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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Nigerian missionaries recall region of stolen schoolgirls

  • Lois and Gerald Neher, McPherson, are being interviewed by the BBC and the Daily Beast because they’re two of the few white people who know much about the Chibok, the tribe who recently came into the news because of their tragic loss of an entire school of girls by a Muslim extremist group.
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  • Lois and Gerald Neher, McPherson, are being interviewed by the BBC and the Daily Beast because they’re two of the few white people who know much about the Chibok, the tribe who recently came into the news because of their tragic loss of an entire school of girls by a Muslim extremist group.
    The Nehers not only are familiar with the Chibok; they wrote the book on them.
    “We probably knew these girls’ grandparents and great-grandparents,” Gerald said.
    Lois agreed. “Other missionaries who were there before us are all dead now. There’s no one [else] left in the whole world who knew them.
    “Chibok has never been a big outpost for missionaries. It’s the most primitive place you can imagine.”
    Brethren missions began in Nigeria in the early 1920s with a mission to help locals improve conditions and to educate rather than proselytize.
    “Our goal was to work ourselves out of a job,” Lois said.
    The Nehers were approached to become missionaries at a youth conference when they attended McPherson College, prior to their marriage.
    After they graduated and Gerald obtained his master’s degree in extension services from Cornell University, they did just that, spending three years in remote Chibok, a year at home on furlough and one more year at Chibok before moving to Kwachi, where they spent the rest of their mission time. All in all they spent 14 years in Nigeria, from 1954 to 1968, an era spanning the time of Nigerian independence from Britain.
    “When we were asked if we’d go to Chibok, we said sure, we’d go anywhere we were needed,” Lois said. “But it turned out no one else would go there, because they knew how isolated it was. But we were new.”
    The school the girls had been taken from wasn’t built in the Nehers’ time, but schools were built in that area. Even then, there was more of a gender bias than a cultural bias.
    By the time the Nehers came on the scene, the north was the new frontier; southern Nigeria, encompassing the east and west, had a 25 year jump on the south, who were still using ancient farming methods and living in all ways primitively.
    “There was no love lost between the north and the south,” Gerald said. “The south are progressive and the wealth is there.”
    The north have mostly their pride in their long heritage of chiefs, and their traditions. Since 2011, they also have a written history of their culture, thanks to the Nehers. The Chibok language was never written, and Gerald, a prolific note-taker, was concerned that with modernization, the oral traditions would fade and the culture would be lost. After retirement and moving back to McPherson, the couple worked together to turn Gerald’s notes into “Life Among the Chibok of Nigeria,” a 600 page encyclopedia of all things Chibok.
    Page 2 of 2 - “There are over 300 copies of the book in Nigeria,” Gerald said. “It has become a source of pride for the people, even those not Chibok but who live nearby and to whom those same cultural aspects apply.”
    It’s evident that giving this gift to the Chibok people moves Gerald greatly. He and Lois speak fondly of their time with the people, who had never seen 2D renderings and therefore were unable to see faces in photographs or animals in art; who took to the introduction of plows pulled by oxen instead of using their short-handled hand plows; and who quickly understood the value of planting bunch-growing peanuts in the plow ridges made by the implement, as they were much easier to gather than the long-tendriled variety that had been considered a woman’s crop.
    Though the Church of the Brethren missionaries improved the Chibok’s lot in life, the culture is still behind the south of Nigeria. Even though high-ranking members of the government who passed through C of B schools are from the Chibok region, there has been no help from the government to rescue the captured schoolgirls.
    “The Chibok are a peaceful, agrarian people,” Gerald said. “They wouldn’t fight back.”
    The Nehers noted that the girls’ being taken is only one of many atrocities being committed by the sect.
    “They killed 23 people in a church and left,” Lois noted. “That didn’t make headlines. They damaged government buildings and even mosques.”
    Gerald fears the girls have been scattered across neighboring countries by now, sold or killed.
    “If alive, they’re in the Cameroons,” Lois said.
    Gerald nodded and echoed, “In the Cameroons, or dead. These people [who took them] have no comprehension of decency and no remorse.”

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