By Zakariya Musa of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria
The Minister’s Annual Conference of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) opened the evening of Feb. 10 with worship sessions led by Bulus Danladi Jau. In their song during the session, the EYN Headquarters Church ZME (women’s choir) sang, “Nigeria is in confusion, as killings and burnings are going on. Why? God help us.”
A special prayer was offered for granting the participants yet another time to fellowship together despite the challenges of insecurity in the country. Requests were made for a safe conclusion of the meeting through Lawan Andimi, DCC Secretary in Abuja, and James Mamza, pastor in charge of EYN LCC Gombi No. 2. Prayers were offered for peace in Nigeria, Sudan, and their like, and for the healing of two pastors, said by Maina Mamman and Carl Hill, a Church of the Brethren missionary worker at Kulp Bible College.
During the session, preacher Haruna Y. Yaduma based his sermon on texts from 1 Peter 5:1-5 and Matthew 21:18-20, titled “The Shepherd.” He challenged the pastors to self-evaluation on whether they are shepherding and are fruitful in their ministerial work or not.
As part of the business at the conference, two pastors were welcomed as newly ordained ministers into the fellowship, namely Stephen Musa from LCC Federal Low-cost, Jimeta, the only one approved for ordination as a full minister during the 2013 annual conference; and Rev. Ennoson.
EYN president addresses the conference
Samuel Dante Dali, EYN president and chairman of the Ministers’ Council, in his welcome address thanked God for sustaining us to see 2014. The president said, “It was not easy to scale through 2013 especially in places…. As a result of the continuous attacks on Christians in these areas, EYN has suffered the most and we are still suffering. A total of 138 Local Church Councils and church branches were burnt. Over 400 of our members have also been killed while over 5,000 have fled to the Cameroun, Niger, and other neighboring countries. Also, countless of properties worth millions of Naira have been looted or destroyed.
“One of the significant questions to be answered in a situation like we are experiencing in northeastern Nigeria is, will the Church survive as a church in this era of persecution? Will the church workers, especially pastors, still feel called by God to go into all nations to proclaim the gospel? Will the church members continue to be faithful to God when the situation appears as if God has abandoned them? The answer to these questions is, we don’t know….
“In a period of persecution such as this we are experiencing, we must be able to lead our members to an authentic encounter with God or they will look somewhere else. We must encourage our members to be in daily link with God in order to get comfort and encouragement in their faith. The church is a place where God is expected to be present and it is our responsibility to make our members understand this.” (The text of president Dali’s full remarks follow below.)
Two topics chosen for teaching
Two topics were chosen for teaching at the conference, which had an attendance of about 700 EYN pastors from across Nigeria, Togo, and the Cameroun. The topics were “HIV/AIDS” presented by Emery Mpwate from Mission 21, and “The Pastor and Politics” presented by Andrew Haruna from Jos.
According to Mpwate, Mission 21 has made the HIV/AIDS program a priority. In sub-Saharan regions, he said, Christians are the most affected. He also drew the attention of the pastors to what he called “the problem” rather than HIV/AIDS. “Our real problem is not HIV/AIDS; our real problem is our sexual behavior…. We as a church don’t talk about sexuality which actually is part of us.” There is lack of sex education in the church, and churches are not contributing much to the program of HIV/AIDS.
Adding to Mpwate’s address, the EYN president said that the aim of bringing in an HIV/AIDS program is to know the status of EYN members on HIV/AIDS.
A medical doctor was introduced by the president to the gathering. He has started work as a contract officer at the EYN Dispensary. Dr. Zira Kumanda is a retired civil servant, who worked at the Teaching Hospital in Yola. While appreciating the offer to serve the church with his long experience, he said that a lot of people come from far places to the EYN Clinic. He therefore called for more staff, such as young doctors to help the people.
— Zakariya Musa is secretary of “Sabon Haske,” a publication of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria.
The full text of president Samuel Dante Dali’s remarks
It was not easy to scale through 2013 especially in places such as Maiduguri, Maisandari, Biu, Yobe, Kautikari, Attagara, Mbulamel, Mubi, Kaduna, Mildlu, Gwoza, Askira, Barawa, Ngoshe, Lassa, Damaturu, Pompomari, Boni Yadi, Tabra, Kwaple, Konduga, Gamadadi, Barawa, Gavva, Bulakar, Kubrivu, Kunde, Fadagwe, Chikide, Bayan Tasha, Izge, Gajigana, Kwanan Maiwa, Gahtghure, Sabon Gari Zalidva, to mention but a few.
