Courageous Crossroads Episode 1: Justice Oronkwo

Justice Okoronkwo is an Agricultural Engineer who transitioned to a role as a Priest in the Anglican Diocese of Jos, where he currently serves as the Missions Director. The Christian community in Jos has faced significant challenges, being among the most persecuted by militant groups globally. Justice dedicates himself to outreach efforts, supporting victims of insurgency and advocating for their welfare. He and his wife, Winifred, are proud parents to four boys, all of whom aspire to serve the Lord.”

Thank you for listening! We hope you feel inspired and encouraged by our conversation today. If you did, be sure to share this episode with others.

Full Transcript

Thanks for joining us everybody on another edition of Courageous. Today I’m joined by my dear friend Justice from Nigeria. He and I happen to be in Oxford at the same time and what an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to spend a few days together and a few meals and, He’s one of my dearest friends and I can’t wait for you all to hear from him.

So Justice, thanks for being with us.

Thank you very much. And I agree to everybody that is listening to us. Thank you for having me.

Wonderful. Can you tell people a little bit about yourself, Justice? I mean, whatever you want to share, you’ve got an extensive background and a lot going on, but whatever you’d like to share with people so that they can put you in context and know where you’re from and what your family is and what you do.

Okay, thank you very much. I’m a priest with the Anglican Diocese of Jos. Jos is in the central part of Nigeria and anybody that knows Nigeria, knows that the northern part of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. So And the Christian South is, you have the Christian South that is predominantly Christian in terms of in terms of generalized affiliation to faith.

Then Jos is right at the fault line where the Christian North, sorry, the Muslim North and the Christian South meet. So you have this pocket of tribes and that was where the, the Muslim, the Muslim Jihadists that were bringing Islam towards the southern part, that was where they made their resistance.

So the bombs actually started detonating in Jos way back as 2006, 2007, when churches were being bombed and and suicide bombers were looking for Christian gatherings and trying to maximize the toll and all that. So before it eventually metamorphosed into what we have as Boko Haram and the Fulani Militia, it was just that I got the first taste of the Feast of Fury, so that is where I’m serving.

I’m serving as the Vicar of St. Michael’s Anglican Church, and for you to understand what it means for us to go to church, right now, where I’m worshipping, every single Sunday we have seven armed people with, Like AK 47, 7 armed people that are permitted by the government, they must be there so we can have worship, normal worship.

And that’s not just my church. Many other churches in Jos must be guarded by armed people before they could worship. Your church is guarded. Yes, it’s good. It has to be. It’s, it’s part of the government instruction that you have to do that to protect yourself from people who are likely going to attack because it’s highly prone to attack.

So that is where I am. And I’m married. I have my beautiful wife Winifred and we are blessed with four lovely boys, Marvell, Triumph, Noble and Fortune. Thank you. Wonderful. Wonderful. And,

You’re an educated man. Yes, by the grace of God. I knew you before you got your PhD. Yeah. And then you just recently, how long ago did you get that?

The PhD took close to 10 years. Working with the, it was with the University of Jos. Coupled with the fact that there were some strikes that took place, so the academic sessions were also not very regular. But in the long run, it, it took that long to, to get it. But before that, my first degree, my first academic degree has been in agri engineering.

I’m an engineer, I specialize in the mechanical aspect of agri engineering. That’s with farm machines and processing machines. But I also met Christ when I went to get that degree. That, and that was in way back 1992. So I gave my life to Jesus in 1992, my first year in the polytechnic trying to get a degree in engineering.

While I was there, God also gave me the opportunity to serve in the student’s fellowship, the Christian fellowship in the campus. And it was there that I got the conviction of God’s leading in my life in terms of ministry and in terms of what I’m doing now because I eventually served as the president of that fellowship in my final year.

So when I got that conviction, I came back again and started pursuing a degree in theology, which was in the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. Then I went to University of Jos to do, to have a Masters in, in Ethics and Philosophy and then did the PhD, had the PhD there too, though my leaning was more on Sociology of Religion.

