Witnessing in a Nigerian Village
GOSTA carefully turned the car into the open yard and parked under a mango tree. People began to emerge from the two mud-walled houses. An old man was sitting under another tree and we greeted him with “Wa domo-o!” (“Hello!”). He watched us intently for several moments. Then the expression on his wizened face softened and he said, “Obokhian!” (“Welcome!”).
Four of us had come to discuss the Bible’s message with the villagers. Since this first home was isolated from the rest of the village and provided a parking place for our car, we decided that all of us should share this first call and then split up to witness to other villagers, going from house to house.
Before setting out for the village, we had discussed Bible texts and topics for discussion. We had in mind the importance of helping the villagers to acquire an accurate knowledge of the true God. (John 17:3) To that end, we had prayed to Jehovah for his blessing and direction on our witnessing work.
THE WAY OF THE VILLAGERS
In the eastern and southeastern parts of Nigeria, we enjoy the hills and gently rolling countryside, the clear skies and the fresh air that gives some relief from the hot humidity in other parts of the country. Then there are the endless varieties of birds and the occasional monkeys that never fail to fascinate us. As a rule, in the villages the houses are not crowded together, as they are in the cities. There are individual homes or compounds of two or more houses built 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet) from the road and approached by a narrow, well-swept path passing through the plantations of cassava, yams and coco. As we approach the houses, it is always pleasant to see colorful little flower gardens, shaded by umbrella trees, under which we can sit to discuss the Bible.
Before entering the compound, we stand at the entrance and clap our hands—the equivalent of knocking at the gate. The householder and three or four children soon appear. We are invited inside the house and are greeted with handshakes. For real strangers, as we are, seats are provided immediately. Water and soap are brought for washing our hands. And food—perhaps fruits or boiled corn—is offered. We must eat first. Then the members of the household are prepared to listen to our message. Even if food is not offered, water always is, and, when the visitor is a real stranger or an older person, the householder hands the glass to him with both hands as a gesture of respect.
The people are always eager to listen to strangers. When we accompany native Witnesses from house to house in the preaching work, we find that the family will listen attentively to the discussion in their own language, then demand that the visitor, too, should speak. At that, the discussion starts all over again.
Much interest is added to such visits by the activities of chickens, goats, dogs and little children, the younger ones usually unclad. There seems to be no end to the vitality of these youngsters as they go romping around the houses with the playful dogs hard on their heels. Occasionally, they come and stare at us.
Toward the conclusion of our discussion, we offer Bible study literature. Since the people have little money, they give us yams, eggs, fish or even chickens in exchange. Then we say good-bye, shake hands with them again and leave for the next compound, attended by a crowd of exuberant children and some grown-ups as well. We have often had children follow us from house to house in growing numbers, and they take an active interest in introducing us and telling their neighbors that we have come to talk about God.
TELLING THEM ABOUT GOD
When we were welcomed by the old man in this village in mid-western Nigeria, we anticipated an interesting discussion. After we had identified ourselves and explained our purpose, he signaled to others to bring us chairs, and we were soon seated under the tree. The family seemed eager to listen. They included the old man, two young women, two boys, two young men and another man whom we will call Joseph. He appeared to be intoxicated.
Joseph had desired that we be invited into the house; but this was overruled by the older man’s instructions. An elderly man’s word is treated with kind respect. We were glad to be seated outside, for a pleasant breeze fluttered the leaves of the tree and gently fanned us. The clear, blue afternoon sky and the rich green foliage provided just the right setting in which to talk about the Creator.
It was Nath who opened the discussion on the importance of knowing Jehovah. Gosta, Jeremiah and I sat back to enjoy the conversation, or, rather, to observe the reactions of the family. Well, Jeremiah could enjoy the conversation. They were speaking in his own Edo language. Gosta and I are Witness missionaries from Lagos and have not had an opportunity to learn that tongue. However, by carefully following the Bible texts that were read, we could get a good grasp of the discussion, and Nath later explained all that had been said.
Since Nath had grown up in this village, he knew the local customs. He took advantage of this knowledge and started off by drawing attention to the current yam harvest, saying: “This is a time when our people are very happy because, now that the yam is ripe for harvesting, they are looking forward to reaping the fruits of their labor.” The old man replied: “That is true, and we are very thankful that we expect a good harvest.”
“There is so much to be thankful for,” Nath continued. “You do appreciate the need for proper seasons and the right conditions for planting, growth and harvesting of your crops. Isn’t it very loving on God’s part that he provided these things?”
“Emwuanta-no!” (“It is true!”) murmured several in the group.
“Such a loving God is interested in our lives as humans,” said Nath. “He provides the things we need to keep alive and happy now, and also the things we need in order to be able to gain everlasting life. It is to help you to know this loving God that we have come.”
