EARLY MISSIONARY JOURNEY (Series 1)
WORDS BY NELSON UTIP
King Edward VII of Great Britain presented the oldest Bible in Nigeria to Oba Okukenu, who paid a royal visit to his palace in London in 1904. The first church in Nigeria is the Cathedral Church of St. Peters, still standing in the ancient city of Ake Abeokuta. The Holy Bible was later translated into the Yoruba language by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1809 – 1891).
The early Missionaries of the Church of Scotland brought Christianity to Calabar and its environs. The oldest existing bible in Southern Nigeria is the one used by Mary Mitchel Slessor at the Presbyterian Church Itu Hill, which is still preserved for tourism purposes. Born on the 2nd day of December 1848 in Dundee, Scotland, she was one of the pioneers of Christian missionaries south of the Niger.
Many other missionaries came after Slessor laboured in the Lord’s Vineyard around Itu, Aruchukwu and Ohafia. Miss Martha Peacock, J. M. Lewars, Andrew Buchannan Macdonald, and Alexander Cruickshank.
This series will focus on the ‘Early Missionaries in the Niger Delta with Etubom Rev. Dr Alexander Cruickshank.
ETUBOM REV. DR. ALEXANDER CRUICKSHANK
Etubom Rev. Dr Alexander Cruickshank was a Scottish missionary from Aberdeen. He took over the mission at Ikot Offiong in the present-day ItuLocal Government Area of Akwa Ibom State from Mr Beedie when he was transferred to assist the ailing and ageing Rev. Anderson in Calabar. Etubom, as he was addressed by the locals, served from 1881-1936 (55 years). Rev. Dr Alexander Cruickshank most outstanding achievement was turning the Ikot Offiong Mission into a training centre for native missionaries who ended up as Reverends, Evangelists, Teachers and Civil Servants. The explosion of congregations that sprang up in Ibibio land and Eniong creek between 1910 and 1920 drew their manpower from the training centre at Ikot Offiong under the tutelage of. Dr Alexander Cruickshank.
Rev. Dr Alexander Cruickshank operated a boarding school which was christened ‘Ikot OffiongYard’; pupils were gathered by collection, inducement and those rescued from Jungle justice in nearby communities.
Etubom Cruickshank operated a sickbay, and according to Rev. J.T. Dean, who paid tribute to him after his departure, there was always an aroma of drugs as one ascends the staircase to the verandah of the Mission House. He treated many sick locals, severe cases were referred to the hospital at Itu.
Rev. Dr Cruickshank opened many schools in the surrounding villages in Oku Ibokuand Itam, and Eniong communities. He turned the ‘Ikot Offiong yard’ into a big family, observing evening and morning prayers; boys who trooped into the yard hungry, naked, and ignorant were turned into teachers, evangelists, civil servants and businessmen. He complimented the work started by Mary Slessor by fighting vigorously against the killing of twins. Apart from rescuing the twins in the bushes, she received the twins taken to her to ease the burden of the parents; Mary Slessor admonished most parents to take their twins back and reminded them of government policy on the killing of twins.
Rev. Dr Cruickshank was a unique personality in the community and its environs; he settled disputes and advised the government and indigenes. He was seen as a ‘juju’, god and an intruder as he preached against some barbaric practices of the natives.
Upon all these, his primary preoccupation was preaching the gospel and building the church. He raised the population of the local church from 40 in 1898 to over 1500 in 1935.
When Rev. Dr Cruickshank made a farewell tour before his departure, he was received by large crowds as his influence extended over the entire mission. His final exit from Ikot Offiong was said to be indescribable by those who witnessed it.
He was honour by the award of O.B.E by the king of Britain for his meritorious services to humanity when he returned to Scotland.