Professors share a father, a Savior and a campus
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Uduak Afangideh and Idongesit Mkpong-Ruffin have much more in common than names that are difficult for their students to pronounce.
The Nigerian natives are professors at Faulkner University, a 3,200-student university associated with Churches of Christ.
They are daughters of Okon Mkpong, an influential leader among Churches of Christ in West Africa. He launched Nigerian Christian Institute, which includes a school of preaching, a medical center, a high school and a university-affiliated program.
The sisters earned bachelor’s degrees from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., and master’s degrees from Tennessee State University.
Both earned doctorates in 2007, but in different fields — and on different continents.
Afangideh studied genetics and plant breeding at the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Since 2008, she has served as a professor in the department of natural and physical sciences at Faulkner. She organized Faulkner’s first Research Day to showcase scholarly research conducted by Faulkner’s faculty and students. She attends the Landmark Church of Christ in Montgomery.
Mkpong-Ruffin earned her doctorate from Auburn University in computer science and software engineering. She is a professor and chair of the computer science department at Faulkner. A group of her students recently won fourth place in a national computer-coding contest sponsored by AT&T. She attends the Holt Street Church of Christ in Montgomery.
How did you come to study at a Christian university in the U.S.?
Afangideh: Our father was one of the first Nigerian Christians to come to the United States to study at a Christian university — with the goal of going back to Nigeria to make a difference for our people. He attended Freed-Hardeman and Lipscomb before obtaining a master’s in education administration and returning to Nigeria.
He discovered the benefits of Christian education and subsequently all of his children attended Christian colleges.
After graduating from Freed-Hardeman and from TSU, I returned to Nigeria, got married, worked there and started a family. When our daughter was ready for college in 2008, we knew she also had to attend a Christian university. The Lord led us to Faulkner where she was admitted, and I secured employment as a biology professor.
Since coming to the U.S., what has challenged your faith most?
Afangideh: My most recent challenge was the kidnapping of our father in 2010. We had seen him serve the Lord all our lives. When kidnappings of public figures became a major issue in 2007, Daddy constantly told us not to worry about him, that God was taking care of him. When he was kidnapped and held hostage for 12 days by mercenaries, it was difficult for us to deal with it, especially when we didn’t know if he would be released alive or not.
Mkpong-Ruffin: Our mom died a week after our father’s release, probably a result of the stress from that. The following day my husband’s mom had a stroke and had to move in with us, with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Then we had a child with a chronic illness.
How have you coped with those challenges?
Afangideh: I learned that faith is truly the evidence of things not seen, for we had to trust God that Daddy would be okay, even when everything was pointing to the opposite.
Mkpong-Ruffin: Knowing that God is always with us and trusting in his providential care, we can do no less than to depend on him. We don’t know how people without God make it through their storms. As long as we stay in him, we are safe, and he is able to carry us through.
I trust in the fact that nothing happens to me without the consent of my Father in heaven, and this gives me strength to handle anything that comes my way.
How have you used these experiences to work with college students?
Afangideh: As young adults, students deal with challenges every day, and my experiences help me encourage them to trust in God despite difficult circumstances, to realize that God is faithful and will always make a way when it seems there is no way — and to believe that faith is not really faith until it is tested.
Mkpong-Ruffin: Our experiences allow us to sympathize and show empathy to our students as they try to make it through their difficult situations. It allows us to share with confidence that God is able to carry them through — if they choose to be his and depend on him.
What involvement do you have today with the church in Nigeria?
Afangideh: Our father started Nigerian Christian Institute, which includes a school of preaching, a secondary school and a two-year college, more than 30 years ago. In 2003, my husband and I started a Christian secondary school in the neighboring state.
Being involved in Christian education provides the opportunity to influence Nigerians in a positive manner. Although we moved to the United States in 2008, we go to Nigeria regularly so that we can remain connected to the people there.
Mkpong-Ruffin: We go home every opportunity that we have. We work with local congregations in various ways by teaching, working with youth groups, ladies’ lectureships and whatever.
With Nigerian Christian Institute, we’ve been able to be a part of the whole process of things that are going on. Would I like to be able to do more? Definitely. But there are constraints. Do we support the work there? Yes.
What does the church in Nigeria need?
Afangideh: A whole lot of prayers! Unfortunately, all that people in the West hear about Nigeria is the insecurity, the fighting and the bombings by Muslim fanatics. These stories make it difficult to appreciate the fact that about 40 percent of Nigerians are Christians.
Nigeria is still a mission field.
Mkpong-Ruffin: The southern part of Nigeria is where Christianity has taken root. Islam took stronger roots in the north. The northern area of Nigeria is really going through an upheaval.
There’s a need to make sure that we train Nigerians to carry the Gospel to each other. That’s part of what the Nigerian Christian Institute is doing.
Unlike here, where you can have a congregation with supported ministers, when you go out into the rural areas of Nigeria, churches can’t support their ministers. Therefore, students at the School of Preaching at NCI also need to have an income-making skill.
The more that Nigerian ministers can provide their own income, the stronger the church is going to be. They won’t be overly dependent on outside help. That creates a codependency that isn’t good.