Dear Friends and Family,
Here in Nigeria, if someone is absent for some time, it is customary to ask, “Did you travel? “ And even after 29 years, I still don’t understand the next question that inevitably follows, “Are you back?”. You may be standing in front of the person asking the question, but they will want assurance that you are back. Well, we did travel and we are back, all by the special grace of God.
I recognize the grace of our Lord expressed in so many ways and know that His mercies are more than we even know or recognize. One special grace was that we were able to travel together as husband and wife. Nkiru’s visa was granted and arrived just one day before travel. So many times we have experienced His “Just in the last moment” grace. His timing is always perfect, and it is for us to struggle to remember that He will provide according to His will.
For me to recount all of the wonderful blessings of our recent trip to America, which extended long past the expected return date, would require a small book. But I would like to hit some of the highlights.
First was our safe arrival in Dallas for the Medical Missions Seminar I mentioned in my last letter. My brother Philip, his wife Myra and son Wyatt drove more than 500 miles to come and pick us up from the airport and spend an extra special weekend with us. Our flight was difficult, with the last leg lasting 16 hours, but what a relief to be on the ground and see family welcoming us. Philip and Myra drove us around special places in Dallas and Fort Worth, even driving us south of Dallas to meet our daughter, her husband and our grandson Henry. What a special time this was.
The Missions Seminar was a chance to get spiritual batteries recharged as we were welcomed into the fellowship of giants of faith and service which gave us a little fore taste of Heaven. It was amazing to see some whom we had not seen since many years, and to hear of how God is still using their faithful service. We received an award for our 29 years of service here in Nigeria which was received with gratefulness on behalf of the many of you who have faithfully labored with us though this special journey. Our sincere appreciation goes to those who hosted the gathering, those who made our trip possible, and for those who made extra efforts to be able to share this time with us. A special thanks to Br. Jerry Canfield and his wife who drove all the way from Fort Smith, Arkansas after heart surgery less than a month before to make the award presentation. If you are interested in medical missions I would heartily recommend you try to visit the next seminar.
After Sunday morning worship with the Preston Crest congregation, which had allowed their facility to be used for the seminar, we drove from Dallas to San Antonio. We stopped along the way for a short visit with Dr. John Ibekwe and his wife and family. They were friends from Nigeria who were able to immigrate to America many years ago. Three of their children are doctors and one even lecturers at John Hopkins. Our visit was also a chance to visit and encourage their daughter, who while in law school, was struck by a drunk driver. This has left her paralyzed with all the struggles that brings. We solicit prayers on behalf of the Ibekwe family.
After two days with the Masseys in San Antonio, we drove to Houston to visit with our friends Don and Debbie Locke and the congregation where they worship. The church there warmly received us and gave us the opportunity to tell about what God is doing with us here in Nigeria. The next day we drove from North Houston to Lubbock Texas, which was a long day’s drive. We were able to stop and visit briefly with Dr. Stuart Quartermont and his wife Velvet. They were missionaries in Nigeria, and he still makes annual medial mission trips. They have blessed so many lives here.
Our trip to Lubbock was to see, if only for a few brief hours, our son Jonathan as well as others. Jonathan has had severe health challenges, having survived several surgeries to remove cancerous growths. He has endured so much since early 2006 and the struggle continues. They have recently seen spots on his liver which are concerning. We ask for the Lord to remember Jon’s years of selfless service to his younger brothers and sisters, and heal Jonathan in the way according to His will. I would so much like to be closer to be able to be the father I need to be for my son, but can only watch and pray from afar.
While we were driving across Texas, Brother Massey and his wife had gone with others on a medical mission trip to Mexico, where they have shared God’s love for a number of years. No longer feeling safe to spend the night on the Mexican side, they endured long waits in line to cross the border each night to Texas. What an inspiration they are. In their mid 80’s, with health challenges of their own, they sacrificially strive to serve others. We have certainly been the beneficiaries of their love and concern.
