By faith the universe was framed out of nothing that ever existed, the Bible records. So is every vision that is born of God. Often, the birth of such a vision is never conceived, thought of or planned by man; most times, it is spontaneous, and then charts a direction for itself. This is the way Calvary Ministries, CAPRO, one of the foremost non- denominational African faith missions, began in 1975, a movement which as at today, is working in 19 African countries with a keen eye on the Arab world, and with over 450 missionaries on staff. Exactly like a mustard seed.
Product of Revival
No other time in the history of the Nigerian Church would have best favoured the birth of Calvary Ministries like the time it began. Through the work of the Scripture Union, S.U, the Fellowship of Christian Students, FCS, the Nigerian Fellowship of Evangelical students, NIFES, and other students groups, there were stirrings in the Nigerian colleges and university campuses in the 70s which led to spiritual renewal among students. The love for the Lord and passion for souls that became evident among the students at that time is unprecedented in the history of the Nigerian Church’s involvement in soul winning and has not been since that time.
Bayo Famonure, the very first Chief Executive Secretary of Calvary Ministries, who himself got caught up in this fire of revival in the 70s, refers to CAPRO as a product of a revival movement. “Something was happening in Nigeria at that time, mainly in the schools, which was affecting the campuses. It was revival and the Holy Spirit movement, the Word and Spirit combined,” said Famonure.
Famonure said that God used the S.U and the FCS to begin the High school level of Bible teaching, and as a result those who came out to be missionaries were like Bible school graduates. Recalling his encounter with two Nigerian pastors sometime ago while visiting a church in Manchester, England, both products of this move at that time, one of the pastors said that the Christian Union was the only Bible School he went to; that they had to buy Matthew Henry Commentary and a Bible Concordance for study by the students.
Some of the students who caught this fire began sending evangelism teams to villages which eventually gave birth to missionary movements like Calvary Ministries, CAPRO, Christian Missionary Foundation, CMF, other support agencies and mission groups too numerous to mention. About 45 mission agencies registered with Nigerian Evangelical Mission Association, NEMA are products of this fire. Said Famonure: “…We knew God was there; we knew who He was; and we understood what it meant to follow God and to obey Him. This knowledge of God’s Word was the cause of the fire…Parents, churches, fiercely opposed these students, but they keyed in to God.” During those days there were cults in the university campus, but reports say that the Christian fellowship groups conquered them effectively.
At that time, it was the norm to see a Christian sister on a three day fast for the salvation of her father. Famonure would never forget a brother in a Polytechnic in Nigeria who invited him to break a fast and pray with him. This young man had been fasting for fifteen days without food, but only water. When asked what he was fasting for, he said, “I want to know God the more, and for the truth, to know Jesus, and for the salvation of the unsaved in my area.” This was the kind of passion and love that generation had for God and the lost. Not like the generation of Christians today who fast for breakthrough, big cars and big houses. “We are a very pathetic generation,” Famonure laments.
Famonure, again recalls a young but strange pastor at this early beginning of CAPRO. He would collect his monthly salary as a pastor and a teacher, and bring both to him for God’s work. The pastor brought all and told him he would trust God for sustenance and God did sustain him. This man is a very highly placed official in the Nigerian government today.
A Vision turns to a Mission
At the National Youth Service camps, the students knew they had an assignment – to preach the gospel. Famonure, recalling his days at the NYSC camp in 1974, said that the students had outreaches in different places like Sokoto, Maiduguri, Zaria- all in the north of Nigeria. Anywhere they went, they preached.
Amos Aderonmu, the current International Director of Calvary Ministries, who for many years worked closely with Famonure, right from the inception of the mission, recalls how he went for missions to the northern part of Nigeria at this time. Amos had been constrained by Pa Elton to wait. However, at this time, this prophet whom God used to give many Nigerian youth direction told him, “Now, you can go.” Amos came to the north of Nigeria to meet some other zealous youths on Youth Service from Western Nigeria who had a burden for outreaches like himself. Amos, therefore, joined these young university graduates to go for many of these outreaches. As this was happening, these youths never knew that God was incubating something that would later influence the history of mission in Nigeria and Africa. The Zaria city crusade in 1974 was to be the trigger.
Some of these young graduates banded themselves together to lay siege on this Islamic city, a thing that has never happened before. You could preach in any other place, may be outside the city walls, that is, if you are courageous enough, but never inside the city, the Emir’s fortress. This was a city that stands as one of the symbols of Islam in Nigeria.
These young men began to meet every weekend to fast and pray for the crusade. They never expected what they saw.
Naïve and not knowing the grave implications of the step they were about to take, these men with students from the nearby university and other high schools and colleges stormed the city. Before the Islamic Hausa dwellers realized what was happening, a young man dressed in white caftan had mounted the rostrum and preached. And surprisingly, some began to come out for alter calls, but it was followed by a hail of stones. They ran out of the city, bleeding. As they re-grouped to pray, a clear burden came upon them to reach out to these Islamic people. This was what gave birth to Calvary Ministries, an African non-denominational Faith Movement that would begin the sending of missionaries to the Islamic north of Nigeria and later, other parts of Africa.
