A Little History

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The history of the Kingdom in Nigeria is amazing. I have done a fair amount of research trying to get the facts right. I talked to people who were involved and read a little and watched an as yet unpublished video about the history. Some of the details are not clear to me and may not be known for sure to anyone, since many of the pioneers have received their reward and the history isnít well recorded since it wasnít thought to be important at the time. I will update this chapter if I get new information. I think Iíve told you earlier that I have know about the work since I was a small child, because my family worshiped at the Lawrence Avenue congregation until I began second grade, 1956 I think. It was a small group in midtown Nashville. That year we moved to an eastern suburb, Donelson.

World War II opened up Europe for evangelism. Westerners became welcome and many believers who were soldiers became interested in spreading the Gospel there. Many GIs were stationed there after the war.

After the war, Lawrence Avenue started a ministry that involved sending correspondence courses to the soldiers who were stationed in Europe after the war. They would send them over to the soldiers who would study the courses, take a test and send it back to the states. The ladies at Lawrence Avenue would grade the tests and send them back to the soldiers. It was a very good work, but not one that one would think would produce the kind of fruit that it did. My mother tells me how when I was a baby, she would wait until my nap time and put me into one of those old metal strollers and walk to the church building and let me sleep in the nursery while she graded papers. She says that later when papers started coming from Nigeria they would come with comments on wrapping paper or paper sacks. It was a time when most mothers didnít work. It doesnít seem like much to do. Read how God grew a mustard seed into a big tree.

There was a man named Collin Asukio O. (C.A.O.) Essin. He had a friend named Fearless Akpan (often Nigerian names have meanings, much like our Native American names). They were studying the Bible and were interested in trying to follow New Testament example. Many groups, including the Presbyterians and Catholics had sent missionaries to Nigeria. C.A.O. and Fearless were Presbyterian by background, but were unhappy with some of their practices, like baptizing babies.

In 1948 C.A.O. heard a short wave radio broadcast about churches of Christ, intended for Europe, by Ruel Lemmons. There was a lady in Germany named Eva Maria Braun. She was the sister of Hitlerís mistress. Her job was brokering correspondence courses. People would write her and tell what they wanted to learn about and she would get a course and send it to them. C.A.O. was already taking a course from her about accounting or something. She had placed an advertisement in a Nigerian newspaper. He wrote her and asked if she had a course about the Bible. She told him that she didnít, but she had heard of the course that Lawrence Avenue was sending to Germany. She sent him their address. He contacted them. They sent him the courses. He and Fearless studied them. At some point they decided to baptize each other. Iím not sure whether it was before of after the course.

C.A.O. became quite an evangelist. He would leave home and stay away for two or three weeks at a time. He would go to little villages and talk to anyone who would listen. He converted many people. Sometimes whole groups would change their affiliation.  

The history between when this happened (1948) and when the first Americans arrived in 1950 is unclear to me, but there were almost certainly many congregations of our group in Nigeria before there was any Western presence at all. Some people told me as few as fifteen or twenty, some as many as one hundred twenty. As I said the first U.S. people arrived in 1950, but they visited and returned. The first permanent U.S. missionaries came in 1952. They were Howard Horton and Jimmy Johnson, sent by the Lawrence Avenue Church of Christ. I think they stayed for four years. Since, there have been many permanent and temporary people. In 1954 the Nigerian Christian College was started. Nigerian Christian Hospital, where Laura and I worked, was built from 1963 to 1965.

There are now probably two thousand congregations in Nigeria, several colleges and preacher training schools, two hospitals, plus several campus and prison ministries. Nobody knows for sure, but there are probably 150,000 to 250,000 believers. There have been many more than that in the last fifty-five years or so. People donít live very long over there.

Did you pay attention to this story?

A small congregation in Nashville in the forties sent a few correspondence courses to Europe. All they thought they were going to be doing was buying a few stamps and pencils and spending a little time grading papers. They ended up getting way, way more involved than anyone could have ever dreamed. Half a century later, half a million souls have been redeemed on a continent that they never targeted in the first place.

God works in mysterious ways.

You have to admire so much what that little group of people in Nashville did. I remember walking from our little house to worship with them on hot summer Sundays. It would have been so easy for them to fail to take advantage of that unexpected opportunity. They were not a wealthy suburban group. In the 1940s and 1950s racism was alive and well in the south. Congregations there were segregated. The people in Nigeria are about as black as humans get. They went from grading a few papers for our soldiers in Europe to sending two full time missionaries to the blackest place on Earth, and one of the most difficult places on Earth to get to and to live. It also ended up being some of the most fertile soil ever.

Thereís a lump in my throat.

C.A.O. was born in 1916. He died in 1961 of malaria. He never traveled outside Nigeria.

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