Akparabong: Building a befitting edifice for God
For 57 years, they worshipped God in a small makeshift structure that could hardly host up to 30 persons comfortably. The small church was sited on a plot of land donated to them by the Akparabong Community in Ikom Local Council of Cross River State.
An increase in the congregation forced the church to resort to the use of palm fronds to protect themselves from the scorching sun and rain.
All through the trying times, the worshippers were undaunted; they still believed in God for a miracle.
According to the pioneer parish priest of the church, Rev. Father Matthew Otujii, “St James Catholic Church, Akparabong, now Roman Catholic Mission, started in 1958. Shortly after that, it went into oblivion as a result of its inability to meet expectations. However, in 1961, it re-emerged due to the untiring efforts of Pa James Emanghe Manyor, a retired police officer, who together with the late Ma Mary Endra, and Lucy Enegbe Ekpongo, applied to the chiefs and elders for a piece of land to erect the church building.
Otujji in a brief history of the church continued: “In response, they were offered the present site, which at that time was completely an abandoned forest outside the heart of the town. In spite of its remoteness, Pa Manyor and his team went ahead and erected the building, the old building.”
It was in that former structure that Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, at the age of 11, entered into a covenant with God after an unpleasant incident at home.
The former Senate leader said: “When you make a vow, you have to redeem that vow. It is because of the vow that I made with God that we are here. I will give you a very short background to that vow. I did not grow up in the village. There was an incident at home when I was falsely accused and my aunt did not give me a chance to defend myself. I was 11 years old. That incident defined my life. Maybe, that is why I became a lawyer to fight for justice. Like they say, in every bad thing there is something good, if you are patient. The bad side of that incident led to a worse incident. I was crying and my late elder brother was passing by. He took me to visit his friend, who was drinking local gin. I took a shot in an empty stomach and it gave me the courage to face my aunt. I told her that I had prayed to God to keep her to see me become a man.
“When the effect of the gin cleared, I realised that I had made an empty boast. So I rushed to that old church, and said, ‘Father God, I may have boasted emptily, but please, let’s do a deal. Make me a man and I will build you a church.’ God kept his own side of the deal for a very long time. At 22, I was a lawyer, at 23, I was on a federal board at 27, and soon after I became commissioner, and God was patiently waiting for me to keep my own part of the bargain. This project was started in 2003 and along the way, I ran out of money and my dear wife, Amaka, decided to take it over and here we are today.”
Ndoma-Egba, who chairs the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), pleaded with Father Otujji that the old church should be preserved, so that it would tell the story of its humble beginning.
On her part, wife of the donor thanked God for giving them the ability to complete the building, saying: “As it is in the Bible, it is better not to make a vow you cannot fulfill. Today, we are happy that we have been able to fulfill the vow my husband made when he was 11 years old.”
The beautiful 1, 000-capacity edifice was on May 29, declared open by the Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, amidst praises to the Lord. And the Bishop of Ogoja diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Donatus Edet Akpan, consecrated the altar, which was rechristened: “Our Lady Queen of Peace.”
Onaiyekan in his homily, said: “Our brother, Victor Ndoma-Egba, has built this house for God and our prayer for him is that God will build his own house. Let him remember that the promise of God is there till eternity. He and his family should continue to make efforts to be faithful to God and trust in God.
The cleric, who deplored the rise of dysfunctional families in the country, cautioned all and sundry that a beautiful house with all the good things of life is incapable of constituting a good family.
“As we can see all around us very often, those beautiful houses with lots of money end up with dysfunctional families. If we want our families, houses or homes to stand from generation to another, it must be built on a firm foundation, which neither naira, euro, nor dollar can ensure. Discipline that is transmitted from one generation to another is important, otherwise the wealth used in raising a mansion will not stand the test of time. What we say of the rich people also applies to the rest of us, who are poor; who cannot build excellent mansions. Whoever you are, just know that God will build your house for you. Do your best to build your family on a firm foundation.”
Onaiyekan charged the worshippers to “distinguish between a temple as a physical structure, and the house, which God gave to us. The spiritual temple, the new temple, which is His own body, and the body of Jesus, is expressed in this church, which is tastefully built with living stones… There are places with beautiful churches, where there are no more Christians and what you have is an empty house. But on a day like this, we are challenged and reminded that we should make sure that this beautiful church would be a beautiful temple of God, where all of us would worship. From our doctrine, the church should be a sign of the goodness of God.”
In his remarks, the parish priest commended Senator Ndoma-Egba and his wife, Amaka for “the building of a new and gigantic edifice to accommodate 1, 000 worshippers. The church can be described as a Basilica of our time in this part of the diocese and even in the province.”
The Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade, was full of praises for Ndoma-Egba and his wife, saying, “Senator Ndoma-Egba understands the synergy between the spiritual economy of the church and the development of our nation. When the spiritual economy of the church is strengthened, the people of the church would produce wonderful and patriotic Nigerians. When a parish like this is dedicated, an opportunity is granted for values to be touched; for morality to be upheld and for cultism to be eradicated.”
Ayade, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Religion, Mr. Bob Etta, said, “On behalf the governor, I congratulate Senator Ndoma-Egba and his dear wife for building a house for God. May the Lord replenish you.”
A lady worshiper in Akparabong, Theresa Takim, who was excited with the new structure said: “I grew up to worship in the Catholic Church. We were worshiping in the old church, which is very small, and as the congregation grew, we put palm fronds to protect us from the scorching sun and rain. I thank God that our son came and saw our condition, and decided to build a new church for us. I am very happy. May God bless him.”
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