Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 17, 1969
NUMBER 11, PAGE 7-8a

The Poor Saints In Nigeria

Kent Ellis

One of the great tragedies in terms of human suffering to occur in modern times is taking place in Southeastern Nigeria, or Biafra. All informed and humane people have been touched by the news reports received from television, newspapers, and magazines concerning the plight of an entire population. The seriousness of the situation is illustrated by the title of an article in the March issue of Reader's Digest: "A Nation is Dying." The author of that article likens the mass death of the Ibo tribesmen in Nigeria to that suffered by European Jews during World War II. Such pleas have moved many to action to alleviate the suffering.

What makes the matter even more tragic, and should make it of more acute interest to Christians everywhere, is that many of those who suffer and die are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If I understand the matter correctly, there are more churches of Christ in Nigeria than in any nation outside of the United States. And most of these are in the southeast section, where the suffering has been the greatest. Brother George Pennock, who preaches in Nigeria, accurately portrays the situation in his January report entitled: "Death From Starvation Stalks Nigerian Brethren." He describes the suffering and tells now Wayne Payne and he have been able through much difficulty to reach some areas of the southeast state and to assist some of the affected brethren.

The scriptural precedent is clear as to what New Testament churches were taught to do and did in such cases. The reader is referred to Acts 11:27-30; Gal. 2:10; I Cor. 16:1-4; II Cor. 8,9; and Rom. 15:25-33. Brethren sent to poor saints in need in other places. The results of such action are summarized by Paul in II Cor. 9:12-14. (1) The needs of the saints were met. (2) God was thanked and glorified. (3) And, the spiritual ties that bound the children of God together were strengthened. Today we are faced with a similar need, opportunity, and responsibility. First century disciples evidently reacted in a most commendable fashion. We need to do the same.

We need to take decisive steps to relieve these brethren for many reasons. (1) We should do so to prove the sincerity and truth of our love. "I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love"...Show ye therefore unto them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying on your behalf" (II Cor. 8:8,24). "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth" (I John 3:17,18).

(2) We need to show the reality of our faith. "What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what Both it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself" (James 2:14-17).

(3) We should demonstrate the practicality of our convictions, that we believe what we teach, that we practice what we preach. We have preached for years that brethren should help needy saints and that they could do so without benefit of either institutional boards or sponsoring churches. This is an opportunity to show that what worked in the first century will suffice for our own day.

(4) We should take action to prove ourselves, that we are obedient to our confession to the gospel of Christ, that there is substance to our profession of being Christians (II Cor. 9:12,13).

(5) Commendable action on our part in this matter will set an example which might provoke others to do likewise (II Cor. 8:8; 9:2).

(6) Such actions make our righteousness abide forever. "He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever (II Cor. 9:9).

(7) God's principle of "equality" requires that we share with brethren less fortunate. "For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack" (II Cor. 8:13-15). It has never been God's will that some of his children should be in want while others had more than they needed. Such was not his will when he gave manna to the children of Israel, nor when Paul wrote II Corinthians, nor is it his will today.

(8) Every church needs to respond to needs like this because such is a fundamental part of the working of a New Testament church. If others should pervert the function of a church until physical welfare is made its only concern, we must not react to another extreme of supposing that it is of no concern at all.

The picture of judgment given by our Lord in Matthew 25 is very instructive in this matter. If one wishes to know at least part of what will be required of him on that great day, he is there told in very plain language. Faithfulness in ministering to the physical needs of Christ's brethren is a prerequisite to entering into eternal life. Failure to do so bars one from God's presence. Our faithfulness or unfaithfulness in ministering to Christ's brethren is reckoned as the same toward the Lord himself. Apparently, it would be no different to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to starve to death than it would be to allow one of his brethren to do so. It would be just as acceptable to allow a brother to starve across the street as it would be across the ocean. We can just go by on the other side of the road or ignore the poor who would rejoice to have the crumbs from our table, but eternity in hell is the price of such unconcern and inaction.

What we speak about is not something fanciful, difficult, or impossible. Bro Pennock is on the scene and willing to spend and be spent as our messenger to deliver the aid to the required destination. Two churches where I have preached on the subject have contributed $1738.00 in a few days following their being informed of the need. I am satisfied others will do likewise if they are only urged to do so. Whoever you are, take the initiative where you are in calling the attention of brethren to what is literally a life and death situation. Those who show no concern and take no action in the face of such circumstances need not tell the world they are "sound" (healthy) Christians. Their inaction will belie their assertions. Now is the time for action. Common decency requires it. Christian love demands it. (Brother Pennock's address is: George Pennock, P.O. Box 4064 UCI, Ibadan, Nigeria. We sent a Chase-Manhattan cashier's check, which was received and cashed without difficulty.)

— 417 E. Groesbeck, Lufkin, Texas 75901