It was a journey that would take 3 full days of driving. It was a journey that would take us to Neal’s childhood home. It was a journey that would take Tobi to Nigeria for the very first time. It was a journey that would take me back to the first time I ever left the US – with a 9 week old Trae in tow. It is a journey that God placed on our heart nearly 2 years ago. It’s a journey that we are believing we will place the passion to preach the Gospel to all people in the hearts of many.
We departed Niamey on Monday, January 28th. We left our home packed up for a 4 week trip. First stop was Maradi where we had our Annual Pastor’s Meeting. It was an encouraging time of hearing testimonies from our pastors about what God did in 2012, and of pouring forth vision for the upcoming year. Every year it’s bigger and better because there are more pastors and more mature churches.
Here’s the annual photo of some amazing men that God has raised up. They are all pastoring churches in Niger.
January 30th we hit the road at 6:30am. The sun was just coming up. You can see our trusty Google instructions on the dashboard.
The border from Maradi to Nigeria is only about 30 minutes away. We arrived on the Niger side just after 7. There is no electricity there so inside the immigration ‘building’ it was still a bit dark. The customs official there held a flashlight in his mouth while he wrote down all our passport information in his book. I was sorely tempted to take pictures but resisted the urge. It’s possible I’d be writing this from jail if I hadn’t exercised self control.
The difference between the Niger and Nigeria borders was drastic. For those who don’t travel much, when you leave one country and enter another, you must have your passport stamped with an exit stamp when you leave. You have to have all your car papers and other various documents in order to be allowed to leave. Then you drive through ‘no-man’s land’ which can sometimes be miles long. In our case, however, you can see the Nigeria side from the Niger side. When you arrive into the next country you again go through all the official steps to be ‘checked in’. The 2 sides are drastically different. As I mentioned, there is no electricity on the Niger side. The immigration offices are few, small and sparse. The officials are friendly and quiet and basically do their job. You don’t get the impression that they are trying to cook up some way to get something from you. They are dressed in simple uniforms and most were wearing flip-flops. There was one official there who was practicing his English and stood there saying ‘New York, San Francisco, Rockefeller’. I think he was just trying to come up with any English he had learned. He enjoyed practicing with Tobi.
In spite of having our information all hand-written, the process took only about 15 minutes on the Niger side – including our car documents.
Next stop – Nigeria. Not only was there electricity, there were several big fancy buildings outfitted with air-conditioning. One man directed us one way. We got out of the car and locked it up. Another man told Neal that no, he would have to move the vehicle. Which he did – about 3 feet… There were many officials and they were all very welcoming and very loud. They were dressed in snazzy uniforms with trim – I’m sure the ‘trim’ had purpose and meaning, I just didn’t know what it was. Their feet were outfitted with shiny black dress shoes.
First stop was to fill out more paperwork. One form for each of us to to complete with our life histories. Not really, but it was getting redundant. After that, several people directed us in several different directions – all at the same time. At first, Tobi and I were told that we could wait in the vehicle while Neal finished up the paperwork for that. Then they discovered that Tobi spoke Hausa and I think they invented ways to keep us there longer so they could talk with him. I was sent to one building with passports to have some more stuff written down. Neal was sent to another building for vehicle stuff. And Tobi – well, we’re not sure where he was. But a great thing about Nigerians is that they love kids so we weren’t the least bit concerned. We knew he was in good hands. And he loved it. Again, I would have been able to get some classic pictures, but had I taken them it’s possible that neither they, nor my camera would have survived to tell the story. So you’ll have to use your imagination. It was all quite colorful. Forty-five minutes later we were on our way.
It’s kind of funny that in spite of the fact that we’ve had some crazy things happen while living in Niger – and that right now there’s stuff going on there since we’re part of the war in Mali, I’m actually more intimidated by traveling in Northern Nigeria. I don’t exactly know why. I didn’t realize how stressed I must have been until we arrived at our destination in Abuja. I was aching, and my body temperature was all over the place. I’ve learned that my body processes stress in weird ways. I usually don’t even recognize I’m stressed until the stressor is over and my body relaxes – and reacts!
I got a bit more ‘daring’ with my camera after we were through the borders, but was always ready to hide it as we came upon the many, many police checkpoints. Actually, with all going on in the world these days, we can be thankful for those checkpoints. And for the most part, they went smooth.