After an encouraging day with brethren in worship at the NorthWest congregation, a church that has done so much to allow us to serve here, we flew to Memphis where my sister picked us up and drove us to her home near Tupelo, Mississippi. I was able to speak at a couple of supporting congregations, we were able to visit with loved ones who came to see us, and to visit my dad’s farm. This is where the trip took a solid left turn.
It had been expected that my son Jeb and nephew Walker would visit the farm from time to time and see to its upkeep. However this had not proven possible, and the condition of the home had sharply deteriorated in the past year. A water pipe broke undetected, causing damage and mold and mildew filled the house. We decided to extend our stay and try to repair the house and get it ready to rent.
So we flew back to San Antonio to speak to the congregation there as planned, and then drove back to Mississippi. We spent the next weeks, along with friends, cousins, nieces and nephews trying to patch, mend, clean and remove a life time of my dad’s things. I cannot fully explain what a struggle this was. My dad rarely got rid of anything, and the house needed to be stripped so tenants could move in. My sister, who had served faithfully our father for almost 20 years, did not need to face this all alone. We were thankful that God was able to place us there at the time most needed, even supplying an elderly couple who needed accommodation.
This whole long and eventful journey taught us many things, lessons already learned but refreshed at a deep level. One is that life is fast coming to an end, and all too soon those things we once treasured will be there for others to throw or give away. Two, how deeply we need the love and support of others. All this could not have been possible without family, both spiritual and physical. God bless you one and all.
Among the many blessings of this extended stay was the chance to connect with family and friends. We have special memories of time with our nieces and nephews and their loved ones. It was so important to be able to make that connection as their generation soon will take the lead. We also got to attend the 50th anniversary of our high school graduation. We got to see childhood friends we had not seen in so many years. It was sad to know of many that have already passed from this life, but truly blessed to make this reconnect.
Our journey back to Nigeria was almost delayed again by a sudden illness of Nkiru. We were at the emergency clinic at midnight on the day before we were to take off. With enough pain and other medication, Nkiru felt like starting off, though it wasn’t easy for her. My son Jeb once again came to drive us to Atlanta. We appreciate the effort he made to serve us.
We were pleased to meet everyone and everything in order back at home. Thanks is due to so many folks who worked to make this happen. Uncle Sam, in spite of his struggle with his wounds for his accident last year, was the chief coordinator. Chima took the lead in the worship services, as well as others. It was good to see things carry on, growing on the foundation laid. We pray God will continue to cause our unusual family and congregation to grow, even in our absence.
Our return has been desperately longed for by so many. The first Sunday back women waited five hours to talk to Nkiru to tell her of their needs. The needs are real, the solutions we can offer are limited, and we desperately need strength and wisdom to meet the task. We, as a congregation, are seeking solutions to be able to collectively face the severe challenges facing us all.
An example is a man who attended for the first time recently our Sunday worship service. Afterwards he told me that were he worked had been torn down by government decree. His wife had to return to her parents since they no longer had work or a place to stay. He later returned to say where he was putting up with a friend had also been knocked down, and he was now sleeping on the street. I asked him to find a place to rent and get back to me. He did so, and found a wooded shack with dirt floors, no electricity, no water, and no toilet for rent for 5 dollars a month. We were able to help him with the required amount. He has found a restaurant that allows him to wash dishes for leftover scraps to eat one meal a day. His story is amplified day after day, by persons who are not lazy but lack opportunity to provide their most basic needs. Your gifts enable us to share with those we come in contact with. Thank you for this.
Let me end on a bit of good news. An evangelist, Br Edem, has agreed to come from Lagos to work with us to help this congregation to grow. He is currently serving a congregation of over 300 persons in Lagos, so this is like stepping backwards as the world views things. We thank the congregation in San Antonio for being willing to provide his support for a period of time so we can take this small struggling group of believers to a higher level. Please pray as we all take this step of faith, believing God is leading all of us to grow.
We thank you once more for your faithful prayers and fellowship. Our struggles to serve here would not be possible without your support. We know God will provide for His children, even in the midst of such struggles as we face globally. May you rest in His peace and love.
Cliff, Nkiru and family