Safe by God’s grace: Serving in Northern Nigeria
Nigeria Territorial Editor offers testimony of rising above fear to do God’s work.
By Eva Ekpendu, Major –
It was a very gloomy day on August 25, 2011, when my husband and I received our marching orders to the Northern District (now a division), as the district leaders. Earlier that year, there had been a bomb blast in Abuja where our headquarters was based. It happened during the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency and everybody was afraid of their menace. When the information of our new appointment came through, the thought of moving north made my family feel anxious.
I felt downhearted and depressed and many thoughts came to my mind. True, we would stay in relative safety at our place in Abuja, but our work would take us to six states in the Northern District and involve a lot of traveling, and I was worried for my husband who suffers from hypertension. What would happen if we met these people on our way to visit corps? Most of the corps and societies are situated in mixed communities with Christians and Muslims.
My initial response when the territorial commander called was, “No, sir!” After I made my thoughts known to him and shared my fears, he said: “The God who was with you in Abia District during the kidnapping season will still be with you in the Northern District and nothing will happen to you.” He prayed with us on the phone, and that prayer became a source of encouragement and energy, giving us the strength we needed to go.
It is not easy to work in the northern part of Nigeria. Shortly before our arrival in Abuja, Jos Central Corps was attacked and the officers’ quarters set on fire. Nothing was taken from the house, but fear gripped Salvationists. Many of them decided to worship where they lived and through this two new outposts were born, Apata (which is now a corps) and Rockhaven.
Others had the courage to stay and continued to worship at the central corps. In those days, during the service people would be watching through the doors and windows in case attackers should strike. Most of the streets where Muslims lived were blocked, and Christians were not allowed to pass through those areas. On Sundays, even in Abuja, all the churches engaged security personnel to screen people for weapons or bombs before they entered the gates of the church.
On December 25, 2011, a Catholic church at Madala, near Abuja, was bombed and many lives were lost. Also in 2012, we lost one of our Salvationists and his three children from Kano Corps. In all this and during our whole stay in the Northern District, God was with us. Salvationists engaged in aggressive prayer at all our corps and societies. We prayed day and night for God’s intervention. We proved the saying, “When fear knocks at the door, send faith to answer, and when you open, you will see that no one is there.”
Although many of our church members relocated from the north to more peaceful states in the country, we still made converts. Outposts were upgraded to societies and there was spiritual and numerical growth. The district was finally upgraded to a division in 2014.
God proved his faithfulness to us.
One Sunday, at Makurdi Corps, we enrolled senior soldiers and commissioned 10 local officers. On our way back to Abuja, as we climbed Akwanga hill, the vehicle’s clutch ceased to function properly and the car started moving backward. My husband and I started calling on God to help us control the car. Suddenly, the car started moving up the hill again and then abruptly stopped at the top. It was getting dark and we were stranded; the vehicle didn’t move forward or backward. Finally, as we waved at passing vehicles for help, one truck carrying cows stopped and willingly towed our car to Abuja. We were relieved and thankful to God when we reached the safety of our home that night.
It takes faith and the grace of God to work in Muslim states, especially in the northern part of Nigeria. Officers serving there and local Salvationists need your prayers, because we cannot predict what will happen any minute of the day. We stayed in that appointment for only two years, but God blessed our ministry and kept us safe, and I believe that other officers who work there will also be kept by God’s grace without any harm to them, their families or fellow Salvationists. I believe the will of God will never lead you to where his grace cannot keep you.
From The Officer
By Colonel Victor A. Leslie, Territorial Commander of the Nigeria Territory
Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, is the continent’s most populous country. It is a land where life has all the remnants of colonialism and militarism: social inequality, a wealthy ruling elite, a majority made up of working class poor and a congested infrastructure. World news reports speak of extremist groups like Boko Haram, widespread insecurity and instability, endemic crime and corruption, clashes over ethnicity and ethnocentrism which all contribute to the country’s state of turmoil. Nigeria is a nation where religion and politics collide, a community sharply divided by two major religions: Christianity and Islam.
Nevertheless, in the midst of these stories of conflict and confusion, there are positive realities.
Here, The Salvation Army is actively sowing seeds for a bright tomorrow and a healthy today in the hearts of the people of Nigeria, encouraging all to be no longer at ease with the state of affairs.
From The War Cry