We have had an incredible weekend. It was so amazing that I will have to dedicate one post to Saturday and one post to Sunday. I have included tons of pictures and even video – as pictures alone can’t tell the story. We made plans to visit the town of Uromi and the village of Emu this weekend. That’s the area Neal lived in when he first came to Nigeria – the bush. We left at 9am for the 2 hour journey. Can’t hate the drive with scenery like this!
Uromi has 13 Church of God Mission (CGM) branch churches. Amazing progress! Here’ the first one we came across.
Arriving in Uromi.
Rev. Matthew Okbebholo is a long time family friend and the leader of all the churches in this region. He visited us when we lived in Michigan and ministered in our church there. He arranged for a couple of his pastors to take us around to visit Neal’s old stomping grounds. We were first met by Rev. Godspower, who I remembered from our visit here in 1991. Love to see that fruit! He’s a regional pastor, is now married and has 2 children.
While catching up with him, Rev. Asuelimen and his wife Christiane arrived to ‘escort’ us. What a great surprise. He was a teacher in the school Neal’s Dad taught in when they came to Nigeria in 1977. That’s actually how they got into the country back then – with the government as a teacher. Neal immediately remembered him. He immediately reminded us that Neal’s Dad had married them. He now has 5 children – from 14 – 25 years old. Right after asking about Neal’s parents, he asked about his sisters, Sarah and Julie by name.
Our first stop was at the CGM church he is pastoring.
Here’s the inside of the church.
Next stop was to visit the old ‘temporary’ school. It still carries that name for identification – since a new school was built. This is where Neal’s Dad started as a Chemistry teacher.
This was his classroom. The door to the right is where Neal would work on his lessons while Dad was teaching.
The very room Neal sat in as a 12 year old boy doing his school.
The journey continues – deeper into the bush.
This the ‘new’ school site.
Can you imagine going to school with the jungle for a playground?
Rev. Asuelimen giving us some history of how the school was burned down and is now being rebuilt.
The journey continues… Neal was shocked at the development. ‘Paved’ roads and electricity – neither of which were available in 1977.
We press on to find Neal’s house…. Check out the solar street lights.
There it is!
The house Neal lived in 36 years ago. In the middle of the jungle.
Here Neal is explaining how the house seemed so much bigger when he was a kid.
The family living there graciously let us look inside.
One of Tobi’s ‘wonders’ was “How did Grama live here?” Then he said, “Well, she was younger then.”
Neal pointing out where his room was. Though there was no electricity, they had a generator that ran from 6 – 10 every night. Tobi’s question for Dad was, “Didn’t you get hot sleeping without even a fan?” My our kids are spoiled! =)
Here Tobi and Neal are talking about the house.
Just before we left there was a rousing chorus of one of the songs Neal learned when he lived here. I knew it too because he’s been singing it for years.
Now the drive to the river where Neal used to walk or ride his bike.
Here the road is being widened. A lot.
You can see the bridge/river in the distance.
Neal showing Tobi the road they used to use. It’s pretty rough – and looks so small in the midst of such dense jungle.
The small road is off to the left.
The last picture we have on this bridge is of Neal holding a 10 week old Trae and a village of children walking with us. The picture is poster sized and hanging in our dining room – it’s a classic. A few years have passed since then…
River in the background. I’m just seeing how tall Tobi is – and I’m wearing heels.
The river is always a source of life – and as I thought about it represents eternal life. After all these years the same river is still flowing. No wonder Jesus used rivers as examples.
Bamboo is everywhere. And so useful. We’re sitting on a bamboo bench.
On the road again — on a search to find the homes of Neal’s childhood friends.
Here Neal is expressing how amazed he is by the deepness of this ravine.
It really was deep. Guessing 100 feet? Photo can’t do it justice.
Here’s the ‘bridge’ to cross it.
Heading further into the village.
While walking a woman saw us and ran up shouting Neeya! Neeya! She was so excited to see Neal and asked about his mom and dad and sisters by name.
In fact check it out on video!
Here we’re visiting the home of Neal’s friends. They weren’t there, but their dad was still there and of course remembered Neal.
Here’s Neal and his friend’s Dad.
When we were leaving, Neal was noticing a type of tree that we have in Niger – but SO much bigger.
The generosity of Nigerians is seen again when before we left this home they cut down 2 big banana stalks for us to take home. They are yummy!
Tobi looks like he’s about to take on these bananas…or maybe use them for a weapon!
Moving on, bananas in tow.
The jungle makes me feel so small! I so enjoyed walking through this village and visiting with such vibrant people. I really love being around Nigerians, but the people in the villages – well, they’re just real. Hard to explain except you experience it for yourself.
Along the way I ‘found’ this beautiful baby – check out those eyes!
Another Mom of one of Neal’s friends.
She was so sweet!
She was lovin’ her some Tobi!
