“God is the biggest chess player in the whole wide world,” says Native Nigerian Bennett Ekandem while sitting on a donated, plastic child’s chair in the hallway where he runs his makeshift after-school program called the Family Heritage Foundation in Clarkston, Georgia.
Ekandem recounts how God has always been steps and moves ahead of him.
“What really turned things around for me is to see what I’m doing today,” said Ekandem. “This is what I usually tell people who don’t know much about God. He’s the greatest chess player ever. See, I’m from Nigeria. I ran from missionary work in Nigeria. I came to the United States for money and opportunity. I came to be somebody.”
Ekandem folds his arms as he goes on to explain that he and his wife, Idong, had visited churches—many churches—once they arrived in America. And they left every single church because eventually the pastor of a church would invite Ekandem to get involved in their missions.
“I kept thinking, ‘Forget me. Don’t knock on my door. I’ll sponsor people on missions to get God off my back, but I don’t want to lead anything or do anything for church,’” Ekandem says. “My father died in Nigeria when I was nine. And though that’s when I became a believer, I still wasn’t interested in serving my life at the church like he had. He had been an elder. I saw all of that but wanted my own life. I wanted more. I came to America so people wouldn’t ask me to do mission work.”
Ekandem pauses to laugh.
“You won’t believe what happens next,” says Ekandem. “The pastor at the church we were currently attending did it … he asked me to serve. And this time, I gave in to what God was calling me to do … to lead a trip.
“I was supposed to leave, spend a week with the team and help get them situated,” Ekandem said. “But Idong and I flew out earlier than some of the team. During our stopover in Frankfurt, Germany, we learned that the team was stuck at the gate and couldn’t board because there was a zero flight zone.”
The date was September 11, 2001—the day the World Trade Center was attacked. So, Ekandem and his wife had to make a decision. It had been awhile since they’d gone home to Nigeria, and Ekandem felt they should go since they were so close—a mere three hours by plane.
“In Nigeria, we had to stay longer than we thought until flights in and out of the States were okay again,” says Ekandem. “All the waiting made me watch where God comes from. When we almost got robbed at gunpoint in a car on the way to our hotel in Nigeria, it made me remember all the bad things people abroad go through—things I had gone through as a boy that I had forgotten about stateside.”
Ekandem gestures to his heart.
“So, in the car outside the Nigerian hotel I tell my wife, ‘I think I have been running, running, running from God,’” Ekandem says. “I told her, ‘He’s called me, and I’m tired of running.’”
Idong suddenly joins her husband in the hallway after checking on their three sons packing Operation Christmas Child boxes in a classroom down the hall. She is miked up and ready to go.
“When Bennett wanted to propose, I said, ‘How can we be married? God told me I was going to marry a pastor,’” says Idong. “But we wouldn’t have seen each other again if we hadn’t married because he was going to America. So, we got married. Bennett told me he was going to make a promise to God to stop running. And he did.”