Sunday is the day of worship, and we were not let down. We attended the churches in downtown Gusau - St. Stevens and Christ Cathedral, the main diocesan church. Both churches are located on the same property as the church school, a plot of land that is approximately one half to three quarters of an acre.
I was woken at 5 am by the dawn call to prayer in Arabic from all the neighboring mosques:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar: God is great,
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God;
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
Hasten to prayer, hasten to prayer.
Prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep.
The call goes out 5 times a day, the last after dark, it is a regular reminder that Zamfara State like the other the northern states of Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim.
After breakfast, we were taken to the Cathedral Church of Christ the King. The Cathedral compound consists of the Cathedral itself, several buildings including 2 smaller churches, one Igbo speaking, the other Yoruba. I preached, through an interpreter, at St. Stephen's, the Yoruba church.
After the sermon, I was hustled over to the Cathedral in time to hear the end of the Bishop's sermon. After Bishop John's sermon each of us brought greetings and explained the purpose of our mission. After our greetings the service continued for at least another hour, while various offerings were taken up.
Lunch, rest, supper and back to the Cathedral to discuss with the board of the Diocese our mission to build Grace International School. We were very encouraged by the evident enthusiasm for the project and the thoughtful comments and insights that were shared by the Diocesan leaders.
Why this project is important for the Christians of the diocese?
Like parents every where,these folk wish to provide a quality education for their children, in an environment free of the religious tensions that prevail in the society. These tensions are exacerbated by the fact that even in the public schools, all students including non-Muslims, are required to study the Qur'an.
Grace International School will accept qualified students from every background, thus providing an environment that fosters understanding between Christians and Muslims. We learned from a visit to St. Michael s Academy, the Diocesan school of the Kaduna Anglican Diocese that many educated Muslims send their children there because of its high educational standards.
Bob and I attended Christ Cathedral church where Bishop John preached, The cathedral is attended mostly by people of Igbo decent. Our service started at 9:30, and lasted approximately three hours. Bishop John's sermon was almost an hour in length, on the subject of making time to hear God's word, one of my favorite topics and one on which I have also preached at St. Peter's in Connecticut.
A description of the energy in the sanctuary is all but impossible. It must be witnessed. This was by far the largest, most energetic church service I have ever attended in my life. For someone who regularly attends the spoken service (no music) in his own parish, this was something I have never seen or experienced and simply moved me. God was most definitely in the house, as the saying goes!!
Hilarious givers. (Our English word hilarious is derived from the Greek word hilarion; translated in 2 Corinthians 9:7 ascheerful "God loves a cheerful giver."
The video at the link above shows dance and music during the offertory. The passing of the basket is a very big deal at Nigerian church services, which Bob had told me before the service, but needs to be witnessed in order to be fully understood. They really gave joyfully, Wow!!!
Grace International School building committee
After returning from church, we all rested a bit. We returned to the church at 5:00 for a meeting with the school building committee - those interested in building the primary and secondary school. This was a very fruitful meeting. We explained our purpose in gathering data to build the school, and listened as the building committee described their vision to us. It was really a wonderful meeting, and as tired as the Americans were, I think we all communicated nicely. We left the meeting to return to Bishop John's house for dinner feeling very satisfied by the enthusiasm of the Diocese for our mission.
The plan for the remainder of this week to visit different churches in Bishop John's diocese.
It is 4:45 a.m. local time on Monday, I hear the morning wakeup call that precedes the first call to prayer at the local mosque. The wakeup call and all calls to prayer are broadcast over a loud speaker system, and although I have been awake for some time now, due to jet lag, it woke me up yesterday, as it is intended to do.
Bishop John lives in a primarily Muslim neighborhood, so the calls to prayer are a very important morning ritual for the many of the locals.
Today we will visit with three. The first church is over an hour's drive further north than Gusau. For any of you following our journey on a map, this means we were headed towards the Sahara desert, and we could tell. Until this point, we did not have to request the air conditioning in the car, but we broke down on this trip. I suppose if you visit the Arizona desert in the middle of summer you might get a taste for how hot and arid it is, but I believe that this was hotter and drier than even Arizona at its worst.
