When I was Transferred to the Ilesha Circuit in 1931 one of the responsibilities I inherited was the management of many schools and a staff of around 100 teachers. The largest of the four Government Assisted Schools were Otapete, in Ilesha town. On the staff was a junior untrained teacher, Joseph Olaleye Fadahunsi. His wife, Abigail also taught in the Infant School. They were keen Church members. Joseph earned the fat salary of one pound, seven and sixpence per month.
There was however one obvious problem which increased as the months passed. Joseph was not happy in teaching. I too had the feeling that his career lay in some other direction. After a couple of years he told the whole story of his weariness in school work and asked if I could help him in getting other work.
The big commercial firms in Nigeria were John Holts, the French Company, Miller Bros, McIvors and Patterson Zachonis. There was a merger of several, excluding Holts and the French Co. and the new group, The United Africa Company, controlled by Lever Bros. became a very large organisation.
These giant exporters of cocoa, cotton, palm oil, palm kernels, ground nuts and oil, were also the principal importers of building materials, cement, corrugated roofing, hardware and all sorts of cloth and other manufactured goods. They had agents all over the country, trading under the firm’s name, who bought and despatched raw materials to the coast for export, and sold their company’s imported goods.
The Swiss Lutheran Church had a missionary organisation known as The Basle Mission. They had a large commercial wing and traded as The Union Trading Co (UTC). The staff, enlisted by the Mission was made up of trading missionaries with a definite Lutheran Church background whose work resulted in considerable profits going in to the work of the church. We were very friendly with members of the staff in Ibadan and in Lagos and many times entertained these folk, many of whom were married, for a weekend or during a holiday. I mentioned my desire to get employment for Joseph Fadahunsi and Max Rosen in Ibadan investigated and gave permission for Joseph to open a store in Ilesha with a large UTC name over his door. He would buy cocoa principally but would also carry out other trading lines of the company.
Joseph was very pleased and thankful. He had found what he wanted. He bought lots of cocoa from farmers, then hired lorries and forwarded his purchases to the coast where UTC would grade it and with thousands of tons from all their agencies would export. Joseph was doing well but not entirely satisfied as he hired lorry after lorry to convey the cocoa to Lagos. He wished he had the capital to buy a lorry and get the transport profits as well as those from buying. He made credit arrangements and bought a lorry. As he had control of all he bought, he was never short of a load. Profits made it possible to buy a second lorry and a third until Joseph became a successful carrier as well as UTC buying and selling again. He contracted for other buyers. He became recognised and respected business man in Ilesha. He did not allow his business to interfere with his church life, in fact he became more and more useful.
The years passed and the time came for our retirement from Nigeria. I will be writing later of our busy years in England until retirement from the ministry came when I had completed more than the 40 years in active service. During a seven year term in the Margate Circuit, I answered the phone one morning, a lady whose voice I did not recognise asked if I were Mr Ludlow. She was Abigail Fadahunsi, speaking from London. I expressed my surprise and great pleasure. She told me that Joseph was in Australia at the International Air Transport Association fare fixing conference, he represented Nigerian Airways, of which he is Chairman. He would be back before Sunday and they would like to come to see us and to attend morning service in my church. I enquired about transport and was assured that they had their own car available. I then asked for their London address so that I could contact them if their was any need. They were staying in the Dorchester, Park Lane.
On Sunday morning they arrived in very good time, with their English chauffeur, Joseph and Abigail looked splendid in their sumptuous African robes. During the service, I welcomed them and Joseph spoke for a short time on the value of what missionaries and the Home Church had done for his country. We had a very happy day.
Their next call was to Dublin. They contacted my sister Elsie, who knew them very well when over thirty years she was most of the time Matron of the Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha. They insisted on her being their guest on several outings. One of these, arranged by Aer Lingus, was a tour of Guiness’s Brewery. At the end of the tour the party was entertained with samples of the Guiness products. Joseph, in a loud voice said “No thank you, we are methodists, we do not drink alcohol”.
