Truth and Freedom In Nigeria
Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" and we see a real demonstration of that principle here in Africa. Statistics of comparatively recent dates show that illiteracy was so very prevalent here in Nigeria, and that that about 95 per cent of all the people could neither read nor write. But the changes have been so great in the last few years that these changes could almost be described as revolutionary. I am now told by local school workers that almost all school-age children attend classes daily. If one passes a school building during recess the number of children playing seems very great. In driving through a village during school hours one is made aware of the absence of children of school age, for they are in classes. If I get lost on some bush road and stop to inquire my way, usually the adults cannot "hear" my English, but some small boy will easily be able to give me directions. And so in one generation it seems Nigeria will change from 95% illiteracy to perhaps 95% literacy. Other physical changes are coming in similar fashion. The houses, though still mostly mud huts with grass roofs are quite comfortable inside, and are sometimes quite well furnished. Roads, though still mostly just bush paths are being gradually improved to make way for the ever increasing number of motor vehicles. The markets, though still mostly given to items that do not appeal to us, are becoming more and more adapted to new things, and such things as tooth paste, Coca Cola, shampoo, pork and beans, etc. can be purchased within a few miles of almost everyone.
As other things change the religion of this region changes too. In fact it is perhaps because of the changes in religion that other changes are so rapid. Though there are still some ju-ju men and there is much superstition, most of the people have turned from those viscious and corrupt practices and beliefs. Indeed, though there are many pagans yet, perhaps a large majoritv of the people actually claim to believe the Bible. Though a few natives in our village practice the devices of their semi-heathen secret societies, with their weird noises maintained far, far into the night (and sometimes very early in the morning) most of these natives look upon such practices as foolisliness, and some of them condemn it as sinful. Morals are definitelv improving. Only occasionally does one see a nude person except for children, whereas a few years ago many adults wore little or no clothing. Even many children wear at least some clothing all of the time, and most of them are quite well dressed for worship assemblies, etc. With the present trend and with proper encouragement and teaching, it is conceivable to me that another generation may completely clothe their little children. We could sincerely wish that that day would be hastened. Polygamy is defintiely decreasing. In fact few young men seem to be taking more than one wife, and even some of the older ones who have many, see the error of such and some have given them up. (Naturally many problems then arise as to care and distribution of the families left fatherless, but usually such could be managed without unsurmountable difficulty.)
Nigeria is divided into three regions-Eastern, Western and Northern. The Eastern region is the smallest of the three, and it is in a part of it that the truth has really been preached with such significance as to produce very outstanding results. Within a radius of perhaps forty miles of Uyo there are literally scores of churches meeting and even scores of meeting houses owned by brethren. Traveling up and down almost every bush road as well as along the better roads (which are still very narrow and rough) buildings are seen with signs indicating that Christians assemble there. Many times there will be two or three churches meeting within two or three miles and sometimes even closer. Some of the churches are very tiny but in some places three hundred or more assemble together. Only a few natives devote full time to gospel preaching, but throughout this area there are many men who are capable of proclaiming the truth and who are willing to do so at every opportunity.
Significantly, almost all of the gospel work has been done near this place. True, a few men have gone afar, and some few have been converted in other regions, hut the number of Christians in both the North and the West together is almost infinitesimal. But this sad picture promises to change too. With regard to the Northern province the prospect is not too bright, but some of us will go there soon in response to requests from natives there to see what can be done. It will be a four hundred mile journey one way, over rough, narrow roads, but we do hope some in that region are truly interested in truth and righteousness. The Western Province is a very promising place. Already there are 2,000 or 3,000 people taking a Bible Correspondence Course sent out from Box 48, Uyo. Evidently the people of the west are interested in Bible study. Four tiny assemblies gather regularly already. Some more gospel work will be done in that region in the very near future-perhaps before this is in print. We definitely want to press the work in that area so that we may hope to see the same progress there that has characterizcd the work here in the Eastern region. We are now convinced that the only significant difference in the two regions is the difference in 1 the amount of teaching that is received. If this is true, then when people realize that about thirty thousand souls have been immersed in the East in eleven years, surely we will not rest until simi!ar work is done in the West.
Upon our first Lord's Day in Nigeria we were privileged to have a small part in the first assembly in Lagos and to see an intelligent native of that place baptized into Christ in an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean. Two young natives are there who are capable of preaching and teaching the gospel, and other Christians are known to reside there. (Many of the better educated men from the "bush country" go to Lagos and other large cities for work and among them from the Eastern region are some who are Christians.) Just today I have received an urgent plea from the little group of four or five brethren in Lagos. They need many, many tracts, Bibles, etc. Thev also need help in renting a suitable meeting place, and they especially appeal for more workers. Lagos is the capital of Nigeria and its chief city, though Ibadan, 85 miles away from Lagos, is larger. The University of Nigeria is at Ibadan. The two cities present a great challenge to open up the Western province and to perhaps then reach on into Ghana and other nearby countries. Surely there are some mature gospel preachers in America who would go to Lagos or Ibadan and help for a couple of years. I plan to go there if the Lord's will is so, but others are needed to help and to continue after we leave. Churches are needed to help support preachers there. Write to me if you can come or if you can send. Write me at Box 48, Uyo, Nigeria (25c regular air mail or 10c by Aerogramme from the Post Office). Write me if you can help supply good tracts in large quantities. It will probably be some time before a great deal of work is done in the Lagos area, but once it is well under way we believe it will be very fruitful work that will compare favorablv with the great work that has been done here in Eastern Province, and that it will be the real beginning of a serious effort to evangelize the large cities of this part of Africa as well as the bush country. Tough success may be somewhat more rapid in the rural areas, it is certain that real, lasting strength cannot be claimed until the large population centers have received the word too.
Nigeria's cities are centers of masses of people, congested living quarters and narrow, over-crowded streets. A few autos and trucks go hurtling down narrow alley-like streets. Everywhere there are bicycles and multiudes of pedestrians. Miles of streets are lined with tiny shops-selling everything imaginable. A few fairly decent residential areas are in the suburbs; cost of living is high. But souls there are hungering for truth and souls there are lost in sin. The following poem helped keep me working for many years in some of America's largest cities, and its sentiments now draw me toward the large cities of this dark continent. I hope these words may help some good brethren to either come to help us in Lagos-Ibadan or to send us some help:
I said, "let me walk in the fields."
He said, "No, walk in the town."
I said, "There are no flowers there."
He said, "No flowers, but a crown."
I said, "But the skies are dark,
There is nothing but noise and din."
He wept as he sent me back,
"There is more," he said, "There is sin."
I said, "But the air is thick,
And the fogs are veiling the sun."
He answered, "Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark are undone."
I said, "I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say,"
He answered, "Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you or they."
I pleaded for time to be given ;
He said, "Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven,
To have followed the steps of your Guide."
I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town.
He said, "My, child, do you Yield?
Will you have the flowers or the crown?"
Then into his hand went mine,
And into my heart came he,
And I walked in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.
Truth Magazine, III:12, pp. 14-16