From Mud Hut to Evangelistic Center

ABOUT 90 percent of our membership in Nigeria is to be found out in the bush

S. GUSTAVSSON, Union Evangelist, West Africa  

ABOUT 90 percent of our membership in Nigeria is to be found out in the bush. With no educated national evange­lists our pioneers must have found it easier to conduct their campaigns among the un­educated village farmers. All they needed was a picture roll, a kerosene lamp, and a small village choir. With a budget of only twenty-five dollars a year, the open air serv­ice was more inexpensive than the hired town hall. And the message spread like wildfire through the bush. The enthusiastic converts became active lay preachers. With no education, they could not take the mes­sage to town but expanded further and further into the bush. This may explain the fact that within a radius of twenty miles around the mission office we have about two hundred village churches. The services are conducted in the native tongues, and very few of the ministers are fluent in using the English language, which is required in the evangelistic campaigns in the towns and cities of West Africa.

But a new wind is blowing all over this area. The need of reaching the increasing number of highly educated men and women in our towns and cities has been a challenge to our leaders in recent years. Pastor H. J. Welch, who has spent many years as a missionary in West Africa, pio­neered the establishment of a West Afri­can College. The first handful of college-trained ministers have now entered the field, and within a few years we hope we will have a well-educated national minister in every important town in the West African Union. With an evangelist as president of both the division and the West African Un­ion, public evangelism is highly regarded, and all encouragement is given to anyone who actively engages himself in soul win­ning.

An Evangelistic Treasurer

After having spent almost three terms in the mission field as a secretary-treasurer, my heart and soul longed to use a period of my life as an active full-time evangelist. But I was needed as treasurer and again found myself behind a desk and endless trays of pennies! Other men in adminis­trative office may well understand how frustrating it can be to have the hands tied and the hope of spending some time in the mainline of our work crushed. Of course, committee sessions are important and interesting, but nothing can measure up to the thrill of an evangelistic campaign. I wish every Adventist worker engaged in other lines of activities within the church would get the opportunity sooner or later to spend some years in full-time evangelism.

But if you are at the present time tied to your administrative duties, part-time evan­gelism can be your solution. I arranged my program in the treasury office so I could spend a few weeks each year in a concen­trated program of evangelistic meetings. During this period I limited my work in the office to the most important duties. This gave me the chance to conduct five meetings a week for a period of six weeks and I selected a town where we had not yet conducted an evangelistic campaign. And may I say, there are very few towns in 'ivirria that have had the opportunity of listening to the Advent message. In the morning I attended to the office work and in the afternoon I traveled the forty miles to the town where the meetings were held. With this program I had to depend on my associate workers for most of the personal follow-up work. With their wonderful help we had the joy of seeing one hundred people baptized and two new churches established.

Finally, I had the opportunity I had been longing for. I was asked to take up full-time evangelism in the seaport of East Nigeria. Port Harcourt is a town with about 200,000 Nigerians and 5,000 to 6,000 from other countries. In this important town, where the population has been growing at the rate of about 10,000 a year for the past ten years, we could only find a small mud but as an evidence of the exist­ence of our work. This small building, val­ued at about two or three hundred dollars, had served our people as a place of worship during the past twenty years. This condi­tion is typical in most of the towns in Nigeria where we have a church.

We certainly believe in raising funds among our own national people, but when we consider that the daily pay for those who manage to find employment is about one dollar, we may understand how impos­sible it is to depend upon them to sup­ply the major portion of the cost of church buildings in the towns where costs are so high. For a plot of land in a town such as Port Harcourt we may have to pay over $10,000. Having less than twenty thousand . members among Nigeria's fifty-five million people, and less than one thousand altogether of baptized members in the bigger towns, the need of intensive evan­gelism in the towns of Nigeria is great in­deed. Mohammedan mosques and Catho­lic cathedrals cover the country, and added to this is the increasing peril of Commu­nism, which is marching forward with great zeal. But Adventists have only one direction to go—forward!

Growth by Faith

The mud but is still standing in the out­skirts of Port Harcourt, but it is a memory of the past. Gradually our little flock of older members agreed to follow me toward the center of town. First we moved only one mile. There we conducted a large evan­gelistic campaign. I was surprised to see so many people come to the meetings, es­pecially as I was from Sweden where it seems most difficult for our evangelists to gather a congregation. Now I had a hall seating about five hundred, but long be­fore the opening (people came three hours before the scheduled time) the hall was packed, and still they kept pouring in. After all the seats were taken, every empty space of the hall was filled up until no one could move. We had about one thousand people in the hall, which was above a cinema.

Using the Bible marking method, we had a regular attendance night after night for a couple of months. The mud but could no longer serve as a church. We found a hall seating about three to four hundred people, and the location was another mile toward the center of town. I appreciated the willingness of our members to come along, but the final step was not yet taken. Another campaign was held another mile closer to the center of town. More members joined the church. The church hall was getting full when the Catholic owner suddenly asked us to leave. When we came to the last Sabbath I had not yet written an agreement for a new meeting place, but in faith I announced that next Sabbath we would meet in a certain hall another mile toward the center of town. Within the week we got the hall, and this has now become our evangelistic center.

The small congregation that met in the mud but is still with us. But when the tropical rainfall does not disturb the at­tendance, we have between four and five hundred present on Sabbath mornings.

Doctors and Ministers Unite

Our last campaign was held in the very center of town. We hired the town hall for fifteen dollars a night. Again I got the won­derful help of one of our dedicated mis­sionary doctors. Dr. Sherman A. Nagel, who has spent almost twenty years in West Africa, traveled about 140 miles each Sun­day to give a medical-evangelistic lecture in connection with our meetings. As he was the only doctor in an overcrowded hos­pital, this meant real sacrifice for him to give us this time. Another of our medical men, Dr. Samuel DeShay, conducted at the same time a full-scale evangelistic campaign in a town next to his hospital.

Editor Joins Church

Among the converts we had the joy of adding to the church was a Moham­medan family. Lamidi Fagbemigun was the associate editor of the Daily Times, one of Nigeria's largest daily papers. He is now an editor at the large Shell Oil Company. Being a Mohammedan and in addition to that a heavy smoker, I had very little hope of winning him into the church; but today he has changed his Mohammedan name and accepted the Christian message with his family. He has become an excellent press secretary for our church. Another convert, living about six miles away from the town hall, had a dream in which she was told to attend a meeting. She was shown a hall where a European was preaching. She also saw the names of some of the subjects, among these the subject of the Sabbath. Next day someone who had received a handbill in town brought it to her and she understood that it was the wish of God that she should attend. She is now preparing for church membership.

The division, the union, and the local mission have joined hands with the church to provide Port Harcourt with a modern church building. We plan for a church seat­ing about one thousand people and we will begin to build as soon as the necessary money is available. We believe God will continue His work in this city and that to the church will be added daily those who accept the third angel's message and look forward to the coming of the Lord.

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S. GUSTAVSSON, Union Evangelist, West Africa  

January 1966

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