34 years in missions, my experience my strategy-NEMA Executive Secretary (part 1)

Missions: my story- Brother Gwaivangmin

 

Brother Andrew Gwaivangmin was born to missionary parents. At age 10 he surrendered his life to Christ but he renewed his commitment at 19 during his baptism in SPS Keffi now Nasarawa State. While in secondary school he was an active member of Fellowship of Christian Students.  He later became the FCS secretary and Bible study Secretary in his later years in secondary school.

At the University of Ibadan where he studied Agriculture, he was an active member of the Ibadan Varsity Christian Union. But because of some cultural and theological shock, he came across, he never really got in tune with the CU practices and other Christian doctrines and culture in UI. For example, he was shocked to see that a pregnant bride was joined in holy matrimony at the university’s Chapel of Resurrection

The Church of Christ in Nigeria COCIN where he came from would never have entertained that even till now.

But he soon got over the shock recalling that. “A great memory I had of the CU was that we had great men of God like William Kumuyi of Deeper Life Bible Church coming to teach and preach at events organised by the CU. Those were days of solid believers’ teachings of faith and were never sugar-coated.”

After his NYSC in 1986, he taught in a mission’s school Gonerit Memorial College, Kabwir, Plateau State. He was also active in the FCS.

Now the Executive Secretary of   NEMA,  Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association Brother Andrew Gwaivangmin shares his missions’  story since his post-NYSC years. Find below

missions
Bro Andrew

 

 Highlights for the two-part interview

 

  1. When the Gospel is presented in the power of the Holy Spirit, there will always be either a revival or a riot,

  2. Persecution is an inevitable part of the life of a disciple.

  3. The church is more like an organism (living thing) than organization.

  4. After covid-19 people will still need Jesus more than ever.

  5. Vision 5015, our game plan, our strategy

  6. Bauchi State has highest number of unreached people group

  7. The level of competition and strive among sister missions agencies is alarming.

  8. Some Nigerian Churches have not taken the issue of missions to the North as a priority.

  9. Obeying both the Great Commission and the Great commandment are important in missions

  10. The Missionary is called to minister to people in hostile places

 

 

What specifically did you set out to become in life…are you doing exactly that now?

 

My earlier passion was to study agricultural financing and then the idea of working in the agricultural finance department of a Bank became an interest. That did not work for me. Instead, I found myself teaching Agricultural Science in a Mission school in Plateau State. While there I was involved in a small musical group. We toured the villages spreading the gospel of Christ through Music. I taught for about two years and then got hired by the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) to join the Agricultural Improvement Programme then called Faith & Farm (now Community Development Programme), as the Agricultural Officer in 1988. That was where I got exposed to Christian Holistic Development.  That resonated with my theology and that became my passion till date.

 

What was your antecedent in missions before then?.

 

My father was one of the earliest evangelists in my village. He later became the first ordained minister in the village, with the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN). I come from Kanam Local government Area of Plateau State, one of two local governments areas in the State that have Muslim majority with Emirs as traditional rulers. Therefore, being a Christian in my father days in the fifties in that environment was a great deal.

I followed my father to mission fields and learned the need to share the gospel with people and also support those in need. I joined my father on the farm. I guess that was where I picked interest in farming. They were trained to practice their faith and to farm alongside. But they were using improved methods to farm.

 

I recall coming from the university to teach at a Pastors’ college where my Father was Principal.  I learned at an early age, the link between farming and faith. That ignited my passion to train missionaries on improved means of agriculture as a means of supporting themselves in difficult rural mission fields. That was a great vision. But sadly, that has been lost in many mission colleges these days.

 

What has been the experience in practical terms sir?

 

It has been exciting. While I was teaching we had a musical group in the school and we had the opportunity to minister during church services.

 

I also helped to promote the faith and farm project. We trained farmer evangelists on how they could farm using improved farming techniques. We also trained them on discipleship and missions. So this enabled them to farm and also to share their faith alongside. Farming became a ministry. The farm of the Christian is expected to be outstanding. That attracts other farmers to his farm thus providing huge opportunity to share his faith with the farmers. Eventually, villages, where people came to enquire farming, developed into flourishing Christian communities.

 

I once worked as a Missionary with the Christian Extension Service (CES) of the Christian Reformed Church in Sierra Leone (CRC-SL), sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). I was the Program Consultant to CES. CES has the mandate of reaching rural communities in Sierra Leone through Integral Mission. Another interesting background history here is that CES gave birth to the CRC-SL.

