Pioneer Qua Iboe Church Building Upenekang, Ibeno

Brief Background

In 1846 the Presbyterian Church was founded in Calabar through the pioneering work of Rev. Hope Waddell and Rev. Edgerley. Being a very important administrative and commercial headquarters in Southern Nigeria, Calabar attracted many people from the hinterland among whom were the Ibeno people. In 1886 they came in close contact with the Presbyterian Missionaries and Efik Christians in Calabar and became keenly interested in the Gospel. When they reported their experience to their people at home, Mr. Williams from Sierra Leone, one of the foreign traders who settled in Ibeno, started to teach them the Ten Commandments, assembling them on Sundays to tell them the Word of God. Enthusiasm grew and the people sent a letter to the Presbyterian Missionaries in Calabar, asking them for a missionary to be sent to Ibeno to teach them more about God. The letter was received by Mr. Foster, a Jamaican Missionary, who forwarded it to Dr. Grattan Guinness, the Principal of Harley College in London, where missionaries were trained.

Samuel Alexander Bill: His Birth and Call

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, January, 1867, was Samuel Alexander Bill, whose mother had offered him to the service of the Lord. Samuel had earlier made up his mind to go out as a missionary to one of the many unoccupied fields scattered over the globe. To get him well equipped for the work his mother sent him at the age of 22 years to Harley Missionary Training College. One day in June 1887, at breakfast time, Dr. Guinness read the letter from Ibeno Chiefs to the students. He announced to them that it was an appeal from some Chiefs of Ibeno tribe on the Southern shores of Nigeria for a white teacher to tell their people about God. Adding that it was a wild country with a treacherous climate, he asked if any of them would go. Through this appeal Samuel Alexander Bill heard God’s call, took the challenge, and decided to go. It was made clear to him that there was no missionary body to send him. He knew that he had to go to Qua Iboe; that was all. Like Abraham, he was called to go out in naked faith, not knowing where his steps would lead. As he had no money, he hoped to earn his living by working, while teaching the people about Jesus Christ. Dr. & Mrs. Guinness volunteered to provide his passage and a slender tropical outfit as well as support him as far as their means could permit.

The Birth of Qua Iboe Church

On 14th September, 1887, Samuel Bill left Belfast for Ibeno, arriving Calabar on the 6th October 1887. He stayed for two weeks in Calabar with the Presbyterian Missionaries who taught him the language and the customs of the people. At last on 1st December, 1887, he arrived at Ibeno and was warmly received by the people. Samuel Bill went straight into teaching the “hungry” people about Christ. He had difficulties but the divine care over him never failed. Psalm 23 which he often read proved a source of encouragement and inspiration to him. He usually got his provision through a launch that sailed between Calabar and Eket. Mr. & Mrs. Williams often accorded him warm hospitality and constantly the people of Ibeno sent him yam and fowls. In 1888 Samuel Bill was joined by Achie Bailie. Both of them working with untiring effort soon began to see the fruit of their labour. The first convert was a woman, Mma Etia. The second was Mr. Bill’s house servant, David Ekong who later became the first ordained pastor of the Qua Iboe Church. The first Communion Service took place on 18th February, 1890, with eleven communicant members participating.

Qua Iboe Church Mission Council

In 1890 Dr. Guinness and his wife could no longer support Samuel Bill. They suggested that the two missionaries should abandon the Qua Iboe Church venture and proceed to the Congo. But Bill and Bailie refused to leave the people, saying, “God had set before us an open door from which we dare not withdraw”. In 1890 Bill went back to Belfast for a short holiday, taking with him his servant David Ekong, but leaving Bailie at Ibeno. At home he got married to Gracie Kerr who was trained also in Harley College, London. While at home Bill went about appealing for help for the spread of the Gospel in the Qua Iboe valley. A Qua Iboe Mission Council was formed in January, 1891 for sponsoring the Qua Iboe work. The members of this Council represented the leading churches of different denominations in Belfast. The constitution of the Qua Iboe Mission was then framed on evangelical and interdenominational lines. In May 1891 Bill returned with his wife and David Ekong to Ibeno. The work in the Qua Iboe field was growing rapidly and many more missionaries volunteered to come out. More converts had been won for Christ. Many had learned to read and write and some were appointed teachers and preachers. The church workers were paid by the Council in Belfast up till 1908, when it was decided that “All native work should find its support from native sources”. From that time the Qua Iboe Church has been solely and wholly responsible for the support of its ministry without any external help.

