Christian Faith Ministries, Bukuru – The First Years

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If we were hoping that the Lord was writing another chapter of the book of Acts, it would take us a long time to understand some of the aspects that entailed. Back in the first century, the church in Acts brought healing to the bitter divides between Jews and gentiles (even if she suffered turbulence for doing so) and she addressed with justice the harsh social and economic segregations of Rome and Jerusalem. It would take years, but we would learn that this was the purpose of the Spirit, in exalting the Lordship of Christ over the whole creation, in displaying our unity through his power given to all,  and in the tongues of all nations united in one family. The witness of the church in a broken and self-centred world is that God has made us our neighbours’ keeper. This was the kind of world we were being planted in, back in 2007.

Our new mission kicked off in humble circumstances. Our support base had dwindled in our year of transition. It was hard to see how that could change. The task ahead seemed daunting. As we made plans towards the end of 2006, a friend we went to bible college with in 1984 sent us $5,000 to help get the team to Jos and started giving Ruth and me $500 every week for personal funds. It was encouragements like this that showed us the Lord’s assurance that he would meet all our needs. We had one old vehicle when we started in Jos, which belonged to one of our team members. We depended on that old car to move around when it was operational. Later in 2007 we bought our first vehicle for CFM, which was a small minivan. Our method is to buy second-hand vehicles and then keep them forever, constantly maintaining them. Today we have 30 vehicles with a fleet of buses, trucks, an ambulance, and our own registered police car. The youngest vehicle is over 20 years old, but they are all in good working condition and in service every day.

My office was a desk in the library. We had 15 books and it was always enjoyable discussing themes from the books with staff and students between classes.  At night I was dropped off at my room in a local guest house. I remember lying on the bed at night and the only prayer I could pray was “Lord, help.” He has always been our Rock. When there is no way, he is the way. That isn’t a just a cliché, but something we depend on always as the truth. Only this knowledge steadies the heart and gives us the anchor we need in the storm. As we look back today, we see he has answered that prayer and is still answering it. Whether it’s with our personal weaknesses or with the massive and various challenges we face together, he has constantly been our one and only answer to them all.

The bible college began with a full-time two-year diploma program. Our students are female and male, who mainly live on our campus. These predominately come from the northern states of Nigeria, especially the north eastern region. The heart of our college is missions. If we can train those from remote regions, they will return there and plant new churches and mission centres. This is one reason we focus on the grassroots. These are the people who go back to their villages: they don’t neglect these often-despised regions.

One of the issues we always face is our need to see our education less in terms of being for our own career opportunity (to provide for our way of life) and more in terms of preparing us to serve the marginalised, to heal the creation. Whether it’s medicine, law, gospel ministry, or any other field, our career has to be seen as the role we each have as a care-er of others. If the medical, educational, and legal industries were built this way, we wouldn’t have billions of people left out in the cold as we do today. It looks like we collude to build our industries with the wrong goals. Martin Luther King Jr said that unless we move into our future together, we don’t have a future. Our current global instability is showing this to be true.

Among students have been former gun runners, former terrorists, and a former Malam, chaplain for the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, all gloriously and miraculously transformed from horrific darkness to crystal-clear light. Girls who were kidnapped but escaped from remote terrorists hideouts have been our students, along with army officials, politicians, government workers, businesspeople, and other professionals. Students come from so many different backgrounds, many from opposing groups, formerly sworn enemies. CFI runs its classes in Hausa (the trade language in this part of Africa,) in English and in French (for students from neighbouring French speaking nations.) We added a four-year degree program, a master’s program, part-time programs, correspondence, and online programs. All these services take a large staff faculty base and these courses are offered at full scholarship to every person who needs it. We have graduated over 1,000 students, most of these serving in missions today. They come from most church denominations of Nigeria and we happily help these churches by training pastors for their rural growth. In 2020 we have 539 students enrolled in our bible college programs, and we raise support every year to cover most of the costs for all students in training with us.

Our immediate impulse in starting out in Jos was to begin mission stations as outreach centres. The first of these was in Bauchi State. There, a son of an Emir (king) came to know Christ through a personal encounter. Soon afterwards there were two attempts on his life, and he fled to a different part of the nation, where he worked for many years. He later came through CFI as a student and then headed up CFM’s work in Bauchi State. The outreach began in 2007 with many people coming to Christ. So many of these have come through our schools in Jos. Today they are leaders with us or with different ministries or work as professionals or work for their home region. These were illiterate, mainly pagan or folk-Islam in culture. Each year major pagan festivals are held, where the people cut themselves in ceremonies, take underage brides and practice many other things that severely work against the wellbeing of the community.