Further promotion for Joseph lay ahead. He rose to the very top and became His Excellency, Governor of Western Nigeria. During this period, which lasted right up to Nigerian Independence, the Queen visited the country and Joseph was knighted. On our next visit to Nigeria, we were guests of Sir Olaleye and Lady Abigail Fadahunsi in their large retirement home a mile from the school where, years ago, an unhappy junior teacher longed for a different career. He found it.
For twenty years Joyce and I were “Partners in Pioneering”. We worked so closely together that we never thought of departments. She was a Local Preacher and attended all the Church meetings as I did. She conducted services as arranged on our Plan, as I did. She was very much interested in schools and did a tremendous lot in the large number of which I was manager. We trekked together walking thousands of miles in the thick forests of the South and in the savannah grass lands of the North. In medicine too, we planned our transport loads of carriers to perch on their heads or their cycles. I became her anaesthetist and dispenser.
Because of all this, in these memoirs I have written what I remembered of medical interest and information without making separate chapters. I now find that I have notes of many such medical occasions left over which I feel I must include here, even if the chronological order may not be recognised. Here is the surgery, the medical practitioner and the partner in pioneering in action.
We had already left Bussa after a long visit and were returning south to Afon. A man came to the Bussa Catechist’s house too late to see the doctor. There was no guarantee of the date of our next visit so he decided he would follow us. There was a problem. From just above his knee he had a football size lump which swung about at very step. He used a five foot long pole to help him keep his balance and, grasping the pole with both hands he walked with his legs widely splayed.
One day, more than two weeks later, he walked into our compound at Afon, a mere 200 miles on foot with the ever swinging pendulum. He told his story, he had so many times heard of the doctor’s skill he had come to her so that she could remove the lump. After examination, she first ordered a complete rest, then she would do all she could do to help him.
When operating day arrived, Nurse Wende was in general attendance. I was at the head end, administering the anaesthetic whilst Joyce undertook the surgeon’s job just above the patient’s knee. It has always been our practice to say a short prayer, aloud, before an operation. All went well and when the man came round again it took some time for him to realise that the neat bandage was not merely covering his big lump; it had gone. A very grateful friend stayed with us for several weeks before setting out on his 200 mile walk homewards. By this time, he had lost the need for holding his pole and was able to balance perfectly without it and without the swinging football.
Operations performed in the Mobile Unit always attracted a crowd of interested onlookers. Provided they did not require any privacy, we got as much air as possible by leaving doors and windows wide open. Otherwise, of course, we would use our curtains, electric light and fan.
Often the crowd of onlookers would include a Mr Knowall who had seen a previous operation and was thrilled not only to keep up a running commentary but even to tell in advance what was going to happen. When the patient was lying down, Mr Knowall would start. “First the white man is going to sprinkle special medicine which will make the sick man dead”, whereupon the next of kin would rush forward to extract a sick living body instead of one that is dead. Mr Knowall anticipated this excitement and in a loud voice would continue “It’s all right. When he is dead, the doctor will do her work and when she has finished, they will wake him up again.” Still apprehensive, but temporarily appeased, the family waits until the ‘body’ is returned to them, fully alive.
During the years of our touring medical work, practically all of the medicines prescribed were in liquid form, we imported concentrated mixtures and diluted them as required. In addition there were many pills. Even in those early days, there were few homes in England which at some time had not had a box of Beechams Pills or Carters Little Liver Pills or the more commonplace aspirin, the doctor’s prescription usually turned out to be a bottle of medicine. We carried row upon row of concentrated mixtures in flat sided bottles which were the most economical in space. We required patients to fetch their own bottle, properly rinsed and clean. When Stephen got to the handing out of the concentrated liquid with correct volume of water already added, he would pass it through the hatch and loudly repeat the dosage several times: “shake the bottle and take a spoonful three times a day; you have enough to last seven days.” All this would be repeated by the patient. Next day, or perhaps two days later the patient would return asking for a refill and declaring “it was so good, I took it all at once”.
