LIMA — Father Charles Obinwa came to America nine years ago from Nigeria. He liked the people he served in the Toledo Diocese so much he decided to stay. Monday, the 4th of July, he will become a U.S. citizen.His journey started with a goal common to many: a better life. But the improvement he sought was not financial or political. It was physical.“I ended up in the states specifically for a bad hip,” said Obinwa, 45. “I played soccer.”“They couldn't fix it back home. I went to Europe. I went to Germany, and they couldn't do much for me,” he said.It was fixed at St. Charles Hospital in Toledo in July 2002. Obinwa came to this area because an aunt and a brother and their families live in Toledo.“Frankly speaking, I wasn't thinking of becoming a citizen,” he said. “My whole aim was, ‘Am I going to get better?'” The desire to become a citizen was a gradual thing. First, he just wanted to keep busy. Then he wanted to stay. Then he wanted to be a citizen.After a year of recuperation, he went to the bishop of Toledo.“I told him I don't have health insurance and I wanted to have something to do,” Obinwa said. “To be a priest means to have fulfillment. If you don't function as a priest, you are not fulfilled in life.”A week later, he was assigned to live at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Delphos and look after St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert while its pastor was on leave.He stayed there until the summer of 2007 when a new pastor was assigned. Since then, he's served as chaplain at St. Rita's Medical Center, among other duties.Obinwa has helped out at parishes in Lima, Columbus Grove, Bluffton and New Bavaria. He's helping out in Defiance now as the pastor there, former Lima Central Catholic High School principal Todd Dominique, takes medical leave.“I help out in Delphos and right now a priest at St. John Parish in Defiance is sick. So the diocese asked me to be filling in there,” he said. “I'm pretty busy. But it's all about doing something with joy, then you don't feel the impact.” Obinwa's ready smile and cheerful disposition have won over many people. He said he feels welcome here, and that made him want to stay.“What I do in this diocese, in the hospital, in the parishes, people seem to like it,” he said. “That's one of the main motivational factors. If I do not feel welcome here, then I'll think about going back home.”Once he decided to stay here, it made sense to become a citizen.“There are a lot of privileges to becoming a citizen,” Obinwa said. “Most people in the world like to identify themselves with America, and I'm one of those people.”He said the idea of being a citizen makes him feel more fulfilled and welcome.“It's something to be proud of,” he said.Then there's the practical side.“I'm planning to go to Rome sometime this summer. Becoming a citizen lets me travel with a U.S. passport,” Obinwa said. “You don't have all the hassle of applying for a visa.”The process“The first idea was how can I be a permanent resident and have my green card. So that when I go back to Nigeria, I can come back without a visa,” Obinwa said.Then he had to wait five years before he could apply for citizenship.He applied in February. After a few letters and a March visit to Columbus for fingerprinting, he arrived in Cleveland in April for an interview and test.“They give you 100 questions to study, some of them are political, some of them are historical,” he said. “I went there. They asked me five questions. I got them all,” he said proudly. His questions? How many U.S. senators are there? When was the Constitution written? Name a state that shares a boundary with Canada. Which ocean is on the East Coast of America? Who was the first president of the United States?His answers: 100, 1787, Ohio, Atlantic and George Washington.“And then they asked me to make a sentence, to check my fluency or my expression in the English language, and I did. They asked me to write something, and I did. And they told me, ‘Hey, you passed.'”A little while later, Obinwa received a letter telling him his naturalization ceremony would take place on July 4 at Sauder Village in Archbold.“I was excited, and I'm still excited,” he said.He has a small crowd ready to watch him take the oath. Members of families he has met in Van Wert, Kalida and Leipsic will be there.“I told a couple of friends. I expect at least 10 people to be a witness,” Obinwa said.Cultural adjustmentsObinwa's path to citizenship may seem blessed, but it had its challenges.“I must tell you, when I was in Van Wert, I felt like, ‘I am a punishment to these people because I speak and they don't understand me,'” he said. “I wondered, ‘What do I have to do to be understood?'”What he had to do was take lessons.“I would go to Toledo once a week for a class called accent reduction,” he said. “It was a challenge early. It was a very big challenge.”Communication has gotten easier, but another early challenge hasn't: the weather.“I hate snow, ice,” he said. “It's still a struggle now. Sometimes at the end of winter, I'm so happy.” His first impressions of America were more pleasant. He was a stereotypical tourist when he arrived at Chicago's Midway Airport. He stared in amazement.The drive into Toledo from the Detroit airport impressed him as well.“My reaction was, ‘I can't believe, you've got a lot of trees, bushes,'” he saidWhen asked what he likes about America, Obinwa offers a litany of modern conveniences and technological benefits available to all.Starting with health care. “Back home, hospitals like St. Rita's here, or St. Charles in Toledo, are for big, rich people,” he said. “At the hospitals here, you have poor and rich, everyone.”“I like life in America. You can use the Internet anytime you want, you can watch television any time you want,” he said. “Here you have power, electricity all the time. You have good hospitals. For the most part, you have good roads. If you do your job, you are paid right away.”Those things are not common in Nigeria, he said. You may do a job and not be paid for months.“That encourages crime and corruption,” he said. “For example if you are a policeman and you are not paid, you start taking money from cars, from drivers.”While he appreciates the modern conveniences of America, Obinwa thinks people may rely on them too much.“Just like in an ice storm, people don't have power, electricity for two days. They are going crazy.”He said it's not uncommon in Nigeria to be without power for weeks at a time. Because we so often get what we want when we want it, we forget how to wait, he said.“So many people here don't exercise the virtue of patience,” Obinwa said. “Back home, you don't have a choice, so you know, in the back of your mind, you have to have patience.“People here don't take suffering the way we take suffering back home. That's why a lot of people are getting depressed.”He said life in Nigeria is more relational and community-based.“You are not alone in your suffering,” he said. “You are not alone in your joy. When you are suffering, you have a lot of people to care for you.”Depression is nearly unheard of there, he said.“When I came here, I found out what depression is,” he said. “Back home, the warmth of the people is a medication for depression.”Nigerians may be poor, but they are happy.“It is true, we are poor people. We don't have money the way you do in America,” Obinwa said. “We have happy people more than America.”The food situation is a mixed blessing. It's not like the food back home, but thanks to our diversity, he can get African food at Asian markets in larger cities.“My aunt sometimes goes to Columbus to get African food,” he said. “You have food so fattening. All this cheese.”There's good and bad about both countries, but Obinwa thinks he'll stay here awhile. It's where he belongs.â€©“My plan is to be in America at least for the next 25 years because I enjoy the Diocese of Toledo,” he said.