A grease fire that severely burned Richard Inyang on his stomach, arms, hands and upper thighs could have killed him.

But it didn’t.

As the Minnesota preacher sees it, the Lord still has a purpose for him.

After his brush with death, the longtime missionary from Nigeria has no doubt about that.

“I know that the hands of God are involved in this,” said Inyang, 49, who has served the Roseville Church of Christ for 15 years. “Even the doctor said, ‘With the nature of your injuries, you were really saved by a divine power.’”

Inyang wore special gloves — with just the tips of his fingers sticking out — as he shared his story. Underneath his clothes, a custom-made compression garment covered his fire-ravaged body.

Inyang first came to America nearly two decades ago to further his Bible education. He decided to stay and share the Gospel with Minneapolis-St. Paul’s fast-growing African immigrant population. 

“This is where God called me to come,” he told The Christian Chronicle.

Since the kitchen fire four months ago, Churches of Christ in the Twin Cities area have rallied around Inyang and his family: wife Emem, 17-year-old son Joseph, 12-year-old twin sons Ikoobong and Itembong and infant Edikan.

“What a blessing to see our congregation and other Churches of Christ in Minnesota praying for Richard and his family, bringing meals and making significant financial contributions to help offset medical costs,” said Ethan Bilbrey, who preaches for the Richfield Church of Christ, south of Minneapolis.

Said Russell Pointer, senior minister for the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ: “It was only by the grace of God that Richard is still here. I’m telling you, it’s a great story.”

Risking his life to do God’s work

A flashing marquee sign outside the Roseville church invites passersby to help care for Nigerian orphans.

The message reflects the deep commitment of the predominantly African immigrant congregation — with members from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo — to serve children at the Solace Orphanage International Center, roughly 6,500 miles away.

Inyang and the 50-member Roseville church started the orphanage in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria’s coastal south in 2020.

Inyang still returns to his native Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon each year and takes his survival from the fire as a sign God wants him to keep doing so.

“That is why God brought me back to life … because I still have a lot to accomplish,” he said.

It’s not the first time, Inyang said, that God has surprised him by keeping him alive.

On a 2018 mission trip, he ignored the pleas of French soldiers and his own father and entered a war zone in Cameroon to deliver medical and educational supplies. 

“Should I stay back?” Inyang remembered asking his wife.

“No,” he said she told him. “If anything happens, I will take care of the children. But God will not allow anything to happen.”

Later, as guerrilla fighters shouted and aimed assault rifles at him, Inyang put his head on the dashboard of his rented truck, which blared Christian music from a loudspeaker. 

“Jesus, take my soul,” he recalled saying as he prepared to die.

But the combatants let him and his driver pass safely through the checkpoint. Not long after that, he said he learned, they killed a Catholic priest. 

During his monthlong mission trips, he visits the numerous African churches he has planted, distributing medicine, glasses, clothes and Bibles and baptizing hundreds of new converts.

And he checks on the children and the orphanage’s facilities, including a three-story school for which he and his wife took out a second mortgage on their Minnesota home.

Inyang’s willingness to risk his life in a war zone — and tap into his family’s meager finances to help orphans — exemplifies his commitment to his Christian calling, Roseville member Stacy Sikes said.

“That was no fluke,” Sikes, a retired minister and chaplain, said of Inyang’s fraught Cameroon experience. “It’s his life. He’s a man that says, ‘I believe God will be with us, and let’s go for it.’”

‘The fire exploded all over me’

Inyang’s latest opportunity to put his life in God’s hands came Feb. 19.

Flames erupted that night after one of Inyang’s sons put oil in a pan to cook on the stove and then left to play a video game, according to church leaders. 

In the living room, the father of four talked on the phone with a person from the orphanage.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Inyang heard one of his children yell.

The shirtless minister ran to the kitchen and jerked the pan off the burner.

“The fire exploded all over me,” he recalled.

Inyang spent more than a month in the hospital and has undergone a half-dozen surgeries. Still fighting pain and battling to recover, he hopes to return to the pulpit soon.

Men in the church have stepped up to preach and teach Bible classes.

“It’s been really stressful for the congregation. Richard has a good heart for the Lord,” said Isaac Karmue, a 50-year-old Liberian refugee. “We all are just trying to support him in the best way possible.”

The Roseville church formed in 1963, but decades later, declining membership and rising maintenance needs prompted some Christian leaders to advise selling the building and donating the proceeds to mission work, Sikes said.

Inyang refused.

“He really looked at this location as being a place for God’s people, and it is,” Sikes said. “And so he and his wife both worked for Walmart in order to have an income.”

Their resoluteness and trust in God led to the multicultural influx. 

“We see no race line or culture line,” Karmue said of the Roseville congregation. “Christ is first. Everybody here — I can’t say a single bad thing about anyone. I see the presence of God.”

‘Unity among the brethren’

Charlene May, a former American missionary to Haiti with her husband, David, organized meal deliveries for the Inyangs.

She relied first on Roseville members and later enlisted other area Christians.

“I have decided it’s one of my gifts to model how we take care of each other,” said May, who has attended Roseville since 2020. “I knew that family was going to need long-term help. And the mom, you know, she had that baby a month before this accident.”

Inyang praises God for all the support his family has received.

He enjoyed a hearty laugh as he reflected on a noninstitutional Church of Christ that helped.

“The congregation that they don’t believe you can eat in the building, they brought food to my house,” Inyang said with a thankful chuckle. 

“Really, I can see the unity among the brethren,” he added. “I can see their support, so we really, truly appreciate it and thank God.”

Confident in his calling

On a recent Sunday, Inyang stood at the front of the Roseville church and updated members on his progress.

“God is improving my health,” he reported.

“Amen!” members responded.

“Every day I see the power of God,” he added.


He voiced hope that he could start driving again soon — and resume preaching in the not-so-distant future.

Even Inyang’s return to worship has made the church more joyful, said Ikoobong, one of his sons.

“Everyone misses him,” the 12-year-old said.

After the assembly, the minister greeted fellow Christians at a multicultural fellowship meal that featured Nigerian-style coconut rice, egg rolls, pizza and fried chicken.

“Spiritually, I’m very, very strong,” Inyang told the Chronicle. “Physically, I’m still under recovery.”

But he’s pleased with his progress — and eager to fulfill God’s purpose for his life.

This piece is republished from The Christian Chronicle.

Bobby Ross Jr. writes the Weekend Plug-in column for ReligionUnplugged.com and serves as editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle. A former religion writer for The Associated Press and The Oklahoman, Ross has reported from all 50 states and 18 nations. He has covered religion since 1999.