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Nigerian church gives from heart to aid tornado victims

Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green has been mobilizing volunteers to help with debris clean-up since hours after tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses in Warren County. (Photo composite of two images provided by Living Hope Baptist Church)

When a small, poor Nigerian church heard about the devastation of the Dec. 11 tornadoes in Kentucky, they were filled with compassion and a desire to help.

But as the size of their hearts were nearly unmeasurable, their pockets were empty. Well, almost empty. Members of Église Gomni, translated as Grace Church, managed to scrape together the equivalent of $100 and send their humble gift to one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

“They wanted to weep with those who weep and help as much as they could,” said Mark Phillips, an elder at Église Gomni. “Our church members are acquainted with grief, pain and loss as those are the norm in the poorest place on earth.”

Phillips, an International Mission Board missionary in West Africa for 15 years, said other than his family and one other church member who makes $100 a month, most of the 25-member congregation live on less than $3 a day.

“To say this was sacrificial giving isn’t strong enough,” Phillips said. “These people are poor, like unbelievably poor.”

On the receiving end of the gift was Living Hope Baptist Church, located in Bowling Green, where 17 people died and numerous homes and businesses were destroyed by tornadoes. Living Hope, which suffered no structural damage, immediately mobilized more than 300 of its members to cut down trees and remove storm debris on the morning after the storm. Since then, Pettus said the church has organized the volunteer efforts of disaster relief teams from multiple states, organizations, and denominations.

Benny Stofer, Living Hope’s Local Impact pastor, said just about anything the church can do, they are doing – from coordinating heavy equipment to feeding people. They are helping displaced families find housing and operating a resource center with donated clothing and other items. The church also has a page on its website where people can give to families in Warren County who were affected by the tornadoes.

“There has been a tremendous amount of work done, but there are months and months and months to go,” said Stofer. “Hundreds of houses will need to be rebuilt.”

Stofer said Living Hope has received offers of help from churches of all sizes, the largest being Saddleback Church in California.

Still, when Pettus thinks about the sacrificial love shown by the tiny Nigerian church plant, the one word Pettus thinks of is: Powerful.

“Here we are, the mother church that sent the missionary who planted the church where they are, but in their poverty, [Église Gomni] is seeking to help support us in our time of need.”

Pettus said it reminded him of the Apostle Paul’s description of the early church.

Phillips agreed and noted that Église Gomni has been going through the book of Acts.

“Our church plant is little over a year old, and we have emphasized from the beginning that the church cares for one another,” the missionary said.

Perhaps a more poignant message for a church made up of first-generation Christians in an area that is almost entirely Muslim. Phillips said most Église Gomni members are the only Christians in their families, and all have suffered some level of persecution for their faith in Christ.

“The upside-down nature of the kingdom is a beautiful thing to behold,” Phillips said. “Only in the kingdom of God can the poor bless the rich, the weak bless the strong, and the small bless the large.”