Nigeria: Christian Hope and Love in the Midst of........ - Jerry Hogg

While in Nigeria I was reminded so many times of the terrible situation that our brothers in NT times had to deal with, from persecution to wickedness to cities & towns dedicated to a total disregard for doing what is right.  Even in Corinth, with its terrible history of wickedness, there was the "church in Corinth."

While I saw and heard of things in Nigeria that no country should ever be proud of, I also witnessed first-hand a church that had a strong sense of hope for the future, a loving spirit of fellowship, a determination to evangelize and to make a difference among their own people.  It was an absolute joy being part of the sweet fellowship that I experienced with the churches and at the school compound in a country that has been so torn asunder by so many things, even by the very thing that should bring hope...religion.  I saw  the "business" of religion everywhere, with every kind of church name that one could ever imagine.  There were even trucking companies, taxis and delivery vans or cars with the name of God or some type of religious motif being part of their name.

A good example of the Nigerian lifestyle (maybe this is true in other countires, as well) is what I saw on the flight to and from Nigeria.  During my return flight I kept watching a Nigerian gentleman who sat across from me on the airplane show disregard for the rules of flying.  The initial announcement was made for "all cell phones to be switched off" as the plane began the process of departing.  He kept using it.  A stewardess informed him that he must turn it off.  As she walked away, he continue using it.  He was told several times, but still his cell phone was left on.  Only when he was finally told with authority the cell phone MUST be turned off, did he finally accept their demands, and put it away.  Then, he began using another type of electronic piece of equipment.  The rule of law, or just doing the right thing regardless, has been replaced with, as we say in America, "doing your own thing."  Everyone is a law unto themselves!

Still, on the flight to and from Nigeria; with the sign clearly on, and the announcement made to "remain in your seat" for take off or landing, people continued to move around until a very harsh announcement was made to "remain in your seats."  Also, everyone was clearly told to make sure that all carry-on cases should safely be put away, many ignored the announcement, keeping their bags with them, in the floor or on a vacant seat  near-by.  When the plane landed in Lagos, and again in Atlanta, there was paper and litter everywhere on the plane.  Unbelievable!  It was a mess.  

While there was a disregard for doing what was right, the people of Nigeria were generally very friendly and helpful.  At the airport in Lagos and Owerri, everyone was very talkative and wantied to help in whatever way they could.  It was a real joy witnessing that from the general population of Nigeria.

But, more importantly, and that which stood out in my mind was the beautiful spirit of God's people.  Even though outside the fellowship of God's church, there were so many things WRONG, within the church there were so much that was RIGHT!  The students at the Bible School were just absolutely wonderful and dedicated to the Cause of the Lord.  One of the graduating students, selected to speak at their graduation service said, "I will neither forget nor fail to mention the love and championship that existed among the students, we lived together as one big family...the time devoted to prayers and fasting were especially of much benefit to us...however it was not all a bed roses, as we passed through very difficult times such as when there was not enough food...stressful task of going almost outside the premises to fetch water...not enough beds for students to lie on, as some are lyiing on the floor....in conclusion, we call on those who desire to work for Christ to enroll into the instution..."  In the face of their own difficulties as students, they were excited about taking their place along side of a number of several great evangelists in the country to help build a strong church and to preach God's message to their people.   

While it was scorching, extremely hot, with sweat running down my face even while I was waiting to speak, I would estimate that at least 500 Christians gathered for the Nigerian Institute of Arts and Theological Studies (NIATS) graduation ceremony.  Many were standing outside looking in for many hours.  During the graduation service, any number of church and school leaders spoke about the students and the need for more preachers, challenging everyone present to send at least one student to the school.  

While all around the school, there was the evidence of sin, a world controlled by Satan.  Behind the new school building there stood a burned-out, destroyed school building due to a serious conflict and battle with two groups of people that lived nearby in which the school was drawn into the war because the school property stood in-between the two warring villages.  But, now there is such a sweet spirit of fellowship that gives one a great measure of hope and assurance in spite of the conflict that did so much damage to the school, destroying buildings and closing it for a number of years.  In my mind, when the NIATS Board seriously requested that I make my home in one of the houses being remodeled on the compound of the Bible School and begin working with school , there was a measure of pride of being associated with such beautiful people.

During the week I spent in Nigeria, I spoke at the seminar arranged for preachers.  I spoke at least twice each day. The heat and humidity was as bad as I have experienced anywhere in the world.  But I could not wait until the next time to speak to these men because of their seriousness and love for preaching.  As so many knows, the audience often will make a sermon or lesson.  I can assure you that was the case with me during the seminar.  The preachers involvement in each lesson, their obvious acceptance of the ideas presented, and their appreciation for each lesson gave me the motivation, like the Everywhere bunny,  to "just keep going and going and going......"   

This past Sunday, I spoke at the congregation in Aba, Nigeria.  The scene just outside their meeting place was far from ideal with trash and filth everywhere, inside, it was the most wonderful array of God's people that truly expressed their love for the church, the Word, and their practice of sharing it with others.  There in the midst of a city where so many things were wrong, there was the "church in Aba."  This displayed a stark difference between the world of Aba and the church of Aba!  Even though Aba is not an ideal place to live, I could envision a Christian being there because of the hope generated by the church of our Lord.  The church is changing Aba one person at a time, replacing doom and gloom with hope and peace.  I preached to about 450-500 people, and, oh, did I enjoy it!  With an audience that is breeding such hope and assurance, one can "wax eloquently," going beyond what is expected of oneself.  

Leaving what is so wrong with the cities and villages of Nigeria and entering into the sweet fellowship of the church in Nigeria, whether it be a congregation, like Aba, or the preachers and those gathered for the graduation service at NIATS, there was a strong sense of hope.  Now, isn't that what Christianity all about?   

I look forward to returning to Nigeria, and that I will do, Lord willing.  Along with the Sunset leadership, we all truly believe that through our working together with our beloved Nigerian brethren, we will accomplish much for our Lord.   We will bring hope to a improvished nation.  Will our efforts to bring hope to Nigeria be totally realized during our life time, will it provide better roads, replace corruption, clean up the Nigerian cities, cause the people to work together to bring about peace instead of fighting, will it give more stability within the country, cause the people to always do the right thing regardless of who does wrong or increase the economical situation with its people?  Probably not!  But it will give that blessed hope to those we can touch and will make a difference to many others as it has already has with 1000's who have been touched with the gospel.  In addition, it places eternal life within the heart of every Christian.  It replaces frustration and hopelessness with a joy of knowing that God is real in a world that has totally gone astray.  

Please pray for our efforts to bring hope to Africa.  It can be done.  I know it can be done.  I have seen it with my own eyes....and heart.  When everything is totally falling apart all around you, like in Nigeria,  to be part of a fellowship with the Lord's people within that structure or maybe a lack of it, then one can truly say.....LET US MOVE FORWARD WITH THE GOSPEL OF HOPE.

Love you,
Jerry

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