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What I Recall about 1966’s Tribal Atrocities in Nigeria

I read about “The Disturbances” in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) periodical, The Banner.

Unfortunately, I read it just before bedtime. It took hours for me to calm down and go to sleep. So many images went through my mind!

I was very young when I arrived in Nigeria, only 21 years old and two weeks out of Calvin College. My first teaching assignment was the fifth grade at Hillcrest School.

When I heard the roar of the masses coming from downtown Jos when the killings and ransacking of homes began, I hurried to my next-door neighbors, Ed and Nelle Smith, missionary pioneers for the CRC.

I asked them what we could do to save those being slaughtered. Ed indicated to me that missionaries had to remain neutral.

One of my Hillcrest memories was of an Igbo man who ran into one of the classrooms. People were running after him, right outside our windows toward the open fields. Later, I was told that he had been killed.

Another memory was in the teachers’ lounge. Carl Eisman described a long night at the Lutheran hostel, where missionary children lived. He and others protected Igbo workers from the crowds who came to kill them.

I believe they sat there all night with knives on their laps wondering if they would have the courage to use them should the doors be broken down or whether they should. He was badly shaken.

After an Igbo was killed on the yard of my house, I learned that Nelle Smith had yelled at some of those in the mob.

She had the courage to identify some of the mob as Nigerian CRC Christians. She called them by name, telling them what they were doing was wrong.

When a mob came down our road – looking for Igbos and ransacking houses – our night watchman told them not to bother with our four residences since there were no Igbos in our houses.

But underneath Ed Smith’s bed was an Igbo. He was not discovered because our houses were skipped.

Smith later asked me to transport the man to the police station, where Igbos were being protected.

After the man, a painter, got out of the car, he went into a large fenced-in dirt yard. Lying row upon row were injured and nearly dead Igbos.

A makeshift tent had been erected in the far corner for whatever medical assistance could be given. It provided a little shade from the hot sun.

I vividly remember walking to it and seeing a young girl sitting on a stool with a large machete wound in the back of her head. It looked like someone had tried to split this young girl’s head open!

The wound was not recent; surely it was a day or two old. What struck me was not only the terrible head wound, but also that the girl was not crying while someone tried to stitch the split together. She stoically sat there, not making a sound.

I asked if there was anything I could do to help. The only doctor there asked if I could please identify among the many lying on the ground which ones could be helped by medical attention so he didn’t waste his time with those who were beyond hope.

What has haunted me for years was whether I had to put an X on the foreheads of those who were beyond hope or those who needed help if they could get it.

An announcement was broadcast to the police yard that a lorry was outside to take those who wanted to catch the last plane out of Jos.

I learned from some teachers, who were at the airport, that a plane was so overloaded that onlookers did not think it would make it into the air.

I will never forget seeing dead bodies lying in the hot sun on the streets of downtown Jos. People ignored them and stepped over them.

I have returned to Nigeria twice in the last few years. The children at Sonlight Christian Reformed Church, where I attend, are paying for wells in Northern Nigeria. At $5,000 each, they have financed about 25 wells.

The local Rotarians are also paying for wells. They have contributed many thousands of dollars. I suspect they have paid for upward of 40 wells.

And so I see that my time in Nigeria was not wasted. God is using my time there to bring fresh water to many, many people in the north. I am humbled and honored that I can be a part of that part of His plan!

Carolyn (Kredit) Wynstra and her husband are retired in Lynden, Washington. She served as a teacher at Hillcrest School for two and a half years.

Editor’s note: “The Disturbances” documentary DVD is available here, and the companion book is available in paperback and e-book.