Facing Terror and Destruction, Some Stand Up for Freedom

Robust American-Nigerian partnerships enable Church of the Brethren members to distribute aid to those harmed by Boko Haram. Photo credit: Karen Hodges, brethren.org/nigeriacrisis

Violence and terror are two topics endlessly covered in the news. Unfortunately, religiously-motivated attacks are spreading. According to the latest report from the Pew Center, religion related attacks occurred in 82 countries in 2014, up from 73 countries in 2013.

Yet despite expanded religious-based animosity, there are stories of hope to tell. In many parts of the world, people are bravely standing in solidarity with their neighbors and against evil.

One example is how, Church of the Brethren in the U.S. is helping victims heal from the crisis in Nigeria, halfway around the world. Boko Haram has destroyed nearly 1,700 buildings, or 70% of the denomination’s Nigerian churches, but the group is choosing to restore what others have torn down. American congregations have given sacrificially, raising nearly $5 million in just two years to rebuild churches, provide food relief, books, and other development.

Other times, individuals stand in the gap by going to the other side of the world. Sister Diana, a Dominican Nun in Iraq, did just that when she testified before the U.S. Congress about ISIS’ crimes in the Middle East. She had always avoided the spotlight, but her witness was an integral part in the process that led the U.S. to acknowledge the genocide against Yezidis, Christians and other minority groups.

Other heroes and heroines help right where they are. When 21CWI traveled to Nigeria earlier this year, our team met Becky Gadzama of the Education Must Continue Initiative (EMCI). The organization ensures children in northeastern Nigeria have a future. She told us that students often want military careers to seek revenge on Boko Haram, but with education, they want to be doctors, teachers, and business people; they want to build their communities. By providing hope for a future, EMCI is short-circuiting Boko Haram’s devious recruitment tactics that exploit and perpetuate hopelessness.

Finally, there are examples of neighbors helping neighbors with humbling bravery.

The Somalia-based terror group, al-Shabaab — fifth most deadly in the world — is known to separate Christians and Muslims, slaughter the Christians, and release the Muslims. This tactic is designed to rip communities apart. But when al-Shabaab ambushed a bus deep in rural Kenya, the Muslims refused to separate from their Christian neighbors. The Muslim passengers told al-Shabaab to kill them together or leave them alone. Al-Shabaab left when faced with this courageous solidarity.

These stories, and countless untold others, demonstrate how people around the world are standing up to religiously-divisive violence. Together, we have the opportunity to stand up for freedom and faith.

Nathan Wineinger, Director of Policy Relations

Action Items:

1) See how Church of the Brethren works with local churches and consider how yours might start the process.

2) Download our resources for churches, Sunday schools, and Bible studies on how you can Stand with Nigeria.

3) Read the Pew Center report on International Religious Freedom.