Emergence of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria
igeria, which had been a colony and protectorate of the British since the early 1900s, gained its independence on Oct. 1, 1960. The indigenization of the mission schools and hospitals followed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the initiative of the Nigerian government. However, a developing mission philosophy in the American church supported indigenization and mission leaders worked toward the Nigerian church becoming an independent denomination.
Schools were transferred to Local Education Authorities (LEAs) as early as 1968, one source cited, although the Brethren Encyclopedia said schools came under government control in the early 1970s. Also, hospitals were turned over to the state governments in the 1970s. For example, the Lassa General Hospital was turned over to government administration in 1976. Institutions considered religious in nature, such as Bible schools, remained with the church and were not turned over to the government.
Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria became an independent denomination in 1972, first known by the name Lardin Gabas. On June 26 that year, the Church of the Brethren in the US agreed to the independence of the Nigerian church. At the time it became an independent indigenous Christian denomination, Lardin Gabas counted 18,000 members. The first Nigerian to serve as general secretary was K. Mamza Ngamariju.
Ten years later, in 1982, according to the Brethren Encyclopedia, EYN had 96 organized congregations and nearly 400 preaching points, with some 40,000 members total.
The American Brethren mission involvement in Nigeria gradually decreased after 1972, both in terms of numbers of mission staff in Nigeria and the amount of financial and other support provided to the Nigerian church. In recent years, only a handful of American Brethren mission workers have been placed in Nigeria and the current practice is for mission workers to be seconded to or serve under the direction of EYN. The Church of the Brethren relates to EYN through the Global Mission and Service office, which is the body that places mission workers with EYN and provides their financial support.
The US church has worked at continuing the relationship with Nigerian Brethren through programs such as an annual workcamp to Nigeria–which was offered regularly until the terrorist violence became too dangerous–and the placing of teachers at theological schools that serve Nigerian Brethren pastors including Kulp Bible College and the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN).
Denominational staff from the US regularly visit Nigeria and meet with EYN leaders. The US church supports students from EYN at Bethany Theological Seminary and other schools in the United States and Europe. Nigerian Brethren leaders are welcomed to the US church’s Annual Conference. The Global Mission and Service office continues a partnership relationship with Mission 21, which also still places mission workers with EYN in Nigeria.
The Church of the Brethren continues to provides financial support to particular projects of EYN. For example, in 2008 the American Church’s mission office helped provide funding for a well and cistern project to supply the EYN churches and the EYN Bible school in Chibok. Global Mission and Service also is encouraging American Brethren to give to the EYN Compassion Fund, which helps those affected by the insurgent violence in northeastern Nigeria.
Brethren in Nigeria in the 21st century
In the 21st century, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria has reportedly grown to close to a million members, in more than 50 districts, despite regularly experiencing violence, the burning of churches and homes, and the deaths and kidnappings of many members.
Over the last couple of decades, violence has plagued northern and central Nigeria, first occurring as outbreaks of sectarian violence and rioting, but most recently as violence perpetrated by the extremist insurgent group known as Boko Haram, which is fighting for a “pure” Islamist state in northeastern Nigeria.
EYN has extended its growth from its traditional area of northeastern Nigeria to other parts of the country, and even has planted churches in Niger, Cameroon, and Togo. It has a large thriving congregation in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. However, the largest congregation of EYN is in the northeastern city of Maiduguri–considered to be the largest congregation of Brethren in the world, with thousands of members. Maiduguri No. 1, as the congregation is known, has been one of the churches bombed and burned in violent attacks, and has had to rebuild.
Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2013. The denomination is headquartered in Kwarhi, near the city of Mubi in eastern Nigeria. It is currently led by president Samuel Dante Dali and general secretary Jinatu Wamdeo.
“Fever!” by John G. Fuller, Reader’s Digest, March 1974, pp. 205-245
Fever! The Hunt for a New Killer Virus by John G. Fuller (Reader’s Digest Press, New York, 1974)
Fifty Years in Lardin Gabas 1923-1973 (Eastern District Church of Christ in the Sudan, printed by Baraka Press, Kaduna, Nigeria, 1973)
“Lassa Fever, the Story of a Killer Virus” by Dr. John and Esther Hamer, Messenger, July 1974, pp. 24-27
The Brethren Encyclopedia, Volumes 1 and 2 (The Brethren Encyclopedia Inc., 1983)