As soon as you arrive in Nigeria you are overwhelmed with people. People are everywhere, sometimes working, other times standing around and often talking & laughing extremely loudly, or travelling – Nigerians love to travel. Rarely is there an empty street – except in a rain storm. Rarely is there peace and quiet – as soon as it is light someone could be knocking on your door, sometimes just to say hallo, often needing some kind of help.
Nigerian society is complicated with 450 different languages spoken although Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are the main trade languages, and English is the national language. Religious differences also divide with Christianity and Islam each claiming about 50% of the population, plus a good mix of syncretism. Both main religions are increasingly fundamentalist, leading to repeated clashes in central and northern Nigeria, and Islam’s violent Salafist wing spawning the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in the north-east. Attacks on the oil business in the Niger Delta area & clashes between Muslim Fulani nomads and Christian farmers in central Nigeria add to the uncertainty. Sadly, Nigeria is known for corruption, which the current government likes to portray itself as combatting.
Since the 1960s the Nigerian church has grown enormously. Just over half of the 189 million Nigerians now claim to be Christians; a century ago maybe 5% of the then 20 million population would have been Christians. The ECWA church, which stems from SIM’s 124-year ministry in Nigeria, claims about 6 million members and adherents, the Anglicans about 17 million. Rapid church growth is wonderful, but it creates two major issues. First of all, how do you teach all of these new believers? Secondly, how do you provide the information church leaders need in order to teach their flocks? The answer to both questions is good Christian literature.
In the early 1990s Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS) was set up to meet these needs, previous enterprises having basically collapsed with little available to buy. We now have 12 well stocked shops, a book van and the publishing work I have headed up since 2010. While I use e-mail and the internet to do most of my publishing work at home in Ballymena, I travel to Nigeria twice a year for management and board meetings, and to see authors.
Thus in November 2016 I spent some time with 4 authors but most of my time was in meetings with colleagues as we sorted out various management issues. Thankfully we made a slight profit in 2016, but 2017 is going to be very difficult as the Nigerian economy is in a deep recession, the value of the Naira is dropping dramatically forcing prices sharply upwards, and many people haven’t been paid for months. ACTS is also going through a major leadership change as Sid Garland, our Director has resigned due to his wife Jean’s deteriorating health.
In addition, I am an SIM Nigeria missionary and I have been assisting SIM Nigeria in recruiting new missionaries for work in the far north of Nigeria. I have also many years of experience in theological education in Nigeria so I am also discussing the possibility of my teaching modular courses at some of the ECWA seminaries.
The Lord called me to serve Him with the words, “How shall they hear without a preacher…” And then He sent me to Nigeria where there are so many people who need to hear the Gospel, and so many who need to be built up in their faith. And that is what missionary work so often is; using all means available to reach people with the Gospel so that they in turn can reach others with that same message of life.