“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(May 29, 2008) — James Beckwith, moderator of the 2008 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, recently returned from a 12-day trip to Nigeria to visit with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). He returned to the US on May 12.
In Nigeria, Beckwith traveled with David and Judith Whitten. David Whitten serves as Church of the Brethren mission coordinator in Nigeria. The group visited with a number of key leaders in the Nigerian church. EYN is currently led by president Filibus Gwama, vice president Samuel Shinggu, and general secretary Jinatu Wamdeo.
Beckwith went to a variety of locations important to the Brethren in Nigeria, including the national capital, Abuja, where EYN has a large congregation; the EYN headquarters and Kulp Bible College and Comprehensive Secondary School near the city of Mubi; the city of Jos, and the nearby Theological College of Northern Nigeria; and the village of Garkida, where decades ago the first Brethren worship service in Nigeria was held outdoors under a tamarind tree.
Beckwith reported that the Whittens will bring a seed from that tamarind tree to the US for the celebration of the church’s 300th Anniversary at Annual Conference this year. Beckwith also presented 300th Anniversary calendars, courtesy of Michigan District, everywhere he went in Nigeria, he said.
In Garkida, he had the opportunity to preach at the church where he had worshiped as a youth, when his parents served as Church of the Brethren missionaries. He spoke with a translator on the scripture theme of John 12 and the 300th Anniversary theme. “That was special,” he commented, adding that he spent time with the children of the congregation in Sunday school classes. He also preached in Abuja. Each service lasted about three-and-a-half hours, he noted, and hundreds of people attended, with the congregation in Abuja numbering almost 1,000.
In Nigeria, Beckwith found a church faced by “tremendous struggle with financial strain,” including a large disparity between members who are wealthy and those in poverty. The church also is facing up to the task of overcoming tribalism–EYN includes members from a wide variety of ethnic groups–and issues related to the education and nurture of church leaders.
At Kulp Bible College, he heard that the school may put a quota on the number of students, because EYN has more trained pastors than positions available. A theological career is “an exciting opportunity” in Nigeria, Beckwith said. At the same time, there have been periods of months recently when the church has been unable to pay the salaries of faculty at KBC, he said. And the growth in the number of preaching points in EYN also is slowing down, Beckwith reported. Pastors and Bible teachers in Nigeria must “be in it for the Lord’s work,” he commented.
EYN is putting into place a plan for a centralized system to pay pastors salaries, rather than having local congregations pay their pastors directly, in order to work on the disparity between more affluent and poorer churches. The church hopes to make the plan work through a new requirement for 70 percent of offerings to congregations to be passed on to the denomination. Another hope for the plan is to be able to fund pensions for retired pastors.
EYN also is carrying out an impressive pastoral development program, Beckwith said.
While Beckwith was in the country, EYN leaders were involved in a top-level meeting of religious leaders in the northern Nigeria region, held in Maiduguri where interfaith violence between Muslims and Christians killed many people and destroyed several church buildings in previous years. The president and vice president of EYN attended along with Muslim Emirs and other Christian church leaders.
In visits with ecumenical coworkers from Mission 21, a European mission agency that has worked with EYN and the Church of the Brethren for many years, Beckwith heard a good report of work toward a solar-powered well digging and water piping system for the EYN headquarters. Mission 21 also works with Theological Education by Extension, and an HIV/AIDS project. “It was so emotional to hear about whole villages, families with five to seven kids, who in several years will be without parents,” Beckwith said.
He also joined in a pastoral visit by mission workers to pray for a baby boy named Micah–the new child of a church member who had lost all five of his older children to illness.
“It’s important to maintain brotherly and sisterly ties with EYN,” Beckwith said. “I am impressed by the vibrant life and faith they have in the midst of frequent death.”
The good regard is mutual, Beckwith said. EYN general secretary Jinatu Wamdeo “offered a prayer for me and for the Church of the Brethren, that we would experience peace, purity, progress, and power.”
The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to http://listserver.emountain.net/mailman/listinfo/newsline. Submit news to the editor at email@example.com. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.