Billy Graham Center

Merle Ashel Steely - Collection 290

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Merle Ashel Steely

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)


Transcript 1

Transcript 2

Transcript 3

Transcript 4

Brief Description.

Two oral history interviews with Steely, who worked as a missionary with Sudan Interior Mission between 1951 and 1977 in Liberia and Nigeria. Steely discusses his education and the 1950 Revival at Wheaton College, his co-founding of the Liberian radio station ELWA, teaching and construction work in Nigeria and the impact of missionary life on his family. The information in the interviews covers the time period from 1945 to 1984. Interviews were recorded on 11/20/84 and 11/28/84. These interviews are part of the Missionary Sources Collection.

Collection 290 [January 29, 2009]
Steely, Merle Ashel; 1924-
Interviews; 1984

4 Reels of Audio Tape


There are no restricitons on the use of this collection.



Merle Ashel Steely was born in October 1924 in Missouri, the ninth of Henry E. and Susie Keller Steely's ten children. He grew up on the family farm in Missouri and when his father died near the end of Steely's high school education, he assumed the management of the business.

Steely was drafted into the army in 1943 while enrolled in an Army Air Force cadet training class at Kansas State College. Upon completing the program in late 1943, Steely entered the army and served as a radio operator/mechanic and aerial gunner. Steely was converted during a Gospel service at the Air Force Base in Lincoln, Nebraska, in August 1945. He was discharged from military service in December 1945.

He attended Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis for the first half of 1946 and then transferred to Southwestern Baptist College in Missouri from which he graduated in 1948 with an AA degree. In the fall of the same year, he entered Wheaton College. He graduated in 1950 with a Philosophy major. While attending Wheaton, Steely worked for the College's electric shop and also witnessed the 1950 revival.

Following his graduation, Steely remained in Wheaton and helped co-found the West African Broadcasting Association which was established to build the religious radio station, ELWA, in Monrovia, Liberia. Along with several other Wheaton students, Steely helped raise funds and enlist personnel for the project. Difficulty in these tasks led to the Association's merger with Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) in 1952. Steely, along with others, arrived in Liberia in 1952 to establish the station. Steely's principle contribution to the project was in construction and by 1954 the facilities were sufficiently completed for the station to be operational.

In order to engage in his primary goal of teaching and preaching, Steely and family transferred to Nigeria in 1954. After their initial Hausa language study, they were stationed in Zonkwa and Kafanchan, filling in for other missionaries and overseeing churches and schools, along with contributing to building projects in the area.

The family had their first furlough in 1956 and Steely entered Wheaton College Graduate School to complete his MA in Old Testament. He graduated in 1958. Having been assigned to work in a teachers college in Nigeria, he received certification as a secondary school teacher from the State of Illinois. While anticipating the new Nigerian school year to which he would be returning, Steely worked as interim pastor of the Berean Fundamental Church in Burwell, Nebraska.

In 1958, the Steelys returned to Nigeria, where they worked for the remainder of their missionary careers, outlined as follows:

1958 Kagoro Teacher in SIM's teachers college
1962-63 Furlough
1963 Kagoro Vice Principal, SIM Bible college
1965 Kaduna Teaching in various government schools
1967-68 Furlough
1968 Katsina Teaching Bible classes in government schools
1970 Igbaja Head of the Old Testament Department of the SIM seminary
1972-73 Furlough Included studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois.
1973-77 Igbaja: SIM seminary

The Steelys retired from SIM in 1977 and returned to Wheaton. Steely worked for Wheaton College as an electrical technician, although in 1979 he accepted an interim pastorate in New Glarus, Wisconsin, after which he returned to his duties at Wheaton College.

Steely met his wife, Vera Mae, while at Lincoln Air Base. They both attended Southwestern and were married between Steely's graduation from Southwestern and his admittance to Wheaton College in 1948. The Steelys had five children: Joyce, Allen, Marcia, Stanley, and Barbara. While on the field, the children were educated at Kent Academy and at a jointly operated mission school in Jos.

Scope and Content

The two interviews in this collection were conducted with Merle A. Steely by Kimberly Smith on November 20 and November 28, 1984. The first interview took place in Steely's home in Wheaton, Illinois; the second was recorded in the Library of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. The information discussed in the interviews covers the time period of 1945 to 1984.

Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. This index is keyed to a cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original.

