Tuesday, Dec. 13
By the grace of God the North American team members have returned safely to the States.
Monday, Dec. 12
The supposed one-hour drive to the airport in Port Harcourt was in its second hour and we were stuck in gridlock like I have never seen in visits to 30 countries. The sun was blotted out by the uncontrolled emissions spewing from idling vehicles parked six lanes across on a six-lane road. That's right, the vehicles going in our direction had spread out and overtaken the oncoming lanes. The air in our AC-less car was brutally hot and burning our eyes and lungs. That's when our vehicle stalled. Things were growing desperate as we prayed harder and harder.
Chris went from vehicle to vehicle asking for a ride to the airport. No takers. Then a man in a late-model luxury SUV agreed to drive us. We unloaded and loaded baggage and climbed into his air-conditioned vehicle. As we were completing our 3 ½-hour drive to catch our first flight, I asked the man's name.
"Thank God," he said.
"Thank God?" I repeated.
"Yes, Thank God."
We have many stories like this as we begin a scheduled 24 hours of air travel back to the States. Everyone is doing well and feeling blessed from the trip — despite the many obstacles.
I met with Chris this morning to discuss the future. He is fully committed to serving through Climbing For Christ, growing membership in Nigeria and ministering to this and surrounding countries. He will be doing the work in the Koma Hills on an occasional basis until another short-term team returns, likely in late 2012 or early 2013.
"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." — Proverbs 16:9
Sunday, Dec. 11
"We are missing you already." This was first said before 3 1/2 hours of worship had even ended at Chris' church. There was an outpouring of love from our brothers and sisters in Christ on our last full day in Nigeria.
I was blessed to be asked to preach, and shared a message on love — based mostly on 1 John 4. I asked the church of about 80 adults and children, "Who are you willing to die for?" I spoke about missions and how we are called to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-4). I encouraged the church to show the God of love (1 John 4:16) to the world. We then played the Jars of Clay version of the hymn "They will know we are Christians by our love."
"Pa Gary," as he is called at Lives Aglow Global Outreach Centre in Port Harcourt, preaching in traditional African clothing, which was given to him by Pastor Chris. Chris considers Gary his spiritual father.
I shared the thoughts I'd had before coming to Nigeria and how fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) is something Satan will use to bind us and keep us from GOing. I told them you cannot love from afar what you don't know. We have learned that firsthand in Nigeria. If Satan and fear had kept us away we would not have realized the love we now have for these people.
We prayed individually for each person in the church — adults and children — and then were photographed with many of our new friends.
Saturday, Dec. 10
We enjoyed a wonderful time of worship this evening after an outstanding day of teaching at the leadership and missions conference at Chris' Lives Aglow Global Outreach Centre in Port Harcourt.
Mike teaching on leadership.
The team did an excellent job of sharing many things that God put on our hearts with 55 adults and at least half as many children. These lessons included Mike's conference teaching on Gospel-centered leadership. His instruction focused on how the cross is the essence of the Gospel; anything else misses the target. This led into my sharing that those who do not know cannot receive the Good News about Jesus Christ dying for them unless we GO! Brandy again spoke to the women (and the men) about their role in leadership and Chris unleashed his high energy in a 90-minute message about leadership.
Brandy teaching the many children at a night worship.
In the evening, we did praise and worship and then took turns with Spirit-led sharings: Brandy (after teaching the children a song about Peter, James and John) told how we need to listen and do what Jesus has said; Mike on the six reasons why the Bible is a supernatural book, and I gave my testimony. I told how one who once was lost could be found in Nigeria serving the Lord and seeking only to bring God glory. This witnesses that if we say, "Here am I! Send me," God will do amazing things beyond our imaginations.
Friday, Dec. 9
We kicked off this weekend's first anniversary celebration at Chris' Lives Aglow Global Outreach Centre tonight with an evening of praise and worship. I was blessed to set foot in the Wonderland Chapel, as Chris calls his church in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. This is a church that God used Climbing For Christ to rescue, which is what we are celebrating this weekend.
Worshipping at Lives Aglow Global Outreach Centre.
We told stories of our mission to Koma Hills and then spoke to the standing-room-only crowd of about 65, including a full worship band in a room measuring 30-by-25 feet. Brandy talked about the Great Commission and then I told them that the Holy Spirit would come to them and they would be Jesus' witnesses as it says in Acts 1:8. We will be sharing more about mission on Saturday as we again speak at Chris' leadership and missions conference.
The team pulled out of Gboko, Benue State at 5:30 a.m. today and made the eight-hour drive on the bad roads of Nigeria. We are back where we started eight days ago. But much has happened in that short time and God has opened our eyes and revealed many things about mission and the church in this corruption-plagued nation. We will continue to do what He has planned in the days ahead — and then beyond that.
