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AFRICAN MISSIONS – MY STORY!

The pin-drop silence was too loud for me. A quick look behind confirmed we were still all there; – seated, heads bowed, like people condemned to death. Again, I muttered under my breath, like I had done nearly a thousand times before: “I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord!”

The alarm for announcements beeped, and the sonorous voice of the captain came on: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are aware that we have been flying through an area of serious turbulence. The weather in the airspace of Monrovia is difficult with visibility as low as 200 meters; – not suitable for landing! Except this situation changes in the next few minutes, I may have to go put this plane down in Freetown instead. We would need to refuel and wait for better weather before coming back to Monrovia. However I want you to be relaxed, I have been flying for forty-three years and I will do my best to make this flight as safe and comfortable as possible. Thank you.”

From where I sat by the window on seat 22A, I could see what appeared like the dark shadows of evil presence gnawing at the wings of our airplane and shaking up the Boeing 770 aircraft like a little boy’s paper kite in a windy field. I had prayed all the prayers I knew, since we flew into this impossible weather an hour earlier. I even confessed all the sins I had confessed many times before and asked the Lord to prepare me for home coming if this were to be my last flight. However, I had been in difficult flights on mission trips around Africa before and somehow; I sensed that this one would not be different, – we shall not crash! At least, I believed that God would not permit that our team of one hundred missionaries coming from Nigeria to do missions in Liberia would all die in a crash. Just like that? However my discomfort knew no bounds when the pilot announced that our safety would be a factor of his forty-three years of flying experience. God forbid! Was it not the Psalmist who said: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

After about 30 minutes of further intensive struggles against the recalcitrant weather, our airplane landed safely at the Lungi International airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Probably I was the only passenger who did not join the clapping galore that greeted touch down. Many passengers were determined to alight here in Freetown and do the rest of the 542-kilometer journey by road to Monrovia. Was it not an Igbo proverb that said that the ring that is meant for the ear should never be tried in the eye? However, unlike most other passengers, I knew the battle was only just beginning. God specifically sent us to do mission in three provinces of Liberia. He instructed us to give priority attention to the children because, as He said, the adult population was almost destroyed. He asked us to work amongst the local Liberian pastors and denominations and teach them how we worship and do ministry. So you see, the instructions were succinct and clear, the venue; well known! However here we were in Freetown, a clear 542 kilometers away from our destination. My brethren asked me: What do we do?

I cast my mind back to recall what I had learnt about Liberia before undertaking this mission. According to history, Eighty-eight free black settlers and three members of the American Colonization Society (ACS) sailed from the United States to found Liberia in 1821. After the abolition of slave trade, the black race in the USA was declared free but their tendency for rapid growth became a new threat and a new problem for the American society. The ACS was therefore formed to solve this problem by resettling the blacks in Africa. From that time in 1821 to today, the kingdom of darkness seemed to have taken a special interest in keeping peace and God away from Liberia. According to Tom Schich, “From the beginning, the colonists were attacked by indigenous peoples whose territory this was, such as the Malinke tribes. In addition, they suffered from disease, the harsh climate, lack of food and medicine, and poor housing conditions.”[1] The economy of Liberia has always been poor and donor supported. Two civil wars later, and another against the dreaded Ebola pandemic, Liberia was virtually brought to her knees politically, economically and spiritually. Through it all, God did not keep quiet. In fact, God has a special interest in Liberia as he has in the rest of Africa! Over the years, God has sent missionaries to go and help the recovery and the building up of the spiritual fabrics of the country of Liberia. As at 2017, the population of Liberia is 4.35 million and five out of her thirty-nine people groups are still unreached by the gospel. Only 38% of the population is Christian out of which, only 10.8% are evangelicals while ethnic religions still command dominance amongst the people of Liberia.[2]

With all of the above in mind, on that fateful day of our bizarre flight to Monrovia that rather landed in Freetown, when the question was popped by the one hundred frightened missionaries: “What do we do sir? Can we go back to Lagos from here?” No better answer came to my mind than the words of Queen Esther in Esther 4:16: “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” So I told my missionary team: “God sent us to Liberia and to Liberia we shall go. Though all the demons of West Africa may congregate against us; though the weather may be impossible, we shall yet land in Liberia, and if along this way we perish, we shall neither be the first nor the last!”

