Mission History in Nigeria
WELS has been working with Nigerian Lutherans for over 80 years. Our work there as part of the Synodical Conference started in 1936, but our involvement has not been a straight-line history.
The Synodical Conference of North American surveyed this field in 1935 at the request of Ibesikpo church leaders. Lutheran work began in this Nigerian field in 1936, when Dr. Henry Nau (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) and his wife arrived for preparatory work. Dr. William Schweppe and his wife Leola (WELS) arrived to lead the mission in 1937. Through their efforts, working with established Ibesikpo churches, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria took shape. From 1944 to 1948, 11 expatriates were added to the missionary staff. Included among these were the following members of the Wisconsin Synod: Rev. and Mrs. Norbert Reim, Rev. and Mrs. George Baer, Rev. and Mrs. Edgar Greve, Rev. and Mrs. William Winter, Rev. and Mrs. Alvin Werre, and teachers E. J. Baer and R.A. Spangenberg. The church grew quickly and by 1962 numbered more than 33,000 baptized souls, approximately 200 congregations and preaching stations, 18 Nigerian pastors, 18 missionaries, and many other workers.
The breakup of the Synodical Conference in the early 1960s brought change to this prospering mission. After WELS leaders explained our reasons for withdrawing from the Synodical Conference, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria decided to remain affiliated with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Today the Lutheran Church Nigeria, partnered with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, continues to thrive with 80,000 members and 72 Nigerian pastors.
A group of fifteen congregations, one pastor, two students nearly ready to be ordained, and many lay members from the Anang clan broke away from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria in 1969 for reasons of doctrine and practice. They formed their own church body, calling it Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria. This was a difficult and sometimes dangerous break. After many contacts and doctrinal discussions with WELS representatives through the 1970s, WELS declared fellowship with Christ the King in 1981. This allowed an even closer collaboration.
Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria opened Christ the King Lutheran Seminary in the 1990s. WELS Counselor Pastor John Kurth prompted WELS to call two pastors as temporary resident seminary instructors to improve the effort. They taught seminary classes in a newly-built mission house and seminary building in the village of Uruk Uso, Abak local government area. That first class graduated in 1994.
In 1991 another group of churches withdrew from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria over doctrine and practice. They registered as All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. This group is in the Ogoja area, at the north end of Cross River State. All Saints “went solo” for eight years, thinking their 21 congregations were alone in the world. Then in 1998 its first president, Rev. Benedict Amu, discovered a congregation in Calabar. What a surprise it was for him to discover a church body in Nigeria that shared the same view of Scripture and doctrine! It was a joyful meeting of “lost” brothers. Not actually lost, of course, but unknown to one another and separated by nearly 250 miles.
Pastors of All Saints, Christ the King and WELS shared and discussed essays on key doctrines. Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria and All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria declared their fellowship in January of 2000. WELS officially declared fellowship with All Saints in August 2001.
Partnering with Christ the King and WELS allowed All Saints to train new pastors for the first time. Their students traveled far from home to join the Christ the King students starting in 2001. Classes for this new intake of seminary students were taught in a way differing from long-established seminaries. Teaching the three-year seminary program was split between Nigerian pastors and short-visit WELS volunteer pastors. By this shared method, Christ the King Lutheran Seminary graduated eight in 2004, ten in 2008, and eleven in 2015.
WELS called a missionary to serve Nigeria for the first time since the 1950s in 2014. Pastor Douglas Weiser accepted the call to be the non-resident (visiting) missionary to Nigeria, starting July 2014. This field was not new to him. He had been visiting Nigeria since 1997 and was serving as WELS Liaison to the field from 2002 to 2014. When Pastor Weiser retired in June of 2017, missionary Jeff Heitsch was called to serve Nigeria half time from Cameroon. Due to political unrest in Cameroon, Pastor Heitsch was able to make only two visits to Nigeria before returning to the U.S., where he currently serves our WELS congregation in Port Orange, FL. Most recently, Missionary Dan Kroll (Cameroon) is assisting with our Nigerian field to revise the Seminary curriculum and facilities as well as begin to consider teachers for the Seminary, set to reopen in July of 2019.
In 2019, Christ the King is celebrating their Golden Jubilee (50th Anniversary) of the founding of their synod in 1969.