The Changing Face of our Nigerian Mission

In a recent article we signalized some of the deep-rooted problems which face the Christian Reformed Church and her mission enterprise in Nigeria.

Since 1940, when the church assumed responsibility for the work begun by the late Johanna Veenstra and her colleagues, God has richly blessed the labors of the church and her missionaries. Two national churches have been organized. Step by step these have assumed greater responsibility for aspects of the work. Simultaneously the Nigerian peoples to whom the church has ministered have awakened to take their place in the modem world. Education has grown by leaps and bounds. Roads have opened the hinterlands. Independence has given the country a new sense of selfhood. All this was bound to affect the mission enterprise. No longer mayor dare we regard the Nigerian churches as dependent upon the white missionaries for the spread of the gospel and the maturing of the Christian churches in that land.

In this article we would call attention in somewhat greater detail to the response of the national churches. This may help us understand why no easy answer can be found to the question: How long can and will the Christian mission, specifically that carried on by the Christian Reformed Church, continue in that land?


Some of the pressing aspects of the administrative problem would be solved, if the two autonomous denominations in Nigeria with which we work would unite to form one denomination. The past year has seen attempts by the Hausa·speaking church to obtain the agreement of the Tiv-speaking church to set up a committee which would initiate discussions which would hopefully lead to church union. This was rejected emphatically.1 In fact, the oHer was viewed as a sort of provocative action.

In my opinion there are several reasons for this attitude. First, there continues to be a strong spirit of tribal competition and jealousy. Second, since both churches are of approximately the same size, there is the question which side would control the united synod. And since the joy of exercising autonomy has just recently been experienced, the churches are loath to give this up. Third, the two churches follow different practices in the local congregations and in the field of evangelism. These policies are cherished with religious fervor. Fourth, politics has inserted a tension into present relationships which makes union talks useless. Fifth, some of the missionaries themselves are not convinced of the need or the desirability of such union.

Running one mission with two policies, or let us say with policies directed toward two national churches each with its own peculiar characteristics, introduces the growing danger of a cleavage between the Hausa· and the Tiv-speaking missionaries.


Both of these national churches are members of the “Fellowship of the Churches of Christ in the Sudan.” In this group are to be found Baptists, Methodists, Brethren, Lutherans and others. Both are happy to belong to this fellowship, since it does not affect their autonomy within their respective areas. An African enjoys any meeting for fellowship, but as far as I can detect there is little inclination in our districts towards real union with these bodies.

In addition there has been established an Evangelical Council of Churches of Northern Nigeria, which is a little more widely representative in its membership than the above-mentioned Fellowship. This bas been operating successfully for only a year or so, and it is difficult to make a judgment on its value. During the past year the African churches have been approached as to whether they desire to join this Christian Council. The Tiv church apparently has indicated that it would like to be a partner with the mission in this, and asked the mission to pay its fifty-pound yearly membership fee.2 The Hausa-speaking church has so far hesitated to seek membership in this body. Apart from the question of the value of such a relationship and possible dangers involved in it, the synods already now are in constant financial difficulty, let alone having to pay for the travel and board of delegates to another, distant meeting each year. The argument is brought forward that since the mission is a member due to its association with the S.U.M., why should not the national churches with whom we associate become members?

These wider relationships do tend to make the national churches a little more critical of our mission efforts in the light of their increasing knowledge of what other missions have done for the national churches in their care. Hence mission is played off against mission. There is no longer any isolated mission activity in Nigeria.3



The above-mentioned facts and interpretations will give you an impression of a growing maturity on the part of our African churches. This is also a correct impression. It fits in with the movement of Nigerianization throughout the country—Nigeria is for the Nigerians! Hence many “European” government officials have been and are being replaced by Nigerians. It is expected that also in the mission program, as capable Nigerians arise, they will replace present American workers. Hopefully this should take place in gradual fashion from now on in the case of nurses, teachers and preachers. Perhaps in the more distant future it can also take place in the case of doctors and other specialists.

