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Jul12TueHow a Salvation Army church opened its heart to a newcomer to Canada July 12, 2011 by Ken Ramstead
When I met my wife, Dena, I didn't even know where Newfoundland was,” laughs Solomon Okhifoh. “But since moving to Conception Bay South, N.L., in 2008, I can't imagine living anywhere else.”
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Following a Dream
Solomon was born in Nigeria, the son of devout Christians. “But just because my parents faithfully attended church didn't mean I had the slightest idea what my faith was about,” he says. While studying to be an engineer, however, the university student attended a Christian youth group meeting and found a faith he had lacked.
Solomon soon became the unofficial leader of a group of Christian students and by the time he graduated as an electronics engineer in 1995, the gifted musician and songwriter had become well-versed in the Bible and theology. A senior engineer at a telecommunications company in Lagos, Nigeria, Solomon immersed himself in church life and became an assistant pastor and youth leader.
In 2002, he immigrated to the United States to pursue his dream of self-producing a CD of his worship songs, but the dream foundered against some harsh realities. “The CD would have cost me more than $15,000,” Solomon says, “money I did not have.” Undaunted, he secured a teaching position at a private school, and a caring American couple who attended his church in Maryland, an offshoot of the one he had attended in Nigeria, provided room and board.
“I was content, certainly, but something was missing in my life,” continues Solomon. “And then I met Dena.”
Born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dena George is the daughter of Salvationists and was preparing to attend Bible college when she and Solomon met on a Christian online dating site in 2004.
“It didn't take long for us to discover that we were meant for each other,” states Dena. “There were a lot of prayers and a lot of Bible study on the phone.”
That October, she journeyed to Maryland to meet Solomon in person.
“I felt there was no wasting time,” explains Solomon. “I proposed to her, she accepted and that was it!”
The couple were married in December and journeyed to Illinois, where Dena had been hired as a Salvation Army youth pastor. They stayed there for three and a half years and had two children. In 2008, when Dena's work visa expired, they made the decision to move to Canada.
A Home in Canada
Though Conception Bay South would be a homecoming for Dena, Solomon was apprehensive about moving to Newfoundland and Labrador. But any reservations he had were dispelled by the warm welcome they received. Majors Wayne and Rosemary Green, then corps officers at Conception Bay South, opened their hearts to the family and helped them transition to their new community, even involving them in the corps leadership team. As well, members of the corps often invited the family for dinner and Solomon and Dena were given employment referrals.
“Conception Bay South is blessed with people who accept, welcome and love those who come to us,” states Major Wayne Green. “This is what makes the corps work and grow.”
“Everyone fell in love with Solomon and unequivocally accepted him as one of their own,” says Dena. “He's even part of the worship team and often plays the drums or bass guitar.”
“Even though Nigeria and Newfoundland are worlds apart, the people here remind me of those in the village where I was raised,” says Solomon. “They are kind, giving and compassionate.”
When Solomon's father unexpectedly died in an automobile accident last year, the corps gave a love offering and were able to raise $3,000 so that the couple could travel to Nigeria to attend the funeral, one anonymous donor giving a third of the amount. “I hadn't been home to see my family in eight years, so this generosity was as unexpected as it was appreciated,” he explains.
Solomon is a residential counsellor at The Salvation Army's Wiseman Centre in St. John's, while Dena is a youth pastor at St. John's West Corps. Solomon is completing a master's degree in electrical engineering at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Dena will complete a bachelor's degree in biblical and theological studies from Booth University College in the fall.
“We don't know what the future holds but we hope it is here in Newfoundland and Labrador,” says Dena.
One incident encapsulated the Okhifohs' experience.
Solomon had been pondering a job opportunity in Alberta when one of the corps officers took Solomon aside after a church service.
“I don't know what your plans are,” Major Wayne Green told him, “but I want to let you know that you are welcome here. This is your home.”
“That statement went right through me,” says Solomon. “I realized this was my home now.”