After 20 years, Nigeria is still Whittakers’ calling
Dr. Robert Whittaker described the events of Aug. 12 as…
At Nigerian Christian Hospital, Dr. Bob Whittaker shared the Gospel as he healed the sick alongside Nigerian physician Chisara Umezurike. The “preaching doctors” performed countless operations and delivered about 730 babies annually — sometimes performing Caesarian sections with lights powered by backup generators and car batteries.
“You could have easily died from the illness,” Whittaker once told a patient after surgery, “but God has been merciful to you and spared your life. And now your task is to find out what God’s purpose is for your life.”
Annette Whittaker launched a “Salvation Nets” ministry. Nigerian Christian women made mosquito nets treated with insecticide to reduce the risk of malaria. Nigerian ministers bought the nets and sold them for a small profit. Annette Whittaker also built a nursery and a primary and high school on the hospital’s grounds to “give to the hospital family the same education I give to my own family,” she said.
The couple had a son, Ozioma, whose name means “good news” in the Nigerian Igbo language. Ozi Whittaker is now a medical student himself, studying at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
God prospered the Whittakers — and the churches they served — during their years in Nigeria.
But as the country of 186 million people entered the 21st Century, life became dangerous in the city of Port Harcourt and the surrounding communities, including Aba, the home of Nigerian Christian Hospital.
Despite rich reserves of oil, little of the country’s wealth filtered down to its poorest citizens, breeding resentment and desperation. Oil workers from abroad were kidnapped and held for ransom deep within the Niger Delta. Twice, Bob Whittaker was robbed at gunpoint.
Then, on Aug. 2, 2009, four young men brandishing AK-47s burst into the hospital compound and demanded that the surgeon go with them.
“You’ve finally come at last for me,” Bob Whittaker thought to himself, later recalling, “I was totally relaxed. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve always believed in God. I believe this world is a transient place.’ There was no need to worry.”
The men took him to a bamboo thicket just a few miles from the hospital and held him for 48 hours as his family and Christians around the world prayed for his release. A stray bullet had shattered his right arm. Another had injured his wife.
“These young men … have these powerful weapons and no wisdom to go with it,” Bob Whittaker said. “They’re deadly.”
The hospital’s staff negotiated for his release. Soon, Dr. Bob Whittaker was a patient at the hospital where he’d given so much of his life to heal others.
He was transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for surgery and rehab. Despite the suffering, he saw God’s hand at work, he told The Christian Chronicle from his hospital bed in Nashville.
“I’ve been saved,” he said. “I could have died so easily. We can’t tie God down to our expectations. He’s still there, and he’s still caring for me.”
Next: The Whittakers return to Africa; build a clinic on a hill
Additional reporting: Ted Parks
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