Founder and President Martin Niboh, Ph.D. was born into poverty in a small village in Cameroon, Africa, on March 18, 1963. Due to a prolonged argument among family members that the kinship of the couple was too close (5th cousin or so), Martin’s parents were never able to marry. His biological father decided to move on, but not before Martin was conceived, leaving his mother, Helen, a teen-age mom with few options for caring for her son. While Martin was a toddler, Helen worked on a farm for about $1/week.
Being a precocious and very clever child, Martin was a little too much for Helen to handle as she worked. Helen sent 3-year-old Martin to school with his uncle, where he sat on the dirt floor in the back of the room. Feeling that he was too much of a nuisance, the teacher told the uncle to drop Martin off at the first grade. He had no chalk, no slate, and no seat; he just sat in the dust and copied things into the dust. When this teacher realized Martin was copying what she was writing on the board, she brought him a piece of wood to write on. Martin completed his first experience at schooling by the time he was only 10 years old, an age when most youths in Cameroon are just beginning their formal education!
Around this time, Helen met a man with the last name of Niboh. She wanted a father for Martin. He had served in the military and he liked Martin. Mr. Niboh was a good man and, although he desired to help Martin with further schooling, he was in no position to do so.
Martin had an idea that if he moved to the city and attended an auto mechanics program, he could get a driver’s license at age 17, repair vehicles, and become a taxi driver. The down payment for the program was $200-$300. He figured if he and his mother stopped working on the farm and started a produce market, they could save $2/week. By the end of the year, they had saved $100 toward this goal.
On the way to the farm one day, Martin had a chance encounter with a teacher, who wondered why he wasn’t in school. The teacher was shocked to discover that Martin had already completed primary school. A few weeks later, this teacher told Martin about a competitive examination held by the government for a scholarship to a vocational junior high school. He knew Martin was helping his mother from 7:00am to 7:00pm, but offered to help prepare Martin for the exams in the evening. He sat for the exams and received the scholarship.
So, away Martin went to boarding school, while his mother worked to buy books. At the end of four years, he was the top student in the school. He learned the trade of brick-laying and wanted to go to high school, but there was not one for brick-laying.
Martin convinced his mom that if she bought the books that were used by students in the general high school, he could study at home and sit for the final exam that the junior high general students would take. He planned to cover in one year what the general school students covered in five. Even for those attending, the failure rate was high. His mom thought he was crazy and his dad thought he should just get a job as a brick-layer.
Although it caused friction with his dad, Martin was able to use the funds they had saved earlier to buy the needed books. At the end of the year, Martin took the exam and finished eighth in the country! After Martin was written about in the newspaper and the news was broadcast on the radio, Mr. Niboh quickly changed his tune and took credit for everything his son had accomplished!
After the news got out that Martin had basically taught himself, he received a scholarship to go to high school six hours away. He went to this boarding high school for two years and graduated at the top of the class, again receiving a scholarship, this time to college. Unfortunately, at that time there was no English-speaking university in Cameroon. Although his French was poor, he was able to gain admission to the university in the French-speaking part of Cameroon. Despite his initial deficiencies in the French language, he once again amazed his professors and fellow students, earning an undergraduate degree in physics and graduating at the top of his class.
During his time at the university, Martin would regularly visit the American Cultural Center next door to the American Embassy just to read books in English. Reading about American history and daily news from the United States, he had fallen in love with America and the mission of the founding fathers. He had performed so well at the university that the government wanted to send him to England to study agriculture, to Germany to study aeronautical engineering, or to China to study civil engineering. Martin’s desire, however, was to go to America.
Scholarships at American universities were not forthcoming, so Martin took a job teaching at a local Cameroonian high school. After one year he was elevated to the position of vice principal. By obsessively putting aside 70% of every weekly pay check, he had saved $6000 after three years. He began to apply to graduate programs in the United States. One of these was Kent State University in Ohio. In reviewing his transcript, officials at the university had determined that his Cameroonian degree in physics was questionable in meeting the requirements for graduate school. Martin agreed to two years of remedial undergraduate study in order to be admitted to the graduate program. After selling all his possessions and adding this amount to his savings, he had just enough funds for a plane ticket and one semester’s tuition at Kent State.
