Our independent Baptist movement in Nigeria has an interesting history in that the first churches in the late 70’s and early 80’s were planted by Nigerians who trained in American Christian colleges, raised their support in the U.S., and returned to their home country to eventually become “patriarchs” for dozens of missionaries and pastors who would follow their lead. Over the years, God has given me the privilege to befriend, serve with, and be influenced by these seven founders in various ways. In the middle of March, I was given the high honor of being the funeral service preacher for Dr. David Jacobs, who ended his 80 years [burial picture below] on earth in January and left behind four strong churches, numerous graduates who were mentored by his teaching, and a wonderful family with five children. Even though he had already been serving here for 25 years before our arrival, Dr. Jacobs greatly intreated me with opportunities to preach his first church’s anniversary service, to train one of his preachers at our college, and to join us for a recent seminary commencement. He was truly “apt to teach,” and I join others who will miss his great spirit and inspiration.
As is the case with many of our prayer letters, this one begins similarly with a report of two successful Soul-Winning & Leadership Conferences in Port Harcourt and Ibadan. Evangelist Jeff Walters flew directly to Port Harcourt and preached for the Maskeys [pictured below] on the last Sunday of October, while Evangelist Craig Bryan arrived in Abuja for his first visit to Nigeria. Bro. Bryan preached in both churches where our family is involved, and then we traveled together for the conference in the southeast region. Upon their arrival back to Abuja, Bro. Walters and Bro. Bryan conducted an Open House [pictured] for Providence Baptist College & Seminary. They preached and presented their ministries, and then we had a special time of prayer for the ongoing work on our dormitory building. At both conferences and during the Open House, Bro. Bryan enjoyed meeting the pastors whom he helps to support through the Ron Middleton Missions Outreach, which not only partners with us in church planting, but also has contributed greatly to our building program and assists an orphanage with whom we are associated.
A unique aspect of having our ministry in the capital city is that the great majority of our members are not from Abuja. Therefore, we do not host many funerals here; instead, the church will normally send representatives to the home village of any of our members who have passed on. So, when one of our trustees unexpectantly passed away in August, our church was shaken, but we were also thankful to be able to honor Dr. Wole Ajayi’s life in November at the church where he was a founding member and served faithfully for several years. On the night before the burial, a touching service of songs was held with plenty of singing, moving tributes, and messages by two pastors from Ibadan (where Dr. Ajayi also had filled the office as a trustee in two different churches). I had the honor of preaching the funeral service at Grace & Glory Baptist, and then we went with the family for the internment at a cemetery in town. Many thanks go to our co-pastor, Bro. Adewale Adesina, for his communicating with the family and officiating ministers, printing of programs, setting up at each venue, and planning of the orders of service.
In late December, after a two-week delay because of Covid complications, we were thrilled to welcome Caleb [pictured on institute advertisement] and Emily Christiansen with their daughter Emma. They’re the last of three missionaries that we’ve been expecting to arrive this year. The Christiansen family reached in time to take part in our traditional family activities of opening presents on Christmas Eve, a special Christmas Day service at Truth Baptist, a few days of recreation at a local hotel, and a New Year’s Day fellowship for Grace & Glory Baptist.
During our 17th year of service in Nigeria, we continue to see encouraging firsts throughout our ministry. On September 16th, 25 pastors joined me to dedicate with prayer the first-ever fully equipped production studio [ribbon for our independent Baptist churches in Africa’s most populous nation. Christian Media International raised the funds and sent a representative for the setup; then, a pastors’ fellowship [pictured left] was planned at Independent Baptist Church of Ibadan with singing, preaching, testimonies, and prayers. Announcements were made to let the preachers and church workers understand that the studio was for them to use media to get the Gospel out more effectively to their area and around the nation.
We were pleased to witness both a Vacation Bible School and the last of our three 2021 Student Missions Institutes for Training in Evangelism conducted successfully at Truth Baptist Church in September. 42 churches total were represented by the 241 youth who attended the three SMITE camps in Nigeria. 55 bible clubs were conducted, 2607 children were enrolled, and 1540 were saved! We also had nearly 40 young people graduate from the four-year child evangelism training program.
