Marching to Zion Part 3: Ministry with Nigerian Hebrew Communities!

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From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.
-Zephaniah 3:10

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Shabbat with the Women of Yahweh Covenant Assembly

On November 19th I boarded a plane at JFK airport to head to Nigeria to spend two weeks visiting various Hebrew congregations. My reason for going to Nigeria was to teach the women Torah and to learn more about Hebrew communities in Africa. This trip is extra special for me because I know my mother’s ancestors were taken from Nigeria during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. My mother’s family was owned by the largest slave holding family in America-The Alstons and this family has been the subject of a book and PBS documentary. When our Association gathers for family reunions and retelling of our of history the oldest Patriarch is brought out and through DNA testing we know he ancestry goes back to Nigeria. The Association is also a gathering for preaching as many Alstons are preachers and our oral history is that we migrated from the Middle East/North Africa area and were priest who eventually ended up in Nigeria and while there eventually ended up in America as enslaved people. The Association was once an independent Black Church system started by elder men in my family during segregation now it’s a family gathering space. While in Nigeria I noticed that the Igbo communities had many Associations for spiritual and community work and unification. My eldest cousin “Day” Dabriah Alston was the first one of my direct family members who went to Nigeria almost a year before I went. For more information about the Alstons visit: PBS Family Name. 

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Elder Alston Men reading scripture. Photo Credit: Mark Alston

The journey to Nigeria was very long in part because I had about a 7-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey which seems to be a hub for travel to the Middle East and Africa. Since America and Turkey are beefing right now I couldn’t get a visa to leave the airport and so I occupied my time writing an article on what the Black Church can learn from African Hebrews for the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference Ubuntu Magazine. I also spent time with a Chicago brother coming from South Africa with his wife and a brother traveling back home to Guinea-Bissau. Apparently the Chicago brother had every hack for free internet in the airport in true Chitown style. Finally, as I boarded the plane to Lagos all the older Nigerian people kept asking if I was visiting my parents back home and on the plane folks were helping me and being super friendly. Finally, about 11 hours later I landed in Lagos! I was warmly greeted by Elder Cletus Okoro, Founder of House of Israel Nigeria and his friend Ge-Pedro Echendu. I was so excited I asked “are we driving to Abia State now” (it was about 9pm) and Elder Cletus and Pedro laughed. Abia is about 7-8 hours from Lagos. They told me I needed to rest for the day of travel ahead. Elder Cletus invited me to teach the women in the congregations he works in. I note this because often in America people use African culture to oppress African-American women but when I have actually traveled to Africa I have seen women’s leadership honored not suppressed (though I am aware that of course like the rest of the world Africa struggles with the oppression of women). While hanging out in the hotel Elder Cletus and Pedro did an interview for Prophetic Whirlwind on The Role of Women to help clear up some misconceptions you can watch their video below.

The next day at about 6:00am Elder Cletus and I headed to Abia State. As we drove from Lagos to Abia one thing I noticed about Nigeria is the reddish brown soil. During my Prophetic Whirlwind workshops on the Black Presence in the Hebrew Bible I teach on the word Ahdahm from which we get the word Adam in Hebrew which is defined as Swarthy, dusky, reddish-brown soil, dark-skinned like a shadow. This word with the definite article can refer to the male Adam or an appointed class of people descended from Adam. Many Hebrew scholars agree that Adam in Hebrew means dark reddish-brown soil which denotes that Adam was a man of color as well as Eve who according to the Bible are seen as the progenitors of human-kind in general and the Children of Israel in particular (from The Biblical History of Black Mankind by Biblical Hebrew & Greek Scholar Dr. Catherine McGhee Livers).  As I entered Abia State I loved the sign that greets visitors:

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Abia State is in what is called Igboland the section of Nigeria where the Igbos reside. Much of the Igbo indigenous culture is extremely similar to the Israelite culture we find in our Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Igbo Author Remy Ilona in his book: The Igbos and Israel: An Inter-Cultural Study of the Oldest and Jewish Diaspora gives countless first hand examples of the connection between traditional Igbo culture and ancient Hebrew culture.

