At age four, I told my father I would be a bishop — Ndukuba
Most Rev Henry Chukwudum Ndukuba is Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion and Bishop of Abuja. In this interview with Advent Cable Network Nigeria (ACNN TV) crew, Archbishop Ndukuba reveals his growing up years; how he came into the ministry at early age, challenges and his advice to upcoming ministers.
What is your full name and story behind your parents’ choice of name?
My name is Henry Chukwudum Ndukuba. From my life’s story, my parents made me understand that I came as the answer to a special prayer unto God after some time of anxiety. After my elder sister, it took four years to conceive me. By that time, my father was an agent, as they were called in those days – a catechist, an agent, a church teacher, a headmaster of CMS Primary School in Isu Njaba and incidentally, they were living in the church vestry. And that was where I was conceived.
The name Chukwudum means God is leading me, God is my leader, He is my guide. And true to that name, the Lord has been my guide. What a name! So, we thank God for wonderful names given, and I think my dad called me Henry maybe because of King Henry of England and other historical figures that have distinguished themselves with that name.
What about your birth, family and growing up years?
My dad was a teacher, just like my mum, who is still alive. She retired as a teacher. My dad worked with CMS, both as an agent, catechist and a headmaster. He was a teacher in the CMS School. My parents were strict disciplinarians. They wouldn’t take any nonsense from us. When growing up, you dare not misbehave. Other children could play truancy and pranks, but my dad wouldn’t take it from us. He insisted that all of us be at the prayer early in the morning and in the evening.
There is this family hymn in Igbo, Abu number eleven that I will always remember (sang the hymn). It means let the God that created the sun, moon and stars watch over us. We would always sing it wholeheartedly, trusting God to keep us, protect us, provide for us and be with us. We were also required to be in church and be in choir, do all the things that young people should do in church. If you were not at home, you should be in the church premises.
While in the secondary school and we went home during holidays, young children and teenagers loved staging ballroom dances and other things. They would walk along the roads with their hands in their pockets, trying to do ‘guy,’ as was the vogue then, but my dad wouldn’t allow us. Who are you? If you tried it, you had to face the music. We were trained in such a way that, regardless of whether you were a boy or a girl, you had to learn to do all chores, such as sweeping and washing. There was this hand machine my mum had (she was also a seamstress), and all of us had to learn how to use it to stitch our clothes. You never asked anybody to do it for you.
I remember an experience we had growing up. My dad got us to make mud with him. Whenever he asked you to do anything, he would also be there, so you wouldn’t think it was punishment or such thing. He would jump into the pit with us to make the mud, bring out the mud and build our fence and stuff like that. Then, we thought it was punishment. We went to farm; fetched firewood and we did everything. Even when in senior secondary school, after returning home, you still had to do those mean jobs. You had to do it because he had taught us. He always told us there is dignity in labour. You had to work with your hands and never be ashamed. We grew up with that mindset, with that understanding of life. We were taught that life could be nasty sometimes, and you have to get down to get things done. So, we were brought up in the fear of God and with the sense of hard work. It is not done to please any person. It is for your good and the whole family.
Was that when you gave your life to Christ? Your strict parents ensured you attended Bible study and church services…
As a teenager, you try to discover life for yourself, find your own level, answer your own questions and try to be independent. I taught in children Sunday school and all that. All those things we did as a kind of duty, at least doing what mummy and daddy wanted us to do. But when I was in Class Four at BSC Orlu in 1977, we had a new teacher, who was an SU man. He was very quiet but very strict. He was very dutiful and we watched him closely. As teenagers, we had a name for every teacher, funny names. But this man, we couldn’t find a name for him. He took us in the moral instruction class. He spent the time preaching, ministering to us, preaching the Gospel of Salvation and the need to know the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
After that message, it dawned on me that, even though I was a choirboy, a Sunday school teacher and from a wonderful family, good background, I realised that I needed to make peace with God. I needed Jesus, and when he asked people to give their lives to Christ, I was one of those who asked Jesus to come into my life, and from that moment there was a turnaround. But that wasn’t the first instance that impressed my soul to really begin to ask who God is, to really take interest. It was earlier around the age of nine.
My dad travelled and we were at home with mum. My mum fell sick and we didn’t know what to do. So, I asked my siblings to gather round her and pray. After that prayer, she got well. I started asking: can this be real? Can it be true? That stirred my heart to begin to inquire who God is, to really want to know Him. But you know, when you are a teenager, you try to assert yourself and discover yourself. Thank God that within that time of experimentation and discovery, I met the Lord.
