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In 1919, the first overseas missionary from the Christian Reformed Church landed in Nigeria.

“I thank God for richly blessing the work of the CRC in Nigeria over many years,” said Mike Van Der Dyke, Resonate Global Mission’s field leader for the country today. Van Der Dyke has served in Nigeria for 40 years.

“Hundreds of churches have been planted,” he said. “Resonate missionaries and those supporting the work with prayers and gifts have been used by God to train thousands of pastors, evangelists, and Christian teachers.”

But Van Der Dyke also acknowledges what many people lament: Western missionaries in Nigeria have often created unhealthy dependence on mission staff and funding or have started programs that do not have the full support of local believers. Sometimes staff control programs for too long; other times, staff hand over full responsibility too soon. And sadly, some missionaries can be racist or have negative views of Nigerian culture. 

Patterns like these can cause people to doubt their own God-given potential and prevent them from being effectively strengthened in their capacity to follow God on mission.

That’s why what people do in their ministry is not the only important factor. How we work in a country is important too.

Working Alongside Local Leaders

From the beginning, Resonate missionaries worked alongside (and with approval from) local leaders in evangelism, education, and medical care. The work was not without its challenges, but the missionaries strived to frame Bible stories in ways that resonated with Nigerians and celebrated their culture. As more Nigerians chose to follow Christ, missionaries laid the groundwork for elevating local leaders and preparing them to continue being solid witnesses beyond missionaries’ time of direct support.

Today, working alongside local leaders for mission is central to Resonate’s work in Nigeria and throughout the world. This approach is a strategic way to encourage leaders who are confident in the gifts, skills, and resources that they and their community members have to offer in carrying out kingdom work.

While Nigeria once received missionaries, the country now sends missionaries to nearly every country. Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association boasts more than 15,000 missionaries in its network.

Recently, NEMA director Andrew Gwaivangmin worked with Van Der Dyke to organize Timothy Leadership Training for several of his staff members. TLT is a curriculum of Raise Up Global Ministries used by missionaries like Van Der Dyke to equip Christian leaders to live out the gospel in their churches and communities.

TLT involves seven training sessions that Gwaivangmin and his team recently completed. For each session, participants created action plans to help them apply what they learned and work toward a change they wanted to see in their community. 

“The TLT training was a great blessing to us at NEMA,” Gwaivangmin said. “We are now well-equipped to serve our Lord, family, church, and community. All of our staff have served in one way or another in the church and community.”

The staff have targeted spiritual, relational, and economic challenges.

One of Gwaivangmin’s team members visited two of NEMA’s missionaries living in a remote community to provide encouragement for their work. While he was there, he spoke in the church, and 16 children decided to follow Christ as a result.

Gwaivangmin and his wife noticed that many young people in their community were unemployed. Two young women they knew wanted to become seamstresses so they could earn money, but they had no way to pay for training.

Gwaivangmin and his wife paid for 14 weeks of tailoring training for these two young women—a fixed period of support designed to equip them with the skills they needed for successful livelihoods. 

“They are now working to set up their sewing shops to grow their businesses and also getting income to meet their personal needs,” said Gwaivangmin. “These girls are now encouraged to train other girls in tailoring so that they can also earn income.”

God works in powerful ways when missionaries work with local leaders, and Resonate continues to learn how best to work cross-culturally and share resources. Listening and fostering relationships with humility remain priorities for Resonate missionaries as they build God’s church together with men, women, and children in Nigeria.

“We see each other as colleagues working in ministry together,” Van Der Dyke said. “The initiative and direction are usually from the church to the mission rather than the other way around.”

Pillars in Community

World Renew has been working in Nigeria since 1969 in the same location as Resonate. 

Walking alongside local leaders is also key to World Renew’s strategy of avoiding unhealthy dependency while offering knowledge and support to individuals and communities that desire to be agents of change in their country. This rewarding process requires patience, mutual trust, and a passion for justice and mercy.

As a widow and a single mother of four sons in rural Nigeria, Nvou Gyang faced many obstacles to becoming any kind of a leader in her community. When she first connected with World Renew program staff, she was living a life of isolation and hopelessness.

In 2014, Nvou’s husband was murdered by armed intruders, and the family’s farm was stolen when violence erupted between farmers and herders in their community. Without a steady income or partner, Nvou faced many day-to-day struggles—parenting alone, challenges feeding her children, falling behind on school fees, and trying to find shelter in a new community. 

When World Renew staff learned of Nvou’s situation, they recognized she had many short-term needs, but a handout was not the solution. She needed assistance that would allow her to take ownership in her own transformation so she could be stronger for the long term, even if her support systems and circumstances changed. 

“Both World Renew and Resonate are CRCNA ministries that intentionally use the bottom-to-top approach, where participants are encouraged to lead in decision making and in the process of driving change (and) problem solving,” said Grace Garnvwa, World Renew’s country director for Nigeria.

“This makes them accountable and active drivers of the process,” she explained. “Most of our participants become pillars in their communities—role models who are providing support to vulnerable people to become stronger and better each day.”

Nvou’s journey to new strength involved World Renew programs that did not merely focus on what she lacked but instead highlighted the resources and skills she could build on to help create a more stable present and a more hopeful future for her family.

Through World Renew’s local partner, Beacon of Hope Initiative, she joined Free A Family® programs such as a trauma healing group that connected her to fellow widows in her community. She also joined a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group with other mothers and took part in economic empowerment training that taught her to keep good business records and refined her skills in connecting with customers.

Slowly but surely, Nvou began to thrive. 

She was able to grow her banana-selling business, pay for weekly school fees, and continue saving. Neighbors started to seek her for her trusted business services, giving her a further bridge out of the isolation she had experienced for so long. What’s more, she could confidently share what she had learned with others so that they too could improve their livelihoods.

By the time the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were being felt in Nigeria, Nvou had made great strides in her journey out of poverty, but with all the unforeseen challenges and uncertainties, her fear of sinking back into destitution became very real. 

Thankfully, through the training the VSL group received, Nvou had learned to set aside savings, which carried her family through the early days of the pandemic when the markets were shut down. Once the markets reopened, Nvou found sales had slowed while the cost of essentials had increased, but she still has been able to provide for her family’s basic needs. 

“I don’t know what would have become of us if not for this support,” she said. “Even though things are hard, I trust God to make a way just as he used World Renew to bring us hope. It can only be the love of God that brought help our way, especially from people we never knew.”

As Nvou has learned, life can change quickly. Her current involvement in World Renew programs is one of the tangible ways she is deepening her understanding of God’s love. The hope is that all she is learning now will equip her to carry on with confidence, no matter what the future holds.

Resonate and World Renew cannot know exactly what challenges might come as they set about the work of sharing God’s grace in places where many are struggling with poverty and other injustice. The potential to create dependency is always there and must be consistently navigated with wisdom and transparency. 

As these CRCNA ministries encourage more of God’s children to lead with strength and assert their inherent dignity, they are committed to continuing to learn from the very people they are walking alongside—people like Nvou, whose steadfast faith shines on.

“I am determined to serve God as long as I live,” she said, “because he is our hope for tomorrow.”

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