OUR MODEL MISSIONARY PIONEERS –
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Heb. 13:7).
The sacrifice of our Lord Jesus motivated the founding of this Scripture Union in 1867 and subsequent introduction to Nigeria in 1885. This sacrificial lifestyle characterized the pioneers of the Union in Nigeria. The week of Sacrifice (a week in October of every year) is a week so dedicated in the honor of our Lord Jesus and the Union’s pioneers. Moreover, we use this week to remind and motivate our members and students, and children today to follow in their footsteps.
THE STORY OF MR JOHN DEAN (JD)
The story of Mr. John Dean has its relevance as a Missionary pioneer; in view of the role, he played as the first Travelling Secretary for Scripture Union (Nigeria). The Scripture Union working principles provide for relatively few members of staff “who recruit, train and motivate volunteers with whom they work in partnership”. The staff members come from a variety of backgrounds and bring various vital experiences to impact the work.
The impact of Mr. John Dean on the Ministry of SU (Nigeria) is such that, the story of SU (Nigeria) will be incomplete if his story is not told. Mr. John Dean studied Agricultural Science at Cambridge University. He gave his life to Christ while he was a young student at the university. At the end of his studies at the University, he enlisted in the British Army. It was then compulsory for all British men to enlist in the military and offer service after university education. His military service posting in 1955 was to Nigeria. He served in the 2nd Battalion out of five battalions in the Royal West African Frontier Force then, which later became the Nigerian Army.
After his military service ended in about a year and a half, he became a teacher at the Sudan United Mission School, Gindiri, near Jos in the present-day Plateau State, Northern Nigeria. In school, he taught chemistry.
It was at this teaching post that the call of God came to him to serve as a Travelling Secretary for Scripture Union (Nigeria). The second Committee that came out of the first that Sat on 11th May 1957 had concluded on the need to appoint a full-time staff worker for the work of SU (Nigeria). Out of the three candidates that were considered, Mr. John Dean was successful and was appointed. Mr. John Dean narrated his call experience thus:
“In June 1957, I was asked if I could join the Scripture Union for three years, to become the first Travelling Secretary. I did not think it was a good idea, but as I prayed about it, I discovered that it was God’s will for me. So, in January 1958, I signed up. I was based in Ibadan …”
Mr. John Dean came into the staff position at this crucial point. He was seconded to work for S U (Nigeria) by the Sudan United Mission, who paid his salary. As soon as he arrived at Ibadan, he threw himself into a strenuous program of school visits, camps, leadership training, and other activities.
Mr. John Dean was a special gift to SU (Nigeria). His coming into the staff position raised some interesting points that cannot be ignored. At the time John Dean came on board, there was no established SU (Nigeria) Headquarters. He had to take on many administrative duties. He occupied a very important position both in SU (Nigeria) and other interdenominational Christian organizations in Nigeria. He was the Liaison Staff between Nigeria and the International Headquarters in London. His constant travels were the most important and effective means of distributing the reading notes and other literature.
Mr. John Dean had a method of opening groups in schools or doing school ministry. He divided the approach into three phases. For the first phase, he holds meetings with the whole school, after obtaining permission from the authority of the school. In this first visit, he outlined the advantages of personal Bible Reading. He would schedule the second visit. In the second phase, which is the second visit to the school, he will address the whole school again, telling the students how to form the habit of Bible Reading. At this second meeting, he introduces some SU Cards or Booklets on a daily bible reading. The third phase is another scheduled visit where he now meets with those students who bought the cards or those interested in forming a regular group that will be meeting in the school.
In six months, John Dean took 223 meetings and covered 10,000 miles. Many new SU groups began during the year. There are now 22 in the West, 11 in the East, and 38 in the North (of the Fellowship of Christian Students). He kept up a program of this intensity for the next twenty years. No doubt, one of the reasons he was able to do so was that, wherever he happened to be, he would take time out almost every evening for a four-mile run. In years to come, ‘calisthenics’ became a regular feature of staff training conference”.
He left for Nairobi to become the African Regional Secretary in the 1980s. He later became the International Training Coordinator before he retired from active service.
It is worth mentioning that Mr. John Dean did not marry until he was very advanced in age. He later wedded Miss Jean. They are happily married, though they have no biological children of their own. They are currently based in Britain, still serving the LORD in their old age.
THE STORY OF MR. BILL ROBERTS (BR)
The Next Missionary Character for our consideration is Mr. Bill .W. Roberts. He came into the SU (Nigeria) staff team in late 1964. He was an expatriate (like Mr. John Dean) whose coming into the staff team equally impacted the SU (Nigeria) Ministry Positively.
Notable among the achievements he is remembered were the birth of the Pilgrims Ministry in SU (Nigeria) and the risk he took by staying among the SU people in the Eastern Region during the Nigerian Civil War. His presence during the war helped the growth and expansion of the Scripture Union works and influence in the Eastern Region. The effect is still noticeable in the acceptability of the SU (Nigeria) Ministry in the Eastern Region of Nigeria till today. The impact of Bill Robert’s risk-taking and sacrifice is still yielding fruit till now. The rest of his story is as stated below:
Mr. Bill William Roberts was born into the family of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts on August 3rd, 1935. The family attends the Parish Church which is an evangelical Church. He is the youngest of four sons. As at the time he joined the staff team in 1964, his father was seventy-five years and the mother was in the sixties. He is a British by Nationality.
His school was Blundells School in Devon. He was converted in a United Evangelistic Campaign in Cullompton during the Easter Holidays of his last year at school. His National Military service followed immediately on leaving school. The 14 months of his National Military Service was spent at Enugu, Eastern Nigeria in 1955 – 1956. During this time he met Mr. John Dean on one occasion.
In 1956 – 1959 he studied at Cambridge, reading Geography for two years and Theology for one year. In 1959 – 1960 he studied education at Cambridge.
In 1960 – 63, he was on the staff of Bilborough Grammar School Nottingham (Co-Ed). He concentrated particularly on RI and helped to run the junior and senior Christian Fellowship.
From 1963 – 64, He studied at London Bible College.
At the time of his joining the staff team of SU (Nigeria), he had obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Cambridge). He also had a Diploma in Education. He was 28 years old.
His Ministry with the Scripture Union (Nig) began with his application for employment in November 1963 to SU London office. With the pull, he had towards Nigeria after his first National Military Service in Nigeria in 1955 – 1956, his contact with Mr. John Dean and Mr. Nigel Sylvester, and his previous background in CSSM, he felt called to work full time in Scripture Union (Nigeria). He was interviewed on 21st November 1963 by Dr. Laird and Mr. Ling. Haven been found appointable, he was recommended to the Nigeria SU Council for employment. In a letter dated 6th April 1964, the Nigerian SU Council accepted the recommendations from the International Office and employed him. The employment took effect from July 1964.
He resumed duty in November 1964 and was deployed to be the Travelling Secretary in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. In January 1966, he went to live and operate from the office at the Methodist College, Uzuakoli. His work extended to Mid-Western Region where he maintained a small office at Benin, the Regional Capital. From these two offices, he covered the whole of the Eastern and mid-Western Regions. These two Regions include the present-day Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo and Delta States. His work at this period was the statutory traditional SU work among the youths in school and outside school, Bible Reading Promotion, literature Ministry and so on.
It is worth mentioning here that before the civil war began in Nigeria in 1966, the Nigerian Council had charged Mr. Bill .W. Roberts to look into the problem of many students disappearing from the SU scene and from Christian influence after leaving schools. He was to set up a subcommittee to recommend solutions to the council on how to solve the problems observed as stated above. A committee was eventually set up by Mr. Bill Roberts which held its meetings at Methodist College, Uzuakoli. The committee finally decided to form a new regular Fellowship with the name “Scripture Union Pilgrims.” This was later reported to the National Council which accepted the recommendation to form the regular Fellowship, but modified the name to be “Pilgrims of Scripture Union.” From this humble beginning in early 1967 the Pilgrims Ministry was born and ever since been growing and expanding. Although the whole idea of the Pilgrims Group was to give regular Fellowship to recent graduates from schools, their activities included Bible studies, Practical discussion on marriage, Stewardship of money and other resources, and later prayer meetings, evangelism, guest services, and others, were added. Annual training programs and retreats were later added.
Till today, the Pilgrims Ministry in SU (Nigeria) remains the main source of the provision of the support base for the SU (Nigeria) Ministries. The Missiological requirement of self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting (funding) has been made possible for the SU (Nigeria) only by the Pilgrims Ministry. The Pilgrims Ministry provides the resources of Manpower (Human resource), Money (Financial resource), and Materials for the Union. The annual Reports of the Union’s Ministries confirm this claim.
The other aspect of Mr. Bill .W. Roberts’s influence and thus source for our challenge and emulation was his sacrifice of choosing to remain within the “War-torn” Easter Nigeria, during the Nigerian Civil War. The War began in 1967 after the political unrest in Nigeria in 1966. The hostilities lasted till January 1970, a period of about 30 months.
The War situation completely stopped the traditional SU school work method, as there were no schools or educational activities at all levels in the Eastern Region. The main work left for Mr. Bill .W. Robert was to co-ordinate the Fellowship of the school leavers – the Pilgrims Fellowship. The students who were in the school groups at the time of peace and the others readily came for regular meetings for Bible Study and other activities. According to the letter, written by Mr. Bill .W. Roberts dated 4th April 1968:
“… then came the war and the great question of whether to stay or not. I was grateful to you for giving us a free hand to decide on this because it was obviously a decision which could only be made from within. After much prayer and heart-searching, the LORD gave me the assurance that I should stay. This decision has since been verified by the LORD in abundance. Student activities grew up on the SU compound in a remarkable way, starting with about 15 and growing later to over 100, and often meeting 5 to 6 times a week. As the word was constantly sown in many hearts so it bore fruit with many conversions and much spiritual growth. It has been very thrilling to experience, and many of the old C. U. members came to stay with me and join in the work. How much we needed a Lady Travelling Secretary to help with the girls, although Nnena Okeye, Stella Nwosu, and Jessie Ilonuba have helped much here. Also, about 20 such S. U. groups have started up in the villages and towns since the War in different parts of Biafra”.
