“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17: 26-28 NKJV.
We received news today that Pastor Emmanuel Imemba of Aba, Nigeria has gone to sleep in the Lord. A call from somewhere, with a strange country code, had come in last week but I didn’t return it until this morning. Harriet spoke with Emmanuel’s daughter Victoria this morning and in this way we got the news. I had suspected briefly before that the call was about his passing, he had been ill for some time, and so it didn’t come to me as a complete surprise. It seems that we hear of more and more deaths these days. I thanked the Lord and was glad that we had been able to help Pastor Imemba with some money for his medical treatments and that we hadn’t missed the opportunities and appointments that God gave us to help him. Kappy immediately saddened; she has such a soft and feeling heart. After the call we prayed and she said that the prayer helped her. As this day has grown older I’ve thought about Pastor Imemba many times.
I first got a letter from him in Lodi about 1996 and I wrote him back. We developed a friendship via letters until I visited Nigeria in 2003 at his invitation. I’ve since learned that African pastors try to connect with Westerners. Pastor Imemba, though about 10 years older than I am, hoped, and he must have prayed, to connect with someone. That someone in God’s plan was me. Our common tie was prison ministry. I must have been very naïve but we trusted the Lord and off I flew to Lagos, Nigeria where Pastor Imemba met me at the International Airport. I can’t forget Diana Ross singing via recording on the airport intercom; I felt a bit confused…was I in Harlem, Southside Chicago, or East LA? I wouldn’t have thought that ‘Baby Love’ would welcome me to Africa for my first time. He had a large color photo of me on his office wall and all of his relatives and friends had to come to meet the white man from America, his friend.
All in God’s appointment we got along well. I was blessed for 2 weeks to serve, preach and teach, counsel and evangelize and help plant a church. The Lord enabled me to minister in the local prison and more fully befriend Emmanuel. The thought has come to me often today that this was a necessary part of God’s surpassingly great plan for Emmanuel, the people of Aba…and me. Had another than Emmanuel met me in Africa, my first visit could well have been very different and perhaps the final one. He was taking care of all of his kids; his wife wasn’t around for some reason. He was very kind and very patient, a virtue that many Africans possess, and he kept hosting me and taking me to the meetings and the people for ministry, though many times this wasn’t easy for him.
And the Lord blessed the visit and ministry. There were professions of faith made and as a result of the visit I had a taste of African missions and could tell Kappy about all of it and encourage her about how Africa really is and that I thought that we could do missions, that I really believed that we should do missions in Africa. Emmanuel graciously took me to Lagos on a very long return bus ride as he looked out for my safety and welfare. And he had to make the very long bus ride back to Aba from Lagos afterwards. The church grew numerically and physically and Pastor Imemba continued at his work of providing, mostly alone, financially for the church’s building and welfare.
I felt joy many times over the years to think that a church was worshipping God in Nigeria and that I had a hand in planting it. It grew to perhaps 50 people, maybe up to about 80. I’ve prayed for Pastor Imemba daily for some time and now I will have to remember to take his name off of the prayer list. He doesn’t need prayer now because this son of Africa, my brother, has come to his preappointed end at his preappointed time.
I’m comforted by the thought that Emmanuel is glorified and that God has blessed me to meet and know this Christian brother and fellow minister. It’s really amazing to me that the Lord took me half way around the world to meet and serve with Emmanuel and that this was necessary in His plan for Emmanuel’s good, for my good and for the good of countless people in Nigeria and perhaps around the world. We are truly one blood, Emmanuel showed me that, and though we differ in many interesting ways we are all men of one blood on the face of planet Earth.
Sometimes I marvel at the diversity and yet essential one-ness of all peoples on the globe. At heart we are all sons of Adam and in need of God’s forgiveness found only through the blood of His dear Son Jesus. Emmanuel’s preappointed home was Nigeria and mine is now Uganda and wonderfully in God’s grace, here in my dwelling in Africa, I can bring the good news of God’s love, eternal salvation, forgiveness of sin and abundant and joyful life to my neighbors. As Emmanuel’s heart beat to the song of groping after and finding God and rejoicing in God through Christ and in preaching the gospel so that others might know the heart song of salvation, my heart, too, beats to that drum.
Praise God! The God who is near us and who is not far from any of us, the God that all men and brothers live in, reveals Himself to the heart that will trust in His Son, Love incarnate, who gave Himself for us. I rejoice in that God, the true and living God, the God of all men, who has loved me before the creation of the world and who in His absolute sovereignty has determined before the worlds were that all things are for my good and that Emmanuel and I were to be friends and true brothers and ministers of the gospel together because of the blood that was shed for us before the beginning of time.
I thank the Lord that Pastor Imemba has gone to glory and that his works will follow him. The light of the new day has dawned upon Emmanuel. And I am once again blessed by my Lord in His appointments for me.
Pastor Imemba and his kids, Aba, Nigeria 2003