A Confession of Murder in Nigeria

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Imagine this headline: “Bishop Confesses to Murder in Nigeria!  Perhaps you’ll be surprised when I tell you: “Not hard to imagine at all.”  In fact, I am the Bishop.

Lavone and I just returned from our annual trip to Nigeria.  Each November we go to see what mighty acts of God have occurred in the year past, especially those associated with our Free Methodist work.  We see new church plants—some in regions predominantly Muslim, hear reports of miraculous healings, hold business meetings, conduct worship services, preach sermons, pray away the evil one, teach about the Kingdom of God, the presence of which we can already taste.  Along the way we laugh and we cry.  At times we wish we could go home ASAP, and at times we could wish we never had to leave!  Well, we just left, arriving home to feel the usual sense of deep gratitude for our home, our place, and our kingdom-outposts here.

But this trip was different.  This time a headline could have been written about a Bishop committing murder!  Here’s how it happened.

Background: The whole country of Nigeria is broken, and “wholeness” seems and feels like a mere dream or wishful thinking.  In some ways, Nigeria is like Haiti—nothing works very well, if at all.  Corruption runs deep and wide.  Unlike Haiti, Nigeria boasts incredible natural resources—within its territory enough oil to finance all the wholeness you could ever want, to the extent wholeness can be financed.  But it never happens, or almost never.  Let me say just a bit more about this.

Corruption lurks everywhere from top to bottom.  Everywhere.  With irony and tragic comedy, everyone who runs for office does so on an anti-corruption platform.  Everyone decries corruption and virtually everyone practices it.  Of course, corruption is outlawed.  There is a specific and well known statute that bans corruption and “scammers.”  It is “Statute 419.”  “Scammers” are called “419ers.” On billboards, in the newspapers, and in casual conversation, residents and visitors alike are warned to watch out for the “419ers.”

Most enterprises are organized to do only what is necessary to sustain the status quo and the power arrangements that some people have within those arrangements.  If you are in power you seek to enjoy the privilege and prerogative of your position.  You show just enough respect and compliance to those above you to satisfy their needs and maintain their pleasure.  You might do something extra for them to enhance your own position.  Likewise, those beneath you do the same for you.  It doesn’t matter whether your business is oil or batteries or servicing autos or building the Kingdom of God—normally what it is you do, what the actual business you are in, and why you are in the position you are—these are secondary matters.  Operatively, the point is the position you have or could have, and what you must do to maintain or enhance it.

Not surprisingly, in such a system, you can get results with a little monetary inducement, or a lot.  It is not at all unusual to hear about someone slipping a few hundred or thousand Naira to the Assistant to the Assistant to the Deputy of the second Vice Chair of the Department of Revenue (AADVPDR) for a Local Government Area (LGA) in order to arrange for harassment free travel from one place to another.  (And, yes, there are Assistants to Assistants … because it’s all about having a position)  If you’re trying to go somewhere and you didn’t offer any “inducements” you can expect a very long trip and it can make you angry, angry enough to qualify for a place on death row according to Jesus (see Matt. 5:21-22).

The next President of Nigeria’s first name is “Good Luck.”  Indeed.  Good Luck is exactly what Nigeria needs, because you can’t count on anything else to work.

Certainly I knew it was this way before our most recent trip.  But this time ….  So, here’s the confession.

An unscrupulous, former leader in our church fell from his position and suffered disgrace when he was subsequently expelled.  Two years ago, he organized a gang of thugs and used them to high jack one of the best private schools in the region, a Childcare School called Hope Academy.  This man with armed criminals (or criminals in the making) seized the school, stole the money in the safe, and has been there ever since.  The church took the matter to the police and the courts.  A judge ruled in our favor (which was the only valid ruling possible!) and ordered the thug off the property.  But this is Nigeria.  The thug got to the right people and eventually to the judge.  Consequently, the judge has refused to have the thug arrested.  And now the judge has decided to contrive a ruse whereby he listens to all parties involved repeatedly, seeks clarification for this and that, asks for multiple examinations of the “authorities” (i.e., legal precedents)—and he has been at it for nearly a year!  Clearly, he will not render a decision, not even in support of his own ruling. 

This made me angry.  Seriously, now, blood boiled.  And, if Jesus is serious, I belong on death row.  The headline could be: “Bishop Commits Murder!”

This is only one instance of several I could tell you about, all frustrating and maddening enough to foment conspiracy to commit murder.  I am shocked to realize this about myself, and compelled to confess it.  Rest assured, in my official capacities, I said the right things, even asserting that in this matter we are actually fighting not against humans but against spiritual powers of evil.  We had extended prayer over this as well.  Still, I am confessing that if an accident occurred, if some misfortune befell the thug, if his own conniving set a trap that boomeranged back on him with lethal force, or … I would as likely feel like celebrating what got him more than grieving the incalculable loss of a brother who came to act like a thug.  And in the throes of these conflicting alternatives, my murderous complicity emerges in ways that shock my mind.

One day back and I’m confessing my potential homicidal complicity in whatever misfortune could befall this man, this brother gone terribly wrong.  On the one hand, the injustice of what is going on and the apparent hopelessness of legal and law enforcement systems that are run by fully empowered but compromised incompetents—drives me crazy, and in the extreme even killing-crazy.  On the other hand, homicidal madness and creatively calculating strategies to provide some “grease” to the system to effect better results would simply suck me into those systems and make me a part of the problem.