As a result of the continuous attacks on Christians in these areas, EYN has suffered the most and we are still suffering. A total of 138 Local Church Councils and church branches were burnt. Over 400 of our members have also been killed while over 5,000 have fled to the Cameroun, Niger, and other neighboring countries. Also, countless of properties worth millions of Naira have been looted or destroyed.
One of the significant questions to be answered in a situation like we are experiencing in northeastern Nigeria is, will the Church survive as a church in this era of persecution? Will the church workers, especially pastors, still feel called by God to go into all nations to proclaim the gospel? Will the church members continue to be faithful to God when the situation appears as if God has abandoned them?
The answers to these questions is, we don’t know, but the 21st century church in northern Nigeria must be less preoccupied with internal issues such as tribalism, petty conflicts, and traditional division of denominationalism inherited from Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity. In a period of persecution such as this we are experiencing, we must be able to lead our members to an authentic encounter with God or they will look somewhere else. We must encourage our members to be in daily link with God in order to get comfort and encouragement in their faith. The church is a place where God is expected to be present and it is our responsibility to make our members understand this. For this purpose, pastors must learn to be scholars and scholars must learn to be pastors in their areas of operation.
The pastor as scholar and the scholar as pastor
I am aware that there are some pastors who are anti-academic. They ignorantly preach the gospel of illiteracy in the name of the Holy Spirit as the only qualification needed for the pastoral ministry. Be aware that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the disciples were not illiterates. They were theologically sound, and globally well-educated to the extent that they could challenge the world system. They had gone through the basic, the advanced, and even the diploma knowledge of the rabbinic school before they were admitted into Jesus’ seminary for three years of training (John 1:35-51).
Also, be aware that when you claim to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance to do your work, you must be prepared to be a student of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit that Christ promised is coming to be the teacher to teach you more about the truth (John 16:12-15). In view of this, we expect those whom God has called into the ministry to be theologically sound and globally educated. Hence, a pastor can be a scholar and a scholar can as well be a pastor. Both are needed in the church. You must therefore continue with learning through private study, and attending seminars. Continuous training and learning must be part of your life cycle for your academic nourishment and to enable you to properly care and feed your congregation.
You must also understand your identity–first as a servant of God, second as a pastor called to shepherd the flock of God or the people of God. Third, as a representative of our denomination working toward our common goal of the denomination and as co-workers, with other pastors, but not as rivals or competitors. Therefore, you must be obedient to the word of God and be professional in discharging your work. You must be committed to your work with integrity. Gain a full knowledge and understanding of EYN working documents to guide you in addition to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and scripture, which are also your primary guide.
Understand that the first impression you give at any newly given place of assignment can be a concurrent foundation on which you will build a successful ministry with the congregation, or it can be a sinking sand on which you will destroy your relationship with your new congregation and the community. What you tell the congregation at the first instance of your report is very important for your future work and relationship with the congregation. So, be careful and be wise with what you tell them.
As we embark on our work this New Year, 2014, may we be obedient to the Lord and the Holy Spirit as this is the sure way of our successes as representatives of God on this earth. Let me also remind you that we are still committed to our vision to make EYN rich in spirit by improving the spiritual life of our members through providing a rich daily link with God and through Bible study materials that have been provided. And you are to play a central role in ensuring that your congregation is using these materials. You must intentionally organize Bible study for the whole congregation at their different levels.
We are also committed to making EYN rich in material resources to enable the church to carry out her holistic gospel. Thus, we are trying to make sure that we achieve our dream of operating a microfinance bank, and we are vigorously working toward upgrading our medical facilities to a General Hospital. We are working toward improving the structures of the existing clinics, providing essential equipment and qualified medical staff. This year, we have given a contract appointment to a well-qualified and experienced medical consultant who has started work in the clinic this month. There are two other doctors who have also applied and we will soon engage them.
Our educational institutions, both seminaries and secular schools, are gradually taking shape, with the hope that they will in the nearest future become an actual and realized dream of our Brethren University. Our system of communication is already on the road to improvement. We now have active Internet facilities which will soon become a training center and a way to access our website. We encourage all EYN pastors and workers to take advantage of this and get trained and get computers for all your DCCs, and LCCs. These are our present focus as we move ahead to a better future. We will as soon as possible complete the administrative office block and the banquet hall. All we at the headquarters need from you is your understanding, support, and faithfulness in ensuring remittance of the 25 percent.
