Bill and Audrey Cowley, retired Southern Baptist missionaries, were honored as “Baptists of the Year” for 2016 at a March 16, 2017, dinner held in their honor.
This honor was first announced in late December 2016 by Robert Parham on EthicsDaily.com, the website of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“They showed remarkable creativity and courage during a time of tribal genocide in Nigeria in 1966. They also built through steady steps one of Africa’s transformative educational institutions [Baptist High School in Jos],” Parham, BCE / EthicsDaily.com’s late founder and executive director, wrote of the Cowleys. “Neither story is widely known. Both stories represent the best of the mission enterprise.”
The Cowleys were key interviewees in “The Disturbances,” EthicsDaily.com’s latest documentary.
The film, which was co-produced by Parham and Cliff Vaughn, media producer at EthicsDaily.com, shares a previously untold story about Christian missionaries and local pastors saving lives during a tribal genocide in Nigeria in 1966.
The couple reside in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Woman’s Missionary Union is headquartered.
BCE’s 2017 board meeting was held at the national WMU building on March 16-17, and the couple were honored with a Thursday evening dinner provided by the WMU Foundation.
“Tonight, we celebrate and honor the Cowleys for their many best days. Robert [Parham] spent the last years of his life wanting to know more about – and wanting others to know more about – some of their best days. Specifically, those disturbed days in 1966 Nigeria. A tribal genocide. Missionaries in the middle,” said Vaughn in introducing and recognizing the Cowleys.
“In those days, the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Jesus were in the hearts and hands and feet of Bill and Audrey Cowley,” he added. “Being merciful. Making peace. Doing unto others. Robert thought we should remember that. We should remember that. And tonight, honor that.”
Bill Cowley spoke on behalf of the couple following Vaughn’s remarks.
Bill began by highlighting their longtime friendship with the Parhams, which dated back to both families’ time in Nigeria as Baptist missionaries.
“We have the privilege of honoring the memory of Robert Parham,” Cowley said. “As a child, he was serious, always eager to learn and to do everything right. … [He] went on to attain academic excellence and develop a sterling reputation for saying, seeing and doing things right.”
The message then shifted to “The Disturbances” and to genocide – defining what it is, explaining that it builds slowly over time through subtle means before coming to fruition, and noting how they worked diligently at Baptist High School to overcome tribalism that “harbors the rudimentary makings of genocide.”
“At a prominent place on the campus, we erected a large sign that displayed the words of Psalm 133:1: ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity,'” Cowley said. “Unceasingly we recited this. We preached it. We modeled it. We prayed it. … This was a motto of the school.”
He added, “We were, unknowingly, anticipating one of Robert Parham’s axioms and a motto of Baptist Center for Ethics – ‘Challenging people of faith to advance the common good.’ Our students were young people of simple faith, but, to God’s glory, we can humbly say, ‘It worked! God worked.'”