Nigerian Days and Knights

Cliff College International Learning Centre’s Residentials in Nigeria are for a longer period than those held in January. We utilise a larger group of visiting lecturers who are divided into two teams, exchanging venues and students between Sagamu and Umuahia mid-way through the two-week residentials. We had the added ‘complication’ this time of fitting in a ‘knighthood’ ceremony on the 12th July at the Methodist Cathedral in the capital Abuja (not Lagos!) as well as a three-day ‘Episcopal Training Consultation’.

Patience, flexibility and a sense of humour on the part of everyone involved in the programme continue to be key factors in the success of this programme and our thanks go out to all who have contributed to making this visit one of our most rewarding in so many ways. The new National Coordinator, Very Rev Paul Olukunga and Protocol Officer, Rev Agunbiade Busuyi facilitated our safe arrival by Air France/KLM (the cheapest this time!) and onward air travel to and from the more distant eastern college of Umuahia. Once again our thanks must go to the Head of Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN), His Eminence, Rev Dr Ola Sunday Makinde, ably backed by the Secretary of Conference, Bishop Chibuzo Raphael Opoko and the Rectors (Principals) and staff of the two Colleges for their encouragement and first-class hospitality.

After the usual slow start due to delayed arrivals, payment of fees and return of assignments we had 71 students in residence at Umuahia and 54 students at Sagamu, making a total of 125 students in all. The ‘Chapel/Lecture Hall’ accommodation at Umuahia can cope with larger numbers. Now with money raised locally they have begun roofing the large chapel/lecture hall at Sagamu. This will improve the facilities at Sagamu but in the meantime we continue to use an inadequate building with no lights, fans and little ventilation.

The regular ‘core’ training team of Rev Richard Jackson, International Coordinator and Mr Keith Phillips, Administrator, headed up Team 1 which began in Umuahia and Rev Dr Malcolm & Mrs Janet McCall, led Team 2 at Sagamu:

Team 1L~

~**Very Rev Deji Okegbile MA Presbyter MCN; Cliff PhD Research Student; Lecturer on Fresh Expressions*~~*Rev Dr Stephen Skuce MPhil BD Irish Methodist Minister; Cliff Director of PG Studies & CCILC*~~*Mr Peter Worrell Methodist LP and retired violinist with the Halle Orchestra; Lecturer on Adult Learning**~

Team 2L~

~**Rev Dr Peter Ensor MA Methodist Minister, Director of Undergraduate Studies: Lecturer in New Testament*~~*Rev Usman Habib MA Cliff Postgraduate Research Student; Lecturer on New Generation Churches*~~*Rev Dr Kehinde Olabimtan BTh MTh Baptist Minister of Mission Education**~

The visiting team were again well-supported by members of the Nigerian staff teams at both Sagamu & Umuahia Methodist Training Institutions, but for the first time we had three Nigerian ministers on the ‘visiting’ team. To have African Church History scholar Kehinde Olabimtan (now Rev Dr) with us has always been a joy, but to have added two of our Cliff College research students proved to be inspirational. With a renewed emphasis on practical outcomes the Very Rev Deji Okegbile was returning to share with old friends in MCN ‘Fresh Expressions’ for the Nigerian context and was welcomed by the students; Rev Usman Habib converted from a Muslim background, but now a leading pastor in the ‘Church of God Mission’ presented the challenge of the New Generation Churches not only through his lectures, but also as the students at Sagamu and Umuahia experienced Sunday worship with hundreds of people at the ‘Church of God Mission’ churches in Lagos and Umuahia. These experiences of worship outside the Methodist Church (and other traditional denominations) not only contribute to the students’ ‘Worship Portfolio’ but they are proving to be a seedbed for fresh thinking in repositioning the MCN.

Our only significant problem with the programme this time was that the large consignment of books generously provided through the Langham Partnership and with funding from MMS (Ireland) and Methodist Insurance failed to arrive on the Lagos dock in time for them to be cleared and distributed to our students during the residentials. Each time we distribute books we realise afresh how valuable a commodity they are to those in ministry who have so little access to the resources that we take for granted. Even where the Internet is available in Nigeria there is no guaranteed access without considerable delay and my own experience of time-consuming ‘lost connections’ remind me of pre-broadband use in the UK.

We were thrilled during the last few months to learn of the MCN’s intention to make posthumously the late Mary Archer Champness a ‘Knight of John Wesley’ and to honour one of our lecturers the music-maker Peter Worrell (very much alive) as a ‘Knight of Charles Wesley’. These honours are given by MCN to lay-people who have made an outstanding contribution to the life of the church.

We learned that the ceremony was to be at Abuja on the 12th July. I had tracked down the Champness family and was able to meet up again with Richard Champness on the Friday before we travelled to Nigeria. Mary Archer Champness, as some of you will know, was the first wife of the forefather/founder of Cliff College who died after less than two years of marriage at Abeokuta on 23rd September 1862. We reported on the ceremony that took place at her refurbished grave in METConnexion last year. Amazingly, the Champness family had managed to track down some additional personal information about Mary and even a photograph, which is almost certainly her, from a century and a half ago. The family had made up a presentation folder of this information, which I was able to hand over to the Prelate of MCN, His Eminence, Rev Dr Ola Sunday Makinde at the ceremony in Abuja.

The Methodist Cathedral in Abuja was packed with over a thousand people for the service and presentation of these awards along with others. Peter Worrell, Keith Phillips (Photographer!) and I enjoyed, rather than endured, a 4 hours plus service of worship, the highlight of which was the decoration of the recipients. I was strangely moved to represent the Champness family in receiving the Mary Archer Champness award of a bible, certificate and medallion, but particularly because historically it meant so much to the Methodist Church in Nigeria as well as to those of us from the UK who have served as missionaries overseas in much more hospitable times.

I must in closing share some of the poignant words written by Richard Champness on behalf of the family to the Secretary of Conference, MCN.

I and my Sisters are deeply touched by the great honour that the Conference has bestowed posthumously on our great grandfather’s first wife in recognition of her services to the Methodist Church in Nigeria all those many years ago. Like the wives of other Christian Missionaries of her generation, Mary was prepared to risk and sacrifice all in the cause of the Gospel. By making this Award, Conference rightly acknowledges Mary’s personal sacrifice in obedience to the Lord’s call on her life and, in doing so, salutes her publicly as a role model for those Christian women of our own generation who would follow her example. Whilst I greatly value my Christian heritage and ongoing links with Methodism, I cherish even more the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that I am privileged to enjoy together with the wider fellowship of Christian believers through His sacrifice on the Cross.

PS On Other ProjectsL~

We continue to seek funding and resources for associated projects like college and school libraries, as well as funding for the pioneering college of Zonkwa in the north, as part of the CCILC vision to build up local colleges for their developing work. Our experience suggests that if too much unsolicited information is sent out, it is rarely read and digested, but if there is any earlier report, further information or documentation and photographs that anyone would like to have, particularly for fund-raising purposes, I shall be pleased to make it available. A new CCILC-DVD, including January and July 2009 material will be available for friends and supporters shortly.