Learning to live together: Lesson from Indonesia and South Korea
In 2013, through the generosity of Rev. Jochen, Mission 21, and the Church of the Brethren, I had the opportunity to visit Indonesia for an interfaith educational tour and South Korea for the World Council of Churches conference.
Indonesia is comprised of several lands with a population of about 200 million people; 85 percent of this population are Muslims. There were four of us from Nigeria plus Rev. Jochen, as a representative of Mission 21.The purpose of our visit was to learn from the Indonesian Christians how they are living in a Muslim dominant country, share with them our own experience in northern Nigeria, and what we can learn from each other’s experience.
During the tour, we visited several mosques, an Islamic university, Islamic traditional schools, a Christian university, hospital, and Christian churches. In each of the institutions, we had interactive sessions with interfaith groups which comprised Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Arustafry, and Christians. Through our interactive sessions I have learned the following, which is relevant to our situation here in Nigeria:
1. Indonesian Muslims accept and respect diversity and pluralism as a gift from God.
2. They are willing to teach others about their faith and willing to learn from each other’s faith.
3. They do not believe in forcing people and killing in the name of Islam.
4. They respect their traditional culture and accept religion that is relevant to their culture.
5. All the Islamic and Christian schools we visited were committed to interfaith dialogue as a way of understanding and learning to live together.
6. Churches in Indonesia do not discriminate in employment.
7. The church is committed to professionalism, commitment and integrity in order to provide quality service. Therefore, the church accepts any qualified Muslim worker in their institutions.
8. The church seeks to influence media and politics by challenging media organizations, to give a balanced report and ensure that bad people such as fanatics and terrorists do not get political positions of power and influence.
The federal government of Indonesia has five principles which guide the life practice of its citizens toward unity and peaceful coexistence. The five principles are:
1. Believe in God–that to live in Indonesia you must be a believer in God.
2. Indonesians are taught to recognize and respect human dignity.
3. Justice–that every section must ensure justice in dealing with people.
4. Democracy–that the voice and contribution of every individual must be valued.
5. Unity and open minds–each must live with an open mind and seek unity.
These are very important for harmony, unity, and progress of a nation and the church.
At the WCC conference held at Busan in South Korea, the main message was that all Christian churches should work together against any evil that is perpetrated against any group of Christians in any corner of the world. That the global Christian family should work in unity in addressing common issues affecting humanity. Christians as members of one body must join hands with other global faith communities to fight injustice, and any form of discrimination. Christians all over the world should seek peace, unity, and do only what is good for humanity. That we should challenge the government of our nation to divert the resources of the nation toward improving the quality of life of the common citizens. We should deliberately provide a space for the voice of youth, women, and physically challenged members of our society in all our decision making bodies at local and national levels.
As a lesson from Indonesia and the WCC, we will be more enlightened if we can learn to cultivate the following lessons:
1. Respect for diversity.
2. Maintain good parts of our culture.
3. Revive our interfaith dialogue and peacemaking.
4. Avoid any form of religious discrimination.
5. Promote professionalism, encourage commitment to service, and cultivate integrity in our daily living.
6. Let us ensure justice, promote unity, and maintain peace in our church and community.
The church and politics
The scripture says, when the godly are in power or in authority, the people rejoice, but, when the wicked are in power, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2-4). Also, Apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 13:1-7, instructed Christians that everyone must submit to governing authorities because:
1. All authority comes from God.
2. Those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
3. The authorities are God’s representatives.
4. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good and to reward those who do what is good.
5. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.
This shows that we as members of the church cannot be aloof to the political situation in our country. Gone are the days when Christians say, the church has nothing to do with politics because political territory, as some believe, is totally the kingdom of darkness, while the church is the kingdom of light. This is totally a misconception because the people in political territory in Nigeria are religious people, unless you believe that religion is a shirt that can be put off when going into politics and put on when coming to the church or mosque.
Hence, to have the righteous in authority who will make people to rejoice, and punish those who do wrong, we must participate in selecting those who are aspiring to positions of authority in our country. We must make sure that the wicked people do not get a place in positions of authority. To be able to participate in selecting the right people into political authority, people who will do good to make people rejoice, we need to understand the political system, its process, and our role. Hence, we have purposely this year selected the topic “The Pastor and Politics” as part of our teaching for the year 2014. We have also selected a professional who can handle the subject to the best of our understanding. Hence, use your time wisely for this purpose and enjoy the conference.