The Miraculous Story of Nigeria
The terrible sounds of bombs and explosives during the Biafran war was ironically the same boom the Almighty used to ignite the fast spread the of truth in Nigeria and beyond.
The world is already dark enough. I find stories of those who by the grace of God made significant attempts to illuminate their corner of this world to be very inspiring.
With the support from Christadelphians through the CBM (UK), the Truth has continued to blossom in Nigeria. The seed of the Truth first germinated in Nigeria in 1957.
In this article, I’ll discuss the history of the Christadelphians in Nigeria with a special focus on the growth of the Truth during the Biafran War. The whole world, even up until today, remembers pictures of starving Biafran Children. It was so horrific that in 1968, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple inc., stopped believing in God after he saw the pictures of starving children in the 1968 cover of Life Magazine.1
While this war may have made many lose their faith, to the Christadelphians in Nigeria the terrible sounds of bombs and explosives during the war was ironically the same boom the Almighty used to ignite the fast spread the of truth in Nigeria and beyond.
1950s: THE SEED OF THE GOSPEL SOWN AND THE FIRST BAPTISM
In 1953, Bro. Jonathan Chukwuani, who was a member of God’s Kingdom Society (a breakaway Millennial group from the Jehovah’s Witness church), got a free book distributed by a zealous Australian Christadelphian, Bro. Charles Henry French.
Hundreds of people showed interest in the Truth in April 1957
This pioneering work Bro. French did independently had a huge impact on Nigeria. The CBM established a more globally coordinated advertisement scheme, with Bro. Hubert Taylor as the pioneer head of the Nigerian Team in 1956.2 Hundreds of people showed interest in the Truth in April 1957, and the CBM sent Bre. Harry Tenant and Alfred Norris to visit Aba in Eastern Nigeria. This resulted in the baptism of Bro. Stephen Ekwekwe Onuoha in 1957.3
1958: BRO. GODWIN ONWORDI BAPTIZED
Godwin Onwordi was a relative of the traditional ruler in Ubulu-Uku, now in Delta state of Nigeria. The royal palace had a library of sorts. One day, when perusing some of the books, he came across a Christadelphian leaflet tucked inside one of the books. He read it with great interest, and this led to extensive correspondence about the gospel.
By the grace of God, he was baptized on June 28, 1958, under the guidance of Sis. Florence Walker, his tutor from Canada. Little was known of him. In 1957, there is only a vague report of a young man in Eastern Nigeria that had learned the Truth through a North American sister.
“Sometime before the Christadelphian Bible Mission was formed, a gentleman in Eastern Nigeria obtained a leaflet advertising Christadelphian literature and came into contact with a sister. He appeared to learn a good deal of our teaching and was speaking of it to others at the time when the sister asked us to get in touch with him.”4
Convinced that he was the only Christadelphian in West Africa, Bro. Onwordi began to preach. Some of the ecclesias he helped establish were the Urhonigbe and Benin ecclesias, which are still in operation today. In 1967, Bre. Alan Hayward and Stanley Owen visited him and called him “brother.” He recounts that it was the first time someone (a Christadelphian) ever called him “brother.” Bro. Onwordi fell asleep in the Lord in 2003.
1960: IJUODO ECCLESIA FOUNDED, BRO. EMMANUEL ODUWALE OLATUNJI BAPTIZED
Bro. Emmanuel Oduwale Olatunji was an honorable man who insisted on paying for every material he received from the Christadelphians. He started the correspondence lessons in 1957 through Bro. Stuart Cowlishaw. In 1960, after completing his lessons, he asked one of his pupils to baptize him according to the steps in the Ecclesial Guide. His wife was also baptized, and they broke bread every Sunday morning.
Bro. Oduwale went on to translate several Christadelphian booklets, including the postal correspondence course and “Preaching the Truth” into his native Yoruba language. He was a man of great zeal and conviction, as he preached extensively in Ijuodo to neighboring communities. Unfortunately, he fell ill around 1960 and news of his death was received by the CBM in 1962.5 Bro. Oduwale had but two short years of active service, but his legacy lives on today.
1962: BRO. JONATHAN CHUKWUANI INTRODUCED THE GOSPEL PUBLICITY LEAGUE CHURCH
Bro. Chukwuani responded to a Christadelphian advert in the newspaper, which I learned from his nephew brother Jachin Chukwuani, who lived with him at that time and later got baptized in 1966. The ad was placed by Bro. Charles Henry French from Australia. It was this same Bro. French who patiently taught Bro Chukwuani the gospel.