Expansion of the Church

Bill and Bailie were not satisfied to confine themselves to Ibeno. They went up the river preaching and establishing stations all over its basin. From Ibeno the Church extended gradually to the following centres:- 1. Okat, later transferred to Mbioto, by Bailie 1900 2. Etinan, 25th November, 1898, by John Kirk 3. Ikot Ubo, by Edward Heaney 1904 4. Ikot Edong by Eddie Smith 1909 5. Aka, Later transferred to Itam, by J. Westgarth in 1909. 6. Ika by John Nelson 1915/1916 7. Aba by A. V. Wilcox in 1917 8. Oloko by A. V. Wilcox and Wheatley 1921 9. Ibesit by McEwan 1922/1926 10. Mbioto by George weeks – 1912 11. Igala Field (Kogi State) 1931 by Rev. David Neil 12. Bassa Field – (Nasarawa State) 1932/1933 Each of the above centres with its out-stations was originally called “District”, but later “Superintendency.” In 1932 the Qua Church advanced into Northern Nigeria among the Igala and Bassa people. So well established is the Qua Iboe Church in the Northern States that it constitutes Area Conferences of the Qua Iboe Church comprising many Superintendencies, namely, Idah, Ankpa, Igala Central, Ogugu, and Ibayi and others. The Pioneer Missionary used by the Lord for the planting of the Qua Iboe Church in this area (now identified as Benue, Koyi and Nasarawa States) was Rev. H. W. Dickson. All the Qua Iboe Stations were constituted into a Church by a resolution adopted and passed by the Qua Iboe Mission Trust Association at a meeting held in Belfast on the 11th September, 1944. One of the most striking features of the Qua Iboe Church in recent times is the establishment of Township Churches. These Churches began to spring up spontaneously in the early 1960’s. There are at present large promising Qua Iboe Churches in Lagos, Kaduna, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Aba, Kano, Zaria, Markurdi, Lokoja, Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Uyo, Oron, Warri, Benin, Owerri Abuja etc.

Education and Health Services

Reading and writing received no little encouragement right from the founding of the Qua Iboe Church. Wherever a church was planted there was at least a night school or adult education class. The Efik version of the pilgrim’s progress was popular in the top classes. In 1904 the first Primary School was opened at Ukat. In 1906 a Girls’ Institute was opened at Afaha Eket, later known as Grace Bill School, Etinan Institute was founded in 1915 as a boarding Primary School for boys and converted into a Secondary School in 1936. In 1941 a Bible College was opened at Ikot Ekang, Abak. The first hospital was opened at Etinan in 1927. On January 4, 1928 Samuel Bill dedicated the new hospital to the service and glory of God. “Wherever the Gospel is carried,” he said in his address, “two things are always linked together, preaching and healing.”

Printing Press

In order to provide religious tracts, vernacular readers, and record books required for the work of the church a printing press was established at Nditea in Afaha Eket in 1916, but later transferred to Etinan in 1928. The press was hard hit by the Nigerian Civil War and the untiring effort of the church to rehabilitate it has proved very unsuccessful. Nevertheless, in spite of many setbacks the press has been an indispensable “companion” in the work of evangelism.

The Name "QUA IBOE"

The Qua Iboe River is so named because it enters the sea at a place in Ibeno called “Aqua Obio” (Big Town), but wrongly spelt and called “Qua Iboe” by the early Europeans who came to Nigeria. The river had already been named Qua Iboe (Aqua Obio) before the arrival of Samuel Alexander Bill. In order to locate the area of his missionary activities which were concentrated along the basin of the Qua Iboe (Aqua Obio) River, he chose to call the mission field “Qua Iboe Mission,” that is, the Mission operating along basin of the Qua Iboe (Aqua Obio) River. Had the name “Aqua Obio not been corrupted he would certainly have named the Mission “Aqua Obio Mission,” just as the first Presbyterian Missionaries called their mission “Calabar Mission”. The Qua Iboe Church has therefore grown up as a result of the pioneer-missionary vision of the late Mr. Samuel Alexander Bill, with the kind co-operation of the Qua Iboe Mission, which is an evangelical and interdenominational Council of friends in Great Britain. The Qua Iboe Church now numbers over 1000 congregations with more than 1,000,000 communicants. It is served by over 400 ordained Revd. Pastors and not less than 950 pastors and evangelists. The Qua Iboe Church is completely autonomous and has, at present, no constitutional ties with any overseas Church. It is a fully protestant, evangelical, independent and indigenous body in partnership with the Qua Iboe Mission (Fellowship) which it is happy to work with. Prior to the takeover of schools by the Government the Qua Iboe Church had over 300 Primary Schools and ten Post-Primary Institutions in the Country, it maintains 3 Theological Colleges in Abak, Akwa Ibom State, Ankpa in Benue State, one in Oloko. It runs two General Hospitals and two Leprosy Hospitals at Etinan, Ekpene Obom and Ochadamu. To conclude, we quote the words of Jean Corbett, “Samuel Bill’s work may be finished, but the Plan revealed to him is still developing in remote rural areas, and teeming modern cities of the new Nigeria. As Mission scaffolding disappears, the Qua Iboe Church not only survives, but continues to grow and mature according to the plan of God”.