Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nigerian Donation Energizes Iowa Church

Samantha Tillich, Staff Writer

If you live in New York City, seeing a $25 million building project go up across the street is no big deal. If you live in Mt. Hermon, Iowa, population 248, a project that big is bound to get noticed.

With little advance warning to the community, Mt. Hermon Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) initiated the first phase of a $25 million project just two blocks from the town square. A modern sanctuary that seats 2,500 worshippers in comfort is the centerpiece of the facility. It will also include new offices, an education wing, a gym and 30 units of affordable housing.

Stunned townspeople wondered aloud how the church, whose membership is only 41, could support such a project. The pastor, John Mayfield, calls it a miracle. “Only God could have provided for us so generously.”

In this case, God’s provision arrived via Nigeria. One day, Mayfield discovered an unusual plea for help in his e-mail in-box. The widow of a former finance minister in Nigeria needed assistance in freeing up funds from her late husband’s account. Over $100 million U.S. lay trapped in a Nigerian bank. If it could be routed to the church’s bank account in the United States, the woman would donate half to the church.

The woman, it turned out, is a Christian, and her sincere faith convinced Mayfield that God’s hand was at work. He immediately e-mailed her with the necessary information.

Though Nigerian law requires a waiting period of several months before the such a large sum could be transferred, Mayfield knew God would find a way to put the money to use immediately. He hired an architect and called a meeting of the Church Council. The leaders agreed to support the plan.

Mayfield describes what happened next as inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The pastor convinced his flock, mostly retired farmers and teachers, to come up with the initial deposit for the building project while they waited for the money from Nigeria. The congregation was able to come up with $6 million for the deposit and an extra $10,000 to help motivate the Nigerian bank to work quickly. Most church members took money from retirement funds and personal savings. Nearly half mortgaged their homes in order to assist with God’s work.

The Church Council promised to pay back all the money with interest once the money arrives from Nigeria. The church even sold its current property to the local school district. Sunday worship now takes place in the elementary school cafeteria while they wait for the construction to be completed.

“Even though we’re meeting in a school, the energy that’s flowing through the congregation is amazing,” said Mayfield. “We even took in a new member last week, the first one in ten years. Praise God!”

Church secretary Lola Evans, who was laid off until the money arrives, speaks for most church members when she says, “We all have to make a short-term sacrifice, but in the end, this will do wonders for this town.”

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