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Growth Spurt in Nigerian Mission Fields

Originally appears in the October 31, 2018 One Africa Team blog

Next July (2019), our Nigerian Mission Fields will re-start their joint Seminary program.  This time we will work with 22 men who desire to become part of the full time called worker core that we have there.  Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria (in Akwa Ibom State) hopes to more than double their ministerium of 9 pastors, bring 10 more to start the seminary program.  All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria is also hoping to make a sizable jump from 11 current pastors to add 12 more to the program.

Christ the King Board of Governors meets in the “outgoing” classroom at Uruk Uso – discussing needed changes.

It’s the biggest class we’ve had in many years, maybe ever.  Big enough to push some WELS donors to put  financial resources together to pay for a new dormitory building and some refurbishing of the current classroom building to accommodate everybody.  Understand what I mean by “dormitory” (the new building) – in an effort to keep it simple (= inexpensive), we will have one large room with beds, dressers, and a small desk for each student.  With no walls between the “rooms” – the students will get to know each other very well!

This will keep our Board of Governors very busy. To make things even more interesting, that same Board of Governors, hand-in-hand with the Seminary director, has requested some revision to the seminary curriculum including an increase of classroom time by over 30%. There is a lot of work to be done in the next 8 months from digging a foundation, putting up walls and a roof, beds as well as decisions about who will teach and what books they will use – your prayers are essential to this process!

Theological training campus at Uruk Uso (Christ the King), including football (soccer) field in the foreground, Martin Luther primary school (connected) to the right and the mission house (pink) on the left

Our two sister church bodies in Nigeria currently have a combined membership of over 3,900 members that worship in 57 congregations. Five centuries after Luther’s Reformation the message of God’s salvation by grace alone, through faith alone continues to produce a rich harvest of souls all over the world. God has graciously answered our prayers for more workers in Nigeria. May the Lord continue to shower his grace on our Nigerian brothers and sisters in Christ through a new generation of pastors who serve his people faithfully!

Written By: Rev. Dan Kroll, Missionary at large – West Africa

Nigerian church bodies

WELS began its mission efforts in Nigeria in 1936. Currently 26 Nigerian pastors and more than 50 lay leaders serve about 5,300 baptized members in the two Nigerian sister synods. WELS supports one non-resident missionary to mentor Nigerian church leaders with the goal of helping the Nigerian church bodies become led solely by nationals.

Pure Water for Nigeria

Pure drinking water is a paramount need in Nigeria and so many other places in the world which lack sufficient water treatment infrastructure. A woman wrote of her immigrant family homesteading in North Dakota in the early 1900s. She wrote of frequent sickness because her family drew drinking water from a meager stream. That’s how it is in rural Nigeria today – and in some cities too.

I visited the village of one of our churches. The congregation leader was my eager guide. “Show me where you get your water.” He took me to a stream. It was low due to the dry season. In the exposed stream bed, my host pulled a palm-leaf cover from a hole in the mud. Two feet down was the surface of the murky water. “This is what we drink,” he said matter-of-factly. Even without public health training, I could imagine all sorts of micro-organisms that the villagers were ingesting every day. It is any wonder our Nigerian friends are so often sick, especially in rural areas?

Pastor Ted Lambert and I were teaching Seminary in 2002. I assumed that the students had a good source of water. One day we crossed the sand street visit young men making cement blocks. For water they had dug a square hole alongside the road. Road run-off collected there for mixing cement. How shocked we were when our students came to draw water from the pit. “What’s that water for?” we asked. “For bathing .” Thank God they could get better drinking water elsewhere.

Nigerians will tell you that our discoveries are common knowledge. So Lambert asked WELS Christian Aid and Relief to help. We dedicated our first borehole (drilled well) in 2002 at Ikot Osom, where villagers had been walking to a distant stream for water. The local head chief thanked us, “You think you have given us water. You have actually given us life.” That first deep borehole is still at work for hundreds of Ikot Osom people, managed and maintained all this time by the Lutheran congregation just 20 yards away.

In November 2015, we dedicated a new borehole in the front yard of our sister Lutheran church at Ikot Ntan Nsit. With the start of the new generator, flip of a switch or two, drinks of cool water and a short prayer, we asked our Triune God to bless this water for the surrounding community.

