The Worthy Poor

The following is a guest post from Eric Schubert, a provisional member of the Iowa Annual Conference, serving as lead pastor at Greenfield United Methodist Church in Greenfield, IA.

I recently gave a sermon series in my church based on the Scriptures about being citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20 and Ephesians 6:20). During that series we talked about what it means to belong to Christ and the Kingdom of God and represent that Kingdom on Earth. One aspect we discussed was how easily ideas of the world come to seem natural or even Christian when in fact they are not. One idea we discussed was that of the worthy poor.

The idea of the worthy poor was firmly established in Western thought by the philosophers of Greece and Rome (especially Plato in ancient Greece, reinforced by the Stoics, such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius in Rome) as well as by the economic systems of the pagan Roman Empire. The economic system during the time of Jesus is known as patronage. Patronage is a wealthy or powerful person taking care of less wealthy or powerful people. These (strict) levels of power and wealth were determined by familial, political, financial, or national relationships. The idea of the “poor” or “needy” as we understand it now did not exist in Roman pagan thought. Instead, a person with money was obliged to financially support those within the rich person’s patronage expectation.

So what did one think about those in need outside of a patronage relationship? Frankly, they rarely thought about them. When someone in need outside of a patronage relationship was thought of the view of those in need was quite negative. Plato, hundreds of years before the time of the Roman Empire, stated the idea of the worthy poor perfectly when he wrote, “it is not the starving as such or the similarly afflicted who deserve sympathy, but the man who, in spite of his moderation or some other virtue or progress toward it, nevertheless experiences some misfortune.” Plautus, a famous comedic playwright who lived in Rome around 180 BC, developed a character role for beggars in his plays which derided and mocked them. He wrote it was better to let beggars starve, since “he does a beggar a bad service who give him meat and drink, for what he gives is lost, and the lives of the poor are merely prolonged to their own misery.” Seneca, the great Roman leader and Stoic philosopher of the first century AD, believed one should only assist those who were deserving. “The good leader and judge ‘will not avert his countenance of his sympathy from anyone because he has a withered leg, or is emaciated and in rags, and is old and leans upon a staff; but all the worthy he will aid and will, like a god, look graciously upon the unfortunate.’ ” And thus, honestly, ends the writings found about those in need. This lack of record is in itself telling, but what has been found is all negative.

The Christian record of the time, from the earliest recorded writings leading into the Cappadocian period of St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom, is very different than that of the pagan leaders. The Bishops worked very hard to introduce the concept of the poor and needy and attempt to drastically change how people thought of those in need. Early Christians led radically different lives than those around them, both in economic and physical relationship. A part of weekly worship in the time of St. Justin Martyr (150 AD) was the collection and distribution of funds so “the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word take care of all in need.” There are examples of Christian care for the sick throughout the second and third centuries from Syria to Rome. Though unable to build institutional structures, early Christians served the sick, poor, and otherwise distressed to the best of their ability.

The Cappadocians (Basil, Nazianzus, and Nyssa) and Chrysostom publicly and directly challenged the Stoic and cultural views on how to treat those in need. They did this in several different ways. By embracing the many and various Biblical texts from the Old Testament through the New, the Bishops re-described the poor as kin (that they were sisters and brothers, related by the blood of Christ, and therefore to be cared for in a reinvented patronage system), argued the poor share the Image of God and as bearers of the image deserve help, that Matthew 25 really means what it says and the poor person you help truly is Jesus, and taught that acting like Christ makes one more like Christ (how Wesleyan!). Along with these teaching principles, the Bishops lived a life which practiced what they preached, doing all they could to help those in need.

Basil, after being elected Bishop in 370, took his families’ seemingly large land assets and used them to care for the poor and needy. This place came to be known as the “basilias” in honor of its founder and served as a poorhouse, hospital, and hospice for anyone in need for several hundred years. Chrysostom “reduced expenditure on the bishop’s palace and transferred it to a hospital. He founded new hospitals, including one for lepers.” The four also established an incredible theological foundation for these acts, and for the encouragement of others to care for those in need.