  • The Igbo woman who is menstruating or who have just given birth is in seclusion (omugwo) a study of ancient Hebrew culture a woman who is menstruating or who just gave birth is also in seclusion from the rest of the community-Leviticus 18:19 and Leviticus 12. (Page 10)
  • F.C. Ogbalu, an Igbo scholar, speculated that Igbo circumcision (on the eighth day) is binding proof of the Igbo-Israelite relationship” (page 13). It cannot be over stressed that circumcision of male children on the eighth day, i.e. after seven days, is originally Israelite. This rite is to stand as the physical sign of the covenant between God and the Israelites (page 13-14).
  • Omenana is tradition Igbo culture and according to Remy Ilona is the “equivalent of Judaism to the Igbo people. The Igbos call their culture Omenana. The meaning of Omenana translated into the English language is “what to do in the land.” Certain sections of the Torah are very helpful in explaining what “what to do in the land means.” In Deuteronomy 6:1 we read Moses stating: “Now this is the commandment, the statues, and the ordinances, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither you go over to possess it.” Igbos traditionally are obsessed with keeping themselves, their society, and their land free of abomination (aru) and sin (njo). Apart from loss of the land some other consequences of evil-doing in Igbo thought are constant deaths, incurable sickness, poverty, suffering, etc. (pages 30-31).
  • All the core and identifiable Igbo traditions, which interestingly correspond to the traditions of Israel, are to be found in Ozubulu practices, like the Mgbiri, (the Jubilee year celebration), Iri Ji (First fruit offerings) etc. I have found that the Ozubulu people revere Chukwu (the Supreme Being) just as the Israelites, and I have yet to see the faintest evidence that there was a chi nwanyi ana (an earth goddess) in Ozubulu (page 40).

I could share more examples of the Hebraic cultural traditions found in traditional Igbo culture but due to time I would suggest viewing the Academy Award Qualifying Film Re-Emerging The Jews of Nigeria. This film also goes into the fact that the Igbo lost some of the highest numbers of people to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade which leads to 1 in 4 African-Americans and about 65% of Jamaicans having Igbo ancestry. While in Abia State I found churches everywhere and many synagogues both Messianic and Orthodox. There are also many Sabbath keeping Christian congregations. One thing I loved about being in Igboland is that I saw so many people who looked like aunts, uncles, friends and cousins back home. I also loved how hospitable the people were in welcoming me back home. One night as Cletus and I drove back to town after visiting his wife and family and having some delicious Igbo food prepared by his wife Mary I fell asleep and I was awakened by brother Cletus because we were driving over the bridge where enslaved people were taken from Igboland. Locally, people were told once you were taken over this bridge you would never see this land again. At first I was sad learning of this and thinking about my maternal ancestors but then the Ruach Ha’kodesh (Holy Spirit) spoke to my spirit and said don’t be sad because though they said your ancestors would never return they did return through you! A few days later we returned to walk over  what I have dubbed “The Bridge of No Return” and I became very emotional because I felt like in a way I was standing for my ancestors. Sometimes our prayers won’t be answered in our lifetime but our prayers maybe answered through are future generations. I started to realize though I came to minister to the women I was going to be ministered to as well.

 

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The Bridge of No Return
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Standing on The Bridge of No Return wearing traditional Igbo Attire

 One day we returned to walk over  what I have dubbed “The Bridge of No Return” I became very emotional because I felt like in a way I was standing for my ancestors. Sometimes our prayers won’t be answered in our lifetime but our prayers maybe answered through are future generations. Another moment that was similarly profound was when I was walking with Elder Cletus through his village Umuchiakuma (which means The Children of Yah of Akuma) in the Arochukwu Kingdom (which was the Kingdom that was the most involved in the slave trade in Igboland) I started to feel sad as we walked down the road. I didn’t know why I was sad because it was a beautiful day outside and I was having a good time and then Elder Cletus said his Elder uncle wanted to speak to us. As I sat in the parlor with Elder Cletus, his uncle and another family member the elder started to speak about slavery and shared that the very road I was walking down was one of the main roads slaves were marched down as they were preparing to be sold away. I then realized I was not feeling my own sadness but the sadness of my ancestors. This was deeply humbling and I realized Yah wanted to use this trip to break generational strongholds not only for me but for the people of Arochukwu who never expected to see those sold into slavery again. Here is the interview with the elder:

Needless to say my heart was full and I hadn’t even started ministry yet. On Thursday night I was blessed to be apart of all night prayer at Yahweh Covenant Assembly which is apart of The House of Israel Nigeria Network and the network of over 50 congregations in the Yahweh Covenant Assembly network. Yahweh Covenant Assembly are independent and indigenous Messianic Hebrew assemblies throughout Nigeria started by Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa ministers. These congregations keep the Shabbat and the Feast Days as well as other aspects of Torah. The all night prayer was powerful and reminded me of the way the old African-American saints used to pray and tarry. The Rabbi for the congregation I visited and his beautiful family welcomed me to their home for lunch and fellowship and it was a good time.