In 1962, when Bro Chukwuani was ready for baptism, Bro Charles French asked his non-Christadelphian friend, Mr. Hunter, to baptize Bro. Chukwuani into Jesus Christ. Bro. Chukwuani established Umuahia ecclesia and called the new church “Gospel Publicity League.” Bro. Chukwuani loved the Truth so much. After the Biafran War, he founded the Enugu ecclesia, which together with the Umuahia ecclesia is still alive today. Bro. Chukwuani fell asleep in 1981.6
1965: BRO. JOHNSON OGUNJI BAPTIZED
The Bible Missionary reported that 3,740 Nigerians were in touch with Christadelphians via correspondence in 1964. Since April 1963, Bro. Cowlishaw had temporarily moved to Nigeria from Britain for 2.5 years as a missionary. The work was tedious, but their labor was certainly not in vain.
In 1965, Bro. Cowlishaw met Bro. Johnson Ogunji in Ijuodo, the brother who learned the Truth from Bro. Emmanuel Olatunji. Bro. Johnson was baptized the same year (1965) by brother Stuart Cowlishaw. Bro. Ogunji became a huge blessing to the Christadelphian community, not just in Ijuodo and the Western Region, but later to the whole Nigerian community.
He translated even more Christadelphian literature into the Yoruba language and established the Ijuodo Ecclesia. He was a man of great faith, who committed his life to the advancement of the truth. He fell asleep in the Lord in 2003.
1966: BRO. ELIJAH EZEH BAPTIZED
In 1959, Bro. Elijah Ezeh received Christadelphian booklets from his friend in Aba. He read them while in Lagos in 1964. After he quit his job, he became very depressed and attempted suicide on several occasions. It was in the midst of this turmoil that he stumbled upon the booklets given to him by his friend Mr. Madukwe in Aba, 1959.
After reading the booklet Key to Understanding the Scriptures, he told me in his words “I jumped up and rejoiced and I said to myself ‘This is the true Christianity, not what we were doing in Methodist church!”’ Sis. Florence Young, his tutor from Canada, was a passionate teacher.
She went a step further to set-up a library for Bro. Elijah. She sent him Elpis Israel, Christendom Astray and many books which Bro. Elijah voraciously read. In 1966, Bro. Elijah was ready to be baptized. In 1966, there was a great political crisis in Nigeria.
There were reports of riots in Nigeria, where people of Igbo origin were targeted and killed. Bro. Elijah’s in-law in Kaduna sent him a message and asked him to abandon whatever he was doing in Lagos immediately and run to the East for his safety. Because of this, Bro. Elijah chose to be baptized in Umuahia by Bro. Jonathan Chukwuani.
He was now leaving Lagos, but before leaving he preached to many of his kinsman in Lagos. They laughed at him and informed him that they were not ready to leave the Methodist Church. Bro. Jonathan Chukwuani baptized Bro. Elijah on March 6, 1966. Bro Chukwuani found in Bro. Elijah, a great friend and brother in the Truth.
An enlarged picture of Bro. Chukwuani hangs on the wall of Bro. Ellijah’s sitting room many decades after the former’s death, and even up till today. They preached to anyone with ears, without distinction.
Not many people would think of preaching to top political figures in their home
Dr. Michael Okpara was the Premier of the Eastern region of Nigeria. He was briefly detained after a failed coup in 1966. When he was released, Bro. Chukwuani and Bro. Elijah paid him a courtesy visit. They came as ordinary preachers and were permitted in to see him. They spent quality time with the Premier, telling him about the hope of Israel.
He appeared to love the message and they gave him a copy of Elpis Israel. His Personal Assistant begged to receive a copy too, and they promised to give him one but had difficulty doing so as the crisis intensified. This demonstrated the zeal and conviction many had in those days. Even now that the Christadelphians are registered and established, not many people would think of preaching to top political figures in their home.
OCTOBER 1966: LAGOS ECCLESIA FOUNDED
Very great was Bro. Elijah Ezeh’s zeal. I didn’t fully understand him when he told me he preached to a lot of people in Lagos. But Bro. Stanley Owen, who visited Ikeja, Lagos with Bro. Alan Hayward in 1967, wrote:
“In Lagos Bro. Alan and myself found four young brethren who, through one Elijah Eze, had learnt the Gospel from 1964 onwards. When the riots started in 1966, they became afraid for the future, and after a postal interview, and on advice from brethren and sisters in California who had been in contact with them, they baptized each other in October 1966.