In expanding the concept of kin, the poor and sick were named by Nazianzus “brethren,” “brothers,” “your own member,” “equals and kindred,” “equal rank with us and of the same race,” and “one common reality.” These terms would be shocking to a pagan raised in the patronage system and an incredible expansion of the obligation of the converted Christian. Nyssa stated “Do not tear apart the unity of the Spirit, that is to say, do not consider as strangers those beings who partake of our nature…You see a man and in him you have no respect for a brother?…For you yourself belong to the common nature of all. Treat all therefore as one common reality.” The Bishops were working with language the Roman people understood (kinship language used in the patronage system) but completely redefined that language to help people understand what it meant to be a Christian.

Another important facet of the Bishops’ beliefs and teachings about actions toward the poor was that of the Image of God. For the Bishops the text about being created in “our image” (Gen. 1:26) and the implications of the incarnation were very important. If people were created in the image of God, and if when God the Son came to earth Christ put on human form, this human form is incredibly important. So much so that anyone who shares that form needs to be treated accordingly. Nazianzus addresses this issue by saying “Our brothers of God…born with the same nature…compounded of nerves and bones as we are; more than this, they also have received the same divine image as we have, and have perhaps guarded it better…They have put on the same Christ and have been made sharers with us of the same.” Notice the use of the term nature. This term that was being used by these same Bishops in when talking about Jesus’ relationship to God: they are both divine and both of the same nature, of the same substance. In the same way all people share the human nature of Christ and deserve the respect of that nature no matter what economic place they may be. Nyssa supported this, stating “Don’t despise these prostrate one as if they merit no respect. Ask who they are and discover their worth. They have put on the face of our savior. The Lord has given them his own image that they might be the stewards of our hope, the guardians of royalty.” For these Bishops the incarnation had tremendous consequences for how we treat all of fellow humanity.

The Image of God ties into a very close and literal reading of Matthew 25. To help a poor person was to literally help Christ, and to not help was to turn away from Christ, with all the concerns that would come from such an action. Nazianzus preached to his people:

“I honor that purse of Christ which encourages me to the care of the poor…I am fearful of that ‘left hand side’ and of ‘the goats’…because they have not ministered to Christ through those in need…[W]hile there is yet time, visit Christ in his sickness, let us give to Christ to eat, let us clothe Christ in his nakedness, let us do honor to Christ, and not only at table, [or] with precious ointments [or] in his tomb [or] with gold, frankincense and myrrh…but let us give him this honor in his needy one, in those who lie on the ground before us this day…”

Chrysostom states that “Jesus is alive in strangers, in the naked, the poor, the sick. Whatever has been done for those in need has been done to Jesus,” as well as “it is Christ who is clothed and fed in the person of the poor man.” There is not leeway in what they said. Help the poor or abandon Christ.

Finally, the Bishops taught that to help the poor was to act like Christ, and to act like Christ was what discipleship is all about. This aligns with Wesley’s understanding of perfection, though the Christians at this time (and still in the Orthodox Church) understood this idea as the process of divinization. As one grew closer to Christ one acts more and more like Christ, becomes more like Christ, and hence, becomes more divine. Though not exactly the same as Wesley’s understanding of perfection, both beliefs strongly rely on an understanding that the life of the Christian is a participatory one. We as Christians bear the fruit of Christ, and the more we participate with Christ (Wesley would say through the means of grace) the more we become more like Christ.

Nyssa talks about this process in relation to how to treat to the poor: being merciful as God is merciful. “Mercy and good deeds are works God loves; they divinize those who practice them and stamp them into the like of goodness that they may become the image of [God].” Nazianzus based part of his belief on right action regarding the poor in Matthew 5:45, “Resolve to imitate the justice of God” whose gifts are “equally upon all, the just and unjust alike, upholding the dignity of our nature by the worthiness of his gifts.” To state this in a Wesleyan way, since God’s mercy is over all His works, so we should be merciful to all we meet, and this mercy is demonstrated by service.

