Nigerian Baptists celebrate 150-year witness
5/3/2000By Sue Sprenkle
IN BRIEF -- Nigerian Baptists celebrated 150 years of Baptist witness and ministry April 15-20 and heard from one of their most famous sons -- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigeria is the oldest continuous Southern Baptist mission field and the springboard for Baptist work in Africa. The 880,000 members of the Nigeria Baptist Convention's 7,000-plus churches have sent out 36 missionaries to serve in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.
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ABEOKUTA, Nigeria (BP) -– Chants of “Jesus Christ forever, yes!” echoed throughout the open air stadium. Even heavy rains couldn’t dampen the celebration of 150 years of Baptist work in Nigeria as thousands of Nigerians descended on M.K.O. Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta, Nigeria, April 15-20.
Nigeria was among the first countries to receive missionaries from Southern Baptists' new Foreign Mission Board. Thomas Jefferson Bowen set sail for Nigeria in 1850. He began his ministry in the town of Abeokuta.
One hundred and fifty years later, when Nigerian Baptists gathered to celebrate their heritage in the town where their history began, they heard from one of their most famous sons -- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“This is one of the most fulfilling hours of my life,” Obasanjo said. “I stand here as a man who must say ‘To God be the glory’ for this great period of Baptist history. May God grant to us more fruitful years of service.”
The president singled out the International Mission Board and thanked Southern Baptists for planting the seeds of the gospel and working diligently to nurture and grow Nigerian Christians.
“Their work has influenced millions of Nigerians and other African countries. I speak as one of those touched by their work,” he said.
Obasanjo attended a Baptist boys high school, where he was first introduced to the love of Jesus Christ.
International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said the willingness of missionaries to plant their lives among Nigerians was one way they ministered and proclaimed Jesus Christ.
“The Great Commission of our Lord was not an afterthought,” Rankin said. “The priority and purpose of every Christian is to proclaim the gospel to people all over the world.
"I believe the reason Nigerian Baptists have been blessed is that they are taking the gospel to the world.”
Perennial leaders in evangelism, Nigerian Baptists in 1999 started 851 churches and baptized 30,150 people. The 880,000 members of the Nigeria Baptist Convention's 7,000-plus churches have sent out 36 missionaries to serve in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.
Nigeria was the springboard for Baptist work in Africa. Nigerian Christian traders shared their faith as they traveled in and out of Benin, Ghana and Togo. Small pockets of believers developed along the trade routes and began asking for missionaries and pastors. In the 1950s, Baptist missionaries were sent to Ghana. A few years later, six Nigerian missionaries moved to the other side of the continent to start Baptist work in eastern Africa. Today Southern Baptist missionaries, their African Baptist co-workers and other Great Commission Christians are making plans to take the gospel to every people group on the continent.
Rankin honored IMB missionary Alma Rohm during the celebration for her 50 years of missionary service in Nigeria. As she accepted her pin, every person in the stadium stood in her honor. Rohm has taught most of the pastors and church leaders serving today. During her tenure, she has done everything from teaching at a girls school to planting churches. Her main duties, however, have been at the Baptist College in Iwo.
When Rohm was appointed 50 years ago, there were only 600 missionaries serving in 50 countries, Rankin said. Now, there are almost 5,000 missionaries serving in 154 countries.
“It is not worthy to celebrate and rejoice or even take pride in the 150 years of Baptist work,” Rankin said. “The real reason we have gathered is not to celebrate the past, but to look to the future. Because of the power of God, you will continue to bear fruit.”
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