April 10th and April 11th were historic days in the life of the Orthodox Church in Nigeria when 45 Nigerian clergy and youth leaders gathered at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary parish in Nanka, and connected remotely from different regions, to participate in a virtual retreat with a five-member OCMC team. Fr. James Nwaba, Vicar General under Metropolitan Alexander of Nigeria, noted the event “sparked a new kind of enthusiasm.”
Youth leaders joined remotely from the ‘middle belt,’ Eastern and Midwest regions and Lagos. Fr. James went on to report, “Until recently they were organized only on a local basis. But we have just finalized plans to have a national body of youth. This central unit will help with organization and managing all aspects of this age group.”
Nigeria has the fifth largest Muslim population in the world and the largest population of youth in the world. It gained its independence from Britain in 1960 and through the spiritual searching of a handful of Nigerians, accepted Orthodoxy in 1985. In 2021, the Church in Nigeria hosted its first OCMC virtual teams.
The virtual Team members included: Fr. Andrew Kearns, US Navy chaplain stationed in Bahrain; John Greer of Lakewood, CA; Aphrodite Peponis of Chicago, IL; David Sandborgh of Pocatello, ID; and Christina Sargent of Goldsboro, NC. Their topics included an Overview of the Orthodox Church, Christ’s Life and Following Him, Orthodox Marriage, Iconography and Responding to COVID-19.
His Eminence Alexander expressed his, “deepest, deepest, deepest thanks and gratitude for the organization of this retreat. There is a great need to re-evangelize, and with the youth, this will not be just for Nigeria, but all Africa!” His Eminence’s Archdiocese includes Nigeria, Niger, Benin and Togo in its jurisdiction.
The Team members found His Eminence’s candor in teaching the Faith “encouraging and inspiring.” Fr. Andrew exhorted his fellow team members, “I hope you learned something about yourself, your ability to serve even now where you are, and perhaps your heart was inspired to think of the new and renewed ways that you can serve at home and abroad. You don’t need to go to Nigeria to find people in need of comfort, healing, and God’s Word. I pray that you continue to shine the light of Christ as you have done into my heart these past two days; and I pray that you find renewed ways to be a blessing to your home and global Christianity, which is Orthodoxy.”
And Christina Sargent noted, “This was an amazing experience! Thank you for this beautiful opportunity.”