Christmas meal begins ministry to drug users

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Nigerian woman mothers young men and turns their lives around

By Dave Klassen as told him by Margaret Ahmed

Margaret Ahmed feared for the safety of her two teenage daughters. The family's home in Jos, Nigeria, was a few hundred yards from a former cotton-ginning warehouse where as many as 100 Christian and Muslim young men went to hang out and use drugs.

Three days before Christmas 2011, she decided to intervene. She went to the warehouse to meet the youth, some of whom were high. Flies buzzed around excrement in the building. In this totally strange and unfamiliar environment, Ahmed, who is rarely at a loss for words, did not know what to say.

Eventually, the words came: “I want to be a mommy to you.”

The young men stared.  

Ahmed kept talking. She suggested that the reason they were doing drugs in these squalid conditions and the reason they believed their lives were hopeless was because society and politics were playing havoc with their aspirations for education and because of hopeless family situations.

As she talked, she caught the attention of more and more youth curious to hear what she was saying.
 
She asked them if they wanted to learn some skills that could give them something useful to do with their lives. They acted like they liked her idea, but later she learned that they did not really believe what she was saying.

To start, she told them, she would bring them Christmas dinner and they agreed on 2 p.m. Christmas Day. She returned home, feeling gratified and excited that she had followed through on a conviction and desire she had been considering for more than a year.

Her desire to do something to help the youth grew out of her experience at West Africa Peacebuilding Institute in September 2011. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) paid for her to attend to strengthen her peacebuilding skills.

Ahmed was and still is executive director for Home Makers, a MCC Nigeria partner that has worked with 2,300 women across Nigeria and other west African countries, empowering them with small business skills needed to support their families. She uses her new understanding of interfaith togetherness and other peacebuilding skills to address the root causes of the violence that has wracked Jos since 2001.
 
At the peacebuilding institute, she watched the film, The Worst Slum in the World, which talked about the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. In the film, a woman worked with youth who were using drugs and was able to impact their lives, giving them hope for their futures.

When Ahmed returned home, she kept thinking about the film and the ever present challenge she faced with these “drugging youth,” as she calls them, until the day she resolved to engage the youth herself.  

The youth at the warehouse were skeptical about this unusual visitor, so they determined to find out what was really behind the visit of “Mommy.” They suspected she was a front for a security clearance operation, but a community leader assured them that Ahmed was genuine and had no devious intentions.

On Christmas Day, Ahmed did not go to church. She worked all morning preparing food for 50 people—rice, chicken, cake, sodas, water and trimmings. By 1:30 p.m. Ahmed returned to the warehouse, which the young men had “cleaned” by brushing the feces to one corner. Ahmed carried the food into the warehouse and prayed for God’s grace to manage the smell and the flies.

When the youth saw Ahmed and the food she was carrying, some of them wept as they started to understand that this might be genuine generosity and love with no hidden agenda. Even those who had been coming to the warehouse for 10 years said they had never experienced anything like this before.  

Ahmed has met with these youth more than 120 times since.  She determined that if she was going to make a difference in the lives of these children of God, it would demand a heavy commitment on her part. They told her that when she is with them, their desire to do drugs is reduced. She loves them without judgment, they say, unlike society or even the church.

At least 40 of them have quit drugs, Ahmed says, and some of them have influenced young men in a nearby town to stop using too. The former users have now learned new skills or have returned to studies at the university and a nursing school. One supports himself by farming on land he rents.

The Bible is a critical piece of Home Makers’ drug addiction program. Ahmed engages the youth through Scripture to show the value of life and hope for the future. Besides the skills she has introduced to them, Bible studies are part of her weekly program with them.

No one comes to the warehouse anymore, so the warehouse has been closed and locked.

Mennonite Central Committee is a relief, development and peace agency that serves around the world in the name of Christ.

David Klassen is MCC representative in Nigeria. His wife, Mary Lou, is a peace studies lecturer. They are from Kitchener, Ont.
 

Photo by Dave Klassen: In Jos, Nigeria, (left-right) Samson Dung, John Paul, Kenth Monday, Ibrahim Kwandi, Victor Ali and Bitrus Dagam (front) pose with Margaret Ahmed (center), executive director Home Makers, in front of the warehouse where these young men and many others used to go to use drugs. Ahmed mothered the young men, helping many to quit using and rebuild their lives.

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This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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