Greetings from Nigeria, the country with the largest population in Africa! I just wrapped up my first international trip in a YEAR due to COVID. It was so good to get back out there on behalf of ServeNow, the mission organization I lead. Being ServeNow has always heavily emphasized serving in, with, and through national leaders and churches, we have been able to carry on our work without skipping too much of a beat over this last year. In fact, we served far more people in the previous year over COVID than even the year before COVID! It may have looked different, but the impact is still just as incredible, if not more so than years past.
However, it was important for me to be here to lay the groundwork and cast the vision for launching, especially The Basic Series Discipleship Program in Nigeria. It was also crucial for me to meet with key leaders as many ministries prior have failed due to not doing so. It was also good to spend time personally with our main leader over multiple countries in Africa and those we are partnering and coordinating within Nigeria.
That said, I want to briefly touch on some highlights and personal testimony. First, this trip faced numerous challenges, stress, and drama even before it started! We had tentatively looked at November, but it did not work out then. We then were not sure about getting my visa back in time for this trip, but it worked out. Not even two weeks before the trip, my mother-in-law had a stroke that left her hospitalized. I was unsure whether I should cancel my trip in case my wife needed to fly out. I shared this situation with our team worldwide, and they began praying. The next day, we got a note from the doctor where he used the term “miracle” to describe the turnaround she suddenly had! There are still challenges ahead because of stroke, but for a doctor to use the word “miracle” says a lot.
Further, just twenty-four hours before my first flight, we became aware of some further complications and issues. First, I still had not received my COVID test results back needed to fly, and without it, I could not fill out the online health form required. I almost canceled around that and a couple other things as I was feeling unsettled. However, through my African brothers’ faith and encouragement, I decided to proceed to the airport, where all I could do was continue to wait and hope it would come through in time. I finally called the pharmacy where I got the test when they opened about an hour before it would be too late to board, but at first, they indicated there was nothing they could do. Before I was about to hang-up, however, the woman said, let me login into your portal on the back end and check the status. When she did, she suddenly said, “oh! Your results are here, but they didn’t e-mail you!” I was able to obtain them and worked as quickly as possible to fill out the online health form. However, that gave me problems, so I finally ran up to the check-in counter to get on the first flight. I made it just in time, at least to there.
When the first flight landed, I again rushed to figure out the health form problem needed to obtain a QR code to enter the country. Multiple attempts failed, so finally, I e-mailed them, noting my flight was only an hour away. Miraculously they responded back with my code right before boarding once again. Minus a few more issues and complications, I made it, and we went on with the trip.
While writing about this, looking back is one thing. Living in it was nerve-wracking. But it reminded me again that we are called to a life of faith amid uncertainty, not a certainty before we exercise faith. In Africa, they live with this kind of uncertainty all the time. As Americans, we tend to struggle with uncertainty. This situation also led me to reflect on the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites. While my context is not at all comparable, I joked with staff that it was at least like facing “The Sea of Stress.” But in this classic story, the Israelites experience the truth of how God fights our battles and parts the seas in front of us that otherwise would prevent us from moving forward in what he has for us. But they had to trust him and wait on him even down to the last minute!
Once we got through all of that and other logistical situations, we launched in three different locations in three different languages at three different pastor/leader conferences. They were smaller in size than usual due to COVID restrictions but powerful with more watching live online. We also met with key church leaders, something critical to the success of ministry in Nigeria. Many other ministries have failed in Nigeria due to not understanding that cultural dynamic. This is another reason why working with national leaders is so vital.
I could write much, but just to keep this brief, I will note that I committed to printing 5,000 books per language due to the size of Nigeria, per print run instead of 3,000. But even 5,000 is nothing in a country of over 200 million people. One church network we met with alone has 12 million members just in Nigeria. There are at least 15 others just like that one that are a part of the same network together. However, the fun thing is that beyond what we commit to, there is every possibility that as they start to see the impact, they may be able to print far beyond the number we are committing to with their own resources. Our initial commitment is critical to show we are here to genuinely serve, and partner together, not just sell them something. But now that the vision is cast, they may run with it!
Word is getting around fast, though already! Even within minutes of the second dedication, we pulled out of the conference area, and I spotted a security guard intently reading the book already! Others commented that this is precisely what is needed in Nigeria right now, a sentiment we hear all around the world. This may strike our American ears as odd when we think of the needs of the world. These basic yet solid discipleship resources help the church in its calling to be disciples who make disciples. And that is our ultimate calling. These books are needed in the US as in other countries, but that is another subject for another time.
Friends, I can honestly say the impact and demand for the Basic Series is something beyond our wildest imagination. As I shared here in Nigeria, our Founder has said what he sees happening through The Basic Series books and ServeNow in just our first 7 ½ years is more than what he saw in his first 50 years combined of global ministry! This is coming from a leader I consider legendary and transformational; whose stories and life is inspirational.
I can attest that week in and week out, we receive story after story of lives being transformed, churches being revived, pastors being encouraged, and communities being served because of what God is doing through ServeNow and the Basic Series. Even this week, while here in Nigeria, I received stories from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa, of prostitutes coming to faith in Jesus. One of them, a Muslim, shared how she gave her life to Christ because of the Basic Series book on Jesus. Beyond even that, she is now reaching out to other prostitutes to lead them to Christ as well!
In writing this brief article, I hope it might encourage and inspire you to partner with ServeNow or commit to do so even more generously. There is a great need in the world. Still, repeatedly, the leaders we are with worldwide tell us the greatest need is what has become our foundational and flagship project: The Basic Things You Need to Know. From there, the outreach and impact are explosive!
***These books will go beyond where I, or other Americans should travel in Nigeria. They will reach into some dangerous parts of the country. Please pray for those being persecuted and those suffering under terrorist activity. Even while here, I saw video of a group of people taken captive right off the highway by a terrorist group where they are demanding money from the government in exchange for their lives.