A documentary released last fall by EthicsDaily.com (also known as the Baptist Center for Ethics) made its Missouri debut on Feb. 1 in Kansas City. “The Disturbances” covers the previously-untold story of missionaries saving lives in the midst of genocidal violence in Nigeria in 1966. In a matter of days, thousands — and perhaps as many as 30,000 people — were killed due to their tribal identity. The film examines the genocide, how missionaries put their lives at risk to save targeted people and what their heroism tells us about the missionary spirit. Missionaries featured in the film include Southern Baptists Bill and Audrey Cowley and Bob and Jo Ann Parham, as well as Assemblies of God, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Lutheran and other missionaries.
Nearly 100 people attended the Kansas City screening at King of Kings Lutheran Church. Kirk Griebel, son of two Lutheran missionaries included in the film (Paul and Margaret Griebel), introduced the documentary and answered questions afterward. As a second-grader during the genocide, he admitted to not knowing much about it or what his parents did until one of his siblings learned about the film being made. He said these stories of genocide are “something that here in the United States we’re just not real familiar with, but it is a big deal” in countries like Nigeria that have experienced it in recent decades. He added that the film “raises questions on when to act or not to act, especially in regard to violence.”
Cliff Vaughn, media producer for EthicsDaily.com and co-producer of the film, said making the documentary took nearly two years from the start in November 2014 to its premiere in September 2016. He worked with co-producer Robert Parham, who lived in Nigeria as a missionary kid during the genocide but did not know until recently how much his parents and other missionaries did to save lives.
“We interviewed 25 people on camera and talked to hundreds more in person, via phone, Skype, e-mail, etc,” he explained. “We scanned about 2,500 pieces of material: letters, reports, slides, photos and so forth. We also digitized between three and four hours of missionaries’ home movies from the era. We got material from about three dozen personal collections and a dozen different archives. I made a number of those archival visits myself and I always looked forward to them.”
“I was surprised, and I think Robert was, too, at the amount of material we actually got,” Vaughn added. “Sometimes it was a memory. Sometimes it was a film reel. Sometimes it was an airmail letter penned amidst the crisis. People had saved all sorts of things for decades. Sometimes they’d say to us, ‘We’ve been hanging on to this for years. Glad someone can finally use it.’”
Many of the missionaries — now in their 70s, 80s and 90s — admitted in the film they had never told the story before — even to family members. Several fought back tears as they recounted the violence they witnessed fifty years earlier. Parham tells even more of the stories in a book released along with the film: “The Disturbances: The Untold Story of How Missionaries Saved Lives in a Time of Tribal Genocide.” Vaughn said he remains “grateful” to have had the opportunity to meet the missionaries and hear their stories.
“I grew up in the Baptist church and was familiar with missionaries — or so I thought,” Vaughn added. “But producing this project gave me a newfound respect for missionary life. Each situation is of course different, but I was struck by their resourcefulness, ingenuity and courage, among other things.”
Few people outside Nigeria know anything about the 1966 genocide — and the generation of missionaries who lived through it are passing away. But Vaughn and Parham’s film ensures the heroism of the missionaries will not be forgotten. And by telling the story, the film helps churches learn from — as the film’s introduction calls it — “an account of how [the missionaries] bore witness and lived out their mission.”
Note: Learn more about “The Disturbances” at thedisturbances.com.
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