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Speaking volumes about Christian education

A seminary in troubled Nigeria tries to build its library

Do you have old theology books gathering dust in your attic? Africa needs them — especially now, in Nigeria, where the situation is risky for Christians, even as Christian numbers are growing.

Bronnum Seminary near Yula in eastern Nigeria seeks Lutheran theology texts for its library in order to be accredited. The seminary, founded by Danish missionary Nils Bronnum in 1913, will soon observe its centennial. The occasion encourages pastors, professors, and others with collections of good religion books to donate their volumes for an important cause — at an important moment.

Donated books will go to this library at Bronnum Seminary near Yula, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of Catherine Martignacco

Enter Catherine Martignacco of Golden Valley, a volunteer with St. Paul-based Books for Africa. Martignacco, a member at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Golden Valley, welcomes donations of boxed books. She stockpiles the volumes in her garage — theological texts, church history, pastoral-care titles, and the like. Her target is 6,000 volumes.

Bronnum Seminary offers courses to men and women who seek ordination in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria.

When she and her husband Rudi have that many, Books for Africa will add donated K-12 texts for book-poor Nigeria. From donors, other K-12 school items are welcome as well — flash cards, rulers, even pencils.

Then everything will be bundled up and off it goes. But it’s not as simple as a FedEx drop.

Some urgency

Martignacco’s initiative also seeks $17,000 to send books directly by truck to Bronnum, 700 miles inland. That’s expensive, but otherwise the needed texts may languish for weeks in the large Nigerian port of Lagos. Such are the logistics of shipping to Nigeria. “We’ll get them on semi trailer trucks to get them transported over to Bronnum,” says Kris Perry, ELCA’s director of companion synods for the Minneapolis Area Synod. “They’ll take the southern route,” she adds. More about that in a moment.

Some urgency accompanies this shipment. “The need for training leadership for this church is dramatic,” according to Brad Holt, an Augsburg College professor emeritus who has traveled the area. Writing about Nigeria in the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod publication Global Companion, Holt says: “The church is growing much faster than its capacity to educate its members, some say by 10,000 new members each month.”

Bronnum Seminary, then, is a linchpin. It offers courses to men and women who seek ordination in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria. Enrollment is about 80, with about 10 faculty.

Bronnum is well within the predominantly Christian southern part of Nigeria — a nation at the great western notch of Africa on the Gulf of Guinea. The seminary is near Yula, 400 miles east of the national capital Abuja, and close to the border with Cameroon.

Nigeria’s troubles have been mainly in the north. The country, about half Muslim and half Christian, is not always a safe place for either. The Minneapolis Area Synod abandoned the idea of its annual trip to Nigeria in October because of violence.

The prudence is justified. On October 9, dozens were killed in the city of Maiduguri, about a five-hour drive north of Bronnum Seminary. The Associated Press reported that some blamed the deaths on soldiers who were angry about the activities of Boko Haram, an Islamist group active in Maiduguri that often targets soldiers. Military and police officers, however, denied soldiers’ involvement.

Significantly, Boko Haram means “Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language of Nigeria’s north. The Islamist group is blamed for the deaths of nearly 700 people in drive-by killings and bombings in 2012 alone, according to the AP’s count. The sect has demanded the release of its imprisoned members and calls for strict Muslim Shariah law across the entire country.

The violence has been remote from Bronnum Seminary. The Minneapolis Synod does have a partner congregation in the north — near Maiduguri.

So Nigeria is a complicated and risky place for Christians. The fear Jesus’ followers felt as they hid in that upper room and heard with amazement the reports of resurrection persists in such Christian communities.

At the same time, Christ’s salutation when he appeared among them persists as well: “Peace be with you.”

For more information …

To donate books, contact Catherine Martignacco at 763/ 588-8148 or martnaco@cpinternet.com. In some cases, she and her husband may be able to pick up books.

Send money donations to Books for Africa, 253 East 4th Street, Suite 200, St. Paul, MN 55101. Make checks payable to Books for Africa and designate BRISKA-NIGERIA in the memo space. Or donate online at www.booksforafrica.org.

Book donors can get a form to file for a tax deduction from Books for Africa at this site or can email bfa@booksforafrica.org to ask for a tax receipt. As with other donations in kind, the donor estimates the value of the gift on what Catherine Martignacco calls “the honor system.”

For more information about the Minneapolis Area Synod’s connection to the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, visit http://www.mpls-synod.org/news.

Mark Hequet

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