Thursday, Dec. 8
Pastor Chris Joseph speaking at the day-long conference.
We taught about effective leadership and missions at a one-day conference put on by Chris in his hometown of Gboko in Benue state. Pastor Sam Gar from the local Christian Association of Nigeria opened the meeting at Gboko Christian Centre saying that he believed God would speak through their three North American guests. That was our prayer as we shared about being called to go (Gary), the six Biblical principles of effective leadership (Mike), and how to raise women as frontline leaders (Brandy).
We returned to the church for an evening session, where we got to share three short personal messages during a time of prayer, praise and worship. The Gboko Christian Centre is where the church in this area began. It's also where Chris was baptized by missionaries.
The Rev. Mashika, an elder who was leading the church when 40-year-old Chris was a boy, spoke after we shared. He summed up what we had said and delivered a short missions message. He talked about missionaries coming who could not speak the language, had nowhere to sleep, and nothing to eat or drink. And he realized he — and others in the church — could and should be missionaries themselves because they have no such hindrances.
We pray the message of mission was received by many who heard.
Wednesday, Dec. 7
We left the distinct beauty of the Koma Hills to return to the land of police checks and extortion. The chief of Tantille saw us off at daybreak. We prayed for him and for the work that has begun here and then made the three-hour drive in a compact car down the very dusty 90-mile dirt road to Yola. From there we proceeded for eight more hours to Gboko in Benue state, where we are speaking Thursday at a one-day conference on leadership and missions hosted by Chris' ministry.
Before leaving the Koma Hills we were introduced Tuesday evening to a man who practices black magic. The chief arranged our meeting. The man, named Kageza, brought two of his idols to show us. They were named Zarab and Noga. They looked like old rusty wind chimes. Zarab, he said, would cause madness, and had worked on five people in his 50 years of practice. Noga would cause a person's belly to swell to three times its natural size, and had been used three times. Kageza claimed more than 100 like-minded people living in the Koma Hills villages often meet to drink wine, slaughter a goat, and celebrate darkness.
As the village chief, who was translating for us, said: "This thing will do nothing to me because I am a Christian."
"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." — John 12:46 (NIV)
Tuesday, Dec. 6
Meet our new brother in Christ — Waneke.
We hiked up 1,300 vertical feet in 100-degree heat that is apparently common during the dry season in the Koma Hills. We reached the village of Wagi. All of the villagers were out farming, but we found a boy to send for the village chief. Waneke arrived and we sat with him under the shade of a tree. We learned a little about him and his village. There is a church there, but Waneke does not attend. “His father made him a traditional head. He cannot be Christian,” said Lazarus, who served as our translator in the Wagi dialect (many villages have their own dialects).
We talked about his god, who is called Kenno. In some villages the people worship the head of a grandmother. They will also make sacrifices — usually of goats. I instructed Chris to share Jesus with Waneke, and we prayed for the Holy Spirit to penetrate the man's heart.
Chris told Waneke about Christ, and a God who created him and loves him so much that He wants him to spend eternity with Him in heaven. “What has Kenno done for you?“ Chris asked. Waneke could not answer.
Finally, Waneke said something in Wagi to Lazarus. “He wants to live.”
All heaven rejoiced along with us!
I asked Waneke if he knew how to pray. He said he did not. I told him to just talk to God and Waneke closed his eyes and spoke for the first time to the One True God.
As we hiked back down to Tantille, Chris said: “God arranged that. He sent Enoch (to translate for us in Wiwp) and Lazarus in Wagi. I believe he was (divinely) inspired to translate.“
This special day had been prepared for us by God before time began.
Monday, Dec. 5
We trekked downhill from Wiwp and through several other villages in the Koma Hills with temperatures of 105F in the sun. We needed to return to Tantille after our water filter broke as we obviously need drinking water in this blistering heat. We know this is part of God's plan because the chief of Tantille came for a long visit after our return. We learned many things about the 16 villages he governs. He invited us to send a full-time missionary here to minister to the 4,000+ living up in the mountains.
We were welcomed back to the Christian church and school at the entry to the hills. Chris went by motorbike to a village on the 90-mile dirt road that ends at Tantille to bring back bottled water. We are now equipped to return to the hills on Tuesday.