The old man remarked: “We are glad you have come,” and he was joined by the others in expressions of appreciation. However, Joseph interrupted, held Gosta firmly by the knee and said: “We want to hear this man speak.” Joseph’s unfocused eyes roved around the group, and he tried to rise but collapsed again into his chair as someone laid a firm hand on his shoulder. From the beginning, we realized that he had drunk too liberally from a calabash of palm wine. The two young boys made exclamations of displeasure at this interruption, and Gosta calmed him with an assurance that he would speak later.
Nath continued: “To show how much we owe to God and depend on him, I would like to read what the Bible says here in Psalm 145:15, 16.” While Jeremiah translated into Edo, Nath read in English: “To you [Jehovah] the eyes of all look hopefully, and you are giving them their food in its season. You are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” Nath went on to show how wonderfully Jehovah God has provided food, clothing and shelter and how marvelous he has made the earth to accommodate human life and make it pleasurable.
How appropriate our setting was for such a discussion! The sun was now low in the western sky and was beginning to produce delicate rays of light that filtered through the trees as if the air was suffused with gold dust. The edges of the distant clouds were tinged with salmon pink. Beyond them the blue background of the sky completed a tableau that brought pleasure to the eyes. There was reason for real thankfulness that God has created in us an appreciation for such beauty.
AN OLD MAN’S APPRECIATION
While this discussion was going on, the two young women left to care for household duties, but returned later. Several passersby, including a motor cyclist, came to listen. This increased our audience to about 15 people from at least five different households. Then another elderly man, limping with a tremendous dip in his gait because of a badly deformed leg, came out of one of the houses and joined us. Immediately, he started to share in the discussion.
This was an unusual gesture of respect and interest. Customarily, an elderly Nigerian man does not come out of his house to meet visitors. They must be brought in to him. This is perhaps why Joseph at first insisted that we be invited inside. However, the other elderly man had already been sitting outside and had welcomed us.
When the second aged man arrived, Nath, aided by Jeremiah’s illustrations, was explaining that mankind in general did not appreciate Jehovah’s loving provisions. They did not seek to learn the truth about God so as to serve him “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) This is why there is so much suffering and oppression on earth. However, Nath explained that we have reason to be happy. Why? Because God provides for all people liberally, assures protection for those who serve him, and will put an end to wickedness by removing practicers of unrighteousness “just as you remove the weeds that threaten to ruin your crops.” He then read Psalm 145:20, which says: “Jehovah is guarding all those loving him, but all the wicked ones he will annihilate.”
This was indeed good news for our listeners. They expressed satisfaction that Jehovah does give protection to his servants and will destroy wicked persons who cause trouble. “But,” asked one listener, “how can we know if God is going to protect us?”
GETTING TO KNOW GOD
In answer, Nath explained how important it is for us to come to know God accurately. He said: “The Bible contains all the teachings about God, and tells us why and how we should worship him. Notice here how God invites us to seek him and learn righteousness, if we are to have his protection. Zephaniah 2:3 states: ‘Seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.’”
This was followed by a lively discussion, during which it was pointed out that, just as the farmer observes the natural laws that govern season, soil condition and other things when cultivating his crops, we must also observe Jehovah’s laws regarding our conduct and our worship of him. We must “seek Jehovah.” “That means,” Nath concluded, “that we must study the Bible to learn about God and then endeavor to live in harmony with his will.”
At this, the first elderly man remarked: “All that you have said is true. But where we are going is nearer than where we have come from. We are too old now to begin to learn new things. But you can teach our children.”
The second elderly man agreed with this, then said: “It is not that we are not interested. Otherwise, I would not have left the house to come and join you. But we are old now and we cannot read. How can we learn all these things so as to know God the way you have explained? We have been visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses before this, and we have even accepted books from them. It remains only for our children now to read and try to learn these things.”
Both Gosta and I were invited to speak. With translation, we explained how many old people started to study the Bible and learned so much that they were able to teach others. Some who were even older than 70, which we thought to be the approximate age of these two men, succeeded in learning to read and write in their old age.
Joseph paid more attention than ever as Gosta explained that Jehovah does not abandon people who have grown old. Rather, God helps willing ones to become qualified to have a share in making known his purposes. Gosta further explained: “Jehovah is keenly interested in us. When we meet together to talk about him, as we have been doing here, or when we are studying his Word or explaining it to others, he pays attention. You can be sure that he will remember your efforts to get to know and serve him because you will be following the course that shows you fear him and respect his name.”
Once again both elderly men spoke, expressing appreciation for our visit and manifesting a desire for assistance in studying the Bible. Different individuals in the group accepted the magazines, and we assured them that arrangements would be made for Jehovah’s Witnesses to visit and teach them regularly. Then, after shaking hands again with everyone, and to a chorus of “Okhiendehia!” (“Goodbye!”) we ended this most interesting visit.
This one call had filled our available time. As on other occasions, we returned home feeling happy and thankful for the privilege of witnessing to these humble village folk who have such deep respect for God and his Word.