Pictured Above: The FLM Team consisting of Bro. Eric Santos, Bro. Gerard Limtiaco, Pastor Joe Jacowitz & Pastor Austin Huggins take a group photo with the members of Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Lagos, Nigeria during their 15th anniversary.
Mission Duration: November 3rd - 13th, 2017
Mission work in the nation of Nigeria presents unique challenges when compared to some of the other countries that FirstLove has the privilege of ministering to. Some of these challenges may be encountered as early as the visa application process which is required for entry. Praise the Lord, however, for He gives more grace. Even before the FirstLove Missions team had physically arrived at the airport for the departure to Nigeria, The Lord had already been mightily at work opening every door that was needed.
Almost a week after each of the mission team members had originally sent off their passport to the Nigerian embassy for visa approval, we were met with the news that because the embassy had run out of stickers, they were not approving visa requests at that time. As you can imagine, with tickets and flights already paid for and booked, we began to pray. Thursday morning, the day of our departure, the team stopped by the postal office to pick up the recently arrived, visa approved passports with two hours to spare, on their way to catch their flights. Praise God.
Approximately 24 hours later, after two layovers, FirstLove Missions arrived in Lagos, Nigeria on Friday 8:30pm local time with 500lbs of literature for free distribution. Upon arrival, as the team was moving through customs and the other checkpoints, a gentleman nearby introduced himself as Pastor Jeffrey. Pastor Jeffrey shepherds a Nigerian Church in Denmark. Apparently, he had seen us during our layover in Paris; more specifically, he had noticed the word ‘Christ’ and the scripture verse emblazoned on Brother Gerard’s jacket. We were able to gift him a few of our FirstLove materials, as well as pamphlets containing our ministry overview as we exchanged contact information. We hope to hear from each other soon.
Pastor Tony Okoroh showed up just in the nick of time at the airport. Just before, and just after encountering Bro. Jeffrey, the team had been solicited multiple times for bribes: at the shot card checkpoint, once at the baggage claim, and then again at the final checkpoint before exiting. The Lord was gracious, however, both in the fact that we were able to give away some tracts and books to these people, and that Pastor Tony arrived when he did.
Along with Pastor Tony, (The Branch Leader of FirstLove in Nigeria) several members of his church (Sovereign Grace Bible Church www.sgbc.org.ng) met us and escorted us through the crowds outside the airport to the vehicles. They joined themselves to us and watched us closely as they moved our luggage down the crowded walkway and led us to the church van. It was an amazing experience to see the care and love of these believers. As we transitioned, the team was able to witness to and give gospel tracts to about 20 people or so. Once the team made it to the accommodations provided by the local church, after enjoying a very short time of fellowship, they soon retired for rest as it was already late in the evening.
The next day began early. Brother Gerard and Brother Eric went with some of the indigenous brethren to an area on Victoria Island, with the intent to witness and evangelize. The area was chosen due to its proximity to another work that is being planted locally in that area by the members of SGBC. Both Gerard and Eric engaged these people with a biblical gospel that confronted much of the health, wealth, and prosperity teachings that are so mainstream and prevalent in Nigeria.
“Every engagement was meaningful... we were able to provide a man a Bible who didn’t have one, and I was even able to give a Gospel tract to an Islamic adherent.”
Just before running into the FLM team, Mr. Victor (Pictured above, in the middle) was calling out to God in prayer asking for help with his drug problems and needing a new direction. He was overwhelmed by the precious timing of the encounter.