Eventually we all braved it and headed back to Liberia and this time, the pilot succeeded in making a safe landing at the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia. Then for the next several weeks, God used us to lead several hundreds of children, men, women and youth to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We partnered with twenty indigenous Liberian churches, trained their pastors and children workers and evangelized side by side with their church workers to grow their churches. The outcome was the strengthening of the indigenous Christian movement in Liberia, which is a better strategy for reaching the unreached than the popular planting of foreign cultured churches in African countries.

BACKGROUND STORY OF AFRICAN MISSIONS

The accounts of the New Testament of the Bible relate how on several occasions, Africans witnessed or participated in events in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. For example, Africans from Libya and Egypt witnessed on the day of Pentecost how the gospel was preached in their own native African languages (Acts 2:10.) Added to the converts that must have come from this encounter, was the Ethiopian Eunuch who himself got converted on the desert way from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:27–39.) Also Acts 11:20 spoke about men from the African nations of Cyprus and Cyrene who in Antioch, preached to men from Greece. It is popularly believed that Missions in Africa began with these men sharing their newfound faith with friends and relations in their various North African countries.

From North Africa, Christian missions began its spread in Africa going east towards Ethiopia and Eritrea. However with the invasion of Islam on North Africa from the 7th century, the spread of Christianity was halted and only thrived in Ethiopia and pockets of places in North Africa. When the Portuguese arrived in Africa in the 15th century, sub-Saharan Africa received the gospel just as the Dutch opened up Southern Africa to the light of the gospel from the 17th century. Also the quest of Western powers to colonize Africa opened greater doors for missionaries to come in and spread the gospel into the interiors of Africa where, before then, African Traditional Religion (ATR) held sway. Christian Missions spread quite fast thereafter. Says Christianity Today: “Only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians.”[3] Also according to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public life study, 147 million African Christians were “renewalists” (Pentecostals and Charismatics).

However in many parts of Africa, though Christian Missions prospered, many adherents found it difficult to totally let go of ATR and this led to widespread syncretism that culminated in the labeling of African Christianity as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ According to Rosalind Shaw and Charles Stewart:[4]

“In a relatively short time, Africa has gone from having a majority of followers of indigenous, traditional religions, to being predominantly a continent of Christians and Muslims. Since 2013, traditional African religions are declared as the majority religion only in Togo. Importantly, today within most self-declared Christian communities in Africa, there is significant and sustained syncretism with African Traditional Religious beliefs and practices.”[5]

Not withstanding this highly criticized corruption of the integrity of African Christianity, a new regime of African National Initiatives (ANI) has invaded the African spiritual space leading to spiritual revivals in many regions of Africa, massive conversions in many climes and a rebirth of true biblical Christianity in many nations of Africa. This new movement is completely indigenous to Africa. According to David Barrett, most of the 552,000 congregations in 11,500 denominations throughout Africa in 1995 are completely unknown in the West.[6] This new movement has made inroads even into Moslem enclaves leading to very hash jihadist responses as what we have seen happening in Nigeria where the aggressive incursion of the Church up north is being challenged by the murderous activities and church–burning escapades of the Boko Haram sect and the Fulani herdsmen. Says Patrick Johnstone, “A 2015 study estimates 2,161,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in Africa, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.” [7]

It is hoped that this new move of God in Africa will not be quenched after some time like has been witnessed with revivals around the world; rather that this will evolve into an end time fire that will engulf the world and prepare the church for the final actualization of the mandate of Matthew 28:19 towards the ethne of this world and for their final dance of Revelations 7:9 &10. The Yale University historian, Lamin Sanneh, captures this hope when he opined that “African Christianity was not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come.” [8]

THE STORY OF AFRICAN NATIONAL INITIATIVES

There is a Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI) to which this writer belongs. In fact, yours truly is the Regional Coordinator for West Africa 2 Region of MANI. The Movement for African National Initiatives is a grassroots African movement “committed to catalyzing the Body of Christ in Africa to work in strategic partnership to disciple the nations and to send Africans in mission around the world.” [9]

As there would be no point in attempting to ‘reinvent the wheel’, I have lifted the following story of African National Initiatives by permission from the website of the Movement for African National Initiatives.

An African National Initiative is a strategic, national process designed to mobilize the whole Body of Christ to complete the Great Commission within its borders and to send Africans in mission to the least evangelized of the world. The goal is to see healthy churches transforming every community throughout a nation and beyond. United by common vision and solid information, national initiatives take a unique form in every country and assume a local name, such as Ghana Evangelism Committee, Nigeria Finish-The-Task Network; the World Evangelization Network of South Africa, Finish the Task (Kenya-FTT), the Zimbabwe National Evangelism Task, the Disciple Namibia Movement, and continental/global networks as such Transformation Africa and Global Day of Prayer, to mention but a few.

