Woke at 5 a.m. when the Muslim prayers started. Then there were the roosters, sounds of children walking to school and people busily going about their day. After devotions and trips to the embassy and police to report our arrival, Dan, Pete and Jim ran wire for Internet access. Dan worked on some computer stuff and file cabinets, while Pete and Jim worked with some guys roofing the storage building. We had a lunch of fufu with the gechaan directors and some staff. (Fufu is a sticky ball of corn, rice or wheat flour hand-dipped into soup or stew.)
Joining the 4 n point | fall 2012
he fight in Nigeria By Dan and Tina Gibbs, with Bob Putman fall 2012
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So begins the third entry in Tina’s journal
from our Edinbrook Church team’s two-week trip to Gembu, Nigeria, March 19-23, 2012. We went to serve the gechaan mission and for us (Dan and Tina) to investigate the Converge hiv/aids prevention and care ministry in Taraba State. We wanted to evaluate it and determine whether this is God’s call for our next ministry involvement. Why leave the comfort of secure jobs and a nice home in suburban Minneapolis to consider ministry in a place of poverty, malnutrition, pervasive corruption and hiv/aids infection? For two reasons: What God was doing in our hearts, and the remarkable work he is accomplishing through the Helwigs and the gechaan ministry they lead.
Yesterday Dorothy and I encouraged a Muslim mom, who had given birth on the way to the clinic. She brought the baby wrapped in a towel. Today we went to three schools to present awards to the winners in the hiv/ aids awareness competitions. Pete and Jim worked on some more soffits and fascia and started putting on the zinc roof today. Dan has been following Art around, working on assorted projects. Please pray that God makes things clear to us, if this is where we should be. It is an amazing, multifaceted place in the midst of such extreme poverty of spirit and mind.
6 n point | fall 2012
(above) Travel in Nigeriaâ€™s countryside is rough and sometimes dangerous but opens vistas to the countryâ€™s natural beauty. (far left) During the food distribution, this young boy wanted a closer look at Dan. (left) Tina on her way to Sunday services at a local church. fall 2012
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(above, l.) A former missionary in Africa, Art Helwig’s love for people, and a compulsion to do something about the HIV/AIDS pandemic at an age when most Americans retire led to a profound reduction in the disease and to compassionate care for the children it affects. (above, r.) Dorothy Helwig provides a blanket and clothing for a baby born on the way to the GECHAAN clinic. The mother had no clothing for the child. (next page, l.) The Edinbrook Church team at the hospital in Makurdi (l. to r. ): Makurdi Hospital’s Dr. Steve, who treated driver Peter, Tina and Jim; Dan Gibbs, secular business manager and part-time facility manager at Edinbrook Church; his wife Tina, Edinbrook’s full-time director of preschool ministries; Pete Thiel, graphics/publications manager; and Jim McKinney, retired food broker. (next page, r.) This blind grandmother cared for several foster children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Because parents have died, unrelated grandmothers often serve as foster parents.
For at least a year we felt we were in the right place, but God had something else coming for us. We didn’t know what or where. We were watching postings from churches and ministries around the country. In August 2011 we attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit with then Edinbrook lead pastor Ivan Veldhuizen (now International Ministries executive director). One presentation required us to write on a piece of clay pottery the kind of commitment we were willing to make to God. Dan wrote the date and “I am willing.” Tina wrote “I’m willing to stay or go.” It was our commitment point of saying, “God, if you want us here, this is where we want to be. We feel you’ve got something else for us. We just don’t know what it is. When you’re ready to show us, we’re willing to go. But we’re going to do everything we can here until you present something else to us.” We felt that over the next year we probably would be called someplace else.
‘Pure and genuine religion
God orphans widows
in the sight of
means caring for and distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you’
—James 1:27, nlt
We left at 7 this morning to drive to a very remote village to check on malnourished children receiving meals and to deliver more meals. We drove up, up, up. Saw hills, lots of eucalyptus trees, cows, sheep and goats. We finally arrived and met with the village leaders. We attracted quite a crowd. We were the only white people there. Most of the children had seen few whites before. Parents pushed their crying children forward, wanting the best for their child. Art told us some parents have to choose which child to feed and which to let starve. My mother’s heart was crushed. We saw some children who had been on the feeding program, and they looked so much better than their counterparts.
Ivan and I (Dan) have a tradition of going out to lunch together to celebrate our birthdays. We did that on November 6, and talked about a lot of things. At the end, Ivan asked, “Would you ever consider going to Nigeria and partnering with Art and Dorothy Helwig in the ministry they have started? You’re a good fit.” It had never entered my (Dan’s) mind. Tina, who had read in the Helwigs’ prayer letter that they were looking for someone to assist them, thought it would be a cool ministry. But she didn’t think it would fit my gifts and skills, and we weren’t missionaries. So when Ivan asked Dan if we would consider assisting at gechaan, at that moment Dan felt he knew we were supposed to do this. We said we’ll consider it and pray about it. About a week later we told Ivan, “We really want to pursue this.”
8 n point | fall 2012
He got us in touch with Steve Valentine, the Converge missionary recruitment director, who put us on the fast track to participate in a Missionary Assessment Center. January 19-21, 2012, we spent three great days going through the assessment with three couples and two singles at the mac, held at the Converge Collaboration Center in Orlando, Fla.
March 18 We drove for about an hour to Kakara Baptist Church, one of the
most supportive for village meetings on hiv/aids testing and information. They were singing when we arrived. It was wonderful, worshipful, loud and joyous. The pastor gave a wonderful sermon on “For such a time as this,” relating it to Nigerian Christians being in place right now for the challenges the country faces. We got back about 1, had lunch at 2 and then a Sunday nap. Lying on the bed, a cool breeze blowing over me, hearing bleating sheep, a little laugh in the distance and the sounds of Gembu.
