Monday, April 23, 2007

For Time Will Fail Me: Nigeria April, 2007 - #1

After ten days, thousands of miles, and the privilege to interact with a multitude of brothers and sisters in Christ of whom this world is not worthy, the six-person Vision Team from Grace has returned home. Thank you for praying for us.

Throughout the trip, phrases from Hebrews 11:32-40 dominated our hearts. Along with the writer of Hebrews, we also concede, "And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of [insert dozens of Nigerian Christian's names here]...of whom this world is not worthy." Though Nigerian Christians are persecuted in every imaginable way, our brothers and sisters there remain faithful in trusting God to fulfill all of His promises to them, and to work powerfully for His glory through them. Even though there is pain in the grasp, they are clinging tightly to Jesus.

The realization that we had much more to learn from these brothers and sisters than we could possibly contribute to them took no time at all. They are shining examples of what a true Christian ought to be. May each of our lives echo what one Nigerian brother said to the Islamic government in his state for withholding basic human rights from Christian families (which he could have been killed for saying); because the government in his area silently persecutes Christians in some of the most painful ways, he told the governor to his face; "You can keep your things, all we want is Jesus." Amen, and amen!

Although daily life for Christians in most parts of Northern Nigeria is more difficult than our words can express, rest assured, they are hoping in Christ and are not pitying themselves. On more than one occasion we heard, "When someone here claims to be a Christian, they are a Christian." And while dragging his thumb across his neck like a knife-blade, another brother added, "You can be killed in this place for saying you're a Christian."

Because we've all experienced the evil-hearted televangelist-type ploys for money, we were greatly encouraged that we didn't pick up so much as a shred of non-Christlike sales pitches for money. There was not even a hint of the manipulative exaggeration of certain difficulties as a means of coercing support. On the contrary, both the suffering that is being endured, and the need for much (much, much) support from fellow believers like you and I, could be enticed without my inquiry. No sales pitches for stuff. No pleas for money. No requests for personnel. Simply, "Pray for us." Repetitively, from city to city, we heard, "We are trusting the Lord. Just pray for us."

And as one pastor in one of the most difficult locations (Katsina, in the extreme North, which is in the southern part of the Sahara desert) put it, "Our Lord is in control. God has not made a mistake in placing us here. If we leave this place, who is going to tell these people about Jesus?" And most poignantly of all, he continued, "The primary purpose for which the Lord has placed us here is for the propagation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ." So yes, time after time, we sat in jaw-dropping worship under the realization that we were not worthy to be in the presence of these believers, and no doubt, we have much more to learn from them than we could ever offer.

Even though we are doubly exhausted from our air and ground travels, our purpose of being exposed to the Lord's work among the Hausa in hopes of discerning Grace's future involvement in the gospel among them could not have been better accommodated. Through our trip, we saw two major things that will help us discern the how the Lord intends to use us there long-term: (A) Exposure to the presence of Christianity in N. Nigeria, and (B) the massive need for education, pastoral training, and church planting throughout N. Nigeria. By my dear friend's (Rev. John Hassan) kind arrangement, we were privileged to visit with Christian leaders and laborers in the regions of Zaria, Katsina, Kano, Bauchi, Jos, and Abuja. In all, by my calculations, we rode in a van somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-three hours. But, as I said to the Zaria district leaders of ECWA (Evangelical Christians of West Africa), I would have driven ten days per conversation just to have the privilege of sitting in the presence of these Christians and learning from them what it means to love Jesus when it costs everything!

Poverty is not a sufficient way to describe the condition of the country. Even the developed areas are underdeveloped, not to mention the rural areas, which encompass the vast majority of the land. Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa. Millions upon millions of people. There are people everywhere (literally). During our team's debriefing meeting at the end of our second day, we realized that there were no more than two minutes of the nine hours we had driven (up to that point) when we could not see people out of the window of our van. Of the 28 million Hausa people (which dominate the areas we visited) more than 99% of them are Muslim. So, to put it together, of all of the people we saw (I would guess upwards of 1 million?), a very very small percentage of them are the Lord's. Not many more of them have even heard a clear gospel message. The need is great!

In addition to Christian persecution at every level, hostility is a problem nationwide. I would guess that we passed through more than two dozen military road-barricades. These barricades were installed to lessen the likelihood of militant attacks related to the elections for governor (the day we flew in), and for President (the day we flew out). Unfortunately, they could not preempt all of the uprising. In one episode, more than twenty people were killed in Kano (the same day we were there). The attacker? A twelve year old boy. Our time in Kano, however, was full of joy in the Lord. An ECWA church there has been burned by Muslims six times...and rebuilt seven times by Christians. After the fourth time, the pastor was martyred. Not too long ago, the President of ECWA preached the dedication service for the seventh building for that congregation. When we met with him, he told us that during the dedication sermon he quoted, "The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's church!"

More to come...

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