‘God is bringing water today’
DONO-MANGA, Chad — “Water, please.” That’s the most common phrase…
DONO-MANGA, Chad — In this rural African village, a young Muslim mother unfurls her prayer mat, sending wisps of dust into the air. Facing east, she bows, her head eventually touching the ground.
François March sits on a bench nearby, just outside the meeting place of a Church of Christ. He’s clad head to toe in white, traditional West Africa garments, hand-stitched to resemble tiny flower blossoms.
He’s a security guard for the compound, which includes the church building, a clinic and a school for nearly 1,000 students. Hope Springs International, a Tennessee-based nonprofit, sponsors the work.
“Does that bother you?” a reporter asks, motioning toward the young mother, who prays as she waits for treatment at the Jordan Health Center, named after the river where Jesus was baptized.
“After what you’ve been through, do you bear any animosity toward Muslims?”
March lost his wife to Islam. She converted — out of fear, he says — after the terrorist group Boko Haram invaded their city in northern Nigeria.
She wanted him to convert, too, along with their daughter and two young sons. Instead, he fled, bringing the children here, to his home village.
And here he found Christ.
Or, more accurately, Christ found him, he says.
He and his daughter, Gloria Maryamu, 14, tell their story in Hausa, a language they picked up in Nigeria. His brother, Pascal Ngarndei, who works for Hope Springs, adds a few details in a mixture of English and Hausa. Translating is Brad Blake, a member of the Meadowbrook Church of Christ in Jackson, Miss., and a former missionary to Nigeria.
As to the reporter’s question, March answers, “No. I can’t be angry toward Muslims.” He points to the ground, almost drawing a small circle in the dust.
“There’s a Hausa phrase that goes “sai hakuri,” he says.
Translation: “It requires patience.”
IN NIGERIA ‘IT WAS TIME TO LEAVE’
“I normally am not afraid,” Maryamu says.
“But there are some things I am afraid of — like Boko Haram.”
She was 10 and living near the cattle markets just outside Maiduguri, Nigeria, when the terrorist group arrived. Their name is a Hausa phrase meaning, roughly, “Western education is sin,” and they launched a campaign of violence meant to “purify Islam in northern Nigeria,” their leaders said. Already, they had bombed church buildings and abducted children including 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in 2014.
Her father had moved to Nigeria from Chad in the mid-1990s, seeking a better life. So had her uncle, Ngarndei, who was introduced in Nigeria to the World Bible School correspondence ministry and was baptized.
“At the time I decided to be baptized, he was against it,” Ngarndei says of his brother. “He didn’t think it was the true church. I told him he should not think like this because I’m not a child. I’m not just going in somewhere without understanding, without studying.”
“It was time to leave.We would not live in fear.”
He earned a degree from the School of Biblical Studies in Jos, Nigeria, which is associated with Churches of Christ, and returned to Chad in 2008 to work with Hope Springs.
Seven years later, Maryamu says, Boko Haram “came to our village, burned our school and scattered all of the children. They went into the bush. My father and brothers were unable to farm.”
Her mother, March’s wife, “became very afraid,” March says. “They began recruiting her to join their ranks. She became a Muslim through fear.”
She asked him to join her — and if he wouldn’t, to give her the children.
“It was time to leave,” he says. “We would not live in fear.”
IN CHAD, ‘HOSPITALITY, DIGNITY, RESPECT’
His brother heard about what happened.
“I was praying for him to come back safely,” he says.
It took three days by bus — through Nigeria, a small swath of Cameroon and into Chad — to get to Dono-Manga, March says.
“It was a long journey that was hard on the children,” March says.
Although he was glad to be reunited with his brother, March struggled to readjust to life in his homeland. He bounced from village to village, working odd jobs and drinking, angry at his predicament.
His children, however, began to thrive. They enrolled in the school operated by Hope Springs. They learned math, French and English. And they learned about Jesus.
March began attending church with his children.
“Before, we were constantly on the run,” he says, “but here we were offered hospitality, dignity and respect. I could see the genuineness, the receptivity. The message they were sharing penetrated my heart.”
In January, his daughter decided to be baptized. So did he.
Ngarndei remembers his brother’s baptism with a huge grin.
“I was very, very happy,” he says. “I would have even celebrated if I had had something (to eat or drink). Unfortunately I didn’t have anything, but we celebrated with our mouths. We drank water, and we celebrated.”
Through his exodus from Nigeria, “God has really been working on my heart,” March says. “I no longer play with church. I don’t drink alcohol to excess — I don’t drink at all. I want to remarry only one wife because I know the problems that (polygamy) will bring. I’ve seen how this has affected my children.
“God has been working on my heart to become a better father.”
Playing at his feet, his 11-year-old son, also named Pascal, talks about school. He likes learning French, he says. His sister prefers English.
IN CHRIST, ‘YOU CAN’T BEAR GRUDGES’
March hasn’t spoken to his wife since he left Nigeria, but his nephew, Ngarndei’s son, visited her a few years ago.
She has changed her name to A’isha and has a new husband. She sent gifts for the children.
March, who works as a security guard for Hope Springs and farms, says he doesn’t bear her any ill will — nor any for the Muslim mother praying nearby.
“You can’t bear grudges,” he says. “Jesus tells us that if someone falls into a ditch, you pull them out of the ditch.
“Muslims live here, but we can’t cast them out,” he says. “We have to coexist to show them that there is a better way of life.”
As the interview concludes, the reporter tells March that he admires his courage. The reporter also is a father and says he doesn’t know if his faith could withstand the trials March has endured.
“God will give you the strength,” March replies. “Remember Jesus’ words: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.