Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On attending the funeral for Evangelist Obida Hildi.

On Jan. 27 I attended the funeral service for evangelist Obida Hildi. He was someone I counted as a friend to myself, to the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN), and to Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS).

Security officials had helped his church members recover his body from his house, where he was killed by Muslims on the morning of Jan. 19. He was buried in a plot of land where he had been in the process of building a new house. At the Bukuru congregation of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) his fellow church members, still fearful, consoled each other with the Word of God and stories of the friend they had lost in such painful circumstances.

Others knew him much better, but let me share a brief sketch of this faithful witness.

He had been born and brought up in a Muslim family, but in his teens gave his life to Christ and was baptized in 1958. He suffered fierce persecution for his faith and became an outcast as far as his family was concerned. However, he did not allow anything, even childlessness in his marriage, to divert him from following Jesus. Thus he came to Jos, a city in central Nigeria, in 1960 and was able to find work, fellowship and opportunity for service.

He still worked at relationships with his people back home in Hildi, Adamawa State, so much so that when his tribal chief, a Muslim, phoned to inquire how his people--hundreds of them--were faring in the Jos crisis, he inquired by name regarding only two. One of them was his friend evangelist Obida.

After some other casual jobs, his first engagement in Christian ministry came through the Lutheran gospel radio station in Jos. From there he moved to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and then to the newly created Plateau Radio and TV station (PRTV). There he acquired a nickname, "Mr Official," because in a situation where corruption was common, he was known for checking that every job was being properly treated as official duty. He was compulsorily retired when there was a command to retrench all workers who were not indigenous of Plateau State.

Already recognized by his denomination as a part-time evangelist, his retirement from PRTV was the prompt he needed to launch himself even more fully into working for the church. Today many congregations of EYN owe their beginning and early progress to his efforts. The Bukuru congregation started in his home near TCNN, and I remember first meeting him when I was invited to preach there.

He was very gifted at rallying congregations to sacrifice for the cause of the gospel. He was a visionary who saw the need to push forward with new projects--including acquiring a site for Africa Christian Textbooks. He and his wife were key partners in advising and encouraging the general manager in the pursuit of the land where ACTS headquarters now stand. Furthermore, he was a man who could not rest until he had finished a project. He had another nickname, "Now or never," because he always was challenging people that we should serve God now while we have life and health, remembering that we do not know about tomorrow.

True to the peace-loving tradition of his denomination, he worked hard at peacekeeping in his neighborhood. He always had practiced a shuttle diplomacy wherein he would talk to the Christians encouraging them to have patience, then say to the Muslims, we will not attack you, securing their agreement that they too would not attack the Christians.

There had been tension in the area before, but never trouble. What happened this time took many by surprise. Obida probably continued to trust that his efforts for peace and understanding would prevent him from losing his life. In the end, he was hacked down and burned to death close to his home--perhaps by outside elements bent on violence. But his testimony as a man of peace stands firm.

As I greeted and sympathized with the congregation at his funeral, I pointed to the large sign behind the pulpit--"Jesus is Alive"--and reminded them of the great passage on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, which ends with this challenge and assurance: "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work to the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

The death of dear evangelist Obida is a loss for us, but not a waste. He has entered his reward, and the work and loving gospel witness for which he invested his life will go on. But we feel for his wife Habiba, and their seven year old adopted son. We also pray that the peace and understanding he worked for will be restored to Plateau State and Nigeria.

-- Sid Garland is executive director of Africa Christian Textbooks at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN) in Bukuru, Plateau State, Nigeria.

Source: 4/7/2010 Newsline

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