John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: At Victory Temple, “Leading By Example, Not By Doctorate”

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
July 25, 2012

RCCG Pastor Lagosian Shina Enitan at Victory Temple courtesy Jim Sanders, Alexandria, Virginia, July 24, 2012. RCCG Pastor Lagosian Shina Enitan at Victory Temple courtesy Jim Sanders, Alexandria, Virginia, July 24, 2012.

This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Why am I  running a guest post on a Nigerian church in Alexandria, Virginia?  We sometimes overlook West Africa’s growing and vibrant social and cultural influence in the United States.  Jim Sanders recently visited a Redeemed Christian Church of God parish and interviewed the Nigerian pastor. The conversation provides fascinating insights into a Nigerian community in suburban Washington, D.C. and  also into aspects of Nigerian religious sensibility at home. His post  provides an opportunity for we Americans to “see ourselves as others see us.”

Lagosian Shina Enitan, pastor of Victory Temple, Alexandria, one of 12 Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) parishes in Virginia, spoke with “Africa in Transition” on Sunday afternoon, following services.

Roughly 80 percent of the congregation is Nigerian, with Sierra Leoneans and Ghanaians comprising the majority of the remainder. Young couples comprise more than 50 percent of the parish. The majority of people here face problems associated with immigration, Pastor Shina explained. Having grown up in Nigeria, but now living in the U.S., many experience culture clash. A key role of this church is to help them handle their transition to a “new reality,” particularly in the areas of marriage, parenting, and careers. However, he stressed Victory Temple’s growing outreach to local charities such as Carpenter’s Shelter.

Pastor Shina noted that he had not attended a seminary (although he will eventually) and therefore has no theological education. Instead, the RCCG offers in-house training in leadership, pastoral care, and discipleship. Preparation is practical, focused on carrying out the Bible’s teachings. “Leadership by example, not by doctorate,” he said, represents the main thrust. “Do the word you preach,” is a guiding principle.

Strong influence by American missionaries, who provided Bibles and other materials, helped build interest in Christianity. “In Africa, we are ready to read the word, and do the will, then we come to this country only to find Americans very relaxed,” Pastor Shina confided. “Those early missionaries sowed the fire and we are here now in the U.S. doing what they did for us then in Nigeria. In the U.S., the RCCG envisions having a church within a ten minute drive of every American, so that when people turn back to God, they will have a place to go immediately.”

When asked whether a common thread links church bombings in Nigeria with events such as the Colorado theater shooting, Pastor Shina drew attention to Biblical descriptions of the End Times, of which such incomprehensible tragedies are characteristic. But he added that “people just don’t fear God anymore,” and that fear is what restrains us from evil. Moreover, removing prayer from schools also removes a young person’s moral compass.

On Nigeria’s future, he said: “It is a great country, but going through a birthing process.”

 

Update: I received an interesting email from a retired army chaplain, Roger Dill. He writes:

“Jim, I  wish everyone had your spirit to be open to going where few go.  I was  blessed to grow a refugee congregation in the midst of an old and dying church  in Louisville several years ago.  They were from both Liberia and the  Congo, and they were the heart of the worship in that church and my joy in ministry.  We as the Church in America are not where we need to be, but  thank God , we are not where we used to be. Grace for the  journey.”

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Brennan Kraxberger

    After doing research in Nigeria (1999-2002), I have an enormous respect for the country’s diaspora. Of particular note are the the ethnic unions and “hometown associations” that send much-needed resources back to Nigerian communities. The book “Hometown Associations” by Rex Honey and Stanley Okafor is worth a read.

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    1. I suspect that when Jim Sanders was in West Africa, he didn’t “watch” out for the growth of Christianity from the 80′s to present. This is a blind spot for diplomats, academics and strategists – they prefer to study obscure Islamist sects instead.

    This is why his piece reads like the log of an explorer, stumbling on some new discovery.

    2. This phenomena is very old, has been going on for the past thirty years.

    3. Having said that, Western policy makers are best advised to ponder on the implications of the rapid growth of Evangelical Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    This is extremely important, considering that “global strategists” such as Huntington completely ignored this trend (no mention of it his seminal work, “The Clash of Civilizations”).

    A couple of weeks ago, the head of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, testified at the US Congress.

    Oritsejafor and the leadership of CAN seem to have forged links with the Evangelical lobby in the US, and they are using those links to influence US policy on Boko Haram. We can expect more collaboration in future.

    4. One must never underestimate the spread and reach of Evangelical Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa and the influence of Nigerian pastors. Nigeria’s rapidly growing Middle Class is largely Christian and has a significant Evangelical component.

    What this means is that the next generation of business leaders and intellectuals are likely to be largely Christian and Evangelical.

    When you realise that the Redeemed Christian Church of God has more branches in Lagos than there are Police Stations, Fire Stations and Local Government Buildings combined, you’ll immediately realise where I am coming from.

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