Chaplain (Maj.) Bitrus Cobongs is the head chaplain for the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Alabama, USA.
“A leader who leads by pointing the way leaves no footprints for his followers.”
Cobongs grew up in the northern region of Nigeria in the state of Gombe as a member of the Tangale tribe, a majority Christian group of about 300,000, surrounded by significantly larger Muslim tribes like the Hausa and the Fulani. His life’s journey from a small tribe in West Africa to serving in the United States military serves as a testament to the adage “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11″.
In a mostly poor, agrarian society, Cobongs’ father did relatively well financially with his business repairing watches, clocks, radios and other devices, and they even owned several properties. That was until his faith led him to give up the business life and devote his time to becoming a pastor. The Cobongs family of eight at that time went from having a lot to living in a one-bedroom mud house in a time where electricity and running water were not commonplace and even basic infrastructure like roads was scarce. His father’s new profession required a lot of moving around while resulting in minimal, sometimes if any, salary. Despite all of the moving around and five different schools in six years, Cobongs completed primary school and tested for high school. The way it worked there was the students would take the Universal Primary Examination and a passing score would grant them eligibility to attend high school. A higher test score along with a favorable interview would allow a student to attend a boarding school where housing, meals, transportation, even uniforms were provided. Cobongs scored well enough, completed the required interview and was accepted into boarding school, which was a blessing for his family considering that at this point his parents had seven mouths to feed, not including their own. Despite several setbacks, Cobongs was able to settle in a Bible College which served as both high school and undergraduate programme. Thanks to his parents for their sacrificial support. Cobongs completed his studies and was ranked highly among the others despite being one of the youngest in the school.
Cobongs aspirations is to be a youth minister among his tribe, so he desired to pursue a master of divinity degree. For this he traveled to Kenya to attend the International School of Theology where he often had to skip meals in order to afford living there. Upon completing his masters of divinity, Cobongs wanted to continue his education, but he’d have to go to America or Europe to pursue anything higher, so he applied to seminaries in Chicago and Dallas. Again, despite all the serious road blocks, Cobongs was admitted and made it to the Dallas Theological Seminary. It was during his time in Dallas that the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. Following the attacks there were a lot of misconceptions and tension surrounding the Islamic faith, so there was a need for educating Americans. Having grown up where he did, he had plenty of knowledge and experience with people of Islam. Considering this, Cobongs was called upon to speak to a congregation in Missouri about the differences between Islam and the extremist iteration displayed in the terrorist attacks and organizations like Al Qaeda. The circumstances leading up to his being there in Missouri were unfortunate to say the least, but it was there that Cobongs met the woman he would marry and share four children with.
This is a testimony of God’s grace! You can read more on Rev. Bitrus Cobongs journey from Nigeria to the US in this Airmen article entitled Tribe to triumph: A Chaplain’s journey.