Transitions for the Family and Ministry

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In March of 1998 Benson Idahosa suddenly went to be with the Lord. He had just returned from America that week. On Tuesday Ruth and I ate lunch, just us together with him. He was noticeably tired. He didn’t eat that day but kept putting more food on our plate, as was his custom with all his guests. We ate with him often, normally a few times a week when he was at home, but he had never not eaten himself before. On Thursday he spent the morning in the bible college with the students. As I took him out to his car, I noticed again the car’s general disrepair and thought about how he invested everything in people. He used to tell me, “People are selfish. Don’t allow them make you ashamed of supporting the grassroots.” He died of a sudden massive heart attack at home at lunch that Thursday, while entertaining guests from America. It was a big shock to everyone. For thirteen years Benson Idahosa was a father to Ruth and me. He brought us up in ministry. Ruth and I decided to stay on with the work, supporting the bible college.

However, our five children needed high school education and we were considering their options. We decided the safest prospect for them was a school that offered them scholarships in England. This was close to Nigeria, in terms of a direct flight, allowing me to spend half of my time in England with the family and half in Nigeria. We wanted our children to have the choice when they grew up about what they wanted to do with their lives. This is another reason why we chose this school in England, which had a very good reputation for educational outcomes. Its director, Peter Linnecar, and his wife Carolyn, supported us a lot, as did the church that the school was a part of. We also needed to move our family to the UK because our youngest child had medical needs and he was also developing reactions to antimalarial drugs available then. Ruth was given a job in the school, as the high school chemistry teacher, the biology teacher, and also as a form teacher. Ruth worked exceedingly hard all those years. Wages were low in the school to keep the fees affordable to the limited number of students. The teachers were amazingly committed to the children.

The first year we rented a flat on a main road. We were thinking of buying a house, since we were staying there for some years, until our children were through university, and we thought renting was throwing money away. But we had arrived in the UK with only our suitcases. That was all we owned. I had grown up in a relatively wealthy environment, but I had never come to terms with the idea that we must put our financial considerations first in life. The normal financial priorities for a family in a developed nation: the mortgage, insurance policy, school fees for the children, retirement policy, all intact, and then you think about what you might do with the rest of your life. That is not what we wanted to do with our lives, so our only other option was to trust in the Lord. We did this. As for our kids, God provided them with one of the best levels of education any child could hope for. What about the house? (Forget the life insurance: insurance actuaries didn’t like our chances of staying alive, so we had to settle instead for God’s assurance.)

At the end of our first year in England, Ruth and I had a break at Bath for two days since the other teachers were managing the annual children’s camp. We sat at a small coffee table (during the half-hour break in the rain) discussing our goals. What did we want to do in England? Education for the children as they grow in their faith. Some formal education for me as one of the directors of a bible college would be useful. Most of our informal education is done together, as Ruth and I study and discuss themes daily. We also said a little money at the end of our time in England to help the ministry would be useful. We had no idea how this would happen. It’s easy to talk about these things, but the pressures you go through as they unfold is another matter. We all know about these, one way or another. We even thought of giving our children a nice holiday experience one day. Amazingly, a couple of years later a friend told us he was sending us on a family ski trip to the French Alps. We stayed in a lodge on top of a mountain for a week. We have never experienced anything like it.

During that first year in England we had a call from another friend in Australia, who said he wanted to help us buy a house. I wasn’t one for counting chickens before they hatched. On the contrary, I am of Irish stock and given more to negativity than wild and prolonged periods of optimism. So I put the phone down and forgot about it. We looked for a house. We had no deposit, no personal income, and no funds for stamp duty. Houses we saw were very small, especially for Aussies used to wide spaces. As we looked, we thought, “How could we fit a family of seven in here?” Then someone told us a lady was selling her house down a lane just beside our church. We accepted her price and she agreed. We waited for her to be ready to move so we could exchange contracts and pay the deposit.

