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Forgiveness Paves the Way

The following article was written by Christian Faith Ministries in West Africa, an ITEC partner who hosted us in early 2018 for film and mechanics training.

We first heard about the work of ITEC from another visiting ministry. They walked around our site and said, "You know, there's a ministry back home who partners with work like this - they have a heart for training & equipping missionaries as a way of providing opportunities to share the Gospel in unreached regions of the world." I did a quick google search and discovered that ITEC was birthed from the ministry of Nate Saint, a missionary to Ecuador. So I emailed them and a few months later (to our great surprise), they were sitting at our dining-table and sharing with us the story of Nate, martyred in Ecuador. They went on to share how, hearing of the deaths of their loved ones, their family had traveled back to this Ecuadorian tribe. They took with them skills, the Gospel, and their forgiveness. This transformed the region and brought revival. ITEC carries on this mission, bringing skills and training to see the Gospel go out into unreached, even volatile places and bring revival. That was it, they had us at "hello."

What Man Meant for Evil...

Three years before this encounter, our ministry, CFM, was turned completely on its head. We began as a small Bible college with a team of seven staff who had come to the north of Nigeria with a vision of bringing the Gospel at a grassroots level to the mainly unreached, Muslim and Pagan northern states. In 2014, Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, targeted our city. Many lives were lost. Children were orphaned, widows displaced as homes and livelihoods were burnt to the ground. Christians and Muslims lost their lives in the violence (Boko Haram killed Muslims who would not join their extreme agenda, as well as Christians). In the anger, grief, and desperation of it all, many people engaged in tit-for-tat, retaliative killing. As these cycles of pain increased the crisis reached its peak. During the chaos, our Bible college experienced the loss of its Provost in an armed ambush. Our founder, Kent Hodge, was present during the attack. As he witnessed the death of his dear friend, he found himself looking around at the villages in the area and thinking how vulnerable they were, every day, to such torment. When they made their way to safety and went to the local police station, they lamented with the local authorities at how under-resourced they were to protect their communities against the powerful weapons being illegally imported to the nation, driving much of the prolonged devastation. Kent began to think about how to respond. Is seeking retribution really the answer? When he arrived back in our city, he asked colleagues to take him to where the Muslim communities lived. As he walked down the dirt-roads he saw homes still burnt out from a previous crisis in 2010. Four years on and no one was helping these communities to rebuild. Women were cooking under corrugated iron, trying to feed their children. For years, no one had helped, or even heard of their plight. We'd received so many prayer letters about Christians affected in our area, and here, two streets away from our college, we had not known the devastation of "the others."

...God Meant for Good

Kent asked some of his colleagues to make contact with the Muslim elders from these parts. Warily, they came to meet in his office, at the Bible college. The team opened with, "We are sorry, for we have not treated you the way our Lord, Jesus has asked us to. Please, will you forgive us?" The elders were taken aback. They weren't sure if this was true, or some other ploy to bring pain to their community. But slowly, surely as we continued to meet with them and we helped them, they began to see that we were genuine. We asked them what their communities needed. They replied, "Our youth have no education and nothing to live for. We are afraid for them. We don't want this group of extremists coercing them. Please, can you help us educate them?" So we decided to start a computer training center in their community. We wanted it to be for their youth, but they said, "No, it must be 50% Muslim youth intake AND 50% Christian youth intake. Christian youth will not even walk through our streets, this needs to change, we must learn to trust each other again." So we began. Today we have five computer training centers like this. We establish them on the boundaries between Muslim & Christian communities. Since this time, when we decided to trust Jesus and choose the challenging road of loving our enemies, we have experienced exponential growth in our ministry. Today we have over twenty ministry arms and 230+ employees. We run educational, medical, charitable, agricultural and economic development projects on our main site. Our Bible college sees over 400 students graduate annually, equipped with a vision to build peace and share the Gospel message of hope to their people in the north. We also set up satellite mission stations all over the northern states, with a similar vision: to bring peace, reconciliation and the hope of Christ to all people we encounter.

Future Training Opportunities

ITEC has visited us once so far, with another training trip planned. They brought I-FILM storytelling and I-FIX mechanical training last time and are planning to bring their new I-FARM training next. We chose to bring our missionaries from the rural stations to come and receive this training last time. This way, we can give them skills to bless the communities they are ministering to, making their message of hope in Jesus a tangible reality to the people they encounter. The experience that the Saint family had in Ecuador, where forgiveness paved the way for revival, has also been our experience. We have seen so many lives transformed as people ask "Why do you do this?" When they experience the radical love that Jesus taught us in His life, death, and resurrection they say, "If this is who Jesus really is, I want to follow him." Many people from nominal Christian backgrounds, pagan and Muslim backgrounds have come to follow Christ. As Paul wrote to the Galatian church, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (3:28) We have all been made equal through our abject need for God's mercy. Now, through Christ, we can come into a relationship with one another as the renewing work of the Spirit strips us of our earthly bonds. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." Paul picked up on this theme in Romans 8 exclaiming that "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." As the Saints witnessed in their ministry and we too have seen in ours, there is a unique window into the heart and character of God that is on display when His followers choose to love those who hate them and choose peace and forgiveness. We're excited about ITEC's next visit and seeing how God continues to move when our words and our actions marry together to reveal Jesus.
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