There are some positions, perhaps, which we do not want filled with Nigerians, since we feel that after a certain period of time there should not be a continuation of the work which these involve. An example of this is the case of those of our ministers who have been serving as district missionaries. With the ordination of Nigerians much of this work has been assumed by those national pastors who serve local congregations within the district. The American missionary has become absorbed in other tasks besides the administration of the sacraments, the counseling of the local churches, and full-time evangelism. But there is a growing conviction on the part of the ordained men, that these tasks do not necessarily warrant the presence of an ordained minister. One can always be busy on a mission Geld. People make so many demands on the time and abilities of a person. In view of this the position of district missionary will undoubtedly be discarded.

If we examine the use of ordained men, we find a total of seventeen “European” pastors, one on sick leave. This total includes the missionaries from South Africa. Five arc engaged in pastor-training programs, three are involved in literature and Bible-translation work (all D.C.R.M.), one in Bible school work, one in ecumenical work in the main, one in mission administration, and seven in district missionary work. Mr. Korhom will teach the pre-seminary course at Lupwe.


As far as these evangelistic endeavors are concerned, the churches have been reaping a harvest of one thousand or more converts annually. This may seem to be quite a good rate of increase, but it could be much better.

What has been happening should be watched carefully. Of late there has been a trend away from personal witnessing, emphasizing in its place the institutional witness through the church’s official representatives such as pastors, evangelists, elders and the like. With the development of the country there has been a tendency to emphaSize that a teacher is a teacher, a mason is a mason, and a farmer is a farmer. So, more and more we hear of laymen refusing to lead a service or going out to witness, on the ground that they are not being paid. Even elders are chagrined to discover all the demands made on their time, for which they are not paid. In such a picture we feel that there is still plenty of room for a few “European” men to spearhead the work in pioneer areas. If present plans go forward, then the Revs. Holkeboer, Van Essen and Monsma will be engaged in such work.


Those missionaries not engaged in pioneer evangelism or pastor-training programs are weighing the lasting contribution which they are able to make in their districts against the amount of time absorbed in jobs which a layman could easily do. Some are beginning to feel that their training and abilities are not being fully utilized; that they did not come to Nigeria to serve as secretary, chauffeur, banker and the like but as ministers of the Word. Incidentally, the matter is very complicated, since the missionary stands in the community primarily as a Christian man and witness in the totality of his life. Yet the inner conflict is very real and much present.

This same conflict has affected some of the doctors and nurses who have served or are serving in the medical program. Perhaps it is a satanic temptation, yet the thought arises: “Am I just serving a medical need in this area, or is this a real kingdom contribution?”

Even in the field of education this thought comes to the fore at times. Presently only three of our missionary personnel are engaged in teaching in the primary system. Three male teachers are engaged in educational administration. The remaining educational staff are engaged in higher education.

What I am trying to get at is this. Usually staff members will stay on the job only when they have the satisfaction of heart that they are being effective; that they can do their job; that there is no one to take their place; that not only Nigeria needs them but also the coming of Christ’s kingdom demands their staying on. If tins conviction is absent, a decrease in the mission staff will be seen—not a continuing increase as is presently the case. This pattern has already become pronounced in government service. It is also becoming apparent in some of the missions operating in Nigeria.


During the last few years relations with the government have been amiable. There has been no sign that missions will be expelled in the immediate future. Rather, the emphasis of the government is on toleration, on mutual respect, on a working together to build a strong and modern Nigeria.4

No, the problem of the continuing mission of the Christian Reformed Church depends on the relations between church and mission, between church and church. It depends on mutual trust and man-to-man frankness. It depends on satisfactory working relationships, unbroken communication, wisdom on the part of missionaries and mission and churches alike. It depends on the desire of the national churches for the presence of each individual missionary. It depends on the certification that the missionary’s presence is really needed. It depends on whether the nationals will be given the jobs which they are able and trained to do. It means that the mission should put forth sincere and energetic attempts to train men and women for the jobs which the ongoing Christian community will require. lt means that the Christian Reformed Church will have to face the fact, whether it is willing to give monetary aid to the Nigerian churches in lieu of or in addition to the aid of its missionary staff. The missionaries will have to put forth more intense efforts to identify themselves with the local African churches.

On the other hand it would perhaps help if the Nigerian churches could resist political pressures and national anti-white suspicions. But more positively, these churches must demonstrate in initiative and in their economic response that they have accepted responsibility for the church’s mission in Nigeria.

