By Mary Wimberly
During a bloody 1966 genocide in Nigeria that ended with as many as 50,000 Igbo tribe members murdered, a group of Christian missionaries risked their own lives to save others.
Among them were former Samford University professor Bill Cowley and his wife, Audrey (a past treasurer of national Woman’s Missionary Union), who were Southern Baptist missionary educators in Jos, Nigeria, at the time. Their daughters, Carol and Karen, were ages 10 and 8.
The retired missionaries are now members of Shades Crest Baptist Church, Hoover, and active in Alabama Baptist life.
Although they haven’t spoken about it much through the years, the Cowleys and others have begun to share their memories of the atrocities. They and other missionaries who assisted the targeted Nigerians are featured in a documentary that chronicles the tribal bloodshed in and around Jos in September 1966.
“The Disturbances,” produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, was shown at Samford on Nov. 10 and Shades Crest Baptist on Nov. 13. It will be shown at McElwain Baptist Church, Birmingham, on Dec. 6.
In September the couple spoke at Samford about the events that led to their dramatic transport of a van load of Igbos to an airplane and, ultimately, to safety.
Cliff Vaughn, one of the film’s producers, joined in the discussion hosted by Samford’s Global Center and religion department.
The Cowleys were assigned to Nigeria in 1955 to help start schools in anticipation of the nation’s independence in 1960.
Bill Cowley said there were at least 200 tribes in Nigeria, with 30 to 50 in the immediate area of the school. “Each had their own customs, friends and enemies.”
The documentary details the events centered around the missionaries as they worked to save the lives of those threatened by the tribal genocide.
For more information, visit www.thedisturbances.com. (TAB contributed)