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."