In the early days, that first centre was burnt down, and the lives of our pastors were threatened. But they decided to stay, rebuilt a centre twice as large and have never looked back. Then we bought land for a school and started building, but the king stopped us. Our pastors could have taken him to court and won but they decided to honour the king so the community wouldn’t be divided. They declined a battle of egos. After a year, the king gave his permission and now the school is built, and all the children can share in what it provides.

We now have mission stations in several regions of northern Nigeria, where fellowship centres and schools are built, and people work together, utilising local resources and skills, in developing their communities along peaceful and inclusive lines. Missions training is an ongoing work of CFM today, with a growing number of families working as leaders to raise up and develop new centres in the most remote regions. We are very proud of these leaders and what they teach us. These leaders have a lot more to teach us than we have to share in our support for them. Missionaries who have graduated from CFM have been imprisoned and have suffered to get the gospel to hostile and remote regions, with great results.

As part of our mission outreach, we started to air weekly television and radio broadcasts to Jos and our wider region. This became important in the years that followed, as we were able to speak widely into the situation that our part of the nation was going through, to counter the heart of vengeance and by God’s grace build a heart of mercy and neighbourly restoration. Our phone number list for pastors and other neighbours grew into the thousands and from this we were able to speak into many pulpits in the time of crisis. Even the mosques in our regions followed our messages as we walked in love with them. This was a walk of love that began with the relationships that grew between our Muslim neighbours and staff team. But that story is for the next chapter.

In 2006 Ruth and I wrote a book about our first twenty years in Africa and Ruth’s parents printed and distributed it to friends in Australia. Somehow a copy of this book found its way into Helen Blake’s hands in Australia. We don’t remember ever meeting before that time. Helen invited Ruth and I to visit her and her husband, Steve. They live in the Newcastle area of NSW, Australia, heading a great mission ministry that reaches several nations. Helen felt strong conviction for the work of CFM in north eastern Nigeria and she wanted to give it exposure to her friends and to churches in the Newcastle region. This was one of those early encouragements that would very much help CFM in years to come.

This kind of exposure really helps CFM’s work, so if you have it on your heart to invite us to your region please let us know. We would love to hear from you. Churches praying, supporting, and communicating with us strengthens our whole team and outreach to many thousands of people, and through them hundreds of thousands more. It also enables us to get our message of encouragement back through churches in your region. That way we share our experiences and message and we all share the benefit as we grow together.

2007-2009 were years in which some parts of CFM’s foundations were set, but we were yet to better understand why the Lord had placed us in our wider region. We were establishing a base, in many ways replicating what we had done in our first 20 years in Nigeria. The most important lessons were still ahead. But in these first years people were beginning to learn of our presence and we were looking for land to establish our permanent site.

We could sense tension in the city. There had been explosions of violence in certain parts of the north in the years preceding this, and many had suffered as a result. This had even happened in Jos, but no one expected it to happen in our part of Jos, where we had rented facilities for the bible college. At that time we didn’t understand the tension, except on a superficial level. And we didn’t know how it would develop, so we just pressed on to see what the Lord would do.

In mid-2009 our team launched out into northern Nigeria through our first pastors conference in Jos. The governor and deputy governors of our state heard about it and asked if they could attend. We had 2,000 pastors attend from all the major church groups and missions organisations and pastors came from almost all parts of the nation. Meetings went on for five days. The state governor spoke for two hours encouraging pastors to “Love God, love his word and love people.” The deputy governor spoke on loving our enemies, which was about to become very important in the turmoil soon to hit our region. We were shocked how the Lord blessed this conference and provided for all the costs, and how he drew so many people to the event. None of us expected this blessing. It put CFI bible college firmly on the map and allowed us to serve these many denominations as a training arm of support.

Immediately following this conference, one of our team members took off for Egypt. We prayed before his departure. We knew no one in Egypt, but only had the phone number of one pastor we were told about. Our team member arrived in Egypt and met with the pastor. Doors were opened all over the nation and many came to Christ. There were wonderful miracles of healing in the meetings. In the years that followed, CFM held two pastors conferences in Egypt, with guests joining us from the UK and Australia. Pastors and local missionaries from other Middle Eastern nations came together with us in Egypt. Before the first of these conferences we reached out to Brother Andrew for advice.  He is the Andrew of the famous book, God Smuggler, about taking bibles to communist Eastern Europe and Russia. Brother Andrew’s book Light Force, about his meetings with Palestinian Hamas, showed us a new perspective on the complexities of the Middle East. We loved it. We were so blessed to have Andrew phone us personally! He spent a long time sharing about the region, advising, and praying with us.