Finally arriving in the United States, Martin was able to get a cafeteria job, washing dishes for $3.00/hour. His university advisor had remembered from Martin’s file that he had taught math. The Math Department was in urgent need of a math instructor and Martin got the job. The position came with a tuition waver.
During Martin’s first semester at Kent State, his electrodynamics professor called him in and asked where he was from and how he came to be in that class. Martin explained the remedial classes required by the graduate school. That professor went directly to the head of the Physics Department, recommending that Martin needed to be in the graduate program. In no time at all, he went from math instructor to graduate assistant in the Physics Department.
Being promoted from dishwasher to graduate assistant gave Martin $600 for room and board, and he was able to retrieve his semester tuition money of $4000. Before he left Cameroon, Martin had become engaged to Caroline, who was willing to wait on Martin for five years. With new funds in hand, he called his mom to tell Caroline he would be back in June to marry her. After their marriage in June 1991, Martin brought his bride to the United States, where he continued his graduate school education.
During his second year of graduate school, Martin became a research assistant, which put him on a career path to a major cutting-edge project in nuclear physics. His goal, at that time, was to work for the UN or US Nuclear Regulations or stay at the Kent State Center for Nuclear Research. In December 1997, he received his PhD in Physics.
As early as 1995, God started laying on Martin’s heart a vision of how to help the people of his native country. Seeing Africa from the outside, he became frustrated about the needlessness of the suffering that existed there and wanted to do something about it. He knew that if he worked full-time in the area of nuclear physics, there would not be enough time to pursue his African mission. His advisor, of course, thought he was crazy.
After earning his PhD, Martin spent one year as a sabbatical replacement for a professor at Whitworth College in Washington. During that year, he began sending out applications for teaching positions at other colleges. It was his thought that even though teaching wouldn’t be as lucrative as nuclear research, it would mean that he would have his summers free for ministry to Cameroon. One of the 10 colleges that received his application was College of the Ozarks, also known as “Hard Work U”. C of O was the first of five scheduled interviews for Dr. Niboh. He was intrigued by the fact that students could earn college tuition while working at this small Christian college, graduating debt-free. When he returned home after the interview, he told Caroline that if the college made him an offer, he wanted to go there. The next day, the academic dean called and offered him a job. He ignored the four other interviews and accepted the position at C. of O.
Shortly after his arrival in Missouri, Martin began gathering a group of mission-minded people to share his vision for his country. Eventually, the Torchbearer Foundation for Missions, Reconciliation, and Development was born and Martin’s vision became a reality. The first Christian Community Development Conference was held in Cameroon in the capital city of Yaoundé in July, 2000. From this conference, the first CCD prayer cell (know as a torch) was established, and now there are over 600 small-group torches all across Cameroon. Over the first decade of the twenty-first century, Dr. Niboh has given faith-inspired direction to a growing ministry, which promotes holistic Christian community development at the grassroots level. Torchbearer Foundation is teaching Cameroonian Christians to light a torch rather than curse the darkness around them, to prayerfully work towards solving the many challenges themselves instead of complaining about their problems and the limited effectiveness of local and national leadership.
With limited resources, Torchbearer Foundation has established computer technology centers, health centers, elementary schools, community co-op stores, community farms, grain grinding centers, and a bakery. Under Dr. Niboh’s supervision, several individuals have traveled to Cameroon to offer assistance in various areas including computer training, small business development, farming techniques, health care, leadership training and abstinence education.
Dr. Niboh realizes that God loves Africans just as much as He loves Americans. He wants Cameroonians to realize that God can use them to solve many of their own problems. His desire is that individuals will be transformed from the inside out and communities will be developed from the bottom up for the glory of God and for a better Africa. This is his mission. To this end he will devote his life.