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Reflections on 100 Years of Mission Work in Nigeria

Like a significant number of people in the CRCNA, I spent time serving with Resonate Global Mission (then Christian Reformed World Missions) in Nigeria.

My husband Gil and I left as seminary interns in January 1998. We were among the last who lived and worked in a remote, rural village. My family left 19 years ago, but in my current role with Resonate, I had the opportunity to go back for a ministry strategy evaluation.

Resonate has been working in Nigeria for more than 100 years now. At the peak of the CRCNA’s involvement in Nigeria, our denomination supported 100 expats (missionaries and their families) on the field. Our staff presence has steeply declined since then, but as we met with three denominations that resulted from that work, our team was curious about what was next for this historic field.

Christ makes everything new as the gospel permeates life. 

We were struck by the gratitude expressed by everyone we interviewed. Our Nigerian colleagues expressed deep thanks for the CRCNA’s witness to a gospel that brought real life change and transformed communities. 

One of the denominations (among the Tiv tribe), has a legend that the missionaries came with four boxes or trunks: one had agricultural equipment and seed, another had medicine and medical equipment, another had books for literacy and learning, and the last had Bibles. The whole gospel was shared and transformed lives. As one of the leaders noted, “Where the CRC mission was, there are mango and orange trees.” Our colleagues articulated how Christ makes everything new as the gospel permeates life. 

It was a privilege to hear, again and again, testimonies to the real impact of the gospel. As the evaluation team reflected, we realized that the blessing has been mutual. The CRCNA has been blessed through our engagement and commitment to Nigeria as a field. As one of the pioneer fields of our mission, we stepped out of our narrow heritage and gained an imagination for God’s work among people who were different from us. God wants us to be taken out of our conceptions and given a bigger picture of his redemptive work in the world. 

She then turned and invited me to look not just at the beautiful but also for the broken or dead thing in every painting.

While we don’t have as many staff members in Nigeria anymore, Resonate’s work in the field is ongoing—and we heard from our Nigerian colleagues and ministry partners a longing to continue these barrier-crossing friendships and work. These days, this ministry consists primarily of walking alongside our partners as they continue sharing the gospel with those who have not yet heard.

For example, the CRC of Nigeria is continuing work among the unreached Avadi. And together we work with a group that reaches out to Muslims and disciples new believers from a Muslim background. We see young people as a mission frontier for our colleagues as well. There are deep challenges for the church in Nigeria: the prevalence of health and wealth gospel, social challenges and unemployment for youth, the continuing pressure of Islam, and more. Nigeria is hurting under severe inflation, and violence and banditry in some locations. Our evaluation team heard a continuing calling not only to hold our spiritual family in prayer but also to find ways to hold their pain with them. We want to continue to walk alongside as they continue their faithful witness. 

Perhaps more than any other time, I came up against my own inadequacy.

I had a friend who painted nature pictures. Once, I was able to see many of her works in one place. She pointed to a brown withered leaf in one of the paintings. She then turned and invited me to look not just at the beautiful but also for the broken or dead thing in every painting. There is, sadly, brokenness in mission and this includes even such a fruitful mission as the Nigeria field.

One of the places the brokenness is becoming clearer is in relation to mission schools and the way that mission systems played out for the children of missionaries. Resonate is among ten missions supporting an independent investigation into historical abuse at Hillcrest School in Jos and associated hostels and dormitories, including Mountainview Hostel (the CRC dormitory). We are committed to a process that exposes the truth and, we hope, brings a measure of healing.

On a personal level, my time of service in Nigeria was a very intense experience for me. There were physical and emotional challenges in our life there. At times I feared for my safety. Perhaps more than any other time, I came up against my own inadequacy. But I also saw Christ in fresh ways; I experienced community in ways that I otherwise would not have. Now, I’ve been able to hear testimonies that God was indeed at work. Some of that beautiful work was in us, in me.

You may reach out and report abuse at Hillcrest or related hostels in a confidential and secure way at Photo provided by Resonate Global Mission.

Don't miss a post in this series! Justice & Mission: Good News for All

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