I was born into a nominal Christian family as the last of 4 boys (no girls, sadly!). My family attended a large Pentecostal church (Christ Apostolic Church) in Kano in Northern Nigeria. We regularly attended church on Sundays, but there was little else besides that.
At around 9 years of age, my mother and the children relocated to the city of Ilorin in the southern part of the country. This was on account of growing insecurity in the north from ethno-religious conflicts. My father felt it was safer for the family to be in the south, while he remained in Kano. This was a providential decision, as it exposed us to a more vibrant and evangelical faith than the formalism of our earlier years.
In Ilorin, we joined a small Pentecostal church. Older denominations like Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist had a form of religion which was largely formal and devoid of spiritual vitality. While we were still unconverted, such churches did not appeal to the younger generation. We wanted something that seemed relevant and lively. Pentecostal churches seemed a better option. But even they were not homogenous. They ranged from the wild and eccentric to the conservative and ‘old-fashioned’. Many of these younger churches also laid emphasis on the gospel and the need for a personal conversion, a teaching which we never heard while in Kano.
We remained at this church while I went to boarding school for my secondary education. Meanwhile, one of my elder brothers had come to faith in Christ (the others subsequently did). And he began to share the gospel with me. From this period, I developed an interest in the Bible and the message of the gospel. I even enrolled in a bible correspondence course which took me through the stories of the Bible and explained several themes of the gospel. When I got to school, I was further exposed to the message of the gospel. Upon hindsight, the message of the gospel present in both my church and the school were far from adequate. There was a strong element of works righteousness involved. And it lacked the depth and clarity which the Reformed faith has since provided. But I realize that God still works through inadequate means to accomplish his purpose. That poor seed would go on to blossom into the present reality I enjoy.
I attended the school fellowship meetings regularly. And it was usual to make altar calls for students to ‘give their lives to Christ’. Oh, I must have gone out so many times! I gave my life to Christ over and over again. And I continued to live as ‘Christianly’ as I could. I realize now that my ‘faith’ was really a form of legalism. There was always this fear of not being accepted on the last day because of some unconfessed sin or because I was not zealous or holy enough. This was my state all through secondary school.
Eventually, I had to stay at home for a period prior to resumption in the university. I had been accepted to study economics at the University of Ilorin. While at home, I indulged in some sinful acts which brought about a period of sorrow and depression. During this time, I attend church as usual, both Sunday and mid-week services, with little satisfaction. It was at one of these services, a Tuesday evening meeting, that I had a strange experience which I now realize was my conversion. This was in 2002.
I had longed to receive the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. My Pentecostal environment believed this was a second experience after conversion. And I believed I was already converted. So I sought for this other experience which would come with the gift of speaking in tongues. At the prayer meeting, I was praying for the Holy Spirit when I became conscious that something had happened to me. It was as though I had become a new person. The sorrow I had been dealing with had vanished and I truly felt like a new person. God seemed powerfully real. All of a sudden, the message of the gospel – of God saving sinners through Christ – made sense. There was this joy which welled up in me as I walked home that night! As I passed beside people, I felt such a love for them like they were precious. And may I add that I have always been a shy and introverted person. When I began to read the Bible from that night, the stories and content came alive in a really strange way. I realized I was a sinner (this sense was real) and I also knew that I had been forgiven. I found myself trusting in Jesus in a way I had not done up till then.
Following the experience of that night, I developed a love for the Bible and a keen interest in prayer. I told my brothers that I had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and they were quite happy for me. I began to share the gospel with some neighbours, writing letters to a few friends from school and saying something about the gospel. It was a whole new world for me!
As my study continued, I came across several books and writings on revival and missions. I was captivated. I learnt about A.W. Tozer, Wilbur Smith, John Wesley, and many others. The internet was just becoming available in my part of the country then. I would go to a cafe and spend the night reading about the revivals in Wales, Scotland, and America. The lives of such men like Hudson Taylor, Jim Eliot, David Brainerd, and Jonathan Edwards. And then I began to read about church history, getting to know about the early church, the Reformation, and the Great Awakening. This got me interested in theology as I realized that the doctrines the reformers opposed seemed to be a lot like what I had always believed. As this continued, I resumed school and realized that there were a lot of books in the library’s Religion shelves which treated doctrine and religious ideas. While many of them were largely academic (and some were by liberal or unorthodox scholars), they stirred my interest further in studying theology and related themes.
All along, I remained at my church and even joined the choir. But I increasingly saw that the prevailing outlook was opposed to scripture. It was man-centred, made little of God and the Holy Spirit in salvation, ignored the narrative of redemption, etc. Anyway, I kept up the study and prayer, with the longing that God would also use me just like those I was learning about.
Well, I am still on that prayer.