Missionaries to Nigeria put deeds ahead of words
By Candy Webb
For Sumner County
Published: Sunday, 10/14/07 When most Americans decide to do their part to improve the world, they usually choose something that doesn’t disrupt their lives too much. They may give money to an organization to utilize as needed. They may even take a two-week vacation from work to go on a mission trip.When Brad and Jennifer Blake thought about what they could do to help mankind, they took it all the way.For the past six years, the Blakes have lived and raised their children in remote areas of Nigeria, teaching people there how to grow food, save money and other important life skills.
“We believe that you cannot be as effective traveling back and forth as you can be when you live there,” said Brad, who recently returned to the states to raise funds to support the coming year’s humanitarian efforts.
“When you wear the clothing, eat the food, speak the language and live among the people, you can do so much more.”
The Blakes are founders of Arewa Aid, an organization intent on helping the people of Nigeria learn to help themselves.
Although their spiritual faith is what drives them forward, they believe they can reach more people through compassionate acts of kindness, than through preaching.
“We felt like the Lord called us to do this,” said Brad. “We saw so many children dying from poor nutrition, poor health care, lack of parent education, that we believed it was our calling to provide compassionate assistance in the real-life areas those families deal with.”
One example is what Brad refers to as the “Muslim Beggar Boys.”
“Typically a Muslim man there has four wives, and each of the wives has about seven children,” said Brad. “This means the husband has between 35-40 children that he can’t feed, so he sends the boys to the city to learn the Qur’an. ”
According to Brad, the children do study the Qur’an, but also spend 8-9 hours a day begging on the streets to take the money back to their teacher.
“We approached the teachers and asked if we could teach the children about dry-season farming, and they said ‘don’t just teach the students, teach us too.'”
Alhough Muslims and Christians have a long-standing difference in spiritual belief, Brad believes his approach works because of what it provides.
“We try to reach people through acts of compassionate service,” he said. “And if within that service, they seek information about our beliefs, we are more than happy to share our faith with them.”
The farming system being taught involves drip irrigation and allows food to be grown even in areas where water is sparse.
In addition to growing fruits and vegetables, the residents are being taught the importance of saving money through a market women’s program.
Conflict resolution, poverty elimination and human rights are also key goals in the foundation’s existence.
Each year, the foundation adds programs to its repertoire. Next year, Jennifer will teach the women more about food preservation by teaching them how to can, pickle and dry various foods for later use.
The Blakes are committed to staying in Nigeria at least through 2014 and plan to continue expanding the services the foundation offers.
“We want to move from the family-size kits for farming to the supersize kits,” said Brad.
Also included on next year’s wish list is a small stipend to pay a full-time farmer who can live on the farm and teach increasing numbers of residents how to successfully grow fruits and vegetables for sale and consumption.
Deep wells and solar pumps will be needed so the foundation doesn’t have to rely on purchasing water in tanker trucks, as it has been doing.
The Blakes have been providing assistance to a man who suddenly fell ill and is blind and crippled due to the illness. They would like to continue to help him with his living expenses.
There are many items on the list, but the work, programs and training will be provided by the Blakes and their volunteers.
Arewa Aid is a nonprofit organization, and the Blakes hope businesses will join with area churches to help fund its efforts.
“Children over there are not eating any fruits and vegetables, which can cause serious health problems,” said Brad. “Through drip irrigation, they can grow what they need to eat and also have enough to market and begin digging out of poverty.”
While Brad is here seeking funding, Jennifer remains in Nigeria and is approaching hotels as potential vendors.
“She is taking the zucchini around that was grown and giving them each a zucchini and a recipe,” said Brad. “If they can see what they can do with it, they might start buying it from our participants, and it is another step forward.”
For information about Arewa Aid, or to have Brad come and give a presentation about the foundation’s work, call 444-0999 or 615-299-7433. You can also email Brad at email@example.com
Published: Sunday, 10/14/07