The Holy Bible makes us understand that in the beginning of creation; the whole universe -was filled and enveloped with pitch and utter darkness until God imperatively said, “let there be light”,- and there was light. An Invisible omnipotent hand of the Omnipotent God which separated the light from the forces of nature and gross darkness by ‘which and through which the day and the night came to stay. A combination of physical and spiritual display of the supernatural. No mortal man did it or can do it.
Literally, the early Christians or missionaries visual perception and belief was that “Africa is a dark continent.” It is against this backdrop that they took the bull by the horns and embarked on a perilous “Civilizing mission”, to spread Christianity to all parts of Africa and to liberate the Africans from the shackles and fetters of backwardness, paganism, fetish practices and ignorance.
Besides, the crusade wars of eleventh to thirteenth centuries fought by Christian Armies trying to take or wrest Palestine from the Muslims were still fresh in their memory. Consequent upon this, the spread of Christianity in the dark continent – Africa became speedy, feverish and intoxicating. The main thrust, however, was to bring a check to the expansion of Islam and moreover train Africans as catechists, interpreters, Bible readers and so on.
As in other parts of Africa and rural hinterlands, the European missionaries who made their debut and religious escapades known and felt in Nigeria at this wee hour and period of gestation were the following priests, David Hinderer, his wife Anna Hinderer and Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society aka the Anglican Church today. A few years later, Hope Waddell and the dead-but-living legend vice consul, customary court Judge and lady with the lamp, Mary Slessor of the Church of Scotland Mission, conspicuously appeared on the scene.
It would be relevant and pertinent to state that the seamless implantation of these Christian orthodox church paved the way for a profound and widespread missionary activities in Nigeria and ·before anyone could say Jack Robinson, other : Christian churches like the Methodist Mission; the Roman Catholic Mission, the Baptist Mission to mention but a few, had put down their roots.
Remember this, their mission was not only to civilize Africans but also to liberate Africans from the firm iron grip and shackles of ignorance. But did they do it? Your surmise, conjecture or answer to this question is as good as mine. Ignorance, simply put, is lack of knowledge or information about something. In Nigeria, for example, the iron lady-Slessor, the Hinderers and Townsend deserve kudos for their painstaking efforts and attention paid to the teething problems of the people while trying to launch their missionary campaign in and across the country. No lip service, no pretence, no lies and hypocrisy, no television or radio rhetorics. No sugar-coated prosperity message or preaching. Their message was raw and undiluted.
Slessor travelled all the way from Scotland to Calabar, settled with the people and began her season and missionary exploits in a blaze of glory. It did not take her much imagination to understand the grief and problems of the people. She quickly learnt the Efik language to ease and facilitate her missionary activities. Her knowledge of the language undoubtedly aided her to spread Christianity in Calabar and its environs. The Ekpe-a secret society synonymous and similar to Ogboni cult and fraternity in Yoruba land passed a law that twins should be killed and their mothers banished from home because they were regarded as a taboo and a bad omen. She started appealing to their psyche, preaching the gospel message of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and God crowned her efforts with success. The killing of twin babies stopped, and the practice of human sacrifices also came to an abrupt end as a result.
Goaded and animated by her earlier successes and landmark achievements, this missionary icon, colossus and Aphrodite did not rest on her oars. She took care of the orphans, helped the poor and needy people, improved the sanitation of the people by encouraging them to live in a healthy environment, taught the people to cook their food under hygienic conditions and crowned it all by using the hurricane lamp to visit the sick at night-a rare feat that earned her the appellation. Doctors, nurses, Christian workers in Nigeria, did you get that? It is life first not money first.
To add another feather to her cap, Slessor encouraged the spread of Western civilization. How? With the help rendered by a naturally ebullient Hope Waddell and the home mission, she planted a school at “Itu” for the training of girls and women, taught them how to sow, wash and do other domestic or house chores. Suffice it to say that it was through her practical Christianity, love and care for the people she ministered to, many Efiks turned to Christ and became Christians over night, otherwise, those souls she won for Christ would have been lost forever.
Mary Slessor forgot her family, home in the United Kingdom for the sake of the gospel and humanity and died in Calabar and was buried in Calabar. What a missionary! Lagos and Badagry-two axis of evil and commercial hubs of the notorious and illicit trade in human trafficking to America and the West Indies or the new world came to focus of attention at this period. Like their counterparts in Calabar, Gollmer and Henry Townsend were instrumental in the expansion and rapid spread of Christianity in these areas under review. They started agitating against the selling and buying of human beings as slaves, and at the acme of these agitations, a Christian association known as the Quakers Society was born. Simultaneously followed by Wesleyan “society” which of course was headed by the foremost and astute crusader – John Wesley himself.
Vexed by the incongruous situation and the thoughtless inconsiderability of the innocent men and women created in the image and likeness of God seen and treated as slaves and living a sub-human existence on planet Earth, the “Quakers society” and the Wesleyan Society became vocal, snippy and launched into a tirade against it. Of course, we know “old habits die hard”, however, the slave trade persisted for a long time after it had been legally abolished due to a number of common but complex factors-political, economic and social factors. But to God be the glory because, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven”, the sage tells us. Graciously and joyfully the illicit trade slipped, sank and was consigned into oblivion and it was time to laugh, time to embrace, time to plant and time to build.
To be continued.
Owhorji wrote in from Port Harcourt.
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