The Truth Baptist Church property has taken on a new look, as pillars were added and a foundation was poured [pictured] for the second floor of the Providence Baptist College & Seminary dormitory. Information about the project can be found at fbmi.org/mpg/holmes, and we covet your prayers, as more funds are needed for the walls and roofing. Simultaneous to that, we are continuing the development of our City of Refuge project, working towards the completion of the property fencing and a kitchen and toilet building.
The month of May allowed me the first opportunity to be a part of two of the six pastors’ conferences that we have planned for this year (I missed one in February before we returned to Nigeria). Truth Baptist Church hosted the 12th Soul Winning & Leadership Conference with nearly 35 pastors attending [pastors' wives session pictured at our home], many bringing workers and preachers from their church with them. Missionary Evangelist Jim Belisle’s 10th visit to our work proved to be the most urgent one for us as he was the only invited guest preacher who was able to have a valid visa to make it out here. The Pathfinder Foundation, started by Grace & Glory Baptist Church’s co-pastor, Adewale Adesina, honored Bro. Belisle and me (along with Ms. Pat and a few former missionaries) with plaques to commemorate our years of service to Nigeria. Our mission board’s Field Service Coordinator and I then flew to Aba for the third conference to be held in that city and the first hosted by Faith Baptist Church, started by Missionary Ken Gill close to 25 years ago and pastored for nearly 15 years by a faithful national pastor and friend. We had 18 churches represented in this three-day meeting, and all three area pastors surprised me with honorary plaques and gifts of clothing from their churches.
As the seminary continues to grow and our students get more and more opportunities for evangelism and service in the local area, the need for a van has become more essential. With the favorable exchange rate recently, I believe that we could buy a very reliable 18-passenger “bus” at around $10,000. We would greatly appreciate your prayers and potential assistance towards this additional project for our schools that have now been a part of producing nearly 150 graduates who are serving all over Nigeria, West Africa.
Four days after our arrival in February, Merci Cepeda and Kristin Muldrow landed in Abuja for a nearly six-week visit. Our oldest son and daughter, Joseph and Victoria, were traveling partners with them in Louisiana on a Bible club blitz team for a few weeks last summer. Merci and Kristin conducted Bible clubs [pictured], helped in children’s church and Sunday school classes, sang specials, participated in our school ministry, brought gifts for a visit to an orphanage, and helped to fund a widows’ meeting hosted by one of our deacons. Two weeks of their trip were spent at A Place Of Hope Africa, a large orphanage home in the East.
I had imagined that adding the second floor for our seminary dormitory would be the only big project for this year, but the Lord has seen fit to put the following additional new works on our ministry plate over the last twelve months: a continuing television ministry with Christian Media International, a fully-sponsored prisoner discipleship ministry, a new day school at Truth Baptist Church, the Friends of the Deaf ministry that just celebrated its first anniversary in April, and the growth of our last church plant (Liberty Baptist of Azunu) which Truth has adopted as its own like no other new church before. We are blessed beyond imagination!
I am writing this letter having my whole family with me in Abuja. We had several delays in our return due to required tests for travel, but, thankfully, we finally arrived on February 19th. The longest furlough of our ministry was fruitful on both sides, with several goals accomplished in the U.S. and our work continuing to mature in Africa.
In 2008, when we held our first Soul-Winning & Leadership Conference (SWLC), there was no other annual multi-day pastors’ meetings of which I knew in Nigeria. In 2019, we held six SWLC’s, and they have been conducted so far in 9 different venues. We can now see that at least four churches would be determined to continue these annual meetings even if an American missionary were no longer there helping to host them. The strongest of these four is Faith Baptist in Ogbomoso, led by Missionary Pastor Timothy Ojo [pictured with his daughter at our 1st SWLC], which conducted their church anniversary and three-day Pastors & Workers Conference during the first full week of February while I was still in the U.S. Missionary Evangelist Don Wattenbarger of Bibles Beyond Boundaries contributed toward the feeding of the delegates, and our ministry made sure that all the attending preachers received boxes of Bibles and New Testaments. We are grateful for our partnership with churches like this.
We are glad to report that we received donations and purchased new motorcycles [pictured] for the three ministries mentioned in our previous prayer letter. Please pray for us as we progress through adding a second floor to our seminary dormitories. Updates for this building project can be found at fbmi.org/mpg/holmes. Thank you for your investment in prayers and finances for our work.
