I want to tell you about an amazing man who died a few weeks ago. Njidda Mamadu Gadzama grew up in an isolated village in Nigeria where his job as a teenager was helping raise my husband Larry’s younger siblings. He was the ‘babysitter’ for this missionary family, but he was much more than a babysitter. He was like a brother, and that’s a bond for a lifetime.
His life journey took him far from his village and Nigeria, but his heart remained in his homeland, and he always returned. Holding a doctorate from New York University, he taught in Nigerian universities and became a renowned expert on desert expansion in Africa.
Three years ago Njidda came for one last visit to the United States. He and his daughter Nubwa stayed in our home and, joined by Larry’s siblings, we had a grand reunion. We looked at old photos and remembered together, and we told stories about our lives today. One morning Njidda taught Sunday School class, though he needed a cane to stand. One evening he attended a program at my granddaughters’ school. We grieved about our troubled countries (his and ours) and about our planet’s ill health, but Njidda always expressed hope.
Njidda’s deep Christian faith and hope, his love for others and his gentle wisdom remained strong and steady throughout his life. Being with him for those few days brought light and hope into our lives.
Later, I imagined Njidda talking to his daughter Nubwa before he came to visit us, and I wrote this:
Sixty years ago I left my little village Lassa hidden deep within the Nigerian savannah. I flew on a plane the first time to enter college far away in Kansas. The church and my village supported me but it was cold and flat in Kansas. I stayed, and I studied and kept a 'B' for my scholarship. I washed dishes with a rich man's son; he wanted spending money, too. I missed my village, little Lassa, and good Nigerian food. I missed the English of my homeland and speaking Margi, and Hausa, too. I missed my Bieber family, and the worship of the church at home. In New York City, I explored the hippie neighborhood near the University. I organized rallies, met with our diplomats, (such dreadful fighting divided Nigeria then) and always kept on studying. Finally, in cap and gown, I received my doctorate. They wanted me to stay, do more research, but I missed little Lassa and good Nigerian food. I returned home to teach at University. In Maidugeri I found students eager to learn, eager to study our fragile sahel threatened by the fierce Sahara. We struggle to protect our land but still the desert grows. I've traveled everywhere I want to go now. I served my country, and its universities as best I could, though being chancellor was not my favorite job. I taught and wrote; I lectured on ecology around the world, but still the desert grows. I've traveled everywhere I want to go now but there is one more trip in me. Dear daughter Nubwa, come with me back to the United States. I want you to hear my story and visit my friends, those living still. I want you to meet the Biebers (those lively missionary children I helped to raise). I haven't much time, I think. I'm slow and often tired; I need my cane. I think I can do it if you come, too. Being my daughter has not been easy, I know. When I was chancellor, violence filled the air and you needed a bodyguard. You were 13 when your dear mother died; I couldn't make that up for you. And now Boko Haram kills and even Maidugeri isn't always safe. Our dear Nigeria suffers so much. But you are strong, my Nubwa. You are a doctor, and if you came with me, you could follow my American brother Larry, see his patients, visit the hospital there. (Ahh, I thought you'd like that.) Oh, my daughter, I want you to visit the States with me. I know the times are troubled, but you can learn from this journey, and I need you. Let us go together. You will be glad that you did. And so she came with him, and she was glad she did.
Dear Njidda, I join others around the world who give thanks for your life, your love, and your faith. Your light remains strong.