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reprinted from the December 2001 edition of Essentials  

Nigeria - a Reflection

  In August and September, 2001, Paul Barker visited Nigeria at the invitation of EFAC (Nigeria) President, Bishop Josiah Fearon, to speak at the annual EFAC Convention and clergy conference. Here he shares some reflections of that visit.  
  It was a day I would rather forget. After a weekend in Kaduna, preaching, meeting clergy and talking with the Bishop while watching live football from England, a dozen clergy, black-shirted and dog-collared with me in tow set off in a minibus for what was meant to be a mere 10-hour drive to Yola on the Cameroon border. Via Kano, because the driver did not know the way, and after several pit stops to cater for me, having eaten something I wish I hadn't at lunch, I arrived, over 12 hours later, in stifling humidity, dehydrated and with just 20 minutes to spare before I gave my first hour-long Bible study on the Book of Revelation. It was not the ideal preparation and bouncing along the potholed road I had fervently prayed that Jesus would come before Yola. The Ven Dr Paul Barker is Vicar of Holy Trinity Doncaster, Melbourne and Archdeacon of Box Hill
  I am not accustomed to being a celebrity, nor clergy conferences having festival atmospheres. As we arrived in Yola there were billposters on every street corner announcing the conference and following convention. A car with loud-hailers and posters also advertised the event. Six hundred clergy and their wives attended the clergy conference at this remote town with perhaps 3000 at the convention that followed, arriving by the busload with banners announcing their dioceses and home towns. And the Nigerians were excited that Dr Peter (sic) Barker had arrived. Between sessions I was besieged for photos and gave out my address dozens of times. (The anticipated letters requesting financial and spiritual support have since been arriving regularly.) Tapes of my talks were immediately on sale after each session so I spent the week hearing my own voice booming through microphones advertising the sale of tapes.  
  Nothing is easy in Nigeria. It was the wet season and often talks were competing with torrential rain on the tin roof of the cathedral. Spasmodic electricity made microphones uncertain and curtailed the use of fans at night leaving me without relief from the sticky heat. There was a tangible tension regarding the political situation in the country and the Bishop often voiced his fears that somehow we might antagonize the Muslims.  
  Yet despite the difficulties, there is a vibrancy among Nigerian Christians and EFAC that is exciting yet disturbing. EFAC is certainly alive in Nigeria. I met some women in Zaria who each week visit Muslim women in the town and pray with them and read the Bible with them. This is dangerous work. The women's Christian faith is kept secret because they would be killed or abused by their Muslim husbands if discovered. Nonetheless, Muslims are being converted.  
  In the hotbed of religious fervour in Nigeria, EFAC and some parts of the Anglican church see themselves as competing with the fast-growing Pentecostal churches. So EFAC prides itself on being orthodox, evangelical, Anglican, charismatic, apostolic and Pentecostal. There are even bumper stickers that announce this combination.  
  This confusion is disconcerting. While Bibles are well-thumbed, theological integration and depth is scarce. Most clergy have minimal training. Church planters often have none. Some who have been in ministry for some time are just now starting out on a Moore College certificate, courtesy of the college and Kaduna diocese. More than anything, the church in Nigeria needs solid Bible teaching. Hence my visit.  
  Much of the music, though lively and enthusiastically played and sung, lacks depth and sometimes verges on banality. So too the incessant calls to 'Praise the Lord' which punctuated every other speaker's address. Such superficiality strikes me as dangerous, evacuating praise of content and significance. The frequent altar calls suggested to me the fragility of Christian assurance for many people.  
  Not surprisingly given the tension with Islam in Northern Nigeria, issues of spiritual warfare frequently come to the fore. The concentration on such issues appeared to me to betray a deficient theology of the cross. I had been deliberately asked to speak on the Book of Revelation in order to help strengthen their theology under persecution and in the midst of spiritual warfare. To what extent this was effective I cannot say. A few talks at one conference are not much. But if the Nigerian Anglican church does not gain a more robust and biblical theology at its grassroots, then the consistent pressures it faces will cause damage.  
  The Pentecostal views on spiritual warfare, which seem to pervade EFAC in Nigeria, were also reflected in the bookstalls at the conference. There was an abundance of Benny Hinn and such like but not much evangelical writing or theology. There is a need for us in the West to work out ways of getting more (and cheap) good biblical books into the hands of the Nigerian church and its leaders. Having said that, I was astonished that at a bookshop at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in Jos I picked up a commentary, albeit liberal, on Jonah that I have searched for over a number of years without success in Australia – and it was less than $3AUS.  
  Cultural issues also are high on the agenda. When one bishop in a sermon hinted that women may possibly wear trousers, he almost caused a riot and had to back down on what he had said or the communion service may not have continued. There was also sharp discussion about clergy robes and bishop's mitres, a heated topic it seemed to me, and one which publicly divided the bishops who attended.  
  A 6-hour taxi ride from steamy Yola to the relief of temperate Jos, accompanied by half a dozen live chickens the taxi driver bought en route, brought me to missionary friends working in a Church of Christ Bible College. I had been there in 1999 and it was again a delight to teach eager students for a week who have sacrificed much to train for pastoral ministry. Even here, with inadequate library resources and lecturers struggling to grasp their subjects, there remains a crying need for solid Bible teaching. I spent some time with an Old Testament lecturer trying to help him shape a course on Old Testament theology. His biggest needs were more resources, more training for himself, and more analytical skills for his own reading.  
  Much is said of the boom in the Nigerian church. We rejoice in its growth and strength, its commitment to the Bible and evangelism. Most of its leaders have had opportunity to study in the West. Yet much more can be done to train pastors and evangelists so that a thoroughly biblical theology can provide a firm and enduring foundation for ministry in such difficult places and times.  

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