Luka Kpanja is popularly acclaimed as the father of Christianity in Wamba land, which is situated within the middle belt zone of Nigeria. He was from Sisinbaki, which occupies a land area of approximately 142 square miles in Wamba land and houses twenty towns or village groups. His father Jika Shama belonged to the clans or towns of Kurmi Tagwaye and Gbokun. His mother Larma was a daughter of Samaila Jilla. Both Kurmi Tagwaye and Gbokun are less than a kilometer apart, and for this reason, his father did not have to go far to get his third wife. He had a total of four wives at various times during his ninety years (d. 1970). His mother was initially not favorably disposed to getting married to a short man like his father, but she later found him to have the high qualities she wanted in a husband, so she yielded. Shortly after, she conceived and gave birth to Luka, her first male child, but the fourth son of his father.
Luka Kpanja wrote about a lot of fascinating events in his diary, several of which concerned him directly. He wrote: “I grew up hearing the story of how small I was at birth. I was said to be too small to live.” It was also written in his dairy that at one time, he decided to hear about it from his mother, who was still very aware of the circumstances surrounding his birth. Back then the mortality rate was high and a lot of children were born very small. However, Luka was smaller than any baby anyone had ever seen. The story his mother told him confirmed what he had been hearing:
Your life as a baby was a sort of enigma, something which could not be explained. You did not appear sick in any way, yet no one thought you had any chance of surviving because of your small size. In fact, you got smaller and smaller every day, to the point that I became more and more embarrassed and even ashamed that I had given birth to such a small thing. As you could not simply be thrown away, we resorted to hiding you. Everyone was puzzled. Not knowing what to do, we consulted boka oracles, which prescribed sacrifices. Finally, without any explanation at all, it was noticed that you started to grow bigger, healthier and stronger. I doubt that there has been any child as small as you were since that time. 
He jokingly replied to his mother that this smallness was God’s way of telling her that he was a special child whose existence did not depend upon human will and skill. His mother agreed, and further explained that each time she consulted boka (oracles) concerning him, they told her without exception to not be worried because he (Luka) was covered by something they could not explain. Luka concluded that in light of the high rate of infant mortality, the infants who survived did so through the preserving grace of God.
The year of his birth was fixed at 1919, but the actual day and month is not known. An uncle of his, Ndona Nkolua, who attended the government school in Plateau State, confirmed the year, emphasizing that he remembered that he had wept and had refused to go to school on that day in 1919, as his (Kpanja) mother was undergoing labor pains.
According to Kpanja, the Roman Catholic school was opened in his village in 1935, but going to school was not for village dwellers of his type at that time. He did not even think of going to school, as his parents intended for him to join the work force at Sisinbaki. However, as God would have it, he became one of the many children to be sent to school by his father. Although he was small in size, he was hand picked by his father to attend school at the age of thirteen. The Catholic school was not tuition free. It cost six pence per month, which was roughly the equivalent of a day’s wages for someone who had a good job. Being able to pay the tuition fees was not easy. However, he enjoyed going to school and he distinguished himself by paying careful attention to the lessons. Within six months he had completed the elementary class and he was promoted to the standard class, completing school in 1946.
His conversion may not have been as dramatic as that of the apostle Paul, but for Kpanja Luka, it was earthshaking. Before 1956, he had the feeling of being lost and in deep need. The joy of salvation in Jesus followed him as he became more involved in reading the Bible, singing in the choir, and listening to inspiring sermons preached by the Rev. Awuga Yakubu, the first pastor in the region of Sisinbaki. In his diary he wrote: “It seemed that every sermon preached was for me. I gave my life to Christ and indicated my desire to be baptized.” His baptism finally took place on the 21st of December, 1967. A few months before, Kpanja Luka experienced an encounter in which his baptism became a living symbol. It happened one afternoon as he was walking his regular two miles back to Kurmi Tagwaye. Along the way, he was seized by a feeling that completely overwhelmed him. His heart became burdened, and as he thought of the great love of God for him and of the death of Christ Jesus on the cross, he wept uncontrollably, and was not able to move forward for lack of strength. He left the road, held onto a tree, and wept bitterly for his sins that had sent Christ to the cross. Eventually, he thanked God for revealing the gospel truth to him through Rev. Luka Yakubu’s sermons.
With that, a perfect calmness overcame him. He then felt that a big burden had been laid upon his heart concerning his lost ethnic people in Sisinbaki land, as they had not had the privilege of hearing the salvation story and were still subject to false religions. They were a people with many religions, but without Christ. He asked himself: What would heaven mean to me unless my father, mother, brothers, and sisters could be there with me? Would they be eternally lost, separated from Jesus Christ, while he was in heaven? Then and there, he told the Lord that he would like to be able to preach the gospel to his people in Sisinbaki, even as Rev. Wuga Yakubu was doing.
For Luka, the burden meant that God was calling him to tell his people in Sisinbaki about salvation through Jesus Christ, and it was truly a day of special covenant with God. He prayed that Christ would not come back to judge the world until his people in Sisinbaki had had the opportunity to hear and believe the gospel. The salvation of his people became the burden of his soul. Due to this burning desire, Kpanja went back to school. He attended the Seventh Day Adventist School in Jos from 1950 to 1953 and from 1966 to 1969. He eventually became a pioneer preacher from his town and the first to be ordained as a reverend, in 1996.
He established ten Seventh Day Adventist churches within and outside of Sisinbaki, baptized several converts, and established several adult education classes in order to give the people the opportunity to receive a western education. He also trained many lay leaders who were able to lead some of the churches that had no pastor. More importantly, he taught the people how to keep records of events. He is remembered today in the Seventh Day Adventist denomination as a great missionary, preacher, and teacher of the gospel. Luka Kpanja Jika died on October 15, 2006, and was buried in Sisinbaki, his home town.
Bulus Ali Adamu
- Ndona Akolua, interview by author, October 6, 2009, Wamba.
Ndona Akolua, interview by author, October 6, 2009, Wamba.
Funeral Service Program for Rev. Kpanja Luka Jika held at Seventh Day Adventist Church, Sisinbaki, October 15, 2006.
This story, submitted in 2010, was written by Bulus Ali Adamu, a student at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso under the supervision of Dr. M. L. Ogunewu and submitted by Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.