From the Pastors Desk
Feb12FriFebruary 12, 2021 by Cathy Chapin
COUNTING THE COST
KIDNAPPED IN THE NIGER DELTA By David and Shirley Donovan
British missionaries David and Shirley Donovan have run New Foundations, an Evangelical Mission in the Niger Delta for 15 years sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through the vehicle of evidence-based Primary HealthCare. Their Mission clinics are situated in remote riverine communities where indigenous people are trained as medical missionaries to their own people.
This is a true story.
October 13, 2017. The Donovan’s were winding up one of their regular trips to a health centre in Nigeria when a pounding on their inner bedroom door ushered them into an experience that would forever change not only their lives, but their relationship with God. Threatened at gunpoint, held hostage and ransomed for one billion naira. They share the journey of God’s grace that allowed them to witness to their kidnappers in the midst of the chilling and disturbing reality of the depths to which man is capable of descending.
Shirley had a sense of unease preceding this trip even though two others were joining them… Ian , their mission partner that ran his own evangelical Christian doctor, Mission Eye Health Care in Africa and Alana, a young optometrist was joining him - her first time on a short term mission. Not knowing the reason for this unease, Shirley was spending more time in Bible reading, prayer and quiet reflection. She knew they were heading into a volatile area where they would be isolated, with virtually no amenities and the constant worry of cerebral malaria that could be life threatening. Ian had also had some questions in his mind about coming on this mission.The Foreign Office guidance directed them to have travel insurance that always necessitated a kidnapping premium of 1000 pounds a week. Nigeria was the 7thbiggest oil producer in the world. David writes, “In many ways the Delta is the frontier of corporate exploitation and organized crime impossible to police. Corruption is endemic at every level from community to government. The basic problem is greed- corporate, community and personal.” The influence of Christianity is strong but bribery, intimidation and adherence to other gods is prevalent.
When they finally arrived at the clinic, Shirley, sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit, felt many who worked there were “cold in their faith” and there were serious issues to be addressed. They reminded themselves they worked by and for the glory of God and they simply needed to be obedient to the call to serve. The fruits of the harvest would always be of the Lord. The danger for missionaries was to feel validated by their calling for it could slide into good works despite the best of intentions. “As humans we can get allured by the process. And validation must always be IN CHRIST.”
Midnight… the day before they were to head home…cracking pounding noises one door after another falls…instantly alarmed but no power working…trying to grab clothing off the floor… three large men with rifles lunge into the room yelling MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! The men quickly rifled through their belongings taking computers and phones. The Donovan’s are pushed into a small boat and in the other, stunned and shocked are Ian and Alana- each boat, accompanied by three men all with guns. They sped across the water into total darkness. Little did we know we were headed for the empty quarter, home of the disenfranchised, private gangs and militants.
David looking back states “What differentiates a Christian in this situation? Fear, anxiety, bewilderment…they are emotions that deny the sovereignty of God and demonstrate a lack of trust. So they brought the whole situation to God and submission to His Will as an act of intentional faith and of obedience.” There had to be faith in this situation without comprehending the why.
What was about to occur in the next 22 days was beyond anything they could ever have imagined. David writes,” When understanding reaches its limit and conjecture steps in, we have to return to the Word of God. We had no autonomy or freedom. We did however have a choice to place our trust in God.” They realized very soon this was a spiritual battle and in their weakness was God’s strength.
They were confined under a mosquito net on a small mattress on a pontoon boat suspended by bamboo poles above jungle flood waters. “The Christian life”, David concludes, “is not staid rather it is dynamic. It is radical heart surgery to replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh so that it pulses according to God’s rhythm and no longer ours.” Through prayer they began to experience God’s heart toward these men. Christ had died for them too.
Shirley noticed Pastor had a very swollen and inflamed ankle and asked him “How did you do that?” It was obviously fractured. Pastor went to a traditional healer who applied a chili poultice and he returned in worse shape. He was in agony. She reached out of the net and gently held his ankle. “I can fix this if you get me some Plaster of Paris bandage.” He looked shocked. Pastor became tense, “Why would you want to do this?” he said with irritation, “You’re our captive.” Shirley answered, “I know but I can separate what I feel about our kidnap, from my desire to help you in your pain.” He snapped “We stop conversation now!” A young gang member listening asked “Why Pastor?” Confused and shaken by her compassion he said “because she is speaking to my soul.”
Moments of intimidation and darkness happened that birthed deep anger and fear in the now threesome, but in time they learned through the Holy Spirit that unforgiveness was a burden they could not carry any longer. Daily prayers by the three were offered for their captors (and their families). The men heard them. David felt they needed to stop praying for release and rather pray to surrender to God’s Will for them. This was truth. Truth is a person…it is the person of Jesus Christ. On the day of their rescue, only the captives hear a divine message, accompanied by music winding through the swamp… that promised home. This book challenges us all to be prepared to be a fool for Christ and to please Him and not man…to never compromise for anyone or anything. I recommend some time, a quiet place and this book, but beware you will not be able to put it down!