My name is Alec Stevens, and I attend Times Square Church in Manhattan. In early 2001 I heard the first mention of TSC having an evangelistic crusade in Jos, Nigeria, and immediately my heart was stirred. "No outside ministry had ever held any meetings in this northern plateau area of Nigeria before,'" I was told, and tears welled up in my eyes as images of massive crowds of people, even climbing trees like a modern-day Zaccheus, sprang to mind. God was moving me to take part in this, though I had no idea how. My present finances certainly didn't allow for me to spend $2000 for airfare, let alone the hundreds of dollars needed for innoculations against hepatitis A and B, meningitis, yellow fever, and tetanus, and malaria pills. But it has been my experience as a follower of Jesus Christ that what God calls for, He provides for.
So I continued in prayer as the months went by. In August, 2001 Times Square Church began to hold a prayer meeting just after the Sunday morning service dedicated exclusively to the Nigeria Crusade. Several days before Sept. 11 (and the day after), there was an Islamic uprising in Jos, Nigeria against the Christians there. Over five hundred were martyred, and the local government, largely under Islamic influence, barred any further large public meetings. But Times Square Church had already secured permission to hold the three day crusade on 10-12 October, 2002, and it would turn out to be the first such meetings since the fatal incident.
In November, 2001 I felt the Lord's unmistakable leading to join the TSC choir. I had led worship in a number of churches in years past, but always with my electric guitar as well as voice. In fact, I'd always considered myself as more of an instrumentalist than a vocalist. Nonetheless, I obeyed His leading, and found my place in the back row of the tenor section of a 130 person choir! Our church is truly multi-national, having people from over 103 different countries regularly attending.
Little did I realize that in joining the choir, my Nigeria trip airfare, hotel accommodations, and meals would be paid for! But God was way ahead of me, obviously, and this was part of His design. Some months later, I was in a Christian bookstore with a friend. I happened to see a rack of books with biographies of notable Christians. One really caught my eye: MARY SLESSOR OF CALABAR. I'd vaguely heard that name somewhere before, but neither it nor the cover portrait rang any bells. Regardless, I really felt that God was saying, "Read this book". I couldn't shake it. Surprisingly, I disregarded His prompting, and left the store which is part of a large church in Hawthorne, New Jersey. As we were in the vestibule, my friend said, "Let's go upstairs into the church library. It looks like it's open." We did, and as I pored over some old volumes my eye hit upon, once again, MARY SLESSOR OF CALABAR. It was an old first edition from the 'teens, written by W. H. Livingstone. Again, I felt that unmistakeable impulse to read this book. Opening it, I saw that this small but brave Scottish woman was a missionary in some sort of tropical setting, judging by the old photographs. Then my jaw dropped when I read that Calabar was in Nigeria, and that the Lord had used powerfully used this woman to bring the Gospel to a people bound by the powers of darkness. It was she who singlehandedly contested and overturned the abominable practice of slaying twin infants. The people, gripped with superstition, thought that one was evil and the other good, so both had to be destroyed so as to spare the community. Many, through her efforts, were brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and delivered from juju (witchcraft), ancestral worship, and animism. Clearly, God wanted me to know something of Nigeria's Christian heritage. Mary Slessor's work in Nigeria spanned the 1870s through the 1910s. She passed away before the conclusion of the First World War.
Nigeria had been under British rule until 1960. Thus, all Nigerians speak English, though most speak one of the three major native tongues, too: Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa. In recent decades this West African nation had become largely Islamic. Nevertheless, in 1998 Nigeria became Christian almost overnight. Revivals swept the land. But, true to fashion, Satan quickly sewed tares in with the wheat. An American 'gospel' began to hit the shores of this impoverished nation, one which promoted "prosperity" (read: the love of money). Corruption began to set in deeply within the Nigerian churches. Sadly, it became something of a proverb to say "in Nigeria the Gospel is a mile long and an inch thick." The vast majority profess to be Christian, but doctrine is often astonishingly unbiblical.
