Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 7 – Sunday

So, Sunday.  Our 3rd and last Sunday in Nigeria.  At least for now.  The first 2 Sundays we were in churches here in Benin City – Miracle Center and Faith Arena.  We were able to get in touch with a long time friend Rev. Matthew Okpebholo who insisted that we come to his church in Uromi.  He’s the overseer of all of the churches in the Ishan area.  That would be Sunday #3.  We were more than happy to oblige!  We arrived there on Saturday to visit and if you read my past post, that day is very well documented.

Rev. Matthew is not only a pastor.  He is a Bishop – elect.  He is a business man.  And not just any business man.  A very hard working one.  It was  such a blessing to be around him.  He is an amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness.  This is a man that has proven God’s principles.  He has been faithful, is an extremely generous giver and practices what he preaches.  And God continues to bless him.  He has built a beautiful church, as you will see.  And this is the first church I’ve attended in Africa that has air conditioning.  I wasn’t sweating in church.  That is notable.

In addition to a beautiful church full of beautiful people, Rev. Matthew has built a beautiful home.  This is where we spent Saturday night.

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One of the sitting rooms.  Pictures of their 6 children on the right wall.

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Dining room.

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Another sitting room.

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I forgot to get pictures of our room, but it was equally lovely.  So in case anyone was still thinking we have been ‘suffering for the Gospel’ on our mission trip, think again.  We have been well taken care of wherever we’ve been.

After a great night, we were excited to get to church on Sunday morning.

On our way…(it was just down the road apiece)

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa Cathedral

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The church was dedicated in 2000 and has been growing ever since.  Tobi has developed an eye closing habit for pictures – maybe because he has to pose for so many!  He’s such a good sport about it.

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This is the lobby area.

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ItIMG_1141 enters into the church.

This is the children’s hall – it’s on the 2nd lIMG_1143evel.

Neal & I with Rev. Matthew – Tobi’s there too, and some other pastors.

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The choiIMG_1171r.

Neal is being introduced.  Rev. Matthew is talking about how we live in Niger – in the desert, where no one wants to go.  He is saying that Neal’s parents are still there working – and everyone cheered.

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So Neal got up and of course greeted them all in Pidgin which as always hits the people first with shock, then awe as they see this big white man sounding like a real Nigerian.

Neal is giving testimony of the honor he received in Emu the day before – about the traditional chief’s robe he was given.  He is saying how Daddy will want it, but he will tell him that he has to come back here for  himself and get his own.

The preaching begins…

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Such a fun crowd to speak to.

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Again, IMG_1186constant motion.

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The church is both big and beautiful.

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Beautiful architecture.

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Love the slope.

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Rev. Matthew was so excited about the message he stood up and helped Neal preach some of it!

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Praying for the people.

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I hope no one gets offended by this, but I thought it was a beautiful picture.  When Neal was done, Rev. Matthew came up and also wanted to pray for the people.  Neal’s message was about being mindful of the next generation.  So Rev. Matthew told of how he has noticed that sometimes when he prays for women, they hold their breasts.  They do this because whenever they receive prayer, they are also thinking of and wanting prayer for their children.  So he said, “As I’m praying for you, hold your breasts and pray for your children.”  Now I know how this would sound in an American Church, but it was so normal here.  No pretenses, no one twisting things into something they’re not.  Just a back to the basics way of having a point of contact for your children.   That’s what you see here.

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It was youth Sunday – which happens 1 Sunday a month.  So all the youth were called up to be prayed over.

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Here we are with Rev. & Mrs. Matthew Okpebholo.  They have 6 children and 8 grandchildren.

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After the service — the parking lot.

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There are 3 story buildings to the right and left of the church – being utilized for all different ministries in the church.

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This picture reminds of what Rev. Matthew said to me as we were chatting after the service  — Referring to Neal he said – “You have a great man.”  My reply?  “I know.”

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It was another fruitful day that brought us great joy.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 6 – Today was incredible!!

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!

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Uromi has 13 Church of God Mission (CGM) branch churches.  Amazing progress!  Here’ the first one we came across.

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Arriving in Uromi.

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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.

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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.

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Here’s the inside of the church.

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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.

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This was his classroom.  The door to the right is where Neal would work on his lessons while Dad was teaching.

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The very room Neal sat in as a 12 year old boy doing his school.

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The journey continues – deeper into the bush.

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This the ‘new’ school site.

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Can you imagine going to school with the jungle for a playground?

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Rev. Asuelimen giving us some history of how the school was burned down and is now being rebuilt.

