Saint Simon’s Church Ikperejere’s centenary of glory
Bishop Onuoha’s bellow from the pulpit sounded hard and strong like the vocal projections of a televangelist, “if you were then born twins, you will be thrown into Ajo Ohia (evil forest) to die” he declared his voice aided by the gentle hamathan breeze drifted across the corners of the expansive auditorium of Saint Simon’s Anglican Church Ikperejere; the refuge church.
As if jolted by the sting of a strange ant, my little daughter Onyinye, who had been quietly rifling through the centenary brochure whispered into my ear, Daddy! Daddy! Did the pastor say that twins will die?” No! I quickly retorted, making facial gestures to warn her against any contemplated cross-examination; leaning on basic parenting skills has always helped one to evade such infant probing unhurt.
The just concluded centenary celebration of Saint Simons Church Ikperejere was more than a routine religious worship; it offered an atmosphere of communion, bringing to harmony the people, the mood and the purpose.
The Saint Simons choir was at their ready best; their melodious renditions of the church history and yuletide ministrations offered a soul-searching reflection of God’s grace in the lives of the community. The sheer expression of love amongst the congregation who thronged in from far and near was a colorful reunion, as if to bid farewell to the inglorious past of deviant religious practices predating 1916.
From Cathedral Church of Saint Paul Ezeoke Nsu (1913) to Saint Simon’s Church Ikperejere (1916) and many others, all presented a rehash of the old testament stories (Jeremiah 32:35; Leviticus 20:2-3) and the narrative of Chinua Achebe’s fictional Umuofia in Things Fall Apart. The Bishop of Okigwe South Diocese, Rt Rev DOC Onuoha gave the centenary congregation a chilling reminder of Ikperejere community before the advent of Christianity in 1916. It was a sad evolutionary era, when ignorance and illiteracy were well-heeled, pronouncing life and death on those who sought salvation outside the altar of popular deities.
Infanticide, the abomination of twins and other multiple births, the killing of Albinos and children with edematous malnutrition (Kwashiokor) were some of the dark and dirty practices in many parts of Igbo land. The culture of polygamy which is loathed by Christianity was then acknowledged as lofty triumph in manhood.
It is today one of the many ironies of late-twentieth-century that the first set of living octuplets in memorable history born in USA in 1998 are children of Igbo parents. The six girls and two boys who were born by the Chukwus (Nkem and Iyke) all survived except one of them who died a week after birth.
I recently laid my hands on a publication, authored by Bryant G. Wood, a renowned biblical archaeologist and Research Director of Associates for Biblical Research who reminded how much the present day Iraq (widely recorded as Babylon, Land of Shinar, and Mesopotamia) once represented a historic homeland to many notable personalities and activities as recorded in the Bible. Ironically, the same Iraq alongside Saudi Arabia, Somalia and a couple other countries have institutionalized the persecution of Christians as a state policy.
Pointedly, the Saint Simon’s church centenary celebration offered three main benefits, the first was an opportunity to celebrate all those who fought for the propagation of the word of God in the last 100 years; the rebellious faithful as they are called: Nwachukwu Josaih Nwokenna and Daniel Okeke who confronted the god of Duruonuna to fish in the stream on Eke Day; a crime which punishment was then a deserving death.
Other faithfuls included the early worshippers in the Obiama Nnaduru of Umudobi : Ikoro Ochara, James Ochara, Samuel Ezeakolam, Abraham Amadikwa, Jacob Onyemaechi and his wife Bernice, Akahieobi Nwosu, Moses Okeke and Timothy Nwokeogu. There were also later day faithfuls who held on strongly the candle of light in the church. Some of them include: Lawrence Osuigwe, Benson Achareke, Francis Nwokeogu, Christopher Okoro, Lemchi Ezurike, Godwin Nzeadibemma and Henry Nwofe all of blessed memory. Others who are still serving in the church are: RBI Ogoke, Roland Nwokeogu, Jonas Okeke, Sam Nwaire amongst many others.
The second benefit was to appraise how much Christianity has advanced human development within the community. Some of the critical questions that easily come to mind are: What has happened to evangelism and spiritual well-being of the church? What is the literacy penetration of Ikperejere Community, How much access do the people of the community now have to basic medicare? How many members of the church can afford three meals a day? Does the church have any initiative to support the aged and widowed? These questions albeit rhetoric seek to draw our attention to some of the significant baits, which the early church used in their quest for the propagation of the gospel.
Defining the future of Saint Simon’s church; a subject which flies in the face of many syncretic practices and self-styled definition of worship, faith and the cross by the generation- Z (the generation after millennials).
In spite of suffering denigration in some circles as having less attention span than goldfish, inevitably in about 15 years from now, Gen-Z will account for over 65% of the community population in the entire Okigwe South Diocese; which makes it such a big deal for the Diocese to reclaim the Christian youth on the path of hardwork, evangelism, service and deferred gratification.
The foundational success of this journey especially in semi-rural communities such as Ikperejere lies in hand-holding the families on the one hand and breathing life into the faith-based associations and Voluntary Clubs which have waned in relevance,
Many people would recall with nostalgia the roles played by the Boy’s brigade, Girls guild, and the Red Cross groups in attaining laudable feats in recent history; serving as a virile feeder teams and leadership recruitment centers for the Anglican Church in the 20th century.
For instance, it is doubtful whether the 1883 vision of Sir William Alexander Smith, the founder of Boys Brigade movement can affectively adapt to the behavioral realities of the current generation without undergoing some form of structural rebranding. Such efforts will seek to build an alignment with the nuances of the target youth generation without compromising the association’s spiritual objectives.
Interestingly, the foundation of the church was laid by young minds who had little education at the time. The shared courage and conviction of the Centenary planning Committee chairman Comrade Sam Nwaire and the Vicar of the Church Archdeacon CC Akaniro will require the support of the members of the community across the world to lay the foundation for the next centenary of their home church.
The 70-paged history of Saint Simon’s Church Ikperejere titled Celebrating a Century of evangelism in Saint Simon’s Church Ikperejere is strongly recommended for every Christian family. It captures the sacrifice, suspense and the conflict of seeding Christianity amongst the Ikperejere people of Imo State, South East Nigeria. The book is easy to read but difficult to forget. It is written in simple English language such that a primary school pupil, secondary and even adult education student can understand with little reference to the dictionary.
The setting, characters and plot combine to effortlessly guide the reader into strong reflections on the present sociological contradictions of a country which today boasts of the highest number of churches in the world yet burdened by the epidemic of ethnic theology and wanton persecution of its members.
Ezurike is of Saint Simon’s Church Ikperejere, Imo State and also a member of Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals.
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