May 2018 Nigeria Pastor's Conference
The Dream Team in Nigeria!
Two weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at a Frontline Pastor’s Conference in Kaduna, Nigeria. Kaduna is about two hours north of Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. To put things in perspective, Nigeria is divided into the Muslim controlled Northern area and the primarily Christian Southern area with Abuja as the mark of division. So, we were going into the heart of the Muslim area.
Kaduna is the capital city of Kaduna State in North-west Nigeria. Due to its religious makeup, Kaduna has been the scene of significant religious tension between Muslims and Christians. In 2002, the city suffered from one of the deadliest riots ever to hit Nigeria. More than 20 churches were burned by Muslims. In retaliation, Christians burned eight mosques. Several hotels were also burned. The city suffered widespread damage, and 11,000 people were left homeless, hundreds were killed. Today there is a tenuous peace between religious factions with the city clearly divided between the Christian side and Muslim side. Needless to say, this was a very strategic training event.
Leading our team was Charles Ikutiminu, a Nigerian pastor currently relocating to Texas, and joining us was Joel Tiemeyer, pastor of The Way Bible Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Though this was my third trip with Charles, it was the first with Joel for both Charles and myself. However, with the way God used us together as a team and the way our messages fit together, you would have thought we had been traveling together for years. But before we had a chance to experience any of that, we had to get to Kaduna. What we didn’t know was, to get there, we would have to run the gauntlet.
Due to flight delays and missed flights, Joel and I weren’t able to meet Charles early enough to catch the early train to Kaduna, so we intended on taking a later train that night. However, several of Charles’ friends cautioned him against taking the later train. They told him that because the train station in Kaduna was in a bad part of town it would be too dangerous for two white Americans to arrive after dark. So, we decided to spend the night in Abuja and get up early the next morning to catch the 6 a.m. train. This would put us in Kaduna just in time to throw our luggage in our room and head down to the conference center to start the conference.
Unfortunately, when we got to the train station we discovered that the train wasn’t running that day until 11 a.m. So now we had to go to plan B which was to hire someone to drive us. But that still was pretty tricky because driving to Kaduna was still a bit dangerous for us so we needed someone we could trust. Charles eventually found two drivers and we headed north with our luggage in one car and us in the other.
We were making really good time when our side of the highway shut down. So, we did what you do in Africa, we went to the other side of the highway and kept right on driving. We made it about a mile or two when that side of the highway also shut down. After going off road for a little bit and trying to drive up the shoulder we eventually came to a dead halt. Cars were stacked up in front of us and behind us.
We learned later that there was a dispute between the tanker truck drivers and the military, and one of the military officers had shot one of the tanker truck drivers. So, in protest, the tanker trucks lined their trucks across both sides of the highway and shut the highway down. It was backed up for miles in both Direction. And there we were stuck in the middle of it. This would have been little more than an inconvenience except we were two white Americans sitting in the back of a car in a Muslim controlled area, and it was starting to get tense. People had gotten out of their cars and were walking around, and a crowd began to form behind us. Fortunately, our car had tinted windows and while you couldn’t see inside our car, that only offered little bit of comfort.
Charles didn’t tell us until later but all it would have taken was for one person to see us and point at the car and cry out; “Infidels! This is all their fault!” and it would have been over. At best we would have just gotten beat up. At worse, we would have been kidnapped or possibly even killed. So, Charles called our driver over and told him we needed to get out of that situation. So, our driver drove off into the dirt and found a dirt road through the bush that we begin to take along with a bunch of other people to try to get around that big mess. Of course, just around the corner about 20 guys had lined boulders across the road and were charging people to move the boulders so they could drive through. Everyone was yelling at each other and the guys were banging on the cars with sticks…not a good situation. Fortunately, we made it through with only the loss of a few dollars. I shudder to think of what would have happened if those guys would have seen Joel and me in the back seat.
I’ve been all over the world, but this was the first time I’ve been in actual danger. It was quite the adventure. We eventually made it around the traffic jam and were once again on our way to Kaduna. The whole time I was thinking to myself, “I wonder what God has planned for this conference?” We made it about two and a half hours late, threw our bags in our room headed to the conference center.
That experience, while tense, reminds me once again why I do what I do. You see, there’s no way Joel or I could do much in the way of evangelism in Northern Nigeria. It’s a country with millions of people who have never heard the gospel, but who was going to reach them? The most effective thing we can do is invest in the pastors who already live in that region and who are strategically positioned to take the gospel into one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of the world. It was amazing to watch as God wove our messages together and began to build up each one of those pastors over the three days of the conference. Then He began to set them free from the destructive nature of denominational division, tribalism, prejudice, anger, hatred and fear. And He didn’t stop there! God began to fill each one of them with courage, boldness, humility, and love for the Muslim people.
I’ve been in many situations where our messages supernaturally fit together, but this one was different. We used many of the same passages, but rather than sounding repetitive, one message would seamlessly build upon the previous one and lead into the next one. It was amazing. It was also quite fascinating to watch as God was specific in what He wanted to impart to these pastors who face extreme danger on a daily basis and are strategically placed to reach one of the most difficult people groups on the planet.
On the last day of the conference, as I sat listening to Charles preach the final message it began to dawn on me the enormity of what these men and women were facing. Not only were they called to lay aside hundreds of years of tribalism and prejudice, they would have to learn how to truly love their enemies. God was calling them to reach out into in love to the very ones who were burning down their churches and killing their friends and family members. God was calling them to lay aside their rights, die to themselves and to live for others, all for the sake of the Gospel.
I am so humbled when I think about what they have faced all their lives and yet they are still committed to reach northern Nigeria. And I am so incredibly honored that I have the privilege of investing in them, to strengthen, encourage and equip them for the monumental task before them. But when I think back over the stories I heard, and the determination in their eyes, I think to myself; “This is why I have to bring my A game every time. This is why I will spend my own money, why I look for people who will partner with me and why I work so hard. Because it’s worth it. They are worth it. The Gospel is worth it.”
Next Stop – Siberia (brrr…!)
Wednesday (May 16th), Karen and I will be heading to Siberia to lead a Global Advance Church Planting Workshop. This Frontline Pastors church-plant training event is strategic for the development, multiplication, and encouragement of ministry leaders in the eastern half of Russia and Siberia. Russia is the largest nation in the world, yet only 1.2% of its population has been identified as evangelical Christians. Pastors in Russia are scarce and face lack of training, the need for financial assistance, and the loss of many pastors through emigration.
Because the role of foreigners is highly limited, strong church leadership must rise up from within Russia. Additional challenges for pastors in Russia include authoritarian leadership styles, lack of training in discipleship and Christian worldviews, and the need for foundational theological education. I have grown to love these men and women and count it an honor to train and encourage church planters who have the vision and call to plant 200 new churches throughout Russia by the year 2030.
Please pray for us as we head there next week. While I am confident in God’s provision, if my trip to Nigeria taught me anything, it’s that I need prayer on every trip I take.
As always, let me say how much I appreciate each one of you and your support of, and prayers for us.
Thanks again everybody,