Nearly half of the countries in Southern Africa are engaged in some expression of a National Initiative. The first National Initiative in the region was launched in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s. Called “Target 2000”, this strategic partnership involved 60 denominations in an effort to plant 10,000 congregations in un-churched areas by the end of the decade. Intrigued by what was happening across their borders, Swaziland sent a group of leaders from 13 denominations to attend the Target 2000 national congress in 1992. Profoundly challenged, they returned home and helped the three major church associations to launch a partnership called the “Swaziland Evangelism Task.”

The AD2000 & Beyond Movement, and in particular, GCOWE 97, was used by God to light the fire of additional national movements across the region. The Namibia delegation was inspired to launch the Transformation Namibia movement, with significant strides made in networking church, business and government leaders. Building upon the foundation of the Love Southern Africa initiative, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa helped to initiate the World Evangelization Network of South Africa (WENSA), which serves as a network of ministry streams within the country.

The Malawi National Initiative for Missions and Evangelism took initial steps following GCOWE ’97 and the Copperbelt Survey began as a pilot project in Zambia in the years to follow. Lesotho has explored the initiation of a National Initiative and strong interest has been expressed in Botswana. The Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa converged at MANI 06 and voiced their commitment to encourage one another in the formation of national movements.

Each initiative is at a different stage of development. Several are vital and growing. Some are in the exploratory stage. Others may need revitalization. Yet all are expressive of the desire among many African leaders to mobilize the whole Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission within their nation and beyond.[10]

THE STORY OF ONE AFRICAN NATIONAL INITIATIVE: – MISSIONS AID INTERNATIONAL (MAI)

IN THE BEGINNING …
Missions Aid International (MAI) is a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) and a mission arm of the Charismatic Renewal Ministries (CRM), a mission-based Christian denomination based in Nigeria. Born in 1980, the Ministry has over 600 branches in Nigeria, Africa, Europe and America. The process of growing brought the Ministry face to face with tough missional issues like the faith of unreached peoples, Muslims and Diaspora people. Today the Ministry has taken a positive stand with God on these issues and, driving with about 250 field missionaries, is making positive impact especially amongst unreached peoples in Africa; using free Medicare, free vocational training and community development projects, which are the trade marks of Missions Aid International (MAI.)

MAI focuses on taking the gospel where no one else wants to go. Great testimonies have followed MAI in the last twenty years as we carried the gospel message into more than sixty-five unreached locations in Nigeria and over twenty in various African countries. Since 2004, CRM and Missions Aid International have entered Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Gambia, Benin Republic, South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. In each country, the land has been delivered from the hand of the kingdom of darkness and several hundreds of indigenes were given practical vocational training and empowered to become useful to their communities; socially, economically and spiritally.

SOME OF THE SHORT STORIES OF MAI MISSIONS …
1. ITAKA

Located in Etung LGA of Cross River State, it took a visitor about three hours of local boat ride in those days, to arrive in Itaka from Ikom. As of that time in 1998, an 80-year-old indigene was yet to see a bicycle for the first time. While civilization was too far from them, occultism and witchcraft were rife. When Missions Aid International entered the land of Itaka in 1998, their king, Chief Enya, declared that we were the first ‘Government’ they had ever seen. We entered the land with Free Medicare and Welfare projects alongside the strong preaching of the gospel. Our powerful challenge against their occultism and witchcraft led to the public burning of five shrines and the public repentance of two of their chief priests. The ruling Epe cult was sacked and their hall and occult paraphernalia were burnt during a holy riot conducted by the repentant Itaka youth. The event nearly turned fatal as the revenge-seeking cultists surrounded the missionaries with machetes and other weapons. At that point the Lord led Pastor EmmaJoe to challenge them to a power contest. He told them that the first among them to step forward to kill anybody would fall down and die immediately. At that point all the cultists withdrew.

As majority of Itaka people saw the power of Jesus, they repented of their sins and godlessness and turned to God. Today, God has rewarded them for accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. The Lord used Missions Aid International to establish an International Secondary School in Itaka in 2003 and in April 2010 we constructed a jetty (habour) worth several millions of naira for Itaka people at their beach head. The Lord has also turned the heart of the State Government to Itaka. Now they have a state school, hospital and ongoing electrification project. Also a road has been constructed that finally connected Itaka by land to the rest of the world! Praise the Lord!

