BY NADEGE CHARLES
Every Sunday for the past 13 years, mostly Nigerian and Nigerian-American families gather in a small trailer a block away from Northwest 27th Avenue just outside the city limits of Opa-locka.
In December, church leaders hope to move into a nearly-completed permanent structure on the same piece of property.
Until then, the trailer with its burgundy carpet, thin walls and temperamental electricity continues to serve as home to Christ Apostolic Church Miami, a congregation of nearly 100 families.
The men and women who worship at weekly services are mostly Nigerian born and hail from Miramar to Homestead. But for many, the church is a cultural refuge for a community that is dispersed all over South Florida.
“We embrace our culture here, it is here that we can catch up on news back home and provide support for each other,” said Njideka Mustapha, a Miami Gardens resident.
At a recent Sunday service Deaconess Bisi Akangbe of Miramar led the congregation in prayer, as late-comers filed into the temporary structure, settling into the metal foldout chairs.
“Lets thank the Lord that we did not receive any bad news from Nigeria . . . that we didn’t send any bad news home,” Akangbe prayed.
At the core of the church is Pastor Joseph Olawale, who many affectionately call “Daddy.”
A founding member of the Miami parish and district superintendent of the church, Olawale helps to nurture African customs like first birthday celebrations and naming ceremonies by inviting parishioners to celebrate with the church. “This is home,” he said.
The church has close ties to its headquarters in Nigeria where Christ Apostolic Church was founded in the 1930s as an independent Pentecostal movement. Of at least 72 Christ Apostolic Churches in the United States, the Miami congregation was the first founded in the state of Florida. There are now other congregations in Tampa and Orlando.
Tradition plays an important role in the church, where women wrap their heads in colorful gele, elaborate towering Nigerian head wraps and the men don agbada, flowing wide sleeved robes decorated with embroidery.
Although dressing in Nigerian garb is not required, Deacon Oluwole Alle said it’s a sign of respect and remembrance for a homeland far away.
“Many of our kids will not get to see Nigeria, but when they come to church they see a part of it,” said Alle, who lives in Miami Lakes.
According to the last U.S. census, Miami-Dade’s Nigerian population was 1,371, a number which has likely increased.
During the 1980s when many Nigerians settled and opened businesses in Opa-locka, there were talks of turning a part of the area into a “Little Lagos,” similar to what the Haitian community has established in Little Haiti and the Cuban community in Little Havana.
“That didn’t work out,” Alle said, “We all ended up going our separate ways, but at least we still have one common ground; this church.”
Arnold Ogunmoyero, a visiting pastor from Georgia, delivered a sermon woven with prayers for prosperity, financial freedom and legal immigration status.
Metaphors and phrases in the Yoruba language slipped seamlessly from his lips.
Deacon Lawrence Adenuga, makes the long ride from Kendall every Sunday precisely for this reason, to hear his native language.
“You don’t hear many conversations in Yoruba down in Kendall,” he joked. “I speak English all week long, its good to fit in some Yoruba every now and then.”
During service, after a rousing portion of the sermon some responded Amen, others Amin.