A friend went on a holiday to Canada and offered us her place, a tiny terrace cottage, while she was away. The seven of us piled in on top of each other and stayed for months. The owner of the house we hoped to buy wasn’t ready to exchange contracts. Our friend came back from her holiday and, to help us, moved in with another of her friends, temporarily. Life was all very embarrassing, again! Months went by. We heard that the lady selling the house we had agreed on was getting jitters about selling and we had no assurance she would go through with the verbal agreement. She never spoke with us. We also heard she had said, that because we were missionaries, how could we afford to buy a house? We thought that was a very good question, but we didn’t say so. It wasn’t looking good. But the potential for embarrassment and the shame that goes with it was the worst of it: one doesn’t like looking the fool, at least not too often!

I was sitting in a chair in our friend’s small house. Suddenly the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I have had some very clear experiences like this over the years. He asked me, in regard to buying the house, “Are you in?” I answered from a faith very clear in my heart, “This is your will, not mine. I am willing to go ahead as a sheep to the slaughter (to suffer the embarrassment of failing.) I am in.” That afternoon we had a call from the lady. She said she was ready to exchange contracts the next day. She asked to meet us at the lawyer’s office. On our way to the lawyer’s office, we stopped at a local branch of our bank to check our account. We discovered that our friend in Australia, who had said about one year earlier that he wanted to help us buy a house, had just deposited the exact amount of money we needed in our account. We went to the lawyer’s office behaving like we did this kind of thing every day. Another bank agreed to provide the mortgage to buy the house, without me having personal income. Peter Linnecar, who worked in the industry himself, was stunned that we had been given the loan.

By God’s grace, we owned that house from 2001 till 2013 and never once defaulted on a monthly payment, even during the financial crash of 2008. It was a lovely little house and garden, down a gravel rural laneway, leading to public woods, perfect for the children to play. It was surrounded by trees and moors. In 2013, when Ruth and I left England, we sold the house at a tidy profit, and were able to give AUD$300,000 into building the ministry site called Wurin Alheri in Jos, Nigeria. This is the way God’s finances work. He is able to shift money around for us, putting it into areas where it is needed at that time, so we can pass it on to others without needing to hoard it for our own future. It’s an economy based upon trust, the trust that the lilies of the field and the birds of the air have. We are wrong to be embarrassed if we are truly serving God and other people. The embarrassment should lie with those who hoard. Our world is in trouble today because most of its wealth is hoarded. This is why we head towards war.

During our stay in the UK I completed a master’s degree in theology and our church in England also financed me to complete a Doctor of Ministry, for which I travelled often to America. Later on, professors at the University of Jos and University of Benue collaborated to grant me the title Professor of New Testament Theology. When I was in the UK, I taught theology at our church’s bible college in England, that was an adjunct college to the University of Wales and to Oral Roberts University in America.

In January 2006, eight years after Benson Idahosa died, Ruth and I decided to leave the college in Nigeria we had worked with for twenty years. We started to pray about our next step, while visiting graduates we had supported, who now led ministries in various nations. We were looking for a new place to work, where mission was needed and where large grass roots or marginalised communities existed that needed support. We felt drawn to Jos, which was a base from which we could access north east Nigeria. Even though this was in Ruth’s heart and my heart for many months we knew it would be a very difficult mission to embark upon. I was afraid of the costs involved in building a new bible college and of the intense poverty and life-destroying conditions in the wider region. We didn’t have the support base needed. I knew we didn’t have the resources to embark on a mission like this. We really had nothing at all.

Ruth and I and our children had frequently travelled to Jos during our years in Nigeria, and to the north east region, to visit graduates and to vacation. We had a love for the region. A passage of scripture touched us in the early years, where Abraham’s son Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother Hagar were thrown out of Abraham’s house. It says that God loved Ishmael and revealed himself to Hagar, which is rare in scripture. This was something most in Israel never understood: God loved Sarah because she was barren, and he also loved Hagar because she was despised. Tradition says Hagar was the mother of the Arabic and Muslim people. Islam dominates in the north of Nigeria. We told the students in Benin City, that we wanted to take the gospel and serve these people in northern Nigeria, and also in Egypt, as a door to the Middle East. We had no idea then of the conflict and ruin to many lives that was coming to these nations because of the geopolitics, nor of all the things we would learn.