 

One of the many rural places we worked was Yirafilaia Badala, a small village in Koinadugu District in Northern Sierra Leone. The village has a population of 206 people in 34 households. There were 110 children of school-going age. This village was 99% Muslim and 1% African traditional religion and 0% Christians. CES was the first agency to come to Yirafilaia Badala to do any kind of community assistance in a long time.

 

A leadership development training was held for the community, and after which they set up a Village Development Committee (VDC) of four women and five men. The village`s prioritized need was for a primary school classroom for the education of their children who were having classes under a thatched shelter.  To achieve their goal, they mobilised resources and with the support of CES, a 3-classroom block was completed in six months. This was a big boost to the community as their children now learn under a conducive learning environment.

 

The Village Head had this to say, “We were a forgotten people and our village was almost dying, but now CES has made us look like humans again. We owe it to them to ensure that this school succeeds in the progress of our community”. Following that, the community requested the CRCSL, to start a church in the community as according to them, they now believe that Christians have been the only people that have shown love and concern to a forgotten community as their own. The Village Head confirmed that “….all village and towns in Sierra Leone where there is a church, grows and its people become progressive. We want to be like those progressive villages”. Following this request, CRC-SL with the community built a church for the community and posted a Pastor to oversee the young church which has become a flourishing young church and a revived community the envy of others around it.

 

This is just one of many other instances. Integral Mission can get a community to see and invite the light of the gospel to be planted in their land. CES later supported the building of a grain store, water supply and a woman in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security (SAFS) project. The well-being of the community has changed, they now have improved income and their children are now attending school.

 

You head a body that is the umbrella of all missions’ agencies in Nigeria. What is the experience like?

 

NEMA is Nigeria’s national Mission Movement. The scope of operation it has chosen for itself is the Geographical North. This includes the whole Northern Nigeria, Sahel Belt, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East.  One of such challenges we face is the question of the language across the key focal areas. French and Arabic are the core languages for most of the regions to be covered. So, we have to learn these languages to be able to engage the people groups adequately.

There is also the need for the choice of the right strategy of mission engagement. Since we are yet to be fully Integral in our mission approach, our missionaries try to rely on access ministries to provide social services for the communities we engage with. This will not be necessary if we are involved in the Integral Mission. Integral Mission means we have to follow the approach of Jesus Christ. He did not go to preach and then ask another access ministry disciples to go heal the sick. NO! He did it all together as part of the ministry. That is what Salvation is about.

 

Integral Mission not only provides an opportunity to reach the people with the word of God but also an opportunity to meet their social needs to the glory of God. This is mainly the question of strategy and approach. Obeying both the Great Commission and the Great commandment are important in missions

 

There is also the issue of limited external partnership. There is nothing wrong with developing a close partnership with organisations in the Global North. Developing partnership with western mission agencies means we can have the capacity we need to meet both the spiritual and social needs of unreached people groups. Western Missionaries are still relevant to our mission enterprise in the fulfilment of the Go North initiative.

 

Go North Initiative is about reaching unreached communities, unreached people in the North, with the message of Jesus Christ. We can have western missionaries to come and work as missionaries in special skill areas or even to support our operations at NEMA Headquarters to develop our skills in various aspects of technology especially in the areas of educations, health and communication technology. I believe that God works with people of all backgrounds to fulfil his purpose. There are things that missionaries from the Global North can do better than those of us from the Global South and vice versa. The partnership is, therefore, key to the success of missions and we need to learn to partner with mission agencies from the Global North to be strengthened in areas where we are weak. This I found rather weak and needs improvement. Many mission agencies are keen to partner with us, we only need to open up and show them that we are ready to collaborate.

The issue of resource mobilisation is another key challenge we are facing in NEMA. The Go North Initiatives launched in 2017 was meant to catalyse the Nigerian church to engage in Missions to the Core North – North-Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Middle East and the Jerusalem Neighbourhood. This is a task that resource endowed Nigerian churches can handle. Sadly, some Nigerian Churches have not taken the issue of missions to the North as a priority. Many financially endowed Nigerian churches have the large evangelical population and have resources that can be deployed for field missions, but sadly, that is not their priority. They don’t quite see it as an urgent issue. A lot of work in sensitization needs to be done to raise their awareness of that effect.