Sunday morning would be a celebratory occasion commemorating the 15th anniversary of the official planting and organization of Sovereign Grace Bible Church in Lagos, Nigeria. There were about a hundred believers in attendance as Pastor Joe Jacowitz gave the morning sermon on the subject of “A Spiritual Vision for the Local Church”. He reminded the church to persevere and to overcome the temptations that would have the church lose their zeal and life in the expanding enterprise of church planting in Nigeria. The morning service was then concluded with a fellowship meal and group photo on the church property. [Pictured on first page of report]
That same evening, the FLM Team arrived at a large radio broadcasting station. Part of FLM’s usual ministry in Nigeria includes radio evangelism. Since the radio station is a main avenue for news and information disbursal for many tens of millions of Nigerian people within a short area, it lends itself as a primary platform to engage the populace with the Gospel, and to address false teachings. During the broadcast listeners were also invited to come and join the upcoming conference on Wednesday through Thursday where literature would be distributed free of charge to those in attendance. Several people called in engaging the hosts with pertinent questions relating to the Gospel. The radio program was originally intended to last a total of three days airing each evening through Tuesday. Due to the overwhelming fruitfulness of the radio teachings and evangelism, the program was extended until Thursday evening.
Pastor Joe Jacowitz, Pastor Tony Okoroh, and Pastor Austin Huggins man the microphones and headphones as the producer Eric Santos works behind the scenes providing oversight.
NOTE: There is a great need here for biblical doctrine to be taught and for the true Gospel to be preached. The people are languishing under false teachings, superstitious beliefs, unfulfilled promises of prosperity, and abuses of spiritual con-men who promise much and deliver little. The Gospel of Christ is all but smothered, hidden, and forgotten beneath the avalanche of covetous sensationalism. The need is so great that our hope and prayer is to be able to send a container of twenty thousand books to Nigeria every six months. Pray with us for God to fulfill that need and to provide for His people.
After Sunday, the ministry tempo escalated significantly. Due to the density of pertinent information that resulted from the team’s combined ministry over the ensuing week, the report is divided up with each day having its own heading and specific recap in order to better keep track of events.
Early Monday morning Pastor Austin, along with two brethren from SGBC, Joel and Osagie, traveled approximately 50 miles outside of Lagos to a town called Ijebu Ode. A Pastor named Wale, of Calvary Hill Ministries, had requested a member of the team to come and share a message at his church as a “Cloud of Witness” prequel to the upcoming conference by SGBC. This Pastor had recently come out of the Word of Faith prosperity movement and just finished his first year with Christ Pastor’s Seminary (CPS), a ministry of our sister church in Lagos (Sovereign Grace Bible Church). Preaching the true Gospel message of the Bible is actually rather unheard of these days in Nigeria.
Since Pastor Wale was beginning to teach these doctrines in his remote church, he was thankful for an opportunity to allow the members there to hear biblical doctrines presented from a missionary. Although he did not specifically request us ahead of time or know about us before we came, he hoped to make use of our recent arrival to Nigeria. We, of course, saw this as an opportunity to build a closer relationship with him, to do whatever we could to strengthen Christian unity, and to encourage the teaching and preaching of the biblical Gospel narrative.
Austin brought a Gospel message, as well as advocated for the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of scripture. After the message, the church members participated in a Q&A session with the team from Lagos, where many questions were answered and provided scriptures. Brother Osagie gave the church a homework assignment to read John’s First Epistle.
Due to the conference service ending at a late time, and the distance being as far as it was, the team stayed overnight in Ijebu Ode before returning to Lagos the next day.
Meanwhile, fifty miles away, Eric and Gerard were accompanied by another team from SGBC, and were witnessing near the University of Lagos (UniLag). There they evangelized and met with people representing varying degrees of heterodoxy as well as several Muslims. In one particular instance, one young man was standing with a group of other young people and said he was not interested in having a discussion about the Gospel. He then indicated that he was Muslim. Bro. Eric instead passed a Gospel tract to one of the friends standing nearby who thoughtlessly took it. Once the rest of young Muslim men noticed that one of their friends were able to get a tract, they must have felt left out. About ten of them began to press Eric to see if they could have some tracts too. Eric obliged.
Overall, the team was able to speak directly with about thirty people or so. With the exception of the one Muslim man in Eric’s case, all the others were positively engaged and asked thoughtful questions about what was being shared with them. Gerard passed out tracts to several store owners and had success with two people, specifically, who received the good news of the Gospel with great intrigue and seemed to express a clarity in understanding.