The further north we drove, the more palpapable the harshness of the landscape. How people settle and live here, I do not know. However, Zamfara State has done a wonderful job of putting in a main highway (two-lane), and running electricity to most areas. What was absolutely remarkable were the cell phone towers in the middle of absolute desert. They are huge, brand new and in impeccable condition.
And so here we are in the northern part of Zamfara State, closer to the Sahara than I will probably ever be in my lifetime, and we had perfect cell phone reception!! Indeed, there was not even any electricity or running water in most of the villages we passed through, but the cell phone reception was perfect!
The Christians who settle here do so in the midst of very difficult conditions. Not only is the heat oppressive, at least by our American standards, but these Christians live, work and worship in predominantly Muslim villages and neighborhoods. And I don't mean a 45% - 45% split, which is the average ratio of Muslims to Christians nationwide, I mean where were the split is likely 90% - 10%. In one village, all of the Christian church denominations were placed in the very back of the village, and in another village, not only was the church moved to a very remote, as yet undeveloped section of the village, it was moved from the very front of village because it was the first thing one would see when entering the town, and the Muslim governor had it moved.
Now, what is amazing, and I mean amazing, is that the people we met not only had left their jobs and businesses to greet us, in every single case they had gone to great expense to provide gifts of food and beverage for us to eat after our meeting. We were treated as royalty in each of these churches. It brought tears to my eyes to see how excited these folks were to meet us and spend some time together. God is certainly overseeing this journey, and for that we are all very grateful.
Mafara, "St. Michael's
This church was a welcome sight after a very long drive in the arid temperatures. This is the village where all of the Christian churches are grouped together at the back of the village. I was very impressed as we entered this village, it is clearly under development. As with any newer community at home, this village has new homes that are under construction, the village center is very clean, by Nigerian standards. One thing we learned early and that I had read before coming here is that there is no litter control, and no centralized rubbish pickup in many towns. As such, all of the modern plastics and rubbish that you might have and use in a typical American home are strewn across the roadways, and simply accumulates in the various pockets of space within the village.
In Marfara, the streets are relatively clean, the shops are modern looking, and the town is clearly developing in large part because the main road has been put into place and electricity brought to the city (not to mention the great cell phone coverage!!). Yet, in spite of all of that, there is still no running water. Anyone needing to use the facilities was out of luck!!
St. Michael's has about 92 members. The church was actually larger several years ago, but when Sharia law was instituted in Zamfara State in the early 2000s, many Christians left this Muslim-dominated community.
The hospitality shown to us was wonderful. They went to great lengths to buy beverages similar to what we would see in America Coke, Schweppes tonic water and of course, our standby, bottled water, which I have been surviving on since we landed.
Bakura, "St. Peter's
St. Peter's shares the namesake of Peter Dewberry's and my church in Connecticut, so we were excited to visit this church. This church has the harshest conditions of any we have yet seen. This is the church that had to move its building from the very first building you would see as you enter town, to a very small building in an as yet undeveloped portion of the village.
I got some excellent pictures and video here to give you a feel for how difficult these conditions are, and yet how African the landscape around this church is.
St. Peter's has about 55 members, and is led by Pastor Simon and lay leader Emmanuel. It is here that we first saw police officers who are church members, and attended our meeting on their break.
Peter Dewberry enjoyed this immensely, because as many of you reading this already know, Peter runs the Free Inside prison ministry in Connecticut. He had many smiles on people's faces as we joked about how the police officers catch the criminals, and Peter ministers to them. It is when Bishop John introduced my role as the lawyer into the discussion that we all had a good laugh.
The people at all of these churches are fun, funny and just so proud to be practicing Christians. There is something so profound about seeing people so dedicated that puts life into a different and proper perspective. The folks at St. Peter's had to move their church, rebuild it from scratch, and every week transport themselves to this church in the undeveloped section of the village. That is dedication, determination and resolve like I have never seen before first hand in my life.
