My Nigerian Colleagues
I have the privilege of serving as the program manager of the Kingdom Workers health education efforts in Nigeria. I find that few people are aware of the long relationship WELS and Kingdom Workers has with this African country. The greatest joy of supporting this work comes from stories from the field. The following testimonial is typical of the work being done there. It was recorded by my Nigerian colleague Peter Ogbudu and forwarded to me in a report:
“Mrs. Lydia Orim Odey, one of the Kingdom Worker, visit a home. After giving the necessary health talk, she discovered the child had persistent diarrhea. She educate the woman on personal hygiene, and she give the child an ORS sachet (oral rehydration solution) and Zinc tablet. This was something she learned in training. Then she asked the mother about their Christian life. After two weeks, the woman came to church with the child, and the child was baptized. The woman was so grateful for the treatment and that Lydia had shared the words of God. Now the mother believe that, with God, all things are possible.”
Michael receives reports with images like this throughout the year. Sometimes the reports are written by Peter, an ASRHS coordinator, or by volunteers themselves.
There are many stories like this thanks to a unique collaboration between Kingdom Workers and Nigerian Christians. In 2015 I accompanied WELS Missionary Doug Weiser to Nigeria. Pastor Weiser (since retired) had long served as a missionary to the 23 congregations of All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria, which is located in Cross River State. I had spent several years working as a Medical Officer in Gambia and South Africa and was glad to use that background to support this work.
Flying into Africa and exiting directly onto the runway tarmac is always a memorable experience. It’s a kind of sensory overload that helps to prepare you for further overland travel. Washed out roads thread through the thick green foliage of southern Nigeria, past multiple police checkpoints, and take you from the historic city of Calabar to the more rural Cross River State.
The smells and sounds are all heightened when compared to my quiet Wisconsin home. A few hours a day the diesel generator roars to supply the hotel with power, and outside the walls, a partially burned pile of trash has been smoldering for days. Dinner at the hotel includes the aptly named “pepper soup” followed by a delicious yam porridge.
In theory, Nigeria could be a wealthy country. It has significant deposits of petroleum, a history of agriculture, and emerging business and IT entrepreneurs.* But corruption and other challenges have left much of Nigeria in disarray. We passed many shuttered and run-down gas stations despite being a day’s travel from one of the world’s leading oil fields. Malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and diarrheal illnesses are common causes of death. In some areas, hospitals do not have reliable electricity or medical supplies, and many buildings are in disrepair. The average life expectancy for Nigerians is about 53 years.*
In 2009, a Nigerian-led organization called All Saints Rural Health Services (ASRHS) was formed. ASRHS is composed of volunteer health professionals who are members of local congregations. Christian Aid and Relief grants facilitated by Missionary Weiser helped support these congregations in multiple projects, including sinking boreholes for clean water and allowing ASRHS to furnish and stock a small clinic. In 2015, we were following up to see how we could further partner with ASRHS. To do this, we had to determine what the main challenges were and what local assets existed.
In places where there is a hospital building, receiving care in Nigeria can be difficult. Hospitals often lack funding and electricity, making disease prevention an even greater priority.
It quickly became clear that ASRHS was already doing great work to help their communities deal with health issues and spiritual concerns. They simply needed a partner who could supply additional educational resources and help them reach even more people.
As a result of our visit, Kingdom Workers helped ASRHS conduct a Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training session for 46 volunteer women from each of the 23 Lutheran congregations in Cross River State. The trainers were full-time public health officers in the Nigerian medical system. This group shared the same goal—to serve their neighbors by providing preventative health education while also sharing God’s message of hope and peace.
“We love the Kingdom Workers mission: working together, sharing the gospel.”
Since then, I have served as the liaison between the volunteers in Nigeria and Kingdom Workers here in the United States. Kingdom Workers helps provide annual trainings to the volunteers using the CHE model. This helps participants learn evangelism best practices while receiving training on how to prevent malaria, diarrhea, and other common illnesses.
These volunteers go out into the field with no phone or transportation and simply do what they can to help their fellow neighbor. They keep track of their work in the field and on a quarterly basis Peter and Sunday Divine, another volunteer coordinator, collect this information to track the impact the volunteers are having in their community. Without the dedicated efforts of women like Mrs. Orim or of Peter and Sunday, this work would not be possible. This is exemplified by a story that Peter shared with me about one of the volunteers,
“When I entered some houses, some of the members of those houses will not even love to see anyone coming to preach the word of God to them due to one reason or the other. There was a particular woman in one compound. I entered and as I was trying to gather the people of that compound so I can tell them the gospel, this woman refused to join us. I asked questions about this woman and they told me she lost two of her children inside the church and from that day she ever denying that there is no God so she will not even want to hear anything about God. I try to encourage her, but she refused. But at last I met her one-on-one and I was able to encourage and I thank God she listened to the word of God and she was happy again.”
In 2021, God willing, even more volunteers will be trained in the CHE model to expand the impact ASRHS has in the community. We also hope to increase the technological capacity of the volunteer coordinators to allow for better communication and sharing of resources. Finally, community members have requested basic literacy training from the ASRHS volunteers. Peter recently wrote to me that, “Most of our adults cannot read and write. We need to educate them in our local language on various health issues.”
Volunteers attend Community Health Evangelism training on an annual basis.
As a Christian and health professional myself, it is humbling to work alongside my remarkable colleagues in Nigeria. Even COVID-19 didn’t stop them. They worked together to provide hand washing stations and made masks for each of the 23 congregations to help slow the spread of the virus. Their love for God motivates them to do whatever it takes to help those around them. This motivation was summarized perfectly in a recent phone conversation with Peter, who told me, “We love the Kingdom Workers mission: working together, sharing the gospel.”
Michael Toppe is a physician assistant active in clinical practice and PA education. Since 2015, he has served as the volunteer Nigeria Field Manager. Michael has been a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, a Medical Officer in South Africa, and has a passion for faith-based health education and prevention. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and three children.