Alf and Anne Wooding were both small in stature – neither stood taller
than 5 feet – but yet they were huge in their faith. Both were born in
Liverpool, England, and yet didn’t meet until they were students at the
Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) language school in Minna, Nigeria.
My mother, who was already learning the Hausa language,
was standing on a ladder painting a scripture scroll on the wall on that fateful
day in the mid 1930s when my father walked in clasping a newspaper. He had just
arrived on the ship from Liverpool to Lagos and then had taken a train to Minna.
Like most Liverpudlians, he had a wonderful sense
of humor, and so his chat-up-line to her was, “Would you like to read
my Liverpool Echo?”
The line worked and soon they were spending much
of their time together. They would take walks together in the grounds of the
language school, but there was a problem that they had to overcome. SIM had
a rule that missionaries of the opposite sex could not be alone together without
a native chaperone. So as they began their first walk, an African staff member
fell in step with them to make sure that nothing untoward took place.
My father quickly came up with a ruse that would
allow them to be alone; he suddenly let out the howl of a hyena and the young
man ran screaming back to the building and Alf was able to sneak his first kiss
Their love for each other – with the help
of a regular Hyena call – quickly blossomed and eventually he proposed
marriage to this lovely Liverpool lass. Before they were wed, Anne moved to
Kano, a walled Muslim city on the edge of the Sahara desert, and began teaching
blind men in the city how to read and write in Braille. She was the first white
woman ever allowed to teach Braille in Kano.
They were married in the SIM church in Kano in
1939, just as war was breaking out in Europe and moved to a mud-hut village
in a pagan area of the country where they began to share the Gospel of Jesus
Christ with the villagers.
I was born on December 19, 1940 in the Sudan United
Mission hospital in Vom and on receiving the news of my birth, many miles away,
I was given the name of Dan Juma (son of Friday) by the local chiefs. When we
came to the village; my father would use me as a way to bring crowds to hear
his message of hope and salvation. Years later, he told me that he would strap
a 78 rpm wind-up record player on the back of his bicycle and head off through
the bush with me in the front carrier part of the bike and once we got to nearby
village, he would sit me down and soon the crowds would come to see the first
blue-eyed white baby they had ever seen. He would then play some of his gospel
music recordings and then preach to them in Hausa, the local language.
They had to deal with many problems which included
the heat and the snakes, but the worst was when their thatched mud-hut home
burned to the ground one terrible night. Fortunately, we all escaped and soon
the villagers helped my parents re-build their home and then they were able
to continue their ministry. As my father worked as an evangelist, my mother
did medical work dealing with the many problems that the people had.
But then came the blow that was to change their
lives for ever. My father became sick from a combination of malaria, dysentery
and sleeping sickness. A local doctor told him that he had to get home to Liverpool
as soon as possible or he would not survive. So we headed for Lagos and joined
a convoy of ships that were to head out into the dangerous Atlantic to face
the threat of German U-Boats. You can read more about the incredible zigzagging
journey that we took that usually took 10 days, but this time took six weeks,
until we finally arrived in Liverpool, as I said in my autobiography, From
Tabloid To Truth.
He was immediately admitted to the Hospital of
Tropical Diseases in Liverpool, while my mother and I moved in with her sister,
Ethel and her father, Sam, a retired merchant seaman. My sister Ruth was born
during this time and once my father felt he was well enough, he returned to
Nigeria on a British troop ship to continue his missionary work.
However, it wasn’t long before he became
even sicker and my mother was told that she may never see him again. She was
preparing to sail to Nigeria to say “goodbye” to Alf, when she got
news that he was returning and would soon be home.
Both Ruth and I were scared when we saw this little
broken man who carried in his face the pain of his illnesses. He knew that he
would never be able to return to his beloved Nigeria. As he slowly regained
his strength, he began to ask God what he should now do and soon was offered
a position in the industrial city of Birmingham, located in the Midlands of
England, as a missionary with the Barbican Mission to the Jews. He job was to
share the news of the Messiah – Jesus – with the city’s large
Jewish population, many of which were Holocaust survivors from Eastern and Central
We eventually joined him in 1946 and my mother
was shocked with the living accommodation that he had found us in Brighton Road,
Balsall Heath, a run-down inner-city area of Birmingham.
Soon, my father started a little church in the
Cooperative Hall in Sparkhill and a Sunday School in Clifton Road School in
Balsall Heath. After a while, he was offered the pastorate of a little wooden
mission hall in Alfred Street, Sparkbrook, and we found a new home in the Kings
Heath area of the city.
During the week, my father would visit Jewish
homes and try to share about Jesus with the Jews, but this was a difficult
task for him as many of them blamed Christians for the Holocaust. My mother
threw herself into her Sunday School work and even taught the children to
sing Hausa choruses. She knew that she would never be able to go back to Africa,
so she brought a bit of Africa to the kids of Birmingham.
My father was an incredible Bible teacher and
although he was only preaching to a small number of people each Sunday, he
spoke as if he was addressing a huge congregation. He meticulously typed out
his complete sermon and delivered it with great passion.
Many years later, after I received Jesus Christ
into my life as my personal Savior and had met and married Norma, my lovely
wife, we began an outreach into the community and called our team, The Messengers.
Soon we were regularly visiting the drug addicts at the All Saints Hospital
in Winson Green, Birmingham, and each Sunday morning we would bring a delegation
of addicts to the Sunday morning service.
There were times when half of the congregation
was recovering drug addicts, but they were enthralled by my father’s
preaching. Many gave their lives to Christ under his ministry.
After more than 30 years of faithful service,
my parents retired and moved to a little village in Essex and then finally
spent their last few years in a home in Wallasey, Cheshire, which overlooked
their beloved River Mersey.
Years later, I co-authored my mother’s
moving autobiography called Blind Faith, which can be obtained from
ASSIST at www.assistnews.net.
Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel of Costa
Mesa, California, wrote the foreword to the book. On the occasion of her 90th
birthday, Pastor Chuck sent a message to her in which he said, “England
has had a long, rich tradition of missionary pioneers such as David Livingstone,
William Carey, C.T. Studd and Gladys Alyward. Another such pioneer missionary
is a wonderful lady, Anne Blake, now Anne Wooding, who followed the footsteps
of these impressive missionaries by following her heart to Nigeria in the
30's to care for the blind and needy there. She felt God compelling her to
deliver the glorious message of salvation to those in a land so far from the
comforts of her own homeland.
“Her book, ‘Blind Faith’ has
been an inspiration to all of us who have an interest in missionary work.
We would like to celebrate with you at the occasion of Mrs. Anne Wooding's
90th Birthday and would like to congratulate her on her many years of service
to our Lord. May God continue to enrich and bless her life.
“Happy Birthday Anne.”
My parents are both now in heaven and are reaping
the rewards of their dedicated service to the Lord. My father went first in
his mid 80s and then my mother passed away more recently at the age of 93.
What a legacy they have passed on to myself,
my sister Ruth, my wife Norma and our two sons, Andrew and Peter, along with
their six children. What began with an African odyssey for both of them has
now spread out around the world through a series of ministries that were a
direct result of their faithful service. And it continues today….Thank
you both for your example!