Tape T1 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:35 Introduction of interview.
00:50 Steely's family and life on the farm.
01:50 Father's death and brother's drafting into the service left Steely in charge of the family farm.
02:50 Military experience in the air force.
03:40 Converted on August 3, 1945, while in the air force.
03:55 Influences which led to Steely's conversion: plane crash deaths, purchase and subsequent reading of a Bible. Misfired witnessing of friend.
05:40 Converted shortly after meeting a chaplain and several Northwest Bible School students when transferred to Lincoln Air Force base.
06:15 One of the students became Steely's wife. Juxtaposition of his conversion, meeting his future wife, and the dropping of the atom bomb within one week of each other.
06:35 Attendance at chapel service led by a Gospel team leaving tracts. Steely met with them. Led to Christ by one of the team members after the service.
07:45 Minimal impact of conversion on gunner duties due to discontinuation of training program and end of the war.
08:15 Initial desire was to learn the Bible and become a Bible teacher.
08:55 Involvement in the Gospel team. Members of the team; Steely's responsibilities.
09:40 Attendance at Southwestern Baptist College for two years. Graduated with an AA degree.
10:10 Redirected to attend Wheaton through the influence of a classmate.
10:30 Married in June following graduation from Southwestern prior to fall entrance at Wheaton.
10:45 Confusion because Wheaton Admissions Department was unaware that Steely was married and had already scheduled him into a single men's dorm. Advised to attend another school because of unavailability of housing or to send wife back home. Eventually required to find his own housing off campus. Lived in a trailer house in Winfield for 2.5 years.
11:35 Interaction of married life and student life.
12:15 Influences leading to missionary career: Ralph Smith (fellow college student) and Bill Watkins.
12:45 Watkins' vision to build a missionary radio station in Liberia. Steely worked with Watkins in the College electric shop.
13:05 Steelys assumed Watkins burden to build the radio station.
13:15 Further involvement with Watkins at community church in Winfield. Frequent contact led to the Steely's sharing Watkins' burden.
13:30 Steelys had no plans to become missionaries but rather to become a Bible teacher in the U.S. after doing advance degree work.
13:40 Graduated in January 1950 following 1.5 years at Wheaton.
13:45 Special meetings in February in which occurred the "Wheaton Revival."
14:00 Description of the revival. Initial participation through electrician and sound system duties.
14:55 Week after the revival the Steelys and Watkins and his wife began meeting to pray for the development of a radio station in Africa.
15:40 Financial gift from John 3:16 Gospel Mission through Watkins father-in-law for a missionary radio station in Africa taken as a sign from the Lord to build the radio station.
16:25 Watkins, Steely, and Ernie Hard meeting with President Edman to share their vision with him. Referred to by Edman in his book Not Somehow But Triumphantly: A Day of Small Things.
16:50 Group was organized with Illinois State charter. During the next two years, people signed up to help, Watkins obtained permits from the Liberian government, and formed the West African Broadcasting Association under the Illinois charter.
17:15 After two years, they felt unable to draw the needed funding and personnel and therefore merged with Sudan Interior Mission.
17:35 Ideal suitability of Liberia for a missionary radio station because of its similarity with America in laws, currency, and language. American-styled laws permitted private operation of a radio station unlike situations in other African countries.
19:25 Steely's experience of culture shock both in going to Africa and returning to the U.S. Shock attributed to previous minimal exposure to the broader world; shock minimized by his experiences growing up on a farm during the Depression.
20:45 Primitive living in a rented three-story home which had no indoor plumbing.
21:50 Mrs. Steely's adaptation to the culture also attributed to growing up on a farm.
22:25 Arrival in Liberia in 1952. Steely's duties, following the completion of the radio station in 1954, were limited to building. His hope was to teach Bible on the air but the station director wanted to use imported Christian programming with more experienced preachers.
24:00 Request that the Steelys transfer to Kagoro, Nigeria. After an initial refusal, due to his having been a co-founder of ELWA, and a year of consideration, they did accept the transfer, largely because building was the only work to be done in Liberia.
24:35 Following Hausa language school, the Steelys were assigned to a bush station to do church planting work.
24:55 They were initially to work in a school but the school was not opened and they were shifted to regular bush station work instead, involving church planting, and working with churches and schools. Steely supervised 25 pastors, 32 teachers, and 10 schools with over 1,000 children.
25:20 Steely did not escape building duties in Nigeria and built a dispensary, a mission house, eight schools, and one church building.
25:40 Teaching a part of responsibilities in later terms.
25:50 Contrast of missionary lifestyles of Liberia and Nigeria, accounting for missionary population, living conditions, the size and vitality of the church, language, and culture.
26:50 The Steelys already had two children when they arrived in Liberia. The third was born in Nigeria. Medical care in Liberia contrasted with that in Nigeria: their third child's spina bifida would have been inadequately treated in Liberia whereas SIM's hospital in Nigeria immediately identified the problem and treated it. She was later flown to England for further surgery.
27:50 Birth of one child in Bingham Memorial Nursing Home. British regulations differentiate between nursing homes and hospitals on the basis of the number of resident doctors.
28:15 Description of the Nigerians in the north in Kagoro and surrounding area, formerly pagan where many had converted to Christianity. Hausa was the language in the area.
28:40 Description of cultural distinctives: friendship and hospitality oriented. Comparison with the American culture's emphasis on honesty. The Nigerians would bend the truth to be kind or hospitable.
29:30 Time orientation of Americans contrasted with the people orientation of Nigerians. Further illustration of these differences. Older missionaries helped avoid cultural blunders.
31:10 Steely had no supervising missionary during his first term, although he wished he had.
31:25 Outline of first term: initially studied at language school; sent to Zonkwa station to fill in for a furloughing missionary; filled in at Kafanchan for a missionary in poor health. Was in charge of station while still a probationer.
31:55 Ranking of missionaries by experience: a probationer for the first five years; a junior missionary for the next two; then a senior missionary. Steely was placed in charge of a station due to personnel shortage.
32:15 In their second term the Steelys were with other missionaries, including older ones to learn from.
32:25 The tonal nature of the Hausa language and the Steely's lack of musical ability made their language learning a struggle. Outline of the advantages of knowing the language for survival and ministry.
33:20 Differences between tribes minor compared to differences between the Nigerians and Americans.
34:10 After working in a teachers college Kagoro Steely was assigned to the Bible college where he was appointed vice principal. With an 80% decline in enrollment from 100 to 20 students, staff was cut, and the Steely's were moved to Kaduna, the northern capital.
35:00 The move to Kaduna was difficult after 10 years at Kagoro.
35:15 Steely was sent to Kaduna to teach Bible in government schools, government college, technical school, federal training center, police college, air base.
36:10 Steelys were in Kaduna at the time of the 1966 coup, when the prime minister, premier, and general were killed and a military government was established.
36:30 Description of Kaduna after the coup.
37:45 Description of the American consuls' plans after the coup to evacuate. Favorable assessment of the U.S. government's contingency organization in contrast with the absence of British arrangements.
38:50 The possibility of evacuating always required having one small suitcase packed to depart with. Description of the difficulty of living with the strain of always being prepared to depart.
39:30 The example of independence in the Congo had served as a model, and the missions and U.S. government were prepared in Nigeria.
39:55 Description of Congolese independence in 1960 with its outbreak of anarchy. Nigeria was spared the turmoil of the Congo at its independence but experienced more crises after the coup, although never to the degree as in other African countries.
40:45 Children were educated at a boarding school. Steely's characterization of separation of parents and children as being the worst thing about missionary work.
41:25 The impact of separation on the children appeared following their return to the U.S.
41:45 Background to the problems the Steely children experienced: emphasis on family discipline; reputation of being "holy molies"; the children were respected for their testimony while on the field. Many missionaries' children rebelled on the field yet settled down and became Christian workers later in life. The Steely children struggled when attending college in the U.S.
42:50 Current status of the children. Problems attributed to the separation of the family on the mission field.
43:20 Impact of dormitory living led the youngest daughter to refuse to live in a dormitory while at college.
43:40 The family lived together in Wheaton to make up for lost time while in Africa. Steely also limited his employment to being an electrical technician at Wheaton College, rather than becoming a pastor or teacher, in order to facilitate that. He assumed a pastorate once the children left home.
44:25 (Restricted) The children's relationship with the Nigerian children consisted of limited play with them. Their play with the Africans was different from that with other missionary children. The Steely's did not encourage them to play with the African children because of cultural features they did not want the children exposed to. The Steely children were not as free to associate with African children as some other missionaries' children.
45:30 (Restricted) Cultural differences which they wanted to shield the children from were of a sexual nature.
46:05 Examples of African superstitions and attitudes toward them: Steely's students were amused about a pastor being driven out of his post by the fear of witchcraft against him, but they refused to play in a soccer game where the other team used magic against them.
46:55 Other examples of superstitions.
47:35 End of side 1

