Nigerian gardener plants churches for Christ

by Celeste Pennington, posted Thursday, December 14, 2006 (12 years ago)

NIGERIA, West Africa (BP)--Newly formed Zion Baptist Church meets in a clearing near the chief’s compound in Nigeria’s Bauchi State. On a recent Sunday he greeted Harriet Bowman and her 12-year-old son, James, with these words: “The house that does not receive strangers is not a blessed house. As we receive you, our strangers, we are blessed.”

Clint and Harriet Bowman’s own style reflects that Nigerian attention to strangers. Readily, they welcome the new Christians or non-Christians who come to their door. And as they work, their forte is helping, befriending and then mentoring potential leaders. Currently they are investing themselves in a handful of young, Bible school- and seminary-educated Nigerian men.

“Rarely do we start a church. We are behind the scenes, pushing and encouraging,” Clint said, adding that they follow a New Testament model. “In Acts, Paul was always with someone. That is our pattern here.”

Caleb Samuel Mashingil fits that pattern. The Bowmans met him in 1992 when he came to work as their gardener. He was 16 years old and from a broken home.

“I was excited to earn 300 to 400 naira a month,” Mashingil said. “I was also interested in what it would be like to work for them. I thought I would see only the outside of their house, never its inside colors. Instead, they accepted me. I cannot express what it meant when they invited me in.”

Soon friendships developed. One day, Clint asked Mashingil to go with them to the bush to show the “Jesus” film in the Hausa language. Mashingil was interested in what he heard there. With youthful enthusiasm, he told Clint, “Anytime you go to the bush, I will be happy to go with you.”

After Mashingil became a Christian, he felt God’s call to preach. The Bowmans have tried to encourage him in every way possible.

“Our idea is to always be training people,” Harriet said. “When Caleb came to work for us, we made it a matter of prayer. We later found he had a heart for reaching unreached people.”

Mashingil is a church planter among the Zari people, and Clint is his model as he mentors other potential leaders.

“I thank God for the Bowmans,” the young believer said.

Nigeria, with its 910,000 square miles, is about the size of Texas and Oklahoma. Its 127 million people -- roughly half the U.S. population -- are scattered throughout its rural countryside and crowded into its sprawling cities. Because of its relative stability and size, Nigeria is influential both throughout West Africa and the rest of the continent. It represents about one-fourth of Africa’s total population.

The Bowmans are part of a nine-member engagement team for the International Mission Board in West Africa. Their job is to research and locate all the unreached or unengaged people in Nigeria and then initiate strategies for starting work among the nearly 200 groups.

Some of the people groups with new works among them include the Afizere, the Bamburo, the Chawai, the Jahr and the Zari. Southern Baptists are urged to pray for the success of missionary efforts among these people.


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