From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
For one week, the Diocese on the Niger, Anglican Communion was busy. It was a week of remembrance of when Christianity berthed in Igboland. The highpoint of the celebration was the roadshow staged by the Diocese on the Niger, Anglican Communion faithful in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State to mark the 159th anniversary of the advent of Christianity in Igboland championed by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) led by the late Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther.
The one-week long activities for the celebration which is marked annually by the Anglican faithful at the Diocesan and Archdeaconry levels had commenced with morning and evening prayers, as well as preaching, but was rounded off on the Sunday of the week with an anniversary service.
While the worshippers at All Saints’ Cathedral, Onitsha, the headquarters of the Diocese on the Niger, embarked on the road show with a convoy of vehicles along Awka road through Savoie junction before returning to the church, the Onitsha South Archdeaconry embarked on prayers, general thanksgiving and drama presentation through its Archdeaconry drama team.
The sub-Dean of All Saints Cathedral, Venerable Obiora Ogechukwu, who led the procession along the major roads and streets in Onitsha, said that the celebration of the 159th anniversary of the coming of Christianity in the South-East and parts South-South states started in Onitsha, at the shore of River Niger, when the white men landed with their ship in 1857 led by Rev. Ajayi Crowther.
He noted that before the coming of the missionaries what was obtainable was slave trade and impoverishment with the white men only taking the good things to their country before they changed and came with the good news of Christianity, disclosing that the chain that anchored the ship that brought the missionaries is still in the church till today.
Ven. Ogechukwu stated that the missionaries preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people and they accepted it wholeheartedly, which brought development and transformed the people.
This, he said, also led to the abolishing of slave trade, killing of twins and every devilish adulatory activity carried out then in some parts of the country.
“Today, the gospel is thriving and dominated the environment and we have every reason to thank God for what He used the CMS mission to do in Nigeria and Onitsha in particular. There are so many parts of Nigeria that are still in darkness not because there is no gospel in those places, but what is the level of light, the gospel in those places compared to what is obtainable in this part of the country. The result of the advent of Christianity is invisible, it is clear, the cloth wearing, the level of education, grassroots development, technology, the hospitals, the food we eat these are the evidence of the gospel,” he said.
“We had an anniversary service after which we embarked on street show; we had the brigand two sets bands, the gospel band two sets, as well as Okene praise dance and so many artwork and costumes, motorcade. In short, it was a very colourful event. The programme lasted for one week; we prayed and preached every morning and evening. The message was to preach the gospel that is the hope of Nigeria. The Christians should continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the hope of this nation,” Ven. Ogechukwu said.
He noted that the show was colorful and adventurous as security: the police with their horses, civil defense, road safety corps, road marshals, the Crowther Squad accompanied them.
In his remarks, the Archdeacon of Onitsha South Archdeaconry, Venerable Patrick Nwakalor urged the Anglican faithful to hold tenaciously to their strong heritage as the first Christian denomination to bring the gospel to Igboland in 1857, 28 years before the advent of the Roman Catholic Mission in 1885.
Nwakalor also charged everybody to be selfless in their evangelical attitude as the early missionaries did, adding that it was the same early missionaries of the CMS that brought the schools and hospitals to educate the people and give them good health, as well as stopped other obnoxious practices in Igboland.
In his sermon, the Parish priest of St. Faith Church, Fegge, Onitsha, Rev. Dan Uche, went down memory lane to trace the history of the early missionaries, which he said brought succour to mankind, adding that although the slave trade was officially abolished on March 25, 1807, it did not stop untill 1833 when a group of evangelical protestants led by William Wilberforce ensured its final abolition.
In an interview Rev. Uche said: “On Monday the 27th day of July 1857, 159 years ago Samuel Ajayi Crowther, J.C. Taylor and Simon Jonas brought Christianity. An act of parliament abolished slave trade in the British Empire on 25th March, 1807 but the trade didn’t stop until 1833.
“A group of evangelical English Protestants led by William Wilberforce ensured the abolition took place. In 1808, the British Navy established the West African Squadron to patrol the coast of West Africa between 1808 and 1860. Between these periods they seized 1600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were on board but many were thrown overboard on sighting the patrol Ship.
“An old Christian man was quoted to have said when their ship was about to start sailing, ‘thank God, thank God, go my sons and tell the happy news to the heathens. The word is true that our children too can go out like white men and preach the gospel.
“Lord, send plenty more of our children. Go, do not fear, people will talk plenty and say they will kill you, they will eat you but the Bible says, ‘the hair of your head are all number. Who can thank the CMS, who can pay them for their goodness to poor Africans? No man on earth can; none but God! The dayspring left Liverpool and Taylor and Crowther joined it on May 7, 1857 at Fernando Po on June 29th 1857 and they arrived on this 27th July 1857 to the shore of River Niger,” he said.