Tape T1 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of the tape.
00:06 Overlap from side 1.
00:35 Continued illustrations of superstitions, including the African belief in demons.
01:40 The influence of the Gospel in freeing the Africans from their superstitions.
02:15 Reaction of people in Kagoro to the Gospel. Background on the mission work there. Dental work by the Scotch missionary, Mr. Archibald, opened up the contact among the people by the original missionaries after initial difficulties.
03:00 Billy Graham's comments during his crusade in Jos in the early 1960's on missionaries who had impressed him during his tour of Africa; Graham cited Mr. Archibald, whom he had met.
03:40 Description of a revival among missionaries in November 1954 in Jos, which followed the pattern of the 1950 Wheaton revival.
04:00 The revival began with Steely, who had been bitter about his transfer to Nigeria after founding ELWA in Liberia. Steely's testimony at language school "shook things up"; Steely's testimony at some special meetings in Jos led to others giving theirs as well.
04:35 A controversy over the issue of casting demons out of Christians developed, negating much of what the revival accomplished and keeping it from spreading.
05:05 The extent of Muslim influence in Nigeria during the Steely's early days in the country.
05:35 The northern Nigerian Sardauna (premier) successfully used Christian methods to do Islam evangelism, including speaking to a large group and using an altar call. His aggressiveness included the use of the police until the military killed him, halting his drive to become the dominant Moslem figure in Nigeria. During the premier's reign, the Moslems were very aggressive and dominant.
06:45 Christian participation in winning the civil war and the presence of a Christian military governor cited as examples of growing Christian influence.
07:05 Christian missions and the indigenous churches have since become more aggressive in their outreach and the Moslems had lost their former advantage.
07:45 Worship forms of the African church in comparison to the America church. African modification of western forms included the elevation of announcements in the worship service. A translator would often be used with guest speakers.
08:45 Urban churches had to deal with the various languages of its members, particularly because of the Nigerian educational system's use of English, which led to a division between the young people who could use English and their parents who couldn't.
09:10 The expansion of the indigenous church in Kaduna.
10:10 Steely's adaptation to culture when teaching or preaching.
10:40 Responses to presentation of the Gospel in Nigeria did not include the hostility which can be common in America. Example of Nigerian respect.
11:30 Overview of the Christian missions in Nigeria. The Catholics predominated, followed by the Church of England and Sudan Interior Mission. The relationship with the Catholics included conflict on educational matters in some areas.
12:10 The withholding of credit from Christian students when Steely was teaching Bible in the government schools, because no Moslem was available to teach Moslem students. Steely taught Catholic and Protestant students. Other schools had provision for the Catholic students.
12:45 Provision of religious training within the public school system was passed on by the British.
13:40 Background on the Moslem city of Katsina, one of the five northern emirates, including its role in slave trading.
14:30 Katsina's Christian population was made up entirely of outsiders; there were no indigenous believers.
15:10 Steely's advice to a student in Kaduna regarding working for a tobacco company led to his termination by the Moslem principal of the federal training center because the student followed Steely's advice rather than the principal's.
16:45 The British vice principal of the government college advised Steely to continue counselling his students according to his personal convictions.
17:30 The depth of Steely's relationships with his students varied. The small proportion of the Christian student population in Katsina and the opposition by the Moslem students there fostered open relationships. Students in some of the missionary secondary or teachers training schools were bitter and less open, while stronger relationships were possible in the Bible college and seminary.
19:00 Overview of Mrs. Steely's responsibilities. She drove a jeep with building materials in Liberia. While caring for the Steely children at home, she became the bookkeeper for the teacher's training college, later taking on the bookkeeping at the Bible college and then at the Kagoro dispensary. In Katsina she taught Bible at the government school. At Igbaja she was the librarian.
20:05 During her second term she was asked to start a Bible school for the wives of seminary and Bible college students. She served as the principal until the Steely's returned to the U.S.
20:40 Courses were intended to allow the wives to participate more in their husband's work.
21:05 Additional aspects of the program she started: a home economics program to prepare the women to travel outside the country; a nursery to enable the women to study without being distracted by their children; and a children's library to help with remedial reading.
24:10 Program also included child care, sewing, Bible, and English.
24:25 University degree programs were in English as Hausa did not accommodate more scientific concepts.
25:00 The average student came from a poor farm family. Some seminary students came from more affluent families.
25:50 The eagerness of families to send their children to school. Applicants exceeded permissible enrollment.
26:30 Enrollment included meeting an age requirement. The absence of record-keeping on births necessitated using a simple test based on physiological ability.
27:20 Composition of the student population: predominantly male.
27:25 Government figures from 1965 indicated that only 2% of the eligible students were in high school. The Nigerian system continually weeded students out in the lower levels, only passing the best on to the next level.
28:50 Mrs. Steely's methodology for teaching English. Materials were culturally inadequate.
29:15 Steely's use of American tests for evaluating the reading ability of the Bible school and teacher training students, even though the tests were culturally irrelevant.
29:40 Steely's evaluation of African students' ability to fit into the American college and graduate school systems.
30:15 Break in the recording.
30:25 Steely's completion of his master's degree while in Wheaton on furlough in 1958. Thesis exploring the significance of the laws of clean and unclean and the law of Moses, hoping to find a correlation between them and the African taboo laws.
32:30 Culture shock upon returning to the U.S. was not as severe as going to Africa.
33:00 End of the interview on Tape 1.

