Lagos Nigeria, June 28-July 3
This is my fourth visit to Lagos. It is a sprawling city on the western coast of Nigeria with a population of just over twenty million. It is the economic and cultural heart of the most populous country in Africa. This is a very religious city, with a church on almost every corner. Most of the billboards advertise various churches. The form of Christianity here is prosperity gospel, with a charismatic flavor. The traffic here is legendary, but it is not a legend: It is true. However, I see many improvements from my past visits. Drivers have begun to obey traffic laws and the streets are in much better condition. The government here is very corrupt, but it is good to see that things have at least turned in a better direction. Of course, Nigeria is going through a very troubled time with the battle against Boko Haram militants, but this fighting is far away in the north of the country, where Islam is the dominant religion. The dominant religion in the south is Christianity.
The church I am visiting has 1800+ members and four elders. They have begun a ministry training program for the campus and singles across Western Africa, with thirty or so making a three year commitment for training and teaching. It is very gratifying to see the church planning for the future in this way. My closest friends here, of course, are the teachers Fred George and Gilbert Kimeng. I am met at the airport by Fred. He and his wife Titi lead a region here, oversee several other churches in Nigeria and he leads the ministry training program. They are very busy. I travel from the airport directly to a midweek meeting of the Ikeja region for a class on Daniel. The traffic, not surprisingly, is very tough and we arrive after the meeting has begun. Welcome to Africa. I love it.
On Thursday, I have some time to rest, followed by a midweek devotional on "The Island." This is the business district of Lagos. I taught a class on Living by Faith from Hebrews to about 200.
Friday is a busy day, as I teach a class for the staff of the church and the School of Ministry students on Answering the Hard Questions (the trinity, the question of evil, of suffering, of warfare in the Old Testament and the question of hell). The questions afterward show very deep thought on these theological questions. Interaction with Muslims flavors the questions. Afterward, I have a lunch with Chris and Rolayo Ogbonaya, the lead evangelist couple for the church. We have great conversation about our dreams for the churches in Africa. Chris has a very interesting lunch. He tells me that it is cow skin. I ask, "do you mean you are eating leather?" He answers, "I guess so." "How is it?" "A bit chewy." "Not surprising," I respond.
This is followed by a discussion with the four elders of the Lagos Christian Church. The church here is really blessed to have four spiritual and mature elders who have great zeal for God's church. They are Israel Ereola, Omo Iyamu, Omagbe Igbinoba, and Frank Okoduah. Their concern is for the spiritual growth of the churches in Nigeria. They could use more interaction with elderships outside of Nigeria. The idea of doing an exchange of elders comes up. This would be a good idea. From this meeting, I travel directly with Titi George to a midweek meeting in the Shomolu-Mushi region, northwest of the city. They have rented land and put up a large tent for a meeting place. This is a bit of a unique experience for me. I speak to a very enthusiastic crowd of over 200 on Freedom in Christ. The singing here is so inspiring, with dancing and intricate clapping. It is hard to describe.
Saturday included a class for the Bible group leaders on Acts and Church History and on Life in Christ. There were about 300 in attendance, which his very impressive for leaders of a church to come out all day Saturday. From there, we hurry to the airport. I am flying with Fred George to Port Harcourt.
Port Harcourt, July 1-3
Port Harcourt is the largest city in the Niger Delta region, which is in the southeast of the country. This is the center of the petroleum industry, which is the principle industry of Nigeria. Great wealth is taken from the ground here, but there is little evidence of this from seeing how the people live. This injustice explains why there has been so much political unrest in this part of the country, with much crime, kidnappings, guerilla attacks and the like. The problem has been much improved more recently, as the government has begun to invest in the people here. Security has improved somewhat.
As evidence of the security problem, Fred and I are escorted from the airport in a military police truck, with a machine-gun toting soldier, lights flashing and siren wailing. This is a unique experience for me, but apparently it was felt such security measures were justified.
Port Harcourt is a city of 2.3 million inhabitants. The people here are very friendly. Nigeria is the most religious country I have been in and Port Harcourt is the most religious city I have visited. There are two or three churches on every street, and almost all of the billboards (of which there are a lot!) advertise one or another church teaching the prosperity gospel. The "Bible Belt" has nothing on this city!