This first crop of young people that formed this Vanguard had nothing but God. They worked almost with bare hands. They lived by faith. It was T.L. Osborne Foundation, through Pa Elton that gave them their first vehicle, a Peugeot 404 for outreaches. This was used extensively in the north of Nigeria and even in Niger Republic. In addition to this, Osborne provided for Amos upkeep, (Amos was the only full time evangelist of CAPRO at this time) and maintained the vehicle for sometime.
It is commonly said in Calvary Ministries, “In CAPRO, you pay to serve…,” not vice versa. It was very true at this time. What do we say of a young man who resigned his job at Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria to join this ‘crazy’ group, only to be told by God to give all the money he had saved to meet a need in the mission? This is his story: “I had just resigned my job and joined…I attended a meeting where they mentioned a need to buy a Renault car owned by a white missionary. He was going back to the West and had decided to sell it to the mission. As I went home and prepared to go to bed that night, I could not sleep. I did everything, turned off the light, yet could not sleep. God was raising the issue of the money in my bank account; that I should give it for this vehicle. The price was exactly the amount I had in my account. I said to God, ‘Is it because of this matter that you did not allow me to sleep?’ I took my cheque book, signed off all the money, and told God, ‘this is it.’ I left it on the table, and I slept.’ What a strange way to join a group! This man, still with the mission, and one of the leaders, is still doing exploits for God.
Others like this missionary were to pay other prices. Even those who were part of the mission but not on full time missionary work would open their homes, even at the dead of the night, for missionaries on transit to or from the missions field. There was love and sacrifice.
Secrets to the Fire
What accounted for this fire? These young men had evangelical zeal. They also had faith. They knew that God’s Word was true. Recounting this, Famonure said, any time they met to pray, they would pray from Genesis to Revelation. “People took time to study God’s word. When God said it was settled nothing else was important…even if He asked you to jump into the fire you would jump,” he added.
These young men also believed that heaven was the destination; that this world is just a bus stop. People were careful not to do anything that will offend God. “Our goal was heaven and we were going there… So, we kept saying those days that we have a commonwealth above…whatever was happening here was not an issue,” said Famonure.
Again, they knew that there is a world, but all that it offered could not entice them. They had a little poem that went around:
‘Dead to the world and all its passions
And those who hate the ugly cross.’
This strange group of people kept saying that the life of a man does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses, that the life of a man are not things you can see, the vehicles, the houses etc,.
They saw God as the ultimate ruler in the affairs of man. They were saying that the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and His Christ.
And then they were sure that God gave them to one another. There was no Jew or Gentile. The members of the CAPRO team were all one.
The focus, strength, self denial, sacrifice, faith, consecration and evangelical zeal that have marked Calvary Ministries over the years are traceable to this time in the history of the Nigerian Church. Why the mission is seen as an unusual, and sometimes strange kind of group, is because of its background. This is what gave it its solid foundation.
Rekindling the fire among students
What does God want to do with his people in the days ahead? The years ahead are very fantastic years. The next few years will determine a lot of things in the history of the world. Everything is being put in place by God himself so that there can be a closure of the ages. We have a very key role to play in this closure movement of God. There is a lot of rot in the Church, said Famonure, and they are still coming in floods. And God has raised CAPRO to stand and say it is enough, he added. But how can we if nothing is done to rekindle the fire?
The emergence of denominational student groups in Nigerian universities was a great blow to students’ involvement in missions. It was becoming difficult if not impossible to penetrate the students fold again and awaken in them the mission vision. As if in compliance to the directives from ‘above,’ these groups closed their walls, but at the expense of the missions cause. Therefore, the right amount of manpower needed to face the evangelization of Africa became drastically reduced.
However, there is hope for Africa, nay the world. There is increased concern in mission circles today to rekindle the fire of missions among students. Sometime in February, 2004, NEMA agencies hosted ‘Gofest’, in Nigeria, an inter-campus and youth mission conference. More than 500 signed up to go for missions. Niyi Gbade reports that in 1985, over 60,000 students in South Korea came out for missions at the Olympic Stadium amidst heavy downpour, which is why the Korean missionaries are found everywhere.
NIFES is putting missions in the front burner. It was reported that about 2000 students volunteered for foreign missions at their National Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, in November, 2004. In America (Mount Hermon), where the first 100 students committed their lives to missions during the Student Volunteer Movement, SVM that began in 1886, and later sent over 20,000 students overseas for missions, another SVM-2 has been re-launched, “Calling a new generation of message bearers to a life of abandoned devotion to Jesus Christ and the urgent global proclamation of the gospel.”
There is a strong feeling that the kind of things that happened many years ago in CAPRO should be rekindled in the lives of the new generation of missionaries, students and churches so that we will come into our place in God’s scheme of things. Will this begin with you?
By Festus Ndukwe With Bayo Famonure