There’s something special about Egbe, Nigeria and after spending a month here, it holds a special place in my heart.
The missionary work here began in 1908, when Canadian Tommie Titcombe came to live in Egbe (joined by his wife Ethel in 1915). God used the Titcombe’s in a remarkable way to serve the people physical and spiritual needs. In the early 1900’s, it was an animistic society that practiced witchcraft. As part of this beliefs, here are some of the things that were happening in Egbe less than a hundred years ago:
-If a mother died and left a baby less than a year old, the baby was buried with the mother or taken out into the bush. They had no way of keeping an orphan alive.
-The mother’s first milk was believed to be full of worms; so for the first nine days, the baby was given a medicinal mixture prepared by the medicine man; 85% of babies died.
-The people believed that a woman who gave birth to twins, she wasn’t human and they wouldn’t let her live any longer in the village and would send her out to the bush. Believing one of the twins must be an evil spirit, the medicine man would come and kill both to make sure. This custom was incredibly devastating as the people of this area have some of the highest rates of twin births.
On Christmas Day, 1915, a mother had the courage to go against custom and asked the missionaries to help save her twin babies; the Titcombe’s took the mother and the babies into their home. Ethel required the mother to breast feed the babies. Under the care at the Titcombe’s home, the twins grew healthy and strong. Word started to spread that if you wanted a healthy baby, bring it to the missionaries. More and more women starting coming. Word also spread about the twins, how both were healthy and human. Incredibly, during this same time, Ethel became pregnant and gave birth to twins. These events led to the saving of many lives – mothers began to breastfeed which gave their babies the nourishment needed to survive, and twins began to be allowed to live. Ethel had started a small maternity in their home, which eventually led to the building of a maternity ward and clinic, and then in 1952, the establishment of the Egbe Hospital. The hospital would develop a reputation as one of the best medical facilities in West Africa, with people coming from all over Nigeria for treatment.
Tommie and Ethel recognized that caring for the physical needs of the people opened doors to caring for their spiritual needs as well. Tommie provided some basic medical care to the people and spent a great deal of time telling people about Christ, both within Egbe and in the surrounding villages. Overtime, the number of people becoming believers in Christ started to grow exponentially. The first ECWA church (Evangelical Church of West Africa, now Evangelical Church Winning All) was built in Egbe during the Titcombe’s time there. And now, 13 ECWA churches stand across Nigeria – reaching about five million people.
It’s incredible how God used a husband and wife to have such a last impact on an entire country. And now, the work continues today – through missionaries on the ground, supporters and volunteers from the U.S., Canada, and U.K., and the local people.
We will never forget our time in Egbe! Here are some more pictures and stories from our time there:
CHURCH ON THE HOSPITAL COMPOUND
There is a church on the compound and that is where we went for service on Sunday morning. The congregation is about 300 people, mostly nursing students and hospital staff, as well as the kids from the local orphanage. The folks here take praise and worship to a whole new level. They sing loud and passionately, and when they sing, they are either waving their hands around in the air or dancing (or often a combination of the two). And when they clap their hands, it’s not the typical clapping on beats 2 & 4 that we do back home – they do all these fancy claps, including lots of double claps. They have some serious God- given rhythm and soul. I tried my best to keep up.
One of my favorite things about the service is how they make offering time a celebration. During offering, everyone goes up to the altar, row by row and places an offering envelope into the plate…the entire time singing and dancing up and down the aisles and around the altar. It was quite the experience. Singing is a major part of the service. Services run 2+ hours long and it seems about 80% of time time is singing.
Interestingly, they do communion here, they don’t use grape juice or wine; those aren’t items readily available here. We had communion with bread and CocaCola!
CHAPEL WITH THE NURSING STUDENTS
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, the nursing students hold chapel at the church from 7:30-8:00. We joined them on Wednesday mornings. It was a time of worship, prayer, and a short message. The worship was a cappella, and it was beautiful.
Greetings are an important part of the culture here. Each time you pass by someone, you greet them – even if you already greeted them a short time before. There is a guard who sits near the guesthouse where we are staying, so each time we pass by him we greet him – even if you walked by just 5 minutes before. They do proper greetings here – good morning, good afternoon, good evening; it’s not just a smile or a wave. It took a while for me to get accustomed to always taking the time to greet everyone. Back home, when I’m headed somewhere, I’m usually not even paying attention to people I’m passing by. Learning to take the time to greet people was a good lesson for me, one that I hope I can take with me and do a better job at back home.
THE WAY WE WERE WELCOMED
It was overwhelming how welcoming the people of Egbe are to missionaries. I can’t even count the number of times a Nigerian has said to me “you are welcome here”. Each time a new group of volunteers comes to Egbe (which is typically every 2 weeks) representatives from the ECWA church come to welcome the new volunteers. They bring food and drinks – chickens (still alive), yams, fruit, sodas. They greet each volunteer and thank each one individually for coming. It is humbling to see how much they bring as gifts, knowing how little they have to give. And to know how faithful they are in doing it, coming EACH TIME there is a new group of volunteers.
THE ECWA CONFERENCE
One weekend during our time here was the Annual Egbe ECWA conference. It’s a big deal – thousands of people from the 13 different churches come. The 1st ECWA church is in Egbe and that is where the conference was held. We went to the big Sunday morning service during the conference. When we arrived, the place was already packed – both inside and out (they had tents and chairs set up outside). They insisted on bringing us inside and seating us on the stage with the pastors and choirs. To me, it felt a little strange, especially because they were videotaping the service and we kept ending up on the big screens. But for them, missionaries are guests of honor and they want you to have a special place to sit. Talk about humbling. They had Mark come up and say a few words and introduce each of us.