Tape T2 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:15 Garbled conversation.
00:35 Continuation of description of culture shock upon returning to the U.S. Awareness of what they had missed during their absence: space flights, the rebellion in the 1960's, and the aftermath of Vietnam.
01:25 The feelings of the children at having been away from changes in America. The effect of furloughs in reducing the isolation from what was occurring in the U.S. Similarity with the experiences of Africans studying in the U.S.
02:00 Continuity for new African students at Wheaton in learning from other Africans already at Wheaton who could assist them in adjusting.
02:35 Steely's impressions of the minimal changes at Wheaton as an undergraduate until 1950 and as a grad student in 1958. A more noticeable difference between 1950 and 1977, when he left the field and began working again for the College.
03:00 Examples of changes: chapels divided by sexes; literary societies; absence of drama, film, and square dancing; attitudes of students and influence of changing family values.
04:15 Improved quality of Wheaton College academics; relaxed attitude about faculty dress.
04:30 Comparison of neo-evangelical Wheaton with fundamentalist Bible schools on standards, doctrine, scholarship, and openness to other viewpoints.
06:45 Advancements in the college's facilities and equipment.
08:00 Location of various departments.
08:25 Comments on WETN.
09:00 ELWA's Wheaton facilities with HCJB in the Liberty Building on Liberty Drive.
09:30 ELWA's influence and scope of work.
09:55 Locations of ELWA studios outside Liberia to accommodate various languages.
10:40 ELWA's reputation in Liberia.
10:55 The meaning of the ELWA's call letters. EL=Liberia, WA=West Africa. Contest sponsored by ELWA to assign Christian meaning to its call letters resulted in "Eternal Love Winning Africa."
11:45 End of interview.

