A Cathedral of Tears

Musa Ishaku Indawa

Musa Ishaku Indawa grew up in a close knit family that did not change even as they became adults.  The siblings looked out for each other and their parents.  When Boko Haram insurgent activity increased in 2014, the family became concerned for the welfare of their parents and tried to get them to move to a safer place.  The parents refused, saying that at their age, they had no interest in running away from home.

During the latter half of 2014, the Boko Haram successfully took over more and more territory in northeast Nigeria, carrying out their destructive activities as they went.  Often they would arrive in a community suddenly and people would run for their lives.  Musa’s community suffered one of those attacks where people scattered into the countryside, only to regroup some time later to assess who were living, who were dead and what had been stolen or destroyed.  People came to John and told him that they had seen his father’s lifeless body.  As hard as it was for John to accept this news, it was even harder for him to tell his mother.


Musa shared this story with a group of 20 other members of his community — men and women, Christian and Muslim — at an MCC supported trauma resiliency and awareness workshop being run by the EYN (Church of the Brethren) Church.  Mugu Bakka Zako, MCC Peace Coordinator, shared with the group on their second day that it is very important to tell their stories to each other.  He said that the road to healing your trauma starts with telling your story to others who care.  Tears are part of the healing.

Boko Haram Insurgency

Boko Haram is Hausa for the idea that western education is sinful or forbidden. They believe in the supremacy of their understanding of Islamic culture and civilisation.  The Boko Haram became a force in 2002 under the leadership of a popular leader, Muhammad Yusuf.  When Yusuf was killed in 2009, Abubakar Shekau took power and the group’s violence escalated.

By April 14, 2014, the Chibok girls were abducted.  By September, large parts of territory in central Borno were in Boko Haram hands, which meant that Christians fled in all directions, leaving behind burned churches, destroyed homes and many dead or kidnapped. Attacks continued to early February, 2015 with the Boko Haram claiming territory the size of Belgium along with much destruction of lives and property at its height.


Abga Chirma lost two of his daughters during the Chibok girl’s abduction

People fled in stages.  Many thought they would be safe in neighboring villages but when these were attacked, they were forced to flee again.  Some squatted with friends or relatives; others lived in primary schools.  Some take up shelter in abandoned houses or sheds. Most have lost their homes, their food stocks (which they had planned to feed their families until harvest at the end of November), and other bare personal possessions.

At the beginning of December, 2014, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimated that there were 1.5 million people displaced and another approximately 150,000 who had taken refuge in Niger, Cameroun, and Chad.


EYN is the largest Church in the areas affected by the activities of the Boko Haram. At the end of November, the EYN church headquarters near Mubi town in southern Borno was attacked causing the church leadership, faculty, staff, and students of Kulp Bible College to flee.  The EYN leadership estimate that at the height of the displacement, 70% of their estimated 1 million members and adherents were not in their home communities.  178 out of the total 276 Chibok school girls kidnapped are children of EYN members.  The numbers of people displaced is dynamic.  Some people move to other parts of the country where they see opportunity or have relatives or support structures.  Approximately one hundred thousand have found refuge in one of the many displaced camps that have been set up.  As the security situation changes, some are now returning home.  Others simply move in with different people so that they may or may not be counted.


Rev Toma Ragniya, Peace Coordinator for the EYN Church shares with trauma victims


The impact of violence, displacement and loss on mental health is great. People are traumatized to varying degrees. MCC Nigeria carried out a relief distribution to 500 displaced individuals related to EYN communities in north-east Nigeria, in Oct 2014.  Surveys were carried out with 20% of the recipients which involved listening to stories, many of which were recorded.  100% of those individuals had experienced a level of trauma, often very severe, illustrating the urgent and necessary need for trauma consciousness and resilience.

Rifkatu John is one of those who ran for her life when the Boko Haram suddenly attacked her community.  She held her month`s old child as she told her story.  She was almost 9 months pregnant with her 10th child working on her farm with two of her children when they heard gun shots.  Within minutes they saw people running from the violence escalating behind them.  She wanted to return to town to find the rest of her family, but her children begged her to run rather than become a liability.  Thankfully, her family soon came, running with the rest of the community.  Together they hiked up into the surrounding hills where they hid for a number of days before moving on towards the safety of Cameroon.


After two more days Rifkatu could run no further.  Her body was wracked with fatigue so she entered the home of a local resident and begged them for shelter and rest.  The woman of the house gave Rifkatu a room and there she gave birth to a baby boy, Ladi, meaning Sunday, the day he was born.