One Sunday afternoon we went to the local orphanage run by H.E.L.P. After a tour and some time playing games with the kids, we all sat in a big circle and had church – led by the orphans! One of them led the praise and worship, another one performed a special number, and another one gave a sermon. At one point, they asked for anyone who had memorized a new bible verse to stand up recite it for everyone. The little girl next to me, Mary, stood up and recited from Psalm 23:
The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
It’s humbling to hear those words come from an orphan.
In the mornings, we did devotionals with the locals working alongside us. The men would meet down in the workshop and the women would meet in the kitchen. The devotions always started with singing. One of my favorite songs they would sing was:
Good morning Jesus
Good morning Lord
I know you came from Heaven above
Thy Holy Spirit is on the throne
Good morning Jesus
Good morning Lord
After singing, we would study the word. The women were using the devotional book “Jesus Calling”, so we would read the verses and message in the book for each day. Devotionals would end with prayer and then we would recite the following blessing together:
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The Love of God,
And the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
Be with us now and forevermore,
I’ll never forget the ladies! Here is a picture of me with Duro, Ronke, and Sholah. Duro does all the laundry (a never ending task) and cleans, Ronke is the lead and heads up the kitchen, Sholah prepares breakfast in the morning and then does office work for Mark & Abby.
Kimmy is also part of the staff and she is notorious for always carrying loads on her head, regardless of how big or small. My Aunt Becky suggested that I learn how to carry a load on my head, so Kimmy was the person I asked. She thought it was fun that I wanted to learn. I was a little frightened when she grabbed such a big plate of bananas to put on my head, but to my surprise, they felt comfortably balanced on my head. The secret is the headpiece and appropriate placement of the load on your head.
One day, Abby, Erin, and I gave the ladies pedicures. Abby called them together for a “special meeting”. They were really surprised when they found out that it really wasn’t a meeting at all, but that we were going to have some “girl time” and do their nails!
One day, we went to the big market in town. It comes to town every 9 days, which I thought was strange until I learned that it’s because it rotates around to 9 different surrounding villages. I’ve been to a lot of different markets in my travels. This was one of the poorest I have ever seen. There wasn’t much variety in what was being sold. A lot of different stands selling the same things.
While we were at the Market, a woman came up to me, gave me a big hug, then placed her hands on my shoulders, thanked me for coming to Egbe and welcomed me, then said a blessing over me…she thanked God for my safe arrival, prayed for good things during my time here, prayed that I would have a safe journey home, and that I would never forget my time here. Under normal circumstances, that would be a little strange, but being here, it didn’t feel strange at all.
Abby’s dad, Jim, was part of the volunteer team the last two weeks we were in Nigeria. Jim had volunteered here before, early on in the project. The combination of that, on top of the fact that he works for Billy Graham – and probably most of all, the fact that he is Abby’s dad, made him sort of like a celebrity while he was here. All sorts of people came to greet Jim. Baba Warren, who was an ECWA pastor for 40 years, seemed to come by nearly every night to greet Jim and bring him a gift. Jim was invited to meet with several different people during his time in Egbe. One day, he met with the King. At the end of that meeting, Jim was given a special gift – bushmeat. It is a special honor to receive this as the animal is one of the fastest in the bush and most difficult to catch. Jim brought the bushmeat back to the hospital compound, the ladies prepared it, and we ate it for dinner. It tasted like beef.
Of course, I will never forget all the work that we did. After all, it was the primary purpose of our being there and it was what we spent the most time doing. We did a lot of different things during our time there: organizing the tool shed, inventory, painting, tiling, mounting cabinets, pouring concrete, installing fixtures, etc, etc.
TOYIN AND TAYO
These were two of the Nigerian men on staff as part of the revitalization project. Toyin lead the workshop guys and Tayo was responsible for carpentry. Both men had the brightest smiles (wish I had a better picture of Tayo).
Will is on staff with Samaritan’s Purse and serves as construction foreman. A hard worker and one of those people who seem to be willing to do anything for Christ…even if that means going down into the cistern. Which is what he did the day he had this funny outfit on.
Here’s another picture of Will, this time before our way to church. Another great outfit. I saw a lot of crazy colored/patterned Nigerian clothing during our time in Egbe, but think Will’s outfit in this pictur topped them all.
MARK & ABBY
And last, but not least, what really made our time special in Egbe was having the opportunity to serve alongside Mark & Abby and to be able to spend time with them. It was so very cool to see and experience first hand how God is working through them in Nigeria. It’s not an easy place to be a missionary. And to accomplish what they have been tasked to do is a huge undertaking, full of challenges. It’s not an assignment many people in this world would willingly take on. And yet, Mark & Abby know that they were specifically called here. It’s not something they would have chosen for themselves, but that God chose for them. And they openly acknowledge that leading this project is not something THEY are doing, but that GOD is doing through them. And that is clear to see when you are in Egbe. What has been accomplished so far could only have been made possible by God. God is working through Mark & Abby in an incredible way to serve the people of West Africa, just as he worked through Tommie & Ethel Titcombe so many years ago. To God be the Glory.