New Frontiers in Nigeria

The primitive Nigeria in which Johanna Veenstra worked no longer exists today. The country is becoming more and more civilized; transportation is improving; cities are springing up; more and more goods are being bought and sold. Whereas pioneer missionaries entered this land by way of river boat, contemporary missionaries fly in. All this is taking place in a nation that is an independent republic in the British Commonwealth and one of the leading nations of Africa.


The Church in Nigeria has also come a long way in the last forty years. When Johanna Veenstra came there was no church. She had to “start from scratch.” Today there are not only many Christians in the area for which the Christian Reformed Church is responsible; there arc two fully organized denominations with Nigerian pastors, elders, and deacons. (There are two denominations not because the group of Christians is too large for one denomination nor because they are separated by many miles, but because one of these denominations was founded by Reformed missionaries from South Africa and the people of this denomination speak Tiv, whereas those of the other speak mainly Hausa.) In view of the fact that the Church of Christ has been founded in Nigeria, some of our ordained missionaries are beginning to feel that their task is almost completed here and it is time for them to look for another field of labor. Not only has the Church been founded in Benue Province where our mission is working; other missions have been active throughout Nigeria, and the Church has been founded in many places.

The frontier therefore in which Johanna Veenstra and other pioneers worked, is closing. There is, to be sure, still some frontier work to be done. The Rev. Peter Ipema has recently been appointed missionary to the Muslims, which is an entirely new venture. The Rev. Gilbert Holkeboer is manning a new station at Serti. It is my privilege to labor in an area covering hundreds of square miles in which no Protestant missionary has ever lived before and in which the true Church must still be born. It is time, however. that the sending Church in the U.S.A. and the missionaries on the field begin to ask, Where do we go from here? Do we gradually curtail our efforts in Nigeria, thankful for the blessings God has given, or are there new challenges remaining in this nation which ought to claim our increased attention? This article intends to suggest that there is a new frontier in Nigeria which we may not neglect.


Our mission in Benue Province has been largely among rural people. Most Nigerians still live in rural areas. But the cities are growing. For many years in America the trend has been from the rural areas to the cities. That same trend is developing in Nigeria. Coupled with the growth of cities is the emergence of a more educated and cultured class of people. In fact, frequently the more educated people are found in the cities rather than the rural areas. These people are becoming the leaders of this young nation. Those in the universities today will join their ranks in the near future. Here then is the new frontier to which we may well turn our attention: those who have left their rural background in order to further their education, their economic status. etc.


This new frontier is not a frontier in the sense that it requires more rigorous living conditions or greater exposure to physical danger. It is a frontier in the sense that it involves entering a spiritual wilderness and exposing oneself more thoroughly to the hazards of intellectual strife. It probably is not as glamorous as tramping through the bush to bring God’s Word to an isolated village, but in terms of the strategic deployment of God’s people it is most important. It is the habit of the Communists to seek to influence especially the young intellectuals for they are the coming leaders. And while Nigeria is in no apparent danger of adopting Communism as such, socialism and totalitarianism are always at the door. Why should not the Christian community concern itself with this same group of intellectuals that receives so much attention from political hucksters? Is our message less important? The history of the Church in China is instructive for all of us. Eric Fife and Arthur Glasser write as follows:

“Non-strategic factors often tend to blur and distort strategic planning. Unless field leadership is able to keep ultimate goals rigidly in view, planning tends to degenerate. permitting every man to do what appears right in his own eyes.

“This undoubtedly occurred in China. Great cities had weak churches. The student classes, so productive in communist leadership, were largely neglected until it was a case of ‘too little, too late.’ Whereas the more aggressive and able Chinese were drawn from their villages to urban centers, mission societies sent many of their best men to work in rural areas. Tribal and Tibetan work tended to be glamorized out of all proportion to the numbers of souls actually involved. All in all, strategic considerations seemed to play little part in the over-all development of the work. As a result, when the evacuation took place, it was sadly realized that insufficient emphasis had been placed on training a vigorous and able leadership for the national churches. The few small evangelical training schools that existed were of poor academic quality. With a few notable exceptions, such as the Kiangwan Bible Seminary, missionary vision had not been widely imparted” (Missions in Crisis; Rethinking Missionary Strategy. Inter-Varsity Press, Chicago, 1962).