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The Family of Yahweh Covenant Assembly

On Shabbat night Elder Cletus and I spent it with two young Hebrew brothers Solomon and Veyllee Bounce who are very passionate about Hebrew culture and uniting with African-Americans for the spiritual uplift of our people. It was truly a blessing being together with them as we broke bread and shared currant juice (instead of wine). For my first Shabbat in Nigeria I was at Yahweh Covenant Assembly with Elder Cletus and other rabbis and congregations visited as well. Shabbat worship was beautiful and everyone was extremely welcoming to me. During the service the children sang a song called We Welcome Home to officially welcome me and it brought tears to my eyes. You can listen to it below.

When it was time for me to speak I shared my testimony and included my family’s story of being taken from Nigeria during slavery and the message The Isaiah 11:11-12 Prophecy and The Ingathering of African Hebrews  which is the awakening that his happening all across Africa and the diaspora of people waking up to Torah and waking up to their Biblical identity. When teaching the women I taught the message Eschet Chayil: A Message to the Hebrew Woman you can here a version of this message which I preached in Harlem here Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. It was truly a powerful time and I admired how much the women wanted to learn and how much the people of Nigeria remembered those who were taken away from them.

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Yahweh Covenant Assembly
 
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The Sisters of Yahweh Covenant Assembly
                                

After the Shabbat service Elder Cletus and I had to zoom over to Port Harcourt where I was scheduled to minister to the women at two Beit Ha’Torah Synagogues. Through a Facebook post about coffee in Israel and various ordained twist and turns I was connected to Rabbi Sariella Creeger who leads Synagogues throughout Africa, India and Maryland and in turn she connected me to her leaders in Nigeria. When I visited Rabbi Abraham Ndukwe Nkemdirim and his Beit Ha’Torah congregation it was a blessed time of sharing and teaching and the question and answer period was on fire! While I was sharing my testimony one of the women in the congregation started to cry and say “our sister is home”. Many Africans in the diaspora don’t know that they have family in Africa who miss them and care about what has happened to us as a people. After the gathering Rabbi David Otobo another Beit Ha’Torah leader invited myself, Elder Cletus and Rabbi Abraham over to his home for a delicious lunch and time of fellowship. Later that evening when I arrived back to my hotel the women of Beit Ha’Torah came to my hotel to surprise me with wrappers (African fabric to make outfits) and local fruits. It was so sweet and the wrapper print they gave me was the print they all wore as a congregation.

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With the Ladies of Beit Ha’Torah


The next day I joined Rabbi David Otobo and the other branch of Beit Ha’Torah for a time of worship and teaching the women. This congregation is extremely hungry for the truth and it was a blessing being with them as well. I playfully adopted Rabbi David as my Nigerian grandpa due to his sweet spirit and wisdom.

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Rabbi David Otobo
 
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Receiving a Beautiful Wrapper from Beit Ha’Torah

After my time in Port Hacourt Elder Cletus and I headed back to Abia State where his town’s Association held an official welcome celebration for me. The new local Eze (which is similar to a king) was present and it was a blessed time of celebration and hospitality I even danced. The Associations in Nigeria work on local issues and hold the spiritual practices. The particular Association that welcomed me was bible based with members who practiced Christianity and Torah. I was deeply touched by being welcomed by the village.

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Kola Nut before the Celebration
                        
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Being welcomed by the Local Eze

With a full heart I headed to Anambra State with Elder Cletus to speak to the Women of The Organization of Igbo Hebrew Cultural Heritage International a local community development organization started by Rabbi Gavriel Ogugua. This was an extremely special day for me as it began with visiting His Majesty Eze A.E. Chukwuemeka Eri, Eze Eri, Ezeora 34th who descends from Eri (Genesis 46:16) one of the Sons of Gad one of the patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel! Years ago I wrote about the throne at ObuGad (where this Eze resides) because the ancient throne has paleo Hebrew writing meaning gift on the bottom of it. I couldn’t believe I was standing here with The Eze. This particular Eze is a Messianic Hebrew and travels to America to pray for African-Americans and that the curses of slavery would be broken. He has a gentle and humble spirit and what I loved most about him was his testimony; both his parents died when he was a child and he was living in Lagos when he was told that he was to be the next Eze. He actually did not want this position but isn’t just like Yah to choose an orphan who doesn’t want to be royalty. Now he entertains people from all over the world including government officials from Israel. He blessed me which I gratefully received and he gave us a tour of his palace and throne room. It was truly an honor that I will never forget.

