Nkemnka, Michael Chidera
A significant figure in the history of Christianity in Africa in the Nnewi area in Anambra state.
In the Nnewi North Local Government area of Anambra State lived a man named Michael Chidera Nkemnka, a native of Otolo Nnewi. He was known as an evangelist or a prophet evangelist, and was one of the most significant figures in the history of Nnewi of those who brought Christianity to my village.
Evangelist Chidera was the second born son of Mr. and Mrs. Okwudiri Nkemnka. Throughout his childhood, he served and worshipped God. It was believed that he had come to save the people of Nnewi from worshipping idols or partaking in primitive religion.
He received his primary education at Nnewi Memorial Primary School. At that time, schools were not as widespread as they are now. Nkemnka did not continue his education, but when foreign missionaries brought the CMS to Nigeria via my village, he was overwhelmed with joy because he knew that his mission had succeeded. The foreign missionaries also brought western education. In spite of these opportunities, Chidera mostly concentrated on his chosen missionary work. In 1938, he was about eighteen years old when God told him it was time to start his missionary work.
With Nkemnka’s evangelistic methods, the entire Nnewi community witnessed its most successful religious awakening, marking the climax of early Nnewi Christianity. Although all his methods and practices may not have been justified, they nevertheless attracted many people to the Christian faith in my village. For instance, up until that time, Christianity had been introduced by teaching the creeds, the Lord’s prayer, the catechism. No one was baptized until he or she knew all these and satisfied the church’s behavior requirements, some of them very alien to the local culture.
In contrast, Chidera adopted a more radical and practical approach. He did not trouble himself with teaching these things. He may have regarded such methods as alien and impractical, especially in view of the high illiteracy rate in the area.
Chidera’s chief method was to organize crusades against charms, fetishes and idols, because he believed that until the people lost faith in the powers of these objects they would not find peace in Christianity. His demands upon his hearers (the people of Nnewi) were simple: they needed to destroy their fetishes, confess their sins and put absolute faith in the sufficiency of Christ. He made this statement because, before then, the people mostly indulged in pagan practices–primitive religion at that time–worshipping idols and the spirits of fetishes which they believed were all powerful gods.
For instance, at that time, there was a shrine in my village called Okwuzolkpe which the people of Nnewi worshiped, regarding it as a supreme god, and a great provider.
But when Nkemnka came in with the message of Christianity, he changed the minds of all the indigenous people of Nnewi. He told them about a God greater than any other gods whose name is Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Nkemnka preached the gospel and the people received it with all their heart, many being baptized in name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Okwuzolkpe was destroyed and burned by Nkemnka and some other missionaries. Now the location formerly known as the Okwuzolkpe shrine is the center of Nkwo Nnewi modern market, and a crusade ground. The Nnewi people experienced a revival through evangelist Nkemnka and the missionaries.
Nkemnka prescribed for converts strenuous religious exercises which helped them to cultivate a certain Christian discipline. He emphasized that everything should be covered in prayer, sometimes specifying the number of times a day one should pray. He encouraged fasting and the practice of shouting and praising God in local songs.
The Chidera movement also gave rise to the emergence of many self-consecrated evangelists who became a significant feature of the Nnewi community. These evangelists preached Christianity everywhere they went in my area and in some neighboring villages outside of the Nnewi community.
Within a few years of the beginning of the Nkemnka movement, Christianity spread to villages and traditional centers like farm settlements, and to market squares. As the church assumed a native character, it helped to spread Christianity throughout the community and brought about many developments in the community, even up to this present time. People of noble lineage and from the middle class who received the message of the gospel helped financially support the building of churches, hospitals and schools.
Evangelist Michael Chidera Nkemnka was one of the most significant pioneers of missionary work in the Nnewi community. He is always mentioned in any Christian seminar in Nnewi. His work will never be forgotten because he was responsible for laying the foundation for Christianity in the Nnewi Community. The Baptist, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches which followed have built on his foundation.
Odukwe Chinenye Obianuju
A journal book entitled Christianity in Nnewi written by N. O. Nkemakolam.
Interview with Mr. Samuel Odukwe, civil servant at Aba, age 50.
Interview with Mr. Umeh K. N, historian, based at Nnewi, age 46.
Christianity in West Africa, The Nigerian Story, ed. by Ogbu Kalu (Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1978).
This article, received in 2003, was written by Odukwe Chinenye Obianuju, a student in the Department of History, University of Port Harcourt. The University of Port Harcourt is a DACB Participating Institution and Dr. Protus Kemdirim is liaison coordinator.