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The journey continues… Neal was shocked at the development.  ‘Paved’ roads and electricity – neither of which were available in 1977.

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We press on to find Neal’s house…. Check out the solar street lights.

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There it is!

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The house Neal lived in 36 years ago.  In the middle of the jungle.

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Here Neal is explaining how the house seemed so much bigger when he was a kid.

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The family living there graciously let us look inside.

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One of Tobi’s ‘wonders’ was “How did Grama live here?”  Then he said, “Well, she was younger then.”

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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!  =)

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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.

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Here the road is being widened.  A lot.

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You can see the bridge/river in the distance.

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Closer

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Neal showing Tobi the road they used to use.  It’s pretty rough – and looks so small in the midst of such dense jungle.

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The small road is off to the left.

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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…

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River in the background.  I’m just seeing how tall Tobi is – and I’m wearing heels.

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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.

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Bamboo is everywhere.  And so useful.  We’re sitting on a bamboo bench.

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On the road again — on a search to find the homes of Neal’s childhood friends.

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Here Neal is expressing how amazed he is by the deepness of this ravine.

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It really was deep.  Guessing 100 feet?  Photo can’t do it justice.

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Here’s the ‘bridge’ to cross it.

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Heading further into the village.

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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.

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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.

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Here’s IMG_0992Neal 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.

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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!

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Tobi looks like he’s about to take on these bananas…or maybe use them for a weapon!

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Moving on, bananas in tow.

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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.

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Along the way I ‘found’ this beautiful baby – check out those eyes!

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Another Mom of one of Neal’s friends.

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She was so sweet!

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She was lovin’ her some Tobi!

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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.

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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.

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So imagine my surprise when we heard singing.

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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!

Beautiful music.

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!

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And a picture of the church.  Some of these people were probably with us today.

Ibviadan group

Ron & Jerry Childs (Dad & Mom)

Ron & Jerry

Dad in his office.

Ron in his office

Mom in her office.

Jerry in her office

Mom preaching.

Jerry preaches

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Graduation ANFCBI

Rev. Andrew Daniels (current director of the Bible School), Archbishop Benson Idahosa, Rev. Ron Childs (former director of the Bible School).

Andrew, Idadosa, Ron

Baby dedication in Faith Arena.

Baby dedication

Dad in front of Faith Arena with Archbishop Idahosa.

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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.                                                                             IMG_0869

Omobude, Idahosa, Coker

Praise in Lagos conference

Ron & Jerry in BC

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.

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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.

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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.

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What an honor!!!

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Here is Neal’s response.

As if that wasn’t enough, the children had also prepared a traditional dance for us.

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Here’s a quick clip so you can see for yourself.

They asked us to pray for them, which we did with great joy.

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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.

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Then the children.

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Then the youth.

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Then the women.

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Then the men.

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These men wanted to be sure we got a picture of them because they knew Mom and Dad would remember them.

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This is Rev. Asueliman and his wife Christiane, the Pastor and school principal who was married in this church by dad.

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This is Pastor Paul and Margaret, the current pastors of this church and organizers of this amazing program.  SO sweet.

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This lady is the same age as Neal’s sister, Sarah, and remembers playing with her.

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This is her adorable baby, Francis.

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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.

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All of them.

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Especially this one…

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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.

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It was time to return to Uromi to prepare for Sunday morning.

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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.

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It was such a pleasure to spend the afternoon with a new friend.

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We arrived back to Uromi before dinner time.

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Check out our diggs!

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More on that next time…

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 4 — the ‘What’

For quite some time now Neal has had a desire to spend some time in Nigeria – his home – and be a part of what is happening in Church of God Mission International, (CGMI) the ministry founded by the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa.

English: Papa's headshot
English: Papa’s headshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neal and his family moved to Nigeria in 1977 and were part of this  ministry for many years.  He’s always dreamed of preaching in Miracle Center and Faith Arena – the two churches he attended.   He also has had a passion to teach in the Bible School that his Dad was the principal  and director of for many years.  That dream has now become reality.

Tobi has been wanting to visit Nigeria for years.  Hard to believe but he’s never been.  He’s having a blast…

As for me, It’s been good to spend some extended time in my husband’s homeland.  The first time I met him we were at Oral Roberts University more than 24 years ago.  He struck me as a bush boy.  One could easily make that assumption when a tall, skinny white guy is heard speaking a language that has some English words in it, but doesn’t sound like English at all.  And when that same skinny guy is oohing and ahhhing over the sheer size of what was downtown Tulsa in 1989 as if it were New York City. That bush boy intrigued me.  I have been to Nigeria before and I have since learned many things about the people and things that have influenced Neal and made him the amazing person he is today.   But it’s been fun to spend some extended time here and to see him fit right back into this niche – even as an adult.