Well, no doubt we’ve had a few people that have been to Nigeria that are listening to this podcast, but I’m from Iowa and you’ve, I’ve been blessed to have you as a guest at my house. So, you know, the distinction between Iowa and Joss, Nigeria, what would be some major distinctions that you would make between the two to give people a little perspective?

where you’re

from. Yeah, there’ll be major distinctions. First of all, maybe in terms of sociology and population distribution, just will be more, we’ll have a a higher population density. So like going in Iowa, you wouldn’t see so many people on the streets and, but in just, you’ll find people on the streets walking and it would, the markets would be more densely packed than what I saw in Iowa.

Then the other aspect would be the homogeneity of the culture. That in Iowa, as we walked around, you greet people, you talk in English, and most people respond in English, and you can communicate generally. Just alone, because it’s sitting on the highlands, on a plateau. And when the jihadists come, Jihadis were coming to attack about two centuries or three centuries ago when they were coming in.

Most of the smaller tribes ran to the highlands to protect themselves. So Jos is having a higher concentration of minority tribes that were fleeing from the jihadis. So Jos alone, within that little space, it was having more than, 40 different distinct ethnic groups. So if you come into Jos and you speak, it’s either you speak English or you speak Hausa, which the educated might be able to understand you in English.

And the general people may understand you in Hausa, but you’ll find that if you go way beyond the normal streets, People may not really get you because they have their own particular language. So most people in JOS may speak their own mother tongue, then they speak Hausa or they speak English. So most people that are educated in JOS will speak three languages most likely, their mother tongue, So like me, I speak Igbo, I’m from the southeastern part of Nigeria, I speak Igbo, then I speak Hausa, because I’m in Jos too, it helps me to communicate, and then I speak English.

So, that is, that’s one of the major differences. Then the other thing that I would say is different is the aspect of religious freedom. Freedom. People feel free. You find, I found your places of worship. I mean, you, the air of freedom is there. And as I told you right now, if I brought somebody from just to some of your churches, the person may find it strange at the first instance.

And why? Because the person will be looking out for the security people. The armed people that are supposed to be guarding that place of worship. And then maybe you will tell them, why do you need armed people? And they will, they will be like, why don’t you? Are you not prone to attack? Because in Jos, people will be prone to attack.

So the churches will have armed people who are guarding them. Most of the churches will do, particularly the churches that are in the city center, within the metropolis. Wow.

Okay, well I think that puts you in context for our listeners a little bit. Now this is a podcast about courage and I want to get to the question about the courageous thing that you’ve done that you would like to share with our listeners.

But before that, let’s calibrate a little bit. How would you define courage? How would you define that word or that concept,

Justin? Defining courage, I would say without Trying to lean on the dictionary or any particular field of endeavor. I would say anthropologically, thinking of humans and knowing how we are wired up with our feelings and all that, and how we are often driven by our feelings.

I would say that that would be a feeling that, that is driven by a concern that is beyond you. A concern that is beyond your normal your normal animalistic concern for, For shelter, for, for food, for protection, and that concern goes beyond you, and then it drives you to do something. So, that, that I would call, Courage.

And then for for us as as Christians when you have given your life to Jesus and you know the Bible says in Philippians when he was the Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he was encouraging them in chapter 2, and it said, Let this mind be in you which is in Christ Jesus. That encouraging us to Think of others more than ourselves.

Now, that is easier said when you’re reading it. When you have a situation that you was not choreographed, was not synthesized, and Spontaneously, you are, you are driven to do something which may even put you in danger. But the concern, what was driving you was beyond your own concern, maybe concern for others or concern for for a higher thing, a higher vision, a higher goal that is actually beyond you.

Anytime I see that kind of thing, I think that is a display of courage. Ah, that’s

good. Well, let’s get right down to it. Justice, what is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

Thinking of the most courageous thing I’ve ever done I think a couple of things will come to my mind, but maybe one will stand out because it left it left a huge mark in my life and in my family to understand what happened. I’ve given you a little background about Jos and Northern Nigeria where I’m doing ministry.

So we are like people who are living in not just a contested space, but a very hostile space to the Christian faith. Today, Nigeria is rated nearly number two in the world in terms of global terrorist index because of the kind of attacks that has been unleashed upon the Christian community, and most of those attacks have been within that middle belt where Joss falls into.