Our boreholes in Nigeria are dilled deep enough to draw water from clean gravel layers 130 feet down or deeper. Our drillers go deep enough for the water to test pure. Each unit has a gas-powered generator, submersible pump, two or three 1500 liter storage tanks, and a cement block house to elevate them for water pressure. The local congregation is in charge of their borehole, distributing the water and charging a water fee just large enough to fuel their generator and service their pump. This is a total “hand-over” package manage. WELS will not return to repair their precious boreholes. So far, this seems to work in most places.

We’ve had some failures. One could not be drilled when the workers hit a thick rock layer. Another tapped a vein of water contaminated by salt and iron and was abandoned. Yet another congregation did such poor drilling work that water would not flow. But they linked up with a United Nations group to get their borehole productive for the community. The only two hand pump wells we did failed after short use. For this reason, we stick to the more costly mechanized borehole version.

In all, we’ve done 30 borehole projects in Christ the King Lutheran Church (synod) and All Saints Lutheran Church (synod) in Nigeria. 26 were sponsored by WELS Christian Aid and Relief and its predecessors, one by a foundation grant, and three by WELS congregations and donors. 26 boreholes remain successful, thanks to careful management by our sister Lutheran congregations.

Pure drinking water remains a daily concern in Nigeria. Thanks be to our Lord of abundant love for the many WELS donors who sponsor boreholes for Nigeria. May our fellow Lutherans in Nigeria providing pure water for their communities also attract many souls to drink of the water of life which only Jesus supplies!

Written by Rev. Douglas Weiser, part time missionary to Nigeria

To view a video highlighting bore hole activity, visit this link.

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Nigeria: The day in the life of a regular family

This is the Pastor Michael Egar family. A family like most of ours no doubt.

But not like the families of us all. For one thing, Pastor Egar is so very grateful to have his wife and three children. He grew up without his parents, being raised by his grandmother. He was a convert to the Lutheran faith only eight years before his seminary graduation. Egar says he is very thankful to God for giving him such a good woman as his wife and that they have the blessing of three children

For another thing, as a seminary student in Nigeria, Egar spent much of five years living at the seminary, 250 miles from his home and family. That sort of devotion to his spiritual goal demanded much sacrifice on the whole family’s part.Nigeriablog-04202015-350

So it was a very joyful week indeed, when Egar graduated from Christ the King Lutheran Seminary on March 14, 2015 and was ordained a pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria a week later! The ordination worship was cause of great celebration. But with the crowded church grounds, busy schedule, plus food duties for Mrs. Egar (Anthonia), getting the family together for a photo by mid-afternoon was a bit stressful.

And this is where I learned that Egar’s family is just like our families. Their elder son participated in the family snap (photo). But he was not the most eager for it. Why? Because, as his dad explained, the young man had been on the receiving end of a fatherly lecture about driving the family motorbike around Ogoja in a safe manner. How many 14 year old sons enjoy their dad’s lectures about safe driving?

Safe driving lecture included, it was a great day for the Egar family. Dad was ordained a Lutheran pastor. And they all learned that they would move to rural Bitiah Irruan, where Pastor Michael Egar is to serve the largest congregation of All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. Surely motorbike driving skills will be of value there!

Written by Rev. Douglas Weiser, non-resident missionary to Nigeria.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

This is a special article because Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria for teaching, graduation and ordination.

If God is for us, who can be against us?1

Excellent question, Paul, just excellent.

Paul’s query is much more than simply thought-provoking and much greater than merely discussion raising.  It’s heart-touching and faith building.

Sermon worthy.

Of all the Scripture that could have been used very fittingly for the sermon text on Graduation Day at Christ The King Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria, the nine students chose this one from Romans 8:31b:  If God is for us, who can be against us?

Why this particular text?  Why this specific question?  The nine graduates had one answer:

“Because  this very Word of God speaks personally and powerfully in our circumstances here in Nigeria.”