You can see pictures and video from St. Peter's here, and here. Note in particular the mistaken lettering on the drum set!
The last church of the day was perhaps for me the most amazing. It was the smallest building, in a well settled town with perhaps the least harsh conditions of the three churches we saw today. But the energy in that small space would take your breath away.
As we entered, the choir was practicing, and every single member of that choir could enter American Idol and be a hands down winner without even proceeding to the Hollywood session! I was moved by their energy, talent and strong voice. You will be, too, when you see the video here, here and here.
The Pastor of this church is Ishaku Audi, and the church has about 100 members. I don't know how they all fit into this space when they all attend (and in these churches, the attendance rate is extremely high " one does not make these sacrifices and then stay away). This church is very far along, in that the pastor has a house (rectory of sorts), and the membership is large for the space and very dedicated. After listening to this choir, and asking them to sing in both English and Hausa, we all prayed for each other.
It was here that Peter came up with an ingenious idea that I want to explore "Let'ss get this choir into a recording studio in Gusau to produce a high-quality CD that we can sell back in the U.S., as part of our fund-raising for the school.
I must say that having Peter and Bob along on this trip has not only been a joy for me, but the ideas that they are generating are truly invaluable.
The next few days were spent visiting numerous rural Anglican churches. Bishop John's priority is to see as many churches planted in his diocese as possible. We were encouraged by the churches and the pastors and evangelists we were able to visit. Although our visits were during the week, some of the members turned out at every church. At each stop we were given a warm, enthusiastic welcome, some refreshments and greeted with some wonderful singing and dancing.
One of our forays into the rural hinterland was a trip to a church in Sangeiku in the district of Kaura Namoda. It took us 4 hours to get there over the rutted tracks that passed as roads, the sight of camels transporting goods was an indication that we were near the edge of the Sahara.
Each church we visited had a small primary school to teach the basic three Rs. It is anticipated that qualified students from these rural schools will attend the Diocesan school in Gusau.
These rural churches are poor, have few resources, but serve the Lord with an enthusiasm and joy, rarely seen in the West. In many cases they face pressures and restrictions from the Muslim majority yet their zeal for the Lord is not dampened.
During our visit our team visited several rural primary schools, in Zamfara State, Northern Nigeria. Our visits to these outlying churches were on week days, we were surprised by the number of parents took time away from their jobs and farms to come and meet with us.
We told the people about the mission of Africa Education Partnership, namely, to promote quality educational opportunities for the children of the region. Our first project is the building of Grace International School, in Gusau.
One Tuesday we saw two churches, and the site of the future school " the main reason for our trip.
Kotorkoshi "St. Mary's"
Our first church on Tuesday was St. Mary's. What impressed us the most when first seeing this church is that primary school was in session right on site.
Gusau "The School Site"
We finally had a chance to see the empty plot of land where the future primary/secondary school will be built. It took my breath away " the land is right in the middle of a rapidly developing high end community, that currently has no other school planned. You can see the school site here. In at least one of the photos, you can see that the houses being built are very large
Kaura Namoda "St. John's"
The last church of the day was again the most impressive of the day. It was a fairly long distance from Gusau, again north but on a different road.
Three of us (myself and Peter Dewberry from St. Peter's, and Bob Chagnon from Trinity) broke off from the group to come to Gusau to visit with Bishop John Danbinta, and to investigate building a primary/secondary school that will be sponsored with the help of St. Peter's. The remaining seven remained in Kaduna to help out at the Kateri Medical Center sponsored through Trinity, and to get involved in church planting with Bishop Josiah.
Our drive from Kaduna to Gusau involved two automobiles, with speeds that topped the ride from Abuja to Kaduna, and with following much more closely the automobile in front of us - at time mere inches. Of course, I ended up in the passenger seat for this excitement, now more than 24 hours after I had first awakened to start the trip. I didn't even bother videotaping any of this journey - at this point I figured we were doing God's work and He was going to get us there safely!! I found it convenient to shut my eyes for a portion of this trip, just to get some rest and to avoid looking at the bumper in front of us.
