Linda Rowe completed her 14th mission trip to Nigeria this spring. This time she had a two-fold purpose: to check up on previous projects that were begun during previous visits and to introduce a new Methodist coordinator to the projects that are being accomplished in Nigeria.
The General Board of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church hired Kathryn Witte to oversee all Nigerian projects and set up partnerships with American churches.
Rowe admitted she probably knew more about the Methodist Church’s Nigerian project than anyone since she has been overseeing efforts there since 2005. Therefore, she was the logical choice to introduce Witte to what the church is accomplishing in Nigeria.
This trip was different from any other for Rowe. Because of political unrest, the Nigerian Methodist Church hired two security guards with guns slung over their shoulders to protect her and Witte as they traveled around the country.
“We stand out as white Americans, and they have had so many kidnappings for ransom in recent months they wanted to assure our safety. This experience gave a whole new meaning to what the kids call ‘riding shotgun,’” Rowe said.
The guards rode in the vehicle with the women, ate with them and stayed in the same lodging. “We became friends with them, and they loosened up after few days and became pretty good photographers for us.
“Kathryn wrote a blog each day, but she didn’t post photos with the guards because she didn’t want the folks at home to worry,” Rowe said.
Neither of the women felt threatened at any time, but the guards may have deterred someone from thinking they were an easy target.
Though Rowe said the entire trip was uneventful, she personally knew three girls who had been abducted.
“Five masked men broke into the girls’ bedroom at 1 a.m. and demanded a ransom. The girls were held for four days while their brother and an uncle negotiated the ransom.
“Two of the girls were college graduates, so the family had some money,” Rowe said. “The girls were treated badly and were given little food and water. They became ill, but at least they were not raped.”
Rowe’s main job while in Nigeria was checking the condition of the boreholes/wells that had been drilled through the mission program.
“Kathryn jokingly said I bored her with boreholes,” Rowe said.
“Some wells had easy fixes, some not so easy, but the boreholes always attract a conglomeration of people waiting to get water.”
Linda told the story of one hot day on the trip when they saw 70 pans in line to be filled with water while the owners sat under shade trees and waited their turn in the 100-degree weather.
Rowe said she and Witte traveled a lot, but she especially wanted Witte to see the many projects in Panya that have been sponsored by nine Davis County churches — the Troy, Drakesville, and Bloomfield United Methodist Churches, Pulaski Mennonite Church, Bloomfield Christian Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Grace Pointe Church of the Nazarene, St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church, and Bethlehem Christian Church.
Rowe said Witte was impressed with what the partnership has accomplished and how the projects have allowed the Panyans to take ownership and become more self-sufficient.
Rowe made sure Witte met a women’s group that had been given micro loans to begin their own economic development projects. The women told Witte how they made use of the loans.
Rowe explained that when the African women are empowered with loans, they tend to spend the money on home repairs, their children’s schooling, medicine, or something to improve their lives. “If you give money to the men, you’re never sure how they’re going to spend it,” she said.
Witte was also shown the clinics and schools that have been built through the mission program.
Rowe said the Nigerian government is inefficient and often corrupt, making it somewhat difficult to develop the area.
“For example, the government came in and built a school for Panya in 2008, but the students never received books and the teachers were not paid. The government told them they needed a science lab and an exam hall for 200 people, and they were required to show progress in building those facilities or the government would shut the school down.
“The exam hall was very impractical,” Rowe said. “That’s just an example of the corrupt government they live under.”
Rowe had never witnessed a Nigerian wedding before, and was intrigued with one that was held in Panya while she was there.
“The bride had umpteen girls attending her who were dressed in African garb and the groom had several groomsmen. The wedding lasted three hours in a very hot church.
“It was quite the celebration,” she said. “They partied at the school grounds all night.”
Rowe and Witte also traveled to other small towns around the area. While in Salaminkala, they visited a clinic the Iowa delegation had built there.
“We met with medical people and got a tour of the clinic,” Rowe said. “They also gifted us with African garb.”
During the entire trip, Rowe and Witte were gifted seven dresses, a bolt of fabric, and a couple of chickens.
While in the Bambur area where early missionaries started the Methodist Church in Africa, the two women met church leaders and toured the facilities, including a little clinic started by a theological seminary for pastors.
After a couple of days, the women took a rock road to Pero and visited a water factory where water is purified and sold in plastic sachets.
The women also visited a clinic in Pero and learned about an ag program headed by an “ambitious young man who has a lot of projects going — fish ponds, trees, chicken projects and other food crops.
“We also talked with church leaders there to see what other projects they wanted help with.”
One of the highlights of the trip for Rowe was visiting a school in Pero that was named after Ron Wilmot, a science teacher from Akron, Iowa who died of a heart attack while unloading a sea container carrying supplies to Nigeria.
The school is a comprehensive secondary school that has only been established for four years and houses grades 7-10. In two more years the school will house all six grades from 7-12 with 25-30 pupils in each grade.
Rowe said the last time she went to Nigeria the Wilmot School had two classroom blocks and an administration wing. “They were using one of the classrooms as the hostel where the kids stayed. Now they have one complete girls’ hostel and another in progress as well as a boys’ hostel.
“The school also has a goat herd and a chicken flock as well as a school garden that an ag man from the Pero area got started. They are planting trees on the campus. The ag man is helping with all of this.”
Rowe has also developed an appreciation for the school’s ambitious lady principal who asked about the possibility of developing a pen-pal program.
“We have about 70 pen pals between the Davis County Schools and the Ron Wilmot School,” she said. “I will be sending a third batch of letters back to Nigeria shortly. It’s been a real educational experience for our kids here to learn about the Nigerian culture.
“A few of the kids are even emailing back and forth and corresponding personally beyond the letter project,” Rowe said.
The Nigerian children’s native language is Hausa, but they all learn to read and write English in school.
Rowe’s commitment to the Nigerians doesn’t end when she comes back to the states. The Nigerian church has set up a clean water board to work with Rowe on wells. “The board decides where they want their boreholes and sends the plans to me for approval,” she said. “In this way, they are taking a little leadership. They have a board and a maintenance team to go around and fix the boreholes periodically. They send me a list of their expenses and I authorize payment,” she said.
“Our success with this project can be attributed now to email and some of the people are good communicators. Progress on the water project can now be made year round.”
Rowe said this spring’s journey was another great trip and she is grateful to the Davis County Schools’ administration and the track kids for being understanding and allowing her to go during track season.
I have two passions — coaching track and the Nigerian project — and I was trying to do both at once,” she said.