In most of our pioneer work we made no charge for professional service nor for the medicine. In more advanced places we did make a small charge of ‘toro’ (threepence’) for each bottle of medicine. Sometimes we had the patient who secretly would offer to pay more in order to get stronger medicine. He had to learn that doctor always provided the best medicine she had for his needs.
Apart from the following, we have never seen an African woman on a horse. No wonder that Joyce suddenly called out to me to look at the road up to our compound from Afon. True enough, a real woman on a real horse, carefully led by a man. The poor woman looked terribly wasted and ill. Joyce ran over from our house to the dispensary to see what it was all about.
The woman was stiff and unable to walk or even take a step. Helped by the man who led the horse, we carried the patient to a bed. Doctor made her usual thorough examination and wrote down the case history. Usually a sick person is kept at home for a long time, ‘cared for’ by the witch doctor. When he has done his worst if the presence of a doctor at Afon is known, the relatives may then think of getting a second opinion and carry the patient in a hammock or, in this unique case on a horse. I write “the horse” for it probably is the only one available for a great distance.
With good food and nursing the woman very slowly began to respond to a series of injections, her limbs began to loosen. Many days passed before she could be helped to sit up, then to hang her legs over the side of the bed and eventually to swing her legs. She protested strongly as each advance move was suggested but was gradually told she must try. Finally she got to the stage of learning to walk again.
Every day we had prayers in the dispensary and often included a Bible story. Our friend always listened carefully. One Sunday, it was our Harvest Thanksgiving in the church. Before leaving for the morning service, Joyce did her round of the in-patients. The old woman was sitting on her bed swinging her legs. She searched under her pillow and then handed a ‘toro’ to Joyce and in Yoruba said “Today is your Ikore (Harvest Thanksgiving). Give this to your God.”
One of the products of the work we opened up in Amodu, where I had stationed E.A. Ogungbe, after his training as a Sub-Pastor in Wesley College, was a youth called Jimoh. He was a teenager in our little ’infant’ school and was later prepared for Baptism by the Sub-Pastor (now Rev E.A. Ogungbe). I baptised this youth, Solomon Jimoh. I decided to give him an opportunity in a village: Oke-eso, seven miles from our Afon house. Joyce takes up the story from here:-
It was Solomon one morning, who rode up to our little dispensary at Afon with a big girl, probably 12-13, sitting on the cross bar of his bicycle. Dismounting, and after the usual salutations, he announced “I have brought Abiba to see the doctor. I have told her parents she will make her better.” He then lifted Abiba off the bike and placed her on the ground where she immediately moved around on her hands and knees. A bright and happy face, full of hope but sadly with deformed legs, she could not possibly stand. Simply, the story was as follows:-
Solomon when visiting around the village to which he was newly appointed discovered Abiba, a grown girl but only able to crawl. His immediate reaction was to tell the parents to take her to the doctor at Afon, she would make her better. The parents said it was no good. They had spent all their money, chickens, goats and the like to pay all the local native doctors, but no one could do anything. Abiba had not walked for ten years and she would never walk. Solomon who obviously believed in miracles was not deterred. He talked, he argued but to no effect. His last card was to offer to take her the seven miles on his bike to see the doctor. They would need no money. To keep him quiet they agreed so Abiba arrived!
As I listened to Solomon’s story and later examined Abiba with her thin withered legs my heart sank for he, in absolute faith had promised so much, while I realised we could do so little.
