He had a promising career in athletics. But Sunday Eriba is now running the race for souls. An indigene of Benue State, Eriba grew up in Plateau State where he developed his athletics skill.
His dexterity in athletics earned him a job at the Plateau State Sports Council after his secondary education. As a staff, he was also representing the state in 100 and 400-meter races. He brought laurels to the state.
His outstanding performance as a sprinter made him start considering a career in sports. But that was when he began to have a deeper understanding of God.
He told Church Times: “Just when my athletics career was blossoming, I got involved in a discipleship programme. That was when I began to have a deeper understanding of God and fell in love with the things of God.
“It was during that time I saw myself fishing in a vision. That vision created a strong impression on me. It later became clear that God wanted me on missions rather than the racetrack.” Eriba said.
The compelling vision made him resign from his job in the sports ministry for the mission school of the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association. He later enrolled for a theology degree at the Christ Faith Institute.
Upon graduation from the mission school, he went straight to the field as an independent missionary; preaching the gospel and leading people to Christ in remote areas of the North. After a couple of years, he joined the mission arm of Christ Faith Institute.
Eriba who was at the Lagos 2023 Global Mandate Conference said he did not have difficulty doing away with his ambition of being a successful sportsman. “For me, I saw it as just the normal thing to do. There was no struggle at all,” he said.
He first served among the Gbagi people of Niger State. specifically in Zumba and Goffa under Shiroro Local Government of Niger State. There he collaborated with a mission agency known as Africa Service.
“What I was doing then was basically discipleship work among churches. We also encouraged churches to set up Bible clubs for young people and did some social work among the people. Through social work, we were able to bring the gospel to people’s knowledge.
“Apart from doing regular outreaches, we train farmers and put them through some farming skills to help them. The training gives us the opportunity to have a close interaction with them.”
Eriba, who married in 2019, was posted to Bauchi State by Christ Faith Ministry to serve among the Miya people.
“I have been in Bauchi for about seven months now with my family. Muslims and idol worshipers dominate the place. We only have a handful of Christians in the community.”
For a long time, the community leader did not permit the construction of a church in the place. But his younger brother who happened to be a Christian ensured one was erected in the community by a mission group that came to do evangelism in the town.
Christ Faith Institute inherited the church building and posted Eriba to the community. “I was posted to the church early this year. I met only one family in the church when I came. But God has increased us to about 14 people.”
Doing church among the Miya people is however beyond church attendance. The missionary has to meet the people where they are. In the first four months of Eriba’s arrival in the community, he was able to create a rapport with residents.
No value for education
But he soon discovered that the Miya people are unique in many ramifications. “They do not see the value in education. For instance, shortly after my arrival, I started school. We had about 25 students over time. But as soon as we entered the rainy season, all the students went back to the farm. They believe so much in farming and the rearing of animals. They are yet to see the value of education.”
Though many of the students were eager to learn, Eriba said it’s been difficult to convince their parents of the need to allow them to stay in school instead of going to the farm.
“The apathy towards education is so high that a five-block classroom built by the Universal Basic Education scheme in the community has been abandoned by the students for the farm. They do this every rainy season. They would rather farm than go to school. Almost every compound is also into animal husbandry. Going to school is like wasting of their time.” Eriba said.
Though the community is full of farmers, they still have challenges with eating well. “It is believed that education will not put food on their table. So they would rather farm than sit in the classroom. Unfortunately, the poverty in the community is crippling. There are too many cases of malnutrition because of lack of dietary knowledge.”
Eriba recounted the instance of a girl that died due to malnutrition. “In the case of the girl, we actually reached out to adopt the child despite our lean purse. But the mother who had left the father of the child for another man did not cooperate. The girl died eventually.”
Eriba and his wife, Abigail are however leaving no stone unturned to ensure the people see the light of modernisation. “In our own little way, we want to begin to sensitize residents on the need to eat a balanced diet even in their poor state. We want to teach them how to prepare their food and combine it to enhance their health.”
Apart from their disdain for education the Miya people also have a penchant for early marriage. “The young girls are married off between the ages of 15 and 16. But by 12, they would have known the person they want to marry. Their men also marry early. By the age of 20, some of the young men already have about two to three wives. And they subsequently have many children.” he said.
Despite some of the misgivings of the people Eriba says they are largely accommodating. “It is difficult to get them to come to Church. But they always welcome us when we go to their homes. In an average home, there are about 20 people. We preach to them, disciple, and also run Bible study programmes in their homes.”
Eriba said the peculiar nature of the people calls for a different strategy to win them for Christ. “This is not a place you come to do open-air crusade because they won’t come. They don’t like the idea of going to a building called church or worship centre.”
The home outreaches according to him have been bearing fruit. “At the last outreach, 24 people surrendered their lives to Christ. We teach the word and pray with the people in their homes.”
Global Mandate Conference
He said one of the things that really stood out for him at the Lagos missions conference was the prayer aspect of the conference. “My coming to Lagos for the GMC was a big encouragement. I have learned to strategically pray about our mission’s involvement.”
The urgent need for Eriba on the mission field is a solar power system. “Now that we take gospel films to the homes of residents, we are praying and trusting God for a solar power system so that we don’t have to travel far to charge the laptop that we use to show the films.”
Global Mandate Conference has distinguished itself as a platform where support is being harnessed for missionaries. Sunday Eriba and some other missionaries could be reached through the ministry on