Home Columnist The 1927 Spirit Movement in Southeastern Nigeria

The 1927 Spirit Movement in Southeastern Nigeria

by Church Times


By Dr. Gary S. Maxey on Revival

“Will You not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)

drgarymaxey@gmail.com; 0808-716-6310


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One of the most dramatic and unanticipated revivals in our national history took place in 1927 among the Annang and Ibibio members of the Qua Iboe Mission. That mission was established by the Irish Presbyterian missionary, Samuel Bill, a convert of D. L. Moody. In 1887 he arrived in Ibeno, on the banks of the Kwa Ibo River, in response to urgent calls for European missionaries. The work grew rapidly and spread out within ten years to people groups including the Ibenos, Ekets, Nsits, Ubiums, Ibibios, Annangs, Imans, and Igbos. More than a dozen other European missionaries joined Samuel and Gracie Bill in the work.


It was in the Uyo District of the Qua Iboe Mission that the 1927 revival burst out, eventually becoming known as the “Spirit Movement.” In some ways this pre-Pentecostal movement paralleled the Garrick Braide revival of the previous decade, in the Niger delta, though there were also distinct differences. Though there were numerous cases of speaking in tongues during this revival, unlike the later clearly Pentecostal groups that coalesced in the 1930s and 1940s (including the Apostolic Church and the Assemblies of God), these earlier revival movements were among groups without any distinct focus on spiritual gifts or on speaking in tongues as evidence of Spirit baptism.


The revival was a thoroughly indigenous movement. It emerged from the mystical experience of a Qua Iboe evangelist who one night prayers was seized with an urge to “go deeper” with the Holy Spirit as he prayed, studied the scriptures and sang hymns. A strange power of the Holy Spirit seized him as he was flooded with tears and overflowed with joy. The room seemed to be fully lit and he heard an audible voice, though he was alone in the dead of night. Others soon joined in as they studied scripture, sang hymns and experienced similar visitations of the Holy Spirit.


The fire soon spread to public gatherings. The Holy Spirit fell on crowds with heavy conviction of sin. Deep repentance became the common theme, with nightly meetings held in several places. Missionaries who observed what was happening compared it to the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 and the Ulster revival of 1859, with frequent confession of sin, along with remarkable scenes of reconciliation and restitution. Abundant praise and thanksgiving followed. Idols and other occult materials were burned. One participant prayed, “Lord, we thought this new religion was white man’s wisdom, but thou hast visited us thyself and we thank and praise thee” (Ayodeji Abodunde, A Heritage of Faith, p. 413).


People soon began to move from town to town with singing, preaching and great joy, in the power of the Spirit, and before long it had spread very far and wide. Hundreds of meetings were conducted day after day, usually three times daily, from early morning until late in the night. Missionary J. W. Westgarth testified, “People were suddenly seized and, as if in a panic, began shaking or shouting in a greater or lesser degree. This fear and anxiety generally gave place to peace and ecstatic happiness after confession of known sin.”


Westgarth described an unusual visitation of the Holy Spirit in one of the largest Qua Iboe Mission churches:


The place was packed. . . . The spirit of praise and supplication was intense. The meeting went on increasing in fervor all the time. Then, although there was no moonlight, neither wind nor rain to cause any sound, a peculiar noise was heard in and around the church as of falling rain, and the place was lit up with a peculiar light. Many spoke of seeing a beautiful figure in a vision. There was great speaking in tongues, and they thought that God had really visited them in a second Pentecost.


As people obeyed the Spirit of God in repentance and entered into divine fellowship many manifestations of God’s presence were repeated. Light flooding dark rooms was a regular occurrence. People remained in a state of holy rapture at times for many days, with no appetite for food, pouring their hearts out to God day and night. There were also remarkable cases of God giving the gift of discernment in which some of those yielded to God could identify and point out others harboring secret sins. Guilty people at times locked themselves in their rooms so as to not be seen by such people.


Eventually the revival resulted is controversy. While many embraced it, others firmly condemned it. The government rejected it as a mass frenzy. Missionaries were divided over whether the strange manifestations were acceptable. As the movement eventually spread beyond the Qua Iboe Mission it was unguided, and eventually corrupted, even to the point of becoming mixed with occultism. The ancient Annang religious practice of forcing confessions from people accused of witchcraft (still alive today, nearly 100 years later) became associated in many minds with the Spirit Movement (Richard Burgess, Times of Refreshing: Revival and the History of Christianity in Africa, p. 86)


Within the Qua Iboe Mission itself the revival remained under wise leadership. Though the fervor eventually died away, largely because of government opposition, there were positive results that remained long afterwards, from what many called simply the Annang or Ibibio “Pentecost.” More than fifty years later many still looked back on this movement as the most precious and transforming thing they had ever experienced.


What can we learn from this revival? One important lesson is the centrality of scripture. Genuine revivals always involve a refocus and deepened interest in the Bible, including both in preaching and in personal practice, and this revival was remarkable in its focus on the word of God. Confession, including frequent public confession, also repeatedly played a key role, as well as a strong focus on restitution and reconciliation. The mission impulse that gripped the Qua Iboe Mission in the wake of the revival – leading to church planting far north to the Igala and Bassa people in the Middle Belt of Nigeria – is another great example of what happens when true revivals visit God’s people. May God be praised for this great revival, and may he again visit his people in power even in our own day! Amen.

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