We decided on the north east of Nigeria and launched out in December 2006 to become planted in that region. We worked with a team of men we had known for many years by that time. They contacted Ruth and me and told us they would like to join us in the new mission. So in December 2006, just before Christmas, this team arrived late at night with a truck load of their household goods in Bukuru, a large town in Jos South, part of the city of Jos. They slept in a building they had just rented to start Christian Faith Institute (CFI) a new grass roots, inter-denominational bible college, to help serve and reach the north east of Nigeria.

We had no apartments for our team. Our landlord was a Muslim Alhaji. The building was large but used as a dump and hadn’t been occupied for quite a while. But it looked like gold to us. The book of Acts was about to start another chapter. Our team set about cleaning the refuse out, repairing the broken roof, reinstalling electrical wiring and fittings and painting. Together there they ate their Christmas chicken dinner, sitting on a few bits of broken furniture. All of them were embarking on a mission by trusting God, not having any strong plan for what we would be doing, not knowing how this new work would be provided for, how it would succeed, or where it would take them and their families. Our only plan was to use Jos as a base to reach the north east. They can all write their own story about their faith walk and how the Lord has led them. We bought tables, chairs and beds for students, and CFI classes started January 2007 with 1 student from Cameroon. Soon another 32 students joined to be part of our first semester.

From 2007 till early 2013 I continued to interchange between northern Nigeria and England. Ruth’s parents in Australia were aging, needing her care. Ruth resigned her job, dividing her time between England and the rural Riverina area of NSW, Australia, helping her parents, caring for our youngest son with special needs, and sharing about the work in Australian churches. In 2010, in England, Peter Linnecar helped us launch Christian Faith Ministries International as a tax-exempt UK registered charity, and until today friends we came to know at our church in England serve on the board. In 2013 we sold our house in England, shifting our personal base to Ruth’s parents’ town, to care for them, and eventually inherited Ruth’s parent’s small house, when they went to be with the Lord. However today this house is rented out while Ruth and I base at Wurin Alheri in Nigeria.

Over the years we have seen the perfect timing of God. Ruth’s parents retired to help just as we started. Ruth’s father could no longer help just as the internet allowed us the flexibility. Ruth’s parents’ health gave out just as Ruth was free to help them. It was the best time for Ruth’s aunty to help with our youngest son. We have seen the Lord’s timing constantly caring for our family in difficult decisions. Here is an example when it looked like Nigeria was going into civil war. We were about to return to Nigeria from Australia with our five children. All the newspapers said Nigeria would to be decimated. A stranger threw a Time Magazine on my lap as she walked past on a bus. The cover read, “The Bottomless Pit of Nigeria,” referring to its soon destruction. “Leading prophets” agreed. I didn’t sleep that night, but tossed and worried: How could we know what the future held? As soon as my foot hit the floor in the morning the Holy Spirit told me Nigeria was not going to war. That day we began to pack our bags. We landed in Zimbabwe and stayed with a friend for two days. On our way to the airport to continue the journey to Nigeria, we heard on the radio that Mr Abiola, who contested the Nigerian leadership in an annulled election, was returning to claim his presidency and he would arrive at the Nigerian airport as the same time as us. Trusting God (in trepidation) we went to board the plane, as our friend called out over the partition saying that Mr. Abiola had cancelled his flight. Ruth and I and our five children would land in peace. Every time we decided to do God’s will, there has always been a lot of “very good reasons” not to do it. God’s timing has been consistently perfect in our journey.

This life is a story of faith and service, with so many people sharing support and their kindness with us; Ruth and I supporting our team; our team supporting us and supporting so many thousands of individuals we meet every day. In all of this God’s love and commitment to each one of us shines through. Life is meant to be a display of the cross, where God gave himself for us, and of the resurrection, the new communities and lives that spring from God’s way of living for others. We move from the old to the new, from self-focus to one-another, and new creation grows around us. This is what most of us want in life. Nothing else we have satisfies. This is the rest of the story we tell below.