Most of you are probably aware that the mission of ReKnew (formerly Christus Victor) is to help people to rethink some of their old theology and to advance the Kingdom of God through spreading a beautiful picture of God. But you might be surprised that we also involved ourselves quite extensively in the life of an immigrant family from Nigeria. Greg and Shelley recently attended a graduation that spurred the retelling of this story. It’s our way of saying thank you for partnering with us in what God asked us to do for the Olatoye’s.
Several weeks ago Shelley and I had the great honor of attending as Dare Olatoye received his MD from Johns Hopkins. What made this a particularly moving experience was the incredible, God-glorifying story that led up to it.
I first met the Olatoye family in January of 2003. After a church service a distraught Nigerian lady named Toke approached me and told me that she and her three children had been staying in homeless shelters the last six months but that God had told her that I was going to work with others to help them out of their deplorable situation. I honestly didn’t know what to make of her claim, but after church I took the family out to eat and then back to this small shelter in St. Paul where the family would stay until a bus would pick them up in the evening to go to an over-night shelter. (Their current over-night shelter happened to be a church gym where they slept on cots without any privacy whatsoever).
Tears welled up the moment I walked into the shelter where they spent each day. It was no bigger than the size of a small bedroom. It contained two worn out couches, one that was occupied by a sleeping homeless man, and one table with four old chairs. There was no TV, no magazines, no games…and given that it was below-zero outside, going outside was hardly an option. Actually, that morning the family had already spent over an hour outside, waiting to get on several connecting public buses to make it to church!
I spent some time that afternoon getting to know the Olatoye family. I learned that Toke’s husband had died 8 months earlier and that in Nigeria this meant that she and her children would now be subject to the rule of her husband’s tribe. Unfortunately, this tribe wanted to impose “female circumcision” on her and her two daughters — Ronke, who was about 12 at the time, and Tobi, who was 8. To avoid this, Toke’s only option was to gather whatever few possessions she and her children could carry and make a run for it. Because a distant relative lived in Minnesota, they were able to get traveling Visas to the States.
To my amazement, I also learned that, despite their ever-changing homeless situation, Toke would always arrange for her three children to take public buses to and from the same school so their education wouldn’t be disrupted. (This sometimes meant taking several buses to and from school, which sometimes would take several hours – all in the Minnesota cold). But I also learn that, despite the trauma they’d endured and the circumstances they continued to endure, the children continued to excel in school, with Dare getting straight A’s.
As I left the shelter that day, I told the family I would do all I could do, but in my mind I honestly didn’t see how I could do much. And then, as I got into my car, I felt the strongest word from God I’d ever felt. It was just short of audible, and just shy of ominous. “This is the last night my children will spend in a shelter! Find them a home by tomorrow evening!” This was not a suggestion! I knew I had no choice.
Over the next 24 hours I made a ton of calls and considered a ton of options, but nothing was opening up. And then, about 10 minutes before the Olatoye family was to get on the bus that would take them to an overnight shelter, I received a call from a family who had heard about the Olatoye’s predicament and who had a fully furnished, very spacious, three bedroom apartment they rented out that had recently become vacant. They offered it to me for a greatly reduced price and said they’d give me as much time as I needed to raise the funds.
I called the shelter just in time to keep the Olatoyes from boarding the bus. Twenty minutes later I was picking them up at the shelter to drive them to their new home. Toke cried and praised God all the way to the apartment, and when we all saw how nice it was, the rest of us joined her. It was one of those precious moments in life you’ll never forget.
But the really good news took place after this. Through Christus Victor Ministries (now ReKnew), I put out a call for people to help support this family, and people rose to the occasion. The generosity was overwhelming. And with this love and support, this family has soared!
Toke was soon able to get a work Visa so she could begin supporting the family, to the point that, after about two years, they were able to move into their own apartment. The children eventually got work permits as well. Not only this, but the entire family continued to excel in school. Dare earned a BA from Hamline and, as I noted above, he just received his MD from Johns Hopkins. Ronke got her BA from Bethel and is now completing her MA at Metro State University. And Tobi, who wants to become a lawyer, is presently working on her undergraduate degree from Lakewood Community College. Not only that, but several years ago Toke earned an MA from Bethel in teaching and will this December receive her Ph.D!
As amazing as their educational achievements are, however, it doesn’t tell half the story of this remarkable family. The even more amazing aspect of the Olatoye family is their faith. I honestly have never known any person of faith and prayer like Toke. Not only is she a devote participant in the Woodland Hills Church prayer team, but she covers Shelley and I as well as our kids and our church in prayer every day. This faith and commitment is shared by her three children. The entire family exudes the character of Jesus, and they all aspire to somehow be a blessing to others.
It has been a tremendous honor to be part of this family’s journey both on a personal level but also as a part of my work with ReKnew. I also wanted to take the occasion of Dare’s outstanding achievement to once again thank all of you who also played a role in their journey through your prayers and through your contributions to Christus Victor (now ReKnew). Whatever sacrifice you made, be assured that it continues to reap tremendous dividends in the kingdom!