Sagarga Nuvalga should never have survived his birth or the rebellious life he chose to live. When he was born, his mother barely survived five days of labor, traveling 200 miles on bad roads from Donga, Nigeria, to a Christian Reformed World Missions hospital in Takum, where Sagarga’s twin brother was stillborn.
Sagarga was born into a royal and privileged family. His father was a tribal chief whose responsibility it was to protect the Chamba traditional culture. Sagarga was the youngest of his mother’s 12 children and the 37 th of 41 children born to his father’s six wives.
“I was brought up to think like and act like royalty, which means arrogance, power, and a perception that I was above the law,” Sagarga explains. “I could do what I wanted . . . and was among the gangs at school drinking, [mistreating] women, and partying. Many of my friends died of AIDS.”
“Why did I survive?” he asks. “God had a purpose for my life and he grabbed my attention through the Back to God Hour radio ministry!”
Sagarga planned to enter the university and study international relations in order to get a financially and politically powerful embassy job. But things began to fall apart. He didn’t pass high school and had to live with his uncle while taking special classes.
Sagarga’s uncle faithfully listened to Joel Nederhood’s English-language radio broadcast over ELWA, a shortwave station in Liberia. “The program captured my interest,” Sagarga remembers. “I heard things I had never heard before.”
He sent for copies of Nederhood’s sermons and studied them diligently. “I still have cartons full of those sermons,” he laughs. “I listened every morning to the broadcast and studied the Bible and copies of sermons. It fueled my faith.”
Sagarga wanted to go to seminary, but his family was not happy about his wish. To them, the pastoral ministry was for the poor and underprivileged. Why would he give up his royal standing for that?
By God’s grace, he received scholarships through Christian Reformed World Missions to attend the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in Jos, became a Bible study leader, and eventually served as acting dean of the seminary. Eventually Sagarga met people who encouraged him to attend Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.
He looks forward to returning to Nigeria to teach. “A lot of people are coming to faith but are not growing in the Word,” he explains. “We need qualified people trained to teach the gospel.”