Talking Ministry: A call to serve
Published on 22 November 2022 4 minutes read
Originally from South East Nigeria, Rev Dr Elijah Obinna first came to Scotland to study for a master's degree. But it was only after he left Scotland that he began to sense that this was where he was being called to serve.
The strong Christian faith of his parents, both elders in The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCN), is reflected in his Biblical name, and from a young age, Dr Obinna knew he was destined to become a minister and was ordained through PCN in 2002.
At New College, University of Edinburgh, he achieved a distinction in his master's degree studies and eventually went on to complete a PhD. While at university he also served as a Faithshare student and later pastoral assistant at St Stephen's Comely Bank and as an assistant minister at Edinburgh's St Giles' Cathedral. However, he never considered making his Scottish stay more permanent until he went to the USA where he taught at the University of Missouri, Columbia, while also preaching at a local church and working with refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo.
"When I was in Scotland, I had no intention of serving in full-time ministry here. I didn't sense that call, so I left," Dr Obinna explained.
"It was in the US when I started prayerfully thinking about what happens next that I began to sense that call."
He returned to Nigeria with his family, but expressed an interest in becoming a minister with the Church of Scotland and was given a certificate of eligibility. Then, when he returned to Scotland in 2015 to participate in celebrations marking the centenary of Aberdeen-born missionary Mary Slessor, he saw a vacancy for a minister at Carluke: St John's Church, which is set to unite with fellow town Kirk St Andrew's.
Called to Scotland
"In the five years I lived in Edinburgh, I had never heard of Carluke, but the more I read about the vacancy, the more I had the sense that this was the place, so I made the phone call," Dr Obinna said.
"So, in February 2016 the whole family of six moved to Carluke – and we are still here!"
When he arrived at Carluke an unexpected connection with his home in Nigeria provided further confirmation that the family had made the right decision. One of the St John's elders he met at his induction was a former Church of Scotland medical missionary Dr Ann Jackson, who had worked in Nigeria throughout the Nigerian Civil war (1967-1970).
"One of those hospitals where she worked was where my mother later worked as a nurse and the hospital where our second son was born, so she knew the area I came from," Dr Obinna said.
"That was very helpful for me and the family to settle into life in Carluke. It was clear to us that God had already gone ahead of us before we arrived. It was a powerful way of starting ministry. We have been blessed by a wonderful congregation and a wonderful community."
Welcomed to Scotland by his congregation, Dr Obinna also believes that Scottish Christians can learn from their counterparts in his home country. He was one of the authors of The Special Report on Lessons from Africa to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. These include encouraging Scottish Christians to testify about their faith and make that faith a bigger part of their everyday lives.
Making use of the gifts we are given
As PCN's former national director of Lay Development and Leadership Training, Dr Obinna also wants to see steps taken to encourage more members to take an active role in leading worship. This is something he has encouraged within his own congregation at Carluke.
He said: "In the last six years I have seen great gifts being released among our members and to me that has been amazing.
"These gifts are already there, so we are simply working alongside the congregation and community to promote what God is already doing among God's people."
Although Scotland is seen as an increasingly secular nation, Dr Obinna believes there is still a hunger for God among its people.
"There is a place for the Church in the community and there are lots of things we can still do to share the love of Christ," he said.
"There are so many possibilities. It's challenging, but it is God's Church, it is not ours. We are only privileged to be God's partners. At the end of the day, it is God's will that will prevail."
Each month, the Talking Ministry series will share a personal story from those serving in Christian ministry, as well as discernment resources filled with questions, prayers and reflections to help encourage your own reflection on how God might be calling you.