June 30, 2017
By Blake Tommey
ATLANTA — The Disturbances, a documentary of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-partner Baptist Center for Ethics highlighting the courageous work of Christian missionaries amid the 1966 genocide in Nigeria was the center of discussion at a June 29 panel discussion held at the 2017 General Assembly in Atlanta.
Cliff Vaughn, co-producer of the film and media producer for BCE led the presentation of the documentary, pointing to the powerful legacy of the late Robert Parham, founder of EthicsDaily.com and BCE, in bringing to light a nearly forgotten story — one that Parham lived through growing up as a missionary kid in Nigeria.
“Several years ago, Robert began asking himself ‘What really happened?’” Vaughn said.
“Robert was a missionary kid whose parents served with the Foreign Mission Board, so Robert was in Nigeria in 1966 when these events transpired; he was a seventh-grader. As we began talking about this story, he had fragmentary memories of two things: violence and lots of silence. He remembers not talking about it as a child, and not talking about it as an adult. So we set out on an investigation and quickly found more material than we ever could have guessed.”
The 75-minute film chronicles the largely untold story of Christian missionaries caught in the devastating tribal genocide committed against the Igbo and other people of southern Nigerian origin living in northern Nigeria in 1966.
Popular hostility against the Igbo people reached its peak in September of 1966 and thousands were brutally murdered within a few days. Yet, the death toll would have climbed higher if not for the work of Christian missionaries, who intervened to defend and rescue hundreds from the violence.
While the story of the massacre was nearly lost to history, Vaughn said, two dozen interviews and 2,500 documents, photographs and home movies finally brought it out of the shadows and onto the screen. The film’s euphemistic title, The Disturbances, originated in Nigerian headlines and correspondence to refer to the massacre, and serves as a haunting symbol of human beings’ aloofness in the face of deep prejudice and atrocity, he added.
CBF Missions Council Chair Caleb Oladipo offered emotional commentary on the film and reflected on the deep prejudice he experienced growing up in southern Nigeria. In the middle of great ethnic animosity between the Igbo and Hausa people, Oladipo said, he was surrounded by derogatory ways of speaking and behaving toward diverse people groups, and eventually that animosity boiled over as the ethnic violence swelled around him.
Oladipo, who now serves as chair of Christian Evangelism and Missions at Campbell University Divinity School, said the film offers a stark warning against sowing even the smallest seeds of racism and prejudice, which took root in Nigeria and still linger in the daily human rights horrors committed by Boko Haram.
“You can see what would happen when the Igbo people, who are highly educated, ingenious and mostly Christian, mix with people who are totally different and strongly believe they are going to rule Africa and the best way to do that is to Islamize the continent,” Oladipo explained.
“So it is not only the ethnic identity that caused the problem today; it has become religious and it has translated itself to Muslim-Christian conflict in Nigeria today.”
Yet, despite the atrocities committed in Nigeria, the film ultimately presents a story about the kind of missions we can take great pride in, said Sam Harrell, CBF’s Associate Coordinator of Global Missions. We all know stories of bad missions, he added, but the ordinary courage of missionaries who put their lives on the line for others offers Cooperative Baptists a wonderful heritage as they partner in renewing God’s world in Africa and across the globe.
Learn more about The Disturbances at www.thedisturbances.com.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.