Eunice Temilola Adewumi is a pastor and missionary with the Nigerian Baptist Convention. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks about her experience living with the Fulani in Gombe State, how she homeschooled her children, among other issues.
WHEN and how did you become a missionary?
I was born in Jos, Platteau State and I have always known that I have some form of calling to do one thing or the other for the Lord but I didn’t know to what extent until after I got married. I taught Physics as a spinster and continued to teach until I joined my husband who was already a missionary on the field full-time to work amidst the Fulani. My husband is a veterinary doctor and he has been using his experience to reach the Fulani. He loves them and their animals. He treats the animals and when I joined him, I also learnt to do some vet work with him. We had our first child in Jos before we moved to Gombe. We also had two children in Gombe. When we got to Gombe in December 1997. We decided to live in the locality, so we decided to home-school the children. They never had other classmates but they had a class of their own because the schools, in the country side were not of the standard we wanted. At first, it was just them but by the time our first and second finished primary school and they needed to go to secondary school they had to write their common entrance in Jos. It was just the baby of the house and I. So, I invited the children in the neighbourhood to join us. We started teaching them the basics and to the glory of God they are all grown ups now and are in good schools.
As a young woman and wife, who is just adjusting to marriage, how were you able to cope on the field?
I won’t say it was very easy. I could remember vividly when we were to leave Jos, it was just a year and half after our wedding. He had been working outside Jos and Gombe happened to be one of the places he had worked before but because of some persecution and hostility he experienced there, he felt it shouldn’t be the place we should go. But somehow, we felt that was where God wanted us to go. We went and honestly speaking when we were leaving Jos, I remember telling him, we are only going for two years and we would be back but we spent 13 years and six months there. It could only be God because those were periods of my life that I thought I wouldn’t be able to go through. I thank God it wasn’t revealed to me from the beginning because I would have run but, it was one day- at a- time. I was teaching and I had to leave my job to join him. It meant that there was no salary coming in, as he was a free -lance missionary at the time. When we got to the field, I had a toddler and as God would have it, I got pregnant again. Seriously, it was not easy but I stuck with it till the end. We just had to stick with God and He took care of us.
How did you cope with the hostility from the Fulani?
Before we moved to Gombe, my husband was charged to court because some people felt we were converting people to Christianity. That was the bedrock of the problem. At a time, he was charged for parading himself as a veterinary doctor though he has a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Ibadan. Another time, they said we were abducting children and so on. After we got to Gombe, we didn’t have strong attacks, aside from the case of abduction but when they came to our house, they found no children there. They were just framing things up and it was when the church was about to start that all these happened. Apart from that, we didn’t have much problem. I would honestly say, working with the Fulani has been really rewarding. Many people in the South West believe the Fulanis are wicked but I think it is a perception that comes with the fact that we are not used to them. Their world view is so different from what we are used to and except you understand them, you will think they are different but it is just the same way they think we are different. We worked with them for 13 years and there were some things they did I felt were weird and there were things I did that were weird to them. For example, by the time I was 40, my Fulani friends had grandchildren, while my own children were still in secondary school. So, they kept asking when my daughters would get married because many of them were grandmothers before they were 30. Many people think they value their animals more than their family members but I will tell you that that it is not true. They love people, they love themselves. They love their animals because it is part of their value system. We rate people as millionaires by looking at their cars and other property, but for them it is the number of herds of cattle you have that makes you a millionaire.
Looking back now, what would you say was your most memorable experience?
Becoming a part of them was one of the things I missed, as I had the opportunities of visiting them at homes. I have a group of friends that I teach every Thursday. I would go early, knowing that they have house chores to do and to help them because if they didn’t finish their house chores, they wouldn’t come to class. I tried to do all this even though sometimes, they laughed at me that I was not good at doing them. It was not easy for me to eat some of their foods and it was because of their mode of preparation. I love their food especially the Tuwo. I eat it a lot even till now and I take Fura d’nunu but when it comes to the mode of preparation it is always a problem. There was a time I fell ill and for a long time. I had to come all the way to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan and they ran so many tests and we were not just sure what it was and we were told to stop all medications. We just couldn’t pin-point what it was but I was told to be careful of what I ate and drank Then, I had to make the decision that I wouldn’t drink their water except they boiled it. Another thing I would say I missed was my Tuesday visitation. They had a market that was every Tuesday was in one of the local governments and I always went there with a group of friends. The last couple of years when I had the opportunity to go back, I visited the women and we had fun. I have two or three of them that are intimate friends of mine. I visit them where they are selling their yoghurts, teach them new things, talk and all. I miss those part of it.
Having lived among them for years, how do you feel when you hear story of Fulani killing people?
Inasmuch as we have some few Fulani or group of Fulani doing that, I will tell you that it is not all of them. I feel sad when we label Fulani as bad people. I have been at a place where a Fulani man was attacked by so-called Fulani herdsmen and his animals were taken and his wife raped. He was hurt by these people he called his friends. It hurts me when we make general statement that Fulani herdsmens are killing people. Are they really herdsmen or marauders, who came from wherever we don’t know? To me , I think we are mixing things and it is the generalisation that gets to me because I believe that even among the other tribes, we have some terrible people.
What advice do you have for women?
When I look at our society right now, I am scared because I see a disconnect in the homes as we are all chasing the shadow, going after money. It is true we need to make ends meet but mothers should please spend quality time with their children.