It is no longer odd to hear or read blunt criticisms of the church in today’s society. These criticisms are neither country nor region specific. They dominate the media and have led to an exponential increase in the level of distrust and scepticism in churches. A lot of non-Christians and even fellow Christians feel that the church is losing its purpose, taking more from people than it gives to them. The church, of recent, has not been as impactful as it should be.
However, amidst the wide misconception, manipulation, extortions and classist approach to Christianity, especially for churches in Nigeria, The Elevation Church, a Lagos based interdenominational assembly, is already leading by example and changing the narrative. The church is opening up its walls to transform its community, engender true impact and social relevance.
In March 2019, The Elevation Church through its social intervention arm, Pistis Foundation, organised a one-week free medical and surgical outreach, tagged ‘Ubomi: Restoring Lives’, for financially challenged individuals in Lagos. Although the programme was specially targeted at those who live in local communities on Lagos Island like Aro, Owode, Itedo and others around the creek, beneficiaries trooped in from all parts of Lagos and some travelled down from other states in the country to benefit from the initiative which was fully funded by the church.
During the Ubomi outreach which held from Monday 18th March to Friday 22nd March, The Elevation Church facilitated about 7000 medical interventions for over 3600 patients. Ubomi, meaning life in Xhosa, was true to its name as the outreach restored life to so many people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to seek for medical attention or financial ability to clear bills, some of which were as high as two million naira.
The Elevation Church partnered with Pro-Health International, Sickle Cell Well Africa Foundation, Zenera Consulting, Amethyst Hospital, and CHI Pharmaceuticals for the medical and surgical outreach. Pro-Health International, also a faith-based NGO, brought on board over 200 licensed medical practitioners including doctors and very rare surgeons from different parts of the country.
The Board Chairman of Pistis Foundation and Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church, Pastor Godman Akinlabi said Ubomi was put together to address the gap in the Nigerian health care system. “We are overwhelmed by the number of lives this programme has touched and changed. Ubomi has brought a new lease of life to people who cannot afford proper medical care. For us as a faith-based organisation, the outreach has also strengthened our conviction to continue to make a positive difference in our society without waiting on the government. With the testimonials from beneficiaries and the general positive feedback, we are committed to making this a yearly affair and to scaling it up”, he expressed.
One of the most life changing interventions of the outreach was the successful removal of a 16.5kg uterine fibroid, equivalent in size to 4 new born babies, from a woman who has been carrying the mass for over 5 years. The tumor had caused the woman so much pain. She recounted how it also destroyed her marriage as she was separated from her husband as at the time of the procedure. Ubomi outreach changed her life, and the lives of many others in similar situations, in ways words cannot describe.
The General Manager of Pistis Foundation, Leonard Thomas, expressed that the event has been life changing and life transforming not only for the beneficiaries but the volunteers. “The data garnered from the Outreach is being analyzed to assist in advocacy for key policy makers, whilst fostering a culture of “preventive rather than curative” healthcare within the nation’s populace, particularly amongst the undeserved”, he said.
Thomas added that “Ubomi enabled 3695 beneficiaries to access quality healthcare at no cost, through the successful restoration of vision for 117 beneficiaries, 832 dental procedures, the safe delivery of 3 UBOMI Babies as well as 2317 outpatient consultations, to mention but a few. In all, a total of 7335 Interventions/ consultations were successfully carried out”. The 3 babies have since been tagged the ‘Ubomi babies’.
Numerous cataracts cases were treated with some patients presenting with such severe cases, they suffered total blindness in both eyes prior to the outreach. One of the beneficiaries who had been blinded by cataract in both eyes and needed the aid of both a human guide and a stick to move around walked out of the outreach completely unaided.
There was a central theme of love, care and giving back running through the week. The volunteers maintained a high level of organisation and professionalism that many recipients said exceeded the level of care received from top tier hospitals in the country. Pistis Foundation’s ambition is to hold the outreach at least once every year to help the poor access better healthcare. The church already announced preparation for a bigger outreach in 2020 which will be held on the mainland in Lagos.
Ubomi was birthed, planned and executed by a church willing to make a difference. It is proof that church has such a fundamental role to play in the physical and mental wellbeing of the society. Godman Akinlabi remarked during the dinner organised to celebrate volunteers on the last day of the outreach, that Jesus, throughout his time on earth, went about healing the sick and restoring the lives of people who would have otherwise died with their illnesses. He passed this baton on to his disciples who in turn passed it to the church. The church therefore has a mandate to care for its society. There is no better way to show the love of Christ than to ensure the wellbeing of the people you are preaching to. It is important for churches to play a dominant role in the solution of the glaring needs of the society, especially in the area of social interventions.
Akinlabi said that Pistis Foundation’s primary goal at inception was empowerment through education. However, in an attempt to do that, the church realized it can only be successful if the people are in the right condition of health.
“What is prompting this move is that we cannot leave everything to the government. Government’s resources are not infinite, they are finite. Nigeria is a very populous nation. While the government can do a lot more, faith-based organisations, NGOs, corporates, everybody must rise up to the challenge. That is what the Pistis Foundation is doing”.
No doubt, impactful things done for the society by churches, go a long way in negating the unrepresentative news dominating the media today. Outreaches like Ubomi give people a glance into true Christianity and leave an indelible mark in their minds. For those who benefited, especially from the free surgeries and free post-surgery care, March 2019 will forever be a time to remember.
It is time for the church to wake up and fill gaps in society. There are so many people who need help, care and attention in Nigeria which is the current poverty capital of the world according to the World Poverty Clock compiled by Brookings Institute. Corporate Social Responsibility and social initiatives by organisations, especially faith-based, will go a long way in bridging the wide gap that currently exists.