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Collection 290 Oral History Interview with Merle A. Steely

Identifier: CN 290

Scope and Contents

Oral history interviews with Merle Ashel Steely, who worked as a missionary with Sudan Interior Mission between 1951 and 1977 in Liberia and Nigeria. Topic discussed include: Steely's conversion while in military service, education and employment at Wheaton College (including the 1950 revival there), his missionary work in Liberia at radio station ELWA and with Sudan Interior Mission in Nigeria, teaching in mission and government schools, evangelism and church planting, Billy Graham's 1960 evangelistic meetings in Nigeria, the education of the Steely children at Kent Academy, SIM's medical missionary institutions (including Kano Eye Hospital), religion, culture and social life of Nigeria's tribal groups (Fulani, Ibo, Hansa, and Tiv), the impact of Christianity on Nigerian tribal culture, the relationships between the national church/mission and the government, the educational system and economy of Nigeria, missions efforts among Nigeria's Muslims, the role of women in Nigeria, his wife's role in their missionary work, the impact of British colonization, the history prior to and following Nigeria's civil war, and other mission-related subjects. The time period covered by the interviews is 1954-1984.

Merle Steely was interviewed by Kimberly Smith at Steely's home in Wheaton, Illinois on November 20, 1984 and the Billy Graham Center Archives on November 28, 1984.


  • Created: 1984


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

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. Mr.Steely passed away on May, 11, 2022


4.00 Audio Tapes

214 Minutes

Language of Materials


Additions and Accruals

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Merle A. Steely in December, 1984.

Accession 84-140, 84-141

September 10, 1986

Paul A. Ericksen

J. Nasgowitz Revised

March 27, 1990

J. Nasgowitz

Collection 290 Oral History Interview with Merle A. Steely
Paul Ericksen
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Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US