This is one of the chief reasons that God directed the leadership at Times Square Church to hold pastors' conferences in Lagos and Jos, and a three evening evangelistic crusade in Jos. Over two hundred people from TSC came to Nigeria, and the expense of $365,000 was totally underwritten by TSC and World Challenge. No offerings were taken up at any of the meetings, as we came "as servants to wash the feet of the people", in the words of senior pastor Carter Conlon.
As the year 2002 progressed, I found my station in the tenor section of the Times Square Church choir to move progressively forward. Finally, I was asked to join the ensemble, the front rank. In doing so, I was also asked to join fifteen others who were flying to Lagos, Nigeria on 30 Sept., 2002: pastor Carter and his wife Teresa, missionaries from Guatemala Michael and Roxanne Beene, our sound engineer Ivan, the members of the TSC band, and the nine choir ensemble members, of which I was one.
We flew from JFK airport in Queens, New York to Zurich, Switzerland (a nine hour flight), had a two hour layover, then flew for almost six hours from Zurich to Lagos, Nigeria. Wherever we went in Lagos, we were accompanied by protocol and security teams, as well as a native pastor or two. Our vans were always in a convoy headed and backed by police vehicles with active sirens and lights.
The U.S. dollar goes a long way in Nigeria. The largest Nigerian bill is a 500 naira note (pronounced "NY-ruh") which is equal to $3.70 US. A bottled soft drink (called a "mineral" there) like Coca-Cola or Fanta, which would normally cost $1.25 in the US (if you could even find glass bottles in America anymore) costs 25 naira, or about 17 cents, US currency. A nice home and property could be easily purchased for a million naira (about $10,000 US). However, wages are so low in Nigeria that these "dream" costs from an America perspective are devastatingly inflated to the Nigerian. In some regards, Lagos was not unlike other Third World communities. Most homes, dilapidated or not, were surrounded by high walls with barbed wire (and-or broken glass) on top and armed guards at the gate.
I saw only ONE traffic light the entire week we were in Lagos! Vehicles drove any way they could; lanes were not held in much regard. "Touts" (people selling wares) and beggars stood in medians, or in the midst of the street in traffic jams! Strangely, even billboards for ordinary businesses and products seemed to have Christian connotations. And churches were everywhere, from self-styled meetings in favella-like hovels to actual buildings. Indeed, the largest church in the world is in Lagos, with over a million in attendance. It's so large that they've split into several groups, the entirety meeting together only once a month.
On 3-5 October, 2002 we held pastors' conferences at the T.R.E.M. (The Redeemed Evangelical Mission) Centre, a facility which comfortably held the 6-8,000 who attended. God moved powerfully through these meetings, and many pastors were so challenged by the purity of the Word and worship that they were lying prostrate on their faces in the presence of a holy God. Indeed, so were many from our rank. The Lord did a work in many, many hearts, including ours. I know that much reform has and shall result from these conferences.
About the photos below, from left to right (per row):
1.) Nigel Vaz, my roommate for the first week, and a fellow tenor in the ensemble. This Jamaican brother in Christ is both sweet and sober, hilarious and serious.
2.) Alec Stevens (me) and John Enelama, an indigenous pastor and an invaluable guide/host.
3.) A view from one of the vans in Lagos.
4.) Members of the band and ensemble disembark from the van at the T.R.E.M. Centre (barely visible at left). The Yawdah (a Hebrew word for "praise") Auditorium in the back houses pastoral offices as well. Behind this are outhouses, in front of which I saw a native gent reading some Bible Society Christian comic books (the only ones I saw during my stay in Nigeria).
5.) Another view of Lagos from the van.
6.) Me (I know it's bad English!) standing with my good friend Todd Williams, TSC's music director and tenor saxophonist. Todd used to tour and record with noted jazz musician Wynton Marsalis for six years, but heeded God's call to lay it down in favor of Christian service. He has no regrets!