MAY YOUR SUDDENLY COME SUDDENLY
By Akin Ojumu
Almost exactly 22 years ago today, I boarded an Amsterdam bound KLM flight from Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on my way to New York. I was just another one out of many young Nigerians who couldn’t wait to flee the killing field of dreams of our motherland.
Just about the time I was to head for the airport, the heavens literarily opened up, and it started to rain old women with clubs, as they say in Afrikaans. It was as though Mother Africa was weeping for another one of her children fleeing her arms for the safety and security of another woman’s bosom.
Such was the torrential downpour in Lagos on that fateful day that I was soaked to my underwear. In no time, Lagos streets were flooded, and the roads had quickly turned to a mayhem of parked vehicles going for miles on end. As they are wont to do, the characteristically impatient Lagos drivers were blasting their horns all at the same time in a deafening cacophony. Inching my way through the log jam, as though in a super slow motion, my heart was in my mouth every time I looked at my watch and I saw that the boarding time for the flight was drawing close very fast. All I could do was hope and pray that I wouldn’t miss the flight.
Looking back now, after these many years, it is hard not to conclude that the heavy rain that fell on that day was a sign from the ONE who had prepared for me a future and a hope. The way I see it, I’m convinced that that rain was God, as it were, immersing me in a water of baptism to cleanse me of what had hitherto been clogs and obstacles to my destiny. When God raised me up from the waters, He set me on a path of purpose that was not defined by the hinderances and limitations that characterized the muck and rot that Nigeria constituted for me at that time. That rain marked the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new and far better one for me.
Although I boarded that flight 22 years ago, my journey to the United States actually dated back many years prior to that date of my departure. My boarding that flight was a spectacular culmination of events in my life that only God could have orchestrated. Leading up to me walking through the security gates at Murtala Muhammed Airport, God had been preparing me for this journey without me even realizing it. It all came together because it was what God had planned for me. It was the providential hand of the Almighty God that led an underserving man like me up to that very point in time. I did not plan for it, I did not work for it, and neither did I earn it in anyway.
In my high school, few things gave me more pleasure than reading. Right from a young age, I was enchanted by action packed fictional novels from authors such as James Hardly Chase, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Leon Uris, Sidney Sheldon, Nick Carter. Whenever I picked up one of those books, I’m quickly lost in the world of fantasy and ecstasy. Transported in my mind to far-flung places, I would find myself walking the beaches of Miami, flagging down a taxi in New York, hopping on the tube in London, or being chased through the rice paddies in Thailand pursued by mean looking sons of a gun.
After reading volumes upon volumes of these books, I had etched in my memory a picture of the places mentioned in the books. For instances, I came to know America as though I lived in America. As a result of reading about America, the American way of life became familiar to me. Without realizing it, I had established for myself a home and a life in America in my mind. And like a seed planted in a fertile soil, I had bought into the American dream.
College for me was a sweet and bitter experience; more bitter than sweet I must say. It was sweet because I met some of the most incredible people ever, folks who left an indelible mark on my life till this day and with whom I bonded in friendship that I'll forever cherish. Many of these wonderful people remain a consequential part of my life today.
What made college bitter for me was the brutal assault on my sense of pride and self-worth which left a long-lasting toll on my psyche. Getting born again in college saved my life. Surrendering my life to Christ at this time probably stopped me from taking a plunge into the abyss. The bubble of righteousness in which I walked was one of the very first signs that God was at work in me.
If you ask me to describe my immediate post college period and the first few years of my professional life, my response to you would be, RUB! That’s an acronym for “Restless, Unsettled, and Broken”. I had just come out of one of the most psychological devastating periods of my life. My self-confidence had been shot and the belief in myself and my ability had been taken through the grinder, chewed and spat out. If there was any self-esteem left in me, it was hanging by the thread. I had experienced failure so many times that I began to think myself a failure. While my peers were bullish about the future and were taking steps to move to the next stage of their profession, I was experiencing an excruciating crisis of confidence and exhibiting all the signs of someone suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder secondary to severe academic upheaval.
