The Honorable Ndubuisi Amaku, High Commissioner (Ambassador) from Nigeria to India wasn’t the person to be honored. He did the honoring and gave what may have been the most articulate and heartfelt blessing I will ever hear. To make my point, the clock has to spin back a year.
Being new to my position, I shamelessly invited appointments for coffee with anyone who would let me pay. Captain OB Daji, Defense adviser from Nigeria to India, was the first to follow-through with me. Maybe because of two cappuccinos each, but the lessons kept coming that afternoon. Class was session and I was being schooled. For example, I had no idea that Nigeria’s population is the largest in Africa. Or who knew that Nigeria’s navy is the largest in Africa? Or that India’s shadow in Africa has been long and sweeping? Or that the senior military officers from both countries have given themselves to chop away at the roots of corruption? I could tell that he knew what he was talking about. As the Defense Attaché, OB was finishing a term at the Indian War College where redeeming society by building an ethical military was their common cause.
As if I needed any convincing, just then Captain Daji’s mobile rang. He was polite as he answered, but rapidly his face clouded. His words clipped. He took the phone from his ear and laid it down on the table and let me listen in as a military supplier from Africa pitched him a bribe if he would sell his influence for a large purchase. That call didn’t end well.
Over this past year, our families celebrated Christmas together. After a feast they asked me to pray a blessing over their family. We talked frequently at the end of our Sunday services. But don’t think of him as a one-dimensional leader. I was always amazed that his dear wife, Feyya persuaded him to dress in ensembles whose stripes, colors, or designs matched hers. He was clearly comfortable with his masculinity!
Just before Christmas the whole family came by to express their farewells—time to go home–but they came with one last request. Could we come to a meal in his honor hosted by his embassy? Of course. Then the formal invitation arrived by the post. “Wow…the Grand Hotel. That’s pretty posh.” Frankly, I expected a small banquet in a back room.
At the appointed time the doors opened to reveal a very large banquet hall—albeit uncomfortably empty. Feeling like two very distant cousins, we found a table near the exits just in case we needed to make an anonymous exit. But then the room swelled in a hurry with, as it turns out, military friends and counterparts from all over Africa. It felt better that the room was packing out, but that still didn’t mean we were any more likely committed long-term guests.
That was until a staff member from the embassy found us: “Oh there you are. You are at the wrong table. You are supposed to be at the Ambassador’s table.” Suddenly, it felt like we were living Jesus’ parable about the last invited up to be first. The Ambassador was charming, our wives beautiful and witty, and us men working hard to be insightful. Then after the mementos and kind remembrances shared, the Ambassador stood. What follows is the center of his remarks:
“It is with genuine regret that we are seeing Commodore OB leave us. He has just been promoted and it is high time. He fully deserves the honor and his leadership will be valued in our navy. But it is with personal sadness on my part that he is leaving us. His leadership exceeded his position that helped us all. I am afraid that I may never have the opportunity to work again alongside a person with such intelligence, diligence, and integrity. They are rare in this world.
“But we are sending him back to our country. Our country needs him more. We believe that his going will serve a great purpose in our land.
“I want to warn you, though, that men like this cannot do this great thing without prayer. They must have those of us who love them praying for them. They cannot succeed without them. Nor can their wives, like dear, beautiful Feyye flourish as a wife, mother, and doctor without our prayers. Would you join with me to pray for them?”
When we finally did leave that evening, I concluded that sometimes the best worship services don’t take place at church.