Poverty And Evangelism


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Poverty And The Challenge Of New Hope Evangelism




Chimaraoke Nnamani

Governor, Enugu State



Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity
is the reward of the righteous
Proverbs 13, Verse21

Synod Lecture as part of the second session of the
Third Synod of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion,
Dioceses of Egbu, Owerri, Nigeria
Monday, November 03, 2003.


Glory of God – the
pedestal for sustenance
of our democracy.

I consider it an honour done me to stand before the clergy, laity and fellow citizens converged here in Egbu. It is indeed exciting to be considered worthy of this role when, as one of the fallible men, I even have the added burden of holding a leadership position in an era of doubt about the intentions of people at the helm of affairs.

Egbu, to me, is not just the historical town, which laid the foundation for the advancement of our people but also an inspiration for the possibilities of a new discovery of the Igbo race.

I cannot but marvel at the potency of Egbu in laying the foundation for the educational growth and development of the old Eastern Nigeria. And having had the capacity to nurture the class of clergy who produced the first translation of the Holy Book – the Bible – into Igbo Language, Egbu is an outstanding community in so many ways.

It is not then surprising that this pioneering work of Egbu and the inspiration of committed leaders provided the thrust for a people who so soon grasped the new values and altered the cultural configuration of the whole half of old Southern Nigeria.
Today, it is still a fascinating story that the development of education and Christian religion from the Creek in the South, through the entire plains of Igboland, up to the communities on the north bank of the Benue, the west bank of the Niger and even to the Cameroon, were greatly influenced by Egbu.

It is on this note that I consider your gesture a favour, an acclamation and a promotion to be with you and comment on matters relating with nation building and the desirability of prudence, morality and rectitude.

But all the same, I find it quite curious and indeed a wonder that I am being asked to take on the issue of righteousness as it exalts a nation and for that matter, …the case of Nigeria. It is not for me to determine why the original request of the Anglican Communion of the Church of Nigeria in Egbu elected to plunge a political power-player into the tricky game of moralising, not just for his colleagues but also for the extremely sober class of clergy and laity.

It is even a more curious development and challenge to get drawn into the argument of moral justification along the heady track of politicking and struggle for control of the destiny of other men.

To me, this invitation appears multi-faceted in concept and eventual execution, particularly as I am convinced that I could not have been asked to talk, by way of reining down on fellow custodians of the political order and players in the continuity of the collective heritage. I could not have come around to represent a claim of righteousness when in reality, I am fully briefed of that divine injunction which pre-determines paucity of sobriety and obeisance for factors of rulership and facilitators of State instrument of people-control.

On the foregoing, then, it becomes easy for me to admit, without a pinch of salt, that I am, currently, an actor on the political scene and as appointed within the time under review, a player in the loop in which the affairs of fellow men are decided.

But rather than consider the topic as submitted by the leadership of the Church in Egbu, I preferred to explore the plausibility of the argument of righteousness as it pertains to leadership commitment to effective social justice and the termination of blight in our society. My interest in this does not actually negate the interest of the Anglican Church in pursuing a course of infusing direction and moral challenge in leadership. It indeed seeks an understanding of one element of moral leadership treating the perception of blight as indicating unrighteousness, which in turn, appears linked with material possession against the eventual hope of dignity and acknowledgment, in our system.

The challenge, therefore, of this talk may have been posed with a view to making an in-road into the moral loop of leadership, so as to unravel the validity or otherwise of the various promises or facets of righteousness as the exultant pedestal on which the nation would ascend to higher spiritual and social plains.

Indeed, it may not be exclusive to the Anglican Church in Egbu that exalting a nation must be as in the search for the elevation of beings whose total material conditions and attitude to State and selves reveal the true texture of society in relationship with the Almighty Being.

But one thing which induces circumspection in seeing social elevation or otherwise of the individual by the prism of the clergy and laity is that temporal comprehension has always suffered the snobbery of spiritual activists, even as matters so related have had marked questions in contention. In other words, the ever elastic or indeed dynamic evolution of the church, never given to questioning doctrines as it works to upturning cultures, rides the crest of extreme conviction on the side so determined in firm opposition to the other side.

To this effect, I view the righteousness which the coveted Church expected me to review as consisting of the same doctrinaire contest of values and norms, some of which are already swamped-in by the bolder advance of denominations.