2. GIDAN GIZO

This is a Maguzawa community in Sumaila LGA of Kano State. They are believed to be among the original settlers of Kano State but they were instructed by their forefathers never to accept Islam. And just like the Rechabites of Jeremiah 35, they have fastidiously obeyed their forefathers and rejected Islam up to this day. This has cost them too much because the sharia state Government of Kano has given it back to them by ensuring that no form of civilization entered the land of Gidan Gizo! The Government ensured that all other villages around them have good roads, electricity, water boreholes, schools, hospitals and even mosques financed by the State while Gidan Gizo remained a bush without any motorable road or any other amenities. The water they drank from their hand dug well has the colour of milk. The people died of cheap sicknesses, as they were not allowed to visit hospitals in neighbouring Moslem villages unless they were willing to convert to Islam. Their children too did not go to school for the same reason. What was most bizarre as at then was that the Gidan Gizo people who rejected Islam in preference to Christianity knew nothing about Jesus Christ, except the cross they hung on the doors of their mud houses. This was the physical and spiritual state of these persecuted and abandoned people until God led MAI missionaries to discover them in 2006. Since then, their story has changed! The Lord has used us to provide the missing amenities in Gidan Gizo including water borehole, school, clinic and electrification. Also a big church has been built for them and a missionary family now lives among them and is teaching them how to live as true Christians.

3. IBWA

When we discovered this community, near Abuja, in 2002, there was only one known Christian from the community. Every other indigene was a Moslem! However when the Lord sent us to this potentially suicidal mission, we entered the land with the Bible in one hand and Free Medicare and other life enhancing gifts on the other. To the glory of God, we were well received to the extent that the chief of Ibwa gave us a free land for the building of a Christian church. Today, Christianity has taken root in Ibwa.

4. KAFFIN KORO

In some mission fields, we were presented with the dilemma of choosing either to abandon the gospel or surrender our lives. To the glory of God, we have been consistent in choosing not to abandon the gospel. In Kaffin Koro, Niger State, in 2005, the Sharia State Government banned Missions Aid International from preaching publicly in their state, just before the well-advertised crusades were to commence. By God’s grace, we boldly ignored them and went ahead with the crusade, which recorded over three thousand adults in attendance every night for six days. Midway into the program, the State Security Service arrested the Missions Director, Pastor Emmanuel Nwachukwu, but released him same day with a stern warning never to preach in the state anymore. However, from the SSS office, Pastor Nwachukwu returned to the crusade ground and the program continued for three more days until the Kaffin Koro people believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is the Lord! On the very last day of the crusade, the very SSS official that arrested Pastor Emmanuel on day three, returned to the crusade ground, this time, not to arrest but to apologize to him. Praise God!

5. AMALA: The Land Between the Living and the Dead.

Amala is a small community close to Obollo-Afor in Enugu State of Nigeria. It is situated as a boundary town with parts of Benue State. Amala is an ancient and strong traditional Igbo town, with very special and peculiar spiritual significance. Amala is regarded as the land (boundary) between the living and the dead. It is traditionally believed that any person that died anywhere can be seen at Amala during a particular festival. Towards the end of this festival period, the elders (Ndi Ichie) and the Chief priest go towards the northern part of the community to have meetings with the spirits of the dead, who give them instructions on how to conduct their affairs for the next one year. The level of Christian witness was very low until August, 1992, when we carried out a mission outreach to that community. There was no Pentecostal church of any sort there. There was just a Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witness group that had probably less than 12 members according to reports. We were informed from our pre-camp survey that every attempt that was made by any group ended in open frustration by the spirits in the land.

Unfortunately those who attend the Catholic Church were involved in the same occult practices. By God’s grace we were able to plant a church, which took a long time to survive, but the good news today is that, having broken the spell on the land, most of the mainstream Pentecostal Churches have now come in to plant and run churches. One of the things that brought us to that land was a report published in a news magazine saying-“Nobody goes to Amala unless he is tired of life”. In a sense it was true, because the few prospering young men and women from Amala do not come home at all. There were so many tales of the exploits of spirits and their interference with everyday life of the people. One of such reports was the encounter of a young man apparently wearied from his journey, who turned beside the road to urinate. As he started, a female voice spoke to him from the ground asking, “is there no other place for you to do this apart from this bed I have prepared to sleep on with my children?” The man, who was sure that there was no other person within sight or earshot, became petrified and almost went comatose out of fear. Much later when he recovered and told his story, he was informed that they truly live among spirits and that the area where he ventured to was one of the habitations of the spirits.
When we were preparing for the outreach in August, 1992, a colleague of one of our brothers working at Nsukka then, told him plainly: “You don’t need to preach to me again. As soon as you go to Amala and come back in one piece, I will repent and follow you”. Of course he added, “I’m sure you will die or come back mentally affected.” He was wrong!