 

Finally, the level of competition and strive between sister mission agencies is alarming to me. This needs to be addressed and I don’t know, how. Negative competition between member agencies only fosters hostility, anger, and pessimism, which leads to increased cases of stress and physical ailments of the workforce needed for the final harvest. Unhealthy competition and contention also negatively influence a mission team’s morale and team-based spirit, therefore negatively affecting productivity, teamwork, and cooperation. This type of competition fosters feelings of suspicion and lack of trust among member agencies, which leads to the development of rivals, decreased productive energy, and potential violations of biblical, ethical and legal standards. The mission agencies must accept that we have a problem between us and that needs to be honestly addressed.

 

Looking at indigenous missions in Nigeria and given your experience on the field what are we getting wrong about missions?

 

Nigeria has done well as an indigenous Mission Network. It has been a pacesetter in the African Mission Movement. Therefore, it is not a question of what we have got wrong, but rather a question of what can we do to improve on what we are doing now. As for pacesetters, we must continue to improve on what we are doing well.

 

We must improve and broaden our understanding of mission. Jesus calls the church to participate in God’s mission to redeem and restore all of creation. My experience and understanding of mission are what theologians called, Integral or holistic mission. This is a key shift that we need to take to enlarge our reach in missions. In many instances, the church has divided mission into preaching and social action and has argued about which of these is more important. However, the Bible shows us that the mission Jesus gives us cannot be divided like this. We are called to show the love of God and the good news that Jesus promised through every aspect of our lives. This we do by serving people, as Christ did. All Christians have gifts and callings that enable them to play their particular parts in the broad mission of God. This means sharing the good news of God’s mission in our words, deeds and character within the various situations in which we find ourselves. This is where I like to see NEMA member agencies and churches participate in the mission of God and how together we seek whole-life transformation that God intends for the whole world.

 

What are we getting right?

 

NEMA has strengthened internal capacity through staff & organizational renewal & re-structuring. This has enabled the association to increase its value and relevance to the Missions Movement in Nigeria as well as position it for future growth.

There has been an increase in the value of services to member agencies and churches through Zonal Operations, Capacity building, Consultations, Conferences & Meetings.

Increased mobilization of the Nigerian mission agencies and Church & the strengthening her capacity for the fulfilment of The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The sensitization and equipping of God’s people across Churches, students and youth groups, mission groups as well as professional groups through key mobilization efforts.

NEMA has served many Churches in helping them to develop their Church’s Missions policy, conduct training for their Mission Boards and in developing curriculum for their Mission institutions.

 

We catalysed the Missions Movement for adequate people groups’ engagement, through the activities of the Research and Strategy Department to validate available data on the UPGs and UUPGs Status of Nigeria.

 

We have facilitated the engagement of the 7 identified UUPGs by our Churches and Mission Agencies thereby de-listing Nigeria from the list of countries with unengaged people groups. There is now a significant reduction of unreached peoples from about 81 to 52.

In our commitment to further the engagement of the remaining unreached people groups, we decided to give priority attention to the 18 Unreached People Groups in Bauchi State (the highest in Nigeria) as well as the 5 unreached people groups in Kogi State.

 

Vision 5015 was conceived to move God’s call on the Nigerian Church for Missions into a more succinct, well-articulated focused point, provides NEMA with the focal point for our efforts to reach the 10/40 Window, to provide a National Agenda for the Nigerian Church on her Mission to fulfil our prophetic mandate in World Evangelization and to focus our efforts in Mobilization, Research, Training with a specific target in view.

The major strategy thrust to fulfilling Vision 5015 is our focus on the remaining UUPGs and UPGs in Nigeria. We stepped up activities at our Research & Strategy department to adequately identify the remaining unengaged and unreached people groups in Nigeria. This has led to the engagement of the remaining 7 unengaged people groups within the country. However, with 52 unreached people groups still in Nigeria, our priority this year is the 18 Unreached people groups in Bauchi State (the highest in Nigeria) as well as the five unreached people groups in Kogi State.

Fourteen years after the 5015 vision was birthed, the Nigerian church had missionary presence in 16 of the 34 countries only. To the glory of God, we now have a presence in 31 out of the 34 countries. We have about 13,000 Nigerian missionaries serving in 198 countries of the world. About 9,400 of these, serve in Nigeria among about 480 people groups with special emphasis on the populace of 55 million people, unreached population shared among 52 unreached people groups.

 

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