Donations to return Boko Haram escapee home to Nigeria to aid children in need.
MIAMI - On Jan. 30, Dr. Stephen Z. Bugi will be returning to Nigeria, the country he was once forced to flee, thanks to an anonymous gifter and community support.
Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, church, and community members, Bugi will return home to begin the next stage of what he believes to be his divine mission - rescuing Nigerian children from ISIS.
In Nigeria, ISIS factions are called Boko Haram, which translates to "Western education is sin and forbidden."
Settled in Miami since September 2016 following his 2014 flight from Africa as a target of Boko Haram, Bugi has been working toward establishing his charitable, faith-based organization,"Hope Restoration Mission."
The aim of the mission is to create community centers for Nigerian youth offering nutrition, education, and faith-based services to stop the recruitment tide of child-soldiers Boko Haram has been using to solidify its terrorist cells and often, to carry out suicide bombings.
The Gift of Home
In November 2016, Bugi launched a GoFundMe campaign to gather funds to return to Nigeria and begin the hands-on work of Hope Restoration.
He initially aimed to return home by Christmas to offer the first Hope Restoration open-air sermon on the Christian holy day. However, delays ensued when the campaign was flagged and placed on hold by the U.S. government, which carefully monitors funding efforts related to Nigeria.
In early December his campaign was sanctioned by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, but donations remained sparse with his GoFundMe page having garnered less than $100 dollars as of mid-January.
In a follow-up interview with the News-Record for an article published Jan. 12 about his ongoing campaign effort, Bugi expressed he remained confident in both his mission and the community as he believes “all things are in God’s hands, and God is good.”
Not long after he was contacted on behalf of an anonymous donor to purchase his plane ticket to return to Nigeria. Bugi estimates the cost of his ticket at about $1,200 before taxes and fees.
Several area churches also took collections to assist with travel expenses.
"A few of the churches also got together to give me money for food during my travel. Flying back is 37 hours long," said Bugi. "Having those things it was enough for me to decide to go ahead and take off. I can go back home and continue raising funds there and in the meantime will continue my GoFundMe campaign here for my project mission for anyone who wants to donate."
Although there remains a significant risk to his life, Bugi said he believes it is time for him to return to Nigeria. He says he has done all he can from abroad and also recently learned of the deaths of some of the insurgents targeting him.
"I feel encouraged to go back because some of the individuals who threatened my life have been killed. So I know have some measure of security," Bugi shared. "I don't have complete security, but I have enough to start my project."
Resisting Boko Haram
Bugi, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in Technical Teacher Education from Pittsburg State University (Kansas) in the late '80s and early '90s, returned to his home country of Nigeria where he would earn his Ph.D. in the same field from Kaduna Polytechnic.
As Boko Haram's violent uprising out of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria and clashes with the government escalated, Bugi soon became a target of the extremists because of his Western education, Christian faith and efforts to share both with his countrymen.
Escaping three bombing attempts on his life, the razing of his home village, and having to disperse his family to safe locations, Bugi was able to flee in 2014 to the United States through a visa issued to attend a technical conference in Chicago and sought asylum.
The process for asylum is a lengthy one and comes with several limitations. One significant hurdle was his inability to work for at least the first 150 days after filing, which left him without a means to support himself.
Early on, Bugi was aided by minister Brent Beauford who's faith and generosity solidified the displaced professor's belief that his survival was purposed by God so that he might one day return home and rescue others.
"I was blessed to find Brent Beauford out of Noel, Missouri. He is an amazing man," said Bugi when first sharing his story with the News-Record in April 2017. "He is a man of God, and he took care of me. I was not allowed to work, and he made sure I had everything I needed while waiting to apply for work papers."
As Bugi attempted to return to teaching and held down jobs once eligible to work, such as a position with Sodexo at NEO A&M, the foundations of Hope Restoration Mission were being established.
In May 2017, he self-published a book "The Dramatic and Miraculous Escape of an Individual from ISIS (Boko Haram)," in an effort to bring more attention to the plight of his people, find his return to teaching, and fighting terror "one mind at a time."
"What people need to understand is that this war is an ideological one. What is keeping Boko Haram alive is the great poverty and mistrust of the government in Nigeria," Bugi explained during his first interview with MNR. "There is so much hunger. Children as young as 3-years-old are sent out to beg. Their families cannot care for them, and they sometimes walk as far as from here (Miami) to Joplin, begging."
Describing the conditions for the majority of northeastern Nigerians, Bugi explained the strictest of Islamic law is enforced by Boko Haram in the areas where they take forceful residence. Terrorist cells meter out punishments such as destroying homes and schools which are judged to be in violation of Sharia Law.
Dissenters, such as Bugi, also become targets for violent intimidation and murder as community infrastructures are weakened or removed.
Meanwhile, already present poverty and hunger have grown rampant in northeastern Nigeria, and Bugi says most view their government as both corrupt and impotent, prompting hungry and desperate children to be seduced by or even seek out Boko Haram.
"Imagine not being able to go to school and living with all of the high-level corruption in the government? You have no food and no education," said Bugi. "These kids are trooping right into Boko Haram camps. They are hungry and hopeless. But once they go in they never come out."
Even under such dire conditions, Bugi sees a way out and through Hope Restoration has a plan of influence to loosen and ultimately end Boko Haram's grip in northeastern Nigeria.
"If you have to change minds. You have to educate them, and we will start in the areas around where Boko Haram is," said Bugi. "Peers learn best from peers. If we can bring them up and educate them, they can push back that influence from the inside. They just need to learn and to be able to feed themselves and not be under the pressure of Sharia law."
He remains committed and grateful as he prepares for his return home, saying that every part of his journey has been a blessing.
"This is a tremendous blessing from God. It was totally unexpected, but God did it, and I have been blessed," said Bugi. "When God wants to do something he will surprise you in a very deep way."
Donating to Hope Restoration
To donate to Bugi's ongoing GoFundMe campaign visit https://www.gofundme.com/RESCUINGCHILDREN. To contact Bugi directly to assist with fundraising or mission efforts email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.