“And the people said: `Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:18)
During the early months of his episcopate, the example of Nehemiah was constantly held before the diocese by Bishop Kwashi. Indeed, for his first Diocesan Synod, held in May 1992, he took as his synod theme, “Arise and Build”. In his Charge, his comments upon the book of Nehemiah, and his application of its message to the life of the church and the nation today, give clear indications of his own manner of approach to the situation with which he himself was faced in Jos Diocese. He said, “The theme for our Synod this year is “Arise and Build”. This is the response and reaction of a people oppressed, disgraced and humiliated. Their social, spiritual and moral conditions were very bad. The report about the broken walls and the burnt gates of Jerusalem (Neh.1:3) is a summary of the real estate of Israel and its people….When Nehemiah heard this report, he was sad, he wept, he mourned, fasted and prayed. Nehemiah made up his mind to leave his position, work and comfort in Persia to go and serve his people… He was allowed to leave… (In Jerusalem) he then called a meeting, and it was at that meeting (Neh.2:17-18) that the people saw three things in the life and testimony of Nehemiah that motivated them to respond with one voice, “Let’s arise and build”.
- a) Concern: The people listened to Nehemiah and saw in him a type of concern that they had seen in no-one else. He was sincere and had no hidden agendas…
- b) Prayer: Nehemiah did not have fortune tellers, nor did he consult with oracles or believe in any cultic practices or prophecies. He did not run to seers, magicians or to “prayer houses”. He simply did what he had learnt to do, that is, to turn to God in prayer. You all know that when your life is not right, praying becomes boring, uninteresting and burdensome. What’s more, if you do not trust God, it is impossible to turn to God in prayer. Nehemiah remembered the promise of God. “Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will answer you.” Here was a time suitable to call upon God, he must have thought. Let me draw your attention to the fact that Nehemiah was not here in prayer for his own needs or problems; he was not asking for anything for himself. He was so moved by the condition of his people that he went without food and prayed. Here is a leader praying for his people! … This was Nehemiah’s strength: he prayed at all times, for all occasions, seeking God’s guidance and direction on all things, at all times.
- c) Action: You have no business to pray if you are not ready to be part of the solution! Nehemiah moved from prayer to action. This is important because the problems were actual and physical. The spiritual life of the people was nothing to write home about, the moral life was even worse and the consequence on the land devasting. Because his prayer was realistic and born out of real concern, he took the most sincere step into action. He was full of initiative; he was an active participant in all the life-changing policies; he was not just a spectator or dictator.
My good people of God, you will agree with me that Nigeria is in search of a man like Nehemiah… The Church, I must confess, which should have been the conscience of the nation, has hardly helped matters. We also need leaders like Nehemiah. We have taken each other to court; we have fought one another, and we have defrauded the offerings of the Church. We have even divided the Church according to tribes and instigated each group to war against the other. We have neglected the command of God to love, and we have obeyed the devil’s command to destroy each other. Are you not concerned? ….
Nehemiah did not stop at concern: he prayed and took action. …. My dear people, this is the time to repent; earnestly to seek God; to return to our families and to do the right; to return to God and be sober and to be content with what we have; to serve one another with purity of love, and to live righteously. It worked for Nehemiah; it can work for us too.”
In 1992 the need to begin building was clear. Where, however, was that beginning to be made? Unlike the problem which Nehemiah faced, it was not just a matter of rebuilding old walls. The old walls of Jos Diocese had been the dividing walls of tribe, of self-centredness, of prejudice and of deception. These had to be totally demolished, and God’s structures built instead.
Anyone knowing Bishop Kwashi from the years before he came to Jos, will have known that he was first and foremost an evangelist. His conviction concerning the primacy of that calling did not change when he became Bishop. When he was interviewed on the first anniversary of his consecration, and asked what his top priorities were; “To train pastors and evangelists who would be known for preaching the Gospel of Christ. My aim is to raise Spirit-led ministers who would be able to lead their congregations with great spiritual charisma and allow God to work in their lives and that of their congregations.”
Similarly, in his first Charge, he had commented: “We are not at liberty not to preach the message of salvation to the whole world. Jesus Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach to all peoples of the world. My observation in our Diocese, however, is that, not only have we disobeyed this command, we have also gone further to hoard the message of salvation.”
The question remained as to how this concern was to be translated into practical terms. So the projects began:
The first two projects concerned the establishment of two new Junior Secondary Schools, which would provide a thoroughly Christian boarding school upbringing, and would then feed senior pupils into St. John’s College, Jos (an Anglican Secondary School). The schools were named as St. Mary’s Convent (for girls) which was to be situated at Yerwa, and St. Benedict’s Junior Seminary (for boys) at Pankshin.
It was also proposed to establish a Christian Institute which would provide training for pastors, pastors’ wives and leaders of the laity. Courses were to include Pre-Ordination training, Post Ordination training, in-service training, courses for Church Agents and for other specific groups. It was also to be the base for the diocesan Theological Education by Extension (T.E.E.) programme.
Even today there are rural areas in Plateau State where health care is sadly lacking. There are villages where anyone who has the misfortune to be sick has to trek (or be carried) over the hills to the nearest clinic. It was therefore proposed to start the “Gospel Medical Services”, a rural health outreach scheme.
The Junior Secondary Schools, St.Mary’s Convent and St.Benedict’s Junior Seminary, opened in September 1994.
The Christian Institute is the most advanced of the projects and it has already been given recognition by the State. Affiliation with the University of Jos is in process. In addition to one-week in-service training courses, the Christian Institute now runs three main programmes:
- Diploma in Theology: a two-year full-time course, now in its second year with five students.
- Certificate in Theology (English): a part-time one year course for graduates or those holding similar qualifications. This is the third year this course has been run, each time with about twelve participants. Many of the students from this course have been ordained and serve as non-stipendiary pastors.
- Certificate in Theology (Hausa): a new course begun in 1994 with four students. The initial academic level is lower, and so it is envisaged that this will be a “sandwich” course, with students doing one-year full-time study, one year back working in the churches, then another full-time study year.
The diocesan clergy have benefitted greatly from the Institute: every year each pastor attends the annual Clergy School and at least one other course.
Under the auspices of the Gospel Medical Services clinics have been established at Zadiyen, Mama and Majaga and preparations are being made for one at Duduguru. There is also a clinic at St. Luke’s Cathedral, Jos: this is a particularly well equipped clinic, and it is planned that this will be the training centre for those who will work in the rural areas. With the current rate of inflation, the cost of medical care is proving prohibitive to many people, and therefore these clinics seek to provide the best possible care at the lowest possible cost.