An Ambassador for Christ
My childhood home was nominally Christian. Though we went to church, all I really recall from being there was dancing and clapping to upbeat songs. We did not learn about repentance, forgiveness, or victory over sin.
During my college years, I began living a very selfish and sinful life. At nineteen years of age, I was a liar and a thief. On weekends, the students would get together to socialize with dancing, and I was always at the party. Then, in 1969, I was invited to a Christian retreat. The accommodations, food, and transportation were provided free of charge, so I decided to go. It was there that the Lord convicted me of the way I had been living. During a short sermon, the Lord broke me completely. I prayed, confessing my sins and all that I was to Jesus, and He forgave me! In an instant, the Spirit of God bore witness to my spirit that I was a child of God. I was so happy.
When I got back to campus, the other students watched my life. They thought I would go back to partying, but they were surprised. I no longer did the sinful and worldly things I had done before. I also did not tell lies or steal anymore; all the sin in my life was gone! That is what God can do.
In Nigerian culture, there are traditional medicines that are believed to bring success, knowledge, protection, health, and other good things. My mother had sent me to college with some of those fetish medicines, but after I was saved, I packed them all up and threw them away. Since 1969, I have never used them again. I have not missed them because whenever I have a problem, I go to the Lord who saved my soul, and He takes care of it.
I left college about three years after I was saved. Soon, I met two ladies who invited me to an Apostolic Faith Church, where I heard about sanctification. As I sought that experience, God showed me that I needed to make some restitutions. I had stolen books from the library at college and needed to return them. Though fearful to admit what I had done, I promised God that I would do it, and He sanctified my soul. I remember praying, “God, sanctify me through the truth. I want to be holy within and without.” That is exactly what God did. When I got up from praying, I felt like a different person. My heart was purified and cleansed, and it was beautiful. God also helped me to follow through and make my restitutions. Then my conscience was clear and my mind was free.
At church, I also heard about the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and I pressed forward to receive that experience. One day, as I was praying early in the morning, I began speaking in a language I did not know. I knew the work was done; God had baptized me with His Spirit. More evidence in my life followed because I became bold for the Lord and had courage to tell others about Christ. I wanted to tell everyone that Jesus saves! Before, I had been shy, but the baptism gave me power to serve God.
My pastor helped me understand that breaking a contract was like breaking my word. He said I would have to choose between the job and serving the Lord.
When it was time to choose a career, I applied at a company called Lever Brothers and received a great offer. In addition to my salary, they would provide me with a company car and other benefits. I was so excited about that opportunity. However, when I told my pastor about it, he told me, “James, you already signed a bond with the government of Nigeria.” It was true; I had committed to serve the government for a period of years, and intended to break that contract in order to work for Lever Brothers. My pastor helped me understand that breaking a contract was like breaking my word. He said I would have to choose between the job and serving the Lord.
As I sought the Lord earnestly in prayer over that decision, God showed me that I needed to heed the counsel of my pastor. I turned down the Lever Brothers job and followed through on my commitment with the government. Though I did not know it at the time, that was one of the best decisions of my life. Within a year, I was offered a position as a diplomat in the Department of Foreign Ministry. Over the course of the next three decades, I received much more than money or cars—I had the opportunity to participate in the furtherance of God’s work around the world.
My first assignment for the Department of Foreign Ministry was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By that time I had married, and while I fulfilled my responsibilities as a diplomat, God helped my wife and I to start an Apostolic Faith group in our home. Thank God, today we still have some groups of believers in that country.
In a miraculous way, some years later the Lord made it possible for me to work in the United States. Normally, a person would have to lobby and network in order to be sent to the United States. I did not know any important officials, but I knew Jesus! He worked it out for me and I was in Washington D.C. from 1980 to 1983. I was encouraged to worship with the saints at our church in that city, and also to attend camp meeting at the Portland headquarters for the first time. Once, Brother Loyce Carver and his wife came to Washington D.C. to apply for a special visa, and they stayed with my family during their trip. He was a wonderful man of God, and I count it a blessing to have gotten to know him.
After Washington D.C., I was posted to Guinea Conakry in West Africa. Though there was no church there at that time, we invited people to meetings in our home and God blessed those meetings. Today, I am encouraged to see God still working in Guinea Conakry. Next we were sent to Gabon, and without a church there, we again invited people to meetings in our home. By the time we needed to leave that country, God had brought someone who could lead the work there. That has been some thirty years ago, and the work continues in Gabon to the glory of God.
From 1998 to 2003, I was posted to the United Kingdom and was blessed to worship with our saints in London during those years. Then I was sent to the country that I enjoyed most of all—Japan. At the time, Brother Hidehiro Ouchi was the pastor of our church in Tokyo. We became good friends during the three years I worked in Japan and it was a privilege to help with the work of God there.
Another aspect of my government position involved dispatching Nigerian representatives to other countries. The Department of Foreign Ministry has a volunteer program that sends Nigerians on two-year assignments abroad, similar to the American Peace Corps. My department was in charge of making those assignments, so I was in the capacity to send some of our church workers to places where we had growing churches, such as the Gambia, Gabon, and Zambia. They were wonderful representatives of our nation and also benefitted the Gospel work in those areas.
I never could have imagined all the ways God would work through my career, but that is what He did. When I look back, I just thank God that He helped me to obey His leading at the beginning, for truly there is blessing in obedience!
Over the years, there were times when I was on the mountaintop and times when I was in the valley, but God brought me through it all. I married in 1978, and God gave my wife and me five children. We had a loving, united family, and were happy serving God together around the world as we traveled for my work. But in 1998, just before our twentieth wedding anniversary, my wife contracted malaria and passed away. She was only forty-five years old. That was a sorrowful time, but still God was good and kind to me.
A while later I married again, but my second wife was soon diagnosed with cancer, which took her life in a matter of months. Again, God was there for me. Then in 2006, I married Martell, a woman who was also widowed, and God has been helping us to this day. It has not been an easy road, but through everything I have seen the goodness of God in a marvelous way.
During one of the periods when I was living in Nigeria, one evening I was in a car accident on my way to a church service. It was a terrible accident, but God spared my life. Subsequently, I made a promise to God that after I retired from being a diplomat, I would work for Him. My retirement from the Department of Foreign Ministry was in June of 2010, and a few weeks later, I received a call from my district superintendent. Though I had not mentioned my promise to work for God, he asked me to serve in a directorship role. It seemed like a great responsibility to take on, but I knew God would help me. I surrendered to Jesus, and it was my privilege to fill that role for over a decade.
I have no regrets in choosing to follow the Lord. He took me out of the miry clay and made my life into something wonderful, and I give Him glory and honor for all He has done.