Dislocation and trauma have been experienced across the north-east of Nigeria – by both Christians and Muslims. As there has been some recent success by the Nigerian military in pushing back the Boko Haram occupation, people are slowly and carefully returning to their communities. However, when particularly Christians return home, they meet an uncertain welcome. In some cases, neighbours who are Muslims betrayed the Christians to the Boko Haram.  Nevertheless, it is also known that many Muslims also suffered.  Trust that may have been fragile is now broken. Traumatized people returning home face not only destroyed properties and lost loved ones, but uncertainty in relationships with their Muslim neighbours.


Mugu Zaka Bakko, Peace Coordinator for MCC, is passionate about making a difference in the lives of those who are traumatized, giving them hope to move on with their lives.

As this trauma project was being developed, President Dali of EYN commented that, “reconciliation is not a choice but a necessity. The primary goal is to see that the present society is healed; the process that brings about the healing is reconciliation.  Inasmuch as reconciliation is very painful in this context, it is a necessity because that is the only process that will bring about healing.”

MCC has responded to EYN’s call to address the trauma that their people have and continue to live through by putting together a one-year project that is developing a trauma resiliency model contextualized for the Nigeria situation.  Seven individuals from MCC, TEKAN Peace and EYN have been trained as trauma facilitators at a HROC (Healing and Reconciling our Communities) training in Kigali, Rwanda.  They in turn are training more facilitators who are facilitating groups of people to come to terms with their trauma while working towards reconciliation and possible forgiveness to stem the tide of violence.  The project is designed around a sustainable model, training “listening companions“ with limited resources.


Trauma Project facilitator team: Mugu, Asabe, Dlama, Susan, Kadala (coordinator), Monika, Kitshwe

Ibrahim Tumba

Ibrahim Tumba was one of those chosen to participate in the third trauma resiliency workshop meeting under a “cathedral” of mango trees, taking place in the community of Gurku, Nasarawa State.  Ibrahim shared his own story of trauma escaping from the clutches of the Boko Haram.


“Cathedral” of tears

Ibrahim described how he was sitting in the front seat of their stolen vehicle between the driver and a fighter carrying a gun.  Five other people were captured along with Ibrahim.  All were being taken to the headquarters of the Boko Haram in the Sambisa Forest.

His captors asked him if he was a Christian.  Ibrahim had no problem attesting to his faith in Jesus Christ despite knowing that his chances of survival would be much higher if he told them that he prayed to Allah five times a day.  His fellow captives were not convinced by this bold strategy, but when Ibrahim grabbed the gun from the fighter on his right and leaped out the car door, they did not hesitate but ran after him into the bush.

The startled Boko Haram fighters immediately took off running after Ibrahim.  Slowly they were gaining on him so he discarded the gun and kept fleeing.  His pursuers picked up their gun and stopped running.  When asked if he had thought of turning the gun against the Boko Haram, Ibrahim said, “I wanted to save my life.  We are not taught to kill.  I didn`t even think about shooting them.”


As Ibrahim shared his story to the group, he came to the part of forgiveness.  He told the group that he was not ready to forgive the Boko Haram for the way they had destroyed his life and the lives of his community.  He felt that justice should be done before forgiveness could be considered.


Asabe, one of the facilitators, responded to Ibrahim by sharing her own story of forgiveness and how it had been such an important part of her journey towards healing.  She shared how her sister, a Muslim woman, had been the one to challenge her by asking, “are Christians not the ones who preached forgiveness?”

By the end of the three-day workshop, Ibrahim knew that he had discovered something he had never understood properly before, despite a lifetime of active involvement as a member of the EYN Church.  As he shared what he had learned with other members of his community, they complained that it was unfair that he had been chosen for the workshop and they had been left out of this learning and healing experience that had been so meaningful to Ibrahim.  Several hours of sharing later, these friends expressed their gratefulness to Ibrahim for having passed on what he had learned particularly around the gift of forgiveness.


As each day of the trauma workshop passed and Rifkatu returned to sleep with her family, they started to notice a change.  “I’m happy now.  I have been healed from the trauma I have gone through.  My conviction now is to pass this healing experience on to the many others from my community who have also experienced the horrors that create trauma.”

— Dave Klassen, April 2015

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One Response to A Cathedral of Tears

  1. Elfrieda says:

    What people do to each other is terrible; in the face of such horror, to be able to forgive is mind blowing!

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