A sculptor's journey from Nigeria to the Church History Museum

The sun was not yet up on Jan. 17, 1989, when 24-year-old Nnamdi Okonkwo arrived at the American embassy in Lagos, Nigeria. A flight to New York City would be departing at 7 p.m., and this was his last chance to be on it.

His journey to the gates of the embassy hadn’t been easy. Only a few days earlier, his request for a visa to America had been flatly denied due to expired paperwork at a different office. Government workers had even stamped the back of his passport to indicate that he would have to wait six months to reapply. But Nnamdi didn’t have six months. The nonrefundable plane ticket he’d bought in an act of faith was scheduled to leave in a matter of days. This seemingly journey-ending setback should have devastated him, but Nnamdi wasn’t ready to give up quite yet. Instead, he crammed his 6-foot-9 frame into an overnight bus and rode 500 miles to the American embassy in Lagos, arriving on Jan. 16, hoping officials there would grant him a visa — only to find the office closed for the day.

He approached the embassy gates again the next morning, keenly aware that his flight would leave in a matter of hours. As he waited in line, at the forefront of Nnamdi’s mind was a story in Genesis 19 where God temporarily blinds the eyes of wicked men to protect a man named Lot. His prayer now was for God to offer similar aid within the embassy. His prayer now was for God to offer similar aid within the embassy.

“I would ask Him to blind the eyes of anyone that would examine my documents at the embassy so that they would not see the expired dates, nor the stamp of rejection on my passport,” Nnamdi would later tell Brigham Young University–Hawaii students during a devotional. “Armed with the same faith as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I went back to the embassy with the expired documents. It was reckless and foolhardy, but I didn’t care!”

The plan never should have worked, but it did.

Nnamdi walked out of the embassy with a United States visa, a document that would prove to be his ticket to more than just American soil. He was now one step closer to discovering two very important things: the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the calling God would give him to bear testimony through art.

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