Facing the Smiles

Visiting Nigeria taught me as much about the despair in my own soul as it did the soul of this country.
When Southern Baptist missionary Rou Jarvis first arrived in Lagos almost two years ago, he was shocked by the decaying corpses he sometimes saw lying by the side of the road. In this chaotic city of six million people, sudden death is an everyday occurrence. Some individuals, darting through enormous traffic jams in Lagos, are struck and killed by cars or trucks. Motorists are not safe either. Thieves have attacked some drivers whose cars have broken down.

In many instances, the injured are left to die on the street. Few stop to help or summon the police because official corruption is so widespread. "[Police] might say, 'How do we know you didn't kill this person? Give me 5,000 Nira [$50] or you're going to jail,'" said Jarvis.

I met Jarvis on a 98-degree November day. A Southerner struggling to cope in the mission field, Jarvis was quick to point out the rampant disregard for human life evident in Nigerian society.

Driving in his old van, he motioned to the street side to alert me that we were about to drive past a dead body. Before I could stop myself, the words "Yeah, right" spilled out of my mouth. He slowed down so I could take a closer look. I peered out of my window onto the dirty, overcrowded street corner and swallowed hard. I saw what appeared to be human remains, just as our own tires ran over the matted skin. I guess he was right.

"No matter what anybody tells you about Nigeria, you don't understand it until you see it," he told me. "The poverty is atrocious. The filth is out of this world."

To a certain extent, Jarvis is right. Nigeria is a place that appears very primitive, needy, and hopeless to the Western eye. The situation is only made worse, Jarvis says, because some Nigerians are too dependent on overseas ...

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Christianity Today
Facing the Smiles
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February 5, 2001

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