Interview with Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko
10 August 2012
On August 1, 2012, SIM announced that Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko will be the next International Director of SIM, as well as the first African leader of this large mission. Currently the Deputy International Director for Europe and West Africa, he will assume his new responsibilities in June 2013. In the meantime Dr. Joshua took some time to help us get to know him a little better:
How did you come to know Christ personally?
I grew up in a home where my parents went to church but also had animistic practices. Both of my parents came from animistic homes, but had combined animism with Islam. They had Muslim names, although they neither read nor understood the Koran. When the gospel came to my part of Nigeria, my parents responded by going to church but they never truly understood the gospel. It was in that context that I was born and grew up.
I was very active in church as a child, but did not fully understand the gospel myself. I was very religious but not saved. I had not experienced peace with God through an understanding of the work of Christ on the cross. In high school, a mission boarding school, I joined the Fellowship of Evangelical Students group. It was there I first understood the gospel through the testimony of a short-term teacher.
In a Fellowship meeting in May 1978, he shared how he sensed God’s protection and care in his life. He spoke very confidently; like someone who had a personal relationship with God. I left that meeting feeling that I had neither the relationship nor the trust that he had in God, and I understood that this was because of my sins. I had never surrendered my life to Christ and let Him remove the barrier of sin between us.
I went to my room and prayed for my sins to be forgiven and for Christ to come into my heart by His Spirit. I also prayed that God would use my life as He pleased. Call it total surrender, that was what it was for me. It was not out of obligation, but gratitude for all that Christ had done for me.
Can you describe a pivotal moment when you knew that you were going to obey God’s call to missions?
What I prayed on the day that I asked Christ into my life was key to the rest of the direction of my life. I committed to prayer and seeking God’s guidance and direction in everything. In my final year of high school I was praying for God’s direction for a university for me and for what course to study.
I prayed for several months because I loved mathematics and wanted to be an engineer, but I sincerely wanted the Lord’s direction. It was Elizabeth Elliot who once said “How can we hear God speak when our own desires speak so loudly?” My desire was speaking very loudly. One day I sensed in my heart a question regarding those who are sick in hospitals and the opportunity they might have to hear the gospel. It became very clear that the Lord was challenging my heart to consider medical work.
My resolve to follow through with this call was tested several times. The first major test was when I had the option of doing my internship year in a government hospital or in a mission hospital where I would be paid half the salary offered by the government hospital. Would I do what my heart told me was the right direction in spite of potential personal and financial loss, or would I seek a green pasture for myself? I decided to serve in the mission hospital, which was also where I did my residency, and had the opportunity to go to Niger as a short-term missionary and serve as a long-term missionary years later. Such moments of decision were crucial to the continued nurturing of a call and eventual obedience and fulfilling that call.
However, the most critical test came in October 1992 when my uncle, who had paid my way through university, passed away. It was one of the darkest moments of my life, not only because he had given so much of himself for me, but because he was the closest family member to me at that time. I spent many growing up years with him. His passing put a great doubt in my heart as to how I could be a missionary knowing that I would not be able to make money to support his family and others in my extended family. I was very confused and very concerned.
One night it hit me. I was worried because I thought the survival of my uncle’s family and my extended family depended on me. The question in my heart was this: If I die, who will care for these people? I concluded that it would be the Lord. Then the second thought: And while I am alive, who will care for them? Again I concluded that it is the Lord. At that point I saw the foolishness of my worries. I was not the one they depended on; it is the Lord that we all depend on. That was a moment I could never forget. It changed everything for me. I resolved to obey God and go wherever He called.
I must say that this was not the end of moments when I had wondered if I could obey, but it was the moment that sealed the deal. Jill Briscoe said, “Any old fish can swim with the stream, but it takes a lively one to swim against it. Serving God is a bit like swimming upstream; all the fish around you seem to be following along with the tide, which is by far the easiest thing to do. Swimming in the opposite direction is much harder and can be pretty lonely too. Doing the will of God makes you feel like a fish swimming against the stream.” Many times I felt as if I was swimming upstream.