The church that we are visiting is led by Kemi Olufowobi and his wife Enneka. There are a bit over 110 members. By the time I arrive, the church here has already spent Friday evening and all day Saturday in a study of the book of Romans, taught by my good friend Gilbert Kimeng. On Sunday, the building is packed to the back, with some standing outside, which is just a bit of a problem because of torrential rains. I preach on discipleship from Deuteronomy 8. After two and one-half hour church, we have a short break for lunch, but due to the rain, there was no lunch provided. Despite the fact that most had had no lunch and everyone was hungry, we had two and one-half more hours of teaching on Jesus in the Old Testament, plus many questions and answers. Overall, the service lasted almost six hours. There is clearly a great hunger for God's word here. Several traveled many hours from other churches in the southwest of Nigeria, including Calabar, Uyo and Yenagoa. The worship is so energetic and the singing so inspiring it is hard to describe. I strongly encourage you to consider visiting one of our sister churches here in Nigeria. Perhaps you can stay for a while to support the work here. You will be encouraged. Kemi says, "please send your teachers, elders and campus leaders to help our church."
Monday is another day of the Bible workshop here in Port Harcourt. Most of the church is back again for three more hours of teaching. Tomorrow we will be up early to return to Lagos.
Lagos, July 4
I am up at 5:00 AM for a flight, along with Fred George, back to Lagos. In the evening I teach for the Island region midweek service on the Role of the Holy Spirit. This is something they have not heard much about before. Mostly they have heard what the Holy Spirit does not do, rather than what he does do. Tomorrow I am off for Douala, Cameroon. It has been great re-connecting with friends here in Nigeria and helping to encourage the churches in this country.
Well, it did not work out that way. My flight was cancelled and I am forced to spend one more day in Lagos. Thanks to Gilbert Kimeng for teaching my class for the church in Douala.
Douala and Bamenda, Cameroon July 5-10
This is my second visit to Cameroon. This is a principally-French-speaking country east and south of Nigeria. Of all the countries I have been in, this may well be the happiest. It is a beautiful country—quite poor and underdeveloped, yet this is a very fertile land, with plenty of food and a laid back attitude toward life. The population of Cameroon is 25 million, which is just slightly more than the city of Lagos alone. Douala has five million of those inhabitants. It is the principle financial city and the port of the country, but not the capital.
I was supposed to teach for the church in Douala on Wednesday, but Gilbert had to take my place because my flight was cancelled. This is just part of life when you travel in Africa. I arrive one day late. I am met by Raymond, the leader of the church here in Douala, as well as his mother and Gilbert Kimeng. We drive immediately to Bamenda for an all-Cameroon conference. Bamenda is a city of three hundred thousand in the mountains north of Douala, close to Nigeria. It, along with Limbe, is in the English-speaking part of Cameroon. The drive to Bamenda is eight hours. We start by passing mile after mile of plantations of rubber trees, palm oil and bananas. The government here has had a wise policy on agriculture. The people more than feed themselves, and make significant foreign currency selling these cash crops. After three hours, we enter the mountains, having driven past 14,000 foot Mt. Cameroon. We spend hours driving through countryside which has only a very small population. We finally arrive in Bamenda at 1:00 in the morning, welcomed by delicious cabbage stew and rice.
At Bamenda I am blessed to meet my good friend Michael Burns and his son Elijah. He, like me, is on a teaching tour through Africa, having been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. We have a lot in common. On Friday we travel to the palace of the local king of the Bafu tribe. This is the king of the area who was displaced by the Germans when they took Cameroon as a colony in 1901-1907. The tour of the palace is fascinating. The people here practiced human sacrifice. They were fierce warriors who also were big in the slave trade. Their current king is more or less a figurehead, but he does act as an adviser to the people. He has 48 wives and more than 140 children. Our tour is led by one of his wives. Very interesting.
We race back to Bamenda for the afternoon and evening classes. The leaders of the four churches in Cameroon are here. They are Bamenda, Limbe, Douala and Yaounde. One interesting feature of this conference is that a bit over half are French-speaking and a bit less than half are English-speaking. All talks must be translated, either from or into French. Gilbert teaches a lesson from Philippians 1 on unity, Michael a lesson from Philippians 2 on Christ-likeness, and I do a class on Freedom in Christ.
On Saturday the general conference begins. There are many lessons, including one on Race, Culture and Christianity by Michael Burns. I do a class on Philippians 3. In the afternoon there are soccer games for men and for women. This is the national sport. The US and Cameroon are on about an equal level internationally in this sport. I am having a few stomach problems today, which is par for the course, but not enough to slow down. Sunday is worship time. The singing includes dancing and great enthusiasm, which is the African way. I give a class on Daniel, translated by Gilbert Kimeng. After this we have the eight-hour drive through stunning mountains and rain forest back to Douala for a great meal of fish with Raymond and Gilbert.Today I am off for Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. There is much need here in Cameroon. Raymond tells me that they would love to have one or two come here for the One Year Challenge. I heartily agree. What an adventure and opportunity to serve Christ it would be. The requirements? A zeal to share the gospel, a little knowledge of French (one year at the university would be sufficient) and a willingness to adapt to a culture very different from your own. Please consider this plea.