100 years of EYN: Great anniversary celebrations in Nigeria

100 years of EYN: Jochen Kirsch and joel Billi in Abuja. Photo Yakubu Joseph

Mission 21 Director Jochen Kirsch and EYN President Joel Billi at the celebration service in Abuja. Photo Yakubu Joseph

The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) is an important partner organization for Mission 21. Together we work for peacebuilding, education and food sovereignty. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of EYN, Jochen Kirsch, Director of Mission 21, traveled to Abuja to celebrate together with the church leadership and the population and to bring greetings from our worldwide network.

It has been 100 years since the first service of the EYN in Nigeria was celebrated under a tamarind tree in the village of Garkida. The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, EYN) emerged in 1923 from the missionary work of the American "Church of the Brethren" (COB). Since 1959 there has been a close and fruitful partnership between the EYN and Mission 21, then the Basel Mission.

Big event with over 5000 people

The church celebrated its 100th anniversary with its members at various locations in Nigeria. More than 5,000 people took part in the big closing service in the capital Abuja on Sunday, March 19, among them numerous dignitaries from other Christian churches in Nigeria, the Church of the Brethren from Rwanda, Burundi, the DR Congo, and a delegation from the USA. The Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, also sent greetings.

100 years eyn choir
Choir at the festive service.

Festive sermon by Jochen Kirsch

Director Jochen Kirsch traveled to Abuja as a representative of Mission 21. He had the honorable task of preaching the sermon during the service. Following the sermon, he read a greeting from former employees who have lived and worked in Nigeria on behalf of the Basel Mission and Mission 21 over the past decades, announced their donation for the humanitarian aid of Mission 21 in Nigeria and presented a tree to the president of the EYN on behalf of Mission 21 and the Basel Mission, as a sign of the rootedness and growth of the church in Nigeria and as a symbol of protection and nourishment for all people who need it.

Anniversary EYN Abuja
From left to right: Anthony Ndamsai, Vice President of EYN,
Salamatu Billi, wife of the church president, Jochen Kirsch, Director Mission 21, EYN-President Joel Billi.

Mission 21 supports peacebuilding

Mission 21 in Nigeria focuses on promoting peace and securing livelihoods. We support the population with numerous Projects in the areas of education, health promotion, food sovereignty as well as humanitarian aid.

The focus on peacebuilding and securing livelihoods is due to the situation in the country: The jihadist militia Boko Haram has caused indescribable suffering in northeastern Nigeria through years of terror. The crisis has claimed well over 40,000 victims so far. Around 2.5 million people from northern Nigeria have been internally displaced, according to UNHCR.

Projects for education and food sovereignty

Since the mid-1980s, Nigeria has been plagued by a persistent severe economic crisis. Against this background, there is a lack of sufficient state provision, not least in the health and education sectors. In many places, churches fill these gaps, and so the EYN also became an important part of the Nigerian social system.

Today, the church is active in various fields of work and is supported by Mission 21 in different areas. Among other things, also in the area of education and Food Sovereigntyon which our campaign this year focuses.

The activities also include theological training centers and the Empowerment of and training for women. In addition, Mission 21 supports the EYN in its interreligious dialogue with the Muslim population of Nigeria as part of the Peacebuilding.

Networking on site

After his trip, Mission 21 Director Jochen Kirsch classifies his impressions: "Even though the time in Nigeria was unfortunately short, I was very pleased to have this opportunity to be back on the ground after a long absence (last in 2015)," he says.

 "In addition to attending the anniversary service, my time in Abuja also gave me the opportunity to meet with important current or future partners in Nigeria, such as the Swiss and German embassies, the umbrella organization of Christian churches in Nigeria, the Catholic archbishop, and the High Council for Islamic Affairs."

100 years eyn kirsch
Jochen Kirsch and the Archbishop of Nigeria, who is also the Chairman
of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria is: His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama.

Long lines in front of banks and gas stations

For security reasons, the visit was limited to the capital Abuja. He found the security situation in Abuja to be calm, even though disputed presidential elections had recently taken place. However, the economic difficulties were clearly noticeable, according to Kirsch: "Already on the drive from the airport, I noticed the large queues in front of banks, ATMs and gas stations, as well as a myriad of young people selling gasoline of dubious quality from canisters at horrendous prices along the streets. The background is a still glaring shortage of cash after the introduction of the new naira notes at the end of January meant that the previous notes were no longer recognized as valid means of payment for a short time."

Amazement at the power of people

"The economic pressure on households in what is in many cases already a precarious situation is enormous," reports Jochen Kirsch. "Nevertheless, the population as a whole remains relatively calm. I am shocked at how the series of grievances and crises in the country seems to have no end. At the same time, I imagine what such financial mismanagement would trigger in other countries, such as Switzerland or Germany. And I marvel once again at the enormous resilience of these people in Nigeria who have been hard hit by so much suffering."

Mission 21 continues to stand alongside these people and advocate for a life of dignity for all.

Text: Miriam Glass, Photos: Yakubu Joseph

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