We have felt the Lord leading us to do more teaching on missions and church planting – and recently he’s been opening some doors for us.  This has been a great place to begin!

We arrived on Thursday, January 31st and got settled in.  Friday morning we did things like get SIM cards for our phones, get internet working, and get Neal’s teaching / preaching schedule nailed down.

Miracle Center is the church that Neal attended the most when he lived here.  He also lived on this compound.  The church is the building on the right.

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Here he’s showing Tobi where he lived.  The 2nd floor apartment.

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Neal was invited to preach at Miracle Center on our first Sunday.  So fun!

Here’s the choir.  They were great!

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And the congregation.  They were great too.

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Neal doing one of the things he loves doing most – preaching!

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Great message.  Great response.

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Lot’s of greeting after the service.  This is Bishop Imafidan.  He was the Principal of the secondary school that Neal’s Dad taught in when they first arrived in Nigeria in 1977.

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Bishop Imafidan is explaining to Tobi that he is the one that took his dad to the bush when they first arrived in Nigeria.  So sweet.

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Here’s Tobi and I after the service.

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Next on the schedule was the Bible School.  Neal is privileged to teach in several classes while here.  He’s teaching in the English class of course using English, the Hausa class using Hausa, the French class using an interpreter, and he’s also teaching  in the evening school and the degree class.  Those are in English.  He’s teaching missions/church planting to them all.  Tobi and I went with Neal on one of the days to meet and greet the students.  Here Tobi is greeting the Hausa class – in Hausa of course!

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My prayer has been that our time here would not be just about bringing inspiration, but that true revelation about God’s heart for the unreached would take root and produce fruit.

Neal in the Hausa class.

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We LOVED the chapel service.  Here the choir is singing.

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This is the song the choir sang.  No, those aren’t typos.  This is Pidgin English.  Love it!

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Wish everyone could experience this worship.

We showed our 5 minute video and the students really seemed to enjoy it – but their favorite parts were definitely those of Tobi dancing.  Here I am introducing the video.

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More of Neal preaching – Passion for His Purpose.    An amazing building to preach in.

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The section in front is the French section.  On the other side is the Hausa section.  They are getting interpretation.
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Neal asked for those who were ready to GO – to be passionate for His purposes- to come forward.

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God was speaking to hearts and we were rejoicing!

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This is Rev. Andrew Daniels who is the current director of All Nations For Christ Bible Institute International (ANFCBII).  Here he is praying for the students.

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With Rev. Andrew and Jenny Daniels.  They’re from the U.K. and came to Nigeria around the same time as Neal and his family.

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After chapel we joined the Daniel’s at their house for lunch.

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They’ve been in this same apartment for 30+ years.  Neal’s family lived above them and the layout is exactly the same.  This was Neal’s room – a floor below.

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That same evening, Tobi and I went to the evening class with Neal and greeted the students there too.  They love it when Neal speaks Pidgin English!

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The evening class takes place in the original building at the Miracle Center Compound.  The building above where chapel is held is in another location on the Benson Idahosa University compound.   That’s also where the English class (the largest class with several hundred students) is taught.

More evening class…

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Students concentrating.

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What a day it’s been.

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I’m going to end for now but before I do, I want to say a few words about the impact this ministry and bible school has had across Africa and literally around the world.  Neal’s parents, Ron & Jerry Childs, were an integral part of the Bible School here.  Anywhere you go in West Africa you will find ANFCBII graduates.  And dare I say you will likely find  All Nations graduates and ministry leaders from all of Africa and many other parts of the world.  And if you find grads of this school and you mention Rev. Ron Childs (said very fast), you will likely hear – ‘he was my principal in Bible school’.  The other day we met a pastor that was here visiting from Lagos, Nigeria.  When he found out who we were, he began telling us some specific things he learned from ‘Rev. Ron Childs’ that he uses in his ministry and marriage today.  Generation to Generation.

These pictures are up in the lobby of Faith Arena, showing the history of the ministry.  You can see Neal’s Dad in the middle of the bottom photo, standing to the left of Archbishop Idahosa.  Tobi was pretty proud.

Tobi with old photo

Here Neal is pointing to himself in this ancient picture – he wasn’t much older than Tobi is now.  His Mom and sister are in the picture too.

Neal with old photo

Next post will be more about our experiences while here.