By Chris Winkler and Matt Petersen
Wycliffe missionaries Chris and Christie Winkler, along with their three children, recently returned to the U.S. after serving in the country of Nigeria for half a decade. During that time they made their home in Jos, a diverse city that in recent years has been a target of terrorism and social unrest.
Moving to Jos brought both challenges and joys for the Winklers. Here Chris shares some things they learned about prayer and perspective.
Wycliffe: Chris, how did your friends and family respond when you first told them God was calling you to Nigeria?
Chris: When we moved to Nigeria a little more than five years ago, it was much to the dismay of our friends and family, because as we all know, when we see things in the news about Nigeria, and Africa in general, it’s usually not things that we’re very comfortable with here in the States.
Not all of our extended family agreed with the call for us to go. They were praying for us not to go because of what they were seeing in the media. And it really impacted us to have people that we loved and cared about not on the same page as us.
Wycliffe: What was your perception of Nigeria before you moved there?
Chris: Before we felt the call to go to Nigeria, I think we lumped it in with all of the other countries in Africa that have issues. We were largely ill-informed, as were a lot of our friends and family. Many people before we left called Africa a country. But Nigeria is just one country on the very large continent of Africa.
Wycliffe: Did you pray regularly for Nigeria before God called you there?
Chris: Not really knowing people there, we didn’t know how to pray. So I would say that we really didn’t pray very much for Africa before we felt the call to move there.
Wycliffe: How did your view of Nigeria change once you were there?
Chris: Right after we decided to go to Nigeria, issues there started showing up everywhere in the news and on social media. But when we moved there, those place names in the media stories had become our home. When we saw the city of Jos mentioned in the news, it was our home. There were villages where we had friends living. Death tolls and casualty statistics were friends of friends and family of friends. Some were colleagues in the Bible translation movement.
Wycliffe: How did that affect your prayers for Nigeria?
Chris: Once we got there, instead of just relying on the news, our sources were emails and phone calls to friends — people who knew what was going on. And in some cases our source for our prayer partners — our friends and family back home — was us.
Some of our family and friends were still not convinced that this was where God wanted us. They were, at that point, praying for us to come home. But there were some prayer warriors who had read the news differently. They had never read news from Africa before, but when we went, they started reading it and engaging with it, posting on Facebook and encouraging friends and family to pray about these things that they were now learning. The media was informing their prayers for a place (and people) that they now cared about.
Wycliffe: How did the news influence the fears that your family and friends had about you being in Nigeria?
Chris: As we all know, the media doesn’t always report the whole picture. Sometimes they can’t and sometimes they don’t for whatever reason. We would tell our prayer partners “Well, this is what the news said, but this is what really happened. Yes, it said that happened in Jos, the city where we are living, but it really happened a long ways away; Jos was just the nearest large city.”
So to have that firsthand perspective was really helpful for a lot of our prayer partners.
Wycliffe: How did people’s own experiences affect their prayers for you?
Chris: I think it’s really helpful for us to keep in mind that there are different perspectives on everything. When we had a rash of car bombings in Jos in 2012, it was very scary for a lot of our prayer partners who didn’t really know how to pray. But we also have friends from Northern Ireland who grew up with car bombs as a way of life, and they were able to shape that differently. Their prayers were different, because they had different lenses on.
Wycliffe: Any suggestions for ways we can pray more effectively for the world?
Chris: The source of where you’re getting your information for prayer matters a lot. If you know someone somewhere, and you really want to be praying for that country, ask them over the phone or maybe via email how to pray. Facebook can also be a helpful tool for connecting. Having a real, personal connection is a helpful way to engage effectively in prayer.
Build relationships that deepen your engagement with a place, so that you wind up like we were after we went to Nigeria — making informed prayers, knowing what the full story is, reading the news and knowing that there are things going on there that you can be praying for.
Wycliffe: Any final thoughts for us on prayer?
Chris: God may not have called you to pray for every place in the world and everything in the world, but take what he has called you to pray for and dig deep.
Wycliffe: Thanks, Chris!
Click here for more prayer tips and resources.
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