During the years of their Seminary training, it seemed to them that so many – too many – things were indeed against them:

  • Ebola
  • Boko Haram
  • The death of 3 classmates
  • The death of 3 local lecturers
  • The death of two student wives
  • A serious internal church issue

It’s not that any of the students or lecturers were killed by – or even infected with the Ebola Virus; it’s not that any of them were kidnapped or even personally threatened by a terrorist group; but these two weighty Nigerian issues were serious enough concerns for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) that the Board for World Missions (BWM) temporarily suspended all travel to Nigeria by WELS Called Workers who would teach at the seminary in Uruk Uso, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

Cancelled travel meant postponed classes.

Postponed classes pushed Graduation Day further down the road.  Graduation became a tantalizing mirage that the students could never reach.  The closer they came, the further it went.

But the nine students didn’t quit the program.  They pressed on.  They persevered.  They rode out the storm.  Then one day two lights of hope shone over the troubled waters in the distance:

Nigeria declared itself “Ebola Free” on 20th October 2014 and her president, Goodluck Jonathan joined Nigeria with neighboring nations2 for a stepped up military campaign against Boko Haram.  Though both were still menacing issues for Nigeria, neither one was hovering anywhere near the Lutheran Seminary.  The WELS Board for Missions was satisfactorily assured and gave the green light to Missionary Doug Weiser3 to engage the traveling professors.

Classes could resume!

The professors came in three week waves.4 The students were elated.  Graduation Day would happen!

It did.

Though the normal six year seminary time had stretched over seven years, graduation finally took place on 14 March 2015.

WELS Pastor Joel Jaeger5 preached the text the students chose:  “If God is for us who can be against us?”

Even though this sounds like a searching question, it’s really one of a half dozen powerful answers to his first probing question.6 Like an ammunition clip for an AK47, Paul’s six questions are lined up one right after another and ready for action.  Paul rapid fires these six rounds.  He not only hits the target but he tightly groups them centering on the bulls-eye truth:

Through Jesus Christ we are more than conquerors!7

The Seminary Students needed to hear that message on Graduation Day.

They did.

Who can be against the class and ultimately succeed?

What can be against the graduates and victoriously triumph over them?

  • A deadly disease with plenty of victims but no cure?8
  • A terrorist group with plenty of machetes but no conscience?
  • A dwindling class?
  • A growing anxiety?

Paul’s question is really his answer!  It’s the answer the graduates rejoiced to hear:

NO ONE and NOTHING can go up against our great God and be victorious! 

A cross and a grave couldn’t stop Jesus, how could anything or anyone else?

Graduation Day was a good day.

Gowns were donned.

Gifts were received.

Congratulations were given.

But more importantly,

Sin was exposed.

Grace was announced.

Christ was praised.

Then on the 15th and 21st of March 20159 God supplied nine more gifts10 to His Church in Nigeria.

Just in case you ever wonder if Satan, the world or a relentless bombardment of life’s challenges have gotten the upper hand, ask yourself an important answer:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Your Malawi Missionary Partner,

John Holtz

____________________

John Holtz, Doug Weiser, Joel Jaeger

Christ the King Lutheran Seminary

Graduation Day 14 March 2015

___________________________

  1. Romans 8:31b
  2. Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
  3. Pastor Doug Weiser retired from the pastoral ministry (serving in Bellevue, Washington at the time) in June of 2014 and was commissioned as the Missionary to Nigeria the same day. He jokes that he has the record for the shortest retirement:  three hours!  With WELS budget funding, Pastor Weiser can travel to Nigeria at least four times per year, teaching at the Seminary and coordinating the WELS work there.  He organizes WELS pastors, professors and missionaries to teach at the seminary while he works with the two synods.
  4. Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria teaching the Seminary class a course on Evangelism, 23 February 2015 – 13 March 2015.
  5. Pastor Joel Jaeger presently serves Christ Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Previously he has also served in Nebraska, Germany and St. Lucia. Pastor Jaeger has traveled to Nigeria four times to teach in the seminary.  This time he taught the book of Titus.
  6. Paul begins Romans 8:31a with his question: “What shall we say in response to this?”  In response to what?  Paul had just assured the Romans that God works for our eternal good and assures them that God has predestined, called, justified and glorified them.
  7. Romans 8:37
  8. To date and to my knowledge, no known cure for Ebola has been officially announced or recognized. However, there has been a lot of progress made in this particular medical arena.  Some people who had been infected with Ebola are still alive.
  9. 15th March 2015 was Ordination and Call day for two students who will serve in Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria. Missionary John Holtz preached for the Ordination service.  He used John 10:11-18 as the text.  The theme of the sermon:  “Lord, you are the Good Shepherd, help me to be a shepherd under Christ!”  The 21st of March 2015 was Ordination and Call Day for the other seven students.  They are serving in their sister synod called All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. These synods formed years ago when certain groups of dissatisfied people broke away from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria.
  10. Ephesians 4:11. Pictured from left to right on page 1, student’s names are in bold type: Pastor Doug Weiser, Joseph Odama Ogar, Vincent Onah Odey, Pastor John Holtz, Wonah Johnson Egbe, Samuel John Udoh, Egar Michael Nleng, Eshua Sylvester Odok, Idorenyin Joshua Udo, Agwu Johnson Ogar and Orji Stephen Odey, Pastor Joel Jaeger.

