More than half the 180 million people in Nigeria would today claim to be Christians — a fitting testament to the work of SIM’s founders and others.
Walter Gowans, Thomas Kent and Rowland Bingham were among the first people to take the good news of Jesus into the heart of Africa when they set up the Soudan Interior Mission.
Gowans and Kent died within a year of first landing in Lagos in 1893 and it took Bingham two more attempts before his team finally established a mission station 500 miles up the Niger River in Pategi.
From there, SIM and several other agencies sowed the seeds of a huge gospel growth across central Africa. SIM pioneered much of the gospel outreach in central and northern Nigeria.
Many churches are now firmly established in both south and central Nigeria but there is still much work to do.
There are 80-90 million Muslims in Nigeria and the very people group our founders were most interested in — the Hausa-Fulani — is still 90 per cent Muslim.
Pategi is still very much a Muslim town. According to the latest figures (2013), the Pategi church founded in 1903 has 208 members, while a neighbouring church founded in 1991 has just 10 members.
A senior SIM mission worker in Nigeria, said: “Those three young men who arrived in Lagos in 1893 would, I’m sure, see much today that pleased them. The gospel has spread across many parts of Africa and many people here are committed Christians, who have been well-discipled and are growing in their faith.
“But the predominant faith in northern Nigeria is Islam and there have been many instances of violence being done to Christians by Boko Haram.
There’s an enormous amount of poverty, a shortage of good, faithful Bible teaching and a shortage of mission workers.”
Mission work in Nigeria grew steadily through most of the 20th century, expanding both in terms of ministries and geographic spread.
SIM set up Bible colleges, which are now vital centres of learning and teaching, and started schools, hospitals, leprosy treatment centres, clinics, orphanages, training centres as well as a literature ministry producing high-quality gospel resources.
SIM’s work even produced a new denomination, originally called the Evangelical Churches of West Africa, now the Evangelical Church Winning All, but known from its inception in 1954 as ECWA.
By the mid-1970s, the church had developed to a point where it was able to take over all of SIM’s ministries and properties. It is now a huge church, with up to 10 million members, and is very mission-minded. The church has more than 3,000 missionaries in Nigeria, along with another 300 or so working abroad, including SIM international director Joshua Bogunjoko.
SIM is now involved in a wide range of ministries, not so much in direct evangelism but more in training and supporting other people in their evangelism.
The senior worker said: “One example of that is our programme which brings together Christian and Muslim leaders for education and training programmes.
“We’re doing trauma healing for victims of violence in the north and producing literature in both English and Hausa. We also help in theological education, orphan care, widow care, looking after street children and trying to take the gospel to the Fulani.”
Gowans, Kent and Bingham started SIM with a vision to share the good news of Jesus with people who had never heard it.
That work has made a great start in the first 125 years but it is far from finished. SIM workers and others will continue until our founders’ vision has been fulfilled.
Give thanks for the vision of our founding fathers, who wanted to share the gospel with those who had never heard of Jesus.
For all the mission workers, both with SIM and other agencies, seeking to carry on that work in Nigeria.
For the gospel to carry on spreading in central Africa so that all may come to faith in Jesus.