Daily Reading for December 31 • Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop in the Niger Territories, 1891
The little Mission Church of St. Stephen’s was opened on the 1st January, 1872, and from time to time converts were baptized, and the little assembly of believers increased. But the superstition of the priests and their votaries constantly made the little church the object of their persecuting hatred. Again and again its members were compelled to meet in the secrecy of the forest for prayer. The hour of martyrdom had come; some few could not stand the test, but very many gloriously held faithful to their Lord.
One instance of this is the case of Isiah Bara and Jonathan Apiafe, who were important persons in their country before they embraced Christianity. From that moment, however, they were bitterly persecuted, and finally, for the crime of carrying the body of a poor Christian slave to burial, they were publicly impeached by the Juju priests. Offered meat sacrificed to idols, they preferred death to such dishonour of their Lord. Then they were bound with chains, and put in a shed in the bush to die of starvation; but in secret some of their brethren conveyed to them a little food at the risk of their own lives. . . . For twelve months these faithful ones endured this painful bondage, until relieved at last by the urgent appeal of some English traders; and they looked, on emerging out of their captivity, more like wasted skeletons than men.
Under such circumstances Bishop Crowther and his son, Archdeacon Dandeson Crowther, appealed to the Christians everywhere to aid the suffering mission with their prayers, and from all parts of the world letters of sympathy reached them, and in Tennyson’s figure we may say, the golden chains of prevalent prayers bound once more the round world about the feet of God. A special prayer-meeting was held, too, at the Delta; and, after it, the Archdeacon hastened to the chiefs to ask them to withdraw the persecuting hand against the Christians.
Three years afterwards the wife of a chief who called himself Captain Hart, died. She had been the very Jezebel of the persecution, and had urged her husband to kill many Christians. Vainly did Crowther seek access to her on her death-bed; the priests, to whom she had always given largely of money and presents, prevented this. When she had breathed her last, the chief, her husband, was inconsolable, and was grieved to think that his Juju idol had failed to save her. Crowther found him, and tried to comfort the broken-hearted man. He says, “After expressing our sympathy, I added that all the words of comfort we can tell him will fail to heal the sore in his heart; but we who are believers in Jesus Christ have a ‘balm’ which heals such wounds; there is a Physician, above every earthly physician, who administers it into our hearts, and a change takes place for good. Should he like us to tell him of that balm for his broken heart?” He answered, “Yes, tell me, and I will listen to you.” After reading from the book of Samuel, of the punishment of David’s sin, Mr. Crowther tells us he “turned to Psalm 51, and carefully read the whole to him, and concluded by pointing him to Jesus Christ, who has shed His blood for us all, for him (the chief), for me, for every man, and he that believeth in His name shall be saved. I closed my Bible, he sighed and said, ‘God’s word is true and is good. Come at another time, and tell me more.’”
The death of his wife, the failure of his gods and priests to deliver him in his trouble, and, most of all, the good words of the Lord, had such an effect on the chief that some time afterwards, when, in his turn, he waited death, a striking scene took place. He renounced his faith in his idols in the most distinct manner, ordering them to be thrown into the river. This was done on the day of his funeral, and the people in a great fury wreaked their vengeance on the luckless jujus, dashing them into the river and breaking them up into fragments. Thus this Ahab died, and his household gods were scattered abroad.
From Samuel Crowther: The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop of the Niger by Jesse Page (London: S.W. Partridge and Co., 1892); found at http://anglicanhistory.org/africa/crowther/page1892/10.html