Report From Nigeria (No. 2)
October 2, 1959
Alice and I stood on the high bank overlooking the clear pool of water just under the hill from the Catholic Convent. It was raining softly, so we covered our heads with wide leaves of the yam plants. We watched with interest as E. S. Essien, a native preacher baptized 42 people, and then after a brief exhortation to the newborn children of God, and a prayer, we trudged up the hill to the pickup truck parked there. Even though it was raining it was terribly hot, but it was a joyous occasion. A few days before 40 had been immersed at the same place, and an in other recent occasion a total of 59, making a total of 141. This is a completely new church. Four or five men had ridden bicycles seven miles to my home to ask me to come and preach. Their intense desire for truth was evident from the beginning, though some of them admitted being sorcerers and worshipers of idols. A meeting house is now being erected and the church already has made significant progress. One of the most distressing things I have had to do, was to teach that large group of new converts how to, take the Lord's Supper. The first time they were quite frivolous, and some were obviously drinking the wine for its taste. Yet about three weeks later the same group was as quiet and devout as one could expect. I was seldom thrilled more than on the occasion when I took communion with them and observed their development. The above is just an example of activities here. The rest of this report will be divided into three groups:
I have helped start four churches to date. Most of my preaching is now done in "the bush," and usually in markets, compounds, etc., where there is no church. Sometimes it is several miles to another church and sometimes just a few rods. Sometimes a group of Christians go along and sometimes just an interpreter and I go. Audiences range in size from 20 or 30 up to nearly 300. One week was spent in Lagos, Nigeria's capital city and most important population center. Three natives made the trip with me-we drove the pickup the 545 miles there. The trip was very successful. Four were baptized whom Bro. Raphael Williams, the native preacher who was alreadv there, had taught, and many visits and speeches were made. There are more than 300 churches within 50 miles of Uvo, but only four tiny assemblies in the whole Western region and none of them as close as 200 miles to Lagos (except the little group in the Lagos metropolitan area). I am now trying to raise support for four native preachers to move from this area to the Lagos community. They will need $50.00 or more per month. I plan to move there also in a few weeks but will notify all of you about details of this later. I believe this will be the biggest job tackled in Nigeria for 8 or 10 years in the Lord's church. It is our hope that we can see similar growth in the Western region as that which has characterized it in this Eastern region. Perhaps it will be slower because of the nature of city work, but we believe it is high time we make a real effort in the west as well as here.
I preach frorn one to five times daily here. The speedometer shows that the pickup has gone 5,000 miles in the last two months, or about 83 miles per day. Almost all of this is in gospel work and over very rough, narrow, winding roads and paths. The exact cost of car expense for September alone was $115.95. (I was afraid so much driving in a pickup would hurt my back, but it seems only to massage it and I have less backache than I have had for years.)
We are all well. Alice and Roy are well started with Roy's correspondence school work. August had less rain than we expected, but September did not disappoint us. In spite of rains almost daily and sometimes several times per day, I believe I have had only one outdoor assembly rained out. Sometimes we have had to move them to a veranda or have had to use umbrellas.
Sister Williarns, from Hamilton, Texas, and Brother Broadhurst from Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent $15.00 and $25.00 respectivelv for us here, and that was used for the expenses of the Lagos trip and for necessary expenses in starting the work and in getting Brother Williams settled here. A detailed report of expenditures was sent to these donors. We are very grateful to them as well as to the Thomas Boulevard church in Port Arthur, Texas, for my continued support, and to Southside church in Odessa, Texas, for the use of the house in which we live here. In August $50.00 was received from Brother James Finney for car expense. This is part of the fund which he had left from his work here, and we are grateful for the assistance.
My appointment book is well filled for the next few weeks, and I will be busy filling those engagements. At the same time I must try to find churches or Christians who will agree to support some native preachers as we go into the Western region of Nigeria. Please help us find this support if you can. Also we need to hear frorn another gospel preacher from America who will come to Lagos and help. He should be a sound, able and mature man, and he will need ample support. Who will volunteer?
One of the biggest problems in this work is teaching the new converts sufficiently. There is just not enough time and men. On a recent Sunday when I had preached five times Alice admonished that I was "spreading myself too thin" and she probably was right. Yet one cannot baptize the multitudes and then decline to teach them. It is easy to start new churches here, and each one will be filled with new converts, but it is very difficult to find men who will keep them taught until they mature somewhat in Christ.
Another problem we face is securing a house in Lagos. There are some that are available but the cost will be very high. We pray the Lord will providentially lead us and that we may be able to make the necessary arrangements.
Today (early this morning) 44 were baptized in another village. Most of them were men. Unquestionably many more, especially the women, will obey in a very few days. One of the men was an old man who had been a sorcerer for a long time. He said he had given it up since hearing the gospel (this was my third trip here). Just a few miles away is another village where I am going back soon for the fourth time, and I marked my appointment book thus: "Be prepared for baptismal service."
The roads I travel are sometimes horrible. Often it is a path (for bicycles and pedestrians) but I straddle the path and make a road. Recently while doing so I hit a large stump with the bumper (the stump was obscured with weeds and grass.) The sturdy pickup just jumped over to the left a foot and continued on down the path (I was traveling at the time in second gear.) One rainy Saturday night I got stuck in the newly made fill to a little bridge. Both axles were buried. It cost five pounds ($14.00) and much work to get the truck removed early Sunday morning. One evening when I preached twice at two places 35 miles from home, I reached for my flashlight before starting home, and discovered that I had forgotten it. For five miles I was accompained by a native preacher, but the remainder of the trip I was alone. It gave me an uneasy feeeling. What if I had a flat tire, or my lights should go out or what if the rough road would break a spring? How could I get help without a light and without an interpreter? As soon as I got home, even though it was late, I took a flashlight to the truck and left it there!
The Ikot Usen church (in the village where I live) is the oldest in the nation and one of the largest. Three hundred assemble there each Sunday. But last Saturday night I went with an interpreter and a few other men into a section of the village where the gospel had not been preached. After one long lesson and many questions and answers, twelve were baptized. They all attended assembly the next day, though many of them had not heard the truth at all before the night they were baptized. (And they live just 1/2 mile from the church building and 1/4 mile from the residences where gospel preachers have lived for vears.) Oh, indeed, the field is white unto harvest and the laborers are all too few.
Last evening I preached in a church building for a change. It is just a few miles away, but I was the first white man to be there for two years. And they were so weak, and need teaching so badly. When I began speaking there were about 38 people present-22 completely naked children (except for the beads the girls wear) and 16 people with clothing on. The people do not resent it when I teach them to put clothing on the children, but so far I have seen very little evidence of response to the teaching!
In one way I see signs of success. The churches had a habit of giving gifts (eggs, chickens, bananas, etc.) to white preachers who visited them, but seldom did they give to the native preachers whose support is absolutely disgraceful. I have been urging the churches to reverse this process, and give to the native instead, and some of them have responded cheerfully.
Every letter we receive is appreciated. We pray for those who support us and for those who send help for tracts, etc. We pray that the Lord will help us to have the patience and strength that is so necessary here, and wisdom to do fruitful service. Pray for us.
Truth Magazine IV:3, pp. 21-22