Nigeria: A Challenge in Mission Strategy

The face of the Christian Reformed Church is still turned to Nigeria in love, representing God’s compassion in Christ to that land. This is one phase of the sense of mission which grips the section of Christ’s church to which we belong. It testifies that the joy, peace and fulfillment found with us cannot be bottled up but must be poured out as a libation to God before the eyes of Nigerians as well as Alaskans and Navahos, Cubans and Ceylonese.

Even as Christ is one, so the mission is one. Yet the question arises: Does the church of one geographical area have an unending mission to the people of another geographical area, even when the church is established there? Hence there arises “the problem of a continuing mission in Nigeria.”

In the past the mission of the Christian Reformed Church has been to carry the “good news” of Christ’s atoning work to certain peoples in northern Nigeria; to proffer God’s forgiveness on the basis of repentance and faith; to teach them the heart of the “way” of the new covenant in Christ. Several pioneers heralded God’s Word to the pagan tribes of the district for which we are responsible. The Muslims there usually had come in from other districts or had deliberately chosen Islam instead of Christianity. Hence the response among them has been next to nothing. They felt secure as adherents of the majority-religion of northern Nigeria.


By means of this evangelistic effort Cod caused the church of Jesus Christ to take root in the Benue and Sardauna provinces. All the way from the Tigon people of Batu Kamino in the east to the Tiv people of the Isherev area in the west, the nucleus of Christ’s church is evident. Today among the Tiv—and Hausa-speaking people there are two autonomous denominations with self-governing synods, six active classes, forty local congregations, eighteen national pastors, many evangelists and elders and deacons, 9,000 communicants and more than 80,000 who hear the Gospel every Sunday morning.

Taking note of the teaching ministry in addition to the eighteen national pastors and one probationary candidate, we find twenty-four young men in training for the gospel ministry,1 more than 200 young men in the four Bible Training Schools, and some 10,000 children and young people taught in Classes for Religious Instruction. Catechism classes with varying degrees of effectiveness are being taught, and nearly 9,000 children are found in the Christian School system. In this system there are approximately 80 schools with some 300 teachers.2 An established Teachers’ Training College at Mkar is presently in process of expansion. The new Secondary School at Ghoko is completing its third year of operation.3 Dependent on the Spirit’s movement, the indigenous churches should soon be obtaining an adequate number of trained young men to advance their programs. In this way the churches should be able to fulfill their responsibilities.



In the field of evangelism new areas are still being opened. A good start has been made in tlle Isherev area of Tiv· land. Here the Rev. L. Van Essen is continuing the work begun by the Rev. C. Persenaire. In the southwest comer of Tivland, at Ityoshin, the Rev. T. Monsma began his labors in June 1963. On the edge of the Hausa-speaking territory to the east the Rev. C. Holkeboer has taken up residence at Serti to do pioneer work in a section of Sardauna province where a strong Muslim community is present.

Now in these areas the mission has still taken the initiative, but with the agreement and encouragement of the national churches involved. The Hausa-speaking church has agreed to send a national pastor and two evangelists into this Serti area.4

In the companion phase of literature production and distribution the mission is still in the foreground, but there has been a growing interest in this effort on the part of certain church leaders. For many years to come we will probably have to support this effort financially.


The past two years have seen African Church representation on the committees and conferences of the mission. Presently the mission is not only conSidering the dissolution of its Evangelism Department but of all deparbnental meetings. Joint meetings have exposed a competition between the two national churches for favors. These church representatives have frankly expressed their suspicions concerning tlle motives of the mission and the policies which guide her in her service in Nigeria. There has been a growing sensitivity on the part of thesc nanona1 churches to any real or imagined cllallenge to their autonomy.

As in all relationships, sin has colored these exchanges both from the side of the mission and that of the national churches. Presently, however, these relationships are good, and a mutually respectful working relation must evolve to insure any long-range working together.

In the case of the mission’s Evangelism Department it seems self-evident that, with the evolvement of fully constituted churches of Christ in Nigeria, the responsibility for evangelizing the peoples of that area should primarily rest with the indigenous churches. Any assistance or allocation of workers in these areas should be done in conjunction with the church involved, or more specifically, with its official assemblies. Certainly there are problems of working relationships to be worked out. Recent events have indicated that such an approach would be fruitful and would perhaps lead to greater harmony. Perhaps it also implies that we should divide our work in Nigeria into two separate parts along the lines of the two existent churches. Already we have difficulty maintaining the unity of the work because of the different policies of the two areas—the one area is played off against the other. The question will then arise: w ill our missionaries be willing to work under the direction of the national churches?


Since in the near future supervision of the work of education will be turned over to the two church synods, we will again be confronted by a division. These synods will serve as the proprietors of their respective school systems. This will take place if and when the government gives its expected approval.5

At such time the central Teachers’ Training College, located at Mkar in the Tiv area, will be the bone of contention. Who will control this? The Tiv people look upon it as their school. The same contention exists presently concerning the new Christian High School which has been built at Gboko in Tiv country. The Hausa-speaking Christians have requested the mission to build them an equivalent secondary school in their geographical area. This rivalry was indicated recently by the refusal to allow a missionary connected with one language group to supervise schools established in the area of the other language group.