So, what do we do?

First, confess our homicidal tendencies and renounce them for the sin they are.  Give up all pretenses that we are really any better due to our superiority.  (For, to be sure, thugs, incompetence, and graft thrive here as well!)

Second, do what we say we do: Follow the One who stood up to the unjust systems of his day and, when necessary, embraced the consequences of not yielding to the system.  That is, if necessary become the object not the subject of the murder.  Become the murdered in the hope that on the third day murder meets its Master.

Third, wait, work and hope.  Because we know that nothing we do in the name, and for the cause, of the Lord who masters murder will be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

Comments 13

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    I confess to similar thoughts and feelings as I have watched this travesty of justice from a distance for over a year. Phyllis keeps asking for our prayers that God will show Himself strong and overrule even corrupt judges. She reminds me of the widow in Luke 18:1-8. She won’t give up! So we’re standing with her. Glad you didn’t actually kill him, because now I’d be on a plane to visit you in prison in Nigeria.

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    The amazing thing is, there is now to be a SECOND BISHOP in Nigeria! Joe Ekpo has convinced apparently the entire state’s religious communities, (other than ours, of course,) that he should be elected BISHOP! Apparently bishops will come from all over the state, and elect Joe bishop of Christ Free Methodist Church of Nigeria! Good thing you’re back in the US, Bishop Kendall – you may have wanted to throw down the gauntlett to challenge the pretender! But God promises, (in Nigerian pidgin,) “One day, one day, monkey go market, no come back..” Justice will finally be done. Phyllis Sortor

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    I’ve been praying for God’s swift judgement in this matter. My heart is broken as when we were in Nigeria in ’98, Joe was a dear brother in the Lord. But we saw corruption everywhere. Who’s to say that I might not be pulled into such corruptness when it is so much a part of the society. But can’t we see it coming in our own country as we draw further from Christian principles? God help us all to remain strong and persevere as Phyllis is doing.

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    Immediately before reading this post, I watched a video of a “random act of culture” — the spontaneous singing of “Hallelujah Chorus” at a mall food court, somewhere in Canada. It is not random this morning to be reminded that “he shall reign for ever and ever.” Our Master is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Let us not only enjoy those sentiment in random acts of culture, but may we declare them in every act and non-act we commit.

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    Is this not the very reason we go to places like Nigeria. We don’t go because righteousness already reigns under honorable men of God. We go precisely because the opposite is true. We go because of the corruption and injustice that whole nations live with every day. We go to challenge the darkness, not with threats of more of the same, but with the hope and promise that God’s kingdom could actually come to any place and it could be different than it is, even if it is only in our own hearts and minds.

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    I remember confessing a similar thing to a certain teacher about how I wanted to kill him. Funny that teacher also became my Supt. then a Bishop!
    Confession can make the victim your friend for life brother. Funny how life is…LOL

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    My name is Donna Needham and I am a thief. I have been stealing time that belongs to the Lord. But instead of putting me in prison He has pardoned me and says “Go and sin no more.” So tomorrow I will get up early and spend time in prayer for my brothers and sisters in Nigeria. And weep for the time I have lost.

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    Whaat a great sense of indignation (truly righteous!) wells up in me as I read about Joe Ekpo in Phyllis Sortor’s messages for so very long now. Hope after hope disappointed. Justice SHOULD prevail, but doesn’t. But it occurs to me that this whole situation is a microcosm of life on this earth. Life SHOULD be fair and just, but isn’t. There is a lesson for all of us here somewhere, and I think part of it is that we will not truly see justice, peace, or mercy in this life and world. That doesn’t mean we should give up trying for those things, but we won’t see their perfection until we see Jesus in the world to come.

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    I have a deep sense of sadness over this brother turned thug and the damage he has done to our churches. You see, for several years, while there were no missionaries on the ground in Nigeria, and I came in and out for a few weeks each year, he conned me, threatened the pastors with harm if they dared to speak to me about his corrupt behaviors, and drifted farther and farther in this direction. I grieve over not having been able able to connect the dots in those earlier years. Thanks Bishop Kendall, Phyllis and your dear husband Jim for outting the thug. Les Krober

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    Psalm 74;3-4 “…The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary. Your adversaries have roared in the midst of your meeting place; They have set up their own standards for signs.”
    Jesus could spot a snake when it slithered into the camp. Why can’t we? Maybe if we looked through His eyes we would see what He sees. He looked through the lenz of reason illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We should too.

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    As for the one who was possessed and Jesus’ disciples expressed, “why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountina, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
    And, we believe that “everything is possible for him who believes.”
    Bishop Kendall, I confess that for many years I wanted my father dead. I would never resort to killing him myself, but I sincerely wanted him to die. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my prayers had to change and I had to forgive my father for all the vicious and cruel things I and my mother endured. For over 30 years I prayed for his salvation. And, then one day after we moved to Oklahoma, the evil that was in him had been exorcised by the loving kindness and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the next nine years, I must say, they were the best years of my life with my father. Indeed, I know what it is to have malice and aforethought in my head and to desire someone’s death. But, I am grateful to God that my father did not die. Yes, years of pain, near insanity and slavery were ours, but when my dad was saved – there could not have been a more blessed day in my life.

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