So we have been attacked by the suicide bombers, we’ve been attacked by those who are branches of Boko Haram, we’ve been attacked by the Fulani militia, all of them driven by Islamic agenda against churches. So that is the kind of place where, where we’ve been. Some years ago, I think this should be about 2012.

One of those days my archbishop called me and I went to his office. I’m his director of missions. I’ve been serving as a director of missions and he called me. When I got to the office, I saw. This man who was dressed up in the, this, the, the, from the, the, from the dress code, from what he was wearing, if it was in Jos, you would put him out immediately as being a Muslim.

He was wearing that which looked which was more like an Arabic attire. He was in the office with my archbishop, and my archbishop introduced him. I may not want to say his name here for, just to protect him, because he’s still a Christian. And my archbishop said, you need to hear this man.

He just walked in here. He’s an imam. That’s a Muslim cleric in charge of a particular mosque in Jordan. And he’s here saying he met Jesus. And he has given his life to Jesus. And I turned and I looked at the man, and he was all shaking. His body was, was, was shaking. He was, he, he said, Look, he met Jesus. He, Jesus came in that he thought he was dreaming, but eventually found that he was not dreaming, because his wife also said she saw the light that came into the room.

So, he said he saw Jesus, and he talked about Bible verses that he was given, and Jesus, telling him that what he had been reading in the Qur’an about the Kalmat and Lahi, which is the Word, the Word that is alive, that Jesus said He is the Word that is alive, and that Jesus gave him the Gospel of John to read, John chapter 1 from verse 1 to 5, which says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning, Through him all things were made. Without him was anything made that had been made. In him was life, and this life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it. So this man said he looked for the Gospel of John, and when he read it, when he met that verse 4, that said, in him was life, and this life was the light of men, for him it was like, boom!

That’s what has been written in the Koran. The Kalmatun Lahi, and that the Jesus that came to him in the dream, full of love in his eyes, not condemning him, but telling him that you have been against me, but I love you, and I am that word of life that you’re talking about. So he said that was how he, he said he bowed to him in that apparition or whatever he called it.

And when he got up, he looked for a Bible, he read that passage, and he just wanted to get a minister. a pastor to report himself to and then my archbishop was known to be somebody that was quite proactive in trying to in evangelism he was very evangelistic and he was very charismatic and he was very open he was highly trusted among people as being somebody that will condemn evil whether it was happening among the christians or whether it was happening among the muslims so that was why he came So my archbishop said, okay you are the director of missions.

I’m going to hand this man over to you so that you follow him up, you help him to know more, and you, you help him to grow. I said, okay, so we, we left from there. So I asked him more questions, and he told me about himself, told me about his family, told me that was not the first time Jesus had appeared to him, and then, but he and his wife, they made up their minds, they needed to just turn over themselves to the Lord.

So. I said, okay, we’re going to set up a kind of a discipleship program, a follow up program, so that you can learn more about the Bible, ask your questions, and grow. And he told me he wouldn’t want that to be done openly, and I said, why? He said the kind of love he had experienced from the Jesus that appeared to him, that he wanted his other Muslim friends and and and followers to experience the same.

So I said, what do you want to do? He said he wanted to reach out to them, to tell them. Jesus is the way. I said, but that would be dangerous. He said he would want to do that, even if it meant dying doing it. He said he would want to do that. So I said, okay, if you want to do that, then it means I have to set up your programs to meet with me to be covert.

We just find a secret place. We meet. We read our Bibles. You ask your questions. I pray for you and I help you, give you materials that you need, but then we meet. Openly, people still see you in the mosque and they still think you’re a Muslim. Is that what you want? He said, yes, that’s what he wanted. So long and short of it, he still went back to the mosque.

He was still going back to the mosque and I and him, we were meeting secretly, we had a place to meet and he will ask his questions. He will ask about things in the Bible. Then he will go back there and what he was doing in the mosque, he would raise up a question. While he was teaching, and then he would watch different people trying to ask questions, you know, or trying to answer their responses.

