Today I finally got to break away from the grind of the daily schedule. I have been shuttled from one place to another since I arrived and today is the first day I really got a break to myself, so as soon as they left me alone, I hopped on a motorbike taxi and headed into town to find a Cyber Café. The folks who have been hosting me here will probably choke when they find out that I ran off into the crowds all by myself on the back of some crazy motorbike, but I have discovered that the people here in Nigeria are nothing like what we all thought they were. I’m as safe as if I was walking downtown back home in Texas – maybe safer.
They have a word for “the white guy” but I can’t pronounce it. In the two weeks and the half dozen places I’ve been, I have only seen one other “white guy” and that was near the airport. I’m the only one for miles around, but nobody pays any special attention to me. These are just genuine people working hard to survive, and they have had a strong moral base ingrained in them from the widespread presence of the Gospel. It’s everywhere – posters, signs, scriptures written on the backs of vans and trucks, in the names of the businesses, on warning signs. If this were in the U.S., it would be driving the ACLU crazy.
There are churches everywhere -- some are huge with tens of thousands of members, and scattered in between are hundreds of small fellowships of less than a dozen people, sometimes literally on every block – so the presence of the Word of God pervades the entire society and supports a standard of morality not found in other places. Even the Muslims reinforce this sense of right and wrong.
But something isn’t right. You can sense it rather than understand it. It’s as if a dark cloud hangs over the whole place weighing everything down. When you look at a crowd, all you see are somber faces, not a smile in the crowd. The conditions are typical of 3rd world poverty, to be sure, but it is accompanied by this depressed feeling of helplessness. Everything seems dingy, is broken or barely patched together. There’s trace of a feeling of despair, as if they are helpless to break out of this squalor. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I believe there is a generational curse hanging over this country like nothing I have seen anywhere else. I am not the only one who sees it—a pastor who has come from Dubai sees the same thing, and so have several others.
It will take more than “church as usual” to break this curse and set these people free, but that is going to mean breaking traditions and comforts to find places of broken-hearted repentance as a people. Nigeria experienced great revivals in the 30’s and 70’s but they have backslidden into a plastic “Churchianity”, and hence lost the life that once energized this land with the power of God.
Ah, Revival! What a wonderful word, but so often used in meaningless propaganda to promote empty meetings at some dead church. It’s the same here as in the U.S., but there are also strong, genuine Christians in Nigeria who know what true revival is and what it will take to bring the Nigerian Church back to that place in God that they have lost. I have met some of them sprinkled in amongst their ecclesiastical cousins, but only a few. Most are enamored with a pizzazz that makes their unending parade of Christian conferences and “revival” meetings appear as Hollywood extravaganzas. It’s as if the circus comes to a different church in Lagos every weekend.
So far I have been to 3 different churches in Lagos and two in a neighboring state plus one Pastors’ conference. Some meetings have been exciting while others have been uneventful. While you can’t tell the long-term effects by the reactions during a service, you can get a read on the hearts of the people that are there, and the reactions I have had have been from intense excitement to sober acceptance. Only time will tell how deep the Word will take root in their hearts to bring forth fruit later on.
Last night, however, was different. After a typical message of reproof at the Pastors Conference, I was driven for almost 3 hours to the next church. Driving 3 hours in the traffic Lagos can mean only getting 10 miles down the road, so I have no idea where I ended up. But what a crazy ride to get there! Consider being submerged in a swarm of angry bees, all heading with a driven insanity in different directions while you’re trying to negotiate your way through this confusion to get to the other side. It is a sensory overload of horns, smells, yelling, grinding, pushing, sweat, and smog. The incessant beeping of their horns is like a symphony of confusion. But oh, the peace when you finally get out of all the traffic!
Somehow, we arrived at a small church in a ramshackle shed out in some back area. It is basically an open shed with a worn-out corrugated iron roof held up with poles while the three walls are patched together to form a building. Once again, the exterior structure is no indication of what is inside.
This church has been waiting for me for weeks. They fully believe that the Lord has prepared them for something special with my arrival. I am clueless to all this, but I dare not tell them that. I doubt it would matter anyway because they have already received that God is going to give them their miracle through me, and they will not be denied. They have been crying out to God continually for this meeting and as always, God honors serious prayer. And I can feel it as I walk into the building.
The light bulbs aren’t the only thing that are bright here – there’s a glow that you can feel as I walk in. I know you think I’m just saying that, but I’m not. God is here.
Suffice it to say we had an incredible service, which if you weren’t there, well, all I can say is you missed a service that most of the churches I know of back in the States have never experienced in their lives. Have you ever been involved in something that the expectation alone was enough to make you want to bounce up and down? That’s what the start of services was like, and it exploded from there. The Spirit of the Lord was coming down so hard that you couldn’t just stand there and hold it in – you had to dance! You had to sing! You had to jump! Hands were stretched out in the air, voices were shouting praises at the top of their lungs, and people were ecstatic in the Spirit of the Lord. The place must have been glowing! I know I sure was!
I don’t know how long we were there – hours for sure – but when it was finally over, no one really wanted to go home. It was that good.
And guess what? I get to go back tonight and do it again.
True, not every place is as open and alive as this church was, nor are everyone’s hearts as prepared to seek the Lord as those people are, but if there are enough of them to set on fire, the darkness that has settled in over Nigeria can be broken. And that’s what I have come here to do.
Who knows how far the arm of the Lord will stretch? It may just even reach unto America.
So how’s it going in Nigeria, you ask? As they say in Texas, “it’s better felt than telt!”