Imperatives of NCPC youth pilgrimage
By Celestine Ogugua Toruka
The relevance of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission, NCPC youth pilgrimage can never be over-emphasised based on its inherent benefits.
The NCPC is the only apex Christian Pilgrimage Regulatory body in Nigeria established in 2007 by an ACT of the National Assembly, but commenced full operation in 2008.
The Act empowers the Commission to organize and coordinate the movement of Christians from Nigeria to Israel and other Holy Sites around the world. It is also saddled with the responsibility of licensing and regulating the activities of Private Tour Operators (PTOS) involved in Christian pilgrimage activities.
Over the years, the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission under the able leadership of the pioneer Chief Executive, John Kennedy Opara has initiated laudable programmes that have made Christian Pilgrimage a beautiful bride to be loved and admired by all Christians.
The Commission started operation with a single pilgrimage destination – Israel which hitherto was the main pilgrimage of the Commission held between October to December and sometimes spill over to first quarter of the following year. This, has changed, so many innovations have taken place thus changing the face of the entire Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria.
In the past four years, the Commission had introduced different pilgrimage programmes within one calendar year for Nigerian Christians desirous to go on Holy Pilgrimage to Israel. These are: Easter Pilgrimage March to April, Family Pilgrimage -August and the latest brand – Youth Pilgrimage recently introduced in July this year. Therefore, the Commission now runs four pilgrimage programmes in a year.
The Youth pilgrimage is a specially designed programme that is youth specific with skill acquisition component. As a matter of fact, the youths are unarguably the future leaders of any nation; their programme is tailored to address the critical challenges of the time – empowerment and job creation.
The Executive Secretary of NCPC, John Kennedy Opara justifying the reasons for youth pilgrimage did not mince words when he posited that, it was borne – out of the need to catch them young for Christ. Indeed, bringing the youths to God is the best that can happen to any nation. The foundation is very fundamental as well as the future and that is what the youth represents.
To the glory of God on 25th July, 2015, the Commission formally launched the maiden youth pilgrimage programme to Israel at the domestic Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The event was flagged off by no less a personality than the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara. By this, the seven nights and eight days spiritual journey to the Holy Land began on a sound footing.
Expectedly, there were great expectations; suspense and anxiety on the part of the Youths, many of whom were leaving the shores of the country for the first time in their life, If you were in their shoes how would you feel? Certainly, your guess is as good as mine! Eventually, it turned out to be an experience they would live to remember all through their lives.
The Commission for the purpose of achieving this laudable goals, structured the programme into two segments – the first four days, the youths visited various holy sites in Galilee, Bethlehem, Jericho and Jerusalem and the last three days was utilized for skill acquisition programme in Nazareth which also include excursion to fish farms, and Agro Agricultural farms, North West Israel.
Just like the Executive Secretary, John Kennedy Opara said in Nazareth, Israel, about 98percent of the Maiden Youth Pilgrims were sponsored by Churches and individuals. This goes to underscore the self sponsorship drive of the Commission.
It is interesting to note that the maiden youth pilgrimage was made up of youths from Salvation Ministries, Port-Harcourt, Anglican Church, House on the Rock Church, Abuja and self sponsored pilgrims across the country. We saw synergy, love and common purpose written all over their faces. They were determined to go back home and replicate the experience garnered in Israel and transformed not themselves alone, but others.
The first batch of maiden youth pilgrims departed Israel to Nigeria on 2nd August, 2015 after eight days sojourn in the Holy land. They went back to Nigeria spiritually rejuvenated and with new acquired skills that would make them less dependent on government with transformed minds.
The second batch of youth pilgrims to Israel arrived on 5th August, 2015 to begin their pilgrimage exercise. The third and fourth batches of youth pilgrims followed suit.
The skill acquisition programme of the Youth Pilgrimage was a collaborative effort between the Commission and Institute for National Transformation (INT) under the programme, the youths were subjected to various leadership training such as Singapore story from 1965-2000, reflections on leadership in post – Transformational Leadership – the spirit and skills, taking responsibility for change, the story of Nehemiah, and others.
Their excursion tour to a fish farms North West of Israel as well as Agro Agricultural farms exposed the youths to various skills in the area of Agriculture where Israel has made a name for itself.
At the mega JP ceremony for the Youth Pilgrims in Nazareth, the Executive Secretary of NCPC, John Kennedy Opara described the youth pilgrims as agent of change. He encouraged them to always have at the back of their mind that with God all things are possible and that God brought them to Israel to prepare them for leadership.
In the same vein, the Charge of Affairs, Embassy of Nigeria, Israel, Mrs. Frankie Obianagha, described the youth pilgrims as very “privileged future leaders” and commended the visionary leadership of the NCPC helmsman whom she said had taken pilgrimage to “nuclear level”.
Indeed, the wisdom of the Commission to appoint a Spiritual Leader for the maiden youth pilgrimage is commendable.
Pastor Goodheart Ekwueme who was the Spiritual leader of the youths was at his best. At every Holy Site visited, he was able to guide the youth through the Bible to bring out the spiritual significant of the Holy Sites in the Bible passage. Even at River Jordan, he was instrumental in baptizing new converts both Nigeria youths and other nationals. As a youth pastor, he was able to interface with the youths which cut across different denominations.
The time has come for church leaders, families and individuals to embrace this programe by sponsoring their youths to Israel to be spiritually transformed and economically self reliant.
It is instructive to note that about 1000 Youth Pilgrims were airlifted to Israel under the youth pilgrimage platform, this is highly encouraging. Those numbers of youth pilgrims all returned to the country without any single case of defection recorded.
It is expected that with the overwhelming success of the Maiden Youth pilgrimage to Israel, many churches, states and individuals will key into the programme to make subsequent editions better.
NCPC should be commended for this bold initiative of coming out with a pilgrimage programme that is youth specific.
It is heartwarming to note that the Commission had promised to monitor the progress of the youth pilgrims through their various churches in order to ensure they remain focus and on track.