Matthew Omoruyi OtasowiE PhD
Department Of Religions,
Faculty of Arts, University of Benin
Lateef Kayode Adeyemo PhD
Department Of Religions,
Faculty of Arts, University of Benin
This paper is an attempt to study the history, the aims and objectives, module operandi as well as socialization impacts and influence of Gospel Light International Ministries in Edo State in particular and Nigeria and the rest of the world in general. Critical – analytical and phenomenological methods are adopted as interviews, focus group discussions and questionnaires much as ‘on the spot observation’ forms the media for data collection. Findings availed by the study show that the ministries, had, particularly through her founder, exerted a great influence on people of Edo State and Nigerian Christian community as a whole.
Keywords: Gospel, Socialization, African Pentecostal Churches, Humanitarian services, Leadership
The natural environment provides man with certain necessities of life. The upsurge of Pentecostal fundamentalism and their aggressive evangelistic character in the 1970s, making tactless utterances about their faith with open –air preaching was a case in history. The new Churches posed a serious threat to the older and more traditional churches as many of their members were deserting them to join the new ones. The revivalist Christians perceived the nations ills through lenses of religious fundamentalism (Enwerem, 1995)1. Some Nigerian leaders in the church were inordinately ambitious. This is why many people opt out of their churches at the slightest disagreements to establish their own. This also account for why there are many churches today. Hence, the observation made by Breuilly and Palmer (1993)2, that around 20 new religious groups or sects start up in Nigeria every month.
Leadership and charisma played a great role in the new religious movements. Their members look to the founder with respect, he was thought of as having special calling, filled with the Holy Spirit and that this flowed from him to the members. He has the ability, that is, the charisma to control the Church. Members share in this spirit, in the form Weber referred to as routinization of charisma (Hill, 1973)3. Leadership is the process of directing and influencing the task of related activities of group members. Leadership connotes the office or position of the head of an organization. Such an office, whether headed by an individual or a group of people, exists for the purpose of guidance, direction and stimulating the followers for the purpose of achieving the goals for which the organization exists. Leadership can be attained through various means including election and divine appointment (Exodus, 3:10). Leadership according to Apenda and Adega (2006)4, refers to the position of a leader or the quality displayed by a leader.
The African Christian movements or ministries emphasize healing and efficacy of prayer. The Pentecostal/charismatic Churches demonstrates their Africanness (i.e Afrocentricism) as they were founded by Africans/Nigerians. The African churches are independent and therefore, take decisions on their own, they pray with their needs in view and not reading out already prepared prayers in books (Owoeye, 2007)5. The style of these churches include emphasis on African music and clapping of hands in order to be more emotionally involved in the practice of their religion.
At times, they dance and pray aloud. By expressing themselves in different ways, they are serving their God in a more satisfactory way; at least in a way that best suit their situation and environments. This agrees with F. Schleimacher’s view that religious man finds satisfaction when he is spiritually and emotionally involved in the practice of his religion. If he wants to weep, he should be allowed to weep properly; if he wants to clap hands, should be allowed to do so; if he wants to pray aloud, he should be allowed to do so. He has freedom for his emotions (Onibere, 1981)6. These make Christianity relevant to their culture and help them to get it domesticated to their own environments.
Advent of Christianity in Benin
The history of Christianity in Benin is dated between 1472 and 1707, the age of adventure championed by the Portuguese priests and King John of Portugal. The second attempt began after the abolition of slave trade with the Anglican missionaries led by Bishop James Johnson. Bishop James Johnson was in charge of Edo and Niger Delta areas in 1901. He posted Mr. J.A. Oyesile Omage, the first trained catechist from Eme- Ora to Benin (Oviasu, 2002)7. This early period witnessed conflict between the missionaries and the natives as they tried to introduce Christianity to them. European agents believed they were bringing civilization, superior culture, and belief to unfortunate and primitive savages. The missionaries opened churches and schools, the first generation of converts blend some practices of the Nigerian culture and Christianity. This tendency is one of the reasons why independent churches developed and flourished in Africa particularly in Benin City (Aguwa, 2005)8.
The Assemblies of God Church began the Pentecostal type of Christianity in Benin at Edokpolor Grammar School with Gabriel Ojemekele Oyakhilomen and Okhira from Ewu in 1959. The Church started with few members but people gradually accepted the faith especially students and women. The first church was erected around Edokpolor Grammar School. The Assemblies of God Mission strategy was to concentrate on evangelism (preaching) in towns and villages. They put some of their converts through a short Bible training so that they could become pastors. This offered career opportunities to the unemployed and poorly educated. The Assemblies have strong appeal to children, women, the aged and the poor, according to John Brodrick.