Tape T3 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of the tape.
00:06 Introduction.
00:15 Steely's feelings about his inadequate preparation for missionary work and the reason for the absence of training: never intended to become a missionary.
01:10 First impressions of Liberia: paying off officials and travel through a rural area to the site of the radio station.
02:30 Adjustment to the crude and primitive elements of African culture was required in order to be effective.
03:25 The effects of the culture on the rest of the family were reduced because their travel into (and therefore exposure to) the outlying areas was minimal.
03:55 The African's reaction to the Steelys characterized by respect and the effect of economic disparity between missionaries and nationals.
04:25 African perception of eyeglasses as a sign of wealth led to their purchasing eyeglasses for status.
04:55 General occupations of Nigerians: farming and, to a lesser degree, trading.
05:05 Description of how trading business grew in Nigeria.
05:35 The use of the bicycle for transportation.
06:05 New converts in most of Nigeria were no longer ostracized, since being a Christian carried no stigma with it, and was sometimes an advantage.
06:50 Conversion brought about positive changes: improved personal hygiene, health, and material wealth.
07:25 Converts were ostracized in the pioneer days of the mission work.
07:30 Rejection in some of the French-speaking areas where the mission work is newer takes the form of the villagers withholding their marriageable women from converts.
08:00 Scope of the work around Zonkwa and the effects of the Gospel in some isolated out-stations away from the main station which had never seen westerners.
08:55 Comparison of security from theft between Kafanchan and remote rural areas.
09:20 The reaction of Africans who had never seen a westerner. Steely's misadventure with his jungle hammock while the village watched.
10:35 Incidents of contact with lions and elephants.
12:05 Adapting Gospel to the culture of various groups in the area in Nigeria unnecessary as they all used the same trade language.
12:25 The tribal constituency around Kafanchan and the difficulty of learning their languages.
12:40 The Steelys' ability to learn Hausa. Hausa compared to Greek.
13:05 The African attitude toward authority.
13:40 The strength of the present-day animistic beliefs compared with those during the days of the early mission work. Many of the animists had converted to Islam and Christianity.
14:30 Description of animistic deities: god who was a distant creator. The people didn't worship him but were more concerned with the lesser deities and demons. The use of idols and animal sacrifices to appease the closer deities. The relationship with the spirit world based on fear.
15:50 Steely's impression that a sense of underlying fear of the spirit world continued among Christians.
16:50 The strong influence of superstitions. Incident of the school offering a reward if students could produce the people who were reported to be able to do what the superstitions suggested. The persistence of superstitious beliefs in spite of education.
17:40 The high quality of the Nigerian science and mathematics programs.
18:10 Exams as the basis for grading and school admittance.
18:50 Obtaining permits for constructing school buildings. Cooperation of a local authority in Kafanchan who was a Christian. Other experiences in Zonkwa and Katsina. Katsina proved more difficult because of the Moslem influence.
20:00 The process of obtaining the permit in Katsina involved persistence and repeated visits to the officials. The impotence of threats or bribes.
20:35 Steely's counselling opportunities in the churches were available if wanted, but did not feel this was his strongest area of contribution. He would refer to his wife when possible.
21:10 The use of corporal punishment for school discipline. African administration of the punishment.
21:25 Discipline in the church by African pastors.
22:00 Situations requiring church discipline: taking an additional wife, drinking, theft, and perhaps disrespect.
22:30 The tribal reaction to the Christian position of having one wife minimized by the time of the Steelys' service.
22:50 Incident of a village chief being disciplined for taking a Moslem woman for a second wife. The continued friendliness to the missionaries despite the discipline and his eventual repentance and putting away the second wife. The subsequent poisoning of the chief by the second wife.
24:20 Absence of suicide, ulcers, and nervous breakdowns due to a slow, relaxed attitude toward life. Example of man waiting a whole day for Steely to return. Few were overweight due to walking as transportation, the hard work of farming, and a more healthy diet.
25:50 The frequent use by the Nigerians of the distant mission dispensary outside Kafanchan for medical treatment due to its high quality care.
26:20 Dispensary program of required Gospel services prior to administering health care.
26:40 The cost of the dispensary medical care.
27:00 Critique of the government health program: minimal devotion, bribes necessary. Preference of people in Jos for mission hospital over the government ones.
27:55 Availability of eye care in Africa at the beginning of the Steely's work in Nigeria was limited to the Kano Eye Hospital, and hospitals in Cairo and Capetown, South Africa.
28:25 The scope of patients at the Kano clinic.
28:35 Steely's daughter's need for three eye surgeries and glasses. Dr. Ken Gieser assisted through the cooperative relationship between the Kano Eye Hospital and the Wheaton Eye Clinic.
29:10 Nigerian economic problems: famine near the later part of their career in the country and the subsequent immigration of many desert people, largely the Tuaregs, from northern Africa.
29:35 Inflation as a problem after the 1966 civil war. Examples of price increases.
30:20 Impact of the desert people's immigration into Nigeria. Causes of the famine, the impact of the increased population on food prices and school fees.
31:00 School costs for supplies and tuition.
32:20 Costs of native produce. The Steelys' freedom from dependence on imported foods in Nigeria.
32:50 The absence of major national agriculture because of heavy rainfall in Liberia required the use of imported food; experiences with gardening in Liberia.
33:20 Liberian agricultural environment compared with Nigeria's.
33:40 The Steelys' gardening and canning food in Nigeria. Available foods in the Kagoro and Kafanchan area.
34:40 Description of Liberia's subsistence industries: lumbering, hunting, trading. More farming possible in the Liberian interior.
35:25 Composition of the Nigerian population: the settled tribal peoples and the nomadic Fulani.
35:45 Background of the Fulani: conquerors of the northern part of Nigeria and importers of Islam. Description of Fulani government. Fulani consist of settled and nomadic people. Absence of conflict between the wandering Fulani with their government and the settled tribal people with theirs.
36:40 The similarity between the desert people and the Fulanis and the subsequent lack of conflict with the Nigerians.
36:50 Description of the desert people.
37:35 The Fulani use of Arabic for speaking and reading, including use of the Arabic script for Hausa.
38:00 Evaluation of Nigeria's preparation for its independence in 1960, the transition of authority, and the subsequent changes.
39:40 Background on the 1966 civil war: Tiv historic independence from the Fulani and Tiv resistance; the Sardauna of Sokoto's (premier) use of force to fight their resistance. Problems in the Moslem Yoruba area where the Sardauna was beginning to use police power to control that area as well. Military's dissatisfaction with the Sardauna's aggressiveness led to his assassination.
42:10 Coordination of cultural events by a USAID representative, including a concert by a British pianist on the night of the coup.
43:15 Impact and scope of the takeover: greatest success in Kaduna.
43:55 Impact of the coup on Steely's weekly radio and television programs: preaching with an armed guard in the studio. The greater sense of freedom to preach after the coup.
44:35 Impact of the coup on Christian activity illustrated by the reopening of a Baptist church along with freedom to preach.
45:10 Preaching a positive Gospel to avoid conflict in the Moslem environment.
45:30 Advice while visiting Jordan not to do street corner evangelism.
46:00 The presence Egyptian pilots and Soviet planes and pilots present in Nigeria made the use of Bible passages denouncing Egypt inadvisable over the air.
46:35 Background on the secessionist movement in 1967: a reaction of the northern people against the Ibos in the east. The tactics used against the rebel and the inability of the northerners to crush the Ibo rebellion despite their superior manpower, resources and the backing of the world.
48:10 Scheduled furlough occurred prior to the war. The war was continuing upon their return.
48:25 Incident of tools in his suit pocket being mistaken for a weapon upon his reentry into Nigeria.
48:35 End of side 1.

