We waited for seven hours, shaded by a large tree from the 100-degree heat, until the village chief arrived. This is Africa: Permission is needed from tribal leaders to visit their land. Their approval opens doors to evangelism.
When the chief arrived, he said: “I met you on the road.”
We glanced at each other, not recognizing the chief or what he was talking about. Maybe we were still in a jet-lagged fog from four days of travel — two by air, two by road — from North America to northeastern Nigeria.
Then we realized he was the man riding by motorbike in the opposite direction as we drove along the dirt road that ended in his village (Tantille). Our driver had knocked him off his bike as we passed on a badly rutted section of road. The driver stopped and, along with Mission: Nigeria team member Chris Joseph, he was helped back on his bike.
Talk about divine meetings.
Chief Moses with Mission: Nigeria team members (left to right) Brandy Everts, Michael Heitland, Chris Joseph and Gary Fallesen.
The chief now stood in the late-afternoon heat sizing us up. He’d just heard that we were missionaries who wanted to go into the surrounding Koma Hills. He granted permission and offered his son as our four-person team's guide. The young man, called Moses, and his friend, Lazarus, would turn out to be much more than guides. They would help carry our gear when the heat and the spiritual warfare became too much for us. And they would translate for us in the village-to-village dialects of the Koma Hills along the Cameroon border.
“God provided every step of the way,” team member Brandy Everts of Canada said in amazement, when asked about the highlights of this December 2011 trip. “God took us to Chief Moses and he suggested where to go, sent (his son) Moses and Lazarus, who are strong, diplomatic, and can speak every language and English, and God protected us.”
In two days, the Lord led us 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Chief Moses’ village of Tantille to the mountain village of Wiwp, where seven people gave their hearts to Jesus after we shared the Gospel with them, and then perhaps 3.5 kilometers (about 2 miles) in another direction to Wagi, where that village’s animistic head surrendered to Christ.
Wagi village leader Waneke hearing and receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“There is a church in this village (Wagi) and Waneke was the only non-Christian,” Brandy testified. “He told us that he could not become a Christian because his father made him the traditional head. Pastor Chris told Waneke the Gospel and was telling him all the things Jesus gave him, such as salvation, peace, joy, etc. Pastor Chris then asked, ‘What has Kenno given you?’ (Kenno is the name of the village god.)
“Waneke wanted to leave and seemed like he was not listening. Then a few minutes later he said, ‘I want to live.’ Gary then talked to him about prayer and for the very first time Waneke talked to Jesus! All of creation rejoiced!”
God was busy during our 14-day Mission: Nigeria. From preparing the way for us to preparing us along the way to share, teach and preach. We taught about leadership and missions at two one-day conferences (one in Gboko, Benue State, and the other in Port Harcourt, Rivers State) and participated in an anniversary celebration at Chris’ church, which is supported by Climbing For Christ.
God also protected us from physical extortion and physical threats to spiritual attacks.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” — Ephesians 6:12
We were equipped with the armor of God — packing in the full armor so we could take a stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11).
God did the rest during this Evangelic Expedition. He made good out of the bad, and He used us to do things that we could not have done on our own. He also gave us peace.
The dozens of police checks we passed through on the poor roads became almost laughable. We asked Chris why there were so many roadblocks in his country. “They are fighting crime,” he said about the police. “They are looking for people who are suspicious, who might be transporting guns or ammunition.
“But their interest is not in fighting the crime. Their interest is in 20 Naira.”
Naira is the currency of Nigeria (about 160 Naira was equal to US$1 during our visit). Even as we listened to a radio promotion for national “Anti-Corruption Day” — complete with musicals — we watched drivers ahead of us passing through checkpoints by passing 20 Naira notes to police.
“Nigeria is a corruption-plagued country, where everything goes,” Chris said. “Even among the so-called Gospel ministers you notice all manner of fraudulent practices thriving.”
Christians purportedly make up more than half of the population of Nigeria — at about 155 million people this West African nation is the most populated country on the continent. But Nigeria is also one of the places where persecution is commonplace. Open Doors ministry ranked Nigeria 23rd on its 2011 World Watch List of persecuted places. In the Muslim north, murder and church burnings routinely occur, although such news often goes unreported in the media.
A Koma woman wearing a leaf skirt, dancing during a funeral ceremony in Wiwp.
The Nigerian media has covered an unlikely story: that of the primitive Koma people. This people group, which today numbers about 49,000, retreated into the Atlantika Mountains in the last half of the 1800s in an attempt (apparently successful) to avoid paying taxes to the British colonial government. They were thought to have died off until 1986, when a schoolteacher from India working for the government rediscovered this still-primitive people. The church has been doing outreach for the last 25 years, but less than 5 percent of the population is Christian, according to the Joshua Project.
This is where Mission: Nigeria took us. A return trip will be planned for late 2012 or early 2013. In the meantime, Chris will occasionally be sent to the Koma Hills from his church in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in Nigeria’s Christian south. He is willing to go.
Moses, left, and Lazarus guiding us in the Koma Hills.
God has provided us with indigenous workers — Chief Moses, his son Moses, and young Moses’ friend Lazarus — to bring in the harvest. Together with Holy Spirit power we will take a stand in the Koma Hills.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” — Ephesians 6:13 (NIV)