Rev. Dr. Russell Hall, pastor, missionary, peacemaker and moderator, passed away December 9, 2011. He was 91 years old.
After more than 20 years ministering in Canadian congregations, Hall and his wife Margaret were called to Lagos, Nigeria, as missionaries in 1966. A year later they found themselves caught up in the country’s civil war.
“He had a great love for the congregation and for the Nigerian people,” remembers Rev. Bob Wilson, a member of the ministry team in Lagos. “He was very open to the Nigerian style of worship,” where pastors had less control over the liturgy and services could go on for hours.
In 1967, civil war broke out when the southeastern provinces attempted to separate from the country. Close to the western border and situated on the South Atlantic coast, Lagos was a strategic locale for sending and receiving relief aid to the rest of the country.
Wilson remembers Hall working hard to make sure international aid passed through “no man’s land” to the eastern parts of the country. “He risked his life to both help refugees and transfer information and funds coming in from outside Nigeria,” said Wilson.
Rev. Dr. Rick Fee, general secretary of the Life and Mission Agency and a former missionary to Nigeria, confirms Hall’s role, adding that amidst the conflict the Halls would often hide refugees in the church and in their home.
After the war ended in 1970, there was a great deal of peacemaking to be done. According to Fee, Hall fostered peace among groups that had previously been in open conflict. The need for reconciliation was especially urgent in churches, where congregants who had previously been at war with each other were now sharing pews.
“There was a lot of tension,” remembers Wilson.
In 1973, Hall was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. Fee largely attributes this honour to Hall’s peacekeeping role. “He was a well-respected person … appreciated very much by the community,” said Fee.
As moderator, Hall travelled the country encouraging people to seek peace while also giving support to small churches in outlying regions. In the aftermath of the war, roads were in very poor condition, making it difficult for Christian communities to connect with each other. Since Hall and his colleagues had access to reliable vehicles, they were able to help start and restart multiple congregations throughout Nigeria.
Three years later, the Halls returned to Canada. Soon after arriving, they discovered any future travel to Nigeria would be barred. They were deeply disappointed. Fee concludes the travel restriction was a result of the work they did during the civil war, which may have been viewed as subversive by some public officials.
Russell continued in ministry as director of resources for the Canadian Bible Society and a consultant to the international mission advisory committee. In 1988 he retired; though he continued to serve in interim ministries, eventually becoming an associate minister at St. Andrew’s, Markham, Ont.