Tape T3 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from side 1.
02:40 Continuation of incident of Steely being inspected for carrying tools in his pocket when reentering the country. Occasional searches at gunpoint by the military during the war.
03:05 Steely's open-ended pass during the war: "Rev. Steely has a right to be wherever he is."
03:25 Feelings about being out at night on the empty streets during the curfew. Mrs. Steely's dislike of going out at night.
03:50 Having to turn in his gun, which was later returned.
04:05 Traveling with a police inspector, with whom Steely had become friends and went hunting, made carrying a gun easier.
04:30 Problems with thugs in the western region. Warned about being out at night when working at the seminary in Igbaja.
05:00 Incident of being stopped by police when unable to return before nightfall and their advice to shoot robbers.
05:40 Instances of robberies near the seminary.
05:50 The civil war provided the opportunity for SIM to begin to work in the east, whereas before the mission had only been working in the north and west. Citing Godswill Uchi Simon, a grad student at the Wheaton College Graduate School, who came from the Ibos of the east, was a convert from that time.
06:40 When the Ibos were in the north, the Yorubas killed many Ibo men. Military in the north also killed the Ibos. Police then had to extract the military and transfer the Ibos back to the east.
07:10 Transported Ibos passing through Kaduna without food. The Steelys' participation in providing food for the Ibos.
07:45 The northern people in the east were also returned to their area.
08:00 Description of the Ibos: excelling in positions of authority.
08:25 With the onset of the riots, co-workers of differing ethnic groups began fighting and murdering.
08:40 Incidents of murders. Head military man in Kaduna, an Ibo, killed by a northern man, who then took over the office.
09:00 Steely's assuming chaplaincy duties because the former chaplain, an Ibo, had to flee.
09:25 Hostility toward the Ibos grew from their being in positions of authority throughout the country.
09:40 Ibo haughtiness and taunting their workers increased their trouble. Description of Ibo strengths.
10:00 With the expulsion of the Ibos, the railroads were nearly shut down because of the role they played in the train industry, as well as other services.
10:20 Incident of the Steely's difficulty of getting a packed drum into the country due to the congestion in the harbor at Lagos. Description of the harbor and cause for congestion.
11:35 Overview of first furlough. Completed masters at Wheaton and then went on to do regular deputation work. Assumed an interim pastorate in Nebraska while waiting for the school year in Nigeria to begin.
12:10 On the other furloughs, deputation work occupied the time.
12:20 On their fourth furlough, Steely studied at Trinity.
12:25 Steely would also paint on the side to supplement mission funds.
12:30 Inadequacy of mission support fixed for living in Nigerian for life in the U.S.
12:50 SIM's goal of ideally receiving support from one to four churches. Steelys' support came from eighty-eight sources in fourteen states, requiring two to three months of traveling to visit them all.
13:20 Description of the Steely's deputation schedule throughout the Midwest, using Wheaton as a base.
14:10 Reasons for returning to the U.S: retirement requirements met and the problems that the children, both in the U.S. and Africa, were having.
14:30 Children's difficulties related to adjusting to American US life and their reactions to Kent Academy, their boarding school.
14:50 The Steelys' discovery of the degree of their son's dissatisfaction with the school as a result of his talk at a church service and a lengthy letter to them. Letter brought about changes in the school.
15:20 End of interview on T3.