That night in Lagos, Pastor Joe and Pastor Tony continued with the “Open Forum” radio program as Joe began the first five of nine main elements in a full Gospel presentation. Some of the listeners called in asking questions like: “How do I find a good Pastor?” and “Is it normal for church members to have to pay their Pastors for spiritual counseling?”
Back in Lagos, Gerard and Eric were right back at it again outside a technical school near the place they had been working the previous day. Hundreds of young people were walking up and down the main walkways. All in all, the team was able to distribute over two hundred tracts and directly engaged more people than the previous day. Several of them wanted to find out more and showed interest in coming to the conference.
Shortly thereafter, they diverted to the University of Lagos, and began to setup and make preparations for the conference. The chapel there was located between a catholic church on one side and a mosque on the other. After the chairs, tables and other arrangements were taken care of, they headed back to the house to find that Austin had returned safely from Ijebu Ode.
That night, Pastor Joe finished his last four of the nine Gospel elements with Pastor Tony and Austin as the “Open Forum” team had regrouped. Of the many listeners that attempted to phone in to ask their questions, the ones that got through were in respect to doctrines surrounding the trinity, the New Testament view of tithing, and biblical explanations concerning the Kingdom of God philosophies (Essentially, the idea was this: they preach that when you “Seek first the Kingdom of God...” it means that you must always give all your tithe to God’s Kingdom or else you won’t be blessed by God. This, along with scare tactic, is a common way that Nigerian Word of Faith and Prosperity Pastors coerce their often destitute members to keep providing monetarily). Lastly the team addressed the “Once saved always saved” slogan in light of the true Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints.
After the program was over, the team rushed back to try and get some rest. It was 9:30pm before making it back and everyone needed to be up early for the conference. After we finished jotting down the journal entries for the day, and getting showers, most of the team would only get between 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night over the next few days
Today was the big day. The 2017 Sovereign Grace Bible Church Conference in Lagos, Nigeria themed, “A Cloud of Witnesses”, had finally arrived. Registration began early at 9am and continued until about 10am before the first session began. After welcoming the attendants, a quick poll was taken asking how many had come to the conference in response to hearing the “Open Forum” program on Eko FM. The team was surprised when about fifty people raised their hand in response. Apparently, the subjects being discussed on the airwaves had resonated with a lot more people than we had originally thought. Beyond radio, about twenty three students, including their professor, had come from a local seminary to attend the conference as well.
NOTE: One man in particular had just come home the previous night as the power went out. In routine practice, he went and started up the generator to have a source of electricity for his house. Since most of his appliances were off, he decided to flip on the radio for lack of having access to anything else. This man told us: “At that time, I was reflecting and thinking upon the money hungry con artists in my country and the doctrines surrounding the pastorate.” It was also at that time that he turned his attention to the radio and heard the FLM Team on the open forum program. By sovereign “chance”, we happened to be discussing the abuses of the false teachers in Nigeria and the mistreatment of the Lord’s flock. He quickly made plans and came to the conference the next morning.
Even over the duration of the conference, the quality of the questions asked by many of the people in attendance would indicate a real depth of hunger and a seeking after truth that, admittedly, had not been seen in the past. Now there was a sense of encouragement and a hope for real fruit to be harvested from the labor. There, however, was still a great need to plow up more ground and cast a lot more seed. Our prayer was that, perhaps, The LORD might be pleased do a real work in our midst.
With this hope in mind, Pastor Joe Jacowitz kicked off the conference with Part One of a two part presentation on the doctrines of Christ’s atonement. Laced throughout the message were exhortations to fully know Christ and to hold fast to the true Gospel. Deep subject matters including redemption, substitution, justification, and other pertinent doctrines were defined, explained, and provided scriptures for. It was apparent that the messages had garnered the full attention of the people.