Thankfully, after three itinerary changes, I was able to make it back to the U.S. in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and my father-in-law’s family in Houston. The Christmas week was commemorated by a couple of get-togethers with relatives of my mother-in-law, and that weekend was a nice time to be with my mom, my brother and his wife, and our sending church. A special Sunday before Christmas was enjoyed in Maine as Sabrina and I were able to “get away” to meet the family and sending church of Caleb & Emily Christiansen, who will be working with us long-term starting at the end of next year.
Our supporters have been so kind to meet this particular need for other preachers in the past, so I feel confident in presenting it again. A pastor who recently started a third-generation church needs a motorcycle to be able to conduct an institute there, and another pastor overseeing two churches could use an “okada” for his works. Our recently formed deaf ministry has two seminary students serving fervently, and a motorbike would aide in their visitation efforts. A new quality motorcycle costs $600 and would be a great blessing to these worthy servants.
Soon, we will have the opportunity to broadcast the Gospel on television in the southwest part of Nigeria. Through a partnership with Christian Media International, a half-hour-long weekly program is being produced and aired in Ibadan. We will have more news to share soon and would appreciate your prayers for this important project.
At the end of August, I flew to Charlotte for a special meeting with West Park Baptist Church in Rockwell, North Carolina, the home church of the Ron Middleton Missions Outreach [brochure pictured below]. Evangelist Craig Bryan memorialized his missions-hearted good friend through this great ministry that is now supporting six of our national church planters, assisting an orphanage with which we partner, and kickstarting a building project over which we have been praying for years. During my weekend there, both the church and the outreach generously contributed significant funds toward putting a second floor on our Bible college dormitory. You can see details of that project at fbmi.org/mpg/holmes, and you can find out more about partnering with Evangelist Bryan for church planting around the world by contacting him at email@example.com.
On Friday, May 8th, my family boarded (what has been up until now) the last flight out of Abuja, arranged by the United States embassy. There were stops in Togo and Liberia and an aircraft change in Dublin, making the trip duration a full twenty-four hours. Once we arrived in Washington, D.C., a rental vehicle was arranged, and we drove to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for two nights. Our family was thankful to have some time to ourselves to overcome the jet lag. By Monday evening, we were safe and sound at my mother-in-law’s house in Denham Springs, Louisiana. The Lord arranged the timing for me to see my dad’s older brother on the way to Louisiana, and, just days later, I officiated his funeral [my brother and cousin pictured at the memorial service]. We were expected to stay at home for the first two weeks, and everyone is symptom-free. My family would like to relay a special thanks to friends who responded to our Facebook and email messages concerning the evacuation flight; the money was raised to pay the unexpected expenses, and Sabrina’s home church has already determined to help us with our return flight to Nigeria, hopefully in the middle of October.
Already, our family has been able to see plenty of relatives and take part in several furlough events that we had previously scheduled. We traveled to East Texas at the end of May for a missions conference in Gladewater after taking some time to visit my father-in-law (and an aunt and uncle) in Houston. I had the privilege of preaching at our sending church on the third Sunday after our arrival, and, in June, I did pulpit supply at Sabrina’s home church in Baton Rouge [family singing pictured]. Another “home” church for us is Temple Baptist in Gulfport, and, in the beginning of June, I had the opportunity to preach in their Jubilee for the first time. The month of June rounded up with our three oldest children participating in the Summer Missionary Institute for Training and Evangelism in Milldale, Louisiana [introducing the Christiansens to SMITE]. I had the honor of preaching Monday night and leading music Wednesday night at the camp that “started it all” for us (Sabrina and I officially met at SMITE in 1997; it was our first meeting on full time deputation in 2003, and we have now conducted 20 SMITE’s in Africa!).
Because there has been very little testing accomplished in Nigeria, it is uncertain how much the country has been affected by the coronavirus. Grace & Glory Baptist had not been able to meet since March 22nd, but they finally resumed Sunday morning services on June 14th. Truth Baptist never stopped holding church services, and they utilized house fellowships for those who could not logistically get through the travel restrictions to attend on the church property. One of those house fellowships (started in our deacon’s home) has recently become our newest church plant (now meeting in the chief’s palace!); please pray for the new Azunu Baptist Church. Plans are in place for our Temple Baptist Institute to resume on August 1st and for the students to return for another semester of Providence Baptist College & Seminary on September 2nd.