Concluding part of the interview with Bro Andrew Gwaivangmin, Executive Secretary of Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association
How does NEMA relate with the big denominations and how does that rub off on missions in Nigeria?
NEMA relate with its constituency and the denominations through the different programmes that we deliver. These include;
Vision 5015 – NEMA catalyzes the Nigerian Church and mission movement’s effort to mobilize 50, 000 Great Commission believers and advocates, train, send and support 15,000 of them to 34 carefully selected countries beginning with the Core North of Nigeria, through Gateway to North Africa, Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula and the Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Perspective Study Programme – Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a seven- day-long intensive, life-transforming and a ministry- impacting training course, organized in conjunction with the United States Centre for World Missions. (USCWM).
Global Engagement Training – designed for churches to be an agent of transformation and to be more strategic and effective in reaching people for Christ across the street and the Sea. It is 6-hours training.
Encountering the World of Islam – This course provides answers to questions about the world of Islam and it equips church denominations to reach Muslims, the course challenges complacency and apathy towards one of the last remaining giants on the threshold of completing the task of world evangelization.
Tent Making Training – Tent-making has become a viable strategy for taking the Gospel to most resistant places. This involves using professionals or engaging them in business as a platform to do missions. This training is available for churches, mission agencies, professional/business bodies, campus.
Clergy Dinner – This is a forum that brings together heads of churches and denominations in a bid to inform them on the service arm roles of NEMA to the Church towards fulfilling the Great Commission.
National Mobilisation Training – equips the Mission Mobiliser and assist congregations to be truly light for the rest of the world and not only light within their churches but outside as well. NEMA offers this training in conjunction with Kingfisher Mobilising Centre, USA.
Relief and Resource development – NEMA provides relief to member agencies in times of crisis, and also designs, packages, and acquire relevant mission resource materials for mission agencies and denominations to increase the speed of the harvest.
Research & Strategy – We research into unengaged and unreached people group in Nigeria and link them up with churches and mission agencies who send labourers for the harvest.
We are in the season of COVID-19, do you see the Church changing after the virus must have gone?
It is a yes and no answer. At some point, sooner for some than others, our Sunday morning routines will be back to normal. However, there will be both short-term and long-term impact depending on the type and size of the church.
Over the past four months, the world system has been completely disrupted.
While some of the steps taken to curb the spread of the virus may be adopted long-term, there will be a time when all heightened safety measures will no longer be needed, and churches can return to their normal ministry and mission activities.
Churches must decide the best ways to minister and reach out to their vulnerable population as well as those living in isolated communities.
Many churches may adopt a kind of staggered approach to their large gatherings for the short-term. Congregations may choose to stay home until there is an all-clear. Others who return to in-person gatherings will practice physical distancing and other safety measures such as wearing masks. Those with small children and senior citizens who would be more vulnerable will wait until the dust settles around this virus. As a result, online services will continue to be offered from many churches.
This crisis has created great fear among Nigerians. It will be ingrained in our memory to wear masks in church, other public places and on the street. COVID-19 will affect finances and giving by church members. In a few cases, some pastor claim they have seen their church’s giving rise significantly. Churches are having to restructure their budgets to operate at about 50% of their original operating budget. But as the church thinks of restructuring of the budget, it will be wise to help people in need.
Given the financial strain many churches will experience, they will move towards a leaner staff. Thus, many churches will forgo the support staff they were thinking of hiring. With regards to staff work patterns, churches may allow their staff to keep flexible work hours along with offering them the opportunity to work from home.
With all the talk about how the pandemic will change the church, one thing it will not change is the fact people will still need Jesus more than ever. This means we must seek to engage people in contextualized ways.
What is your view is the cause of the pandemic, do you see God in it?
In my view, God is never the cause of sin; He is never the cause of Coronavirus. Sin is responsible. It’s important to understand that God is not responsible for sin, we are! We sinned in Adam. So why did God permit sin then? Well, the answer is we just don’t know. God never wanted to create robots, but human beings, who can decide on their free will. That is the challenge we have. God gave us Freedom of Choice. This helps us understand a very important aspect of the original creation. When God said everything, he made was very good, we need to understand what is meant by good. The Bible teaches us about the goodness of God. God is a God of infinite love. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus by his nature he is a good man: he healed the sick; he wept at Lazarus’ tomb; he raised the dead; he had compassion on people.
God makes it clear in his Word that the reason for sickness, pain, and suffering is because we live in a groaning, fallen world as a result of our sin. For example, Romans 8 tells us; for we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. We are also told that one day there will be a restoration of all things. We must, therefore, understand that God created everything and made them very good. There was no death, suffering, or disease. This means viruses and bacteria were not disease forming originally. Science has proven that most bacteria and viruses in today’s fallen world do not cause diseases but have specific good purposes.