Abiba was born a normal healthy baby and ran around her home and village as toddlers do. Then one day she was stricken with fever and lay quiet and helpless, a victim of poliomyelitis. After many days and much native medicine the fever subsided, Abiba recovered except for her legs from her knees downwards, she could not move. Sitting at the door of her hut, watching the village children play she eventually began to drag herself out to get near them and slowly found she could crawl on hands and knees. This she had done for ten years. Her little feet, small and undeveloped, had been held up to prevent them getting sore and her knees had become fixed at an acute angle so she could no longer straighten her legs which were atrophied from the knees down.
There was nothing wrong with the rest of Abiba. She was now a healthy well developed 12 year old, eager to live life to the full. What a problem, no X-rays, no facilities needed to explore the possibilities of restoring some movement to her legs or even straightening them, yet Solomon had promised. We had at that time, at Afon, a Homecraft Training Centre where local girls attended daily for pre-marriage training in domestic subjects and the 3 R’s. A few girls from distant villages lived in with the trained teacher from United Missionary College, Ibadan. We suggested to Solomon that Abiba stay with me while investigations took place. She could join in the classes, share the community life and thus be prepared for further treatment if the door opened.
So she stayed and we prayed. The parents willingly agreed. They saw no future for her in the village. Who would marry her? For three months she lived in the Homecraft Centre, a happy helpful youngster who amazingly took part in all the activities. She was adept at sweeping floors with the simple native broom or bunch of twigs!
At this time there were no X-rays or orthopaedic expertise available at Wesley Guild Hospital either, the only orthopaedic hospital was in Lagos, 300 miles away. It had been built after the Second World War to rehabilitate injured soldiers returning from the Burma Compaign. We decided to seek help there but were informed there was no bed available nor likely to be in the near future. We still prayed.
Synod, at that time always held in Lagos, was due so the idea came that if we took Abiba with us, she could attend as an out-patient during the three weeks of Synod and perhaps, perhaps, the powers that be would admit her.
So we returned to Abiba’s parents, taking Abiba in the Baby Austin we used when there were no roads, to ask if they would agree, and if one of them would accompany her to Lagos. All the way to the village Abiba sang lustily some of the choruses she had learned in her own Yoruba language, “Inu mi dun pupo, Inu mi dun pupo, Nitori mo mo Olorun fe mi Inu mi dun pupo” I’m very happy (lit. my stomach is sweet) I’m very happy because I know God loves me so, I’m very happy”). Arrived at Oke-eso, the parents were willing for me to take Abiba and gave consent for any treatment or operation but on no account would they come too.
So to Lagos we went. The three months experience in the Homecraft Centre proved valuable in helping Abiba to adapt to life so different from her village experiences and we realised how this interim period was an answer to prayer. We took Abiba to the hospital where the expert examined her, pronounced it might be possible to straighten her legs but there was no chance of admission then. More prayer and before the end of the three weeks when once again we explained the problem of long distance etc. at last the authorities found a bed and Abiba remained in hospital.
That was in January 1952. In May we were leaving for England on retirement from Nigeria. When in Lagos we went to see Abiba still in hospital. One leg had been straightened but a hectic temperature had followed and a further operation had to be postponed. When we said “goodbye” Abiba asked us to take a message to the boys and girls in your country who collect money to send you out here: the J.M.A. collectors of whom she had been told.
Regretfully we left her but gave thanks for the prayers which had so abundantly been answered. Solomon’s promise to the parents was half fulfilled!
The story continued, for eventually the second operation was completed callipers were fitted and one day Abiba stood erect. Long months of physiotherapy and learning to walk again, first with crutches and then with sticks followed. At last Abiba was ready for discharge. Rev Raymond Rowlands who had taken over the circuit when my husband left sent the nurse in charge of the little dispensary down to Lagos to accompany Abiba back. The train (only one in two days) arrived in Ilorin (14 miles away) on Whit Sunday morning. Mr Rowlands went to meet them at the station.
