Report From Nigeria (No. 4)
Three months have passed since you received our last report in December. These twelve weeks have been hot and dry, but pleasant ones for us. I do not recall but one rain in that period but this past week we have had two hard rains so perhaps the rainy season is approaching. Verna and the children are well and the boys have all taken their mid-term examination so we know the time is swiftly passing.
As the weeks and the months slip away, the time eventually comes for our co-workers to be replaced with others. Bro. Bill Hall, who has been here six months' will leave for America on March 29th. Though his stay has been relatively short, he has been able to do a type of work that others of us with families are unable to do. He has lived in Abeokuta, Ibadan, Benin City, Sapele, and Warri and at all times has been an efficient and tireless worker. Bill is a godly man and a faithful gospel preacher--I have learned to love him much during his stay here. Then this summer (about July 16th.) Sewell and Caneta Hall and their children will be going back to Birmingham, Alabama. At this time Bro. Paul Earnhart and his family of Zion, Illinois, are preparing to come to Lagos to replace the Halls. Bro. Earnhart is recommended by men for whose soundness in teaching and manner of life I have the highest regard, so I do not hesitate to commend him as being worthy of the support of loyal brethren.
During the past few weeks, the three congregations in this area that had the most undesirable meeting places were able to find better ones. The Lagos Island church was able to rent a large hall just about five doors from the Independence Fountain in uptown Lagos. The address is one that everyone in Lagos immediately recognizes, so we feel that the future prospects are much brighter. Then the Ibadan church has rented a building on one of the main traffic circles just a few doors from the United States Information Center. This puts them on the ground and in a better section of the city. The third church that has improved its meeting place is Abeokuta. They have rented a building that, until recently, had been used as a school, sealed the inside and painted inside and out, so now they have a very attractive place to worship.
Just after the first of the year Bro. Sewell Hall and I with the assistance of Brethren Isong Uyo, Williams' and Ebong, conducted a Bible class in the Ajegunle church building for five weeks. We met four weeks each week for two hours with classes in character building, Old Testament, gospel according to John, and church history. We provided transportation for the people of each congregation who wanted to attend and our attendance averaged about 75 per night. The interest that Christians took in this class was one of the most encouraging experiences I have had in Nigeria. In each of the Churches in Lagos there is a core of men who are grounded in the truth and stable in character. If all American influence and money were withdrawn from Lagos today, the cause would certainly suffer; but I am confident it would not collapse.
On February 19th, Bro. Hall and I went to Benin City. Before going letters were sent to every one in Benin who has taken the Bible Correspondence Course and many replies were received expressing interest in the establishing of the church. On Tuesday, February 20th, we began visiting those who replied to our letter and that night we both preached on the streets with good interest manifested. Then on Wednesday, we appeared before the Benin Education Council and obtained permission to use the school building in the very heart of the city for Lord's Day worship. In our work in Benin we did not baptize a single person after a street lecture. Instead, we took the names of those who were interested and went to their homes and taught them. We then urged them to attend the services of the church on the following Sunday so they could learn more about the church Jesus built. The first Sunday the church met (February 25th) 74 people were present and 18 were baptized into Christ. On March 4th, 70 were present and 19 obeyed the gospel. At this writing there are 54 members of the church in Benin City.
Considerable effort has been put into the work of teaching by Bible Correspondence Lessons by Bro. Sewell Hall and the brethren in Eastern Nigeria. The good effects of that work could clearly be seen in Benin City. Through this course we were able to contact many people with a good background of unadulterated Bible teaching, and, in many cases, the task of leading them to obedience to the truth was quite easy.
If present plans materialize, Bro. Solomon Etuk, who has been preaching in Ibadan, will move to Benin City and work with the Church there. A Yoruba man baptized by Bro. Diestelkamp, Bro. Abimbola, has been working closely with Bro. Etuk as his interpreter ever since the establishment of the Ibadan work. Bro. Abimbola is a good and capable man and he will remain in Ibadan to assist that church.
In addition to our work in Benin City, we visited two village churches. In Ogheghe Village, the church has been meeting for several months but they had not been observing the Lord's Supper. In so much of the work here, there are both encouraging and discouraging things to be encountered. Some members of the church from Eastern Nigeria had moved to this village and had had enough zeal and faith ta preach to others with the result that about 20 were assembling together on the Lord's Day. But, although they knew of the Lord's Supper and some of the Bible teaching concerning it, they had not begun to observe it. We taught them as much as time would allow concerning the matter and they included the Lord's Table as a part of their worship on March 4th. Eight were baptized on our visit to Ogheghe--people that the Christians there had taught before our arrival. Then on Wednesday, February 28th, we visited the church in Ovade Village--a village formed by rubber plantation workers. In 1957 Sewell Hall visited this church and sometime later Wendell Broom preached there, but the group was started and has continued to the present entirely on its own. This very thing must happen many thousands of times over if the people of Nigeria are to have the opportunity of going to heaven. Perhaps our biggest task and heaviest responsibility rests in helping to instill in Nigerian Christians zeal for spreading the seed of the kingdom as Christians did in the early New Testament period.
Perhaps I have mentioned before the serious problem that polygamy presents in Nigeria. Much of the time in our preaching we answer questions regarding it, but rarely do we reach men financially capable of having more than one wife. But in Benin City one of the men who had been taking the Bible Correspondence Course was a 48 year old man, headmaster of a Benin school. He seemed sincerely interested in truth and after a lengthy discussion he said, "I want to be a Christian, but I have a problem. I am a polygamist." He said he was going to try to work out his home life so that his wives and children could be provided for without sin on his part; if he could, he would obey the gospel. Another man heard a street lecture soon after we arrived in Benin and became more and more interested in the truth. Alfred works as a tax collector for the city of Benin and is a man about 40 years old. I could not understand why he did not obey the gospel but on the last Sunday I was telling people goodby, he took me off to one side to tell me that he had wives. He had tears in his eyes as he told me he would try to get that part of his life straightened out so he could be a Christian. The problem is great and the answer lies in a love for Christ that is stronger than any earthly tie.
I returned to Lagos on Monday, March 5th, but Bill remained to preach in Sapele and Warri for one week, and then to worship with the Benin church on Sunday, March 11th, before returning to Lagos. While we were in Benin, John Glenn orbited the earth three times. It was amusing (and somewhat perplexing) to us not to be able to learn that he had been put into space until the day following the shot, and to have to wait until the day following that to know that he had been recovered safely. While we were in Benin we were able to live very comfortably in the government-run rest house that resembles our motels in America.
At the present time the Surulere church is conducting a preacher training class for four weeks with Sewell and I assisting them in teaching. During the week of March 11th, the Lagos Island church is conducting a meeting for one week with a different speaker each night. Things like this are planned altogether by the church involved and they simply inform us of the assistance they would like for us to render.
Again we express appreciation to the Thomas Boulevard church in Port Arthur, Texas, for the sacrifices they make to provide for us, and to all the other fine churches and individuals for the funds necessary to buy tracts and other necessary things. We thank God for His abundant blessings and especially for the "increase" in this work. We are thankful also for the many prayers that rise every day in behalf of the work here.
Truth Magazine VI: 8, pp. 4-6