Hanging from a rod above the bathtub in my hotel bathroom is a shower curtain. But thereís no shower. As a matter of fact, until we complain about it, thereís no water. Oh, and were you expecting hot water? This is Nigeria. Itís as if the vision of modern conveniences are within reach, but are too difficult to grasp. There are provisions for everything, but most of them are broken and stay broken because nobody is motivated to fix them.
The other day, I watched a man cut the lawn in front of his house with a knife. The 6í x 10í patch of grass looked great when he was done, but it took an hour to do it. Itís as if something is missing in their mindset. Itís not that they wonít work hard, itís how they approach the job. If I were to compare them to a human body, they would be like a mass of muscle without bones. The strength is there, but the structure and organization is not. There is some kind of spiritual oppression that lies over this country like a blanket keeping them pressed down. Itís a dingy feeling Ė not of despair or sadness, but a kind of dark mood that you feel as you go through the city.
Of course, I have not seen the more prosperous side of Lagos yet, neither have I been to the rest of the countryside. I hear there is another side to this Nigeria, but God always calls me to the underbelly of a society, not to the fancy churches and rich establishments. But then, it strikes me that great moves of God start down here in the mud, not in the ivory palaces.
I have met a couple of ministers who have come here from Dubai in the U.A.E. We have been preaching in some of the same places and I have gotten to know them not only as fellow-workers, but as friends. We chuckle at the challenges we have to wade through like old friends who have known each other for years, and it brightens the experiences we go through.
We approach the Pastorís Conference in different ways. Whereas they have a traditional, organized method of bringing their message to the congregation, I probably appear to them as a loose cannon. Which is probably true, because I sometimes donít receive my message until I walk in the door. Nevertheless we have become fast friends and have the same goal before us.
I have rushed off to another Pastorís conference that has much more humble roots than the last pastorís conference I ministered to with my Dubai friends, but here I find hearts that are much more open and responsive. Iím not sure what it is that always seems to cause this, but I find that the poorer the church, the more they are open to receive the Word of God, while the richer the church, the more reserved and decorous they seem. Maybe it has to do with need; maybe itís humility; maybe itís just desperate hope.
What a great service we have there! I warn them that my message is going to be hard and that they will probably not like me very much by the time I am done. Apparently I wasnít hard enough because they rejoiced at the reproof. Services ended with cheering because they sincerely want to turn Nigeria around and wake up their sleeping churches. But they are not content with that Ė these pastors want to come up to the altar for prayer for themselves and their churches. These are serious Christians and I am honored to be here.
Something clean and refreshing is always found in the place of repentance. Itís as if that greasy smog is washed away with springtime freshness. It is pure God.
There is so much I do not understand about the conflicting forces found in Nigeria. There is so much wealth in the country, but the people are so poor; there are so many churches, but you can feel the curse of oppression; there are so many opportunities, but so little provision. Nevertheless, beneath the dull veneer on the outside are the lights of sincere hearts toward God that are praying to break forth unto something great.
Hope often springs from humble roots such as these. And hope brings the courage to believe God for great and mighty things.