“Great was our surprise when we found that they had acquired a Christadelphian Hall, and a well organized ecclesial life. We sang hymns from the Christadelphian hymn book, exhorted each other, and spent many hours examining the basis of their faith. We found them to be expert in preaching the Truth to others, and able to use their Bibles in a workman-like manner”.7
This story makes you understand the conviction and zeal found in the man who later became our Bro. Elijah Ezeh. The light in Lagos Ecclesia has continued to shine ever since then.
1967: ABA ECCLESIA FOUNDED, BRO. ALAN HAYWARD AND BRO. STANLEY OWEN’S MISSIONARY TOUR
Bro. Elijah founded Aba ecclesia in 1967. He preached to his neighbors, and the ecclesia grew to five brethren and some friends. Bre. Hayward and Owen wrapped up their Nigerian mission after visiting the Aba and Umuahia Ecclesias. Unfortunately, the war was so imminent that they later discovered that their flight was the last commercial flight that left Enugu!
1967–1970: THE NIGERIAN BIAFRAN WAR AND ALAYI ECCLESIA
Aba fell to Nigeria in August 1968. That same year Bro. Paul Richards and his wife moved to Ibadan, Nigeria from Britain as missionaries; Bro. Paul was a university lecturer. Bro. Elijah fled to his country home in Alayi but would cycle to Umuahia from Alayi (36km) to break bread with Bro. Chukwuani, then proceed to Aba (67km) to break bread with the brethren he left there.
He would then cycle back to Alayi (90km) the following day! He did this every week until Aba completely fell to Nigerian forces. In Alayi, Bro. Elijah who was a lay preacher in his fifties, was called upon to preach in the Methodist Church. He prepared a long lecture on the kingdom of God, and after his sermon many people followed him to learn more about his “strange” teaching.
ULOCHUKWU: ELIJAH’S CAVE OF REFUGE
The invasion of Alayi on June 15, 1969 was very devastating. Everyone, including two recent converts of Bro. Elijah, fled their homes and found refuge in a cave known as Ulochukwu, or God’s house. This cave, deep in the forest, was right in the middle of terror, chaos and extreme poverty.
This cave, deep in the forest, was right in the middle of terror, chaos and extreme poverty.
Yet, men and women came to hear Bro. Elijah speak of the future kingdom of God, where peace will flow like a river. Many believed him and were baptized. According to his records, there were seventy baptized and a host of friends were connected.
They broke bread every week with pieces of yam, which they harvested from the farm, and palm wine. In those days, due to the economic blockade of Biafra by Nigeria, biscuits and carbonated soft drinks were not only luxurious, but literally nowhere to be found.
To further understand how undeterred their faith was, Bro. Kalu Mba Eze fell asleep in 1969 from starvation. Shortly before he died, he gave a verbal will to Bro. Elijah. He said, “Give everything I have to the Christadelphians.” His wall clock, which was his costliest possession in the forest, was given to the Christadelphians.
Bro. Elijah told me that miraculous things happened in those days. For example, during the War, he gathered people for a public lecture on Revelation 11. As he got to verse five in his exposition and said “Fire…!”, a Nigerian soldier by the name “Olukolu” stormed the gathering and screamed “What are you guys doing here?!”
Bro. Elijah showed him from the Scriptures that they are only studying their Bible. The soldier left them alone, however, he told me that it was miraculous that they survived the event and continued their studies.
He also told me that after the war around March 1970, he organized a public lecture for every survivor in Amaụrụrụ, Alayi. A lot of people turned up for the event, however they were more worried that there had never been a rainfall since 1969 Harmattan season (a dry eastern wind on the African coastal plain).
He told me that he didn’t know what took over him, but he told them that they shouldn’t worry, rain would fall on that day. Lo and behold, rain fell on that day! He acknowledged that “it looked so much like nothing but a miracle.”
The war ended on January 15, 1970. It was feared that the little flock that disappeared into Biafra may never come out again. Although a few brethren went missing, Bro. Elijah Ezeh came out of Alayi with exactly seventy baptized members that were sound in faith, and with many friends.
The first CYC was held in Enugu in 1971. The Alayi Ecclesia arrived with two trucks of young people! It turned out that God, in His wisdom, had used a human tragedy to spread the Truth in that region. The growth was miraculous.