It is important to note as I make this entry on Tuesday, that our driver's name is Barnabas, and he has driven us everywhere so far. He is a very safe driver, so while the driving style is much different, we all have come to trust in what Barnabus is doing and have become somewhat used to the driving speeds. Given the vast distances that we have driven to attend churches in Bishop John's diocese, the speeds are somewhat necessary if one is to cover any meaningful ground in a day.
Arrival at Bishop John's compound
We arrived in Gusau at approximately 7:00 p.m. local time on Saturday evening, just as it got dark. When we arrived at Bishop John's compound, we were greeted by many people who had been anticipating our arrival - not only Bishop John's family, but a wonderful group of Christians - priests and laity - who are part of Bishop John's diocese. We were treated by Bishop's wife Helen and their daughters to a delicious meal, and spent the remaining time that evening in good group discussion. I had read something while preparing for the trip that soon became clearly evident - one visits Nigeria for the people. Everyone welcomed us with open arms.
PETER's PERSPECTIVE -
After leaving the airport we "endured" the two-hour automobile ride to Kaduna. I use that word because I had experienced nothing like it before in my life, and wasn't quite ready for the experience after 14 hours of airplane travel. We were picked up by two of Bishop Josiah Fearon's drivers, one driving the pickup truck, and the other driving the van. Most of the luggage was piled high on the pickup truck, and then tied down with a tarp on top.
The van followed the pickup, and I soon learned three things - there is no posted speed limit in Nigeria; the luggage was just barely tied adequately; and, it would appear, it is common practice to follow the vehicle in front of you leaving nothing but a few fractions of an inch. Mix this with the vast number of people on foot and scooters who are also on the highway, and Disney has no thrill ride that could match the ride from Abuja to Kaduna!
Needless to say, if I had not already been awake through the 14 hours of travel, and several hours of waiting at the airport, the ride may have been more of an adventure. In this case, however, it was two hours of saying prayers I haven't recited since my days as a practicing Roman Catholic!! And that was just the highway; "the ride through the city of Kaduna was a chaotic mix of scooters, hand carts, and speeding vehicles."
I taped the final fifteen minutes of the ride. The video will give you a sense for how fast we were going on the highway, how the load of luggage had shifted dramatically to the left on the pickup truck to the point where I was convinced we were going to get a suitcase hurled at our vehicle, and what a miracle it was to negotiate though the streets of Kaduna without losing either luggage or life. Oh, and you can also see some of Nigeria.
The most amazing thing about the ride was to see the road-side stands, right on the edge of the highway, together with the vast number of people who hang around the stands, cross the highway, and ride scooters on the highway, all while automobiles are racing by at speeds that are rarely slower than 80 MPH. Amazing is the only word for it.
Arrival at Bishop Josiah's compound. We were we were well greeted, well fed and permitted to rest before the remaining three and a half hour journey to Gusau. I found it difficult to sleep, because my anticipation and curiosity about Gusau was very strong. I did find out, to my amazement, that making cell phone calls to both the U.S. and to China to speak with my wife, parents and son was very simple, and the calls were very clear. I still have no idea how much those calls are costing me, but it is all part of the experience!
We set off on a hair-raising 2-hour drive to Kaduna. Imagine the Merritt Parkway but no limited access, with trucks, most piled high with goods; often with livestock and people sitting on top of the goods. Then there are the cars, the small 2-stroke motorbikes with passengers, pedestrians along the sides, some attempting to cross, goats, donkeys and cattle. The vehicles moving in excess of 80 miles per hour, tail-gating and overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic. At various points, roadside markets slowed our progress only somewhat.
The traffic in Kaduna and Gusau is something else. Imagine the streets of any average US town, but lined with shops and market stalls, right on the verge, choked with chaotic traffic, every driver doing his or her best to avoid the others, the goats, cattle, handcarts and pedestrians. This is Kaduna and Gusau. Turn into a small side street, stop in front of a walled compound, the gates open and you're in the garden of the home and guesthouse of Bishop Josiah Idowa-Fearon of Kaduna. We were warmly welcomed by Bishop Josiah, given brunch and had a rest.
