The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), based in northeastern Nigeria, is one of the largest Lutheran denominations in the world, with approximately 2.5 million members. Education is a core value for the LCCN, whose faith-based primary and secondary schools in the region have a nationwide reputation for excellence. But opportunities for higher education are limited for its students, with most universities located in the southern part of the country.
“Every region has their own catchment area,” LCCN Archbishop Musa Filibus told staff of the Minneapolis Area Synod, its companion synod, during a recent Zoom call. “So students, when they graduate and apply for higher education, must have as their first choice a university within their own region. Only as a second choice can you apply to a school outside your own region. So already we have limitations for our young people.”
According to the LCCN, nearly 60% of all eligible students in Nigeria won’t find placement in the country’s relatively few universities, a fact further complicated by patterns of religious, ethnic and political discrimination. In state schools, Christian students are often excluded from courses related to medicine, engineering and law.
These limitations have long been on the minds of LCCN leadership, who imagined a university that could provide educational opportunities and hope. So in 2020 the church began taking steps to build the Lutheran University Nigeria (LUN) in Demsa, a semirural village in Adamawa State.
The task of raising $500,000 in such a short time was a challenge.
“We think that the church going into this dream of a university will be a huge response to [the concerns], not only for the Lutherans, not only for the church, but for the wider community,” Filibus said.
The university will offer 27 majors, and Musa hopes to have at least 500 students enrolled when it opens. The nearly 400 acres acquired for the university sit next to Demsa Hospital, a public facility operated by the LCCN. Musa envisions Demsa as a teaching hospital where university students can receive training in health care fields.
But making this dream a reality involves a long process of application and approval with the National Universities Commission, which oversees all university development in the country. One of the final steps was to secure $500,000—the amount required in the bank to establish a university—in reserves prior to construction. In November 2020 the LCCN General Church Council voted to designate one Sunday each month to collect a special offering for the university. But the task of raising $500,000 in such a short time was a challenge.
A close relationship
In 2021, Filibus contacted Ann Svennungsen, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod, and asked the synod to consider raising that amount while he worked to purchase land, drill wells, construct buildings and identify teachers. The synod and LCCN have worked together before on projects in Nigeria and in the United States, and their relationship has grown meaningfully over those years.
“With Archbishop Musa’s election, our relationship was reenergized,” said Craig Pederson, the synod’s assistant to the bishop for congregational vitality. “[His] presence is a real catalyst for a lot of our work together. And Bishop Ann’s trips to Nigeria have been equally important in making this relationship tangible and incarnational.”
This close relationship and the vision outlined by Filibus gave the synod the courage to agree to his request. In October 2021, after synod council approval, Svennungsen and her staff launched the Lutheran University Nigeria Fund. The campaign aimed to raise the $500,000 by the end of 2021, and all 144 synod congregations were asked to contribute.
“With Archbishop Musa’s election, our relationship was reenergized.”
In a video sent to rostered ministers, Svennungsen reflects on her hope for the future impact of the LUN: “As we partner with our companion synod in Nigeria, we can imagine 100 years from now Nigerians reminiscing about the start of the Lutheran university in that country, and the remarkable ways that God has blessed them through that vision.”
In just three months, the synod raised $535,000 and secured a $150,000 ELCA World Hunger grant to contribute to the project. At the synod’s 2022 assembly, Filibus spoke by Zoom to offer his thanks, celebrate the milestone and share updates about the university’s progress.
“Bishop Ann and the synod assembly, what an exciting day, what an exciting moment for me to join you during this assembly,” he said. “I want to say thank you for your indescribable generosity and support … thank you for your friendship and your companionship and your love. … We are deeply grateful.”
With the funds secured, the LCCN is continuing the approval process, with several steps to come. But Filibus is confident that, in a few years’ time, the university will be able to offer a full slate of programming.
With faithfulness, commitment and collaboration from partners around the world, the vision of launching the LUN is becoming a reality.