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Seminarians nurture Nigerian churches

JOS, Nigeria (BP)—”I love you, Lord; and I lift my voice.”

A chorus of American voices blended with those of their Nigerian brothers and sisters in Christ as two languages intermingled in praise to the one Creator.

This group of 19 students and three professors from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary traveled from Wake Forest, N.C., to encourage believers in Nigeria in their walks with God and to teach them how to share the Good News with family and friends. They are part of a larger International Mission Board effort to emphasize the West Africa region in 2006 and 2007 because of dwindling missionary numbers and the ever-increasing spiritual need.

“West Africa contains the second-largest number of unreached people groups of any region of the world — a total of more than 1,600 distinct people groups, each with its own language and culture,” said Roger Haun, the IMB’s associate regional leader for West Africa. “Over 900 of these would be less than 2 percent evangelical Christian and about 350 would have no known evangelical witness of any kind among them. The year of focus is an attempt to present the needs of the region to Southern Baptists, enlist personnel and increase our prayer support.”

The students were a part of Southeastern’s effort to encourage and support the IMB while training Great Commission-minded students who will take the Gospel to the world. The students studied African Traditional Religion and Islam during the mornings and then shared the Gospel, trained the Christians in Baptist churches and assisted the Baptist missionaries in the villages and in the city of Jos during the afternoons and evenings.

Ed Pruitt, associate director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern, said most trips Southeastern takes involve sowing, watering and harvesting, but this trip was primarily “field preparation.”

“If we don’t prepare the fields today, then in 50 or 60 years they won’t be harvesting,” Pruitt said.

This field preparation included training local Baptist congregations how to present the “Creation to Christ” story to their family, friends and Muslim acquaintances.

The Creation to Christ story, or C2C, presents the Bible from creation and the fall to Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, to the promise of His return one day. It is a way to share the Gospel in a storytelling form in a culture with an oral tradition.

Clint Bowman, a Southern Baptist missionary in Nigeria, said C2C is not so much an evangelistic tool, but more of a method to seek out the “man of peace,” the person on whom God is working, as referenced in Luke 10:6. That person will ask questions based on the story and seek out more information.

The story also is designed to share in sections in case the person telling it is interrupted for safety reasons and has to return later.

At the end of each training session, the students asked members of the congregation to commit to sharing the story with one lost friend, family member or neighbor. Many people in the area churches stood up and made that commitment.

“I knew that when they stood up, that was not a false profession because some of them could lose their lives,” said David Cooper, a recent graduate of Southeastern College at Wake Forest.

“I have done church planting in the U.S. and I’ve done evangelism training in the U.S. And I’ve done them both out here, and I’ve found that Nigerians do tend to be more faithful to follow through with that commitment,” Bowman said. “The persecution issues that are here may be one of the reasons that Nigerian Baptists take their commitments more seriously than it seems people do in the U.S.”

While this trip took place Dec. 31-Jan. 14, Pruitt said Southeastern plans to take teams back to West Africa the next two years in January. The next trip already is slated for Dec. 28, 2007-Jan. 15, 2008, in Nigeria.

Haun said the IMB has been discussing with Southeastern the possibility of sending “2+2/2+3” students to West Africa in 2008. Southeastern’s master of divinity in international church planting degree is nicknamed the “2+2/2+3” program because it allows students to do two or three years of field work in addition to their on-campus time.

“These [students] would serve three years in West Africa and, hopefully, return as career missionaries in our region. We’ve identified several key unreached people groups where we would like to place these students,” Haun said.

The Hausa Muslims are a case in point of a large group of people who need missionaries. More than 30 million Hausa live in West Africa — 26 million in Nigeria alone. Only one Southern Baptist missionary couple serves among all these men, women and children.

The 255-student Jos Baptist Pastors’ School is an example of the seriousness of commitments the Nigerians hold to Christ. In order to graduate, each student must plant or help plant a new church. Ninety-seven students graduated in May 2006.

While American missionaries are relatively safe in Nigeria, the native Christians live with the reality that their homes and families are targeted by Muslims. Nevertheless, the purpose of the pastors’ school is “to train men and women for Christian ministry,” principal Appollos Handan said.

The school offers a dual track for pastors’ wives, with Handan noting that is important for women to be trained in order to minister to other women.

Some of the Southeastern students had the opportunity to visit the school early in the trip and others returned toward the end for a chapel service to make a monetary gift toward some of the school’s unfinished building and repair projects. The students on the trip had pooled more than $780 for the gift.

“After we visited the school and saw the conditions under which the people had to study and sleep, it made me realize how fortunate we are in the States,” Ray Carr, a first-year seminary student, said. “I felt very proud of our students because not only did they give, but they gave a lot.”

Following the presentation, a group of the women in the chapel came to the front and danced and sang in the Hausa language with jubilation.

“I think [their response] said it all. It was overwhelming,” Carr said. “I hope that this will not be the end of this.”

The Southeastern students had the privilege of seeing several Nigerians come to faith in Christ during the trip. A woman and two young boys professed faith after watching the “JESUS” film in the Hausa language. A formerly Muslim man accepted Christ after hearing the Gospel from one of the students during a soccer match in a village.

“The number of opportunities to share the Gospel are greatly increased with the participation of the students,” Haun said. “The missionaries are encouraged by this, as are the local believers. In addition, hospitality toward strangers is an important value in almost all West African peoples. West Africans — believers and non-believers — are very honored that someone would come all the way from America to visit them. This provides an opening for sharing the Gospel with some who might not be receptive to a witness from a local believer or even a missionary who has lived a long time in the area.”

Patti Huffman, hostess of the Baptist Guest House in Jos where the team stayed, was encouraged by the team’s spirit and passion for the mission field and the people of Nigeria.

“I think most people out here are excited that someone wants to come out and see it for themselves,” Huffman said. “We feel like the best way to touch lives is by getting people on the field because we desperately need more people in West Africa. The way to show people the true need is to get them out here. We don’t try to sugar coat anything.”

Pruitt said he hopes “that the Lord will work on some of [the students] to bring them back for career missions. They seem[ed] to really be having some great experiences. Not only do I want them to go home with the academics, but also I want them to go home with a piece of Africa in their hearts.”

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  • Joy Rancatore