It may be objected that comity agreements with other missions hinder us from entering city and university evangelism. Comity agreements, however, do not take into account the fact that people back to cities and schools from all over the nation. Comity agreements were made for rural areas in a day when cities were small; I doubt whether they can be applied to all situations today. It is certainly right and proper that a mission follow its people when they move from the village to the city. Recently the Sudan United Mission recognized this propriety when it began work in Jos, a city in which the Sudan Interior Mission had been working for some time. We must not permit apparent obstacles to prevent us from fulfilling our obvious calling.

There are various ways in which this calling to the urban and educated Nigerians can be fulfilled. Discussion is needed as to which ways are best. But let us now take a look at some of the opportunities that may be open to us.

We could, for one thing, strengthen what we already have. Many people influence Province have come under the influence of the Gospel. Let us follow them when they move to the cities and continue to minister to them there. This should be done for the Tiv-speaking people as well as the Hausa-speaking group.


We also have some educational institutions on the field. Let us strengthen these institutions with the intent that their graduates may become Christian leaders in this nation. A “fundamentalist” view of the missionary task envisions the founding of Bible schools and seminaries only. As Calvinists we ought to have a broader perspective. At present our mission has one secondary school (high school) at Choko. We could have another secondary school at Wukari, if we were willing to take a minimal financial risk the financial outlay would be small, because the salaries of teachers in secondary schools arc paid by the government. As things stand, however, the Wukari secondary school may be founded as a secular school through our default. Furthermore, we really ought to be thinking in terms of a Christian college (called “university” in Nigeria). There are five secular universities in this nation but no Christian institution. Obviously all this is a dream so long as the Christian Reformed Board of Foreign Mil>sions is operating in the red. But we must make no mistake about the fact that there is a need, and the need is now. Tomorrow may be too late.

Still another possibility in the field of education is scholarships for promising students. Every year hundreds of Nigerian students leave this country to study in the universities of Communist countries and the secular schools of England and America. According to the “Voice of America” the President of Nigeria, Dr. Azikiwe, is a graduate of three American universities. If many secular schools are offering scholarships to these students, why should not Ca1vin (or Dordt, Trinity) offer scholarships to students who must become leaders in the churches we have founded? I am not thinking simply of ministers. In the future there will be Nigerian doctors, lawyers, professors, businessmen, etc. If those who have been nurtured in the church all their lives need a thorough Christian training, how much more those who come from a very recent pagan background.

Some feel that it is not good for Christians from underdeveloped nations to receive their education in highly developed countries, for it is difficult for these students to adjust when they return to their native land. This may be true for many places, but as far as Nigeria is concerned, young men from this country are going to study abroad whether we like it or not. Recently a columnist wrote in the Daily Times, a Nigerian newspaper, as follows:

“Our social ills are not chronically bound to us like the branches to their host. They are curable. Firstly, by purposeful education, as distinct from that of the discredited school leaving menu of today. Secondly, in a much larger proportion of us travel1ing out and seeing what obtains in the rest of the world” (The Daily Times, Lagos, May 16, 1963).

Nigeria has turned her eyes to Western culture. It would be tragic if she gained Western culture and affluence MINUS Western Christianity. It is not a question whether Nigerians will study abroad; it is only a question whether any of them will receive a solid Christian education in a foreign land.


Not only can the Church through its miSSion expand what it already has in Nigeria; we should also investigate more thoroughly than has been done in the past the possibility of witnessing on a broader scale. If we seek to reach the educated, the language barrier drops away for the educated know English. (English is the official language of the land.) Our literature program could probably be expanded to reach the students and the urbanites throughout Nigeria. Radio broadcasts in English are another possibility. Perhaps we should offer correspondence courses through the newspapers. Perhaps we should organize a type of Inter·varsity fellowship on the university campuses already in existence.

The possibilities are almost endless. But they require workers, especially teachers and ministers. I do not feel, therefore, that the day of the ordained missionary in Nigeria is nearing an end. While one frontier may be closing. another is opening. Although the number of Nigerian pastors may be increasing, we need as much as ever college trained missionary pastors who are fluent in English and familiar with urban society.