We are not afraid

We were not in class on that Friday morning. We were walking to the mortuary before the morning dew had cleared. Shocking news had punched our hearts as we woke. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Even those in charge said, “We don’t know what to do.” Should the seminary continue with classes and pay our respects later? No, word came that the morticians wanted to begin their work. So we cancelled class for the day. Students, Director, and WELS instructors started their sad procession together. Leaving our lane, turning left on the sand road. Our oldest student came for chapel a few minutes late. He caught up with our sad walk. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Student Samuel’s mouth dropped open, his lips quivered, his eyes frantically searched ours, “What?” We explained that Umoessien had been killed the previous night, January 15, 2015, in a car-motorbike collision. “No, he was just here that same morning talking to us!”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

But yes, Umoessien was dead. A ‘keke’ (motorbike tricycle taxi) pulled up to park at the entrance path to the mortuary. Emem, Mrs. Umoessien, had come with one of her sons. We all crowded into the first room of the mortuary. Our friend’s body was laid out on a mat on the floor, covered in a dignified way. We lined the north wall and clogged the doorway. There was no plan for who should speak. The two WELS pastors were silent, giving way to whatever the Nigerians needed to say or do. The Director was also silent. Unbidden, student Egar offered the prayer.He praised the Lord our God and thanked him for this opportunity for us to honor a man we loved and to declare to the world that we are not afraid. We are not afraid because our God is in charge. The same one who gave us Jesus as our Savior has now taken Umoessien away. And we trust our Lord in all he decides for us.

When Egar concluded, we all said, “Amen,” including the new overnight widow of Rev. Eme George Umoessien.

In fact, Pastor Umoessien was one of five men connected with the seminary who died within the last year and a half. Evangelist Happiness Uko, Ev. Samuel Eyo, retired professor Rev. Edet Akpakpan, and Ev. Saviour Udo had all preceded Umoessien, leaving this earth for heaven. Of them, only Akpakpan had achieved old age. But many student and instructor devotions, a student sermon at the dead pastor’s congregation, and the general population of both our synods in Nigeria kept making the point, “We are not afraid.”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

Why would people keep asserting our faith in such words? Because adversity and death, so easy to suffer in Nigeria, are feared. People fear death because it tempts them to believe that God is not in charge. They fear death when they revert to the old ways, fearing that someone has cursed our seminary or the living spirit of a dead person has decided to plague our seminary. In defiance of the old and default animistic views of cause and effect, our fellow Christians tell themselves and the whole world, “We are not afraid.” Nor should we fear death or any other adversity. For if God has so freely given his own Son to take away the guilt of our sins, how would he not take care of us in all the lesser issues of life – issues of both life and death (Rom.8:32)?The family of Christ the King Lutheran Seminary and both synods in Nigeria have suffered a string of deaths. But they assure you and one another, “We are not afraid. We will continue our studies. We will go into the field with the gospel of our Savior.” So take heart in your own lives! Receive whatever God sends you with both hands!

Rev. Doug Weiser, missionary to Nigeria, recounts National Pastor Umoessien’s death and how we have no need to fear death because of our faith in Jesus.