At the heart of the word ‘courage’ are ideas of boldness, fortitude and resolve. These three, closely-related words together provide a robust understanding of courage. Boldness is the confidence to take a risk: inspired courage. Fortitude is the firmness of the mind without retreat: sustained courage. Resolve is the determination to reach the end goal: persevering courage.
This idea of courage is the best way to describe Zephaniah Isah, national director of Men’s Ministry and Assembly of God pastor from Kano, Nigeria. Affectionately known as Zeph, he and two other men have travelled to London to take part in street evangelism and sports outreach during the 2012 Olympic Games. They come from an area of Nigeria that in recent history has seen Christians severely persecuted and attacked by Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. During the last year, Boko Haram has been responsible for over 1,200 brutal murders of Christians, in and around Zeph’s city. Forever met up with Zephaniah and his two team-mates and he described the persecution of the Nigerian church, his experience of sharing his faith in England, and his hope for Europe.
Risk: inspired courage
“There are extreme differences [between doing] evangelism in England and in northern Nigeria. I have been able to stand up in the streets and preach the gospel on the streets of London, it has been a really beautiful thing. I have heard about England being very shut off to the gospel, but I have just seen people be so receptive and intent on listening to the Good News. I would not be able to do this in my city, because it’s too dangerous, and currently it seems that we have to suspect almost everyone as a potential terrorist threat. Our churches have been destroyed, our members bombed, and I just heard that yesterday 19 people were killed in a church bombing.”
Zephaniah went on to talk about the effect persecution has had on the church and Christians in Nigeria: “On one side, the church has not been worshipping as openly as they have in the past; now some have been forced to meet inside their homes. The positive side is [the persecution] has made believers tough – knowing the risk and still pursuing the Lord anyway, because we know He is the truth. It has caused nominal Christians to awaken and decide deep down what they believe. We grab our Bibles and head to church, counting the cost – hoping to return home after the service, but knowing if we don’t we will see each other again in eternity. Over seven times I have faced death head-on, ready to die for my faith, and seeing God save me. I know that nothing can stop me from sharing who He is.” This inspired courage, this strength within Zephaniah, is what drives his passion for the people of Europe.
Fortitude: sustained courage
Zephaniah’s purpose for coming to London during the Olympics is simple: “We received the gospel from Europe so many years ago. They gave us the gospel and – after hearing the statistics of how many have fallen away, and the percentage of atheists – I knew that I had to come back. This light that I have has been quenched here in England. I’m thankful for the light that is burning within the Christians of Nigeria, but it’s time to bring that light back to the place it once belonged.” Zephaniah has seen the sustaining work of Jesus among his people; he longs to see the place that took the gospel to his homeland come alive again. To be a part of bringing the gospel back to England, Zephaniah and his friends have been handing out written explanations of Jesus’ message to Games visitors, talking with people on the streets of London, and joining in some sports and football ministries.
Resolve: persevering courage
His exuberant conversations with people in London, and his passion for the advancement of the gospel across Europe, fill Zephaniah with hope for the vitality of Christianity among both British and Nigerian people. “No matter what happens, Christianity cannot be stopped. The Holy Spirit is like the wind; He moves where He wants and – no matter how hard anyone tries – He cannot be contained. This is the hope for Christianity around the world. In Nigeria, even with the threats and demands to convert to Islam or die, Christianity is growing and spreading throughout the villages and towns of [the north]. In Europe, even with statistics showing that people believe more in secularism, Jesus is still in control and people are still responding with openness to the gospel. That is what continues, that is the hope that lives on.”
Courageous believers who know the risk yet continue to pursue faith, being sustained by God to persevere to the end, so that Jesus would be known as Lord throughout the Earth. This is Zephaniah’s story.