What was your ambition before you gave your life to Christ?
Actually, I had always wanted to live a quiet life. After my secondary school, I was asked to choose between going to work in the bank or another profession. Having been with my parents, I didn’t want to be a teacher, though I wanted a quiet life. I wanted to be a Librarian. I love books, I love studying and reading. But I wanted to be on my own, without disturbing anybody, and nobody should worry me anyhow.
So, when I was given an option to choose whether to be a banker or any other thing, I chose to be a Librarian, and that was how I got employed in the Ministry of Education, Kano State. I used to go to Kano to stay with my uncle, and after my secondary school, I went to stay with him permanently from 1978, and until now, I haven’t left the North. It was a wonderful experience. By the time I got admission, after my call into the ministry and being selected, I got admission the same week to read Library Studies at the University of Ibadan, and to go to TCNN to do my BD. I had the two admissions in my hands.
So, I went to my dad and said: ‘Look, I don’t know what to do. Do I go and do this Library Studies, come out and be in Civil Service, come out and help you train my younger siblings, or do I continue with this ministry, which is the call of God upon my life? He looked at me and shook his head, and said: ‘Henry, God has called you. Answer the Call of God. He knows what to do, how He will train these ones. Leave this one, go and answer God’s call.’ That was an encouragement for me.
But in the family, right from childhood, from the age of four, when it was even rare to see bishops, I told my father I would be a bishop, that while driving past, I would wave at him in the classroom. And throughout my time in school, because of my love for the things of God and pastoral work, my friends used to call me bishop, even at the Theological College. Aside that childhood utterance, I never took it seriously. But my heart has always been on serving God.
Was it a difficult choice to go into ministry? So many people struggle with the fact that God has called them…
It wasn’t an easy one because oftentimes, we look around us and you think you have to do something to help the family. But one thing I realised is that when God calls, and you come to that realisation that this is God calling you, it is better to totally surrender to Him and follow Him with singleness of mind. When you do that, you will never regret it. For an 18-year-old to go to the Priest or the Archdeacon and tell him that God was calling him to go into the ministry in those days, they would just look at you and say: ‘What is this boy looking for?’
In most cases, they would rather take retired civil servants; tent-making priests and those they felt had the experience to handle the people. What experience do you have? I didn’t have any. I was young and age was not on my side. Indeed, when we went for selection, when we were under the old Diocese of Northern Nigeria, under Bishop Ogboyemi, (I came from Kano for that interview, where I met Archbishop Ben Kwashi, another young person. We were the youngest at the interview). When they interviewed me, looked at me and saw my age, my documents and everything, they said: ‘look, we cannot take you now. So, you go and spend some time and come back.’
Fortunately, Bishop Ayam, the Archdeacon of Zaria was there, and he saw me. He was elected the Bishop of Kano, and when he came to Kano, I went to greet him. And when he requested for those who were to come into the ministry, I went, and he gave me opportunity. So, instead of going for the normal three year training for ordination at Emmanuel College in Ibadan, I was asked to go to TCNN for the four year BD programme, so that my age would go up. Even after my graduation, I was still under 23. So, instead of doing the Trinity Ordination, Bishop Ayam did the Michael mass Ordination, which was in September, so that I would be able to cross the 23 years to get ordained. It wasn’t easy and the motivation then wasn’t much about the glamour or the things you would get. It was more of serving God. Some might have come into the ministry then as a way of something to do after retirement, or maybe they felt called, but they needed money to sustain their families.
But those of us coming into the ministry at that young age, there was no savings, nothing to fall back on. And up till today, I have not done anything than to surrender this life to Him. It has not been easy, but God has been faithful. Then, it was just to be given the opportunity to serve God. We were not even thinking of what to become. It is different today, when people coming into the ministry know the type of cars they want, they know the parish they will serve, they know the kind of things they will experience and even the rank, and some might even tell you that by so and so time, they will become a bishop or an archdeacon.
But for us then, it was a joy to be given an opportunity to serve God. When you chose the ministry over banking profession or civil service or something of that nature to become a church rat – you have chosen to be poor, you have chosen to suffer and there wasn’t so much of respect or dignity, it must be out of real conviction.
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