, by the state of insecurity in Nigeria. I want him to make security a priority, and make it seem like a priority. I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty. I want President Jonathan to know – and let Nigerians know that he knows – that we are not made safer by soldiers checking the boots of cars, that to shut down Abuja in order to hold a World Economic Forum is proof of just how deeply insecure the country is. We have a big problem, and I want the president to act as if we do. I want the president to slice through the muddle of bureaucracy, the morass of ‘how things are done,’ because Boko Haram is unusual and the response to it cannot be business as usual.

    I want President Jonathan to communicate with the Nigerian people, to realize that leadership has a strong psychological component: in the face of silence or incoherence, people lose faith. I want him to humanize the lost and the missing, to insist that their individual stories be told, to show that every Nigerian life is precious in the eyes of the Nigerian state.

    I want the president to seek new ideas, to act, make decisions, publish the security budget spending, offer incentives, sack people. I want the president to be angrily heartbroken about the murder of so many, to lie sleepless in bed thinking of yet what else can be done, to support and equip the armed forces and the police, but also to insist on humaneness in the midst of terror. I want the president to be equally enraged by soldiers who commit murder, by policemen who beat bomb survivors and mourners. I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.

    I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.

    I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office. I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.

    I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included. I have always wanted, as my president, a man or a woman who is intelligent and honest and bold, who is surrounded by truth-telling, competent advisers, whose policies are people-centered, and who wants to lead, who wants to be president, but does not need to – or have to- be president at all costs.

    President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.”

    • A. MEN. Wow. What a great quote, Tam. And so true! Like you, I want to see change come at the prompting of Nigerians, so though I was glad to see that the desire for action was originally initiated by Nigerians, I was also incredibly mad, sad and frustrated that the government wouldn’t listen to its own people until it became an international embarrassment. It is infuriating to see a government care so much more about saving face than about protecting its people, its children. Equally true is that soldiers checking the trunks of cars don’t accomplish much (especially since our experience has been that they mostly wave cars through, and we found that in the capital it seemed that many were more concerned with eliciting bribes.). I have no clue what the answer is, and I don’t pretend to, but I really hope that this will prompt change.

      Love this, too: “While I pray… and join you in commending the efforts that are happening in West Africa, I’m also incredibly aware that how we live HERE greatly effects policy THERE. If we are called to peace, then this peace is not something that comes out of nowhere. It’s a global call to action. It’s more than a hashtag.”

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

  2. So sorry to hear of all these horrific events. Praying for the girls & Nigeria, but also for your family as u make this transition. It must b so hard on all of u, but especially on the kids as they are too young yet to understand everything. Love you all!

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