Based on their responses, he would pick some people and then tell them what you were asking in the mosque. Let me tell you the truth. Jesus is the way. So he was doing that kind of thing. And within a span of like a year and a half from what he was doing, we got 19 people who were Muslims who turned over and became Christians.

We got 19 who became Christians. Those 19 made us to start, I had to start what was, what I call the House of Barnabas. And that was like a safe haven for those people who became Christians and they were being persecuted among the, from the Muslim community. And then we had to just find a place for them to be and to find some protection.

Before we could eventually find something for them or get them to a place to relocate them or something like that. So, that was what he was doing. When he started doing that, within that one and a half years, we were able to move him out of the Muslim community, out of the center of the Muslim community, to the outskirts.

where we got a house for him. It was it was a three bedroom, I think three bedroom or two bedroom, small house that we got for him and got a small castle. He could move around with, you know, but he was in the outskirts, but he was still doing what he was doing in the mosque. Now, see what happened. I had a meeting with the archbishop on that, on that particular day that, that I’m talking about.

And, I was dressed up formally, so I was having my dark collar and, and all that, and I went to see the Archbishop and my, my sons were with me. Then I was having three, the youngest had not been born then, so the three young people, My eldest son was in the front of the car, and we drove to the archbishop’s office.

I picked them from school to take them home, and then I branched the archbishop’s office to see him because he had sent for me. While I was in the archbishop’s office, my phone rang, and it was this man. And he was, he was trying, he was speaking in, in hushed tones. He was saying, Pastor, we’re under attack.

We’re under attack. Come and get us out. We’re under attack. And I was like, what’s happening? He said, they have known, they have found me out. We’re under attack. We’re under attack. And, I felt, I could hear some distant gunfire, not too close, but I could hear something in the background. And, he said, we are under attack, get me out, get, you know, I, being somebody who had grown in Jos, doing ministry in Jos, I knew what that meant.

The sense of danger that he was in just overwhelmed me. I ran immediately into the car and I started driving, but I, I must tell you, I wasn’t Coordinated, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind because I should have reminded myself that my children were in the car. I drove off with the children and started going to that part of Jos where he was.

For me to get to his house, it was either I pass through the Muslim community to get to his house, which would have been dangerous for me, the way I was dressed or I could follow a back road to get to his house, but that would mean me driving through some farmlands. So I chose the second option. I got off the road, off road, and it was a Toyota Camry two thousand and two 1998 Toyota Camry, and it wasn’t, it’s not a four wheel drive vehicle.

So it was, it was doing badly trying to go through the ridges, you know, it was bumpy, boom, boom. But I was willing to drive that way to get to him, to follow the back of those communities. As I drove round a rock boulder like that with some bushes, just driving round it, I saw this mob coming, they were coming, and you could see that immediately I stopped.

I recognized that I had driven into that kind of situation before, I had been attacked before, and I, we have had cases of people being burnt in cars and all that. But that was just a mob that was coming my way. From far, you could see some of them were holding guns, some were holding machetes, some were holding, Steaks and Krogel and they were coming, they were chanting like, like, ililah, some were saying, they were just coming.

So I stopped the car. I tried to put it in reverse. It wouldn’t go. It was not a four wheel vehicle. It was not it was not a truck. I tried to go forward and it was like, stock right there and these people were coming. I was dressed in color. Sitting in the car. And look at them coming. So what I did, I was playing the gospel music and I just lowered it.

I lowered the volume, turned it down. Then I just pressed the buttons so that the glasses just went up. I was scared. My body was shaking. And then I remembered the chorus. The collar, the dark collar I was wearing, I stood out clearly. I was a sitting duck there, a pastor in the midst of that. These people would not just kill a Christian.

These people would delight more in killing a pastor because at that time, there was bounty on the heads of pastors. If you are able to kill a pastor and you take the photo to show, to give the evidence that you’ve killed a pastor, you had some, some money paid to you. You had, Some, some rewards, some reward given by some people who sponsored those kind of assassinations or, or killings.