6. BORTIANOR, GHANA

Bortianor in Ghana was known as the headquarters of witchcraft in West Africa. When Missions Aid international entered the land in 2004, not only did power change hands but the chief priest of the Papla witchcraft deity surrendered his life to Jesus! Today, the transformational anointing of MAI has yielded fruit in Bortianor. Civilization has entered Bortianor including roads, mega buildings and 4-star hotels.

7. LOME, TOGO

In the year 2005, MAI executed a project that started a new church in Lome, capital of Togo. Soon after the project, God used the converts of that program to start a revolution in other areas of Togo. One of them, Appom Faustin, was chosen as the new chief priest of his village shrine soon after he became born again at our program. He not only stood for Christ against his whole village of Agome Koutoukpa but single handedly destroyed the oracle and all their totems of worship, presenting Jesus to them as the only true God!

8. ENUMGBA

This is a community in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State. Again, here were a people held hostage by witchcraft and idolatry. Agatu is the headquarters of where the spiritual insurance against death by gunshots is done in Nigeria. In fact, the evening our missions team arrived in Enumgba, ten elderly witches in a single file, six women and four men, danced around the village with short brooms in their hands cursing us, their unwelcome visitors! Why were we not welcome? Because by the law of the reigning evil in Enumgba, nothing good must come into the community! However the grace of God was with us as usual. We built a market for the Enumgba people, which is what the community leaders told us they needed. We started three new thriving churches in Enumgba and neighbouring communities and were used by God to restore sight to a blind four-year-old boy.

IN CONCLUSION, SO WHAT?

This is no time to admire and praise those who are labouring! Many admired Jesus in His days but He told them to ‘FOLLOW ME’ and not just admire Him! As the end times approach, the battles for the souls of men are getting much tougher! We don’t have “four months” before the harvest any more! The harvest is no more over ripe! Those who are not in Christ today are virtually in hell! No wonder Jude says we should save them out of the very fire! (Jude 23). Do not allow your self to be caught at the wrong end of eternity; the place where unfruitful vessels are sent to chill out! I can still hear the angry voice of the Master ordering: ‘Cut It Down! Why Cumbereth it the Ground?’ (Luke 13:7)

There is a role you can play in this end time army! You can Go, Give or/and Groan. Any one, but do it right now. It has already been sworn that there is time no more!

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ENDNOTES


[1] Schick, Tom W. (1980). Behold the Promised Land: A History of Afro-American Settler Society in Nineteenth-Century Liberia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
[2] https://joshuaproject.net/continents.
[3] “Gospel Riches, Africa’s Rapid Embrace of Prosperity Pentecostalism Provokes Concern and Hope”, Christianity Today, July 2007.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Rosalind Shaw, Charles Stewart, Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis (1994).
[6]“Ecclesiastical Cartography and the Invisible Continent: The Dictionary of African Christian Biography” at http://www.dacb.org/xnmaps.html.
[7] Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane (2015). “Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census”. IJRR. 11: 14. Retrieved 22nd March 2017.
[8] R Lamin Sanneh. “Historian Ahead of His Time”, Christianity Today, February 2007.
[9] http://maniafrica.com/mani-an-overview/
[10] http://maniafrica.com/mani-an-overview/

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Emmanuel Nwachukwu
Pastor Emmanuel Nwachukwu is the Executive Director of Missions Aid International. A 1984 graduate of Accountancy from the University of Nigeria, Nwachukwu is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Managing Partner of Emmanuel Nwachukwu & Co. (Chartered Accountants). He holds a Doctorate in Ministry Degree in Transformational Christian Leadership from the West Africa Theological Seminary, Lagos, Nigeria. He is also the Executive Chairman of Change Publications Limited, a leading printing, and publishing outfit based in Lagos.
Dr. Nwachukwu is the Nigeria Regional Coordinator for the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI), Nigeria/Anglophone West Africa 2 Region. He is also the National Director of Missions in the Charismatic Renewal Ministries (CRM) and the Senior Pastor of Amazing Grace Centre and other CRM.


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