Israel Chimezie was the second child of a former polygamist, Nwachuku Oriaku. Young Israel was now in a Christian home, and his father determined that his son should receive a Christian education. Schools were not plentiful in those days. Young Israel was most fortunate to complete his elementary schooling under the influence of Christian teachers. Hard study and numerous courses finished after his formal education of elementary level qualified him for a good position.
About this time Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an American-trained young Nigerian, returned to his native land. This man's influence was to alter greatly the course of Nigeria. His talents lay in the field of journalism. While in America he learned the impact of the press on the thinking of the masses. He resolved to start a number of newspapers. These developed into a chain of papers operating in various parts of Nigeria, and Zik's Press, Incorporated, soon became a tremendous force, influencing the minds of thousands of Nigerians. His aggressive leadership attracted followers, and Israel Chimezie joined the staff of Zik's Press in 1942. He was transferred from one place to another and learned the secrets of newspaper work in both the circulation and reporting departments.
In 1948 Israel met a friend on his way out of the Supreme Court in Enugu where he had gone to cover a story. The friend said, "You are doing a most important work. I have recently heard of a group of people in West Nigeria who pray with those who need help. Why don't you write them and ask them to pray for you in your work?" Israel took down the address and mailed in his request for prayer. A few days later he received a letter from the Voice of Prophecy and immediately recognized a Bible correspondence school application similar to one he saw in 1944. He had carried that old application form around for years but had never enrolled. This convicted him, and he thought: "Certainly God is wanting me to enroll in this Bible course or He would not bring it to my attention again."
After many months of earnest study Israel became a Seventh-day Adventist. His position at that time made it possible for him to keep the Sabbath with no problem. But when he was transferred to Lagos the situation changed. Here he was to serve as the clerk in charge of all correspondence coming into the office, which meant that Saturday was a busy day. He looked up J. A. Adeoye, our pastor in Lagos.
Tactfully, Pastor Adeoye wrote a letter in behalf of Brother Israel and addressed it to the managing director of Zik's Press, who then was none other than Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe himself. Miraculously, Dr. Azikiwe sent his personnel manager to the department manager to whom Israel was directly responsible, with the order to let Israel have Saturdays free with the understanding that he would work on Sunday instead.
Even though his work was more than a full-time, exhaustive job, Israel still found time to colporteur in the evenings. Toward the end of 1951 the work in Dr. Zik's office continued to increase, resulting in the employment of an American woman who became the administrative manager. Her coming greatly aided the efficiency of the newspaper office, but she had no sympathy whatever for Israel's religious convictions. Each Friday, Israel would inform her that the next day was Saturday and he would not be coming to work. One day as he was leaving, she curtly called, "If you get sacked, will your pastor feed you?" "Madam," Israel replied, "I am not going to church to worship the pastor."
Israel's work privileges and religious convictions were a constant thorn in the flesh to the new manager. One day in 1952 she called Israel into her office. "Israel, what do you do on Saturdays? What are your duties in the church?" He informed her that he was the Sabbath school superintendent. When does that service close?" He stated that Sabbath school was usually over by 10:30 A.M. "Good," she said, "I will allow you to be off Saturday morning, but you must be here as soon after ten-thirty as you can make it!" Israel politely replied that this he could not do.
Within four months Israel received two letters of termination, but each time Dr. Zik got wind of it and made her withdraw the letters.
Business and politics took Dr. Zik away from his head office in Lagos more and more. Israel sensed this. Concerned what might happen to him while Dr. Zik was away, he requested him to make his position clear. Dr. Zik again informed his new manager that "Israel comes to work on Sunday, and do not worry him about being off on Saturdays."
Even though firing Israel was out of the question, his life was made miserable by this woman. Finally, in September, 1952, Israel handed in his resignation. By now she fully realized Israel's integrity and thoroughness, and she begged him to stay, but Israel had made up his mind to give full time and energy to the selling of truth-filled literature.
All this was part of God's plan for Israel. In 1953 I first heard of the zeal and noble Christian principles of this young Nigerian Adventist. He was a well-read person and was most familiar with the Spirit of Prophecy writings, and he followed the instructions of the Lord's messenger in all matters, including health principles. Israel realized that all this instruction was not a code of penance or a system of working out one's own salvation by denial. Rather, it was a system that embodied principles contributing to progressive well-being, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
God wonderfully blessed Brother Oriaku (Israel) in his colporteur ministry, and he often topped the annual list for colporteur sales in the West Nigerian Mission. Eventually he became the publishing department secretary for the mission. He served as one of the elders of the church, and though he was not an ordained minister, God richly blessed his work of pastoring the church, which duty he carried along with that of being publishing department secretary of the mission.
On the 18th of January, 1964, Brother Oriaku was ordained to the gospel ministry. Shortly after this he received a call from the president of the North Nigerian Mission, Pastor David Hughes, to become the pastor of Jos Seventh-day Adventist church and also to serve as the publishing department secretary of this challenging mission field of the north, where more than 25 million people live, most of whom are Moslems.
The Adventist church in Jos for some time had been having reversals owing to tribal feelings and church politics. Often less than twenty members would come together on Sabbath to worship. Recently I visited the Jos church, and as I stood behind the pulpit I looked into the faces of a church family numbering well over one hundred. God has used Pastor Oriaku in breaking down prejudice, in healing wounds, and in adding new members to the flock. That Sabbath I spoke through two interpreters, and what a wonderful inspiration it was to visit with these dear people!
I was not surprised to hear later from Pastor Hughes that in accepting the call to come to the new northern field, where the budget is much smaller than that of the West Nigerian Mission, Pastor Oriaku took nearly a 40 per cent cut in salary. But he knows God's leadership, and he knows he has nothing to fear for the future except as he forgets how God has led him in the past. This he will not forget.
It is with men such as Israel Oriaku who, like him, are willing to make a complete personal daily surrender of themselves to God; who possess a determination to step out in faith and follow God's plans and instructions; who put God's work first, above human comfort and material gain—yes, it is with men having these qualifications that God will finish His work in our generation.