Church of the Brethren, a nationwide church headquartered in Elgin, has a deep connection to the tragedy of the more than 300 girls kidnapped three weeks ago from a school in Nigeria.
The school was built in the late 1940s in the Nigerian village of Chibok by the Church of the Brethren's mission, said Stanley Noffsinger, Church of the Brethren's general secretary. It later became a government school in the mid-1970s.
Also, the majority of the kidnapped girls -- 53 of whom later were reported to have escaped -- are members of the Nigerian church Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, or EYN, a sister church to Church of the Brethren, Noffsinger said.
Now, Church of the Brethren is asking its members, spread over 1,030 congregations and fellowships across the United States, to pray and fast for the girls kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
"We mailed letters to our congregations with the names of the girls. Each girl's name was sent to six congregations so they could focus their prayer," Noffsinger said. "We have been in constant communication with the church leadership in Nigeria."
Church of the Brethren has donated $100,000 to EYN in the last year to help the local church deal with the kidnappings and abductions that have plagued the country for the last few years, Noffsinger said.
The money went to help affected families with food and housing, as well as about 5,000 members of EYN who have fled Nigeria seeking refuge in Cameroon and Niger, Noffsinger said.
Noffsinger went on a nine-day trip in April to visit attend the annual EYN conference in Mubi, Nigeria, about 62 miles from the abducted girls' school. Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of global mission and service for Church of the Brethren, also was part of the trip.
"We were invited this year for a special connection with the church as they walk through this very difficult time," Noffsinger said.
"This certainly has brought it to the forefront of international attention, but it's part of a large crisis for the Nigerian people."
The two Elgin men left Nigeria April 14, the day the girls were kidnapped.
"We were sitting in the airport in Abuja (Nigeria's capital) when it came across CNN International," Noffsinger said.
Church of the Brethren also has sister churches in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Spain, Brazil and India. The Nigerian sister church is the largest among them, Noffsinger said.
"We're very closely tied to this because of this trip," Noffsinger said. "It's on the front pages of our lives right now."