If your answer to the question above is yes, then I encourage you to read the testimony of a friend. Dr. Jonathan Armstrong visited Nigeria for the first time in August 2011. We were in Nigeria to facilitate a week seminar at ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja. Jonathan’s visit to Nigeria left an indelible mark on his life. Enjoy your reading!
Miracles in Nigeria
“Do you have a visa? You’d better check on that…”
Three days before I was schedule to board the plane for my flight to Nigeria, my wife Linda brought up the visa question. Up to this point, the only African countries I had visited were Kenya and Tanzania, and for those countries the process is as simple as purchasing a visa at the airport upon entry.
Unsure, Linda did a quick search on her computer and pulled up a website that specifically stated that Nigerian visas cannot be purchased at the airport.
Everything seems so obvious when you’re looking back on it.
Growing anxious, I stayed up that night until the American embassy in Nigeria opened to ask how to apply for a visa. “Even if you were somehow permitted to board the plane,” the woman at the other end of the phone told me frankly, “you’d be arrested upon deplaning here in Nigeria.”
That wasn’t the news I was hoping to hear.
After a lot of panic and prayers and an astonishing series of “God things” that resulted in someone at the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC taking a personal interest in resolving my problem, I boarded a flight to Nigeria only two days later than planned and arrived the night before the seminar was scheduled to begin.
God is good.
My co-leader Moses Owojaiye met me at the airport, and we had the first of many wonderful conversations. Moses is a native Nigerian who recently completed his M.Phil in Nairobi, and the paper he submitted to fulfill that requirement is currently being considered for an award given to the most significant thesis in any discipline submitted at an African University. To share leadership duties with Moses was a great privilege, and his deep insight into the African church was an education in itself for me.
One of the themes of our conversations, however, was the different way miracles are perceived in Africa and in the United States. Here in the West, we tend to think of miracles as “God breaking the laws of nature.” But according to this definition, we can never actually witness a miracle. No matter what phenomenon we experience, it can only inform our understanding of natural laws. A law whose definition encompasses everything that’s observable can never, of course, be broken.
Instead, we hedge our bets. We call them “God things,” those moments when we believe God orchestrated a series of circumstances for a specific purpose. Africans, however, are more willing to take that leap of faith and risk a raised eyebrow. Africans call them “miracles.”
I put the question to Moses. “So, the fact that I was able to get a visa in 48 hours was a miracle?”
“Yes,” he said, smiling, “a big miracle!”
The seminar went even better than we hoped. The group of students and faculty was the largest we’ve ever had, and they were a very timely and disciplined group. After enjoying the president’s hospitality for breakfast, Moses and I would begin lectures at 7:30 every morning. Lectures ran for 5 hours with Moses taking the final hour. The highlight for me was often the group discussion Moses facilitated at the end of the day, focusing on the way the theology of the church fathers spoke to the specific issues facing Africa and African evangelicalism today.
When it came time to return to the USA, I experienced another of those God things I’m learning to call miracles. The journey was scheduled to be the longest single trip of my life—40 hours of travel from Igbaja to my home in Spokane, Washington, by plane and car combined.
The hospitality in Africa was generous and unfailingly kind, but I admit that by the time I boarded my first flight I was already looking forward to a hot shower after the limited electricity and sponge baths of the seminary. When I reached the airport in Lagos, my heart sank as I noticed the long queue of suitcases in front of me stretching all the way to the check-in counter. The flight from the day before had been overbooked and many people had not been able to board, meaning that today’s flight was likely to share a similar fate. Discouraged and growing anxious at the back of the line, an airport official approached me out of the blue and asked a strange question.
“Are you a Christian?”
Surprised, I said, “Yes.”
“Something in my spirit told me you were a Christian,” he said. He then proceeded to tell me that he would like to upgrade my ticket to business class on the flight from Lagos to Frankfurt. Not only would I be able to make my flight, this meant I would be able to recline to sleep on the flight and—best of all—take a hot shower at the first class lounge when I arrived in Germany. It’s funny how grateful you can feel for a few hours of sleep and a shower.
Calling these things miracles may cause some believers to get uncomfortable. The events seem so small and are easily explained away as the generous impulse of a stranger or the random happenstance of life. Some people worry that if we see start seeing God in everything, we’ll lose our sense of responsibility and succumb to a lazy fatalism. Certainly we need to exercise wisdom as well as faith when we interpret the world around us, but let’s not be afraid of claiming an act of unexpected goodness for a God we know to be good.
If these miracles still seem small, let me share with you one last event that truly spoke to my heart. On the last day of the seminar, Dr. J.B. Lawal (the President of ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja) rose to address the group and say a few words about the events of the week. After speaking about the historically poor relationship between Africa and the West, he gestured to me and said with incredible grace: “You are one of us… you have seen Christ in us, and we have seen Christ in you.”
Love is always the greatest miracle.
This trip changed me and changed the way I view acts of God. Let’s start calling “God things” what they really are. Let’s start calling them miracles.
 Please note that this article has been used with the author’s permission.