There was one thing that was always consistent among the police and soldiers. They were ALWAYS friendly and welcoming. And most were legitimately checking our passports/visas. We are aware and prepared for those who see us and see dollar signs written all over us. We know that you are required to travel with a fire extinguisher and triangle and to wear seat belts. At one particular stop after the friendly greeting they asked if we had an extinguisher. Of course we said with a big smile as we produced it. Good. What about a triangle? Certainly! Good. Now then, what about your ‘road rule book’. What? Seriously? Yep. You are required to travel with it. I’m sitting in the car going ‘you’ve GOT to be kidding me!’ Which is why I was in the car and Neal was outside talking with them. He knows how to talk to Nigerians. He kind of is one. So I hear things like ‘turn around’, ‘impound your vehicle’. Then the ‘supervisor’ comes over. Neal then plays the “Pastor Card”. “I’m a pastor”, he says. “Oh”, says the supervisor. “Well, just do ‘something’ for them”. They have to save face you know. We brought with us some of our 2013 Planners that are given to the ministry every year by Kingdom Life Fellowship in Richlands, NC. We had just passed them out to everyone at the annual meeting and we brought some with us for ‘such a time as this’. Neal leans in the car and tells me to get some planners out. “How many”, I ask. He said 2 or 3. Then I hear a booming voice say, “We are 4 in number”. Alrighty then. Four it is.
They were all smiles as we drove away.
All the other checkpoints were pretty basic and legit. Just had one funny soldier ask us if we had a puppy for him. Seriously. A puppy.
Nigeria is 50% Christian and 50% Muslim. Mainly, the Muslims are in the North and the Christian’s in the South. Though there were quite a few churches/ministries along our way, there were still more mosques. There is definitely a difference though in the Niger Muslim and the Nigerian Muslim. They carry the influence of their own cultures. We found the Nigerian’s to be so friendly – rambunctious even. We had to stop for directions multiple times and every time there were so many people looking to help us and vigorously showing us the way. Many even said, “Shall I take you there?”
Speaking of directions, Neal had diligently looked up and printed out Google maps and directions for our trips. But an FYI – don’t depend on Google to get you through Nigeria. The maps were helpful though to show us what towns/villages were upcoming. Then we would ask if we were on the right track for the next town. And so it went.
We always enjoy traveling to places where the language is English. But all 3 of us discovered that we also enjoyed that the English was mixed with Hausa, our ‘other’ language. According to Neal it was ‘delightful’. Yep, he really said that.
We also really enjoyed stopping along the way and talking with the old Hausa men. They’re just fun guys.
I’m going to end this blog with pictures from the first day of our journey.
There were TONS of trucks on the road. They’re painted with all kinds of stuff. On of my favorites is ‘Horn before overtaking’
4 lane ‘highway’!
Mosques are prevalent in Northern Nigeria.
It was so nice to see some road signs – there weren’t many! Made us appreciate driving in the US. Of course with lots of road signs we wouldn’t have had as many opportunities to talk to the cool old Hausa guys.
Traffic started to pick up.
That’s a real rock – not just a funny image in the photo. It was a really dusty (cool) day.
It’s a really, really big rock. Those are some decent sized houses in front of it.
Such variety on the road…
The sign by these houses was ‘This is a Housing Scheme’. Thought that was funny.
The city of Kaduna. A part of the city we ought not to have seen…but we won’t go there.
Here’s where we had lunch. It was a fuel station in Zaria called “Al Mochtar Restaurant” Rice, spicy red stew, beans, salad and coke for $3 each. Loving us some Nigerian food!
Eleven long hours later we arrived in the Capital City of Abuja – our home for the night. But arriving and finding our hotel were very different things…We got smart when we saw the massiveness of the city and realized our Google map was googly glop. We hired this taxi #3877 to take us to our hotel. It was $6 VERY well spent!
Another Mosque… the sun is almost set.
Our home for the night. A Nigerian friend of ours and supporter of our ministry not only made arrangements for our night here – he also paid for our stay and left a food credit for us to eat. Such a HUGE blessing! Thank you Sola.
It was so wonderful to arrive. SO wonderful. We thank God for answered prayer and I was thankful to know that so many were praying for our journey. That fact came to mind quite a few times along the way.
Part 2 soon…