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Being Presented to the Eze
 
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The Throne Room

After our time with the Eze Elder Cletus, Rabbi Gavriel and I headed to the women’s meeting for The Women of The Organization of Igbo Hebrew Cultural Heritage International. After I spoke to the women (and the many brothers who were in attendance as well), two of the women group leaders took me to a back room and gave me a new outfit to change into and since I had received so many gifts so far I didn’t think anything of it. As we walked back outside one of the women’s leaders made an announcement that the women were naming me Iyom (which means Titled Mother) of Orihchi Igbo Hebrew Cultural Heritage International. I was shocked, humbled and in tears. They placed a traditional hat on my head and put on a beautiful coral necklace. This was truly a moving day and I could not believe this was happening to me. All I could say was thank you. Elder Cletus, Rabbi Gavriel and I then headed to the local radio station to conduct an interview about Prophetic Whirlwind and my visit which was a lot of fun.

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With the Women of of Orihchi Igbo Hebrew Cultural Heritage Association International

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Receiving the Title of Iyom
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The Radio Station in Anambra

After this awesome day we headed to Imo State for my last ministry visit to Yahweh Our Redeemer Sabbath Synagogue. I was greeted by Rabbi Joshua Johnson and AdaZion who was a local judge! This congregation helped organize about 10 other synagogues in their area to work together for the betterment of their community. To welcome Shabbat I joined the women for praise and worship and spoke about Proverbs and Yah’s Call to Us to Be Wise Women. What I loved about this congregation is their passion in worship!

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Welcoming the Shabbat with The Sisters of Yahweh Our Redeemer

During Shabbat Service the praise and worship was off the chain as we say in America and Rabbi Joshua reminded me of an old school African-American preacher from the south when he declared: “I don’t preach to make you comfortable!” During the service a couple who had difficulty conceiving but received a word during Sukkot 2016 saying that they would conceive after years of miscarriages brought a beautiful baby girl to worship! It was truly a blessing to see and an honor to be apart of. The couple wants the world to know that when all hope is gone Yah will bless those who follow him. I also shared my testimony with this congregation and did a lesson on the Eschet Chayil. During the service the congregation prayed for me which was very restorative after 2-weeks of ministry.

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I am still processing this profound ministry trip. I don’t really believe in missions where a westerner comes to pass info on to others but I believe in ministry where both parties learn and are transformed by Yah. I was not going on a mission trip to Nigeria but I was coming home.

I want to send a special thanks to Elder Cletus Okoro of House of Israel Nigeria who was the first to invite me and accompanied me the entire two weeks to make sure I was safe. He also preached everywhere we went and has a true heart for evangelism and for welcoming his family in the diaspora home. He wants us to be united as one in Torah and Messiah. I also appreciate Mary the partner of Cletus and his children who welcomed me and prayed for me and boy can Mary throw down in the kitchen! Thank you Cletus for welcoming your brothers and sisters home and breaking the strongholds that have held us all back! Continue to walk with Yah and pop lock with Yah too!

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Elder Cletus Okoro House of Israel Nigeria

There is so much more I could say but I am still taking it all in. What I will end with is that no matter what doors are shut, no matter how far you have traveled, no matter what the enemy may say it is never too late for prayers to be answered and it is never to late to come back home.

If you want to see all the photos from this journey view the photo album here.

If you want to view videos from Hebrew communities in Nigeria including interviews visit Prophetic Whirlwind’s Youtube Page.

The Ministries I visited and that I encourage you to support are:

House of Israel Nigeria

Palm Tree of Hope Africa

Beit Ha’Torah Nigeria

Organization of Igbo Hebrew Cultural Heritage International

Yahweh Our Redeemer Sabbath Synagogue

I want to take this time to thank everyone who donated to this ministry trip and everyone who prayed with me. Due to your donations I was able to donate to 6 ministries, 1 organization, three individuals and the water project for Umuchiakuma Village. I could not have taken this journey without you. May Yah bless you 100 fold for your generosity.

For everything that was done and for how I have been changed I say To Yah Be The Glory!