The momentum carried into the second message which was brought by Pastor Tony Okoroh. His sermon, How to Build The Church of Christ, centered upon the issues relating to what a church is according to its biblical definition, as well as the responsibilities of its people and its offices. He discussed the nature of the true church and how that discipleship was one of the marks that identified the body of Christ. Many of his applications related directly to the unbiblical and unscriptural practices that are common and rampant throughout his nation. His message was certainly strong, poignant, and much needed.
Before the last message of the first day commenced, the conference attendees were broken up into four main groups and were paired with one of the speakers. The topics were related to the messages that were being delivered within a format that facilitated group discussion and Q&A. This was done to ensure that everyone on an individual level was receiving and understanding what was being preached. Not only was there a healthy degree of participation from the groups, but the quality of the questions that were asked again showed their attentiveness to the messages preached. This helped us to confirm that they indeed understood what was being taught, and were making a right application in their own lives.
Lunch was served after the breakout sessions concluded. All those in attendance were provided a meal free of charge by the members of SGBC. In the words of one of the indigenous brethren who helped work to facilitate the conference please be reminded that “nothing in Nigeria is free.” Moving in this context, we were blessed for the opportunity to demonstrate something that was not only contradictory to the greed inherent in the prosperity churches, but that was consistent with the biblical model in how we serve others after Christ’s example. Even through lunch the intensity was high. Much of this time was spent connecting attendees with specific people based upon their requests, needs, and desire for counseling. Several were coming forward wanting to find a way to join in the work.
Once lunch had finished, and after a hymn, Bro. Gerard came forward to share his testimony with the assembly of how he had been led to Christ. It is important for us to highlight the nature and the effect of the new birth. Most of these people not only aren’t educated in the Gospel, but have been told that they are “Christian” simply because, at some point, they attended a “signs, wonders, and healing” crusade. For the most part, true salvation is not understood nor even taught
Now it was time for the third and final message of the day. Pastor Austin Huggins spoke concerning the need for continual personal reformation and the necessity of a broken, repentant, and crying people in every generation. Men like King Josiah and Ezekiel were given as to show that God rises up such men, even in times of great darkness. With the Gospel and the Word of God being hid from the minds and hearing of the Nigerian people for so long, there was great need for God to bring revival and reform. The assembly was reminded that such reforms begin with individuals in whom The Lord has done a great work of conviction first.
After a final prayer, one last round of Q&A would conclude the first day of the two day Lagos Bible Conference. So many people came forward desiring to join in the work. Many applied for Christ Pastor Seminary. Some applied to labor as a FirstLove Missionary, and many were looking for a church that preached the things that were being taught here. Several of the radio listeners that were present came to us and expressed great concern on the moral decay of their nation, and how the messages were hitting dead on with what they were actually dealing with, and were even shedding light in other areas. Many others admitted that this was the first time that they had ever even heard a biblical teaching on what the Gospel actually is.
NOTE: One individual asked a rather insightful question that revealed the degree of corruption that seemed to be acceptable in the churches. He asked a “let’s suppose”, or “for instance” question that followed something like this: what if his pastor owned three private jets, charged a high amount for his school that he ran, and many members of his flock were too poor and therefore could not afford the prices to attend the school. Is this okay? Our hearts were broken as several more stories like this came to the surface. The example of Christ was always being constantly lifted up for everyone to see as the one who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Many asked for preachers to come and to share these things in their own communities.
With little time to spare, the team loaded up in vehicles to begin their way through dense traffic toward the radio station. The program had been such a fruitful means of ministry that it was decided we would continue with the “Open Forum” for the remaining two evenings in Lagos. Even while waiting at the radio station, everyone was still recounting the events at the conference from earlier with much excitement. Needless to say, everyone involved was greatly encouraged by the responses thus far and looked forward to what doors the Lord might open next.
That night on the radio, the Gospel was again hammered into the ears of the listeners as well as asserting the inspiration and the authority of the scripture as the standard of faith and practice for every foundation of doctrine, worship, and government of the church. We identified that the loss of the true gospel had come at the hands of an emphasis upon superstitious heterodoxies that bolster the glory of men. The call to study the scriptures and to rediscover the true Gospel and the preeminence of the true Christ was a recurring exhortation in each message.
