Church growth has been massive and remains so. A large majority of West Africa’s evangelicals live in Nigeria. Nigeria has the world 4th, and possibly 3rd, highest number of evangelicals in the world. Catholics, Anglicans, traditional Protestant groups, and newer Pentecostal and charismatic groups all grow. Much growth comes from among Muslims and those who follow tribal religions. This growth often happened quietly, in less obvious ways. Praise God for the millions who have come to know Him in Nigeria!
Nigeria's unity has survived, almost miraculously, despite countless threats. The cumulative effects of ancient tribal rivalries, Muslim conquests, British colonial policy in which the north and south were handled differently, the bitter Biafra war of 1967-70 and heightened religious tensions have left deep scars. Pray for healing and reconciliation; pray also for leadership that will serve to reconcile and unite rather than to embitter and divide.
The challenges facing the government are myriad and urgent - extremist Muslim agitation in the north, armed militias in the disgruntled and oil-rich southeast, pervasive corruption, a self-serving network of bureaucratic elite, emigration/brain drain, widespread poverty and an apparently disintegrating sense of national identity. These are challenges enough for any established government, never mind a fledgling democracy. Pray for the right balance between caution and decisiveness in addressing such threats, and between prudence and ambition in economic development and in combating poverty.
Graft, bribery and embezzlement are commonplace at every level of society. Since the 1960s, over $400 billion has been lost through corruption, almost all to the very people entrusted with the nation's stewardship. Politicians, bankers, police, military, even religious leaders have all been found guilty. Corruption is not even discouraged by either a strong Christian presence or shari'a law; it appears to be more deep-seated than both of these.
The introduction of shari'a law in northern Muslim states is a direct challenge to the federal government. It is an open door to human rights abuses and the further infiltration of Nigeria by extremists. It is a danger to national stability and a threat to Christian ministry in those states so affected. Pray for the intrinsic cruelty and injustices of shari'a to be exposed and for those seeking moral order and social righteousness to find it in the practice of biblical principles under the authority of Christ.
Nationwide interdenominational movements, more than in most nations, have made a deep impact on specific sections of the community. Of note:
- Secondary schools. SU operates mainly in the south, while its partner organization FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students) operates in 20 northern states. They have had a huge influence in discipling and training Christian young people. There is considerable opposition and trials in the three northern regions, often including bloody violent attacks, yet a great harvest is being won. Pray that Christian teachers, advisors and student leaders may be encouraged and strengthened.
- Universities and colleges. NIFES (Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students), the largest member movement of IFES, has over 35,000 members on 300 campuses, with their largest groups in the central and southern parts of the country. FCS is stronger in the central and northern regions, having also mobilized outreach into schools and colleges, winning many to Christ. There are now many other church-based campus fellowship groups associated with some of the larger denominations. Christian students face many challenges - temptations to immorality and unethical paths to success, false teaching from "Christian" sects and pressure from Muslims. Christian witness has been divided in recent years by unhealthy competition from many other campus fellowships.
- Peace House, a non-denominational revival and retreat ministry, plays a significant role in encouraging the spiritual life within many professional groups, including pastors. The longstanding ministry of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship supplements this strategic work.
Ministry challenges among specific population segments include:
- Young people and schools. Legally, religious education should be given to all in schools. This is a great opportunity to engender religious understanding and explain the gospel, but Christian religious education teachers are limited in number and resources. With help from the International Institute for Christian Studies, government sponsored in-service training and manuals are giving fresh impetus. CEF reaches children and offers training seminars for Christian teachers and parents. CEM, an indigenous agency, has a significant Christian camping ministry. Sports ministries are also increasing in popularity and effectiveness.
- Development ministries for the rural poor. Poverty has prompted many Nigerian churches to establish departments of health and rural development, many recognized by the government as development agencies. Most notably, RURCON and its local subsidiary, CRUDAN, provide consultation and training. Pray for effective holism in ministry by the Church.
- HIV and AIDS. Official estimates state that 2.7 million carry the virus. The actual figure may be double that. An estimated two million children are orphaned by AIDS. Many groups are making use of awareness resources available through Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS). The Government has adopted biblically based materials developed by Faith Based AIDS Awareness Initiative to help with education and prevention in schools and colleges of education. FCS, SU, Tearfund, ACET, NIFES, CAPRO, ECWA, Baptist and Methodist churches all offer AIDS awareness programmes, but much progress is needed to fight the stigma associated with HIV and to care for those already infected.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.