Looking at me then, you wouldn’t know I was going through these things. In the eyes of everyone around me, including my closest friends back then, I was an ok guy who was making all the necessary motions and following the usual scripts that all graduates go through. You see, I looked right, sounded right, acted right, even smelled right. But deep inside, I was churning and wallowing in the pit of inferiority complex. My ego had been severely damaged, and my pride had been brutally shattered. All that was left of me was a hollow shell of who I once was before I entered college.
To those who knew me, I was checking all the right boxes of societal expectations. Deep down though, many of the things I was doing amounted to nothing more than pretentious gyrations; I was making lots of motion with not a whole lot of movement. I knew I was stuck, afraid, and unsure of what I really wanted to do with my life. In a society where there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities available, my options were very few and my choices limited. The thought of ending up a loser kept me awake at nights. I would break into cold sweats every time the harsh reality dawned on me that I could end up another failure.
I was a man without roots rooted to a spot and unable to move forward. Unbeknownst to me, though, God was aligning events in my life to work in my favor. The ONE who sees the end from the beginning was using the unease that I felt to navigate me in the direction of what He had planned for me. The Shepherd of my soul took hold of all the doubts and insecurities within me and He used them, like the rod of a Shepherd, to corral me towards the place of His grace for me.
The Bible says, in the Book of Isaiah 9 verse 1, “But suddenly there will be no more gloom for the land that suffered.” Isaiah 9:1 (New Century Version).
My own suddenly came quite suddenly and my turnaround was epic. In what can only be described as divine favor, the light of God’s love broke through, the gloomy clouds that hovered over my existence were lifted and the silhouette of doom that had hitherto dogged me all around vanished like a vapor. Without so much of an effort on my part, I found myself bound for the land of dreams. The day I received the letter in the mail informing me of my permanent change of address, I was like them that dreamed. It was particularly mind blowing knowing I did nothing to make it happen. My coming to America was a parting of the Red Sea event in my life. It was fully Heaven’s assured, and it was totally undeserved. As it were, God was answering in the affirmative all of my “Can these bones live?” interrogatives.
When I got off the flight in New York 22 years ago, like many other immigrants before me, I had more hope in my soul than clothing in my ragged, camphor smelling portmanteau. And the entire money in my pocket was like a drop in the ocean compared to the overflow of dreams in my heart.
Nevertheless, God’s faithfulness never ceased in the two decades since He uprooted me from the place of defeat to this land of new beginning. Gradually, He is healing me of the PTSD and restoring in me the confidence in myself that I lost many years ago. Confidence in the omnipotent God has replaced the hole left in my heart by my loss of self-confidence. The emptiness created in me by the absence of self-assurance has now been filled by the blessed assurance that I’m God’s own and He is constantly at work in me.
By the grace of God, I have been taken to professional heights that I once thought was unattainable for a failure like me. Up to this day, I still occasionally pinch myself when sitting at some professional meetings just to be sure I’m not dreaming whenever I look around and see the caliber of people sitting around the table alongside me. That I am where I am can only be by the grace of God, and nothing else. For all of these, I'll always be grateful.
On a daily basis, I continue to entrust my future to Him. At those times, when the doubt and the fear want to creep back in, I throw myself into the arms of the Father, fall down at His feet, and remind myself of how far He has brought me and all the victories won along the way.
From time to time, God does something new in my life and I’m like, “Wow!” Occasionally, He orchestrates another miraculous event that leaves me speechless. Having my child accepted to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Johns Hopkins Universities – some of the most prestigious universities in the world – and to be put in a situation where I have to decide which of them is best for the child, is one of those undeserving victories and unmerited favors that God unfurled in my life recently. It is the hand of God at work again in my life. The rarity of this happening, and that it happened to me of all people, knowing the rot from which I came, is another reminder to me, by God, that He is not done with buffeting me with “Suddenly” yet. It is a fitting gift to mark the 22nd year anniversary of my rescue from the abyss.
So, if it seems as though you are stuck and your life is in a rot like I was 22 years ago, there's hope. If, in your mind, you feel you are merely going through the motion of life, don't give up. I'm a living witness to what God can do. My life is proof that He is still in the business of turnarounds. The invisible hand of God is at work in you and He will cause your suddenly to come suddenly. If He did it for me, be rest assured He will do much more for you.