But such view or indeed trepidation with which I hold the word righteousness (particularly as it comes of the clergy and laity), as an exultant pedestal, cannot be the same of the word nation which is defined in the context of political system, social configuration and organizations, as well as the relationship between the classes functional at each given time. The abilities of a nation to meander through the intricate factors inherent in the various challenges of nation building certainly induce a measure of negation of the virtues of righteousness as may have been puritanically considered by the spiritual high and mighty.

Indeed, such abilities leading to sufficient acknowledgement and accession of rooms for operation by the factors in the nation provide the meaning and elevation of such, to a state of socio-political organisation and being called nation-state. Again, presented the other way, Sam Addler posits that the challenges of the nation in appreciating the elements of the old doctrine and in subordination or superimposition of either primordial or emergent elements of culture, exemplifies socio-cultural plurality which defines multiplicity or overall inclusion in terms of the extending social boundary of a state.

Such contention as in insisting that righteousness exalts a nation may be put through the test of the probable concept of exultation as may be acceptable in a Third World economy environments and nascent democracies.

Personally, defining exultation will be a difficult task, perhaps considering a peculiar experience in partisan politics, governance and extensive social discourses. To now attempt splitting the possible meaning of the proposal (of topic) of the Anglican Church in Egbu, I am also constrained to appreciate the divine injunction compelling leadership to causes capable of making a better living for the downtrodden, “…go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in haven…” (Matthew 19, Vs. 21, Revised standard version of the Bible).

I am aware that I run the risk of being accused of aborting the proposed discussion of righteousness, by seeking a way of relating it with scenarios of churches accepting or is it pandering to the fact of exultation riding the crave for material elevation to march side-by-side (if not ahead) possible spiritual uplift.

Challenged or not, though, the fact of exultation representing elevation, to me, seems the exemplification of the texture of spiritual being as running concurrently with the concept of well being of the individual, within the nation, within the state and within the nation state.

And whereas the secular concept of well being in each of nation, state and nation-state, as contended by Addler, typifies a marriage of convenience, the latest incidences of spiritual expansion along the old road of material opulence appears to me a major stage of our culture yet lacking in total comprehension and participation.

It is along this trend of thought, if you will pardon me, that I made this slight change of the topic of discussion and the thrust of the entire argument. I call it poverty …and the challenge of new hope evangelism.

I must confess to you that my choice of words and, as you will soon see, thrust of argument, have more to do with recurring attitudes of the flock, rather than depicting poverty as measured in clergy-definition of well being, alongside the material computation of current social/spiritual ranking.

The pursuit of the topic in question has much implication for not just the political economy question but the deprivation, privations and even ignorance and social maladjustment attendant upon the erosion of that which ought to further the self esteem of individuals in the third world setting. The Third World, as has been argued, rightly or wrongly, had its political, economic and social development halted, instant a, as colonialism knocked on the gates of the then prospering states, kingdoms and empires.

Of course, we also know that the conquistadors – those Luggards, those Stanleys, those Duncans, those Leonards and the rest - who marched on the terrain of Africa and in this case, Nigeria, were armed to the teeth with muskets. But as their economic agents waved seeds of mangoes, cassava, English corn and others, as substitute income earners to slave trade, there were smooth sailing clergy and moralising agents who waved the Holy Book – our own Bible – to bring about the dawn of a new comprehension of God and values which define righteousness and exultation.

Of course, we cannot live our lives bemoaning the definition of conscience as put across to us by the colonial agents. We cannot even ignore the fact of the new cultures halting some vicious practices which celebrated might and supremacy of some individuals – the brutish nature – but we may easily explain our sluggish acceptance, in totality, of the emerging order. This is simply on account of the expected disorientation and eventual pauperisation of various classes, including erstwhile leadership groups.

Righteousness – when defined in terms slightly alien, alongside social ranking, which rides the same concept of material elevation as the direct relationship with the Supreme Being – will certainly augment a willy-nilly attitude of the populace to the preachments of emergent pastoral class. In the event that social ranking, as urged by Wendell, is defined in terms of accumulation and possession – that is ihe enwe enwe – definition of evidences of good reach to the supreme being also comes close to an interpretation of a vast blessing from He whom we supplicate to.

Mind you again, righteousness and the attendant exultation, we have been made to accept, do not ride the objective analysis of logic or science of thought. In that regard, we have no explanation, let alone powers, to question the emergence of pontiffs from anywhere. After all, the Son of our God emerged from a “social nowhere” and did he not change the world?

