Friday, November 23, 2012

Rebecca S. Dali defends her PhD thesis: "An Ethical Analysis of the Plight of Women in Violent Conflict in Northern Nigeria (1980-2008)"

 Rebecca awaits the examination at the Unijos School of Post-Graduate Studies
November 5, 2012 was a pretty special day for Rebecca Samuel Dali. It was the day for which she had been preparing herself for some years, especially since 2003 when she entered the Master's program in Ethics and Philosophy at the federal University of Jos (Unijos), and took a graduate course with Wendy. At the time Rebecca had already started the research which would become the heart of her master's thesis on the effect of violent conflict on women. After the Jos crisis of 2001 she had followed up on those women, both Muslim and Christian, who, like herself, had been deeply affected by that event. She asked them many questions about injuries sustained, trauma and various kinds of loss suffered during the crisis. The result was a thesis which argued that, because of their pivotal role in the family and society, the effects of such crises were more devastating for women than for men.

New Buildings at Unijos

Although Rebecca wished to continue immediately with doctoral studies, a number of delays at the university in calling on an external examiner for the master's theses meant that she was not able to defend this thesis for some time, and enrollment in the doctoral program was delayed until 2009. But that did not stop her from beginning the work toward a doctoral thesis as an extension of earlier work, now focused on the northern communities of Kaduna (the crisis of 2000) and Maiduguri (the 'cartoon' crisis of 2006): "An Ethical Analysis of the Plight of Women in Violent Conflict in Northern Nigeria (1980-2008)"

This time the focus of the thesis was somewhat different. Rebecca used evidence obtained through interviews and discussions to argue that in general there is far too little understanding of the plight of women in violent conflict, and that, contrary to public perception, Muslim women were as seriously affected by these crises as were Christian women. Rebecca submitted the completed thesis to the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy in June. Normally the thesis is first approved by a committee of the department, before it is passed along to the Dean of Arts and Sciences. From that point it goes before the University Senate, and if this body approves, an external examiner is called upon to come and examine the student in an oral defense of the thesis, the Viva.

Wendy working with Rebecca to prepare her for the oral defense

Compared to many graduate students, Rebecca's doctoral defense was scheduled fairly soon after she completed and submitted the thesis to the department. Some students wait a year or more before an external examiner is identified, and is ready to come for the defense. Since Wendy, as supervisor, was not in Nigeria at the time, she depended heavily on a Nigerian colleague, Prof. Musa Gaiya, to take care of arrangements for inviting the external examiner and setting the date. Even so, we were caught somewhat by surprise when, on October 6, we received an urgent request from Prof. Gaiya to come for the November 5 defense, and arrive in Nigeria by November 1 if at all possible. A month is rather short for obtaining a Nigerian visa, but we did manage to get it by asking for expedited service. And we arrived in Jos in time, by Wednesday, October 31!

Rebecca with Prof. Gaiya and Wendy at the defense 
Already the next day, Thursday, Wendy started working with Rebecca, preparing her for the kinds of questions and challenges she might expect on the arguments and positions taken. Rebecca appeared confident enough in these discussions, so we were not overly concerned about her ability to hold her own in the oral defense. Of course, when Monday came, the day of the defense, Rebecca was rather nervous. And the external examiner didn’t help matters when he started his examination with a barrage of criticism. Even so, Wendy noticed that his critical remarks focused on rather insubstantial details, without  touching central positions defended in the thesis. This was a good sign. In the end the examiner affirmed Rebecca for presenting 'groundbreaking' work, and awarded the doctoral degree. She would have to provide only moderate corrections; although she was given six months to complete them, she will probably be able to finish them by Christmas time.

Rebecca and Wendy with external examiner

Rebecca signs the important documents

So, the time had really come to celebrate the event! We are so grateful that Rebecca has achieved her desire to finish the doctoral studies. Many years of educational effort have come to a climax with this examination. And Rebecca has worked hard toward this achievement. Although, with her husband, Sam, Rebecca now serves the Church of the Brethren (EYN in Nigeria) and The Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN), she began life in a family characterized by a thorough mix of Nigeria's major religious groups: Muslim, Christian and traditional African religion. She remembers the rote memorization of Islamic prayers in early childhood. But that did not lead to her receiving a regular basic education, for her herbalist father was more interested in having her help in the preparation, brewing and distribution of his products. But one day her older sister rescued her from this work, and had her placed in a mission school. At the time Rebecca did not have the proper clothes for schooling, but that did not stop her. Without further help from her parents, she worked in the fields at harvest to earn the money needed for tuition and a uniform.

