Written in sparse, nearly breathless prose, this story of heroism in the face of genocide brings to light a history long neglected by both those who lived it and those who normally document such tragedy.
With current interest in Nigeria rising as Boko Haram ravages the northeastern states, North Americans are confused as to the history in much of Africa and how it relates to the current conditions in modern developments.
Robert Parham offers an overview of tribalism in Nigeria as background to the national character extant in today’s climate in his book, “The Disturbances: The Untold Story of How Missionaries Saved Lives in a Time of Tribal Genocide.”
Through stories of courage and survival in the face of monumental obstacles, this book explores the deep bonds between missionaries serving in Nigeria during a deeply troubled time.
The real story centers on the lives and decisions of the Christian missionaries living and working in Nigeria during the 1960s when “the disturbances” occurred.
Gangs of disaffected persons from one tribe of economically challenged individuals attacked and murdered large numbers of another tribe who had better situations because of education, preparation and position.
In the midst of the terror, Christian missionaries, missionary kids, doctors, nurses and others found themselves observing the unthinkable: the slaughter of thousands.
For the first time, the powerful stories of the missionaries are told in this text.
The narratives remained long buried for a myriad of complex reasons. They are painful to read, as any tale of human violence can be, but the actual story for the readers’ benefit is the account of faithful protection and compassion provided by the missionaries for their fellow human beings in a time of terror.
As Parham relates the stories from firsthand accounts of still living missionaries, transcripts of letters sent home and other sources, the reader begins to know the real people, the characters of history.
This book documents the horrors with the emotion and urgency of the evening news, eyewitness accounts and long-remembered trauma of genocide.
The final chapters engage deeper questions of “Why did the genocide occur?” and “What is ours to do now?”
These are worthy of inquiry, yet the real question lingers with the reader as one ponders, “What would I do in these circumstances?” and “Where is God calling us to faithfulness today?”
Churches and missionary groups with interest in Nigeria or mission work in tribal societies would do well to read and discuss this book.
College classes might examine this book for background in current African studies / history courses.
Nigerian communities of faith as well as persons of faith everywhere would do well to listen carefully to our shared history so that we might understand and ultimately recognize and address racism, xenophobia and other deep sins of humankind.
In learning from the witness of the believers in “The Disturbances,” we can find inspiration to accompany the oppressed, facing evil and violence with the gospel of love and peace – to the glory of God and our neighbors’ good.
Tara Lea Hornbacker is professor of ministry formation, missional leadership and evangelism at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana.