I spent Saturday at the diocesan council meeting of the Diocese of Yola. Yola is the capital of Adamawa state – “the Sunshine State” – and is in north-east Nigeria, not far from the border with Cameroon. Northern Nigeria is more Muslim, poorer, and less populated than the rest of the country so I knew that Yola would give me a different perspective on the church than I’ve had in my first weeks in the East. This meeting confirmed it.
A major topic of conversation was the purchase of a second car for the diocese. Right now, they only have the bishop’s car and it is used for everything, from travels around the diocese (the farthest church is five hours away on bad roads) to errands in town. They need another vehicle not only for back-up but also because there is just too much demand for the one vehicle.
The trouble is that they can’t afford it. The car they want – a 2002 Camry or a 2001 Peugeot 406 – costs about $11,000 and so far the diocese has saved about two-thirds of that. There was a lengthy discussion on whether to keep saving or buy something cheaper. That turned into a conversation about maintenance and which mechanics could care for which brands of car. It is clear that the diocese is taking this quite seriously, as I could tell by the way the conversation reached mind-numbing levels of detail. (Again, for those of you who think this is a vacation, remember me in this four-hour meeting.)
The next topic after the car was completing construction on the new site for the diocesan secondary school. (I haven’t written about this yet but the government in Nigeria has essentially abdicated responsibility for education so the church plays a huge role in this.) They need 400 bags of cement to finish the next phase of construction. Each bag costs about $15. Again, they just don’t have the money so they brainstormed about how to raise that money – ask each deanery to contribute? approach richer members of congregations?
I had two thoughts on listening to these conversations. The first is how different it is to Owerri, where the diocese has about four cars, many parishes own vans, and 400 bags of cement would be nothing.
(Bishop Marcus as he introduces me to the cathedral congregation this morning.)
The second was how clear a need there is for international partnerships in a place like Yola. They have hard-working clergy here, who speak good English and manage their finances transparently. Bishop Marcus Ibrahim is young, smart, energetic, and educated in the U.S (and on Facebook). Yet not a penny of the money the diocese has spent in his six years as bishop has come from abroad. (Some of it comes from other Nigerian dioceses, including Owerri, however.) He has looked and looked for partnerships and had no luck. The reason? The divisions in the Anglican Communion. Mainline Americans (and others) are conditioned to think that Nigeria is closed territory to them. (It’s not, as my presence here demonstrates.)
But surely, you say, those conservative Episcopal/Anglicans in the U.S. and elsewhere that have made such a big deal of their support and concern for the “orthodox” church in places like Nigeria are helping out? Nope. GAFCON folks are nowhere to be found in Yola or any of these other dioceses that have serious needs. It seems like they confine themselves to the big cities, where the rich dioceses and senior bishops are.
The way in which artificial divisions among leaders are causing serious headaches – and creating serious obstacles to the mission of God – in a place like Yola infuriates me. Nigerian after Nigerian is telling me that while they disagree with me on some issues, there is no reason we cannot still work together. Yet that is not the narrative that is propagated at the highest levels of Anglicanism – and to which most people, unfortunately, seem to be listening.
Yola’s annual budget is approximately equal to that of a mid-sized Episcopal Church in the U.S. Yola – and other similar dioceses – present a terrific opportunity for mission-minded congregations throughout the Anglican Communion to form path-breaking new partnerships that would not only do important work in an important area of the world but also helpfully shake up the rather-stale discourse on alleged Anglican disunity.