Are there many Nigerian missionaries, or are you unusual in that respect?
At the time that I was committing myself to mission in 1982, it was quite unusual for a graduate or a professional to say that. In fact, it was unusual for anyone at all to say they wanted to be a missionary. At that time we considered ourselves missionary recipients, not go-ers. There were local missionaries and evangelists serving in very rural parts of Nigeria, but very few serving outside the country. However, things have changed! Today many missionaries from Nigeria serve around the world, perhaps more than 5,000.
What is a “call” and how do I know if I have one?
As individuals, we are all different. God created us with individual peculiarities, and He understands us better than anyone ever will. For this reason, our sense of call will also be different. Mine centered in prayer, in the Word of God, in seeking the counsel of others, and in reading from those who have gone before.
One thing that has characterized my own sense of call is a feeling of peace that I am doing what is right and I am following God’s prompting in my heart. It is also that what I sense in my heart is consistent with the Word of God and the commands of Christ. Sometimes my sense of call has been reinforced by a burden for those who have not heard the gospel; and sometime it has been reinforced by the understanding that this is what Christ died for, but always, there is a sense of peace.
God also puts us in community. He made us relational beings, and those around us can clarify our call as they speak into our lives and pray for us. One thing I believe is that as we obey God in what we know, He will make clear to us what we do not know. A sense of call does not necessarily mean knowing what the future holds or what I should be doing in ten years. It simply means walking in the light that I have and obeying God in what I know right now.
You are from a nation that is torn by Christian-Muslim violence. How should Christians respond to Muslims?I come from a part of Nigeria where Muslims and Christians live together fairly harmoniously. Many families are split into Muslims and Christians. I have cousins, aunties and uncles who are Muslims, and I pray for each of them all the time that the Lord will draw them to Himself. While I am concerned with the seeming inability of our government to fulfill its obligation to the citizenry to effectively protect them, our protection is ultimately not in their hands.
Christians must consider how Christ responded to those who crucified Him. I think Christians in Nigeria have done that admirably. Were it not for their restraint, there would be a larger scale religious war underway already. Thankfully, we have many church leaders who understand that our weapons are not guns and bombs; we cannot respond the same way we are treated; we must not retaliate, but turn the cheek as Christ commanded. While we will always advocate for those who are oppressed because we have the light and freedom of Christ, the gospel is our cornerstone, and the Bible overrules all other considerations in responding to unfair treatment.
What would you advise university students who are considering missions?
The first place to start responding to a missionary call is to pray. When we begin to pray for places in the world where darkness still reigns, God will also encourage our own hearts on that journey. I would encourage any student who senses God’s call to deepen themselves in God’s Word and to join or form a group to pray for mission, missionaries and unreached and under-reached peoples. I would also suggest doing a short mission trip to get involved at some level, and to give whatever they can afford to missions. Wherever they choose to invest is where their heart will follow. Reading missionary biographies has a way of putting some of what we think as big sacrifices into perspective. What I am trying to say is that a student can be what I call “a praying missionary, a giving missionary and a going missionary,” each with the ultimate aim of complete obedience to serve however the Lord may guide.
What should young people look for in a mission?
Definitely look for commitment to the Word of God, prayer, and the centrality of the Gospel. In a world where theological debate rages, a student seeking to serve the Lord effectively should choose organizations that are rooted in the Word. Additionally, prayer is key to effective mission. It is our way of fellowshipping with God and inviting His hand in all that we do. Lastly, a desire to share Christ with the lost and disciple them to be followers of Christ is essential. Much is being done today in the name of mission that you might wonder if Christ would have signed off on. We must effectively combine our actions with the gospel because the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to all who believe”.
Other qualities to look for include ministry supervision, member care services, and good communication between missionaries, mission offices and churches.
How can we pray for you?