Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 7, 1967
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1-2a

Civil War In Nigeria

Sewell Hall

It was in Eastern Nigeria, nearly twenty years ago, that churches of Christ were first planted in that country. Since that time, growth has been remarkable. Estimates of membership as high as 50,000 are now seen. This figure would be hard to substantiate, but it is a fact that few states in our country can claim as many congregations or as large a membership as can Eastern Nigeria.

Changes have occurred in the work in Eastern Nigeria roughly comparable to those which have taken place in this country. The early work was altogether evangelistic. But soon a central teaching effort seemed required to make it possible for the two or three American evangelists to train Nigerian men who could in turn edify the widely scattered and largely inaccessible congregations. There are now at least three of these Bible training schools.

Next, an arrangement was made for one of the Americans to spend a few hours each week supervising secular village schools, supported by tax money but allowing daily Bible teaching. This led to establishment of a teacher training college, still largely supported by individuals, but clearly labeled "Church of Christ", and recognized as such by the government.

Latest development has been erection of a sizeable hospital on the border between the Ibo and Efik speaking tribes. Some twelve to fifteen workers have, until recent weeks, been involved in these combined operations.

Political And Military Developments

It is this Eastern Region, made up largely of Ibo and Efik speaking tribes, which has recently broken away from the federation of Nigeria. It has taken the name of Biafra. The break was precipitated by tribal conflict between the aggressive Ibos and the Moslem Hausa tribe which has dominated the federation by mere weight of numbers. As this is written, military forces are now invading Biafra from the North and are approaching the capital city of Enugu. Landings have also been made at Bonnie on the southern coast.

Inevitably many of our brothers and sisters in Christ will be among the sufferers. Though churches are far more numerous to the south, there are congregations in Ogoja and in Enugu. But if the names Umahia, Aba, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo, and Balabar should begin to appear in the news, the reader may be sure that the roads along which the armies march are lined with little mud buildings marked, "Church of Christ." And many of those hungry people fleeing before the armies, many carrying their frightened children in arms, will be our brethren.

These Christians deserve our prayers. Let us pray for their safety, that they may be spared from hunger. And more, let us pray that the spirit of Christ will prevail to overcome the hatreds and animosities that attend invasions and wars. Nor should we forget to ask God to over-rule these developments to strengthen the churches and to teach them to be more dependent on the Lord and less on American churches and American evangelists.

It is our understanding that all of the Americans have now had to leave Biafra for their safety.

Work In The Rest Of Nigeria

Only token efforts have been made in the Moslem North. But a significant work has been underway in the West and Midwest since 1959. The people in these two regions tend to settle in large cities and churches have now been planted in most of these. Ibadan, where the James Gays are now working, has approximately a million people and four or five congregations. The Leslie Diestelkamps are in Lagos, the federal capital, where the work began and where there are now about fifteen congregations. These two families are three to four hundred miles from the fighting, but some of the congregations are considerably closer. No institutions have been established in the West and no real estate purchased.

Barring unexpected developments there is little reason to fear for the safety of these brethren in the West. They will suffer inconveniences and scarcities always common to war. Increased difficulties in travel between cities will curtail activities away from home and war fever will surely hinder reception of the gospel. But they will continue to do an effective work that will more than justify their presence there. Is Nigeria Still a Good Investment?

Has money spent in Nigeria been lost? The answer depends on how the money was spent. Money spent on schools, hospitals, or unnecessary buildings may well be lost in present or future chaos. As Americans leave them, they will be a source of confusion and a bone of contention among the churches.

But money spent on evangelism has not been lost. The 6th Street and Thomas Boulevard church in Port Arthur, Texas spent some $35, 000 or more in Nigeria. Tenth and Francis in Oklahoma City has spent $25,000 or more in that country and North Birmingham has spent a similar amount. All of this has gone directly into evangelism. This cannot be lost. Hundreds converted as result of these expenditures have already gone to meet their maker. Thousands of others still live, many having scarcely seen a white man since their conversion but continuing to worship according to the pure teaching they received. The seed lying dormant in some hearts will still bear fruit.

The gospel is the hope of Nigeria. Where the gospel has filled the hearts, the enmities otherwise existing between the tribes has been dispelled. Representatives of the tribes now fighting have long worshipped together in peace around the table of the Lord. Indeed, the initial work in the West was done by Easterners.

Brother Wayne Payne and his family were due to leave for Western Nigeria July 17th. Their departure was delayed, however, by a lack of funds. They really need another $1,000 for expenses and should have had another $150 per month support as of August 1st. They have their visas and are ready to go. It is urgent that this money be raised. With a family willing to go, surely we who remain at home can supply the means.