By EMMANUEL UDOM
Journalists for Christ- Nigeria has commemorated the 170th anniversary of the church in Nigeria. The October fellowship of JFC, which was dedicated to celebrate the anniversary at the International Press Centre, Ogba, Lagos, provided an opportunity for various speakers to comment on the failures and successes of the church in Nigeria in the last 170 years.
A recent release issued by Lekan Otufodunrin, national president, Journalists for Christ and made available to www.allvoices.com stated that the arrival of European missionaries at Badagry near Lagos flagged off the beginning of Christianity in the country when the duo of Rev. Birch Freeman, a Scottish missionary with Ghanaian background and his partner Rev. Henry Townsend both of the Christ Missionary Society (CMS) stock staged the first open air service under the memorial Agia tree in Badagry on 24th September 1842.
Lead speaker at the fellowship and founder of Association of Believers in Community Development (ABCD), Soga Odubona went down memory lane to give a brief history of missionary activities in the early days of Christianity in Nigeria.
According to the lead speaker, the real meaning of politics is community development and provision of infrastructure necessary for human development and better life. “The real meaning of politics is community development, provision of schools, road, social amenities, hospitals, etc. and that is the first definition of politics and that was what the missionaries brought to Nigeria”, Odubona said.
The former lecturer at the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ) continued that “Jesus was doing his ministry, feeding the hungry and healing the sick, the people wanted to make him king but he refused, this is the idea behind mission work as exemplified by the early missionaries whose major works were first seen in education and medical aids”. Odubona, who studied Mass Communication at the University of Lagos continued that “we cannot talk about education, health and even the media without mentioning the missionaries”, he however asked why the Christian publications in Nigeria are not doing well in the market like other secular publications despite the fact that it all began in the church with the Iwe Iroyin, a Christian publication established by Rev. Henry Townsend.
Publisher of Church Times Nigeria which recently entered its fifth year, Gbenga Osinaike answered that ‘‘the blame is with us, I keep asking myself what is wrong in our church media and the answer is not farfetched. We don’t have missionary journalists; we don’t have sponsors and enough passion”. Osinaike who was an Assistant Editor at the Punch Newspaper confirmed that “there are more stories in the church but if we do the right things, keeping at what we do, if we are focused forgetting about our denominational differences, we would see that church media is even more lucrative, let us define our content and develop ourselves, we shall get there”, said Osinaike.
In celebrating 170th anniversary of the church in Nigeria, Amina Hassan asked what would be the eternal lot of those who died in Nigeria before hearing the gospel since it was first preached in 1842 according to the records. “How those people who lived before the coming of the missionaries would be judged?” she asked. “Those who did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel would be judged by their conscience while those who heard the gospel presented to them would be judged by their response to the gospel”, said Pastor Akande a guest and first timer at the fellowship.
Another participant, “Nicodemus Nyiongo noted the rate at which Christians discriminate and condemn people whose lifestyles they seem not to agree with. “Today in Christendom, we are quick to criticize, discriminate and condemn those who do not agree with our belief. If we stop criticizing, we can draw more people to the kingdom of God”, he said. Nicodemus, a soldier with the Nigerian Army who participated at the United Nations Missions in Sudan narrated how he invited a Buddhist to Christ while on the mission in Sudan. “I became friendly with a Buddhist soldier from Asia who never attended a Christian service. My identifying with him encouraged him to agree to attend our church service, he had never touched or read the Bible and after the service he confessed that the Bible was a good book”, Nicodemus narrated.
Akande however added that “salt is hardly noticed but when it dissolves, it adds value”, urging Christians to strive to live like Christ. “We shouldn’t wait till the church starts to publish and circulate 500,000 newspaper, in your place of work, change the situation, Christ has come to duplicate himself in us, we must call the Holy Spirit to invade our lives and make Christ to live his live through us because he likened us to the salt and light of the earth, we must resolve to live like Christ and do our little bits, that is how to be missionaries everywhere we find ourselves”.
Addressing the issue of denominationalism, Toye Akinleye noted division along denominational line as the bane of Christianity in Nigeria. “Denominational virus is the problem of the church in Nigeria today. When a church sees itself as superior to others, the collective purpose is defeated. The church in Nigeria has not been able to fully unite, we need to appreciate what we have within, we have a lot of resources but many people who profess to be Christians are actually not true Christians”, he said. Commenting on Akinleye’s stand, Odubona said “here at Journalists for Christ, denominationalism is defeated and we must go ahead with this spirit as missionaries to affect our world, we must strategize to start early enough to have a befitting anniversary of the church September next year”.
In his own contribution, Manasseh Nyinongo agreed that missionary efforts have really developed the country especially in the area of education which is the bedrock of development. “In Benue State where I come from, hardly would you find a family without the products of mission schools established by the missionaries, many people today in top government positions have passed through the missionaries one way or the other”.
Participants took turn to address current issues in the church. Current state of mission schools generated much heat during the deliberations. While the white missionaries gave equal opportunities for the locals to have free education, the situation is different today as mission schools are the most expensive. “It is sad today that church owned universities are the most expensive which even people from the church cannot afford”, Jacklean James lamented. “Though things are generally hard in Nigeria of today, quite different from the days of the early missionaries, the church should continue to play a leading role as example to the world in all things especially creating role models in education and all other areas of life”, said Biodun Kolawole.
Odubona did not fail to add that while the gospel was first preached publicly in Badagry, “the early missionaries however proceeded to Abeokuta where they were received by Balogun Sodeke of Egbaland”. According to the history “The first church in Nigeria was established in Abeokuta and the first Bible to arrive Nigeria was donated by the then British monarch. The Bible has been preserved in Abeokuta and it is interesting to note that the major developments in Nigeria started in Abeokuta which has produced great leaders in various fields. The city alone has produced two Heads-of-State who have ruled the nation for over 11 years”.