Tape T4 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of the tape.
00:05 Responsibilities of the Kent Academy staff.
00:20 Difficulties of working with children at an MK school.
00:35 Two examples of excesses in school discipline, one involving the Steely's son.
01:50 The impact of school discipline on the Steely children.
02:00 Reasons for the Steely children's silence about problems at school.
02:20 Steely's certainty that they would have left the field had they been aware of the problems.
02:30 The impact of the problems on the children.
02:50 Emergence of the problems upon the children's return to the U.S.
03:05 Absence of problems on the field and the children's commendable behavior.
03:15 Commendable achievements of their son: track, science fair, and evangelistic work. Greatly respected by the Africans.
04:25 Steelys shock once their son had spoken out about the problems led to their questioning the other children.
05:15 Changes the Steely's observed. Son's testimony about an MK's life seen as a turning point.
06:15 The Steelys' greatest difficulty as missionaries was the difficulties which developed for their children.
06:40 Option of teaching at home permitted but counterproductive.
07:00 Advantage brought about by the introduction of the MK school which earlier missionaries did not share: children could remain on the field, nearer for longer.
07:30 Mission's changes as a result of the revelation of the problems.
07:40 Description of educational system: through 9th grade at Kent Academy; grades 10 through 12 in Jos at a school jointly operated by several missions.
08:05 SIM considered most strict, old-fashioned and fundamentalist mission among those participating at the school in Jos. Education handled jointly at the school; boarding coordinated for students at separate mission hostels.
08:30 Boarding situation in Jos more relaxed compared with that at Kent Academy. The hostel was a first step away from the regimentation at Kent Academy and a good intermediate step in preparation for unsupervised education in the U.S. Positive programs.
09:10 Problems could have been minimized had the school not been understaffed and by personnel who wanted to be there.
09:30 Example of unqualified math teacher and the subsequent difficulties of the Steelys' son in the pre-med program at Wheaton.
09:50 Overall quality of the mission school's education exceeded that available in the U.S.
10:10 Kent Academy dorm staff perceived as the main problem.
10:20 The impact of the climate on the Steelys: health problems related to heavy rains and high humidity. Comparison of weather conditions.
11:05 Serious problems with malaria: the Steely's son's near death and Steely's contraction of the disease.
12:05 SIM moved its language school because of the malaria problem.
12:20 Steely's repeated cases of malaria while building out of Kafanchan and subsequent recurrences.
3:10 Bingham Memorial Nursing Home's ranking as a nursing home related to its number of resident doctors.
13:30 Overview of SIM's medical operation and staff in Nigeria.
14:20 Evaluation of medical facilities.
14:55 Steely's African name meaning "hunter". Steely's hunting provided food for the family and eliminated the necessity of buying meat in the market. Listing of various animals killed.
16:05 Description of the meat portion of the Nigerian diet.
16:40 African means of catching animals.
17:55 The decline of Nigeria's wild animal population largely due to the increased availability of guns and the lack of enforcement of the game laws.
18:55 Good game hunting elsewhere in Africa. Jacqueline Kennedy's gift of a hunting rifle to Sudan's leader.
19:15 The African's subsistence hunting done primarily for the meat. Hunters would also have to farm.
19:45 Description of mass hunting at the beginning of the dry season, consisting of burning the grasslands. Steely's would burn a firebreak around their home to protect it.
20:50 The problem of grass-thatched roofs during the burning season. Replacing the grass roof with a metal roof during the dry season.
21:25 Cooking hazards with a grass roof.
22:00 Illegal methods of trapping game: traps, carbide light for blinding animals, poisoned arrows, and use of chemicals for catching fish.
22:40 African resistance of the British game laws.
23:05 British researcher's account of seeing groups of poachers in a game reserve near Igbaja.
24:15 Incident in the reserve of being near poachers with a guard who could do nothing to stop them.
24:45 Trapping buffalo.
25:05 Incident of police officer friend killing an alligator.
26:00 Description of Nigeria's two types of police: native authority police and federal police. British system allowed the national administration to continue, including the police system. The personnel in the two forces varied in their ability to speak English, uniforms and their education.
26:50 The eventual integration of the two forces.
27:00 British system of governance: district officers in each area with judicial, executive and legislative powers. District officers reported to a resident who governed an entire state.
27:20 Working alongside the British system was the native administration consisting of the emir who also governed an entire state.
27:45 The emir's visit on New Years Day to the resident to acknowledge his authority.
28:10 The nomadic Fulani system also operated in this environment: three systems worked fairly effectively at the same time.
28:20 Independence eliminated the resident and district officer posts.
28:40 Attitude of the Africans to the introduction and use of western ways; learning to use them while retaining a tribal mindset.
29:50 The African acceptance of western ways in order to advance.
30:05 The absence of individualism and private ownership. A wife was the single exception.
30:45 The difficult life of an African woman and the advantage of additional wives and many children for the African man.
31:35 Incident of pastor who formerly had four wives. Upon his conversion, he put away three of the wives but was still entitled to keep the children.
31:50 Example of the ECWA (Evangelical Church of West Africa) leader's fears of his unconverted brother's use of his children upon his own death.
32:40 The status of wives.
32:55 The broadening availability of education for men and women. The example of the presence of Nigerian women at Wheaton.
33:55 African husbands' complete control of family money.
34:25 African approach to family money illustrated in an incident of a Liberian church offering where Steely gave his wife his money for her to contribute and the strong reaction by the Liberians.
34:55 African women's means of acquiring their own money.
35:25 Instance of meeting the 103-year old hakami whose father had been the emir. Background on the removal from power of the hakemi's father because of his cruelty.
36:45 Sketchy overview of Nigerian judicial system.
37:15 Status upon retirement from the field and returning to Wheaton: worked at Wheaton College as an electronic technician in order to live at home with children.
38:10 Silent break in the audio.
38:15 Interim pastorate in Wisconsin was short-lived because the church wanted a younger more dynamic preacher.
38:40 Steely's return to the College electric shop.
39:05 Steely's development of a method to use Greek study aids and teaching evening classes to assist lay Bible students.
39:50 No remaining desire to return to Africa.
40:10 Steely's desire to get into a full-time Bible teaching ministry.
40:30 Inadequacy of training for teaching in Bible colleges.
41:15 Sense of ministry at the College, the value of Christian staff to work with, and advantages of working at Wheaton in light of inadequate retirement planning possible as a missionary.
42:55 Overview of spelling of African words.
43:30 Explanation of the meaning of the names of the native administration police: Dan (son) doki (horse) and Dan (son) sanda (stick).
44:05 Further overview of spelling.
44:25 Description of the extent of duties of the national governors, the Sardauna and hakami.
45:10 Further overview of spelling.
45:55 Life overview by Steely: his conversion in the military, his accidental discharge, his inadvertent admittance to Wheaton, the desire to become a Bible teacher and the influence of the revival and beginning of the radio station all illustrate God's hand at work.
47:15 Uncertain of reasons for being back at Wheaton.
47:35 End of side 1.

