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A BRIEF CMS NIGER MISSION ANNIVERSARY STORY. Enjoy, and Appreciate our benefactors.

Text: Isaiah 9:2-3.
“The people walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. *You have enlarged the nation & increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest….(NIV).

The 27th day of July every year marks the CMS Niger Mission Anniversary. 2018 is the 161st. We usually use this period in our life as Christians to reflect on where we were, where we are, and where we are going, even as we continue to thank God for bringing us from darkness into his marvelous light.

After many unsuccessful attempts by the white missionaries to bring the Good News of the gospel to the countries of West Africa, converted & Christianised slaves were later drafted into the team that eventually succeeded in bringing the light of the gospel to our land. BISHOP SAMUEL AJAYI CROWTHER was the arrow head leader of this team.

History has it that the first missionary incursion into the coast of West Africa was pioneered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, the principal initiator being the popular prince known as Henry the navigator. However, the endeavor did not record much success due to many unfavorable factors. The 2nd endeavor which was initiated in the 18th century was more of a success than the first & led to the planting of enduring Christianity in many countries of West Africa. Nigeria, & the Igbo race in particular, benefited immensely from this. Two great events of the time contributed immensely to the success of this 2nd endeavor: the evangelical Great Awakening of the 18th century, & the abolition of the slave trade.

The CMS & the missionary work in this part of the world centers around Bishop Samuel AJAYI CROWTHER, the man whom God used to pioneer this work.

But Who Is This Man – Bishop AJAYI CROWTHER?
About 1806 – Born in Osoogun, in Ogun State
1821 – Captured into slavery
1822 – Rescued & taken to Sierra Leone
1823 – Mission School Boy
1825 – Baptized
1828 – 1st Student of Fourah Bay College
1843 – Ordained Clergyman
1846 – Re-United with his mother & sister
1857 – His Missionary Team landed in Onitsha (27.7)
1864 – Consecrated Bishop (29th June)
31.12.1891 – Died, an accomplished Man of God

The CMS was founded in 1799 for the purpose of going to spread the gospel message overseas. But the move to Nigeria was made when Henry Venn was the CMS Secretary (1841-1872). The society for the extinction of slave trade & civilization of Africa was formed on 1st June 1840. This society brought together in Great Britain those who were interested in Africa & acted as a pressure group to the government.

The result of the pressure on the Government, as mentioned above, was the 1841 expedition in which three ships were sent to the Niger, the mouth having been discovered by Richard Lander. Among the members of the Niger expedition were Rev. J.F. Scion, a German missionary of the CMS, & a young Catechist, the freed slave, Samuel AJAYI CROWTHER, among others. They introduced trade and model farms as well as Christianity. In Freetown, Sierra Leone there were former slaves who were familiar with the language of the Niger area. They were drafted to join the team. In 1857 Rev S. A. CROWTHER led the CMS team for the Niger Expedition. With him were Rev. J.C. Taylor, Catechist Simon Jonas, & Augustus armadillo, all of them of Igbo ex-slaves resident in Sierra Leone. The team landed in Onitsha on 26/27th July 1857 & were welcomed by the then Obi Akazua of Onitsha, his son Odili & the rest of the Onitsha people. The Niger mission was thus founded. They requested for land to establish their mission & were gladly given the area of land from around the former ABS (now Shoprite) down to the River Niger. This is the root of our celebration of the CMS NIGER MISSION Anniversary every 27th July.

Our sister denomination, The Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) arrived in Onitsha much later in 1885 (28yrs later) & requested for land from the Onitsha people. They were referred to the CMS people who gladly welcomed & accommodated them, & released to them as much land as they requested. (May the accommodating spirit of our fathers continue to guide us).

The actual work of evangelism & planting of Christianity in IGBOLAND was spear-headed by Rev. J. C. Taylor. CROWTHER only played a supervisory role. For mission in Onitsha, & indeed Igboland, to succeed they insisted on the study of the language of the people & the coining of the Igbo alphabet, as this would enhance the relationship between the missionaries and the people of the land. Again it will enable Taylor to teach, reach out through visit and conversation.

The first achievement of the CMS missionaries was the coining of the Igbo alphabet. They tried to formulate it alongside the English alphabet but some Igbo accent could not be found in the English alphabet. This led to having such compound letters as gb, gh, kp, sh,ch, gw, kw, nw, & ny. There are also the letters n, with a dash or dot on the top & o with a dash or dot at the bottom to give ‘ñ’ & ‘ọ’ respectively. Likewise such letters as c, q, & x in the English alphabet did not find a place in the Igbo alphabet. In the end what we have below formed the foundation of the Igbo language in prints.

A a B b GB gb D d E e F f G g GH gh H h I i

J j K k L l M m N n Ñ ñ Uu Oo Ọọ P p KP kp

R r S s SH sh T t Ụụ V v W w Y y Z z CH ch

GW gw KW kw NW nw NY ny .

From this foundation the CMS started to build the Igbo grammar by merging each consonant with each of the 6 vowels to give

ba be bi bo bo bu up to za ze zi zo zor zu.

This done, they went further to three-letter words & came up with

Gi na ya. O bu mu. Chia Ochi. Jee ubi. Kee Ji. Kpoo ya. Unu bia, etc.

From this stage again they went on to short stories and full page stories. This eventually gave birth to the first ever printed book in IGBOLAND known as “Azu Ndu.” It was so called in the belief that the seed of the gospel (the Word of God) has been planted in IGBOLAND and, like every plant with green leaves, it has germinated & will continue to grow, hence the name: “AZU NDU” meaning “Green Back Cover.” It is not “Azu Ndu” as in “Fresh Fish” as many have grossly and ignorantly misinterpreted it to mean.

After successfully printing the “Azu Ndu” the missionaries and the early graduates such as George Nicholas Anyaegbunam, the 1st Igbo clergyman, and many others, went ahead to work on translating the Bible into Igbo language which has now been rooted in the land. Their efforts gave birth to a complete Igbo version of the Bible in 1913. Archdeacon Dennis (of the famous DMGS) played a very distinguished role in the translation work and its printing. There were many other people who rendered help one way or the other in this noble task to bring the Word of God in our native language to our door steps, & to lay the foundation of education in this part of the country.

In their bid to stop slavering & cannibalism in IGBOLAND the missionaries travelled to different parts of the world in search of food items suitable for the West African climate, which will equally be good for African trade. The search yielded positive results in that almost all the staple food items we enjoy today were brought into the country by the CMS. The following are some of the food items & the country from where they came.

Yam: West Indies
Maize: USA, West Indies, India, & China
Cassava: Brazil, S.America, & the Amazons
Plantain/Bananas: India, Cameroon, Germany
Pepper, Pineapple: India
Coconut: Honolulu
Guava: Cameroon, by the Germans
Sheep & Goat: Australia, Tasmania, Argentine, & New Zealand
Fowl: Rhode Island, & Asia Minor
Rice: America, Japan, China, & Ceylon
Cocoa, Pear, cocoa Yam: India & Ceylon
Beans: Egypt, Sudan, & Americas. Etc, Etc.

With the above startling revelation one wonders what our ancestors had for food. No wonder they ate other human beings for food. We cannot really thank the missionaries of the CMS enough for the sacrifice they made to give us the light of the Gospel we enjoy today.

NOTE: This is only a tip of the ice berg.


Happy Anniversary celebration.

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