So I knew that, so I pulled the dark collar, gently I removed it. Now, when I stopped the car, turned down the volume, my son, Marvel, the first son, was looking at me. Then he was about eight years, if I’m not mistaken. He was looking at me. Then I turned the volume. He was looking at me. Then I removed the dark color.

He was looking. It was when I removed the dark color that my son said, Daddy, what are you doing? Don’t you want them to know that you’re a Christian?

That was what he said. And my body was like, it was like I froze. I knew why he said that. Each time we had our quiet time in those days, we prayed with the children and we watched the news, people being killed, houses being burned, churches being burned, Christians being killed in different places. We told ourselves that if we were to find ourselves in that kind of situation and somebody put a gun on our heads and asked us to give up our faith to stay alive, we had told ourselves that we would rather die.

and be with Jesus. So that was like our family mantra. Then here was I, he could see those people coming and the daddy that had been talking tough in the house, who was removing his dog collar. So when I looked at my son, I looked at the ones at the back seat, they were sleeping. They didn’t even know what was happening.

It was just Marvel that knew what was happening. I looked at the ones at the back, I looked at him and in my mind I felt, well. Maybe today will be our day. Maybe today will be our last day. Maybe, maybe this is very likely to be our last day. And I looked at him and I said, I’m sorry. I told him I’m sorry.

Then I took the dog collar and I put it back. I slipped it back and I just kept my hands on the steering. My hands were just shaking. I just kept them on the steering and with one hand on the steering, the other hand, I just tried to reach out to him and just to brace ourselves. But you know, Jeff, I will never forget that day.

I still replay it in my mind like every day. I can, I can see it so clearly. These people came upon the car and they were just passing the car. They were walking past the car. Nobody asked us, who are you? Nobody said, what are you guys doing here? Nobody challenged. Nobody questioned us. Nobody looked in our direction.

They just passed the car. And we were sitting right there. And as they were passing, my son asked me, he said, Daddy, are they not seeing us? I didn’t want to even answer audibly. I didn’t want to. I was dazed. I was frightened. My hands were shaking. And they passed until the last one of them passed. I was looking in the mirror, and I could see them.

They’ve passed, they were receding. Nobody had said anything to us. With my hands shaking, I tried the key again in the ignition, and the car started. And I put, shifted into gear, and put it on again, and it went, the wings will spawn again, and then I pressed hard on the accelerator, to end. It went over that ridge and went boom, boom, boom like that.

And that was how we moved out of that situation and got to the house of that man. And it was from that man’s house that we made a phone call to the security operatives and they sent a truck with some soldiers to escort me. The man was okay, his wife was okay, and they sent a truck to now escort us and we were able to get him out of there.

Out of that community, safe and alive. That was actually the end of that ministry. He stopped doing what he was doing in the mosque. We had to relocate him. That is why I’m not mentioning his name, just to protect him, because many people still didn’t know he was the one doing what he was doing right there in the mosque.

But for me, it so strengthened my faith. And Marvel, my son, looks at me. For him, two things happened. He looked at, looked at his dad like, Courageous, that. I’m like, oh, courageous? What kind of courageous? I removed the collar. I removed it. I removed it. But Marvel had been telling his fellow students in high school that he wants to serve the God of his father, that he wants to serve Jesus.

And they say why? He said that the God of his father, Jesus, protects. And he tells them that story. He tells them what happened. For me, I don’t know. I don’t know where to place it. I know that with my senses full, I removed that collar. I was so frightened with what I saw was coming upon me. I removed the collar.

But when that boy challenged me and said, don’t you want them to know you’re a Christian? I put it back. And when I put it back, I was not expecting to see another day. I thought that was our end. But God, in His grace, protected us. Up till today, I don’t know how it happened. I cannot explain what, I can’t explain what happened.

All I know is that, I’m here. I’m alive and I survived that day and I give glory to God. Justice.

That’s an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you, Jeff. Well, there’s a hundred other questions that I want to ask about that and I can’t imagine all of the other questions. Courageous things that you’ve done in your life, so you’re definitely going to have to come back and visit with us again.

I will. But let’s leave our listeners with this. Think of that person that’s sitting out there hearing that story right there, and give them a little bit of encouragement for the next opportunity that they have for courage. Why should they do that? What should they do when they’re confronted with a situation where they’re terrified or scared or whatever it is?

