Rising Above Fear

January 2010

Senior Reverend Dr. Udo Igwe

Udo Igwe speaks on fear, faith, and Let Go, Let God

Unity minister Rev. Udo Igwe shares the power of love and nonresistance as he describes his captivity and torture at the hands of terrorists.

My father founded the Unity center in our village of Amaekpu in the town of Ohafia, Nigeria. In 2001 I was ordained as a Unity minister. Over the years in my sermons, I often mentioned how much comfort the “rod” and “staff,” as spoken by the Psalmist, brought me. I believed the rod and staff were symbolic of the blessings that love and nonresistance offer: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

On January 5, 2008, my beliefs were put to the test. Late in the afternoon, I drove my brother Ebi to the local doctor. We arrived back home after dark to the gate of the compound where I live. I honked the horn, as I usually did, to let the guard know to open the gate, but no one came. My brother got out and opened the gate. Just after I drove through and stopped the car, a man pointed a handgun at my head. “Leave the key in the ignition and step outside,” he commanded.

One of the compound guards came forward and asked, “What is going on here?” Another man with a gun told the guard to lie face down on the ground. I sensed that my brother was going to protest, so I pushed him aside. I thought of the angry crowd that came to arrest Jesus, and how He spoke with love and nonresistance to Simon Peter, the one who was about to defend him, “Put your sword back into its sheath” (Jn. 18:11).

I asked the armed man next to me, “Who do you want?” “You!” was the answer. Then he added, “Get in the trunk of your car!” I climbed into the trunk, and the man closed the lid. Entombed in the dark and stuffy space, I wondered what was going on as the car lurched forward and then backward several times. Was someone trying to stop them? I prayed that there would be no gunfire and knew my prayer was answered when the car moved on. As we rounded corner after corner at a fast speed, I continued to pray.

After a while, the car finally came to a stop, and the driver let me out of the trunk. We were at a remote village—one that I didn’t recognize. The man blindfolded me, led me into a hut and searched me. He explained that their “assignment” was to hold me captive until they received 20 million naira (over US$150,000) for my release.

“Who can we call that could give us that amount?” he questioned. “Sir, I don’t have that kind of money, and I don’t know of any person who does,” I answered.
They called my wife with the demand, and she, too, explained we didn’t have that much money. She asked them to give her until the next day to collect whatever amount of money she could. The next morning, very early, they called again, and she told them she was still trying to collect the money. Becoming more impatient, the men started torturing me: hitting me with the flat side of a knife, putting live cigarettes out on my bare head.

Being Love and Nonresistance

Prayer sustained me through repeated times of torture. Later, I learned that throughout my captivity, Silent Unity prayed for me and that our house was an arena for prayer—not just for Unity members, but for people from other Christian groups.

As a hostage, I found myself in a situation of practicing love and nonresistance to a degree I had never before expressed. I knew I had to rise up to the level of the Christ if I were going to survive. I believe that the level of consciousness I lifted myself up to enabled me to see my captors as children of God and that somehow they sensed this. Despite how they treated me, I held them in high regard.

At times the terrorists would be friendly, asking me questions about my background and my walk as a minister. At other times, however, they would become angry and act out in violence.

Living My Beliefs

When someone comes face to face with the possibility of death, there is fear. I occasionally had to overcome fear with prayer. I told God, “If you think I’ve done enough for You on this plane of existence, then I can let this body go. But if you think there is more work for me to do, I will remain committed to You.”

On Monday, January 7, my third day as a hostage, my captors finally agreed to take whatever my wife had been able to raise, which was to be sent to a certain location. She followed the instructions, and I was to be released with the understanding that I should immediately start collecting the rest of the millions and send it to them after they had contacted me as to where to send it.

Around 10 p.m., they covered me with a blanket, placed me in my car and drove a long distance before dropping me off. I recognized the place, found a phone and called my wife. She picked me up and drove me home.

The day after I was released, members of the Unity church assembled in my home. Most of them wanted to sympathize with me. I told them, “No. Let’s be thankful to God that I am here now with a new spiritual awareness from the university of love and nonresistance.” I am thankful to God to be able to continue in my ministry. I am sure my sermons are much more powerful because of my experience during the three days of captivity and torture.

We never gave the terrorists any additional money, nor were they ever caught. Several people advised me to move, but I know that if I had moved because of fear, I could not, as a minister of God, ever help someone overcome fear. By rising above fear, we are able to live from the truth of the Christ Presence in any circumstance.