These were turbulent and dangerous years in Egypt, with two revolutions, and widespread severe economic disruption. It was termed the “Arab Spring,” which is a Western misnomer for the suffering that comes from global injustice. It is no spring. We are now seeing similar riots in the West, that stem from the growing economic injustice, the rule of the 1%.

We have seen wonderful miracles in Egyptian families, with many couples growing as group leaders, who are now discipling and nurturing new believers from nominal Christian and Muslim backgrounds in many parts of the nation. The basis of the work in Egypt is similar to that in the Gospels, where it was those whom Jesus touched and healed who loved him and become his disciples and then disciplers of others. CFM’s Egyptian head pastor is one of those miracles, a lady who came to know Christ, whose life was slowly put back together, and now has the love and support of the whole team she works with. Our leader from Nigeria has exercised such patience and wisdom with his faith family in Egypt, and now they are sharing this with many others. It goes out like ripples in the nation. Our Nigerian leader’s wife is pivotal in the ministry, as she pastors their home church in Nigeria and looks after their lovely family in her husband’s periodic absences. It always amazes us how God brings exactly the right people together for exactly the right situations. He has blessed us with so many wonderful people, great gifts.

Children’s schooling has a rough history in Nigeria. Western education began here with the missionary movement. Missionaries provided free education and good schools to all people and this united the nation, building leaders for the future. These schools were later nationalised, and they have suffered through the economic devastation that has happened in the developing world in recent decades. One response has been the rise of private schools run by churches in Nigeria. These churches have been challenged economically, and some have used schools to make money, setting fees too high for lower income people. These schools are often selective, segregated on religious lines. They usually are not open for all who need them, and this has been dividing the nation along religious and economic lines. Today, more than 10.5 million children in Nigeria don’t attend school at all, according to UNICEF. This adds to the disunity and disintegration of the society. So when CFM started children’s schools in 2009, we hoped the Lord would enable us to address some of these issues within our regions.

When visitors from England came in 2009, they rounded up the children from the estate where we rented premises for the bible college. They held daily classes with these kids and after the visitors left, we took the leap and kept these classes going as Christian Faith Academy. Like always, we never know how we are going to do these things when we start. We never have the resources needed. But again, the Lord provided just the right leadership team and today the schools have in total 1,300 children in junior and secondary level classes. We are always stunned at the faithfulness of God. He provides absolutely everything. A lady heads the team (married to one of our team leaders, with children,) while also studying at masters level herself, and while her house is filled with guests, some long-term and others short-term guests: young people, extended family, and family friends who are being discipled. Discipling is the main gift of our leaders. All of them see their main task as sharing with others and discipling their growth. Their lives and houses are always open. What they have is for everyone. This must be one of the main ways in which God provides us with so many great leaders. We are thankful for this grace he gives to us all.

During these first three years we were looking around for land for CFM’s permanent site. The team eventually decided on 33 acres about 15 minutes’ drive from our rented facilities, towards Jos airport. This area has not yet been built-up, but the city is encroaching slowly. Buying land: another challenge for which we were looking for the Lord’s help! We were allowed to pay in instalments. A friend came from England and walked around the land and asked a few questions about why we believed this was God’s will for us. He went to be with the Lord not too long afterwards, but in his will, he gave us a sizable sum towards the purchase. One of our children’s school sports group (house) teams is named after him. Another couple in Australia sold their coin collection and that helped with another payment. Eventually we got there! One of our team leaders then made a scale model for the proposed development of the site and put it my office. I felt like putting a sheet over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it. It was impossible. There was no way we had the support base to achieve such a thing. But the bible is filled with stories of those who had nothing, and God did it for them. Has God changed?

The biggest joy about the location of the land was also our biggest challenge. It is right between two communities who were at loggerheads. It was one of the main hotspot regions of violence between cattle herders and farmers in the nation. One period soon after buying the land the township right next to us was occupied by army tanks and other armoured vehicles to quell violence and maintain peace. I say this was a joy because it would enable us to build the relationships that overcome challenges like these. These kinds of new relationships always enrich us. Running from them ensures tomorrow’s conflict that our children will face. This is what suburbia does. It allows us to separate. Separation builds estrangement and estrangement builds injustice. The results of this is always bad for everyone.

But these land payments weren’t achieved until the end of 2010. Back in 2009, we were nearing Christmas. I was about to leave Jos for England to be with our family. One of my last stops before leaving was a church very close to our rented bible college facilities. The rise in tension in the area was noticeable throughout that year. Back then, we didn’t understand the underlying reasons and we couldn’t have addressed the situation helpfully. We were just drifting into what lay ahead. After the service I ate lunch with the pastor and his wife in their little room behind the church building. They shared their concerns. I thought about their courage, and then left for Christmas in England.