Unfortunately, we have, lately, in the forty three years of the life of our great nation, Nigeria, come through social, political and economic turmoils which had forced down or reversed many of our men and women into the statuses of “social nowhere.” Of these are great artists, thinkers and imaginative writers, engineers, medical doctors and of course, the downtrodden, who ought to retain the creative power to make impacts on the social firmament.

What we may call a spiral of the fortune as these can only further its grip on the populace if, for any reason, there appears “no hope” on the horizon. I do not join the others who seek explanations in pummeling the elite as they indicted what they call the comprador whose structures provide the leverage for economic exploitation of the nations in Africa. What matters to me and which indeed is a puzzle, is the extent of degradation, deprivation and squalor occasioned by the down turn.

We may look at the statistics lately. Nigeria occupies the 154th position of the 172 countries in the global marginal index. So, of the countries in which citizens are decidedly poor and barely subsisting, Nigeria is only better than 18 countries. In proper definition, citizens in Nigeria can only boast of better conditions and possible hope of ever living “blessed life” than those in 18 of other 171 countries.

This may surprise you, considering what is called the national fortune. Yet, the truth is that on the eve of democracy in 1999, it is estimated that over 93 million Nigerians, that is about 87 per cent of the 120 million citizens, were almost hopelessly poor. I can guess that many of us have been caught unawares by this development, what with the incontestable fact that in 1964, the economy of the old Eastern Region was the fastest growing among world contemporaries, at the rate of 12.8 per cent.

In that era, across Nigeria, it was estimated that with 9.87 per cent and 6.9 per cent growth rate for the old West and Northern Regions respectively, over 84 per cent of the overall national population was living above poverty line. (They were well to do). Perhaps, because national leadership and economic managers hardly prepared the ground to sustain the tempo of development, poverty took an upward swing of 8.1 per cent, bringing the level of cumulative poverty to 28.1 per cent in 1980. Again, for possible laxity and unresponsiveness on the part of managers of state, poverty had to jump from 46.3 per cent in 1995 to 65.5 per cent in 1996, thereby putting across a threat of possible despair and hopelessness among 67.1 million of Nigerians.

At the level we are now, that is the level of poor social ranking for the individual, there is the tendency for the despair of the pre-democracy days to continue in the promotion of dead tight end for the people. This may manifest in that it may become impossible to effectively scheme a way around the ugly situation without recourse to “easy and pleasant answers – hope” which, for its lack of exact scientific grounding, will provide no panacea.

I want you to take note that the poverty we talk of is one which manifests in lack of potable water, good roads, employment, education, good food, housing, clothing, electricity, good medical care and the others which are specified as indicating well being. Mind you also that it is even possible that many of us will not readily accept that the current magnitude of poverty has actually manifested in people lacking good clothing, not as in returning to the bare-backed cave man existence, but as in failing to protect the body against infestations.

Well, I have presented this picture as painted by the various reports on global human development and it is suitable that I attempt an understanding of the various repercussions of the growing rank of the poor in the community. In the rural areas, there is always this resignation and tendency to seek the intervention of the deities, not just to get better social conditions but also to terminate the evil agents “perceived” as the purveyors of endless misfortunes. In most cases, the change of attitude arising from hopes of successful supplication to the gods, heighten the confidence to confront the evil machinery called poverty.

In fact, in the words of Ogboo Anazodo in Onye Kwe Chiya Ekwe, many rural dwellers in the Northern Igboland confront the evil with the belief that the gods would be mobilised in their favour. In many instances, it is advisable that you do not contend that it is not a sure venture to assault the damning evil of poverty.

The point I make here is that what looks like a powerful force manifesting as poverty can induce a certain level of actions which in transmutation vanquishes the threat of lack and deprivation.

Somehow, urbanisation in the mainstream areas of Igboland as studied did not come in form of the structured economic format of Europe and other first world countries. What you have in the third world is what Akpe defined as come-one-come-all migratory phenomenon, leading to the sprouting of cluster towns and shanties across economic/mining sites. Usually, these eruptions called towns or urban areas develop without plans and without provisions of pipe-borne water, electricity, schools, recreational facilities and the others, which, if available, should sustain proper living. The regime of lack and eventual loss of self-esteem, which may have been available in the abandoned rural background of the urban dweller, leaves room for mere “hope against hope.”

Please note that when we talk of availability in the rural areas, we project that the mechanical rural setting has its age-long institutions for the development of the individual, which in contradistinction, runs against the sudden disorientation arising from fleeing to the urban areas as strangers, undefended migrants, dependent social stragglers and possible object of suspicion and crime.

