Social innovator and World Challenge scholarship student Adewunmi is dreaming of bringing communities a clearer vision of who God is.
As a child in Nigeria, I always saw poverty. Maybe 2% of the population is living with a ridiculous amount of money, and the other 98% are spinning their wheels and going in circles even though there is enough for everyone to have enough.
It’s just a fact of living there, though it shouldn’t have to be.
The Fragile Church
I came to the US when I was 16, and I moved to New York City after college to work in the fashion industry.
Afterward, I decided to join a social innovation graduate program. It was centered around two ideas: How do you give aid without causing dependency? How do you plan aid in such a way that you’re designing for people’s real concerns and not saying, “Well, I think you’re poor, so here’s money.”
People in my cohort came from all different backgrounds—healthcare, food industry, fashion—and the program was teaching us how to do ethnographic research, synthesize data, isolate actual issues within a community, and design solutions with the community.
The biggest obstacle we all kept running across was how to give people the tools to make their new life-styles or improvements self-sustaining?
I never thought about this work in the context of God.
Honestly, church felt like this pretty place where we went to have our nice worship, and then we left.
The social innovators and big corporations were the ones dealing with the real problems of the world, so if you wanted to tackle issues and make an actual difference, you joined them. You didn’t enact social change through the church because the church was just this little, beautiful but fragile bubble.
Falling into a Pit
When I moved to New York, I found this great apartment, and I gathered all my friends—“Let’s get this place together!”—but last minute they all went somewhere else. I was so upset. It was a ‘Jesus, really?’ moment.
Turned out that I got the apartment but with different roommates, all of whom I’d never met before. One of the ladies sang in Times Square Church’s choir, and she knew about my grad program.
She kept telling me, “Dee, you should go to Summit!”
I’d always answer, “Nah, I don’t think so.”
Summit sounded a lot like my boarding school in Nigeria where we lived in the dorms and had devotions, and I thought: Well, God doesn’t want us to go backwards in life, so obviously He can’t be calling me there. It’s not for me.
Meanwhile, my social innovation program made me feel like we were finally getting the tools to take action against the world’s big issues—homelessness, chronic poverty, all those things.
Right around that time, though, everything started to fall apart.
Maybe it wouldn’t have looked like it from the outside, but inside I felt like I was in a pit.
Graduate school was more expensive than I could really afford, but I’m on a student visa so that meant my whole life was tied to school. I also couldn’t shake a relentless thought: “God, where is this all going?”
“God, I love you, I want to serve you, and I feel like you’ve put these things in my heart. I want to pursue them, but I just...have no energy left.”
Through Summit’s Gates
The day of Summit’s application deadline, my roommate texted: You should apply.
I knew she was going to get home and ask me about it, so I reluctantly got on my computer and sent in my application so she would get off my back.
Now I look back and think, “Wow. God, you really did save me from a life of futility. You also saved everybody I thought I would be helping.” Because maybe—maybethe change I made through my grad program’s training would’ve lasted 10 or 20 years. You can write up a nice annual report about that. A generation or two from now, though, that progress would’ve fallen apart.
If development isn’t based on Christ, I just wasted my time and these people’s time setting up improvements that have no eternal or even generational implications.
All the problems that were rattling me at that time, the exhaustion, the nagging worry about my future—these were God shaking my life and showing me that everything I’d built—or thought I was building—had no foundation.
As hard as it was, God brought me to the end of myself where I felt like I had nowhere to go.
After that, he brought me to Summit, and I received the World Challenge scholarship so I didn’t have to worry about the tuition costs.
You know, I hear people saying, “I prayed, and God told me to come to Summit.” But for me, God dragged me through the gates.
Who God Really Is
Recently, God has been putting a lot on my heart. So many people in Nigeria call themselves Christians. They go to church, but they leave unchanged. They have such wrong ideas about who God is, and I did too before I came to Summit. One day I was sitting in class, learning about the new covenant Christ brought that has grace not only for salvation but also for transformation, and I was getting so frustrated.
I commented to our instructor, Pastor Ryan Seaborn, “How am I just now learning about this, and I’m 28 years old? This is ridiculous!”
He said, “Your church and family couldn’t teach you something they didn’t know.”
That broke me.
All these people think they know God, but they believe in something that isn’t God.
In Nigeria, the prosperity gospel has spread like crazy. People who are wealthy believe that it’s because they’ve been so good that God has blessed them. Poor people are stuck in poverty because they think they’re sinning too much or aren’t tithing enough. Pastors ask people to give huge amounts of money to the church in order for them to be blessed.
In Nehemiah, he reads the Word of God to the people, and then he tells the leaders, “Restore to the people a hundredth of their money.” They actually do it too, which means these leaders had enough to return a huge amount to all the people.
Can a whole nation really see who God is and not who culture has told them God is? Can they understand that true prosperity is intimacy with God and the liberty, transformation, and confidence that stems from that relationship?
How do you empower people to build their own communities centered around Christ? How do you enable people to see the value God puts on their lives?
I pray that God will use me to show people his actual heart. I want a whole nation to change by seeing who God really is.