We, humans, are created in God’s image. Our sin in Adam resulted in death, disease, and suffering. Because of this, some viruses and bacteria now cause diseases. Thus, a disease-causing coronavirus is not God’s fault, it’s the result of the fallen world (our fault), through Adam. The whole creation was brought under a curse because of Adam’s sin. This curse will be removed in the eternal state when Christ returns to restore the creation to the way it was in the beginning (God’s original plan.
What practical lessons should the church pick from the pandemic?
In the days after COVID-19, when Nigeria (and much of the world) will be rebuilding, the church has an opportunity to give a glimpse of the kingdom of God that was inaugurated at Jesus’ first coming and will be consummated at his return. The glimpse of the King and his kingdom is more than just spiritual reconciliation with God.
That is of ultimate concern – as we want people to be reconciled to God. However, it also includes both social and cultural dimensions. If the fall of humanity affected every sphere of life, then the redemption that Jesus offers should also affect every sphere of life.
The church must be part of the rebuilding of our communities and cities. We should continue our engagement, participation, development of mercy ministries that seek to help the hurting and broken, the vulnerable and marginalized.
We should be part of the rebuilding of the economy as we train believers to use their vocation to glorify God for the good of others, support local businesses, offer business incubation programs (where young businesses can use church facilities to launch their business), and even launch small business enterprises that seek to offer services to (and jobs for) the community.
As we engage in the holistic mission whereby Jesus is in the process of making all things new – through his death and resurrection – we give the hungry, thirsty, and dark world a holistic vision of a God who cares about their soul, their personhood, and their vocation. People still need Jesus more than ever, but they need a complete Jesus, not an incomplete one.
Some are concerned about the denominational spirit that has almost brought the church to its knees..from your experience how serious is this sir?
Denominational divisions are a sad and common occurrence in the body of Christ. The effects of a denominational difference, regardless of the cause, can be devastating. One sin that causes multiple problems is a lack of forgiveness. No Christian is perfect, and no pastor or elder or deacon is perfect. When all these imperfect people get together, disagreements, hurt feelings and misunderstandings are inevitable. If our expectations of others are too high, disappointment is inevitable and can cause further feelings of hurt and resentment.
Some church seeks to manipulate people and/or events for their ends. It may be that there is pride in rule-keeping, and those who do not keep the same rules are ill-treated. It may be that one interpretation of a non-essential and obscure doctrine is emphasized and used as a measure for who is included and who is excluded. Or, it could be that someone wants to wrest leadership from the pastor or elders and rallies a group of people around himself to accomplish that end. Sadly, a difference of opinion regarding music and worship style is also a frequent cause of division in the church.
The causes for the divisions and conflict are numerous, but they all stem from the same root cause – pride and selfishness. Sadly, many so-called mega-churches have copied the world’s standard of self-promotion, self-esteem, and self-worship, attributing value to other people only insofar as they are willing to idolize us (leaders) the way we idolize ourselves. Such an attitude always leads to “dissension and jealousy,” the inevitable results of worshipping the god of self. But scripture teaches that we must do nothing out of greed, but in humility to consider others better than ourselves.
The church is more like an organism (living thing) than an organization. Paul uses the analogy of the body to describe the church. He calls the church the body of Christ. We are to be the body which does the will of the Head, Jesus Christ. If everyone in the body is focused on doing the will of God in love and humility, then there may be disagreement, but the disagreement should be worked out lovingly and appropriately.
We can learn from the way Paul handled the situation in his time. Paul addresses church division in his letter to the 1st Corinthians. He said as Christians we must realize we are all on the same team, working toward the same goal. When Paul says that, he doesn’t mean we are all to think the same way on everything. Instead, what he wants is for us to put aside our competitive spirit, realize we are on the same team, and be in one accord, so we can work toward the same goal – to make disciples. Church then shouldn’t be about superiority, power, control, or praise. Instead, it should be about Jesus.
Secondly, we must remember our need for Jesus. Paul says, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul.?”
No matter how virtuous your church is, we are all sinners who need a Savior because we all have rebelled against God and deserve to be punished for our rebellion. So, realising that we are all sinners who need Jesus should help us to see that we all are in the same boat after all. That realization should humble every church that thinks it has arrived. It should kill our pride and destroy anything inside of us that thinks we are better than another person.
Finally, we must realise that we are all a part of the same family. We are brothers for God’s sake. That is why Paul consistently use the term, “brothers”. Families are supposed to work together as one unit. As believers in Christ, we should do everything we can to heal any divisions we may be experiencing. We should do that because we are All One in Christ and should all be working toward the same goal of making disciples and glorifying Jesus.
