In the short time I was in Lagos, the feeling I got was that it was a lot like the American Wild West! There is this sense that not everyone plays by the rules all the time. There of course is also political tension in parts of the country, especially the northeast--Nigeria's land mass is large.
Most interesting for me is how Christianity is expressed here. I have a feeling there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. Staid and established religious institutions? NOT--especially Protestant Christianity! It is like entrepreneurial religion raised to the 10th degree. It seems to be a combination of the Nigerian attitude of how to make something happen (don't wait for someone else to do it!), and the Nigerian personality that is bold and assertive, a 'can do' spirit. A Jamaican friend recently told me that there are great similarities between Jamaicans and Nigerians--the way she put it, 'Pretty much anywhere you go in the world you will find at least one Jamaican and one Nigerian! I would have guessed Chinese, but I gather she has a point.
In the area of religion, I observed this happening in two ways. First, there are churches everywhere, literally. In one city block you could expect to see two or three churches. One Nigerian said he has seen up to ten churches in one block. Secondly, the names are as colourful as their wardrobe--in west Africa, my Gambian friends tell me that the Nigerians are the pace setters for fashion...the most brilliant and beautiful I have ever seen. We drove past hundreds of churches, but unfortunately I was unable to write down--worse, remember--the names. But I assure you that I have never heard of them before.
One example of how names are used in Nigeria may give you a clue how churches get their names. It seems that parents' aspirations for their children are expressed in their names. One of my students in The Gambia has five children, four boys and one girl. Their names--Israel, Blessing, Miracle, Emmanuel and Rejoice.
One very large home-grown Nigerian church is The Redeemed Christian Church of God. The founder, illiterate and formerly Anglican, established the RCCG in 1952. He believed (in his terms, God told him) that his successor would be a young educated leader, and someone not at that point even a member of his church. A young man, Adeboye by name and instructor in mathematics at the University of Lagos, eventually came into the church. He later grew close to the founder and finally became his translator. Upon the founder's death, Adeboye's appointment as successor was finalized at the posthumously reading of the founder's sealed pronouncement. Not surprisingly, it created a stir but it stuck!
Under Adeboye's leadership since 1980, the church has grown exponentially. Here's why! I have not been able to determine the church's numerical strength, but here's a clue. The church's goal for a developing country is to have a church within 5-minutes walking distance from your home, and 5-minutes drive in a developed country. I read that the realistic figure is practically 20 minutes. Finally, their goal is to have at least one member of the RCCG in every family in all nations. And you thought Olympic competitors dreamed big ('I can do anything if I believe in myself')! In the world of religion, these guys make the Southern Baptists look like establishment Anglicans!
The RCCG is planting churches all over the world. I met one of their missionaries in the Lagos airport (recognized the book she was reading by the founder's photo on the cover). She and her husband were off to plant churches in the villages of Ghana...which she told me with great passion and excitement. The church recently built a very large North American centre just outside Dallas, Texas, creating curiosity, confusion and a little consternation on the part of the Texas locals...you can just imagine!
Another distinctive feature of this church is that the founder has built a very large compound just off the main Lagos expressway. I took only a few pics as we drove through. A large community lives there, big enough for it to have its own bank. Lovely modern houses and apartments are clustered throughout the property. While they have a church building (or more than one?) for regular gatherings, the two pics here give you a sense of the vast size of their open air convention centre called Kingdom Center (Redemption Camp is mentioned too, not sure if it is the same place). The first pic shows its length (and this pic was not taken at the beginning of the building)...it just goes on and on....
The second pic gives you an idea of its width. This building is used the first Friday of every month, when the church has an all-night service (7pm-Saturday sunrise). Here's the kicker--attendance regularly runs between 500,000 and 1.2 million! A close look at the pics will quickly tell you they have the seats for it.
Here's another example of how Africa expresses its communal character, quite unlike western and North American hyper-busy individualists who generally have little time for this sort of thing, unless it is a ball game of course.
As I leave Nigeria, here is a lovely photo of sunrise over Lagos, taken from my hotel room.