Radical expansion of the educational system on the primary level seems unlikely, due to the establishment of a government quota system in each province to control the agencies sponsoring new schools. During the past year the mission was permitted to open up only one new primary school. If national teachers were available, expansion on the upper levels would be possible. The Hausa-speaking section of the field is especially beset by a serious shortage of teachers. Other questions are being raised with regard to the Christian impact of these schools. Be that as it may, here is a wonderful opportunity of influence if the teachers are Christian in more than just name.


Two large hospitals and eight or more dispensaries are the medical arm of the mission, through which we attempt to show mercy to those in distress, give expression to our Christian sense of service and provide a way for prolonged gospel contact by word and deed. When we remember that more than 2500 are treated daily and so have some contact with those who minister in Christ’s name, the importance of this work becomes evident. Yet many constantly challenge the effectiveness of medical missions. Perhaps this is so because we can never be sure of the reaction to a good deed and because so much is dependent upon the personality and Christian character of the one who makes the contact. Shortly before I returned home on furlough a Muslim came to my office to thank me for sending him to Takum hospital. With tears in his eyes he told me of his thankfulness for the amazing love which doctors and nurses had shown to him and his friends.

At present we have only one Nigerian young man studying to become a doctor at Ibadan University. However the flow of qualified Nigerian registered nurses is constantly increasing. Soon this will affect the number of “European” nurses needed on the field.

As we consider the educational and medical departments of the missions, it is more difficult to submerge these departments into the synods of the national churches. Thought is being given to the possibility of operating such institutions as Teachers’ Training College, Bristow Secondary School, Mkar Hospital, Takllm Hospital and others under independent Boards of Governors.

If this should materialize, what relationship would these institutions sustain to the national autonomous churches? Though we have used medical activities as a legitimate arm of missions, should this be continued by the national churches themselves? Will they be able both technically and financially to sustain this work? Many missionaries and missions have serious doubts whether the national churches should ever become involved in the complexities of an educational program, let alone that of hospital administration.


The primary problem of continuing mission in Nigeria, in the direct sense, is the establishment of a framework of cooperation with the national churches which is mutually satisfactory.

The first requirement for successful future relationships will be frank and full recognition of the far-reaching significance of the autonomous nature of the national churches with whom we work. Perhaps it will mean that now we become junior partner, even though financially we are required to remain senior partner. It may even mean that the respective synods will deal directly with our Foreign Mission Board and that no longer will there be a mission conference passing judgment on the requests of the national churches. We may even have to consider the possibility that the mission in its organizational aspects will cease to exist. I trust that the readers will now sense a bit of the complexity of this problem.6

Any change in organization will likely complicate the problem with which we are already struggling—that of maintaining in any sense the indigenous pattern of operation.

Increasing pressure for more funds and for support of more projects and aspects of the work of the national churches is being felt. The pastors’ training programs are becoming increasingly mission-supported. It is a struggle to get the churches to contribute. Perhaps more than fifty percent of this cost is already now being borne by the mission and the missionaries, apart from costs of buildings and missionary salaries and housing.7 In the light of the international policy of giving to underdeveloped nations, a strong emphasis on indigenous self-support is not appreciated. Your particular mission effort is continually contrasted with the efforts of neighboring missions. In a way missions tend to become run-away carriages. The only one who can put on the brakes is the Board of Missions. Should a missionary on the field oppose a project desired by the national church, he may soon become a persona non grata. The difficulty of being in such a position was made abundantly clear to us last year. So also it is next to impossible to close a mission station or end some phase of the work, because the prestige of the area is involved.8 This prevalent attitude of “give me” does not encourage the development of good stewardship on tile part of the nationals themselves.

In this connection a significant emotionally-involved problem emerges. It is that of the church membership of the missionaries.

The national churches desire that we become members of their churches. The suggestion of associate membership is in tbe main not acceptable to the African churches. It is vicwed as a sort of subterfuge.

But if real membership in these churches is considered, what does this imply for the authority of the Christian Reformed Church over its missionaries? What reaction will the missionaries display to ehurch-exercised authority over them? What voice will the missionaries have in the affairs of the local congregations? What will happen to their ministerial starns?

This is tremendously involved, since it touches the reality of the equality of the Nigerian convert and the missionary as brothers in the Lord. Can the national churches continue to apply one policy to their own members and another to the missionaries living among them? Let us recognize that the presence of missionaries of another denomination taking leading roles in the ongoing life of the national churches without being under the authority of the assemblies of those churches is an anomalous situation. It is with these and similar problems that we as missionaries and the church at home must wrestle in obedience to the Scriptures and in reliance upon the Spirit of God.

1. By May 1963 26 were studying for the ministry at various levels. The Tiv church is investigating the possibility of opening a class of some. 20 young men who have had primary education or its equivalent.

2. There are 64 Junior Primary Schools, of which 14 also have three grades of Senior Primary Education.

3. Bristow Secondary School has begun a process of “double-streaming” and has also become co-educational.

4. At the synod held in April 1963 this was changed to read “three evangelists.”

5. The government has now recognized both indigenous churches as “Voluntary Agencies” which enables them to serve as proprietors of schools.

6. If we maintain that the mission of the church is one, then we must conclude that there is no principal objection to seating representatives of the national churches in the mission (Christian Reformed) councils. This underscores the fact that from now on the only authoritative independent voice within the Christian Reformed Church able to give an unbiased judgment on the policies of the mission in Nigeria will have to be the Board of Missions.

7. Individual missionaries are also helping to pay fees of many students pursuing other phases of higher education.

8. Since January 1963 the Sevav mission station has been closed as a residence for a “European” (foreign) missionary.