All your years in missions what useful experience will you like to share with our readers?
I have learnt that true and authentic Mission must be Integral Mission. The mission of Jesus was to make it possible for our relationships with God, each other and creation to be restored and made good again. He described himself as having come to bring the kingdom of God: a time when people would be set free and when shalom (harmony) would be restored. Jesus shared God’s love through his words, his deeds and his character. He sought to transform the lives of the people he met in whatever way they needed most. Sometimes this involved healing them. Sometimes it involved feeding them and sometimes it involved talking to them about the things that were wrong in their lives.
The church is the body of Christ on earth. It is commissioned to show the world what the kingdom of God will look like and to continue Jesus’ mission. The mission of the church is to show people God’s love and to let them know that it is possible to enter a relationship with him. We are called to do this in all the ways that Jesus did during his time on the earth. This is why we say that mission is holistic or integral: it encompasses the whole of life.
We read the story of the attack of foremost missionary Uncle Bayo Famonure who was shot recently by bandits alongside his wife, son and one of his staff. Do you think it’s wise for missionaries to remain in hostile places?
The Missionary is called to minister to people in hostile places and therefore, there is no question about staying there or not. Once God calls a missionary to a place, there is no going back until God ask you to move. For Uncle Bayo, God has called him to serve and minister in Gana Robb. He cannot leave because of Persecution. This is the cost of following Christ.
Persecution is an inevitable part of the life of a disciple. Jesus experienced persecution and he warned that anyone that follows his path must be prepared to face persecution. Persecution is from Satan and it is designed to displace God’s Word in our lives by taking our eyes off Jesus. We should not think it is strange to be persecuted. Paul said, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’. We can rejoice because we are being persecuted, for Jesus’ sake, knowing that the Lord will be with us in the persecution and that there will be more than ample reward when we stand before Him.
Persecution is an indication that the ones doing the persecuting are under conviction. They realize that they are not living what your words or actions are advocating and so, in defence of self, they attack the ones whom they perceive to be the source of their conviction. If this is understood, it makes persecution much easier to take. They aren’t just mad at you; they are convicted. When the Gospel is presented in the power of the Holy Spirit, there will always be either a revival or a riot, but not indifference.
There are many forms of persecution. Having your life threatened because of your faith in Jesus is one way you can be persecuted, but it is not the most damaging. History shows that the Church has always flourished under persecution with increased numbers and zeal. During intense, life-threatening persecution, people’s priorities get straightened out and the Lord assumes His rightful place. This always works for our good, regardless of what our outward circumstances might be. Remember it is not you that they are persecuting, but rather Christ in you.
What practical measures do you think missionaries should then take for their safety in the troubled spot?
I always feel very sad whenever I hear about the kidnappings and attacks on missionaries anywhere in the world. Sadly, Persecution in missions is inevitable and that should not change our resolve to win the world for Christ. This gives us the reason for reaching out to the world with the gospel of the Grace of God.
There are certain practical steps we can take to reduce our exposure to danger. That can be done by prayers and discernment with God’s help. I am not a security expert but I have received security training on personal missionary safety in dangerous environments which I will share here:
Dangerous activities that the missionary must avoid include; A. avoid walking at night, B. avoid walking with a lot of equipment e.g. camera, C. avoid travelling with expensive jewellery, D. avoid travelling with a lot of cash on you.
When walking on busy places like Jos, Enugu, Ibadan, Yola, Kaduna, Lagos etc, you need to stay aware of your surroundings and take note of any suspicious activities around you. Usually, if you are vigilant and have your faculties working, bad people will notice it and target someone else.
Some of the tricks I use when walking on busy streets include; A. avoid going about with your laptop and if you must carry it, let the bag be in your front, B. If possible, leave big bags at home and carry whatever money you need in your pockets, C. be vigilant and stay alert. Be aware of your environment any strange movements, D. Stay away from the crowd. E. Treat any help from strangers with suspicion, because a person may pose to be a helpful passer-by but may have the intentions of doing you harm, F. be watchful for real and fake cops. Sometimes, people impersonate being cops to get money from unsuspecting people. Don’t ignore an actual police officer; g. when you go out, do it in groups of at least two people and try to have a local person for each group, H. follow instructions from your local contact about the places you should avoid.
Securing your home/mission base; A. when getting a home, choose a good and safe neighbourhood that offers some kind of local security support, B. avoiding arriving home after dark as this is the riskiest thing you can do, C. if possible, avoid inviting strangers into your home. In an event that you have strangers in the house, put away any expensive electronics like laptops, tablets etc, d. be vigilant and take note of any suspicious activities around your home and report anything suspicious to your local contact who will then advise on what to do.