The team finally made it back home around 9:30pm again, exhausted from the work pace, and ready for rest. After another round of journaling, showering, and preparing for the next day was completed, the members one by one made it to sleep.
The second day of the conference began after prayer as Pastor Joe once again addressed the audience with a second sermon. He finished up the all-important Part Two of his presentation of the biblical doctrines of Christ’s atonement to which was greatly anticipated.
Pastor Femi followed after with a message titled: Culture and The Church. The message gave the history of protestant Christianity in Nigeria, brought numerous scriptural implications to bear in response, and levied many practical admonitions to the hearers. The sermon excelled in providing a historically and biblically objective perspective on how the nation of Nigeria had arrived where it was today. It also gave heed to the biblical responsibility to return to the old paths.
Pastor Austin then delivered the third sermon of the day using the Parable of The Seed and The Sower as a launch point to understanding how we may know a tree by its fruit, understand the cost of discipleship, and walk in the narrow way.
Lunch seemed to come quickly as time was quickly running away from us. With one final session remaining, Brother Eric Santos shared the testimony of his salvation before Pastor Joe took the pulpit one last time. His final message, The Righteousness of Christ, showed the conflict and the incompatibility with the righteousness of Christ and self-righteousness. The sermon highlighted the exalted perfection of our Lord, the final climax of His righteousness being on display for all creation to witness, and the self-righteousness of men perishing on that final day. With that final word, the messages of the conference were now complete.
With the conference concluding, all the slips of paper containing everyone’s questions were gathered together, brought to Pastor Tony, and then redispursed to the speakers for the last Q&A. Many questions about the churches confessions, the security of the believer, the holiness of the church, the exclusivity of Christ’s saving efficacy, identifying false prophets and false teachers, the issues of tithing, and many other things were discussed, explained, provided scripture, and given admonishment to.
Lagos Bible Conference 2017: The Final Analysis
The response rate was almost immeasurable. So many people had come privately to each of the speakers between messages, during lunch, and after Q&A sessions to share what was on their heart. There were so many stories and so many testimonies confirming our worst fears. There was also, however, so much conviction of truth, so much thankfulness, so much desire for more bible preaching, and a desire to have fellowship that it was immensely encouraging. Not everything done in the hearts of men by the Spirit of God can by quantified and calculated. We see only the externals of the man and what the man chooses to communicate. We make no assumption that our litmus tests reveal the true measure of what The Lord has determined to do or not do. We only have insight based on the fruit that we are able to see. With that in mind, take a quick look at some of the things that we do know happened and that we can speak to:
Once everything was finished, the FLM team and SGBC met with the head chaplain of the university that had allowed us to host the conference there. A door was left open for us in the future, including if we need larger facilities next time. As a token of thanks, we left the chaplain and his staff with six sets of four books each as a gift.
Half asleep and barely coherent, the team pressed on for the last night on the radio at Eko FM in Lagos. As the Open Forum program finally wrapped up its concluding thoughts for the final evening, the listeners were exhorted to try what had been taught thus far and to see if these things were true. They were challenged to be more noble as the Bereans and to not take what we had said at face value, but to search the scriptures for themselves. With that, the program ended and the mission team began to turn their attention towards the next ministry location: Abuja.
As everyone met back at the hotel for the last night, thanks were given to the Lord for his graciousness and His faithfulness to us and the people of Nigeria. The next morning was coming early and it was already late. The team had to pack up all their belongings, consolidating what would be needed to take with them, and leaving behind what wasn’t. After journaling and showering, some members would only get two to three hours of sleep.