From this beginning Rebecca acquired a deep desire for learning, and when she finished primary school she hoped to go on to secondary schooling. Once more, her parents had other plans. In order to pay the debt of one of her brothers who had been imprisoned, her father had promised Rebecca in marriage as third wife to a much older man. To escape this fate Rebecca ran away from home, but the relatives from whom she sought help returned her to her father instead. Again her older sister came to her rescue, telling her to run to the house of the Captain in charge of the local EYN Girls' Brigade, of which she had been a member since she was five. At this point the Captain and the local pastor intervened on her behalf to talk to her father, and introduce her to the Women Teachers' College Numa, a girls' boarding school. And once again Rebecca lacked the necessary means, but she was able to pay for her own room and board, uniform, books and tuition by helping a number of teachers with their housework. Rebecca did well at the school (1975-80), and upon graduation was able to teach in area schools for a number of years, until she married Sam, who was working in a mission dispensary at the time. The wedding was not a straightforward event either, for an older brother wanted Rebecca to marry a rich man, who could help solve the family's financial difficulties. Once again, Rebecca escaped to a relative who promised to help, but in fact did nothing. But Rebecca did get to marry the man of her choice, although the wedding had to proceed without the usual help from family members, and the young couple had little to claim as their own at the time; but the Lord has blessed their marriage with six children.

In 1983 the Nigerian Church of the Brethren (EYN) sponsored both Sam and Rebecca for theological training at TCNN, and from 1983-87 Rebecca was enrolled in the Christian Ministry program there. Upon completion she taught for six years (1987-93) at EYN's Kulp Bible College. But this would not be the final goal of her studies, for in 1993 the Basel Mission of Switzerland sponsored her for further studies, first for her Bachelor's degree (1993-96) and following that, to work towards a Master's degree (1997-98) at TCNN. Since that time Rebecca has been teaching at TCNN on behalf of the Church of the Brethren. She did take a leave of absence for a number of years to complete her doctorate, and transferred to live in the north east of Nigeria, also because last year her husband became Executive President of the Nigerian Church of the Brethren, which meant relocating to Mubi, not far from Maiduguri. Aside from the NGO which she has established to help women victims of ethno-religious violence, Rebecca is teaching and preaching in that part of Nigeria for the time being. She hopes to go back to teaching at TCNN Bukuru from January through July 2013, before returning to Kwarhi, near the Mubi EYN Headquarters, until her husband Sam finishes this term of service to the church.

Time for celebration: Rebecca and Sam with Adrian and Wendy
Aside from her studies and teaching activities over the last years, Rebecca has published a number of books: Women in Ministry with Jesus: Where are They? Reflections on Women's Activities in the Church Today (2000); The Secret of Successful Living in the Christian Home (2001); Wealth Creation and Savings: Some Biblical Principles. Not long ago she managed to publish her master's thesis on women in the Jos 2001 crisis, and we anticipate that the doctoral work will soon join this list of publications.

Over the years we have asked many of you to pray for Rebecca as she faced one obstacle after the other, to pray for Wendy's supervision of her work, and for the successful completion of her studies at this level. This is the appropriate time to thank you for your faithful support, which has made it possible for us to celebrate this event. In her thesis Rebecca acknowledged the help of many people who supported her along the way, and special thanks must go  to our department's Professor Umar Danfulani (currently Dean of Arts and Science), who always supported Rebecca, and initially encouraged her to work with Wendy. Also important for Rebecca's work was church historian Prof. Musa Gaiya, who looked after all the bureaucratic details of Rebecca's obligations to the Post-Graduate School of Unijos, particularly when Wendy was already back in Canada, and was continuing her supervision by email.

Rebecca working with Coleen Starwalt

Once Rebecca began collecting data based on her interviews, the intervention and help of Dr. Coleen Starwalt of TCNN was crucial for the analysis of the statistics on which her results are based. And Rebecca's work owes much to the timely help of Mrs. Crozier and others at TCNN who helped her to edit her thesis for English. But finally Rebecca's acknowledgements begin with what has been most important throughout these years: “My appreciation goes to God Almighty who bestows His favour upon me in His ministry. 'My God is God.' He opens doors for me, and has sustained and enabled me to this point. Glory, honour and majesty belong to God.”

November newsletter

November 7, 2012

 "May he give you the desire of your heart, and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4.

Dear  Friends,

1/ This was our prayer for 
doctoral student Rebecca Dali, and we are happy to report that our Lord has graciously answered.  This past Monday, Nov. 5, Rebecca successfully defended her thesis on "The Plight of Women in Violent Conflict in Northern Nigeria (1980-2008)".  The external examiner praised her for groundbreaking work on the topic. So we also want to thank all of you who have supported us over the years that Wendy supervised Rebecca's work. Through your support you helped to make it possible for Rebecca's work to come to a successful conclusion, and equip her to better serve both the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, and the Theological College of Northern Nigerian, in Bukuru (close to Jos), where she teaches.

2/ Please give thanks with us, also, that we were able to travel at this time, and arrive safely in Jos, about a week ago. Once we heard of plans for 
Rebecca's oral examination on Nov.5, there were many details needing attention, especially with respect to travel arrangements and visas. We are especially grateful that we decided to travel via France; had we followed initial plans to travel to Lagos via New York, we would probably have been prevented by hurricane "Sandy", and not arrived on time for the defense! We have been warmly welcomed once again by former colleagues, and are now able to work with remaining doctoral students, and accomplish some editorial projects. Please pray for our return journey next week Wednesday, Nov.14. After a few days with our daughter Pauline and her family near Boston, we hope to be back in Toronto by Nov.19.

