Mennonite Church Nigeria
The Mennonite Church of Nigeria is one of several churches with Anabaptist traditions in Nigeria, most of which are located in the southeastern region of the country. MCN is the largest denomination associated with Mennonite World Conference in Nigeria, including over 19,600 members and over 50 congregations. Other Anabaptist groups in Nigeria include the Church of the Brethren and the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.
Self-identified Mennonite churches emerged in Nigeria around 1958. Influenced by a The Mennonite Hour radio show broadcasts from Mennonite Mission Network, leaders of African Independent Churches contacted North American missionaries to request their help while these churches began to take on the Mennonite name. The first long-term missionaries, Edwin and Irene Weaver, were sent through Mennonite Mission Network in 1959. The Weavers sought to promote in indigenization of the church. When they first arrived, the churches were not so much Mennonite as a mixed bag of Christian and native practices. Eventually the Scottish Presbyterian mission offered to affiliate the Weavers with them so they could stay and more Mennonite mission workers could come.
Rather than implementing western Mennonite practices in these churches, the Weavers worked with the AICs, trying to strengthen and unify structures already in place. This somewhat frustrated and alienated the Nigerian Mennonite churches who had wanted guidance about how to live into their new name. Western Christian missionaries were forced out of the country in 1970 by the Biafra War before any resolution came between Mennonite missions and the MCN.
The Biafra War, while a source of immense turmoil for the country, marked a point of independent growth in MCN. In the absence of western missionary influence during and after the war, AIC churches relied more heavily on Pentecostal influences. The indigenous Pentecostalism movement continues to shape MCN, with many, including President UmoAbasi, asserting that they are both Anabaptist and Pentecostal.
Mennonite Church Nigeria did not write much for the posterity of the church, and little published material by Nigerians Mennonite is available from the time between 1967 and 1995. Bruce Yoder, a historian and missionary in Nigeria, explained that most material written about MCN is by missionaries. “As of yet Nigerian Mennonites have not been convinced of the utility of such an initiative,” Yoder said. “It's a relatively small church with modest financial and personnel resources. They've chosen to invest those resources in building the reign of God in Nigeria instead of in historical reflection.”
Yoder also noted a period of divide in the church from 1981 to 1995 over what leaders would control the executive committee of the church. All the same, MCN continued to grow. In the 1990s, Mennonite Church Nigeria began to re-establish stronger ties to Mennonite Mission Network and North American Mennonites in general. 1995 is also when the two factions of the MCN reunited to create the larger church that persists to this day.
An indication of growth, expansion, and inclusion between 1970 the success can be measured by the numbers. In the mid-1980s, membership registered with Mennonite World Conference was at about 2,000. In 2015, it was at over 19,600.
The Mennonite Church of Nigeria is primarily located in the Akwa Ibom State in southeastern Nigeria, but there some churches in larger cities like the capital, Lagos. Yoder notes that the relative independence of these various churches created resistance among the constituency for a centralized institution to form.
Some assets of the Mennonite Church in Nigeria include a church headquarters built in Ikot Ada Idem, various Bible schools contributed to but not entirely run by missionaries, and renovations of church buildings. President UmoAbasi characterized the building as a form of outreach and evangelism, particularly influenced by an African culture of hospitality.
“When our church members come to a gathering, we need to accommodate them in a decent [lodging] and feed them and give them a sense of pride,” UmoAbasi said. “If we are concentrating on building, it is because in the nearest future, Mennonite Church Nigeria will be large in terms of numbers.”
In 2015, MCN started planning for a water treatment program to raise funds for the church. Using a well dug in 2011, church members began bagging clean water in February 2016 to sell in the community around Ikot Ada Idem.
Some see the prevalence of Islam as a threat to the strength of Christian faith. In some regions, this is merely a theological concern, but in northern Nigeria, the extremist group Boko Haram, who identify themselves as Muslim, pose a physical threat to all, and Christians especially. Members of the EYN Church of the Brethren, an Anabaptist affiliated group, is caught in the midst of the region where in 2014, the Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 school girls.
Mennonite Church Nigeria balances its identity between Pentecostal and Anabaptist influences, along with the inputs of larger African culture. Some criticisms coming from the outside characterize times offerings as too showy in light of Jesus’ call to be humble about acts of faith. Others think that there is a prevalence of clinging to folk religion and superstitions.
MCN embraces a strong relation to the Holy Spirit in much the same way that the Radical Reformers of the early Anabaptist movement did. Members experience the Spirit both in their calls to certain ministry and how they move and express themselves during worship. There is a strong desire within the church to maintain this dependence on the spirit and kindle it in the growing youth dynamic in the church.
“My vision is for a church that anybody in Nigeria can be proud of, a church that sees the dignity of [the human being], a church [of] integrity, a church that makes people feel like they belong,” UmoAbasi said of Mennonite Church Nigeria. “A church like this will go viral.” UmoAbasi also expressed the desire within the conference to be part of a larger, global Anabaptist church.
1958- Group of AIC churches in the southeastern region of Nigeria take on the name Mennonite. Within the next couple years, mission workers S.J. and Ida Hostetler came in to set up a conference.
1959- The Weavers arrive and begin working with their center at Uyo.
1960- October 1st, Nigeria receives its independence from Britain. The Weavers become affiliated with the Scottish Presbyterian mission in order to stay in the country.
1967- Beginning of the Biafra War (1967-1970). Western missionaries are forced out of the country.
1981- Split in the church over leadership.
1995- Church re-unifies. Mennonite Mission Network increases involvement and builds a stronger partnership.
2000s- Nigerians share stories through publications and sermons given in the U.S.
|Mennonite Church Nigeria|
President Victor UmoAbasi
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