International Ministries

Modern Nigerians in an Ancient Place

August 14, 2007 Journal

You turn off the main street and go down a gravel road that runs along a row of trees through a field, and then you turn through an opening in a stone wall. And there it sits: a 14th century chapel. The chapel is amply furnished with crucifixes, candle sticks, and vestments. The Stations of the Cross adorn the hand-hewn stone walls. For centuries pious Roman Catholics have worshipped here, hearing the Latin Mass through most of the chapel’s history, giving confession, and receiving the Eucharist. More than half a millennium of piety hangs in the air.
Nigerian church.jpg

But these days this ancient place is used on Sunday mornings by the Verona International Baptist Church, which at this point is composed mainly of Nigerians. Worship begins with a processional hymn from the Baptist hymnal. There is a long prayer, followed by praise and worship time. They sing and clap and sway to African rhythms, vibrant church members.jpg some of the songs sung in their native Nigerian dialect. There is more praying, scripture reading, sharing of joys and concerns, more singing and clapping and swaying, and, of course, preaching. Finally an offering is received—they are Baptists! It is quite a study in contrasts in worship here—the ancient and the contemporary, the European and the African.

Many of the constitutive practices, forms, and expressions of the Christian faith were forged in this land. Then missionaries and armies carried them from here to places like Africa. Although the Western purveyors of the faith tried hard to preserve their Eurocentric expression of Christianity, they were not completely successful. Each land to which Christianity was carried, over time, put its distinctive stamp on the faith. The “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) of Christianity were preserved, but the expression of this singular faith took on varied forms and modes of expression as it reached new lands.

This is the way it should be. D.T. Niles observed that when you transplant a growing thing to a new place, you must first break the pot in which you transported it; only then can it take root in the native soil to which you brought it (cited in Esterline, David V. and Kalu, U. Ogbu, eds. Shaping Beloved Community. Louisville: John Knox Press. Pp. 51-52). It is fascinating to observe how the Christian church took root in Nigeria and now has return to its place of origin, bringing new vibrancy. This is happening all over. Believers from the Southern hemisphere are returning to the places where Christian mission began (Europe and North America) and are revitalizing the church in these places. A Brazilian missionary to Great Britain called it the “returning of the sons of Abraham.” It is a reverse movement of mission. And it is exciting to watch.
womens small group.jpg Women's small group.

As I worship with these Nigerian Baptists in this ancient place, I am impressed by the resiliency and enduring nature of the Gospel. The contrast between the worship style and the setting make clear the universality and indestructibility of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we sang Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As the words rang out, I looked at the exposed wooden trusses and beams and thought about the people who first set them in place, people who preceded Luther by 150 years. That wood has seen a lot of worship, heard a lot of prayers. Yet the Gospel persists, the church continues. Indeed, “a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” There is still “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all [Ephesians 4:4-6]

As you pray ask:
* That God will bless Kenneth and Mercy as they marry at the International Baptist Church of Verona in September.
* That Ben and Luke will have a good beginning and will quickly make friends as they start school in September.
* That Debbie, Ben, and Luke will have a safe trip as they travel to Belgium to visit friends.
* That our shipment of boxes from America will be delivered soon and we will be able to fill our home with familiar things.
* That Debbie and Jim will quickly learn Italian as they begin school in September.
* That planning will go well for the international peace conference that Italian Baptists will be hosting February 9—14, 2009.

Jim (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)