Mutual Aid Nigerian Style

“Development Sundays” are the way that Mennonite Church Nigeria (MCN) congregations help each other raise funds for the development of the church. Due to the difficult economic situation churches often find it hard to cover their ongoing expenses, let alone find resources for further development. One of the ways that MCN works at that dilemma is the idea of Development Sundays. Every few months a Sunday is set aside for all the churches in a particular diocese to attend the service of the one of the congregations. Each comes with an agreed upon donation to contribute to the hosting church. Individuals are encouraged to participate out of their own pocket too. In this way there is a kind of mutual aid practiced among the different congregations of the church.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Itam Diocese Development Sunday. The service was like any other Sunday service except that the church was packed due to the attendance of members from the other 7 congregations in the diocese. And of course instead of ending after the sermon things continued for a couple more hours. Each visiting congregation was given the opportunity to dance their donation (set at 5,000 Nira, about $42) up to the front of the church were it was received and counted. All together they contributed 45,000 Nira or about $294. But that wasn’t the total amount collected.

The Offering PrayerOffering Prayer

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As each congregation was called to the front their members would dance their way forward but not alone. Everyone else would come forward with them. In that way anyone from any of the congregations could contribute and increase the total amount that that particular congregations was donating. So everyone danced to the front and around the offering basket at least 7 times. The total amount that was given reached 66,000 Nira, about $555. It was a festive time of dance and music with each of the diocese choirs having ample time to show their stuff.

This seems to me like a very creative way to raise what is quite an amount of capital in that context. By working together they gather enough together to do something significant. If they had to rely on week to week donations from members, ongoing expenses would eat up the offerings as they come in. This time the hosting congregation was planning to use the funds to make some progress on an improvement to their church building. Mutual aid à la Nigerian!

Counting the offerings

Development Offering

Dancing the offerings up to the front of the church

Mennonite Church Nigeria Visit

I’m just returning from a 12 day trip to Mennonite Church Nigeria (MCN) in the southwestern part of that country. This time I was doing the last sessions of the preaching seminar that we hadn’t finished when I was there in December. We had eight students who preached sermons to the rest of the group and were evaluated by their peers. Some of them were in the vernacular language, so I rely on the student evaluations of those sermons to know how to evaluate them myself since I don’t speak Ibibio, the local language. For two of the students it was the first time that they had ever preached, but the others were experienced preachers and they did quite well.  We took four class periods to hear the sermons and spent the rest of the time getting a good start on the next seminar topic, The History of the Church.

Here’s a link to some photos from the tripphotos from the tripphotos from the trip

Though the seminar was the major reason for my trip, there are always other things to be done. Two of the MCN pastors and I worked out a budget and plan for the seminars that we will do during 2008. Mennonite Mission Network has been contributing four Nira (Nigeria currency) for every one Nira that the MCN has provided. With that we will be able to do nine seminars with the students who participate all through the year and two “Ministers’ Refresher” seminars for all the church leaders. There are normally six to eight participants in the ongoing group while 45-50 leaders attend the “Ministers’ Refresher” seminars.

There was also an invitation to preach in one congregation, to do a Bible study in another, to visit a preschool that one of the church regions has started and any number of invitations to visit this or that person or attend this or that event. Though I don’t plan these kinds of things ahead of time, my days usually fill up rather quickly once I’m there. For now it’s good to be getting back. I’m currently in the Lagos airport waiting for my flight to Cotonou and hoping to be home by early evening.

Off to Nigeria

Tomorrow I’m off to Nigeria for 12 days. The travel part of the Nigeria trips are getting easier. Before I would get in a taxi around 5:00 AM in the morning here in Cotonou and cover the roughly 100 kilometers in 5 hours. The Benin/Nigeria border crossing is just a 1/2 hour ride from Cotonou but much of the morning was taken up inching along in the ever present Lagos traffic jam. Now that there are three scheduled Cotonou/Lagos flights each week, I can leave the house around 6:30 AM and be in Lagos before 9:00, all without sitting in traffic and breathing in exhaust fumes for much of the morning. The flight schedules don’t always correspond with my trips but much of the time they do. Tomorrow I will get a flight from Lagos to Calabar and then a shuttle bus on to Uyo, arriving in the village of Ikot Ada Idem by around 5:00 PM.

For the past 5 years I have been working with Mennonite Church Nigeria to develop a theological training program for church leaders. During this trip we will be finishing up the preaching class that we did late last year and listening to and evaluating student sermons. After that I will start teaching History of the Church, hopefully getting a good part of that done before coming back on Feb. 22. The students meet for three hours each evening three days a week. When there is a visiting instructor, as in my case, they often meet five times to cover as much as possible in the short time available.

Pray for safe travels for me and for Nancy, Jeremiah and Deborah here in Cotonou during my absence.

This month’s seminar

This week I’ve been teaching the History of the Church (Histoire de l’Église) in the part time program at the Benin Bible Institute. Students in that program participate in 9 seminars each year for 3 years and earn a certificate of biblical knowledge. Each seminar is actually taught twice, first during the weekend in French and then again during the week, this time translated into a local language.

It’s an exhausting process. The weekend part starts Friday evening at 7: 00 PM and ends Sunday afternoon at 5:15 PM with 15 hours of class time. The Mon-Thurs group has 25 hours of class. I’ve been surprised how attentive the students have been despite the long hours, only a few times I saw people’s attention stray or their eyelids get heavy. Today was the last day and folks were getting drowsy so one of the other teachers was strolling around nudging those who were nodding off to keep them awake. Some folks moved to the back of the room and were pacing back and forth to stay alert. Now that’s not something you see often in North America.

Some of the questions students asked were: When did Christians start having their worship services on Sunday instead of Saturday? What is in the Talmud? How did Islam start? Why did they keep writing more and more creeds and which of those should we use today? Was Martin Luther married? Since tithing was enforced by the Roman Empire couldn’t we do something similar in our churches today? That idea got lots of support from the class.

Now that we’ve finished I’m pretty tuckered out, but it was a fun seminar to teach nonetheless. On the home front we seem to be doing well. Nancy is winding down her first semester classes this week and Jeremiah and Deborah are busy at school and staying healthy. Harmattan is over now, so the dust has settled down and the heat is back. Oh for those cool January nights…

Deborah is is eating without her two front teeth these days.

Deb’s Smile