Closely following the Assemblies of God Mission was the Church of God Mission International founded by Benson Idahosa, a convert of the Salvation Army Church. Benson Idahosa was a sales man at Bata Shoe Company when he became a convert. Soon after conversion he became enthusiastic in sharing his faith with others by accompanying the prayer group on evangelism to the villages. He became conscious that this was his vocation. He decided to start his own ministry in 1969 at a store along Forestry Road while Iyaro Church became his first branch (Garlock, 1981)9.
Gospel Light International Ministries
The Gospel Light International Ministries (GLIM) has its headquarters in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. It was established in December, 1987. As a registered corporation, GLIM has six major arms including the New Covenant Gospel Church (NCGC); Radio/Television Evangelical Outreach; Schools including GLIM Bible College, Covenant Christian Academy (CCA) and Lighthouse Polytechnic; and publications and mission outreach (Omobude, 2013)10.
The New Covenant Gospel Church is the first and main branch of the Gospel Light International Ministries. A product of Rev Felix Ikponmwosa Omobude’s personal initiative, it was born in January 3, 1988. A former civil servant with the Ministry of Finance, a strong sceptic and a believer in Socialist ideology before his conversion at a crusade ground at Ogbe Stadium organized by Rev. Benson Idahosa in 1971. The words of the preacher, “come unto me all those who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” touched his soul moving him to repentance and accepting Jesus Christ.
He soon became a preacher of Christ and a pastor in the Church of God Mission International. Pastor Benson Idahosa assigned him to head the Iyaro branch of the mission. He became popular in the Church but sometimes around May, 1987, Pastor Felix Ikponmwosa Omobude and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the Pastor – in- Charge of a branch of the church at Warri and the immediate past President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) embarked on an international evangelical tour to America without the permission of the General Overseer, (Bishop Benson Idahosa). When they arrived, they were questioned and transferred from their former stations. Being unhappy with the treatment, both of them turned their back on the Church of God Mission to form their own. Pastor Felix Omobude with his team of admirers began the New Covenant Gospel Church and through television evangelism, personal contacts and crusades many people have been converted and the church now has many branches as indicated by Elder John Ehigie.
The New Covenant Church began with twelve members at Rev. F.I. Omobude’s residence, 5 Ukpenbo Street, off Otote, off Textile Mill Road, Benin City. As members increased, they moved behind the house under Palm trees, and later relocated to Eddray Hotel along Television Road near Oliha Market in Benin City. In 1987, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Rev. F.I. Omobude went into a spiritual seclusion away from his family and friends by staying at Palm Royal Hotel. While at this spiritual seclusion, he tabled his immediate problems before the Lord. It was an experience that changed his missionary life. He confessed encountering the Lord in the hotel. In his vision, it was reported that Jesus Christ put a light in his hand and asked him to guide others with the light. This was how the ‘Gospel Light International Ministries’ became the name his church bears till date. Until this vision, the name was New Covenant Gospel Church. The New Covenant Gospel Church was established in 1988. It moved from hotel hall along TV Road to a Warehouse at Uselu- Lagos Road, Benin City. Finally as members increased, a parcel of land was purchased at 1, Edokpolor Close where the permanent cathedral and the headquarters was eventually built.
The New Covenant Church which is one of the fastest growing Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria currently has over 120 branches and scores of other affiliated churches spread across Africa and Europe. His “Glory” is the name of the cathedral, the international headquarters of the church. ‘His Glory’ currently operates two services on Sundays with about 15,000 worshippers. The church which is now 27 years old has a vision to reach the entire world with the uncompromising light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bible College and Christian Education
The second unit of the Gospel Light International is the establishment of Bible College and other Christian Education. Schools have served as the nursery bed of the infant church (Ferguson, 1971)11. Henry Venn the secretary to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1868 gave a theory of “self- government, self- support, and self-extension”, encouraging indigenous clergy under an indigenous bishop. African church founders tend to accept Henry Venn’s theory of training native pastors.
In Vatican 11, (Optatan Totius) the document referred to priestly training as formative. In this document, spiritual formation is closely associated with doctrinal and pastoral formation. Formative evaluation has been proposed for the purpose of curriculum improvement. It has been found to be useful in both instruction and students learning. It has to do with students’ achievement by monitoring students’ learning progress. Formative evaluation is also to provide an on- going feedback (on strength and weakness) of students to the teachers and vice versa (Ughamadu, 1992)12. It also aims at ensuring a healthy acquisition and development of knowledge and skills by students.
