Missionary to America, Rev Afam Ikanahi, Nigeria
You’ve heard me say many times in this blog that the new Missionaries to America are bringing us blessing after blessing. They are gifts from God, to America, and to the church. And to the unchurched. Take Afam Ikanahi. Afam is from Eastern Nigeria; Afram grew up as a Christian but fell in love with Jesus in Milwaukee. It was there that he heard the gospel in his heart, while studying Luther’s Small Catechism.
Missionary to Prisoners
Afam did not plan to become a professional church worker. God had different plans. Afram became a missionary to prisoners. You may have heard of the missionary work that Black Muslims have been doing in prison, but you probably have not heard of the work so many Christian chaplains have done. “I was a prisoner and you visited me,” Jesus said. And, “As you have done it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me.” So what makes Chaplain Ikanahi’s work so special?
In eight years of prison ministry Rev. Ikanahi has baptized over four hundred (400) prisoners. One, a Black Muslim, came to Christ after the Christian chaplain stayed close to him when the prisoner’s son was murdered. Afram arranged for the prisoner to speak on the phone right away with the family. He stayed close in the months ahead, caring for and encouraging the prisoner. Something most chaplains would do. Nothing special in prison ministry. But to reach more prisoners Missionary Ikanahi found a need in his prison community that he could fill, a need that opened hearts.
Building Trust Through Service
Many prisoners could not afford a haircut; at the prison where Rev. Ikanahi serves it costs twenty five dollars for a barber to come from the outside. Most of the prisoners cannot afford that amount, so they let their hair grow long – not something to impress a judge or jury or a social worker trying to help a prisoner find a job. As a true missionary, wanting to reach out past his congregation, the missionary-chaplain began “Haircuts for Jesus.” While giving haircuts he can talk with the prisoners, form relationships with them, challenge, and comfort them with the Word of God. That is what missionaries do: they open new doors for the Holy Spirit to come into the lives of others.
Too many churches in the United States define their ministry as serving their current members. Their doors are closed to anyone else. Mostly, they won’t say that. They will give lip service to “mission” work if it is done outside their church. A few years ago I had a conversation with the president of an African American congregation, a congregation in a neighborhood that had become Spanish speaking, and where all the members of the church came from suburbs. No one from the neighborhood was a member. I asked the president what his vision was for the future of this church in the next ten years. He answered, “I see us continuing to provide services for our people; they are older and will need someone here to bury them.”
Missionary leadership looks beyond the congregation. The congregation is a holy base from which to receive comfort and strength, to be refreshed through the Word of God and the sacraments. In order to go back out to represent the love of Jesus to others. Word and sacrament are not ends in themselves – they are means – means of God’s grace.
Rev. Ikanahi found a way to reach beyond his base. The Holy Spirit has been doing the rest.
Reaching Prisoners through Haircuts for Jesus!
Watch Rev Ikanahi's complete testimony