It is the 6th of December 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
As with yesterday’s show on Clement of Alexandria, it is good to be reminded of the deep Christian roots in Africa. And the history of our faith and the continent are not only ancient, nor are they only north of the Sahara.
Today, the largest African country has the largest population of Christians- Nigeria, with almost 100 Million Christians in a population of just over 200 million. Most African countries have a dominant religion: Islam or Christianity. In Nigeria, the population is most divided, with just under 100 Million Muslims and a few ethnoreligious groups. It is an outlier in Africa. And this has led to a good deal of strife. It is estimated that in this century, over 60,000 Christians were killed. The organization Open Doors ranks Nigeria 7th on its World Watch list for Christian persecution.
Part of the problem is the makeup of Nigeria as an amalgamation of West African tribes via British colonization, indirect rule, and then independence in 1960. As the wealthiest of African nations, there is an incentive to work together, but intra-faith violence has been its Achilles heel.
It was in Nigeria that Elijah Abubaker Yisa was born in 1946. His parents, both Muslim, died when he was young, and he was sent to live with his Christian uncle. He would receive primary school education as well as traditional Koranic studies. With his uncle, he attended St. John’s Anglican Church and was both baptized and confirmed there. He attended a teachers' college and taught secondary school until his call to the ministry. He attended the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. He graduated and was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1977.
His work was primarily in missions to the Muslim population- something that could inflame local rivalries as he moved across various dioceses in the region.
His emphasis was on church planting; he believed that once a church grew to 300, it was time to start a new church- while African mega churches tend to be the rule, Elijah Yisa emphasizes discipleship and education on a small scale. He would disciple small groups and encourage young men to get vocational training.
At the end of the last century, Nigeria was rocked with a number of military coups- once a party won an election, they could establish their party’s rule and cancel elections, which could lead to another coup for elections- but often elections that disestablished regions known to oppose the current regime.
Such was the case in the aftermath of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections In Nigeria in 1996. It was in Doko, Northern Nigeria, where indigenous tribes were outlawed from participating in the election that sought to establish Muslim rule, that riots broke out. Buildings were burned, and the military was called to crush the rebellion. The rebels took sanctuary in the Anglican Church in Doko, Elijah Yisa’s church. He allowed them to stay, and then on the 6th of December of 1996, he took action. Yisa donned his priestly robes and walked out of the church to confront the military. Upset that arms had gone missing, Yisi was able to negotiate peace between the parties. A massacre was averted, and Yisi became a symbol of peace across Nigeria beset by civil war.
In 1999, many of the northern states in the country elected Muslim rule and established Sharia law with blasphemy laws that made Christian missions difficult. While in a southern state, Elijah Yisi became a target as his ministry was to Muslims, and in contrast to the two religions, he would be guilty of blasphemy under Sharia law.
It was in the federal capital city of Abuja at St. John’s Cathedral that Elijah Yisi was working and living in 2006 when two assailants assassinated the reverend. The assassins were never found, and Elijah left behind not only his ministry but a wife and four children. A man who staked his life on the Gospel and in a dangerous West African context: Elijah Abubake Yisi, born in 1947, was 59 years old.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- some second Advent talk from Jesus in the book of Luke, the 20th chapter:
34 Don't spend all of your time thinking about eating or drinking or worrying about life. If you do, the final day will suddenly catch you 35 like a trap. This day will surprise everyone on earth. 36 Watch out and keep praying that you can escape all that is going to happen and that the Son of Man will be pleased with you.
37 Jesus taught in the temple each day, and he spent each night on the Mount of Olives. 38 Everyone got up early and came to the temple to hear him teach.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of December 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
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The show is written and read by a man who got Spotify and is trying to make his Christmas playlists available there- search my name there or on my preferred Apple Music- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.