The theological foundation given us by the Bishops helps us avoid two major issues in our care for the poor today: a vision of the worthy poor taken straight from Stoic thought, or a paternalistic view that “we” can and should come save “them” from their present condition. On the first hand, we have seen that any view of “the worthy poor” is theologically unsupportable. On the other hand, if the poor are not only our sisters and bothers but Christ in the flesh, we would not approach helping someone in need without anything but grace, love, respect, and even a holy fear and trembling. Then we would serve not to “fix” or “bring them up to our level,” but instead to be with someone whom Christ is present. When we serve others this way we realize we will learn as much about Christ from whomever we serve as we bring to them, since we are serving Christ when we serve another. Looking at the writings and example of the Bishops gives us a different way of approaching the poor than many current perspective, one which I believe will do a much better job of truly being ambassadors for Christ and representatives of the Kingdom on Earth.

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Some Thoughts on Why I Was Arrested

Some Thoughts on Why I was Arrested at the White House on July 31, 2014
Guest Post By Rev. Brian Carter, Windsor Heights, Iowa

To Friends and Curious Observers:

After days of prayerful discernment, seeking God’s guidance, and considering the example of our Bishop Julius Trimble, and the call for action from a Trinity United Methodist friend Wendy—who had been in prayer with me and others for months at Rep. Latham’s office—I decided I could no longer stand by and do nothing while many immigrants to our dear land have seen their families torn apart by a harmful immigration system and by President Obama who has directed the deportation of 2 million immigrants during his term of office. John Wesley directed his new Christians who were called “Methodists” to first, Do No Harm.  And by standing by while millions were being deported, I was doing harm to millions of families.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so wisely proclaimed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Our immigration system is unjust.  The Prophet Micah wrote in Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”    Doing justice, in a kind but clear manner, and offering yourself as a living sacrifice for love’s sake is living the life of discipleship which Jesus Christ our Lord calls us to.

I had never broken the law—except traffic tickets. I had demonstrated, written, and proclaimed for righteousness sake.  But I had never broken the law for justice sake.  But these immigration laws are unjust, and so as a passionate and clear sign of civil disobedience, I broke the law of how we were to stand outside the White House to proclaim that our national immigration laws are unjust.  It is unjust and unloving to tear families apart who come here to work to make a better life for their families.  It is unjust and unloving to seek to turn children away whose parents are desperately seeking to keep them safe by sending them to a country where they will not be killed or sexually abused to avoid being in violent gangs.

And so I stood in front of the White House in the hot summer sun and when told to leave by the police, I stayed. I stood there holding a sign saying “No More Deportations.”  President Obama can defer deporting those who are here seeking refuge—and those who are here seeking work—and those who are here seeking opportunity.  He can defer deportation until new laws are written, and it becomes clear who may stay.  I stood to pray that President Obama would find the courage to do the moral, right thing to do, and to do it now. I stood with 111 others-people of faith—many breaking the law and being arrested for the first time, like me—hoping our act of conscience, our humility, our attempt to be faithful would move his heart to act, by the grace of God.

I was the 108th person arrested, put in a paddy wagon, treated respectfully by the park police—suffering for but a brief 4 hours.  As a symbolic reminder that millions of immigrants are suffering in fear of deportation, separated from family, unsure of their future—for years.  May God raise up God’s people to welcome the stranger, and let the little children come to us where we may protect them and keep them safe.   May God’s people seek justice for all.   Amen.

Reverend Brian Carter is a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church. He is also the face of the Iowa Legislative Advocacy Team, and serves on the Iowa Board of Church and Society. This reflection is shared with his permission.

God sides with Michael & Trayvon

Our children are our future, they are our hope and they hold our hearts in their little hands. When they grow up, they are still our children and we still want to protect them. If there is one basic human feeling that we should all understand in guts its the common human desire to protect our children and their future. No matter what culture, language, race or nationality we all seek the good of our children and would do anything for them.

We have this common basic desire and yet, how we struggle to see this in each other. We see the differences between us and get scared rather than have compassion.

In Ferguson, Missouri a community is grieving because one of their children (yes, 18 year olds are big kids, but still kids) was murdered with his hands up in a sign of surrender by someone who had sworn to serve and protect. Would any of us be calm if our 18 year old was killed in such a way? Would our community? And the man who shot him was not arrested, but is protected. The reputation of the victim has been smeared. The community stands in protest of this injustice and the police takes the stance of a militaristic, oppressive force. Who will say that this is not OK?