In 1972, the CBM was surprised about the growth in the former Biafra, and they reported:
“Present ecclesial membership in Nigeria totals around 108, of whom 87 are in the East-Central region. And this is the more striking from the fact that it is in this region that the development has taken place mosvt spontaneously, with the least benefit from the presence of missionaries as such. Which in no way reflects on the fine good work and wise guidance which Brother Paul and Sister Sue Richards have given, in the West and overall, during their long stay in the country. It seems likely that this stay will continue throughout the major part of this year (1972), and we are deeply grateful for their loyal help.”8
Bro. Alan and Sis. Peggy Hayward visited the Ulochukwu cave in Alayi after the war. Bro. Elijah described his ordeals and the miraculous conversion of many people in that cave, and the baptisms that took place in the river that flowed from this House of God or Ulochukwu.
Bro. Alan, standing in the midst of the cave, made this prayer:
Bro Elijah Ezeh fell asleep in the Lord on June 5, 2016. On the day he went into a coma, maybe coincidentally, he had led the prayers and asked God to make the life they will live on that day be like their last.
CHRISTADELPHIA IN NIGERIA TODAY
By the grace of God, we have about thirty ecclesias in Nigeria with almost a thousand members. This number is quite insignificant compared to the 200 million population of the country and the great desire of the people, both Muslim and Christian, to hear the word of God. A lot certainly needs to be done.
PREACHING EFFORTS TODAY
There are about thirty ecclesias in Nigeria with almost a thousand members.
Today, we usually have a national CYC organized every two years. Also, we have a national Fraternal Gathering every two years that alternates with CYC. Christadelphian ecclesias in Nigeria are divided into Northern, Western and Eastern zones. Each of these zones also organize their own Fraternal gathering.
In addition, the Eastern ecclesias host Bible campaigns each August, which is a Gospel publicity event held in Aba every year. There is also a radio program called “Preaching the Truth” that is broadcast every week in the Eastern region. There are other events like Gospel in Songs in Aba and weekend Family gathering in Lagos.
It is very obvious that there is poverty and economic hardship in Nigeria. Yet, this economic hardship makes Nigeria a fertile ground for Pentecostalism and Prosperity Gospel ministries. This movement is very popular here. Many Pentecostal megachurches found elsewhere in the world originated from Nigeria.
It is reported that the largest evangelical church auditorium, with a 120,000-seat capacity, is in Nigeria. In fact, 60% of the largest Evangelical church auditoriums are in Nigeria.10
There is little understanding of the hope of Israel and the message of the Kingdom of God. Because there is poverty and corruption everywhere, people are initially amazed that we preach the Kingdom of God will be established here on this evil earth.
However, the corruption and excesses of the Pentecostal preachers makes a lot of people desire to know the truth of the scriptures. It has not been easy for the national body to meet like we used to due to COVID 19 restrictions. But there is a weekly virtual Bible study class organized by Lagos Ecclesia.
Also, a virtual platform for online learning and correspondence has been developed here in Nigeria, with almost 200 people taking the “Preparing for Baptism” study course. Anyone can access it at www.preachi.com. This website has the capacity of serving Christadelphians outside Nigeria too.
There is an ongoing plan to produce video materials and develop a mobile preaching application. There is also an ongoing resuscitation of what I will call the spirit of Elijah, among the youths. The conviction and need to preach the Truth of Jesus like the pioneer Christadelphians here and the pioneer UK Advertising scheme.
Christadelphians in Nigeria are generally strong in faith, with great expositors of the Word in every ecclesia, but largely unknown in the outside world.
On a closing note, the CBM UK has continued to nurture and support the ecclesias here both materially and spiritually. Their labor is not in vain. What more can we say? For all the mighty works God has continued to do in calling out people to Himself here in Nigeria and beyond, we say “Nagode! Imeela! Eshe! Thank you, LORD!”
1 Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Pg. 14 &15.
2 The Bible Missionary, No 2, October 1956, Page 41). Also worthy of mention is the pioneering works of brother Stuart Cowlishaw in this regard.
3 The Bible Missionary, No 4, August 1957, Page 41.
4 The Bible Missionary, No 4, August 1957, Page 94.
5 The Bible Missionary, No 4, August 1957, Page 94.
6 The Bible Missionary, No 16, March 1962, Page 23.
7 The Bible Missionary, No 28, October 1967, Page 18.
8 The Bible Missionary, No 44, April 1972, Page 17.
9 The Bible Missionary, No 51, January 1974, Page 17.