Helping our suffering Christian family in Africa

Continuing our introduction to Opportunity Africa – a new initiative from Barnabas Aid

Dalyop (left) is one of many young Christians being trained in digital content creation, giving them the skills to earn a living

 

In the previous issue of Barnabas Aid, we began our introduction to Opportunity Africa – a new and varied Barnabas Aid initiative designed to help and empower suffering and persecuted Christians in 36 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. In this issue we take a deeper look at how just some of the projects included in Opportunity Africa are helping our brothers and sisters in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.

“N obody ever asked me what I can do … except Barnabas Aid.” These were the words of Dalyop, a young believer who lost both his parents to anti-Christian violence while only a child – his father in 2008 when Dalyop was 10 years old, and his mother just two years later.

“I had lost hope and didn’t know what to make of my life,” said Dalyop. “I have been jobless for years, barely managing to survive day to day.” Dalyop is one of thousands of Christians in Nigeria now studying digital content creation, a course that is funded by Barnabas and being delivered by an experienced training organisation.

Dalyop’s experience is sadly typical of believers in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. A combination of anti-Christian violence and lack of opportunity had almost completely derailed his life. But now he has been empowered by Barnabas Aid through our new initiative, Opportunity Africa – a series of long-term projects that will help Christians become resilient, self-sufficient and independent.

Empowering persecuted and suffering Christian communities

Christians in northern and Middle Belt Nigeria often suffer from poverty and marginalisation. Opportunities for education and employment are few and far between.

On top of this they have endured for more than a decade persistent and widespread anti-Christian violence that has rendered them the most persecuted people in the world. More than 45,000 believers have been slaughtered by Islamists since 2009. Hundreds of church buildings and whole villages have been destroyed. More than 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes.

“Nobody ever asked me what I can do … except Barnabas Aid”

This maelstrom of violent persecution magnifies the poverty and lack of opportunity. Tens of thousands are without homes or livelihoods, having fled their villages. Some have managed to find shelter in camps, but many of our brothers and sisters are unable to care for themselves or their families because of the sheer scale of the persecution they face. Hundreds of children are going without an education, either because schools have been destroyed or because they have fled many miles from their villages.

Barnabas Aid has been partnering with Christian communities in the southern Kaduna, Plateau and Borno states of Nigeria to provide emergency food aid, school resources and building materials. But although this response is vital – and much welcomed by our grateful brothers and sisters – we aim to do more than just respond to emergencies.

Working with thousands of church leaders, we have seen the capacity and potential in Christian communities, despite their need for aid. It is to help build up Christian communities so that they can escape perpetual poverty and reliance on aid that Barnabas has set up Opportunity Africa.

Through partnering with Christian communities and families in Nigeria and across Africa, and tapping into their local skills and experience, Barnabas Aid has been able to identify critical areas of economic improvement, which will create a lasting impact.

Education and vocational training – the ultimate key to the future

Millions of young Christian men and women in northern and Middle Belt Nigeria have known nothing but violence and persecution their entire lives. While Barnabas Aid has been providing life-saving aid in response to these attacks and emergencies, we are also providing life-changing aid through education and human capacity building.

The digital content creation course being studied by Dalyop is just one example. This kind of educational and vocational training opens up possibilities for many Christians affected by or displaced by violence who did not have access to education previously. Students are trained so that they can find work or start up their own online enterprises to earn a living. The courses also provide avenues for self-expression, which will be a therapeutic outlet amid the persecution they have faced. 

“Now I have something I am excited about – photography and filmmaking,” continued Dalyop. “This is a blessing from God.”

“Now you have given me something to be happy about and live a productive life,” he added to our project partner. “I can only say, ‘Thank you.’”

In a separate project within Opportunity Africa, Barnabas Aid has also set up a skills acquisition centre in Chibok – infamous for the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in April 2014.

Since the incident, Barnabas Aid has engaged with the Christian families whose daughters were kidnapped by Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.

Emergency relief was given to the families soon after the attack on the village. However, Barnabas Aid has also begun to further support 15 of the mothers of the abducted girls, training them in tailoring and giving them sewing machines.

Hauwa, a widow whose daughter escaped from Boko Haram captivity, expressed her gratitude, saying, “I do not have the strength but what you have done has provided for me and the children. I can only say, ‘Thank you’.”

Hauwa naturally found the experience of her daughter’s kidnap very traumatic and fell ill as a result. She was unable to continue farming their land. But since her daughter’s escape, and thanks to the gift of a sewing machine from Barnabas, Hauwa’s daughter has learned to sew.

“My daughter has now become the breadwinner for the family, sewing and making money for us to feed our family,’’ said Hauwa.

Many of the Christian communities can no longer go to their farms because Boko Haram is still in control of a large swathe of territory around Chibok. Our partner told us that another of the mothers used to farm groundnuts to support her family. Our partner said, “They are unable to farm, so this sewing machine has been God’s alternative provision for the family.”

Hauwa praises God for the gift of a Barnabas-funded sewing machine that her daughter now uses to support their family

Giving life and hope

“Barnabas Aid came in our time of desperate need with emergency food support. That gave us hope. Yet they came back again with help to enable us to start pig farms… they have given us life!”

These were the words of a Christian farmer who was gifted pigs from Barnabas to start her own pig farm in southern Kaduna State. She was just one of 20 farmers whom Barnabas Aid has helped in setting up pig farms as a part of Opportunity Africa’s longer-term goals.

As well as providing a vital food source, these pig farms are an economic boost to Christian communities. Jobs are created for Christian farmhands. The plan is that Christian farmers will be able to sell meat through Christian-run butcheries and meat markets in the future. As such our brothers and sisters are empowered to become self-reliant.

Another recipient, Esther Peter, thanked Barnabas Aid and shed light on the long-term difference the piglets and farms will make.

“These pigs cannot be rustled by the Islamists attacking us,” she explained. While other animals might be stolen, Muslims will not be willing to steal pigs, which are considered unclean in Islam.

“The pigs are easier for us to grow and multiply [than other livestock],” she continued. “Look at my five piglets. Very soon they will grow, providing meat for my family and money to meet our needs,” she continued, adding, “May the Lord bless you in Jesus’ name.”

Assurance of God’s care

We are glad to say that these projects, in partnership with local Christian communities, have given beneficiaries not just a renewed sense of life but also the assurance that God cares and His Church is with them in their times of suffering.

With three decades serving the suffering Church in sub-Saharan Africa we know that African Christians have the capacity, skills, determination, and resilience to turn their tragedies and lamentations into praises. Our aim is to empower them to achieve this.

Opportunity Africa consists of 12 strands:

1. Food: innovative, long-term approaches to feeding

2. Healthcare, medical needs and disabilities

3. Economic empowerment, including for groups and churches

4. Education: schools and vocational training

5. Energy

6. Digital connectivity

7. Water

8. Agriculture

9. Houses, churches, other community buildings

10. Christians refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons)

11. Bible training and spiritual development

12. Human capacity development

See Barnabas Aid May/June 2024 pp.6-10 or visit barnabasaid.org/magazine/opportunity-africa for more details.

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