This is necessary in a pastoral training to prevent clergymen from losing their focus. Material pursuit and worldly care has taken over the place of good pastoral care of souls in the midst of those yearning for spiritual nourishment. The care for the sheep was so dear to the heart of Jesus Christ that he called Peter, “feed my Lambs, tend my sheep” (John, 21:15, 17). Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus defined formation as: forming, things formed, structured or shaped, while formative relates to development shaping (Climour, 2005)13.
The Bible College is the place where pastors in training are formed, academically and morally, preparing them for the future task of taking care of the new and old converts in their station. The Gospel Light International Ministries Bible College was established principally to train Christians to fulfil their calling to be preachers and teachers of the word of God. Attending a Bible College will differentiate trained pastors from self- made, who go about with a Bible and jingling bell, claiming to be divinely chosen. There are many who simply began a ministry without formal training. However, the Gospel Light had produced over two thousand graduates who are currently involved in evangelism globally. The College awards two years Diploma Certificate in Bible and Christian Theology and one year programme on the Associate of Arts Degree in Christian Education.
As has been the tradition with missionary sector, this sect established some primary and secondary schools. Of recent, there has been an emergence of private Universities in Nigeria which are spearheaded by some few Christian Denominations, individuals and co-operate organizations. Some of these universities include: Karitas University in Enugu, owned by the Roman Catholic Mission, Madonna University at Okija, of the Roman Catholic Mission, Benson Idahosa University, Benin City of the Church of God Mission, Bingham University in Nasarawa State, of Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), Covenant University of the Living Faith Church and Samuel Adegboyega University, at Ogwa of Apostolic Faith Mission, Backok University at Ilisan Remo of Seventh Day Adventist Church, Bowen University of Baptist Convention at Iwo to mention but a few. Many Christian sects are also proposing to start their own universities (Mijah, and Kerker, 2010)14. The Gospel Light International Ministries opened Lighthouse Polytechnic in 2004. It started from a rented apartment in Benin City, but later relocated to its permanent site at Evbuobanosa, near Benin City in Edo State, in January 2007.
Education is seen as one of the potent tools with which the individual and society can have effective transformation and the Christian Church is a great partaker in this area. Let us now return to formative technique; pastors adopt this method inadvertently in bringing up their flock, watching their members’ activities in the local church. They keep records of certain incidents in the church’s diary like was recorded in (1 Samuel, 1:9- 16). When studying growth either at the group or individual level, we need checklists, inventory and anecdotal records as working tools. These records help the clergy as he keep particular incidents of some persons’ behaviour in the parish. It is from such reports we can know the spiritual growth of individual or a group. Other ways to gauge the spiritual growth is to ask a few questions as can be done in a Bible class of children and youths/adult. The number of church members determines the rate of acceptance of the message by the community.
Evangelism in the Air (Radio/Television Evangelism)
Television evangelism began in Benin City in the 1970s with the Church of God Mission. The Mission organized the first evangelistic crusade at Ogbe Stadium from February 25 to 29, 1972 which attracted about five thousand people. Pastor Benson Idahosa and his followers publicised the crusade through the Radio Nigeria, Benin Station, hand bills, and posters under the name of “Christ for the Nations Evangelistic Association”. A new television station was approved to be established in Benin City in 1973, until then there were only four TV stations in the whole country, located in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna (Garlock, 1981)15. Airing religious programme on N.T.A. station began in 1974 under the caption “Redemption hour programme” sponsored by the Church of God Mission.
In the contemporary time, almost all the Churches are airing their programme on television and radio. Public television is a unique kind of publicity, and TV evangelism is actually a business in itself, creating, producing, and providing the weekly programme (Kennedy, 1996)16. The gospel means “Good News” and the word evangelism derives from the Greek word evangelion which means to proclaim the good news with authority and power. This is the duty of every minister and believer on earth. The mandate to evangelise every town and village on earth was given in what has come to be known as the Great Commission. In it Christ commanded, “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matt. 28: 19-20). The saving, baptizing, and teaching of all peoples on earth, regardless of race or colour, is in itself, a world mission. This is the great responsibility that rests upon us (Osagiede, 2005)17.