Sunday, Dec. 4
We hiked for five hours into the Koma Hills searing heat that dehydrated our bodies and challenged our resolve. We were accompanied by Moses, the 18-year-old son of the chief in Tantile, and 17-year-old Lazarus on our trek to Wiwp (pronounced “weep”) where we attended a funeral for a 98-year-old man who was the oldest person in the village. We were told the dead man was a “traditional man,” which explained the music, pipe-smoking women, dancing by women wearing leaf skirts, and throwing of gifts (nuts, water and chewing gum) at the wrapped corpse carried overhead during the ceremony. We were told it was a celebration of life, but not the Christian life.
After the funeral, the village chief greeted us and welcomed us to Wiwp. He granted our request to meet at 8 p.m. with villagers to share the Gospel of Christ. About 60 people attended and heard the message of salvation. Seven souls recommitted or gave their lives to Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.“ — John 3:16 NIV
Saturday, Dec. 3 (late)
After about a seven-hour wait, a tribal chief returned to his home. We spoke with him and he granted us permission to go into the hills, which we will be doing at first light on Sunday.
Saturday, Dec. 3
We arrived safely at the Koma Hills after another 2 ½-hour drive over 90 miles on dirt roads in a very small vehicle. We now are waiting for one of the tribal leaders or a local pastor, or both, to show up so that we can be greeted into the area. Hopefully the tribal leader will do that so that we are free to wander about and do our business, or do God's business, as we like to say.
Friday, Dec. 2
We sped across the Christian south into northeastern Nigeria, driving for about 17 hours from Port Harcourt to Yola. This is our jump-off point for going into the bush to trek toward the remote Koma Hills people.
"I feel like, if there was a speed limit we'd be going double it," Mike commented as our hired driver careened through one village.
TIA (This Is Africa), too: crazy, long drives on roads (mostly paved) pocked with vehicle-eating potholes and littered with police checks.
"Yola is like traveling to – I don't know what to describe," said Chris, although we can think of a few places. "By the grace of God we will be there."
We have arrived – thank You, Lord – after midnight. Our travels are far from over, however. In a few short hours another day dawns.
Thursday. Dec. 1
Rochester, NY to New York City to Paris, France to Lagos, Nigeria to Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Twenty-six hours of flying. And that's the easy part.
We were met at the airport by a series of bribery seeking officials and finally Chris Joseph and eight or 10 other pastors. We drove in a sort of mini-motorcade for an hour on dark, bumpy and congested roads to reach our motel for the night. Chris' lovely wife delivered us a traditional Nigerian meal as a greeting.
Welcome to Nigeria.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Time to GO!
Tuesday, Nov. 29
The team prepared for Nigeria by viewing Louie Giglio's teaching “God's Passion for God's Glory” on DVD and then watching a DVD from Open Doors ministry about persecution in Nigeria. We followed that with a study on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), reading Scripture about God's defensive and offensive provision found in the “full armor of God.” We completed the team building with a study prepared by Jordan Rowley on folk religions. And then closed with a time of prayer.
Not long after this we received bad news: Jordan was again denied a visa to go. That means Brandy, Gary and Michael will travel on Wednesday to New York and then to Europe and on to Africa on Thursday. Pastor Chris Joseph will meet the team when we arrive.
“It's been a crazy roller coaster,” Jordan said. “It's clearly the Lord's hand. I'm thankful that His will has been done and give Him praise for the closed door just as I would for an open door.”
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
— Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Monday, Nov. 28
The team came together in Rochester, NY, USA to prepare for the journey ahead. Good news awaited as Jordan Rowley, who didn't get his visa, might yet be able to go. With the help of Climbing For Christ member Melissa Waheibi in New York City, we are applying again at Nigeria's General Consulate on Tuesday.
Sunday, Nov. 27
Preparations for this Evangelic Expedition may not have gone exactly as we would like (one team member did not get a visa to make the trip), but God is in control. We prepare to GO in His name and to His glory, knowing we must put on the full armor of God, so that we can take a stand against the devil’s schemes (see Ephesians 6:11-13).
The spiritual warfare has been intense — an indication that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.
As our team prepares to come together we share our prayers for the weeks ahead.
Brandy Everts: “My main prayer for Mission: Nigeria 2011 is to not just be speaking words and going to visit the Koma Hills people, but that we would walk in the power of Holy Spirit and the light of Christ would be evident on us as we go. I hope to be used to talk and love on the Nigerian women and children.”
Gary Fallesen: “His will be done.”
Michael Heitland: “My primary prayer is this, ‘God, use us to advance the Gospel where your name is not proclaimed, and strengthen your church through our teaching. If there be obstacles, surmount them for Your glory. Help us Lord to magnify Your name and increase the worship given to You. Remind us daily that we are living on the brink of eternity.’ ”
Chris Joseph: “My primary prayer for this trip is for God to use us as His instruments to positively affect the kingdom of heaven and negatively affect the kingdom of darkness to the glory of His name.”