3/ At this time we would also ask ongoing prayer for Harro van Brummelen, executive director of CSI. We pray that, 
if it is the Lord's will, Harro's life may still be spared for his family and loved ones. We are grateful that chemo treatment and medications have helped to ease the pain. But these treatments do cause extreme fatigue, and we would ask your prayers for sufficient stamina for each day. Please uphold  Harro and his family before the Lord, for his never-failing care and love.


October newsletter

October 4, 2012

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4.5.

Dear  Friends,

1/ This is a season of thanksgiving, and we begin with a note of thanks for your prayers for the situation in the Gambia. We are grateful for good discussions last weekend between Stan Wallace of IICS in Kansas City and the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Gambia. The door is open on the part of university administrators, and we pray for constructive involvement of North American academics at that university. The role of the Gambia Christian Council for the Program in Christian Studies still needs clarification, however, and we ask your ongoing prayers for that process.

2/ Your prayers for doctoral student Rebecca Dali are also being answered. Last year Rebecca’s husband Sam became Executive Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, and they now live in Mubi, in the north- eastern section of Nigeria, not far from Maiduguri, which is also the home base of Boko Haram. Troubles of the past months have resulted in malevolent destruction of strategic communications towers in that area, making phone and internet communications very difficult. But we did have a clear phone conversation this week, when Rebecca reported that approval of her dissertation for defense is moving along well. She also told of 27 students killed in a local university dormitory; 3 students were killed only a few days earlier. Whatever the specific cause, please pray for the families of these victims. Pray for peace and resolution of conflict in this region, and pray for the Lord’s special protection for Sam and Rebecca, since their work in the area requires considerable traveling.

3/ We want to ask your special prayers for Harro van Brummelen, who has so ably served as executive director of CSI for the past few years. Aside from his position at Trinity Western University (Langley BC), Harro is well known in the wider Christian community, in Canada and beyond, for his work in Christian education. A few weeks ago Harro was surprised to learn that his severe back pain was caused by spinal cancer, and by that time it had already spread to the point where it is difficult to control. Please uphold  Harro and his family in your prayers, that they may know the Lord’s never-failing care and love in this difficult situation. Pray for relief from the pain, and wisdom for doctors as they make decisions regarding optimum care.

September newsletter

September 9, 2012

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 146.5-6

Dear  Friends,

Labour Day has come and gone, and a new academic year is starting. But we are still in Toronto. You have not heard much from us these past  months, and there is a simple reason for that. We did not really know what was happening in the relationship between the University of the Gambia and the bishops of the Gambia Christian Council as it affects students wishing to enrol in the new program in Christian Studies at the university. To the best of our knowledge there has been one meeting during the summer, but we do not know the outcome, particularly whether a Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed on. This was to regulate the respective responsibilities and relations between the two parties.

As we understand the matter, there is some difference of understanding regarding the nature of the Christian Studies program. While the bishops appear to be looking for something like a divinity school program which can serve ordinands for ministry in the major Christian denominations, the intentions of the university are for a more open program to serve a wide variety of both Christian and non-Christian students. But we must also tell you that this is only our deduction as we reflect on the tensions experienced during the months we spent in the Gambia earlier this year.

This is the main reason why we are sending you a prayer note at this time!

1/ So we ask your prayers once more for the Program in Christian Studies. Please give thanks with us that two introductory courses on Christianity are being taught by a Gambian Catholic lecturer. And these courses are attracting a wide range of interested students. Do pray that a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gambia Christian Council can be worked out in the near future, so that the rest of the program can be implemented. Many students, including those whom we got to know via our teaching in Gambia Theological Institute courses, are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enrol. Pray with us that their hopes may be realized.

2/ Please give thanks with us for Rebecca Samuel Dali, a doctoral student whose work was supervised by Wendy. She recently completed her thesis on the special challenges faced by women in violent conflict. Her research is groundbreaking for the Nigerian situation, and promises to be a major resource for organizations providing assistance in conflict situations. When her thesis is accepted by the university senate an external examiner will be appointed; she hopes to defend the work later this year. We hope to travel to Nigeria for that occasion, also to meet with some of our other students to advise them on their research. Please pray with us for Rebecca as she prepares for the defense; pray that her work will be well received, that she may be able to overcome any remaining hurdles for the defense.

3/ We thank you for your ongoing prayers for Nigeria, and specifically for Jos. Many missionary colleagues have been encouraged to leave during the past months because the situation appeared so precarious. Please pray for them and their families as they resettle in North America or in other mission contexts. Give thanks with us that the situation in Jos has remained relatively peaceful the past few weeks. We also know that tensions are not far below the surface. So we ask continued prayers for our friends and colleagues, especially at the University of Jos, that they may be able to finish the present semester with a degree of normalcy. Pray with us for stability and peace; pray that government officials may find a solution which addresses  the underlying causes of tension and conflict.

We are grateful for your  prayers! We know that our Lord hears and answers us when we bring our needs to him.