To be compassionate in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria, a city of 17 million people, a rare combination of characteristics is required. The harsh bargaining environment spills over with vulnerable lives, for which there is little caring. The tension between the Muslim and Christian faiths creates an atmosphere in which only the strongest and the fittest survive. What results is an apprehension, even by the church, to associate with the weak.
RexAjenifuja was born into a Muslim family. On the night of his birth, Rex’s mother went into labor and could not make it to her hospital; through a series of events, she gave birth in a Christian hospital. She foresaw the implications of this coincidence and released Rex to be a Christian, saying, “This will be a Christian boy.”
In 2006, Hands at Work began to move into Nigeria, connecting with the largest Christian denomination. When the head of the denomination discovered Hands at Work’s desire to enter Nigeria to aid the poorest of the poor and relieve the orphaned, widowed, and the dying, he knew just who to direct them to.
There was a pastor who had been very bright in theological training and had a very promising future in ministry, said the denomination’s leader, but because of his constant preaching about AIDS and passion for commercial sex workers, he had become unpopular with the other pastors and had been assigned to a church in the worst slum in Lagos: Ilaje. That pastor was Rex Ajenifuja.
A meeting was arranged with donors to present Rex’s plans for his outreach. Sitting in a presidential suite with several corporate representatives, Rex made a presentation that, to them, seemed like any other. It was only at the end of his presentation that Rex invited the donors to visit his church. Entering into the slums of Lagos, and then into Ilaje, the most neglected area of the city, the donors experienced the extremity of the environment. The rampancy of poverty and disease is so great that there is nowhere for the eye to escape, no solace from the pain. At Rex’s church, a stack of concrete blocks shaped into a square of half-walls with a tin roof, the donors had a change of heart. Amazed, one said she had never heard such powerful worshiping in such bleak surroundings.
It takes a rare combination of characteristics to be compassionate in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria. Rex Ajenifuja possesses the ability to be persistent in harsh circumstances, to identify the most vulnerable and to care for them despite how society reacts; Rex has that combination.