Waiting on the verandah and around the dispensary were Abiba’s parents, the chief and almost the whole population of Oke-eso plus the Daodu (the District Chief of Afon) and his chiefs and followers. The car arrived and the door opened, Abiba, with two sticks to help her, began to walk the short path to the dispensary. The crowd gasped, then roared, then clapped, danced and even turned somersaults as they beheld the miracle of Abiba walking and then when calm was restored, said very quietly “Shall we say thank you to God who made this possible.” There was complete silence as Christians and Moslems together gave thanks to the one true God. A simple lad’s absolute faith had been honoured. Solomon’s promise was kept.
Earlier in these memoirs I have told of Stephen’s arrival in Ilesha from his native Kukurukuland. He got a job in our Hospital working as a labourer. When the new lady doctor arrived, Sister Liony had picked Stephen as a likely lad to become a steward in the house. He became an excellent servant and a trusted friend and colleague in all our work, especially Joyce’s medical service.
He had an extraordinary ability in picking up languages and became a valued interpreter. I want to complete his story from the time he embarked on a new career.
We had extended the work into the Northern Provinces and had appointed a young man to Kaiama, one of the Emirates in which we were anxious to open up work. This was a very big responsibility to place on the shoulders of a man of any age. He would live entirely among Moslems, try to establish a school and to study Busanchi. All had gone well at first but I had made a mistake in appointing an unmarried man in the place. The consequences of this slip made it very hard to regain trust of the Kaiama community.
The vacancy was constantly a subject for prayer. One day I spoke to Joyce and said I felt that the man for the job was Stephen. She could hardly believe that I was serious, not because of any question of his suitability. Stephen had become so reliable and relied upon in her medical work, it was difficult to think of letting him go. The more she faced up to it the more she agreed that it was the right choice, that is if he would agree.
We were together for the interview. I spoke of our sorrow at what had happened in Kaiama. Stephen, of course, knew all about it. I reminded him that we had all been praying for someone who would fill the vacancy. He must be, before anything else, a man who loved the Lord and would do his utmost to turn this temporary defeat to victory. “We believe, Stephen, that you are the man” “Me?” said the astonished Stephen “I could not do that I have not any education, only two years in Infant School”. I told him we did not want any quick decision. He should pray about it and talk about it to Comfort, his wife and then when he had come to any conclusion, he should talk to us again.
A few days later he came to talk. “By myself I cannot do this thing but, if God wants me to do so and doctor and you feel it is right, I will go to Kaiama”.
The Emir was delighted to hear the news for he knew Stephen so well and he really respected his loyalty to the Mission and praised the way he worked so closely with the doctor in helping sick people. He also knew that the people of Kaiama would be very glad.
In his earlier days we had noted his extraordinary gift as an interpreter, he was now to be given a whole new batch of the many languages of the River tribes, as well as Hausa, the lingua franca of the North. Patiently he would write down what a word sounded like until he could find someone to help him get its full meaning.
With the help of the Emir’s Chief Clerk we had been able to write down a translation of simple choruses such as “I am H.A.P.P.Y.” This in the Bussa tongue became “Ma no sheke pura”. This little verse became well known to Stephen’s friends as he sang the words with a smiling face. In time it became the nickname by which Stephen was known over a very wide area: “Ma no sheke pura” (Stephen, the happy one).
We made a box which he could fit on the carrier of his bike. It contained dressings and bandages, made from old bed sheets sent out by folk at home, boracic powder, an eye bath, tweezers and the simplest of aids to Stephen’s already healing touch. He conducted worship on Sundays, literacy classes and preparation classes for catechumens. His addresses were based on the parables and miracles of Jesus. He also made use of material he had heard us use as he interpreted on past occasions. This with frequent days out in the villages fully occupied his time. It was a great joy for us when we visited Kaiama to see the progress he had made and the influence of the always clean and tidy house and family which Comfort and he had raised. They had eleven children: a tribute to the parental care and love in a country with a regrettably high infant mortality. This family, now all adults, include a Methodist Bishop, a headmaster, teachers, nurses, accountants. All are qualified professionally.