Significant things began to happen to the Union at this time. The presence of Mr. Bill Roberts within the “War-torn” Eastern Region provided a Religious Leader around whom the fear-stricken people (both youths and adults) could rally around. As a religious figure who exemplified the Lord’s promise to be with his people at all times, people began to see in him the qualities of a trusted Leader, who can be trusted with valuables. This led to Bill Roberts’s involvement in relief operations within the “War-torn” Eastern Region. He began to organize a small but useful “SU Relief” scheme. He later became a Field Officer in the Protestant Relief Team, combining his evangelistic and pastoral activities with supervising the distribution of money and food sent from overseas.
All these endeared Mr. Bill Roberts and the SU (Nigeria) Ministry to the people of South-Eastern Nigeria during and after the civil war. His resilience, persistence, and availability enabled him to offer a useful leadership model to the teaming population who came to know Christ as their Saviour during the war era and/or those whose Faith was strengthened through the war era. He led the Christians through the war period, as Moses brought out the Israelites from the land of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land.
As the information obtained from his letter to Mr. Dan Onwukwe dated 13th January 1970, states, Mr. Bill .W. Roberts, arrived home to London safely two weeks before the Christmas of 1969. He spent the first 10 days on the sick bed being treated for Malaria fever. He had to be treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Much prayers and drugs ensured his quick recovery.
Back at home in London, after recovery, he continued to look forward to coming back to work in Nigeria. In a letter dated 19th February 1970, written to Mr. Dan Onwukwe, Bill expressed his desire to return to Nigeria but was expecting the S U (Nigeria) Council to facilitate the return process. He also remarked that while SU (Nigeria) Council was deciding the line of action, he could go to SU Sierra Leone for work. He equally referred to a Book he was writing and getting ready for publication about the Nigeria Civil War. He also referred to a Radio broadcast saying some things he never said about Nigeria. The said Book was expected to be out for circulation on 23rd April 1970, according to his letter dated 11th April 1970, to Mr. Dan Onwukwe. In the responses of Mr. Dan Onwukwe to Mr. Bill Roberts, dated 12th April 1970 and 5th May 1970, he informed Bill of the National EXCO and Council’s decisions concerning Bill’s demand for a return to the work of SU in Nigeria. To him, Council Members expressed their gratitude to God and to His servant for the good work done in those dark days of the War. Council wrote as follow:
Your efforts are greatly appreciated and we pray that they may continue to bear fruit until He returns. Very commendable was your emphasis on training leaders. Also, the council desires that you return to Nigeria, in God’s good time, to continue your work. But the Government’s “hard-line” on missionaries will need time to resolve. Therefore, the council endorsed EXCO’s recommendation that you should be released to London for posting to some other assignment.
In view of the National Council’s Position, the International office in London, sent Mr. Bill .W. Roberts to work at SU Sierra Leone, pending when the situation will improve in Nigeria. The reactions of both the Nigerian Government and S U (Nigeria) Council to the book published by Bill .W. Roberts on “Life and Death Among The Ibos”, published by S U International Office in London, in April 1970, finally laid seal to the return bid to work in SU (Nigeria) by Mr. Bill .W. Roberts. He had since continued to work in S U Sierra Leone and other places.
He married late in life and they have adopted some physically challenged Africans as their children.
QUESTIONS TO GUIDE GROUP DISCUSSIONS AND REFLECTION
- What lessons can we learn from the experiences of JD and BR about how we can identify the will and direction of the Lord for our lives? Notice the role of the government (cf. Luke 2:1-7), other Christians and SU Councils in London and Nigeria, the circumstances in which they found themselves, etc.
- What ideas can we gather from the methodology of JD and the change in ministry emphasis and direction of BR as we seek to develop the ministry of SU in our nation today? Discuss the similarities and dissimilarities between JD and BR’s days and today. They both found ways to overcome their challenges and obstacles to ministry. Discuss how we too can overcome the challenges facing us today as we seek to progress the ministry of SU in Nigeria.
- Except the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone (John 12:24-25 read it). How do the lives of JD and BR confirm this truism and how do we apply this in our lives these days when many Christians focus on prosperity preaching?
- Identify the initial vision of the Pilgrims’ ministry. How faithful are we to this vision today? How can we better fulfill this God-given mandate in our different groups, areas, and regions?
- Identify what Mr. John dean and Mr. Bill Roberts denied themselves to work in Nigeria. What were other similar sacrifices missionaries gave to spread the gospel then in the Acts of Apostles and in bringing the gospel to Nigeria? In your own thinking what kind of sacrifice will be necessary to promote SU work in our days?
- Both married late in the process had no biological children. They adopted African children. How can we promote child or children adoption in the Union’s effort to nurture children and youths for God?
- What gospel legacies have you noticed since you joined the Union? Can you quantify/qualify such legacies (see 1Cor. 3: 10 – 15)?