By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
VOM, NIGERIA (ANS – January 16, 2018) — It was always my dream to visit my birthplace, Vom Christian Hospital in Plateau State, Nigeria, where I was born on Thursday, December 19, 1940.
But then, a gentle giant made it possible.
My parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who were both from Liverpool, but didn’t know each other at the time, had on separate occasions set sail for Nigeria, then a British colony, in the mid-1930’s, to bring the Gospel to the West African nation.
They finally met up at the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) language school, fell in love, and were married at the SIM church in Kano, the famed walled city in 1939, and I came along a year later.
After they had linked lives together, my parents were sent to a small mud-hut village called Izom, and so their lives as missionaries truly began.
Then, as the time approached for me to enter the world, my mother had to make the 600-mile bumpy journey in a truck to the Sudan United Mission hospital at Vom, where I was eventually delivered into this world by British doctor, Dr. Percy Barnden, who founded the hospital. It was just six days before Christmas, 1940, but there was little goodwill in a world convulsed in the mayhem of World War Two that had begun on Sunday, September 3, 1939, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, after first saying there was “peace in our time”, was later forced to declare that Britain was at war with Germany.
As the former Austrian house painter, Adolf Hitler, who had become the Führer of Nazi Germany, was trying to take over the world, I was struggling to get into it. After eight hours of labor, I finally appeared, bawling and spluttering in the world.
“You’ve got a boy, Anne,” said Dr. Barnden, as he snipped my umbilical cord and then slapped a mosquito that was probing his arm. My mother smiled gently as she looked down at her first child.
Eventually, my mother and I were able to make the long journey back to Izom, where my mother found out that the local chiefs had given me the Hausa name of Dan Juma (Son of Friday), even though I was born on a Thursday. The problem was the news of my birth hadn’t arrived in the village until the following day, and my father had decided not to tell the chiefs that they had the wrong day. (All these years later, and seeing the humor of this, I decided to adopt the e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org).
Soon, my father would strap me into a specially made container at the front of his bicycle and peddle down the jungle trails to other villages and the crowds would come out to see the white baby, and then he would share the Gospel with them.
Sadly, however, after a couple of years, my father became very sick with malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness, and was told by a doctor that if he was to have any chance of surviving, he (and my mother and myself), would have to make the dangerous sea journey from Lagos to Liverpool, so he could receive treatment at the world-famous Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
So, they packed up their belongings and headed for Lagos, where we all joined a convoy of some 28 ships to attempt the hazardous journey to England. Tragically, many of the ships were sunk in the Atlantic crossing by German U-boats, and thousands were drowned.
However, miraculously we survived, and my father got the treatment he needed and decided to go back to Nigeria on his own, leaving my mother, myself and my newly-born sister, Ruth, in Liverpool.
But soon, he became even sicker and, close to death, he was again sent home to England, and told by a doctor that he could never return to the tropics, something that broke the hearts of both my parents.
After he returned home, looking so ill that he was just skin and bone, he took began his slow recovery and when he was well enough, he moved us all to Birmingham, an industrial city in the Midlands of England, where he became a pastor of The Sparkbrook Mission for some 30 years and also worked as a missionary for the Barbican Mission to the Jews, sharing the story of the Messiah with the city’s large Jewish population.
Many years later, after I became a journalist, I was able to return to Nigeria on a reporting trip, and I was hoping to be able to try and visit Vom Christian Hospital, but it all went horribly wrong. I was arrested at Lagos Airport for apparently not paying a bribe to the immigration officer, locked up in a cell overnight with five Africans, and then deported the next day back to England.
I had a rifle pressed into my back and was frog-marched across the airport tarmac and put on the plane back to London and had the words “persona-non-grata” (an unwelcome person) stamped in my UK passport, which meant I couldn’t ever return to Nigeria – at least in the near future.
Back in December 2017, my younger son, Peter Wooding, visited Lagos to report on Reinhard Bonnke’s “Farewell Crusade” which attracted millions of people. He arrived at this very same airport, but fortunately he wasn’t arrested like his Dad. (He did, however, find the very spot where my family left Lagos for Liverpool on that dangerous trip home.)
But after my arrest, it seemed that I would never get to see the place where I was born – that was until the gentle giant came into my life.
You see, many years later, after my move to Southern California with my wife Norma, and our two sons, Andrew and Peter, I became friends with Michael David, a gentle-giant of a man who was an announcer at KWVE Radio (www.kwve.com) in Santa Ana, where my “Front Page Radio” show originates, and he introduced me to some Nigerian friends from Jos, whom I interviewed for the program.
As we chatted, I shared with them, and Michael, about my long-time dream of seeing my birthplace, and amazingly, not long afterwards, Michael, decided to make a trip to Jos, and while he was there, he took out some time to find the Vom Christian Hospital, and make a video about his visit. As I watched it for the first time, tears welled up in my eyes, for it was then that I finally saw the place where I was born.
You can also see it by going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhYxyJ53uUo.
Michael wrote at the time, “This hospital was founded by missionaries in 1922, and it was the first hospital ever built in Nigeria. We saw the place where the missionaries used to live, which is now a conference center, and we also saw the place where they used to have a maternity ward that is now a place for offices.”
So, although I never got to personally visit my birthplace, I was able to see the gentle giant’s video about it. Thank you, Michael, for this great gift. I hope that those of you have just read my story, will all also enjoy it.
Photo captions: 1) The gentle-giant, Michael David, towering above Dan Wooding at the KWVE booth at a local event. He was the man who helped Dan “see” the place where he was born. 2) Baby Dan at Vom Christian Hospital shortly after he was born in 1940. 3) A recent picture of a ward at Vom Christian Hospital. 4) Dan in his cell in Nigeria. (The photo was smuggled out by Dan after his release). 5) Peter Wooding doing a TV report from Lagos. 6) A later picture of Dan’s parents during their retirement years in Wallasey, Cheshire, England, close to their beloved River Mersey. 7) Dan, with his mother, Anne Wooding, holding a copy of Blind Faith, a book they wrote together, about Anne’s work as a Braille teacher in the walled city of Kano, Nigeria.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, both from Liverpool, England, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. He now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. He is the founder/president of ASSIST and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author or co-author of numerous books. He has a weekly radio show and two TV programs all based in Southern California.
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