The 2018 Christian Revival Gathering of the Southern Nigeria Conference was a joyous moment as members who left the conference five years ago returned to the fold and were welcomed back with open arms.
“As people of The United Methodist Church, we believe we can do better and more when we are together than when we stay apart,” said Yohanna Nzakobature, leader of the returned members. “We made the decision to return to our original base because the need for unity in The United Methodist Church, both local and global, is a necessity.”
The Christian Revival is an annual evangelistic and missional gathering for church members to come together for prayer, preaching, Bible studies and singing.
This year, the event was held March 14-18 at Low Cost Primary School in Jalingo, Taraba State, with the theme, “Therefore go and be faithful and fruitful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
More than 12,300 members of the conference attended the four-day program. The appearance of the breakaway members ignited thunderous shouts from the crowd.
“This is the most joyous day this year in the life and ministry of our conference, as the long awaited day has arrived,” said conference lay leader Barrister Peter Ngai. “Today, we are happy to welcome and receive back our brothers and sisters whom we missed for the past five years.”
He encouraged all members of the conference “to embrace each other as members of one body of Christ and continue to work for the unity of the entire church. We shall continue to embrace each other irrespective of our tribes and geographic locations,” he said.
Members from the Yusa Nyandang District in Lau, the Kakulu District in Zing, and the Kpantisawa and Yorrogabas districts in Yorro broke away from the Southern Nigeria Conference in 2013, shortly after the election of Bishop John Wesley Yohanna. They argued that the West Africa Central Conference erred in the election of Yohanna.
The group approached the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the meaning, effect and application of Paragraph 405 in the election process. The denomination’s top court, in decision No. 1235, declined jurisdiction and affirmed that the petition was submitted by a body that is not authorized to seek a declaratory decision.
Shortly after the Judicial Council ruling, the group disassociated itself from the conference and the rest of the United Methodist connection.
Simon Luka, who spoke on behalf of the returnees from Kpantisawa District, said the group was called by God to return and they are here to stay.
“God has spoken to us to seek the path of peace, justice, unity and reconciliation with the rest of our brothers and sisters in the conference. …. We will join hands with our brothers and sisters to continue the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“We are back for good and therefore no going back — forward forever, backward never.”
Members of the conference warmly embraced those who had returned and looked forward to a future together as one church.
“My heart is full of happiness and I am overjoyed to be alive to see this day of peace, unity and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Gloria Iliya Dogara, district superintendent of the Jalingo District.
Murtala Sallah, youth president of the conference, echoed those sentiments. “Many people shed tears of joy and there was a moment of singing and dancing as the crowd welcomed members (back) … We are happy our brothers and sisters are here today. Glory be to God,” he said.