By Peter Wooding, European Bureau Chief for ASSIST News Service
LAGOS, NIGERIA (ANS – November 21, 2017) — As I stepped off the plane at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, I was immediately hit by the intense heat, but the other thing that struck me was the amazing feeling of following in the footsteps of my grandparents and my father.
I had travelled very comfortably on a six-hour flight from London Heathrow, while some eighty years ago my grandparents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, had bravely boarded a ship in Liverpool to Lagos on a journey that would take 19 long days. They were fulfilling a dream to be missionaries to Nigeria, but they had no idea they would marry each other while there, and also give birth to my father Dan Wooding in December of 1940.
I was hoping I would get a better welcome than my father did when, some years ago, he returned to the country of his birth on a reporting assignment. He had a British passport which had “journalist” in it as his profession and, as the then Military Government was in dispute with the UK, they promptly arrested my Dad at the very airport I had just arrived at, believing that he was going to write something bad about the country. (In fact, he was there to report on a Christian witch-doctor who had become a Christian and was running an orphanage). They threw him in a prison cell, and then, the next day, frog-marched him across the tarmac, a rifle in his back, and sent him home to Britain on the next flight.
Shortly afterwards, his case was raised in the British House of Commons, where his local Member of Parliament, Bill Molloy, condemned the Nigerians for what they had done to him, and sadly, he’s never been back.
Fortunately I made it through immigration and customs, and was so excited to not only visit the country where my family had ministered the Gospel some eight decades before, but also to report on the historic farewell crusade of evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, whose 50 year preaching ministry was coming to an end.
Being driven from the airport in a packed bus of other delegates and Christ for all Nations staff to our hotel, I quickly realised that Lagos traffic certainly lives up to it’s reputation as being one of the world’s most hectic cities.
The following day we arrived at the field that would host Bonnke’s five-day farewell crusade to set up our equipment with my cameraman, Fred Williams, a very talented London-based video producer who was actually originally from Lagos.
As a freelance journalist, I was there to report for a number of media outlets and news organisations including the Global News Alliance, CBN News, TBN and the ASSIST News Service.
As the first night of the crusade kicked off, I felt so privileged to be able to get an incredible view of the crowds packed into the field, and also see Reinhard take to the platform and passionately preach the Gospel.
Before his message, I went into the crowds to do my pieces to camera for my first news report as the crowds joined in the incredible African worship and through the wonders of technology I was able broadcast some of the first evening on Facebook Live for CBN News.
It was incredible to see so many thousands of people so hungry for the Gospel as they poured forward to accept Christ and many also received healing as Reinhard’s successor Daniel Kolenda prayed for the sick. (I imagined the difference between this huge event, and that for my grandparents, who lived in a mud-hut, and preached to small groups of villagers).
Each morning throughout the crusade Reinhard also hosted a Passing The Torch conference with crowds of up to 80,000 each day ready to carry on the work of sharing the Gospel.
Leaders from around the world had gathered to be a part of his historic moment, including Youth With A Mission Founder Loren Cunningham. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to interview him while he was on the stage. He told me: “I’ve been with Reinhard at his Fire Conferences on four continents, and this was one is special because it’s his farewell. I believe this is the passing of the torch from one generation to another.”
I also spoke backstage to evangelist Todd White, who said: “Reinhard said it’s a farewell, but it’s a beginning and it’s going to be such exponential increase. They’re looking at 150 million souls, doubling the 75 million from the past 30 years over the next decade. I believe each Christian is going to become an electrifying Christian, one that is hearing the power of God everywhere they go and so I’m seeing that and I believe that.”
A major privilege during the crusade was to help produce an exclusive interview with Reinhard Bonnke on the main stage for TBN. During the interview, when asked how he felt about this being his last ever crusade, the 76-year-old evangelist responded: “In my heart I’m actually thrilled to see how the ministry continues seamlessly and what I’m interested in is to get people saved and to see the power of God spread. I must say the old must pass but the new is born. I don’t actually have any tearful moments at all.”
But there were many emotional moments for those who had come from around the world to be there, who had served with him since the early days of his ministry including Suzette Hattingh, who was his prayer coordinator for several years. During my interview with her on the main stage, she told me: “It’s such a privilege to see this mighty man make a final swoop for the lost, because he’s a man who has run well, that has no shame and has walked in the uprightness of God. This is the legacy of this eagle of God.”
During the five-day crusade 1.7 million people came to hear this well-respected German evangelist say farewell to Africa. On the final night I stood towards the back of the crowds of an incredible 750,000 to do my final piece to camera for my news report. I just felt so honoured to be reporting on this significant moment.
Back in 1942, my grandfather became very sick with malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness, and was told by his doctor that he would soon die if he couldn’t make it back to Liverpool to get treatment at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. So my grandparents joined a war-time convoy of 28 ships at Lagos to try and return to Liverpool, England, along with their young son, Dan. Tragically, many of the ships were sunk by German U-Boats and thousands perished in the freezing Atlantic waters.
Fortunately, they survived, but spent many long nights on the top deck of their ship waiting for the orders to jump into the Atlantic. The journey took a total of six-weeks, as the convoy zig-zagged to try and escape the Germans. My grandfather was finally cleared of his various illnesses, and eventually settled in Birmingham, England, where he pastored a church there for 30 years, and where I was born.
During my trip, I was able to see the actual place where they had departed from, and I thought of the drama that lay ahead for them.
As they boarded my flight back to the UK from Lagos, I reflected on the wonderful legacy of both Reinhard Bonnke and my family to the people of Nigeria, knowing that these people of Africa will certainly carry on the torch of evangelism for many years to come, and also that of my wonderful grandparents.
You can watch Peter Wooding’s CBN News Report here: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2017/november/you-feel-the-raw-presence-of-god-thousands-encounter-christ-at-reinhard-bonnkes-farewell-crusade
Note: Well-known Hollywood screenwriter, Claire Hutchinson, is now writing a screenplay on my father’s extraordiny life, which will include his time in Nigeria. It is then hoped that it will be turned into a movie and my father is being represented by Hollywood agent, Terry Porter.
Photo captions: 1) Reinhard Bonnke in Lagos. 2) My father, Dan Wooding, in his prison cell in Lagos. (The pictured was smuggled out by Dan).3) My grandparents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, on their wedding day in Kano, Nigeria. 4) Peter Wooding with YWAM founder, Loren Cunningham, in Lagos.5) Huge crowd at the crusade. 6) Peter Wooding with his colleague, Fred Williams. 7) Peter Wooding doing his first news report in front of the crowds.
About the writer: Peter Wooding, the younger son of Dan and Norma Wooding, is an award-winning radio, TV, and print journalist. Having previously spent 10 years as news editor with UCB Radio in the UK, he has travelled extensively reporting from countries including Greece, Russia, Serbia, South Sudan, the Philippines, Uganda, South Korea, Zambia, Gambia, Mozambique, Croatia, Israel and India. Peter, and he has just returned from his most recent trip to Lagos, Nigeria, to report on Reinhard Bonnke’s Farewell Crusade. He reports regularly for ASSIST News Service, Samaritan’s Purse, and Leading The Way. Peter is also the London Bureau Chief for the Global News Alliance, and he and his wife Sharon live in North Wales, UK, with their three daughters, Sarah, Anna Beth and Abigail. To contact Peter, please e-mail him at email@example.com, or phone him at: +44 7500 903067.
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