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Enduring traffic snarls and finding joy in Nigeria’s crucible of faith

LAGOS, Nigeria — I’ll never complain about traffic in Oklahoma — or Dallas, or Atlanta, or Los Angeles — again.
Diesel fumes mix with dust as we sit motionless in the worst snarl I’ve ever seen, sandwiched between two monstrous trucks. Even the Nigerians on mopeds, who usually buzz through these slow-downs, can’t make much progress.
“We left Badagry super early,” I keep telling myself. It’s still hours before the flight that will take me back across the Atlantic, and one step closer to my wife and my 6-month-old daughter. We should make it with time to spare.
But nothing here is certain.
Nigeria may be the toughest place I’ll ever love. Though rich in oil revenues, millions of this country’s people live in poverty. Many look for a better life on the crowded streets in Lagos, resulting in traffic congestion that one Nigerian columnist compared to “a repugnant, cancerous sore that has defied all medical treatment.”
Criminals take advantage of the situation, robbing motorists at gunpoint, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon.
It happened just a few days ago to Biodun Owolabi, the director of West Nigeria Christian College and one of the organizers of Africans Claiming Africa for Christ — the conference I traveled to Badagry to attend. Robbers fired into gridlocked traffic, shattering his car’s window and hitting his hand. They took his money and left him bleeding in the street.
Biodun’s wife died a few years ago from cancer, making him a single dad. If it had been me, that robbery would have been my breaking point.
But Biodun went through the whole conference with a bandage on his wrist and a smile on his face.
That kind of optimism in the face of adversity overwhelms me whenever I visit Africa — especially Nigeria. This country is a crucible of faith. Time and again I’ve been amazed by the hospitality and generosity of people living in humble circumstances.
It’s like the entire brotherhood here adopted the first chapter of James as a personal mantra. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds …”
There is so much joy here. I see it in the eyes of Nigerians reunited with longtime friends from Ghana and Cameroon. I feel it in the embrace of brothers I’ve previously known only through e-mail and mission reports.
African Christians have great concern for the future of the church on their continent. The speakers at Africans Claiming Africa for Christ talk openly about the challenges — showing a servant’s heart in a patriarchal society, fostering a sense of mission for unreached countries, giving hope to young Christians while their friends are lured away by charismatic faiths promising worldly prosperity.
Most of the Africans laboring in the fields do so with little or no support from churches in the U.S. More and more, the support comes from African churches that, after years of interaction through conferences like this, have gained a sense of mission for their neighbors.
One of the most impressive examples to me is Douglas Boateng, a church elder and adept businessman from Ghana. He sets up stores that sell fishing supplies, and he puts dedicated Christians in charge of those stores. Through his efforts, Christians have launched new congregations in countries across West Africa. Now he’s preparing to do the same in Equatorial Guinea.
Even the conference itself displays the African Christians’ enduring spirit. Whenever the power goes out (and it happens a lot) the organizers calmly open windows and hook the microphone to a generator. All the while, the audience sits silently, concentrating on the speaker’s every word.
I try to model that endurance as the Lagos traffic moves by the inch. Eventually it clears, and through the haze we catch a glimpse of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
We arrive with plenty of time to spare. Now I’m one 12-hour flight away from Atlanta, where I’ll catch a plane for Oklahoma.
It will take a few days to get used to not sleeping under a mosquito net.
It will take a lifetime to learn the lessons of endurance and joy I’ve witnessed here.

Filed under: Insight

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