By Dan Wooding, Special to ASSIST News Service
VOM, NIGERIA (ANS – September 10, 2015) – 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.
And now a gentle giant has 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 Schicklgruber (the real name of Adolf Hitler), 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 Danjuma1@aol.com.)
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 be 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 with five Africans overnight, 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.
So it seemed that I would never get to see the place where I was born, until that 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 in Santa Ana, where my “Front Page Radio” show originated, 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 David, about my long-time dream of seeing my birthplace, and amazingly, Michael decided to make a trip to Nigeria, and while he was there, he took 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.”
Recently, I caught up again with Michael David at the SoCal 2015 Harvest Crusade with Greg Laurie, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, where he was helping to look after the KWVE booth, and that reminded me of the video he had so kindly made.
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 you readers also enjoy it too.
Photo captions: 1) The gentle-giant, Michael David, towering above Dan Wooding at the KWVE booth. 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) Dan in his cell in Nigeria. (The photo was smuggled out by Dan). 4) A later picture of Dan’s parents during their retirement years in Wallasey, Cheshire, England, close to their beloved River Mersey. 4) Dan with his father as he set out on his bicycle to visit local villages.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books.
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