The situation is usually compounded by the urban, if not cosmopolitan, nature of the new towns, which leaves the migrant individual a dependent and pursuer of newer values. The pursuit of new values, Lasswell argues, is the major source of disorientation and the inability to clinch the fine elements of such newer values forms the basis for “hopelessness.”

According to the new Webster’s dictionary of English language, hopelessness as against hope, which is a confident expectation that a desire will be fulfilled, represents nil-dream: affording no reason for hope.

Viewed from the prism of the clergy, the secular definition, as that of Webster, stands challenged because in the realm of the spiritual, there is always need to hope, even when to all mortal men and their sciences, there is never no-hope. And then, who are we to challenge those who have elected to pursue a level of piety and spiritual elevation to represent us before the Almighty!

It is on the strength of this scenario that I appreciate the incidences of poverty, ill health and the subsequent intervention of hope – reasonable or otherwise. It is also on this note that I bring forward my question, how real is the gulf between secular hopelessness and temporal hopelessness, if we assume that each can be the defining point for accession to God, depending on levels of righteousness?

We shall take on this along the trend of the wave of New Hope evangelism sweeping across the country today.

Max Oxhion defined New Hope as staging perpetuity of expectations. According to him, it comes on the prevalence of old wishes finding substances of fulfillment even as immediate past factors foreclose the realisation of such.

Of course, Oxhion is secular and may not be the final homing point to appreciate the prevalence of expectations hinged on the promises of spirit-filled pastors and men of God. He cannot be. But the point the sociologist tries to make is that New Hope does not stem from emergent wishes as it does from new belief and expectations that old worries, old lack, poverty, ignorance and disease would be terminated.

Indeed, Oxhion is apt in the further elaboration of this phenomenon as producing stages of expectation and wishes for fulfillment in ways depicting an exercise in extension of the old frontiers. In that regard, he posits that the matter would not be limited to expectations or emergent elements of hope which take the rein in the psyche of the people.

Viewed from the platform of this secular writer, those pastoral activists directing the trend of hope for the purpose of prolonging the belief of impending fulfillment retain the burden of re-inventing and or explaining the dimensions of new hope or otherwise, fulfillment.

Mind you, what is in question is the pattern of response of the poverty-stricken in the various stages of social ladder. Coming from the background of our belief that each man’s economic status means an explicit interpretation of how blessed he is, isn’t it likely then that more efforts would be sought to show obeisance and accession to God? Lately, the refrains that …our God is not a poor God; …financial reward for believers in Christ, and such others, only confirm the challenge of the pastor and man of God to constantly renew hope and extend the frontiers of expectations.

One curious trend in the society is that there appears to be a gulf between the rural and urban patterns of responses. Rural blight, standing side-by-side with urban squalor, harbours some social factors which condition the people to respond the various ways they do, not one in negation of the other but each in finding value and locality sensibility to the emerging trend. The words are fate and defiance for the rural and urban areas, respectively.

One compelling influence though has always been the ubiquitous nature of modern pastorate, which, as currently explored, unfolds in unusual dynamism and consequent following. On that plain, it became easy for the responses to be coordinated on the decipherable interest of the local people. So, when it is so confounding and there are no explanations, the village folk denounce the threat of poverty and blight, chanting their confidence in the Almighty:
onye nwere chukwu,
nwere ihe nile!
(he who has God, has all).

And to really solidify the truism of God’s supremacy, particularly in evident accomplishment, the rural folk yell:
He is a miracle working God,
He is a miracle-working God,
He’s the Alpha,
and Omega,
He’s a miracle-working God.

This response in equanimity reveals the rural folk or predominantly mechanical societies as electing to leave it all for God.

The flavour of complete reliance as exhibited by the rural folk cannot be said to negate the tendency to reveal a hint of rebellion and deviance among the urban folk. Of course, the city people would not contend that He is not a miracle working God. But they will insist that much as the powers-that-be would not terminate the ever-present poverty and degradation, they have the Almighty on the side of their army.

In fact, in many instances, they roar at the elite who in pretension claim nearness to God that:
If Jesus says yes,
nobody can say no!

Sometimes, they fail to mask their irritation at the failure of leadership to increase or realise their hopes by snarling:
Ka anyi jee zigara ha ozi,
Kanyi je gwa ha na chi anyi ka nma!

(We must go and make it clear to them that our God is better than theirs).