In the light of the fully-constituted national churches, how long can the Christian Reformed Church catty on an independent mission in its organizational pattern? Or is the time quickly drawing near, that our mission should submerge in the mission of the Tiv-and Hausa-speaking churches? If the church of Christ is one and in the light of the way in which we deal with subsidized churches in the United States, we must again assess our denomination’s mission and project some plan for the future.


Although we may not be hindered externally from pursuing mission in that land, the effectiveness of our activity may wither. The effectiveness of certain mission tasks may be vitiated, one after another. It may even prove difficult for any “European’s” work to be effective because of racial barriers. What then?

We were distressed during the past year and a half to discover a certain sense of grievance within the Christian communities which we had served for years. Prayerfully and lovingly we hope to weather the storms of this adjustment period and by God’s grace continue to serve effectively, so that the churches may develop internally as well as externally until such time as God makes it clear that we are either no longer desired or merely engaged in minding the house.

But there is a companion problem. In the long run it is a much more significant problem. Will the African churches have a continuing mission to their own communities?

Several tendencies are evident within these churches which could cut the nerve of the mission task. I have already mentioned the trend to institutionalism, the emphasis upon division of labor and church office to the point where the voluntary witness of every church member is no longer regarded as obligatory. Secondly, formalism has set in, due to the acceptance of a pattern of behavior as that which really constitutes the Christian way. Thirdly, materialism is a very real temptation. The attention of church members is diverted by many factors—politics, careers, seeking of high salaries, luxury items, etc. Poor giving to the church has led to a very shaky financial basis for the churches. Hence the salaries of church officials are often far below what they should be. Fourthly, worldliness is a very grave threat. Adultery and polygamy are still present as real problems. Pagan animistic practices and idolatry have not been eradicated but have at times gone underground. The problems of stealing, lying, cheating and evasion of responsibility continue to plague the churches.

If we dwell on this side of the story, we might well become discouraged. But our sufficiency is of God. We have confidence that the Spirit will not abandon the task which he has begun in Nigeria. The kingdom of God, also in its Nigerian phase, cannot be scuttled.

Postscript: The Theological College 01 Northern Nigeria has moved into its new quarters at Bukuro. The classroom-library blocks, two teachers” houses and student dormitories have been completed. The Chapel is DOW in process of construction.5 Presently there is a student body of twenty-three, of which seventeen come from the Tiv and Hausa churches. Six were graduated from the certificate course last April, two of which belonged to the Tiv church. Last year two graduated from the diploma course, one a Tiv. Eleven Lutheran young men graduated last year as a special class, which was transferred to a seminary in the Lutheran mission area. Thus far relations have been good. Perhaps there has been more tribal friction than anything else. It is too early to judge as to the product of such united training. Perhaps it will take year to be able to do this in a meaningful way. At least we know that here is a real attempt to give respectable theological education to Africans in the English language.6

The Tiv vernacular pastors’ course at Mkar concluded last spring with the training of seven men. These were subsequently examined by the Tiv synod. In mid Hl63 the Hausa vernacular course finished with nine men. The new pre-seminary course to be conducted by Mr. Korhom will begin in 1963 with three Hausa-speaking men, nine students from the Tiv church, and one student from the Muri church, thus a total of thirteen students.

1. Early in 1963 an inter-church committee came into being. One meeting was held. However, only superficial problems and complaints were discussed; not the basic matter of moving: towards church union. However, it was a beginning, and we hope this wi1l lead to greater understanding and eventual union.

2. The Tiv synod in April 1963 agreed to join the Christian Council and contribute three pence per member as its contribution towards the organization.

3. The EKAS and NKST churches are members of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, and both sent delegates to the meetings held in Grand Rapids, Mich., during August 1963.

4. Recently there has been a resurgence 01 Muslim mission activity; this attempt to revitalize the witness of Islam bas the support of the highest authorities.

5. Chapel as well as other buildings on the new plot were dedicated to the service of God at a very impressive ceremony on April 6, 1963.

6. In 1963 there are seventeen students-five from the NKST and EKAS churches.