Dr. Gary S. Maxey on Revival
“Will You not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)
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In the 175-plus-year history of Christianity in Nigeria we have seen dozens of revival movements. Regrettably, only a few have extended beyond narrow denominational or geographic boundaries. We have never seen a truly national revival, or even the spiritual shaking of a large sub-region of the country. The East Africa Revival stirred widely across denominational and national boundaries, deeply moving large areas of Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda. The First and Second Great Awakening, as well as the Revival of 1858, moved from one end of America to the other. The Welsh Revival shook an entire nation. However, Nigeria has never seen a national awakening.
Having said that, however, I hasten to say that the closest we have come to a national revival was with the Civil War Revival, lasting from the mid-1960s into the early 1970s. We call it the Civil War Revival because it flourished most widely during and immediately after that brutal 30-month civil conflict.
The causes and successes of the Civil War Revival were not identical in western and eastern Nigeria, which were its two largest arenas. In western Nigeria it was the moving of the Holy Spirit on university campuses that ignited fires that continued to burn for nearly a decade. In the east, where the brunt of the Civil War conflict exploded, it was the Scripture Union that provided the matrix for spiritual awakening. SU influence was also pronounced in the west, but more clearly in the east. Nigeria owes a great debt to the SU for what happened.
There is no parachurch organization that has done more to improve the moral and spiritual life of Nigeria than the Scripture Union. The fact that habits of daily quiet time and family worship are more pronounced in Nigeria than any other country in the world is due largely to the decades-long influence of the Scripture Union.
The Scripture Union was first established in London, in 1867, with a founding objective of providing spiritual and physical help for needy children. By 1879 it had added an emphasis on daily Bible reading, using a system of cards and notes. Rev. Charles Gollmer, a CMS missionary, introduced the Scripture Union to Nigeria in 1884. Over the next seventy years missionaries, local pastors and church-based teachers carried on the SU ministry.
After the interruption of World War II, a second SU stage was launched in Nigeria with the arrival of more missionaries and the appointment of the first travelling secretary. In this stage the focus shifted from churches to schools. The goal was to promote Bible study and evangelism among school children, as well as a program of holiday student camp meetings.
In 1957, John Dean, a missionary chemistry teacher at the Boy’s Secondary School, Gindiri, was appointed as the first SU travelling secretary. Ishaya Audu, a Nigerian doctor at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, served as chairman. Through Dean’s tireless work over the next fifteen years SU chapters were opened around the country. By 1960 there were 38 Scripture Union groups in the north, 22 in the West, and 11 in the East.
Through their persistent teaching, preaching and literature, the SU taught an entire generation of Nigeria youth the importance of Christian discipleship. Mass distribution of devotional materials, including Daily Bread, Daily Power and Daily Guide, inculcated discipling habits that sunk deep into the lives and families of countless Nigerians. The persistent focus on a daily “quiet time” of personal devotion, as well as careful study of the Word of God and the importance of regular family worship left a mark on Nigerian Christianity which is still clearly seen today.
By the 1960s a popular saying among Christians had become, “no quiet time, no breakfast.” In addition, the dissemination of books such as John Stott’s Basic Christianity, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters and Dwight Moody’s Absolute Surrender helped shape the thinking of multiplied thousands of students.
Of great importance was the fact that the SU conditioned a whole generation of secondary students to move onto university campuses with a passion for the reading and study of the Bible, spiritual life, spiritual renewal and evangelism. Those were the same fires that burned high during the Civil War Revival that broke out on university campuses, especially in the west. The University of Ibadan and the University of Ife were at the forefront, and eventually in the east, after the establishment of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, revival fires began to burn there as well. Students who had come up through schools with strong SU chapters provided the primary fuel for those fires. After the outbreak of war in the east SU centers were themselves transformed into incubators of revival.
Eventually others succeeded John Dean, including Bill Roberts, who was a prime influence on the Civil War Revival in eastern Nigeria. A new chapter was also written with the appointment of the first Nigerian traveling secretary, Mike Oye. Oye’s incessant SU travels between 1966 and 1972 took him to hundreds of primary and secondary schools and onto dozens of tertiary campuses, and always with a flaming heart and an anointed tongue. As well as his travels in western Nigeria Mike Oye travelled repeatedly to the east (even during the war), and eventually also into the north.
The story of revival in the east during the throes of the Civil War revolved around the work of the Scripture Union. At first the focus was on Enugu, and then with its fall to federal troops in September 1968, to Mission Hill in Umuahia. It was there that for nearly a year, as the war raged around them, hundreds of young people hungry for God gathered for Bible study, prayer, and preaching. Many experienced genuine New Testament revival.
In the final days of the military conflict the Mission Hill center experienced a dispersing similar to that of the Early Church in the Book of Acts when persecution drove believers out of Jerusalem and scattered Christian influence to the four winds. As young people were driven from Umuahia back to their villages and other places of refuge they carried revival fires into newly-formed SU chapters, laying groundwork for accelerated church growth that continued on for many years to come.
Thank God for the Scripture Union! We salute them for the role they have played in our national and revival history.