By Billy Moore
NIGERIA. Just hearing the word will immediately get the attention of any U.S. preacher who has ever preached there. The eagerness of the people to hear the Word, the willingness of many to study the Scripture — it was like stepping back in time in the U.S. when people of this nation were searching for truth. From the day in 1949, when two men who learned the truth via a correspondence course and baptized each other, unto the present, Nigeria has been one of the most fertile fields of work and the harvest has been great.
I did not know either of those first two converts, but it was my privilege to meet one of their first converts, E.A. Ekanem who was baptized in 1949 and started the church in his home village of Ntan Ekere, just a few miles from the place where those first two were baptized, and for the next twenty-five years was one of the strong men in the church in eastern Nigeria.
Leslie Diestelkamp introduced me to this work back in 1960 and encouraged me to go there in 1972 when he was preaching in a meeting in Butler, Missouri. My first trip to Nigeria was January-March 1973. A preacher friend, Robert H. (Bob) West accompanied me. It was the most fruitful six weeks of my preaching years. Our second trip was January-March 1976 when Lowell Blasingame went with me. I had known him since I was a teenager and knew he was a man suited for that work, and I was right. He has returned four times since, and I have asked him to write a few paragraphs about the work there.
Open air “street preaching” was common and gave opportunity to preach to many. On the evening of February 7, 1973 one of the churches in Uyo arranged for me to preach in “street preaching.” The crowd gathered and two men, Etim Abidiak and Johnson Obot, who were passing by, saw a “white man” preaching beside the street and turned in to listen. They were both preachers for the God’s Church denomination. Etim was the District Superintendent of that area and the featured speaker for a district meeting that very week in Uyo. He had started many churches and trained preachers for them. We studied with them till after midnight, when Etim said, “I am ready to be baptized into the church of Christ.” Then we went for E.J. Ebong and E.A. Ufot who accompanied us to the stream where these two men were baptized into Christ. We encouraged brethren Ebong and Ufot to provide the teaching and training for these men. Soon Etim had converted two other preachers from the God’s Church group, and training classes for these four men were set up in Uyo, with E.Ekanen, E.A. Ufot, E.B. Udofia, and A.I. Ituen providing daily teaching for the next five or six months in what became the Preachers’ Training Program. This program is conducted each year in the Uyo area, with twenty men as students and five or six preachers of the area teaching the classes, Monday through Friday, for six months. The classes are currently in progress for the 29th consecutive year. This work is supported by brethren who voluntarily provide support for the men. In 1974 E.J. Ebong had moved back to Uyo and was in charge of this work until his death. Since then George U. Ekong, who had worked with Ebong a number of years, has served as director of the program. Hundreds of men have been taught the Word and trained to preach the gospel to their people. Each year we call upon brethren to volunteer to help in this work. A similar program has recently been set up in western Nigeria in Ibadan, the largest black city in the world, by Sunday Ayandare and Ezekiel Akinyemi.
Leslie Diestelkamp took four preachers from Eastern Nigeria to the Western cities of Lagos and Ibadan and began the work there in the late fifties. Ten or twelve years later the brethren of more liberal persuasion came into those areas, which has resulted in division among brethren there, as we have seen in the U.S. The preachers’ training classes will be a great boost to the work in Western Nigeria. Brethren Akinyemi and Ayandare are both strong capable men.
I asked Lowell Blasingame, who has been involved in the work there since 1976, and is a great friend to Nigerian preachers and continually works to provide help for the cause of Christ in that country, to write about the work in Nigeria.
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The Nigerian Work
My interest in the Nigerian work was created by brethren Billy Moore and Leslie Diestelkamp. Through the encouragement of brother Diestelkamp, Bill and Bob West went to Nigeria in 1973 and in 1976 when brother Moore planned a second trip, he asked me to go with him as a working companion. I had heard brother Diestelkamp say, “If a person ever goes to Nigeria life is never the same.” I was to learn what this meant.
Based upon his experience in working with Nigerian preachers on his earlier trip, brother Moore suggested that we pursue a different plan and arrange classes in different areas for the benefit of these men and limit our evangelistic efforts to preaching on Sunday and at nights in the area where classes were being taught. Classes, running from Monday through Friday, were held in Lagos, Uyo, Enugu, Aba, and Owerri with short week-end stop in Ife.
This type of program was so well received that Bob West and I followed the same plan when we returned in 1979. In the 1980s I returned with brother Albert Dabbs as a co-worker and in 1992, he and I returned with Keith Sharp and Tom Kinzel. Each time our major goal was working with native preachers to improve their knowledge of the Scriptures. Some of the earlier preachers who had pioneered evangelistic work in Nigeria were Leslie Diestelkamp, Jim Sassar, Bill and Sewell Hall, James Gay, Aude McKee, Paul Earnhart, Robert Speer, and Wayne Payne. These men were conservative in their application of biblical principles and the older native preachers with whom I worked reflected the thinking of these men. Unfortunately, many of these men who were regarded by other brethren as leaders have fallen asleep. Among these are S.J. Ebong and Sammy Awak in the Calabar area, E.J. Ebong, E.A.Ufot, and Etim Ituen in Uyo, Alozie Nwachuckwu and S.S. Barrah of Aba, Ben Chimeziri of Owerri, and D.D. Isong of Lagos.
A new generation of preachers has arisen and it was largely with these that my last trips were spent in work. While we have taught plainly in classes against present digressive trends in the church, particularly in America, and that these will be imported into Nigerian churches it seems to me that a very large segment of these brethren have not grasped or comprehended the dangers of those problems for Nigerian churches. Liberal brethren in the eastern part of Nigeria have used a school for training preachers and now have plans for the erection of a similar one in the west near Lagos. Nigerian churches are so preacher dependent for teaching and leadership that most of them readily accept preachers trained in these schools and as a result much of the work done by American preachers who lived there in the 50s and 60s has fallen under the control of the liberal persuasion.
To my knowledge no conservative preachers from America have gone to Nigeria since the last group which I led there in 1992. I have received many appeals from preacher brethren in different parts of the country who attended our classes for someone to return to help and encourage them. Brother E.J. Ebong, while living, began a preacher training program in Uyo and brother Moore has been instrumental in encouraging brethren here to support men who wish to prepare themselves for preaching by going through this. Since his death George Ekong has kept this program going. Recently Sunday Ayandare and Ezekiel Akinyemi have begun a similar program in Ibadan. Corruption in government has kept the Nigerian economy in shambles and theft in the mail system has caused many American churches to lose interest in supporting men, hence, Nigerian preachers have a very hard way of life. Most lack finances to educate their children, many eat but one meal a day, and most preachers are lacking in good study books to help advance their knowledge of God’s word and become better teachers of it. Nigeria remains a good field for making evangelistic investments. As brother Leslie used to say one can almost see immediate results from his work there.
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