Psalm 82:2:
How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

God says its not ok to treat people as if they are nothing. God says we have to give justice especially to the weak, the lowly, the poor and the needy. God will judge us if we do not stand up for the Michael Browns, the Trayvon Martins, the children who study in broken down schools, the children with not enough to eat, the children judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.  They are God’s children, and God will hold us accountable to how we did or did not stand for them.

Everyday we have an opportunity to stand for others, on the side of God. With our words, actions and attitude we can make a difference and fight racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and injustice wherever we find it. We can say to each other that it is not OK to judge people by skin color, religion, or nationality. We can say “no” to those who would have one group be better or more powerful than any other. We can say “no” to the swastika, the Confederate flag, and to hateful speech that belittles and demeans. We can stand up for all children. God help us make the world a safe place for every child.

Iowa churches and pastors I beg you: Talk about Ferguson.  Talk about how it would feel to lose an 18 year old of your community in this way.  Talk about what we expect from our police and how they should be accountable when they make a mistake – they are human beings too.  Talk about racism.  Talk about how God made all of us a rainbow of colors that is beautiful in God’s eyes.   Talk about our baptismal vow to “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

I had a visitor come to our Lakeside (Boat-In) service this past Sunday.  She wrote me an email after the service talking about how she was hoping, yet not expecting, for a message about Ferguson because the white church has disappointed her so many times before.  I was scared, but I talked about it.    She was relieved and filled with hope because of what she heard.

Be bold, be strong, the Lord your God is with you!

SarahRohret

Rev. Dr. Sarah Rohret is an Elder in the United Methodist Church and serves at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arnold’s Park, IA and is the Chair of the Iowa Board of Church and Society.

To Be Disciples

ServiceShirtOn a recent trip across the Northwest portion of Iowa, Pastor David Hobbs, Nathaniel Mason and I visited a number of United Methodist Churches. We simply stopped in for a quick word (or two hour conversation, here and there), and to get a sense for the churches and the communities they serve. I was impressed by the variety of buildings, sanctuaries, and ministries we encountered. One church was having its sanctuary ceiling painted so we talked with the painters and offered them a prayer for safety, which they found rather amusing as clambering like monkeys across sky high scaffolding is a “simple” job for them; no gold leaf, murals, or ceiling art for them in this United Methodist Church-just a few brush strokes and wooden beams to refinish.

Now, I have been reading a lot of books about church health; books about evangelism, worship, and programming; books about the trends of worship attendance and the difference between churches which grow and churches which seem to fizzle out and die. I have been reading about leadership styles and ways of organizing work so that . . . yadah, yadah, yadah. Yet, this trip offered me an interesting puzzle.

Because, there were churches that were getting everything right, and yet they were empty.

Passionate leaders with a vision and lion’s heart for ministry: Check

Visible and cohesive messages of welcome for visitors: Check

Open and inviting gathering spaces which are accessible: Check

Brightly colored and updated Sunday School rooms: Check

Modern sanctuaries with flexible A/V and chancel spaces: Check

Quality musical instruments and musicians capable of playing them: Check

Connections to the school district: Check

Obvious opportunities to serve both within the church building and outside in the wider community: Check

Stories of radical hospitality and generous giving: Check

Evidence of ministry with people who are not current members or active participants in the church: Check

So, why were these particular churches echoing, while others were bustling with life and activity? What does it mean to get everything right and to still be disappearing week by week and pastor by pastor?

In one particular church, I felt such sadness because there was so much potential there. There was so much love, care and faithfulness on display, it made my heart hurt to think it was for nothing-that the people whose lives could be so enriched simply by stepping inside this church’s doors will never know what they are missing.

So I stopped, right there in the gathering space just inside the main entrance and I asked God, “Why? What’s going on here that this church is sputtering out?” And, like a whisper across the top of my brain I heard, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14: 26)

I have been puzzling on these words and that particular church, ever since. I wonder how to share what I heard. I wonder what it means. Is there some relevance for the other churches I have visited that just can’t seem to do more than simply hang on, even though they are applying all the best ideas? I wonder what to do with the sadness and futility that plagues the staff and volunteers whose hearts are giving out because they have been trying so hard for so long, but have not seen their efforts rewarded by flourishing Christian witness and community.

