Songs to share

EYN Womens Fellowship Appreciation Choir sings at Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — Members of the Antioch Church of the Brethren and other Woodstock parishioners spent a recent evening listening to the songs and tales of their Nigerian fellows — tales that included accounts of attacks by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Around 30 singers of the Women’s Fellowship Appreciation Choir from the Nigerian Church of the Brethren, which is referred to as Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria [EYN],  sat down to dine Thursday at the Woodstock church before performing one of a series of concerts they’ve given to churches along the East Coast and in the Midwest since June 22.

As of June 1, Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 EYN members  and abducted more than 1,350 women and children, including 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, in April 2014. There are still 219 missing, according to the Church of the Brethren website http://www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis.

The advance of Boko Haram across Nigeria has displaced thousands of people who need food, shelter and water.

According to tour organizer and former mission worker Monroe Good, around half of the women in the choir are such displaced persons.

Charity Mshelia leads the EYN Womens Choir during their performance at Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Choir leader Charity Mshelia said that the most common reaction to the testimonials of EYN members is disbelief.

“Some,” she said, “they are asking: ‘Does it really happen? Is it real?'”

During Thursday’s concert, audience members received strips of fabric with names of the missing girls as mementos to keep and pray with.

Choir member Asabe Moses spoke to a silent and reverent audience about her very real flight from an attack on Chibok by Boko Haram in 2012.

Antioch parishioner Carol Cline said she felt all the more blessed while listening to Moses’ story.

EYN Womens Choir members perform at Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I just think it was amazing how they were up there singing, smiling and full of joy,” she said.

Antioch Church of the Brethren pastor George Bowers said he was eager to host the choir when he learned it would be within the denomination’s Shenandoah District.

He said Antioch last hosted EYN members in 2008, when he and his congregation were able to make connections with several visitors during the 300th anniversary of the church.

Titsi Ganama, board chairman of the Brethren Evangelical Support Trust  [BEST], which is sponsoring the choir’s U.S. tour and accompanying the singers,  said that while his past visits through Church of the Brethren have provided wonderful memories, this particular visit is unique for the musical gift the choir shares.

Although Ganama said sharing these traumatic tales usually dampens the women’s spirits, joining in song again lifts them back up.

The EYN Womens Choir enters the sanctuary at Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock on Thursday evening. Rich Cooley/Daily

Antioch’s vaulted wooden ceilings reverberated with that spirit: members of the audience clapped and danced along to songs of praise and overcoming darkness during the concert.

The denomination has raised and allocated more than $2.9 million of its $5.3 million goal for the Nigeria Crisis Fund, which provides displaced persons with necessities, housing, education and other rehabilitating services. The offertory received on Thursday at Antioch will contribute half toward expenses of keeping the choir on the road, and half to reconstruction efforts.

Mshelia said choir members welcome the opportunity to show gratitude for the help Church of the Brethren has given them during a time of grave trial.

“We’re just here to just tell them ‘thank you’ through our songs, because that’s how we do it in Africa,” she said.

After the concert ended, the choir and the members of BEST set off on the road once again, headed to Pennsylvania for the next leg of their journey. Their tour continues through  July 16, ending with the Church of the Brethren annual conference in Tampa, Florida.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com