Nigeria

No one talked about kidnapping until it happened.

I was hoping for a warm bucket shower while on a recent mission trip to Nigeria when breathless evangelists told us a pastor’s wife and daughter were kidnapped a few miles away.

Bucket shower forgotten.

Everyone in the room, some members of Southeast Christian Church, gathered to pray for the pastor, his wife and daughter.

There is a moment when risk becomes real.

My bags for Nigeria were already packed when terrorists beheaded 11 Christians. A few weeks later, the Islamic State of West Africa released a video of what looked like a 10-year-old boy executing a Christian man. And on Jan. 22, Pastor Lawan Andimi, who told of his faith in Jesus in a video, was beheaded by Boko Haram militants.

Risk is always balanced against need. There are few “safe” places that have not heard of Jesus. Those who most need to hear are in closed, often violent countries where few outsiders are welcome. This trip is small risk compared to many who serve in hard places in secret. They take seriously the command to take the Gospel to the outermost parts of the earth.

Southeast’s Missions Ministry provided dental tools and glasses for a “West African surge” by mPower, a Southeast partner that equip believers with tools that give leverage in unreached villages.

These believers live with risk every day.

Samuel, a young evangelist going into the most dangerous areas, will not be deterred. You see, he’s in a race to beat terrorists.

“Terrorists go into a community and offer $600 to join their cause,” Samuel said. “That’s like $6 million to someone who has no income, safety, food or health. Once they join, they are sent into communities to slaughter men, women and children. It’s all about power and gaining territory. We have to reach these people with the Gospel and give them purpose for living before terrorists get there.”

The purpose of our visit on our visas was listed as “tourist,” but in six days, these young evangelists were trained to meet vision and dental needs and were ready to begin outreach.

During a short tea break, they pulled out pictures of their families on their phones.

“What about them? What if you die trying to reach one of these villages?” I asked.

No hesitation.

“We live and die for the Gospel,” one said. “If we die sharing the Gospel, we will see our families again on the other side. They are with us on this.”

The Nigerian team ran their first clinic in an internally-displaced persons camp still suffering after a night attack by Fulani herdsmen that left 186 dead. These camps are often the only refuge for families being attacked by terrorists. Some survivors huddled in the local mosque. Others took their chances outside the camp. Survivors fled to an abandoned village. There is a well, but there is little food.

Oh, my. And I was worried about a warm bucket shower.

I heard one story after another.

A mom brought her daughter to the clinic after the attack who was so traumatized that she just sat on a mat in her home night and day. Another woman told us of burying four of her six children. We checked a bleeding wound on her foot. As we washed away dust and debris, we uncovered a filthy mud and leaf poultice she bought from a local healer.

Evangelists pray with each one who comes to clinic. They will return to these communities time and again. You see, it’s really not about teeth or eyes, or even water. It’s all about getting to know Jesus.

It was hard to leave, but since we returned home Feb. 16, evangelists have held dental clinics in 13 villages and taken vision, dental and community health to a northern village of 500.

“When are you coming back?” they ask in text messages. The sad truth is, in a world of violence and virus, we don’t know. I pray it’s soon, but I do know that God works in big ways when we are not there. He certainly doesn’t need us.

Ruth Schenk is a contributing writer for The Southeast Outlook.