Why, at times, must the Gospel be so hard to hear, and what are we, as disciples of Christ,to do when the words it whispers tell us it is time to give up all we hold dear-our mothers and fathers, our sanctuaries and our memorial gardens, our programs and our histories-and come, and follow him?

MUMMs the Word

MUMM logoI’ve had a hard time sleeping this week.  It started on Monday after a long drive from North Central Iowa to Southwest Iowa and 3 hours of Vacation Bible School in the Coin United Methodist Church. I was spending a couple of days with Cherie Miner, the new director of MUMMS (Mobile United Methodist Missionaries), and my sleeplessness started with the excitement and passion which Cherie brings to her position.

She brims and bubbles with love for the rural churches MUMMs serves. One of the things she and her Senior Summer Assistant, Alison Engel, do is bring Vacation Bible School supplies, curriculum and support to churches in the three southern United Methodist Districts of Iowa. The VBS in Coin was a joint venture of a seven-point charge under the pastoral leadership of James Buckhahn, or Pastor Buck as he is known in the Iowa Annual Conference.

Using Cokesbury curriculum and providing the supplies for arts, crafts, service, and creative learning projects allows MUMMs to help jumpstart Vacation Bible School, after school meals and activities and other programmatic outreach to the sparsely populated towns and counties it serves.

Another way in which these Mobile United Methodists are in Mission is to supply and coordinate volunteers for “hammer and nails” projects for churches across the region. Especially as hail, floods, and storms have taken their toll on these counties, this mobilization of United Methodist resources is particularly needed. Cherie is looking for someone with both passion and expertise to help design, implement and manage work projects throughout the three Districts. If you sense this may be a niche you are called to fill, you should drop Cherie an email.

Yet, the work  MUMMs is doing is not really what kept me jazzed up for the few days I got to spend in Elliot, Coin, Clarinda, Corning, and Grant dodging road construction and learning songs in the Workshop of Wonders. It was the white hot energy of Cherie Miner, passionately describing all the directions in which MUMMS outreach can grow. It was the no-nonsense assessment of church longevity and mission potential given by the kitchen volunteers and the lay leaders who showed up to support VBS. It was the power that School for Lay Ministry has to stoke a fire in people. It was the humble gratitude of a pastor whose call was finally recognized by the United Methodist Church, a gratitude which gives thanks for part-time employment and three churches who were willing, for a time, to join as one in worship to give her the time she needed to heal.

United Methodist mission is mighty in this Southwest corner of Iowa. Age, gender, population, distance, and local affiliation play no role in peoples’ willingness to serve-to be available to serve-whether as musicians, cooks, chauffeurs, preachers, knitters or visiting messengers of peace and good will. Connection is flourishing-as people roll up their sleeves and step up to the challenges of dwindling populations, physical limitations, and resource scarcity; as people decide they are the ones who have to do a thing if it is to get done.

So, I had a hard time sleeping this week because I was so energized by the people I met, the places I saw, the possibilities laid out before us, and the absolutely monstrous amount of work it is going to take to get it done; the hope we will need to reach out to the people in our communities who are not us; the faith it will require of us to believe in ourselves and the good will we have to share; the call that is upon us United Methodist Christians to not only serve, but to transform; and the deep concern I carry that economics drives more of our decisions than it should.

 

Be Reconciled to One Another

"Hands across the divide statues - Derry' reconciliation monument" by FABIO CASADEI  Some rights reserved
“Hands across the divide statues – Derry’ reconciliation monument” by FABIO CASADEI Some rights reserved Creative Commons License

In two separate entries for the definition of the word “reconciliation,” I think I see the seeds of one of the biggest issues facing American Christians today. There is an entry which says that reconciliation is the “restoration of friendly relations,” and the next entry says “reconciliation is the action of making one belief or view compatible with another.”

Interestingly, when looking up the word irreconcilable, I found a similar set of definitions, but in reverse order. The first entry says that irreconcilable indicates “ideas, facts, and beliefs representing findings or points of view that are so different from each other that they cannot be made compatible” while the second entry reads that irreconcilable, when used to describe relationships between people, means “implacably hostile to each other.”

