The Nigeria Southeast District, Church of the Nazarene, is the first phase three (self-supporting) district on the West Africa field. One advantage of being a phase three district is that delegates can vote at General Assembly (the premier international legislative convention for the Church of the Nazarene.) An exemplary district, Nigeria Southeast stands out as a district big on giving; members share their talents, time and resources, both in the local churches and in missions.
Following is an interview with Reverend Okokon Eshiet, District Superintendent of the Nigeria Southeast District.
How long has the Nazarene Church been active in your district?
The church started in 1946 when a soldier from Nigeria returned from Burma. In Burma, he met a Nazarene Chaplain who led him to the Lord. The chaplain gave him a tract and a Nazarene Manual. When the soldier returned to Nigeria, he found a church that was started in the Southeast of Nigeria and he showed the leaders the manual. They decided to call themselves the Church of the Nazarene and in 1988 they became a part of the Church of the Nazarene.
Can you tell me about your mission program?
The district has been involved in sending missionaries to Lagos, a city of 20 million and Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. There are 37 “states” in Nigeria and, step by step, we want to reach the different states. We are raising funds in the district to support missions.
We encourage each active member to give about 35 cents a month for their upkeep. We also pray for the missionaries we send. We are planning to send someone to start the church in Calabar. We want to start the Church in the capitals of each state and then move to the “jungle.” It is easier to go from the city to the “jungle” than to go from the jungle to the city. As we start churches in the new states we have been using primary schools for a place of worship. Now, the government does not allow us to meet in primary schools, so we try to rent a small room for the church or buy land if we are able.
When we are starting a new church, we call an established church to come to be a part of a joint service and we endeavor to support the new church.
The youth have been instrumental in planting new churches. They had a soccer match with a village and then had an outreach in that village and started a church with youth.
Q: How do you inspire people to be involved in missions?
We have National Mission Institution and a National Missions Council and they help us to focus on missions. There are workshops and seminars at the zonal level. Our NMI president is a female pastor and she visits churches and encourages them to be involved. At our district convention, there are many facilitators and they have different sessions for the youth, women, married, single, and widows. We would like to reach a new Nigeria state every year. Rev. Friday Udofia, our missionary in Lagos, is now working in three states. When we go into a new state, we want to gradually develop a pioneer district and then develop a regular district. We encourage people who are called to be involved in Nazarene Theological Institute. We have many youth who are taking courses at the Nazarene Theological Institute, including some college graduates.
We have also worked on supporting the youth through the Youth Church Initiative and youth empowerment. We have people who have expertise in various technical skills and they provide training to two or three others. For example, one man has carpentry skills and he taught three others and then each one of those trained at least one other.
How do you encourage people to give?
We teach and we demonstrate by example. Sometimes small churches can’t support their pastor and the District Superintendent (DS) and others give to support the pastor until the church can support them. We have bought land for two new rural churches. The women built the house for the DS at the District Center.
Tell me something about the missionaries you have sent out:
David Okon graduated from Africa Nazarene University and when he returned he shared that he wanted to go to Abuja and start the Church. We have seen God open doors in Abuja for David.
What advice would you give to other districts on their journey towards becoming phase three?
Pray. Teach the people and mentor them. Encourage them to give and work to be self-sustainable and to be involved in ministry. Train leaders and delegate to them.