Between God’s will and personal safety of missionaries…how should they strike the balance, sir?
Missionaries must continue to have faith in Christ and not to fear concerning their safety. Jesus told Jairus to ‘believe only,’ implying that faith and fear can operate in us at the same time. This is also the reason James tells us not to be double-minded or to waiver. Fear will negate faith. We can have both thoughts of faith and thoughts of unbelief at the same time.
Fear and faith are opposing forces. Fear is faith in reverse. Fear is believing something or someone other than God. Therefore, fear makes us subject to Satan and his death just as faith makes us recipients of all that God has to offer. This is the reason Jesus told Jairus, ‘Fear not.’ Jairus’ fear would have sealed his daughter’s death.
Instead of trying to build huge amounts of faith to overcome our fears and unbelief, a simpler method is to remove our fears by cutting off their source. Then, our simple ‘child-like’ faith that remains will do the job. It doesn’t take big faith – just pure faith.
Paul said, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and love, and a sound mind”. Fear doesn’t come from God. The way that fear can come upon us is when we take our attention off Jesus and put it on our situation.
Fear or doubt cannot ‘just overcome’ us. We have to let it in. In the same way that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, fear comes by hearing or seeing something contrary to God’s Word. We would not be tempted with fear or doubt if we didn’t consider things that Satan uses to minister that fear and doubt.
We should cast our concern about the problem over on God and just keep our eyes on Jesus, the Word. He will direct and guide our steps in what to do in times of crisis.
Funding has been a major issue for missionaries in rural areas. What are the practical ways this could be addressed?
First, the missionary has to understand the biblical basis of support raising – Study the scriptures and learn exactly what God thinks about asking others to give to you and your ministry. As we seek to raise fund, we have to understand that God is the source of our funds. Remember, we are stewards of His resources.
Remove fear and doubt in your mind – The confidence level that we have in our God, our vision, and ourselves can make us or break us. All of us have different giants in our minds that will keep us from beginning and persevering in the process of mobilising our full support team. Don’t let your giant hold you down.
Pray and Plan well. After committing to asking God, there are several steps you can take to start planning the work – Pray on your need for money, Create your Budget, Brainstorm on the names of potential supporter/partners, Map out a plan of where these supporters are and how to reach them, and plan your schedule of when to reach and contact them.
Ask them Face to face – Scripture encourages us to ask. People give because someone asked them. It’s not unspiritual or fleshly to ask. It is good, biblical, and faith-building to ask. Let’s not hide behind our fears. Let’s walk toward them and render them powerless! Sitting down face to face with your supporters could get you over 50% of your support.
Cultivate the relationship – Pray for, write to, call, and minister to your supporters. When a gift comes in, be prompt in sending them a thank you note or phone call, text message and visit. Regularly send well-written newsletters, both email and, at least a few times a year, in print. The main reason people drop off of support teams is due to a lack of communication from their missionary.
Storehouse Principle – Learn to Save. One of the most neglected principles of individual fundraising that God teaches is the storehouse principle in Deuteronomy 28. God commands a blessing on our storehouses. However, most missionaries don’t have a storehouse. We do not save money, and therefore, we are missing the blessing that God commands on our savings. God wants to bless your storehouse. Begin the discipline of saving money regularly, and give God something to bless. God blesses what you have; He cannot bless what you need.
What word do you have for missionaries on the field in this season?
The gospel of the book of Mark relates the great storm experience of the disciples. Yet they had peace in the storm. Because the boat was filled with water, it is amazing that the disciples had to awaken Jesus. This was not a large ship with cabins below deck but rather a small, open boat and Jesus must have been soaked. This reflects Jesus’ humanity and how tired He must have been. It also shows that Jesus must have been in a very deep sleep because he was tired. This is a clue as to how Jesus could maintain a busy schedule. He was therefore receiving some benefit from His sleep.
Jesus told his disciples to get to the other side of the sea. Although the disciples still didn’t understand Jesus’ authority, they were committed to Him as their Messiah, but they hadn’t yet realized that Jesus was Lord even over the physical elements. Many of us Christians still do this today. We receive the spiritual benefits of salvation but have not reaped the physical benefits of health and prosperity, which are also part of our salvation.
Whichever we focus upon – the storm, or the Lord in our storm – will determine how we manage the storms we face in life. He is not asleep concerning the things you face in this life, He’s right there in your ‘ship,’ resting because He knows you’ll both get to the ‘other side.’ His peace is yours. Believe His Word. Rest in His love.