Friday - Sunday
The team was up at 5am. Since the flight was leaving at 7:30am it was necessary to try and be at the airport by 6am. With a few close calls on luggage and losing our bug spray through the security checkpoint, the FLM team along with Pastors Tony and Femi made it onto the plane. After safely landing in the next mission area, the team was met by the brethren of Sovereign Grace Community Church (SGCC) at the airport who took our luggage, loaded us up, and navigated us to where we would be staying. SGCC is a sister church of SGBC that was planted in Abuja a little over three years prior. The flock is pastored by Chris Okogwu and gathers in a multi-story building that houses three or four other congregations of word of faith prosperity groups.
NOTE: Abuja looks a lot different than Lagos. Since Abuja is the nation’s capital, a lot of funds are directed there for the maintenance of its infrastructure. Even though it is situated more in the northern area of Nigeria which is known for Boko Haram and other radical Islamic groups, Abuja is relatively safe due to the strength and tightness of its security. Although some people enjoy a greater measure of financial success here, the middle class is actually much smaller, and thus lends itself to a larger lower class.
The team arrived at the hotel for breakfast exhausted and half asleep. They received the agenda for the day where they discovered that they were scheduled to go evangelizing 15 minutes nearby in a large local park within just a few hours. With a short window for rest, everyone in the group seized the opportunity and went down for some sleep. As Pastor Joe and a couple others rose up later for a status update, they received word that a large faction of Shiite Muslims had rallied in that particular park and that the demonstration had turned violent as local law enforcement was now attempting to disburse it. We were advised by the local church to stay put, so the team ended up catching a little rest before the outreach bible study.
The outreach bible study is a ministry of SGCC that meets in other people’s homes where they intend to teach the doctrine of the new birth to mixed groups of locals professing various forms of doctrine. Pastor Joe was invited to bring a short message where he spoke on the Sufficiency of Christ.
It was here at the house that the team met up with Pastor Chris, which immediately after Joe’s message, left and came with us back to the hotel to discuss the conference that would occur on the following day. This would be a one day version of the same conference held in Lagos, with the addition of Chris as one of the speakers. Pastor Christ was excited to get to know the team and was tremendously thankful for our arrival.
Saturday morning began with final preparation for the conference. As the remaining 100lbs of books that were brought with the team for this event were consolidated together, SGCC and the FLM Team converged on the public building that would be the host location for the occasion.
After a welcome address by Brother Adeola Ogundele, Pastor Chris began the first message with a sermon titled: Trusting God’s Word. The theme of the sermon emphasized the sufficiency of the scriptures in the midst of a culture that looks to extra non biblical revelation to guide the church. The message ran center with everything that had been addressed thus far and was integral to the overall message of the conference. Pastor Tony spoke second, followed by Pastor Femi. After another free lunch had been provided, this time by SGCC, Pastor Austin gave the fourth message and Pastor Joe concluded the conference with another presentation of the doctrines of Christ’s atonement.
Once the last message ended, the speakers were called back to the stage for another Q&A session. The questions were very similar to those that had been asked at the previous conference and by the callers during the radio program. The speakers gave scripture for the answers provided as well as gave exhortations to the attendees to continue in the things that were being taught, and to rely on the Bible for verification of all things.
The next morning would be the final sermon given by the team. Pastor Joe Jacowitz preached the Sunday morning message. Afterwards, once the service was ended, the church of SGCC surprised Pastor Tony with a cake and sang another round of Happy Birthday. This was actually the second time during the trip that his 73rd birthday was recognized. After the first day of the first conference back in Lagos, The brethren at SGBC had surprised both Tony and Eric each with their own birthday cake. (Eric turned 52) So, even though Pastor Tony had intended to avoid having his birthday acknowledged, he ended up eating two birthday cakes by the end of it all.
That night, the Team flew back to Lagos. The next day, Monday, was a day of final analysis, journaling, fellowshipping with the brethren, and planning for the next mission and conference. Many pictures were taken and gifts were exchanged. The Lord was thanked for His goodness towards all of us, and with a bittersweet tone we shared our goodbyes with one another. The team was taken to the airport and began their way back home.
T. Austin Huggins
Pastor, Missionary, FLM Administrator