We landed in Abuja and then drove several hours to Gembu. What impressed us most about gechaan was the quality of the mission and the way they approach things. Eight years ago the mission didn’t exist, and now it’s touching thousands of lives. Art and Dorothy Helwig, prompted by the developing hiv/aids pandemic in Africa, had postponed their retirement in 2004 to focus on the issue — one village at a time. They had no medical training, but they gained influence by teaching that the issue was not medical but moral. They began their work in Taraba State, Nigeria, with a simple, practical plan to increase awareness and prevention in rural areas. Their first initiative was the Every Village Visitation Campaign, in which they and trained Nigerian teachers shared vital information in literally every village market square on the Mambilla Plateau. They welcomed people of all faiths and positions and found the villagers very eager to learn what preventative measures they could take.
Today Dan taught the carpenter here how to wire feed weld. They are working on solar panels for the solar fridge. Jim and Pete worked on that and putting a zinc roof on the storage shed. Dan and I walked the whole compound, taking pictures and investigating everything. We had a nice long discussion on the future plans and dreams here at gechaan and the future prospects of each ministry with or without grants.
The gechaan factor n 15,000 AIDS orphans currently receiving foster care
n 7000 visitors to the clinic each month
n 2000 patients currently receiving antiretroviral drug therapy
n Well-baby feeding and care n Quiz-offs, debates and skits in 14 schools to increase hiv/aids knowledge
n Jesus film showings n 20 churches planted in the past 15 months in a multiorganization effort to reach the under-reached Ndolo people
n More than 500 recorded baptisms among the Ndolo
n “Be Faithful” education and support groups for married couples
n An Internet café and computer training
n Foster care placement of hiv/aids orphans
n Care for local widows, orphans and vulnerable children
n Village food distribution n Community-based organizations established for education and widow/orphan care
n Mini-libraries provided to local pastors
n School and church abstinence clubs
Another early awareness and prevention strategy was the radio program Voices of Hope, which continues to air today. The Helwigs also plugged into campaigns in local secondary schools, where teachers shared information to help students avoid hiv infection. gechaan is a very diverse ministry, making a huge impact (see The gechaan factor, at r.). When the Helwigs began their work, doctors estimated that 12 to 15 percent of people in the Sardauna local government were infected. By the end of 2011, the Taraba State Medical Board reported the percentage had dropped to 4.8. fall 2012
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At this food distribution, leaders instruct people on how to prepare and serve the nutritional food GECHAAN provides for malnourished children.
At the dinner table we all commented on how much was accomplished today, our last of this visit. Jim and John finished the roof and soffits of the new storage building. Dan and Pete mounted the new solar panels on the roof and moved the solar fridge. Dorothy showed me a place she thinks would make a great preschool/after-school program on Fridays. As we leave gechaan tomorrow morning, I feel so humbled and honored to have given some time and sweat to a place that has done such a great work but still has such great need. Tomorrow we drive 10 hours, stop, sleep and go on to Abuja and the airport for our trip home. Please pray we get through Abuja safely.
After a phenomenal two weeks, it was time to head home. We started on a 10-hour drive to Makurdi. Travelers in Nigeria are stopped at many military or local government checkpoints. Normally, the military or police would see the name gechaan on our vehicle, give us a big smile and wave us through. That day, however, as we approached what we thought was a checkpoint, a military-looking guy with an AK-47 motioned us to stop. Our driver began to slow down but discerned it was not a legitimate checkpoint. He accelerated, and as we passed, the man with the rifle got off four shots at our van. The first came through the grill and cut Jim’s leg. The second sprayed shattered glass and bullet fragments into his forehead. A third glanced off the driver’s hand and the fourth passed through Tina’s leg. We raced on down the road, Jim and the driver bleeding profusely. No one panicked; everybody clicked
10 n point | fall 2012
into decision mode about what to do next. We stopped in a small village to assess everyone’s injuries. We wrapped Jim’s head in a T-shirt and used another to wrap the driver’s hand. Tina’s injury wasn’t life-threatening. We decided we had better get Jim to a hospital. As we drove on, the engine overheated. We flagged down a minivan and sent Jim and the driver on ahead with them to a first-aid station in Bali. Dan repaired the damaged radiator hose with a granola bar wrapper and tape. After the attack, our church and the Converge staff were very helpful in getting us home and processing the event. We both felt even more strongly about our call to serve in Nigeria. On April 19, 2012, we met with the Converge board of overseers and received their unanimous approval to become missionary appointees. The core philosophy of gechaan is to be “faith-based, community-driven.” The Helwigs’ purpose is to help the community and to teach the community to help itself. They have done a great job involving Nigerians in the day-to-day operations. A board of directors comprised of six Nigerians and Art and Dorothy run the ministry, each with a specific area of expertise. Art and Dorothy believe Tina and I can strengthen the administrative focus of gechaan’s diverse ministry, providing training and checks and balances and reviewing each current method, person and facility to be sure it’s sustainable into the future. Personally, we see ourselves investing our lives in mentoring young moms, ministering to couples and training children and teachers. We are privileged and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve alongside such remarkable people. n
It takes a team of missions Battling hiv/aids and starting churches takes collaboration between many groups and individuals. Read Art Helwig’s summary of how God is using multiple organizations to orchestrate great results. Go to cvrg.us/fall2012-2.
Dan and Tina Gibbs are Converge missionary appointees raising support to work with the gechaan hiv/aids prevention and care ministry in Nigeria. Listen to our interview with the Gibbs at cvrg.us/fall2012-1. You can reach them at www.StandingBeside.com or 763.691.9185. fall 2012
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