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Nigerian conference center is Ridgecrest custodian’s goal


RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–To guests at Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center, Alfred Sunday Otoki may appear to be a custodian doing routine work. But he is no ordinary person performing an ordinary task.
Otoki is a pastor on a mission different from those to which most Southern Baptists are accustomed. He isn’t here specifically to win people to Christ, although that has happened along the way. He is here to prepare to begin a conference center in Nigeria.
For more than 10 years he has been away from his wife, Victoria, and their five adult children — two daughters and three sons — working to fulfill what he sees as a divine assignment. Through these years, he says, God has protected him, and his family has supported and prayed for him.
Vision may be the word that best describes Otoki. He came to the United States in 1988 on faith, based on a message from God through a dream. As he describes it, God told him to leave his native country to study the Bible. And while in the United States, God gave him a vision to establish Reconciliation Conference Ministries in Nigeria.
There in the provincial government seat of Ijero-Ekiti, population 17,000, he hopes to offer a place for pastors, lay leaders and Bible students to study, rest and encourage each other.
Otoki studied at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, attending classes at night while supporting himself as a taxi driver during the day. He was ordained as a deacon in the Nigerian Church, Chicago Chapter, and his duties in that role involved work in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Minnesota. While those absences from Chicago interrupted his classes, he persevered. After graduating in 1996 and being ordained to ministry, he moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., to work on the staff at the Moody Keswick Bible Conference Center.
Most recently he was in Dalton, Ga., at Harvest Baptist Church, working alongside pastor Scott Ptak. During his time there, he was notified that his wife had been hospitalized and needed surgery. Within two days, one of his sons, a missionary in Ghana, also was hospitalized. Gifts of money, including $2,000 for airfare, provided the way for Otoki to go home to see his family. But his work in the United States was not finished, so he returned to Dalton, completing almost two years there.
“Pastor Alfred carries with him a true sense of who God is in his life,” Ptak observed. “I’m not speaking about the knowledge that comes from reading and understanding God’s Word, or even the peace that comes from salvation. His relationship with God has become the very center of his being.
“What he does vocationally, where he lives, even what he eats and when he sleeps are God-driven. He brings with him a different set of rules, a higher standard if you will, than the ‘average’ Christian. I have often said that in America we hold on to God with a thumb and forefinger. In Pastor Alfred’s life, he has wrapped everything he can around God, for there is nothing else worth holding on to. He is a man that is living out his faith day by day, decision by decision, prayer by prayer.
“He has filled many roles in my life. He is a friend, a mentor and an earthly example of the impact one life can have on those around him. It is indeed an honor to have had God bring him into my life and the life of our church.”
Having made an impression on the lives of many in Dalton, Otoki came to Ridgecrest in May 1999 to experience a conference center, Southern Baptist-style. He does not know how long he will stay until God tells him to return to Nigeria, but he believes he knows why God has brought him to North Carolina.
“What am I going to learn?” Otoki asks. “Not maintenance, not administration. God has brought me here to humble me and to pave the way.
“I was assigned to work on the bathroom crew, and I said to myself, ‘You are a minister and yet you are working on Sunday.’ But then God made me aware that I am ministering on Sunday where I am. God has brought me to the very mountain where he reigns. I am in the right place.”
G.W. Lankford, director of the Ridgecrest conference center, said he hopes when Otoki returns to Nigeria it will be “with a vision of how he may establish a conference center there. Hopefully, Mr. Otoki’s experience will have been a learning one, and the knowledge gained will extend LifeWay and Ridgecrest into Nigeria.”
Co-workers Glenn Gosorn and Marie Tipton speak highly of him.
“His work habits are very good,” Gosorn observed. “He takes his duties here at Ridgecrest seriously. He’s outgoing with the guests and enjoys talking about his family.”
Marie appreciates his knowledge of the Bible and observes that humility is one of his outstanding characteristics. If she compliments him, she said, his response is “no, no, no.”
Melissa Marlowe, Ridgecrest administrative associate who works closely with volunteers, said, “My first impression of Mr. Otoki was his emphasis on prayer, and his focus on God. He is totally dependent upon God. He has done several devotions for our staff and also our volunteers. His focus on God is what you learn immediately about Mr. Otoki.
“In my job as recruiter for the volunteers and the summer staff,” she continued, “it is amazing how God will bring people to the campus to enhance the campus but also to teach them about him and the plans he has for their lives. I am glad that Mr. Otoki’s journey has brought him to Ridgecrest, and pray that as he leaves Ridgecrest will be an important part of what he is learning about God and how to apply it to his country when he goes home.”
His experiences in the United States have included being the recipient of kindness from people who did not really know him, Otoki observes. Consequently, he wants Southern Baptists to be aware of the importance of strangers.
“Be more entertaining to strangers,” he says. “Be more receptive. You never know who comes to your door. Some may come to bless you. Some may come to be blessed by you.”
Otoki says he does not know how God will provide the financial means to begin the conference center at costs he estimates to be $70,000 for the first year. But he is confident God will provide the way, so much so that he became convinced he should quit asking for money and distributing a fund-raising brochure he had printed while in Dalton.
“God knows how to provide it,” he says. “He’s going to touch someone’s heart somewhere. We don’t know his timing. We are always impatient like human beings.”