The pastor of The Crossings Church and three parishioners were humbled by their trip to Nigeria, where they helped build homes and hope for distraught Christian villagers.
The sneak attacks typically come at nighttime, when it’s dark and the victims are asleep. The suspected Fulani, a nomadic group of mostly Muslim herders, have made it their goal to torch the homes and run out the Christians of Nigeria.
The dwellings are made of mud, so the attackers throw lighted torches and gasoline through the windows, setting the belongings and the wooden rafters ablaze and causing the metal roof to collapse.
The villagers, mostly farmers, harvest their land and store the food in small straw huts. The Fulani torch the food supply, too.
“They make them impoverished,” Pastor Ron Tewson said. “(Even) if their lives are spared, they have lost everything. … They have to leave; they can’t stay there.”
BUILDING HOUSES, BRINGING HOPE
Tewson, pastor of The Crossings Church in Winter Garden, and three members of his congregation, Mike Palmer, Kevin Dettore and Ed Engstrom, traveled to Nigeria to follow up on a promise made to the family of Danladi Boyi Yarri, whose home was destroyed in an attack last October that killed five of the 10 residents, including several children.
A Christmas Eve collection to rebuild Yarri house raised $10,300, more than double the $5,000 necessary to build one home.
The four men, who funded their own trip, left the United States on April 1, following the Easter Sunday service. Palmer, Dettore and Engstrom returned after one week; Tewson stayed for almost three.
Yarri’s village of Te’egbe has about 20 homes and is in the Kogi State of Nigeria in western Africa. He is a native of the area and was known for holding regular church services in his home.
Tewson said it was an emotional meeting between his group and the Yarri family. Yarri’s wife had been viciously attacked, her face slashed and her left arm cut off at the elbow.
The money raised at the Winter Garden church had previously been sent to the International Christian Concern organization, so the home was nearing completion by April. It included front and back doors, a long hallway and a series of rooms to the left and right where up to 20 family members can live together. There is no running water; the outhouse and cooking area are set up outside.
Tewson participated in a dedication of the house. He said it was a wonderful experience and a huge celebration that included not only the Yarri family but most of the villagers and their families.
“They were so extremely grateful,” Tewson said. “And what it did was it brought hope that somebody cared for them on the other side of the world. That was probably the most touching, somebody cared for them. … That just made them feel so special and so valued, and it gave them so much hope.”
More money raised meant another opportunity to build, so the group went to the Miango District’s village of Zangwra, which was almost entirely destroyed in a rare daytime attack Jan. 25. A total of 17 homes were burned down, but because it was daylight, everyone fled and survived.
There was a real sense of lost hope, Tewson said, because so many villagers had dispersed. When they return, they find their homes, as well as friends and family, gone.
The village church remained intact, but the pastor’s home next door was burned and he and his family had left.
“The lack of hope was unbelievable,” Tewson said. “Life was over.”
An ICC representative said rebuilding the pastor’s house would give the residents hope that their village could prosper again. So they built.
The four men from The Crossings witnessed a barn-raising, of sorts. Men, women and children — about 75 in all — came together, and everyone played an important role in the construction. Some women walked to the stream a half-mile away and returned with buckets and barrels of water for the men to use when mixing the concrete. Other women prepared a large cauldron of soup for lunch. Children were put to work, too.
Tewson was asked to speak to groups of about 300 villagers multiple times, and he said it was humbling to know the people saw him as “the great white hope from America.”
He traveled with heavy military protection to Central Nigeria to a district called Daffo. On March 8, the Fulani herdsmen destroyed eight villages, killing hundreds of people, in one day; these communities are now empty.
“I’ve been all over the world on mission trips,” Tewson said. “This was unlike anything I’ve ever done, because it was seeing evil against a church.”
He returned home on April 19 and shared his trip with his congregation on April 22. The pastor said the first home was actually $8,000 because it was built bigger than anticipated, and he asked church-goers to help raise $3,000. They raised $8,600, and Tewson is considering rebuilding another house in Nigeria.
“Evil is the best and only way you can describe this,” Palmer said of his trip to Nigeria. “All the politics, all the culture aside, even religion aside, it’s just evil acts.
“It was very eye-opening to me,” he said. “To see what folks are doing and what they’re experiencing in the face of this type of attack and evil firsthand, as opposed to reading about it, seeing that and talking to the people, and being able to touch the destroyed buildings and smelling the charred wood gives it a level of realism that I don’t think you will ever forget. You don’t walk away unchanged. Now I have a heart for these people. … it’s brothers and sisters in Christ — and in humanity, as well.”