Ten years after we retired from Nigeria we had the pleasure of revisiting that country and went to Kaiama. Stephen and Comfort were still there. He was sitting in a folding chair outside his house, reading his Bible. He wore steel rim glasses perched near the end of his nose. He showed more than ten years wear. Opposite his house was a well built Dispensary and the Mission House of the European Nursing Sister appointed by our Methodist MIssionary Society. In the ranks of the Methodist Church Ministry was one of the sons of the old Moslem Emir of Kaiama. All these were fruits of Stephen’s untiring devotion and service.
We never saw Stephen after that visit. Cancer had demanded its heavy price. But the man who “could not go to Kaiama because of his lack of education” yet did go when convinced that God wanted him to go, had lived and died, many hundreds of miles from his Kukuruku birthplace, in full assurance of a new and everlasting life.
The Cine Kodak we bought with wedding present cheques not only gave us much fun but also was a very great help in our work. We had bought a few secondhand films of Charlie Chaplin and the like and watched them so often that we knew Charlie’s moves in advance. We found later that our own home-made films also provided amusement. Even in the remote parts in our circuits, wherever we could get the car through the bush, we were able to make use of our outfit. The projector had two lamps, one which we used nearly every time, was lit from the 12 volt battery but for this, I had to turn a handle to move the film along. The picture, in order to be bright enough to see, had to be small. If we could use the 100 volt lamp, we had a transformer which enabled us to plug in to mains and sit back and watch whilst the power turned the handle as well as supplied a strong enough light to throw a bigger picture on the screen. This luxury was only possible on visits to Lagos or the very few places where there was a mains supply of current. We can forget this luxury for, in our up country tours we had to depend on the car battery alone and put up with the smaller picture. It was easy to hang one of our bed sheets over a convenient branch of a tree in a market place. It was a much more difficult job to organise our audience, usually a big crowd, so that they could all get a glimpse of what was going on. When the film began the onlookers were astonished to see that the picture was alive.
I have already told how the taking of a film of the chiefs in Ologbondoroko had led to a long awaited invitation to visit the place and later to begin work there with the granting of a piece of land for a school.
It was a happy day when the Mobile Unit arrived. The extra equipment we had been able to purchase with cheques which had come in from keenly interested friends, included not only a Bell & Howell 16 mm sound projector, but also a petrol driven generator which supplied electricity and gave splendid bright and clear pictures on a large screen. We were greatly helped by the British Council in their free supply of good yet simple instruction and information coloured films.
We could be sure of maximum attendance for our open air meetings. When everything was ready we would play some suitable music and keep it going whilst we attended to seating the audience in rows on the ground. Then, we would put on a film probably one which we ourselves had made of the local chiefs and scenes. Perhaps I have already mentioned one old chap who sat and laughed at the faces of the chiefs as they appeared smiling at him from our bed sheet. Then came a face he did not recognise but it was funny anyhow so he shrieked with mirth until his neighbour poke him in the ribs and said “That’s you”.
Then there was the elderly woman, sitting on the grass near the projector. At the end of the film I asked her how she had enjoyed it. Rubbing her eyes she said that all she had seen was a very bright light. Poor soul, she had sat through the whole film looking into the projector instead of turning round to see the screen. I do hope that she had got something out of the Bible story which always followed and with which we closed the evening’s show.
I must turn over another page in the Philip Jaiyesimi Saga, and bring this chapter to an end. Philip was like Zaccheus in stature but had been well named after the Evangelist who had explained the way of everlasting life to the Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace. I have already told of his offer to live and work in distant Bussa, and of his travels up and down the River Niger, not forgetting our joint landing in Yimo, the leopard endangered village.
Philip carried out his duties faithfully. He gave his Bussawa listeners much amusement as he made mistake after mistake in his pronunciation of words in their language. I, too, have done this but confess that I did not follow the laughter with the same grace as he did.