As I read blog articles, eavesdrop on conversations in the diner, and engage in pretty intense one-on-one conversations with people about topics like abortion, contraception, sexuality, gender, war, gun control, foreign aid, environment, labor, or incarceration, what I find is people who have somehow made the two definitions of reconciliation (or irreconcilable) the same.

Yet one definition is a definition of subjects. It is a description of relationships between people: people who have successfully re-established friendliness, and people who cannot and will not decide to get along.

The other definition is a definition of objects. It is a description of relationships between things: ideas, beliefs, and facts. Some ideas can be made compatible with one another: I am a Christian and I am a United Methodist, for example. Other facts cannot be made compatible with one another: hot and cold, for example.

It seems, as I read, listen, argue, converse and engage, that we all too often fuse the two.  “I hold ideas or beliefs that cannot be reconciled (made compatible) with your ideas or beliefs, so that means you and I must be implacably hostile to one another.”  Or, more commonly, “Because you and I cannot find agreement on this issue, one of us has to leave, or both of us have to stop talking about these ideas and beliefs, and not just with one another, but at all.”

This confusion-that the full compatibility of ideas is necessary in order for our relationships to be friendly, for you and I to be reconciled to one another, is not only ridiculous, it is also dangerous.  What’s more, it casts doubt on Christ’s ability to have reconciled the world-because Christ’s primary work of reconciliation was a work of subjects: God with people, people with God, people with people, people with creation, creation with heaven, the living with the dead, men with women, Muslims with Christians, deviant with conformist.

In John Wesley’s sermon The Character of a Methodist he opens with this phrase: “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his [sic] opinions of any sort.” The Methodist is “a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He [sic] is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He [sic] thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His [sic] soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he [sic] so walks as Christ also walked.”

Apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we humans continue to argue the compatibility of ideas, beliefs and facts, I think it is imperative that we Christians live seriously into this other ministry with which we have been entrusted: the ministry of restoring  friendly relationships between all God’s children on this Earth.

Creative Commons License [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Roger Davies and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

 

 

 

Statement from the Iowa Nigeria Partnership

The Boko Haram and the Nigerian United Methodist Church

NigeriaPartnership_LOGO_SCXZXHQ3The country of Nigeria has been in the press with stories of bombings, kidnapping of 250+ girls, burning churches and causing turmoil in villages located in northern Nigeria.  Nigeria is the size of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa with a majority of Muslims living in the northern states which border Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Mali.  It is in this area that the militant group known as Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” is trying to impose their Sharia law. The Boko Haram targets Christians with hundreds being killed in the last several years.

The Nigerian Government has not addressed this terrorist problem thus allowing attacks to continue in northeast Nigeria.  With the recent kidnapping of 276 school girls taking exams in Chibok, a world wide protest has occurred with the cry being “bring back our girls.”  The school girls kidnapping – which the group has taken responsibility for – is just the latest attack in a brutal campaign of violence it has been waging for years against what it sees as the corrupt, Westernized and oil-obsessed government in the majority Christian south.

Nigeria officials have invited assistance from world powers as the U.S., United Kingdom, and China to help find the girls and train security and military forces.

The United Methodist Church of Nigeria is located in north central Nigeria, south of the states being affected by the Boko Haram.  In Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State and headquarters of the UMCN, there is a ban on the use of motorcycles in the city.  In Adamawa and Borno States cell phones and the internet had been banned.

Our group flies into Yola, located in the southern part of Adamawa State, and then drives to Jalingo where we stay at the church guest house. During our stay in Nigeria, we travel to very rural, remote villages, off the beaten path, where religious groups peacefully coexist.  In the past several years our stay in Nigeria has been without incident.

While we Iowans can return home, our Nigerian church friends live with insecurity and a sense of fear not knowing where, when or why an incident might take place.  Let us raise our prayers to God for their safety and ability to continue the Lord’s work in their land.  Pray that the kidnapped girls be found and returned to their homes.  Our Iowa work team of fifteen members will appreciate prayers as we depart for Nigeria on June 9.

For More Information about the special relationship between the United Methodist Church in Iowa and the United Methodist Church in Nigeria: Iowa Nigeria Partnership  or like on Facebook