BEAVERTON, Ore. – He remembers being nine years old when he first prayed about it. Maybe he was eight, he says. It’s hard to remember the promises you make to yourself when you’re a child.
This offseason, though, those promises finally came good. When Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi returned to Nigeria this winter, he finally opened the church he had always dreamed of.
“It’s something I had in my mind, a promise I made, that when I played professional football, I was going to do the church and give back to society,” Adi, 27, explained. “Since I’ve been playing, it’s something that’s been on my mind to do. Lucky for me, last year, I completed the project.”
The church, located in his east-central Nigerian home state of Benue, seats 500 people, according to Adi, and was built on land donated by other community leaders. The project was entirely funded by the Lagos-born forward, who is a devout Christian.
“I just did it,” Adi said, “and the government and the people made sure they were there, when it opened, to receive the church.
“It was an amazing feeling, to be able to give back to the society that has given me so much.”
Adi left his home as a teenager to play professionally in Europe, spending time in Slovakia, Ukraine and Denmark before joining Portland in the summer of 2014. Since, Adi has become the second Timbers player to eclipse the 50-goal mark across all competitions, winning an MLS Cup title with the team in 2015.
The project not only reflects the Nigerian’s ties to his birth nation but also his a foundation to his spirituality, which he calls “the biggest part of me.”
That foundation made the church his single-minded goal, something that remained, unwavering, as his career’s changed course and the project hit speed bumps. If anything, those obstacles made him and his family more focused
“Since I started playing, I’ve been through a lot of ups and down, in football,” he remembered. “To be able to excel and make money, to be able to put in a lot of money to build a church, there were definitely a lot of ups and downs. We kept praying about it, kept pressing until we got the approvals we needed.
“At the end of the day, the church was finally ready, and the people in Benue were happy to receive it. For me, it’s just a privilege to be able to do that.”
The depth of that privilege, however, extends beyond those words. Adi is in his 10th year as a professional, playing for Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kyiv before experiencing the atmosphere at Providence Park. He appeared in both UEFA Champions League and Europe League while with Danish titans F.C. Copenhagen and, two years ago, earned a callup to the Nigerian national team. Even at 27, he’s already had an accomplished career, but in his eyes, the project he completed this offseason transcends everything he’s done on the field.
“That is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life, and it’s probably going to be the biggest,” he admitted. “To be that young, to have this dream, and to achieve the dream and remember to give back on what you prayed for is amazing, because when you get the money, a lot of things come to mind. There were a lot of distractions, but I was hellbent on doing it …
“I cried the day of handing over the church, because it’s just an amazing joy to be able to do that, and to have the people recognize it. They felt that something amazing had been done.”
That his contribution, and the reaction it got, might motivate others to give back made the project even more worthwhile.
“Hopefully other people will give back to the society, because we have a lot of things going on in the country, right now,” he said, “and if you are in a position of leadership and able to give back, it goes a long way.
“You give to a good cause, and people say it’s amazing work, but I’m just grateful to be able to do it.”