By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
VOM, NIGERIA (ANS – Dec. 16, 2015) — The shrilling of crickets, the eerie whistling of night birds and the distant howling of hyenas intruded into the still night air of the delivery ward of Vom Christian Hospital in Northern Nigeria.
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 declared we were 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, I finally appeared, bawling and spluttering.
“You’ve got a boy, Anne,” said Dr. Percy Barnden, a British missionary doctor, 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. The date of December 19, 1940.
My father, Alfred Wooding, who like my mother was working with SIM, was anxiously waiting in his mud-walled home in Izom, a remote bush village some 600 miles away, for news of the birth. A telephone call from the hospital, operated by the Sudan United Mission, to the British government outpost in Abuja, announced my birth. Then an African messenger, who was given the news, walked thirty miles to Izom to see my father to tell him the good news. He arrived on Friday, December 20, 1940.
“You have a son,” beamed the exhausted courier to a background of bleating goats, barking dogs and shouting boys.
A cheer broke out among the many natives, as they crowded into the small Wooding compound. They laughed, danced and clapped their hands. My father smiled, pride showing in his eyes. Now, he knew, would come the traditional naming ritual.
“We must call him “Dan Juma” (which, in the local Hausa language), means “Son of Friday,” said one of the natives, dressed only in a loincloth.
“Yes,” the others chorused. “He is to be Dan Juma.”
Much tongue clacking greeted the new name. The “resolution” had been unanimously carried, and so my father decided not to tell them that they had made a mistake, and that I had, in fact, been born not on Friday, but Thursday. Talking drums quickly spread the news that “Dan Juma” had arrived.
My name should have been “Dan Alhamis” so, having got off to a bad start, I was stuck with the name and many years later, when the Internet began, I decided to use as my e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ve kept the wrong name ever since.
But continuing the story: My father packed a few belongings for the long trip to Vom, which included a twenty-four-hour truck journey to Minna and then a long rail journey to Vom, situated on the Jos Plateau. It was Christmas Eve when we met for the first time.
I was a little mite, gurgling with joy, as I looked into the weather-beaten open face of a courageous little man from Liverpool, England, who had obeyed God’s call and left his home to bring the gospel to a sweltering land where millions had still not heard of Jesus Christ. Where tribe after tribe had been caught in the bonds of animism, witchcraft and ancestral worship, while millions had already turned to Islam.
After a few weeks of rest for myself and my mother, who was also from Liverpool, we eventually returned to the dusty village of Izom, a cluster of mud huts crowned with grass roofs. Many Muslims lived in the community and one of them, an old chief, was soon to provide us with a meal ticket.
As I lay in my cot in a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, he swept into our hut, and welcomed us. As he grinned, he revealed a few orange-stained teeth that had survived his seventy-three years of life. My father got out a grass mat for him to squat on and then the chief issued an order to my mother.
“White woman,” he gestured grandly, “I have some more gifts for you and the “little white god.” But first I have a request.”
“Yes, chief,” she replied in her soft, Liverpool accent, as she anxiously eyed the bananas, eggs and the four live, struggling chickens his bearers were holding.
“You must bathe him for me.”
My mother knew this little favor would help replenish our dwindling food stocks. He was, for some reason, fascinated to see the “little white god” cleansed of all the clinging dust of Nigeria.
“You must also give me sweet tea with Carnation milk in it,” he added.
The tea was served, and Mama, the houseboy, a strapping giant, one of my mother’s first converts to Christianity in the area, filled a bowl with H2O and then my mother proceeded to pour a calabash of water over me, time and time again. The chief had come on several occasions to observe this strange ritual (his large collection of children and grandchildren from his three wives were usually unceremoniously dipped in the pale-green waters of the nearby Guarara River).
His wrinkled face beamed with happiness as he watched me being bathed as the smoky fire cast dancing shadows across the room.
After it was over, he ordered one of his servants to “prepare the gifts.” He handed them to Mama, who was forced to chase after two of the chickens that had escaped the attentions of the chief’s man. After grabbing both squawking creatures, he wrung their scraggy necks.
“Okay,” said the headman to my father, “now I have given you a gift, you must give me one in return.”
My father fished about in his short baggy trousers and finally found an English shilling and handed over the coin to the chief. With that the ceremony of “appeasing of the child god” was over; all parties bowed, the chief left as quickly as he had arrived, and our eardrums continued to buzz with mosquitoes.
Mama became a crowning jewel to my parents. “The local witch doctor was so angry with his conversion that he poisoned his food saying that he had taken the ‘white man’s religion,’” said my mother. But after three attempts, Mama did not die so the witch doctor concluded he must be a god, so he left him alone.
“Mama not only became our cook, but also helped us in evangelism. He would travel with us and carry us across the streams and then go back for the bicycles. He was strong, well built and fearless.
I was always introduced to the crowd as the little “Dan Juma,” and this helped my parents share the Gospel with many Nigerians during those early days of my life.
So now you know of my e-mail secret and if you ever send me a message at email@example.com, join me in a big smile about how I got the wrong name and decided to stick with it.
By the way, if you would like to see a video of my birthplace taken by Michael David, a friend of mine from KWVE Radio Network, just go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhYxyJ53uUo
Photo captions: 1) Baby “Dan Juma” with his mother at Vom Christian Hospital in Nigeria just after being born. 2) Dan with his father Alf in Nigeria on the way out to share the Gospel. 3) Alf and Anne Wooding besides the River Mersey in later life. 4) Dan in his cell at Lagos Airport with another prisoner. He smuggled the picture out of the country. 5) Dan Wooding today.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of 45 books and founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). Dan hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on the KWVE Radio Network in Southern California and which is also carried throughout the United States and around the world, and also two TV programs, “Windows on the World” (with Mark Ellis) and “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding,” both of which are carried on the Holy Spirit Radio Network (http://hsbn.tv/) His only return to Nigeria was not a happy one as he was imprisoned in a cell at Lagos Airport and then kicked out of the country of his birth on the following day.
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