See for yourself.
At end you can hear this man say ‘na dis be you piking?’ when he points to Tobi. He’s asking ‘is this your son?’ Neal replies – ‘Yes, this is my 3rd child’, and you hear everyone say ‘ahhhhhh’.
Rev. Asuelimen told us at the beginning of our adventure that we would end up at the Emu church that Neal attended – the church where Neal’s Dad married he and his wife Christiane – the couple that now has 5 nearly grown children. Here’s the signboard for the church.
I vaguely remember him saying something about fellowshipping with some people there but had forgotten that when we finally drove up to the church. It was about 2:30pm. I thought we were going to see the church and take some pictures of them in front of the church they were married in.
So imagine my surprise when we heard singing.
And then saw all these people emerging from the church, all smiles. It took me a second or two to realize they were singing to welcome us. Wow!
We walked into the filled church – many had been waiting since morning for our arrival. It was quite a humbling experience as they ushered us to the front shaking our hands and hugging us. Pastor Asueliman then explained that they wanted to have a fellowship as the people wanted to honor us. Some had been there when Neal was a boy and remembered Neal and his family. Which got me thinking. At first I began to wonder how they could remember Neal, since he’s obviously changed just a tad since he was 12. But then I thought – how could they not remember? I suspect there has been no other white family living in that village before or since they were there. They made an impact. The family of Ron & Jerry Childs has made an imprint in that village that will never be forgotten. Their testimony continues. And it was so incredible to see especially in light of the word Neal has been preaching in the churches here – being ‘Next Generation Minded’. What a picture of that they are. As I’ve said before, everywhere we go Neal’s parents are mentioned. And people don’t just ask how they are. They tell us specific things that they did or taught them that they still remember or live by today. Now that’s fruit that remains!
I just happen to have a few pictures of ‘the old days’ – of the seeds being sown.
Check out this family picture – right here in Emu!
And a picture of the church. Some of these people were probably with us today.
Ron & Jerry Childs (Dad & Mom)
Dad in his office.
Mom in her office.
Rev. Andrew Daniels (current director of the Bible School), Archbishop Benson Idahosa, Rev. Ron Childs (former director of the Bible School).
Baby dedication in Faith Arena.
Dad in front of Faith Arena with Archbishop Idahosa.
In the bottom picture the man on the right of Dad is Rev. Omobude, whom we visited last week. Here he is on Neal’s left.
What a legacy!
To Dad’s left are Archishop Idahosa and Rev. Coker, both who were at our wedding in 1989.
Now. Back to today…
First they asked Neal to preach. Which he happily did.
When he finished, the three of us sang a song for them in Hausa.
Then they explained that they had a gift, a very small gift that they wanted to give, to help us remember them. Here they are opening it in front of Neal.
This was no small gift! It was the traditional wear of a chief – a beautiful woven blanket. And I mean beautiful! They draped it on Neal (it’s traditionally worn without a shirt under it), but we opted to be a bit untraditional and leave his clothes on. They said he was their honorary chief and that he had to come back.
What an honor!!!
Here is Neal’s response.
As if that wasn’t enough, the children had also prepared a traditional dance for us.
Here’s a quick clip so you can see for yourself.
They asked us to pray for them, which we did with great joy.
It was such an incredible and unexpected time. I noticed my cheeks were sore. For a quick second I wondered why, then I realized it was because I hadn’t stopped smiling.
After the prayer time there was a major photo shoot outside. The pastor even brought a photographer! He used my camera to take some pictures too.
First was with the Pastors.
Then the children.
Then the youth.
Then the women.
Then the men.
These men wanted to be sure we got a picture of them because they knew Mom and Dad would remember them.
This is Rev. Asueliman and his wife Christiane, the Pastor and school principal who was married in this church by dad.
This is Pastor Paul and Margaret, the current pastors of this church and organizers of this amazing program. SO sweet.
This lady is the same age as Neal’s sister, Sarah, and remembers playing with her.
This is her adorable baby, Francis.
Then there was Tobi. He was somewhat of a celebrity. And it’s hard to say what he thought about it, but all the girls wanted pictures with him.
All of them.
Especially this one…
It was time to leave and many goodbyes and God Bless You’s were said, with promises to return. On our way Asueliman took us by the house he grew up in. It really has a cool colonial feel.
It was time to return to Uromi to prepare for Sunday morning.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is how humid it is for us. Coming from dry season in the desert we were constantly dripping. But it was a good drip. However we were thankful that Asueliman stopped for some refreshments on our way back – he insisted we get some drinks. I was just going to share something with Tobi or Neal but he shoved a carton of juice into my hand. I must say, warm and all, it was incredible! Nothing like rehydrating after a hike through the jungle.
It was such a pleasure to spend the afternoon with a new friend.
We arrived back to Uromi before dinner time.
Check out our diggs!
More on that next time…