But what reveals the extreme tendency of the urban folk to stoutly urge the supremacy of God and their total reliance on Him for the realisation of their hope is in the rendition;
Jesus na you be Oga,
Jesus na you be Oga;
Every other god na so so wayo,
Jesus na you be Oga!

In a way, both the urban and rural poor sometimes miss the point that both the rich and mighty are equally desirous of the blessing of the Lord and would hope that in their imperious stead, their own enemies and other threats should come to grief while they triumph.

In fact, considered from the point of socio-economic uncertainty and the shift of fortune which characterise third word economies, there is hardly a definite structure and class of those who hinge their existence on New Hope Evangelism. Indeed, much as the high and mighty revel in contentment and possibly scorn the readiness of the poor to seek a way out through the New Hope trend, they pursue their own piety and reverence of God so as not to lose what they have.

But if it turns out that there may have been a gulf between the poor and rich in their respective perception of God, it is not certain that the resignation and defiance as variously expressed by the downtrodden provide the entire way out. This is not contending that hope, riding the crest of faith, cannot be the panacea for all debilities.

What raises questions in some minds is the tendency of the New Hope trend, where it is not skilfully guided by gifted pastors and men of God, to induce laid-back attitude, leading, sometimes, to defiance of secular, scientific, solutions to matters as threatening as even terminal illnesses. In many of such cases, some adherents pursue their New Hope on the track of their newfound faith being the be-all and end-all.

Avalon B Dalet, the author of The New Millennium: Christ and Mankind, declared that if you do not go to the bank of the river you shall not cross it; if you have no education at all, you cannot rightfully hope of becoming a professor. The implication of this is that the extent of poverty in our land, which is made more threatening by ignorance, poses greater threat to exercises in New Hope than the claimed failure of the populace to embrace the New Ways of life.

It also goes to signify that a strong challenge awaits those who have taken up the calling to direct the New Hope system with the arduous task of getting the common herd from relapsing into superstition in the name of faith.

Of course, faith is everything in the realm of the Almighty. As already pointed out in the Holy Book, there is no expression of piety and purity without faith. It is considered a gift to he who is faithful, because as conceptualised, it is the hope of things yet to manifest.

However, more questions have risen as to the validity of the exercise of the poor who throw in the little they have to chase faith in eldorado. It is contended in some quarters that if properly guided towards productive relation with factors of society, they would understand that what they seek are possible in objective interpretation by those who are also gifted or imbued with the technique of accomplishing them.

Frankly, I cannot pretend to be un-perturbed by a possible wrong interpretation of my thrust of discourse. I cannot pretend to ignore the fact of passion associated with matters of faith and the poor. But I am quite at home with the Holy injunction that matters of material accumulation may not be justly termed the singular indicator of God’s blessings. I also pander to the injunction that whatever condition we find ourselves, with prayers, with creative relations with factors of economic endeavour and with perseverance, we can still change to something better.

It is on that note that we salute the spirit of the pioneers who sustained the Egbu tradition in studied Christian evangelism, weathering, in the process, such storms and vitiating factors as emergency goals and quick returns.

That blessing of God, that foresight and the limitless dividends, which are today furthered by the democratic culture of more ideas from every subject, now strengthens us as we hail like our common folk:
God na helele,
God na waya o,
God na helele,
God na waya o;
Nobody be like am,
Nobody be like am o,
Ewo o, nwanne m, God na helele!

And as appointed in time, these and more, making our day, pronounce our commitment and adherence to the cause of those who are yet to find their feet in the emerging economic scenario of a third world democracy, and for which we say, as usual,

To God Be The Glory.

1. To God be the glory! great things He hath done!
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the Life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son
And give Him the glory! Great things He hath done!

2. O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

3. Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our rapture, when Jesus we see.



1. Howard, G. Leshe: The expansion of God; Orbis Books, New York, 1981.
2. Booth, S. Newell (editor): African Religion: Symposium; Nok Publishers, Lagos, 1977.
3. Daleth, B. Avalon: The New Millennium: Christ and Mankind; School of Universal Law (SOUL), Christ Lighthouse, Aba, 1999.
4. Peschke, H. Karl: Christian Ethics (Moral Theology in the Light of Vatican II); Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 1994.
5. Robertson, Roland (editor): Sociology of Religion; Pengium Books, New York, 1984.
6. Querry, Emile (Monsignor): The Social Teaching of the Church; St. Paul Publications, New York, 1961.




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