By Leslie Diestelkamp
It had been just over eleven years since I had visited Nigeria, and this 21st day of January 1985 was to bring to me a rather king and frustrating awareness of drastic change. The big cities in which I had lived and worked in former years are now so much larger — indeed, they are huge metropolitan areas now, with expressways and high-rise apartments, etc. The traffic, which we used to think was the world’s worse, is so much more congested now.
But the changes that thrilled me were in the churches. Twenty-five years ago we started from scratch in Lagos and now there are perhaps 33 congregations, some of them quite large. But numerical growth is not the whole story. All across the land-from the eastern border to the western boundary, churches are now very active in evangelizing other areas. They are now contributing large sums each week and are supporting many preachers, both in local work and in new fields. Twenty-five years ago, a congregation of 250 people may have given the equivalent of $10.00. Today they may give a sum equal to $400. Even eleven years ago, when I was last there, such contributions were unheard of, and almost no churches were able to support preachers.
A great middle-class has arisen in Nigeria. In former times there were the rich and the poor-mostly poor. But today there are many who are neither rich nor poor, but who do have some degree of prosperity.
Do you complain of inflation here in the U.S.? Just to give you a very few examples which represent almost everything, consider these prices we observed today in Nigeria (in U.S. dollars):
1 box of Ritz-type crackers: $ 4.00
One smallest can Baked Beans: 4.00
Kraft cheese slices (10): 5.50
Small Quaker Oats: 10.00
Tire (for mid-sized car): 500.00
I hope those churches that are supplementing wages for some native preachers will take note of this inflation. And remember, native foods and other necessities are proportionately costly.
Results Of Support
Throughout the years I have advised and recommended some American support for native preachers so that they could devote full-time to gospel work and not have to struggle every day for food and shelter for their families. A few Americans have not agreed with this policy, saying that the native churches should carry their own load. Today’s conditions proved the wisdom of supporting the preachers. Every church of which I am aware that now supports its, preachers and/or others in new fields is one that was nurtured by a preacher supported by Americans. Some churches seem no larger and no stronger than they were many years ago, and usually these are churches that have had to exist without a good, zealous preacher to teach, train and evangelize.
For instance in Lagos, most of the churches have,been started by other older churches and/or by zealous preachers who had time to devote to that kind of work because they were partly supported by American churches. The last church I started in 1961 and that I left in its infancy, is now a congregation of about 250 people (335 the Sunday morning I was there this time) and averages over $250 weekly contribution. They have started one or two new congregations and must do so again because they have outgrown their facilities. They can do this because they have a highly skilled membership, are trained in the Scripture, and are capable of giving up many members without destroying the old church.
Even in outlying areas-towns and small cities-growth and strength are evident in properly nurtured places. One church in a good town-a church that started 12 or 15 years ago-now has an attendance of around 500 and is supporting its own preacher and several others. Let me give you the budget for one church that is an old oneformerly rural but now engulfed in the expanding nearby town-and that had been big but not very active. Now, with proper teaching, they post the following budget (annual in U.S. dollars).
Poor and needy 1000.00
Bread & Fruit of the vine 607.00
Bibles, sons books, etc 750.00
Meetings, etc 1217.00
Building project 5000.00
Gen. expenses 2000.00
Several worthy preachers need some supplemental support. Some good men need a few good books which they would gladly buy, but governmental restrictions that do not allow their money to be sent out, prevent them from purchasing the books. Such books will have to be sent to them by us. Some churches need song books and communion equipment, and for the same reason as given above, they cannot order them from overseas.
It was a real joy to be associated with my son Karl in this great work. Though I prefer to preach (than to listen), in this case and especially because of my chronic voice trouble, I was happy to sit and listen to Karl preach with such force and respond to their good questions with such clarity, at the same time demonstrating more patience than I can usually have. His attitude was indeed a manifestation of love for truth plus a genuine love for people. Karl preached about twice as much as I did, which is about the way we planned it. He told the people there that he had been commissioned by my family to keep me well (I think he meant that he should “bring me back alive”), and he did a good job of that. I told the people there that “I shall see your face no more” (see Acts 20:25), but I hope Karl can return in 2 or 3 years to carry forward the influence we have there.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 11, p. 334
June 6, 1985