It seems like a series of miracles have literally transformed my ilfe. I have gone from being a wild young ‘rebel’ in Nigeria to discovering academic success in Europe and a whole new meaning to life. Today, I am a published author and a senior researcher in international development.
But in my earlier years, it was a very different story. At university in eastern Nigeria, I became a radical union activist, challenging the government of the day – and was arrested several times. It seems I was a natural leader, as each time my fellow students demanded my release.
I was also ambitious and happy-go-lucky, out for all the fun we could find – a life very different from my Catholic upbringing. My parents, both career teachers and respected leaders in our community, had no idea how badly I was behaving.
Then something odd happened. My elder sister, Mneka, was invited by a group of Christian businessmen to a dinner in Port Harcourt. There she experienced ‘an encounter with God’ and claimed to have been ‘born again’. I was baffled.
Worse was to follow. At another meeting, a Christian speaker had what they called a ‘prophecy’. He pointed directly to my sister and said “You have brother,” – and then gave her my name! “Go to your brother and say the Lord has a claim on his life,” he added. “But remind him that, if he will not listen to the call, he will be in great danger.”
Mneka told me later, in tears, what the speaker had said. But I laughed. “What are you doing, hob-nobbing with heretics who are only after your money?” I said. After all, I was a nominal Catholic witha strong sense of justice. What had this crazy prophecy to do with me? But my sister prayed and fasted that I would “listen to the advice of the man of God”. She vowed she would never stop praying for me.
But I couldn’t have cared less, until I got the shock of my life. In February 2000 I was out with my friends when the front tyre of our jeep burst. It was a ghastly accident as the vehicle somersaulted on a busy road. The young driver was fatally injured and my other friends were badly hurt. I escaped without a scratch but, as I carried my injured friend to a nearby car, I found myself crying out to God to save him.
Days later, I was still in complete shock. Then a girl, passing by on the street, gave me a leaflet about a Christian meeting for the following weekend. It was a wake-up call. I honestly couldn’t wait till Sunday, so under great conviction I phoned the pastor whose name was on the leaflet. I also remembered the prophetic warning that my sisted had given me – since I had escaped death by inches.
As the pastor led me in a prayer for forgiveness, so I came to simple faith in Christ. Now I understood why Christ died for me – for all of us – on the Cross. It was a life-changing experience. Within months, I had read the New Testament. I discovered that God can heal us by faith, and I, too, experienced physical healing. By then I was also a teacher, when a chance came to go to the Netherlands to study environmental science – but it would cost ten thousand euros and I didn’t have a bean!
However, I had learned through the Bible that God will supply all our needs, if we trust him. I felt God was saying to me “if you release what’s in your hand, I’ll release what’s in My hand!” So, in faith, I gave my month’s salary to God – with no idea how he would provide. But he did – and I had enough to travel to Europe.
Then I was given a scholarship for a University Doctorate in the UK and saw God provide in amazing ways. I also wrote down in faith how I believed god would guide my research career – and sure enough, it has worked out that way! Today, I believe that a life that is not in God’s plan is a wasted life. There is no ‘mountain’ you cannot climb with God’s help.
My wife Boma and I were married in January 2007, in Nigeria where we first met. We have a daughter, Ruth, and are now based at Oxford.
Dr Chuks Okereke teaches on international development, and has written two books on global justice and the politics of the environment.