One day I received a letter from Philip. He asked that when we planned our next visit to Bussa could we please spare time as he wanted to present some adults whom he had prepared for baptism. I was thrilled and arranged to bring forward the date of our next visit.
We duly arrived. Philip had often glanced at the horizon to see any trace of rising dust, the sign of an approaching vehicle. When we did get to Bussa, Philip was waiting for us, he had his candidates for baptism with him, three Bussa men and two women. Obviously he expected that I would start examining these people as soon as we alighted from the Mobile Unit. Our thoughts as to programme were slightly different. After two full days on the road, including the negotiating of bridgeless rivers which, in this dry season meant climbing down one bank of the dried river, crossing its bed and then finding a safe gradient to get up the other bank, it was evening time on the second day and we had to unpack, set up camp etc. We spent some time in talking with Philip and made it clear to the candidates that we were very pleased to meet them and that we had undertaken the journey especially for them. We settled that the next morning would be the best time to get on with the work.
In the Southern Provinces it was expected that a candidate for baptism should be able to read in Yoruba, his own language. This could mean a year or more, until the Laubach Mass Literacy Campaign. Now, although we were working on reducing the Bussawa language in writing, it would be a long time before there were any positive results. We had to cut out this desirable qualification on the banks of the Niger. We listened as the candidates repeated the Lord’s Prayer in their own tongue. They also answered very simple questions on their very simple faith. I was quite happy to accept all five for baptism. Philip asked that it should take place on Sunday during the morning service.
Because of the intense heat the Service began at an early hour. The church, like the dwelling houses, was circular. The thatch roof rested on the mud walls and rose to a centre point on a tall pole which gave the thatch a slope sufficient to cope with heavy rain and prevent water from entering. Usually there were leaks due to thin patches in the thatching, but these were promptly stuffed with spare thatch.
The church had been built exactly the same as a dwelling house and had no windows, or open spaces in the walls. It did have a space for entrance which had a rolled up piece of grass mat suspended above it. This when unrolled, provided the only cover for privacy and security.
When we entered the church, the congregation was already there, sitting in rows on the mud floor. However, as we had come into pitch darkness from the brilliant tropical sunshine outside, we could not see them. Gradually as our sight adjusted to the dark, we could first see the whites of eyes and of teeth and later the outline of figures of the twenty worshippers.
Philip had provided a rather well-used table and on it had placed an enamel bowl of water for the baptism. The Service followed simple order, choruses in Bussanchi had been memorised, a Bible story was freely translated from the Yoruba Bible which was owned and daily studied by Philip, a prayer was followed by the Lord’s Prayer in which the candidates loudly joined, displaying their recently acquired knowledge. I took one of the better known parables and Philip did his best to get its meaning over, then explained what baptism meant and what exactly we would be doing.
The mighty River Niger flows past at the end of our church compound. Although it still has one thousand miles to flow before it reaches the sea, it is nearly a mile wide. Now, with this great expanse of water shimmering fifty yards away, I could not proceed with the baptism using a bowl of water in an extremely dark room. I asked Philip to translate that like Jesus himself was baptised in the River Jordan, today’s baptism would be in the River Niger.
Philip led the candidates and their followers in single file to the water’s edge, then he and I together walked in to waist depth and one by one I baptised the five candidates by immersion.
We had not reached the waters of Lake Chad, the dream of John Milum and his stalwart companions, men of vision and resolve of over half a century earlier. But, after years of delays, disappointments and striving to gain a Christian foothold amongst the Bussawa on the banks of the Niger, it had happened and we all rejoiced and gave thanks to these five, the first fruits of Christ’s Church in the Borgu Emirate.
Philip and his wife continued to serve for over ten years in this remote Northern station for which we had such great difficulty in finding volunteers. The Bakares, the Jaiyesimis and the Ludlows were privileged to be the pioneers. Others followed.