On to Gusau: Don Ghostlaw, Bob Chagnon and myself left the medical team for another 3-hour hair-raising ride to Gusau, the capital of Zamfara state. We arrived after dark at the home of Bishop John Garba Danbinta, Anglican missionary Bishop of the diocese of Gusau, his wife Helen and their children. Bishop John and Helen (known as Mama Gusau) are gracious, welcoming hosts.
Don's Perspective - Upon arrival in Abuja, we needed to pass through immigration services, collect our bags and then pass through customs. All went smoothly (although it took a very long time to get through immigration), until we attempted to collect our bags. The number of bags we had was staggering, because each of the ten of us had both one checked bag of our own, and one additional checked bag filled with donated prescription medications and supplies for the Kateri Medical Center. As you might imagine, the odds were against us with so many bags, and two of the bags could not be located at the airport.
My first experience with Nigerian authorities, and so far, thank goodness, my only experience came as I was attempting to video tape our group in the airport - just so that those reading the blog could get a sense for how many bags there were for us to collect, and just how chipper we all looked after 17 hours of travel and waiting in the immigration line.
That exercise didn't go so well. I was immediately approached by an airport official who demanded to take my video camera, wanted me to show him the picture I had taken, and to see my passport. It's a new camera, one of those miniature Flip brand video cameras, and I had not had much time practicing with it before I left. What I didn't realize, is that I never turned off the camera and most of the incident is at least audible, although the picture jumps around. O.K., so no taking pictures in the airport. Fortunately, my video camera was returned to me.
The Flip camera is something I highly recommend. It takes up to 60 minutes of video at a time, and makes it simple to post the videos to YouTube.
We got through customs without interruption for reasons I will not discuss here. Outside of the airport is a different matter. We had a team of porters assisting us with our bags, to get them from baggage claim onto the pickup truck and the van we took to Kaduna. These guys were very friendly, and hammed it up for the camera. I would estimate that we didn't get on the road until at least two and a half hours after we first landed, if not a bit longer. A very involved ordeal to get ten Americans into the country and on their way!
Peter's Perspective - The first impression of Nigeria is heat and dust, my L L Bean pocket alarm clock showed the temperature in the arrivals hall to be 90o F. Some of the staff of Bishop Josiah of the Anglican diocese of Kaduna met us. The sky outside looked overcast, until one realized that it was a smog of smoke from burning grass, trash and dust; a toxic mixture that irritated the eyes.
Our 30 pieces of luggage; 10 large duffle bags of medical supplies for the Kateri clinic, 10 personal bags and 10 pieces of hand luggage were loaded into the back of a pickup. Most of us squeezed into a small passenger van, the rest into the cab of the pickup with our overflow baggage.
Ten people from five different United States churches checked into a British Airways flight to Nigeria via London.
Our group was comprised of pastors, doctors, nurses and even two lawyers. Seven of the ten spent their time between Kaduna and Kateri, where a medical center has been established, funded by Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Connecticut.
Three of us, including two of us from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in South Windsor, Connecticut, and one from Trinity traveled another three and one half hours north to Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State. There we met with Bishop John Danbinta to explore building a primary/secondary school in Gusau.
Read on for more about the trip . . .
We all met on Friday morning (the 13th) at Logan in Boston. Some of the group were already in Boston, and others were driven to Boston very early Friday morning. Our flight involved two legs, one from Boston to London, Heathrow, and the second from Heathrow to Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria. Each leg of the flight was over 6 hours, with about a two-hour layover in Heathrow. The remainder of our journey was by auto, first two hours to Kaduna, and then for three of us an additional three and one half hours further northwest to Gusau.
There were ten of us on this trip, two from St. Peters Episcopal Church in South Windsor, three from Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, and the remaining four from different parishes, including one from Texas. Our group is quite diverse, and we all took an immediate liking to each other when we met over the course of several months prior to the trip to discuss logistics. Our total travel time from Boston to Abuja was approximately 15 hours, including the layover in London.