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Mission Views and News

From graveyard to springboard— the transformation of Nigeria

An interview with Timothy Olonade—Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association.

Nigeria was long referred to as the “white man’s graveyard” because so many whites succumbed to local fevers. But God is faithful. The graveyard of missionaries in the 19th century has become a springboard for missionaries in the 21st century. Timothy Olonade, first full-time director of the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA), gives us a glimpse of the change.

GMI-Your February prayer letter says there are about 3000 Nigerian full-time missionaries working with over 80 Nigerian mission agencies in 31 countries. What would you say to people in the West who are shocked to hear these numbers?

Olonade-They should not be shocked unless they feel that God was a failure or that their only reason to keep doing mission in Africa was that the African churches had no mission thrust themselves. I believe that the labor of love for so many years by Western missionaries will translate into a mighty move of God, which is now becoming a flourishing missions endeavour in our country.

GMI-What mission impact are NEMA agencies having and where are they having it?

Olonade-There are now Nigerian missionaries from NEMA-member agencies serving in three north African countries, all of which are overwhelmingly Islamic. In Nigeria, we are also concentrating on the Muslim areas

in the north. For example, we have one people group of about three million that at least five NEMA agencies are networking with others to reach.

GMI-How does NEMA help its member agencies do their mission better?

Olonade-NEMA seeks to position itself as a one-stop center to meet the felt needs of member agencies. We offer specialized training programs. We are committed to doing a compre-hensive missions research of the entire nation. We hold periodic

An unabridged version of this interview is available on the NEMA web site www.nigeriamissions.org.

mobilization events that bring hundreds of denominations and agencies together. We sit down and work with leaders of missions agencies individually.

GMI-Where does GMI fit into the NEMA picture? Why have you invested your time in visiting and developing a partnership with us?

Olonade-The church in Nigeria needs a paradigm shift from celebrating the crowds at our services to releasing the harvest force to do the work. To mobilize this strategically, we need motivational information. We find GMI products apt in doing this. The relationship with GMI is such that, where we are able, we adapt

GMI products into our situation. GMI helps in some training, especially in our quest to see a strong mission research working group that will adequately discover and process information about Nigeria for the global church.

GMI-What challenges do you face as leader of NEMA? How can we pray for you?

Olonade-Let me give you one example. In February we invited missionaries of NEMA agencies to gather for a national conference to refresh, renew, and refire. Though it cost them an average of one month’s salary to get there (we charged them only $5 for the week), we were expecting about 1000 to make the sacrifice and attend. I was in tears on the opening night as I stood before not 1000, but 1200 of these weary but willing foot soldiers of the cross.

I will be fulfilled if God brings even more Nigerian Christians into missions; if they and their leaders are enabled and resourced; and if far more people are calling on the Lord of Life tomorrow than today, especially those who never knew Him before. I want to concentrate on getting the church to embrace the task of world evangelization—in spirit and in truth.

Timothy Olonade has a “grave-yard” story of his own. In 1985, after a multiple fatality traffic accident, the hospital considered him dead. The police called his relatives to come for his body. Hours later he revived enough to convince the doctors to treat his massive head and neck injuries! Timothy and Hannah now have three school-aged children. He has written several books on mission in Nigeria and edited several others such as Compe-tence in Missionary Training (December 2001). For more information, or to be put on his prayer letter mailing list, contact him at nemahq@cetracom.net or P.O. Box 5878, Jos, Nigeria.
GMI World       Spring/Summer 2002       Page 1


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