Encourage our listeners, Justice. I think for me what stands out is one single word. Trust. Trust God. We have a huge, with our, with the globalizing world, information superhighway, education explosion and all that. One of the things it’s doing for us as we think we get more education, we know more and all that, is that it increases the trust deficit between us and God.

We are trusting God now, not as much as we did before. But the Bible, you remember, He actually charged us when David said, Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path. So when, when, when, when, when it was given us as a counsel in Proverbs, you find that for us to trust God actually means to let go.

But you know that letting go means to be vulnerable. But God wants us to let go many times and let Him be God. One of the things that I want to encourage everybody is that every time you find people that God has used to do anything that we’ve said to be courageous, He, He introduces Himself to them. He tells them, I am the Lord your God.

And when he says, I am the Lord your God, in the Hebrew language, he says, I am the Lord. That is Adonai. That is the owner of everything. But he says, I am your God. That God is Elohim. It’s in the plural. It’s in the plural. When he says, I am your Elohim, you know, like in English, when you want to indicate something is more than one, to indicate plurality, you add S.

You got cups, you know, books, shelves, microphones, speakers, you know, S indicates plurality. But in Hebrew, one of the ways you indicate something is plural is I am. So when you add that I am in, it indicates plurality. So one angel is cherub, or the one cherubim. Seraph, seraphim. Melek for one king, melekim for kings.

Like that. Eli, for God. Jesus said Eli, Eli, Lama Sabatani, Eli means God. But each time God wants to encourage his children to walk into the space with their faith on their chest, he says, I am the Lord, your Elohim. He includes I am. It’s like saying gods. So when he introduced himself to Moses, Moses was like, so are you like the pantheon of gods of the land of Egypt?

And he said, no, here I owe Israel. The Lord your Elohim is one. So if he’s one, why is he bearing Elohim? Why does he introduce himself like that? God is not just talking about the plurality of his majesty. He’s also talking about the multiplicity of his dimensions of intervention. He’s introducing himself as the God that is unlimited.

That if you’re hungry, I’m your Jehovah Jireh, I’ll provide. You’re sick, I’m your Jehovah El Rafa. I’ll, I’ll heal you. You are lonely. I’m your Jehovah El Shammah. I’m ever present. You are considered a minority and you are being discriminated upon. He said, I’m your Jehovah El Nisi. I’m your flag. I’m the reason why you can stand out.

You fall into sin, I am your Jehovah, El Nosei, I forgive you. You, you are wondering, how can I live a holy life these last days? Say, I am your Makedishkem, I am the one that sanctifies you. I am your Sikinu, I am your refiner. You, you, you are disturbed by, by situations. Say, I am your Shalom, I give you peace.

And you, you are worried that you may be attacked by all different kinds of attacks, spiritual attacks, physical attacks. Say, I am your El Gibo, the mighty man in battle, I am that I am, I will be what I will be. So, if you understand that God says, I will be what I will be in your situation, then this passage comes alive.

Proverbs 18, 10. When he says, the name of the Lord. It’s a strong tower. The righteous run into it and they are safe. So I want to say to anybody that’s listening to me, we have the name of the Lord. We have the name where we, the righteous, we can run into it and we are safe. And all God wants us to do is to trust Him.

He has given Jesus a name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. And we step into the public space knowing that the, the assassins of hell have us in their crosshairs, but we have the name of Jesus. Step out on the leech and let him give his angels charge over you to keep you, lest you dash your foot against the stone.

Remember your Psalm 91, Moses said, He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. And he will say of the Lord, He is my stronghold. He is my God. He is my fortress in whom I will trust. Trust is the matter. Do you trust God? If you trust God, step out and just do what he has asked of you to do.

And I must let you know that in our world that celebrates intellectualism, celebrates empiricism, celebrates knowledge, people that trust God look foolish. But I want you to know the just shall live by faith and faith in God looks foolish to the world, but it gets the job done. Keep going. God bless you.

Thank you so much.

God bless you, Jeff, for what you’re doing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you for those who listen. God bless you.

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