Edwin Ebeniro was destined to be a missionary but his life as a young person did not point in that direction. He was so deep in the world that there was no indication he would ever come to know Jesus.
Born to a soldier father and a teacher mother, Ebeniro who is the chairman of the Lagos Chapter of the National Evangelical Missions Association(NEMA) took a Short Service Combatant Course at the Nigeria Defence Academy(NDA) after leaving The University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he was studying Statistics. After his NDA programme he was commissioned into the Nigerian Army, as Second Lieutenant and was set for a bright carrier in the military.
He ranked very high in the military and was paraded as one of the best brains of his course. He had written an article in the NDA journal(VALOUR) on how the military could be reformed. Some of the suggestions he made were later embraced by the military authority in the early 90s.
But he was really deep in the world. He smoked, drank alcohol, was a womaniser and a gambler. He had described himself to Church Times in an interview that he was unbeliever of unbelievers.
Unknown to him, his worldly lifestyle was pushing him to a place of destiny. While still in the military, he ran into troubled waters over a domestic issue involving a female friend. He was court marshaled and was asked to leave the military. It was a painful exit. But his experience in the military was not lost.
“I was smoking hot when I left the military and was set on some mischief thinking of going into some form of fraudulent activities. While living in Lagos, a friend also came to stay with me. That friend was always going to church but his life did not reflect Christ. One day, the Zoe Ministry came to hold a programme in the area I was living in Lagos. I went to the programme.
“The message that day touched my heart and since I was in a deep mess, I thought it wise to surrender to Jesus hoping that I would be free from my miseries. That was where I first surrendered to Jesus. However, I later discovered another ministry, World Overcomers’ Ministry where I fully surrendered my life to Christ and became His disciple. It was in this ministry I knew what it meant to become a Christian. I discovered that I had become a new man”
That was the beginning of a life-long journey that has taken him across so many countries doing missions. His love for missions was birthed at the World Overcomers’ Church where the General Overseer Evang. Steve Pelemo, is into a lot of rural evangelism. “That was where I had my initial baptism into missions. Evang. Pelemo who was the overseer of the church devoted his life to a lot of rural evangelism. I got involved and I have not looked back since then,” he said.
Looking back, Ebeniro believes God had planned from the onset that he would go into missions by allowing him to have the military experience. “The military life is key to what I am doing today. God was trying to preparing me for his army. That is the way I see my short involvement in the military”.
He said he had always been fascinated by the stories of revolution in many countries of the world and had been exposed to pieces of literature on Karl Max and many socialists. He was an avid reader of books that have to with the emancipation of the human race. By the time he became born again and had fallen in love with missions, he transferred that love to Christian books. He read a lot of books on missions and thus became acquainted with missions’ stories around the globe.
My missions experience
His first mission trip was to East Africa where he visited Uganda, and Rwanda on short-term missions. “What we do is to go to those places and spend like one to three months. We use that time to train people and equip them with materials to continue the work. We work in conjunction with some churches and missions’ agencies.”
He has also had to visit the Niger Republic and a number of countries in West Africa on short-term missions and has done a lot of rural evangelism in Nigeria visiting the nook and crannies of the southwest with the gospel of Jesus.
Sharing his experiences in those countries he said, “The experiences are diverse. The missions’ fields are different in terms of the character of the people. In Uganda for instance, many people are professing Christians but a bulk of them are into syncretism. But God has used us to make an impact in that country, raising people who in turn establish ministries in and around the country.”
He reasoned that missions on paper may be quite different from missions on the field adding however that the word of God is key in any work done to win souls.
“While it is good to do charity and provide humanitarian services to people we meet on the field, what will make a lasting impact is the word of God in the lives of the people. Whatever we do, has to be word-based. After people have been won and they are now in Christ, we can then be free to do charity. In some cases, we may have to introduce charity because it is our lifestyle to be good and kind. We must not think that charity will convert their souls. It is the word of God that is registered in their hearts that will bring them to salvation. For instance, I meet people in Kampala, Uganda who recognise me because of the impact of the word of God in their lives. They claimed they were saved because they heard the word. Charity is good, but it may not reach the heart of those who benefit from it.”
Ebeniro who has also been to some Asian countries said the way Church is done in these places is different from what we are used to. “We should be prepared to meet the people where they are rather replicating our idea of church in their countries. It is unfortunate that many of the churches in foreign countries that are manned by Nigerians only attract Nigerians in those countries. That should not be. There is a need to break loose from that tradition. Missionaries must seek to win the indigenes. That is the essence of missions. When the indigenes are won, it will be easier to win the people in that community.”
One of the most effective evangelism tools according to Ebeniro is lifestyle evangelism. “By this, the missionary will impact just one soul in the community he finds himself and let the person loose to win his people. It is very effective. All your prayers and efforts will be on one man who in turn will win others. It is also key to learn the language of your host community. If you can’t learn you must have an interpreter. We must also appreciate that the church has to be where two or three are gathered and not a formal church building as we are used to.”
While positing that the business of harvesting souls to God’s kingdom is too massive for any single church to carry out, he said, “Today we need more collaboration among churches. We must not allow our ego and desire to spread our name overshadow the work of winning souls. If we truly love God, nothing will be too hard for us. But if money matters to us, it will be difficult to go all out for souls.”
Being the chairman of NEMA in Lagos, Ebeniro noted that there are lots of missions’ fields in Lagos. “Despite the fact that Lagos is over-churched, it will shock you to note that there are many islands and communities in Lagos where the gospel has not been able to penetrate. But then, you can’t compare Lagos with other places like Ogun State and other states in the southwest. There are still many unreached places in these places.
“The irony of it is that there are many mega churches in Lagos. Sometimes I pray that something will drive us away from these large gatherings so that people will have no option but move to the unreached areas. We are too concentrated in Lagos with mega churches just enjoying ourselves when God is waiting for us to reach out to souls outside our jurisdictions.” He noted.
He explains further that missions should be the concern of all churches. “Every missionary must belong to a church and also work with the Church”.
He noted that many churches missed the opportunity of the lockdown to meet people where they are and impress the gospel on them.
Having put in almost two decades in missions, Ebeniro said there is a need for synergy among missionaries for them to be effective. “NEMA is the umbrella body for missions’ agencies. There is a dearth of information for those who have been called into missions. But in NEMA we are able to bridge that gap. We run regular training for missionaries and also equip them with materials and information. We help to streamline the mission focus of those who have been called.
“NEMA has relationships with similar organizations all over the world. The platform is an avenue to help those who want to travel out for missions. We collaborate with many missions’ agencies around the world; also help facilitate missions’ trip and also run customized training for missions’ departments of churches. The way to be effective for anybody who has been called to do missions is to seek counsel from those who are already doing missions.”
Ebeniro: God is faithful
Now 63, Ebeniro is not thinking of abandoning the missions’ field anytime soon. “As long as God gives me the strength, I will continue to do missions. This is what I do full-time now. And God has been supplying all my needs. God has blessed me with a good family. My wife is a university teacher. She has been quite supportive. My children have also been supportive of the work. I have great friends and allies who have been of great assistance. We just have to keep moving as long as we have the breath of God in us.”
Story by Gbenga Osinaike