Gabriel met Samaritan’s Feet when one of their teams served at the boy’s home his family ran in Nigeria. The trajectory of his life changed dramatically after building relationships with the Samaritan’s Feet team.
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I’m from the northern part of Nigeria. That part of Nigeria is historically a bit less educated. My grandfather was a minister and my uncle and aunt worked in the city of Jos, where I ended moving to attend middle school and high school. And that’s also where I met Samaritan’s Feet.
My cousins and aunt were working at an orphanage for boys and I ended up serving in many ways there. The boys were my age, so we really became brothers and shared life— we laughed together, we played together, and even fought together like siblings. My parents were alive, but in reality, there wasn’t a huge difference between us. If you compared us to the rest of the world we would all fall into the category of less privileged people. Most people around us earned very little.
Growing up in Nigeria, or other African countries, you’re not necessarily aware of the lack around you because everyone else is in your situation. You just embrace whatever reality there is and you hope for a better tomorrow. There’s a lot of resilience. You pray that tomorrow is kinder than today.
I remember it was July and raining cats and dogs when Samaritan’s Feet came to the city of Jos. I was 17 years old and I loved playing basketball. I met Manny and knew he was Nigerian-American and he played basketball, so we had a connection right away. I think Manny saw something in me.
Manny and Tracie were there about six days and during that time, we talked a lot. They took an interest in me and asked me a lot of questions about what I wanted to do with my life. That in itself tells a lot about who Manny and Tracie are as people and who Samaritan’s Feet is as an organization—the vision is about serving people, but it’s also about identifying people who they meet along the road.
When they did the shoe distribution, Manny actually washed my feet and gave me a pair of New Balance sneakers. I remember the color. They prayed for me. I remember the prayer.
Clearly a pair of shoes in Nigeria is not the same thing as it is in the United States. Today, I own many pairs of shoes, but back then it was much more of a luxury. The majority of the population on the continent of Africa, specifically Nigeria, would rather use their limited income to purchase things like food, health, and housing rather than buying a pair of shoes.
So this was like getting a gift. More importantly, the one I had been talking with, Manny, gave me the gift and while doing so, had a conversation with me that really started a process. I thought if Manny could dream and do what he’s doing, why shouldn’t I also dream?
I felt released to dream.
The shoes were important, but the service, thoughts, and conversations before, during, and after makes it something different. It takes it to a new level.
I started asking myself a lot of questions. Where do I put the boundaries in my dreams? How can I look at my challenges as opportunities?
I ended up moving to South Africa and Manny was very instrumental in that process by encouraging me to think beyond what was familiar to me. I was serving with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) and studying online. About six months after getting there, Manny and a Samaritan’s Feet team were in Cape Town on a mission trip. He invited me to join them. Then it happened again the next year, too. He would always ask me ‘so where are you at in your journey?’ He kept asking me ‘what’s next?’
My journey went from Nigeria to South Africa to Switzerland to Canada, where I completed my undergraduate degree, and then to Norway, where I got my master’s degree and am currently in my last year of my doctorate.
Many people say I’m unique as an African man, but I’m not unique. I think what’s unique about my story is that people along the way saw something in me, people like Manny and Tracie, and they didn’t back off.
It’s hard to remove myself from where I came from and remove myself from the people who have impacted my life. I have mentees and I have to remind them I come from a long line of men and women who invested in my life, so in a way I’m just paying it forward.
There are many boys just like me all around the world that need someone to see them not by their circumstances at the moment, but the potential that lies within them. I think that’s how we change the world.