Tape T4 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of side 2
00:05 Overlap from side 1.
05:05 Further discussion on how the Steelys returned to Wheaton College.
05:30 Benefits of being at Wheaton.
05:40 Ongoing desire to teach and availability to take up new work as God directs.
06:20 Additional benefit of being in Wheaton during Mrs. Steely's cancer treatment.
06:30 Varied ability to discern God's purposes. Goodness of God's plans and the need to trust him illustrated by move from Kagora to Kaduna.
07:35 End of interview.


The materials in this collection were received by the Center from Merle A. Steely in December, 1984.

Accession 84-140, 84-141
September 10, 1986
Paul A. Ericksen
J. Nasgowitz

March 27, 1990, revised
J. Nasgowitz

Accession 84-140, 84-141
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel tape, 3-3/4 i.p.s. approximately 80 minutes. Missionary Sources Collection oral history interview of Merle Ashel Steely by Kimberly Smith, recorded on November 20, 1984. One side.

T2 - Reel-to-reel tape, 3-3/4 i.p.s., approximately 12 minutes. Continuation of interview on T1. Missionary Sources Collection oral history interview of Merle Ashel Steely by Kimberly Smith, recorded on November 20, 1984. One side.

T3 - Reel-to-reel tape, 3-3/4 i.p.s., approximately 60 minutes. Missionary Sources Collection oral history interview of Merle Ashel Steely by Kimberly Smith, recorded on November 28, 1984. One side.

T4 - Reel-to-reel tape, 3-3/4 i.p.s., approximately 50 minutes. Continuation of interview on T3. Missionary Sources Collection oral history interview of Merle Ashel Steely by Kimberly Smith, recorded on November 28, 1984. One side.

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