In realization of its avowed commitment to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel Light International Ministries is actively engaged in evangelism, missionary activities, and church planting. Beside the above, crusades, seminars, workshops and conferences are common features of Gospel Light International Ministries’ programmes. These ministries have over the years, invested substantially in radio and television broadcast where fresh and undiluted messages of hope and salvation are regularly aired to the teaming listening and viewing audience. Audio and Video CDs and tapes of sermons delivered by Rev. (Dr.) F.I. Omobude and other anointed Ministers of God are always available in large quantity for Christians in quest of knowledge and spiritual growth to buy (Omobude, 2013)18.
Rev. Omobude has been a popular Tele- evangelist since the beginning of this ministry. The dwellers of Benin City will testify to his preaching on TV and Radio. The authors also got to know him through this medium. The problem with TV evangelism however, is that, there is no close contact with the pastor but they can appear even in bed room if you tune into the channel. In the case of Rev. F.I. Omobude, the use of hyperbolic language and dragging is common in his communication. Media evangelism is quickest way to fulfilling the great message of ‘go ye and preach the good news to all nations’ which the ministry so diligently employed over the years.
The Missionaries adopted medical institutions as one of the effective means of evangelization. It is still on record that prior to 1970, most of the well- equipped and flourishing hospitals were run by missionaries. The use of medical services served a lot of useful purpose to save life and win converts to the church.
The experience of plagues in 1864, 1867 and 1873 brought many people to the Christian faith because the natives saw the effectiveness of the medical services. They abandoned the use of traditional medicines and sacrifices to gods. The use of orthodox medicines (or European medicine as they used to call it) was a significant force in the promotion of the missionary work. Different denominations employed medical services which were observed to have ulterior motives and highly effective with regards to their set objectives. Pruned of its humanitarian purpose, the dispensing of medicines was conceived to influence the people to accept the Christian faith (Onunwa, 1985)19.
The Gospel Light International Ministries adopted life lift as a unit through which they give succour to those in health related problems. Through the life lift, they have embarked on free medical services and drugs have been administered to patients on regular basis, and in large quantity to the needy, particularly rural dwellers. This unit have also been sending food and relief supplies to charitable homes and Ossimo Lepers settlement situated at Ogan, Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State. The unit also extended the humanitarian services to Ossimo General Hospital where they assisted in rebuilding Tuberculosis centre. This unit has a large pool of experienced medical personnel, educationists, clergy and environmentalists (Omobude, 2013)20.
In the various trends of religious communities today, the church philosophy is captured thus: “we have seen the hand of God urging us along a certain path. Our interest is borne of awareness that God has given us a new task”. The community we study here is different from the hermit style, but there are certain common features in them.
“Each one of us is involved in the growth of the whole group of which he is a part. True Christian growth is the gradual taking over of a group, not merely of individuals, by the spirit of God. The personal growth of each individual is tied with the release of the spirit in the group. The graces that each one needs for his personal growth, as a human being and as a Christian, are found in contributing to the growth of the community as a whole. In the work of building community, we can be greatly helped by the behavioural sciences: group dynamics and personality assessment”, (Connolly, 1984)21.
In the Gospel, Jesus seems to search for an appropriate word or image to describe the Kingdom of God. Many of his references to the kingdom were in terms of growth and growing things; the vine, the fig tree, the seeds in the field, the wheat and the cockle. Let us select two of the images Jesus employed in the Gospels and apply them to the Christian community life today. The Parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13:33); Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is like Leaven which a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole was leavened”. The Kingdom of God is the presence and action of the spirit of God in people, whether we take them as individuals or as a group. In this parable, our Lord tells us that the growth of the Kingdom works along the lines that leaven works in dough. When leaven is mixed into dough, it vanishes from the surface and becomes totally absorbed into the whole mixture. You can neither see it nor isolate it. But it works from within, silently and pervasively.
We can apply that idea to religious community life. Religious community life grows from within by the gradual expansion of the impulse of the spirit who is within it. A community cannot really be programmed into growing. It will grow only when its members begin to act on the principle of the leaven, and work for the expansion of the spirit’s influence within themselves- for “the release of the spirit”.
The kingdom of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was born and grew in the atmosphere of a loving group- the holy family. Equally, the Kingdom of God in a religious community depends very much on the growth of the atmosphere that is in the group. An atmosphere of listening, of concern and appreciation facilitates the action of the spirit. You cannot push the spirit of God into anybody. The spirit can only be breathed into another.
A community that really wants to grow as a body, has to come together and listen to its own heart- beat. It has to reflect on the mystery that is itself. This is an aspect of community growth that is sometimes forgotten. Much of community effort today is very outward- looking. Little time is given to letting people come together as a body; to reflect on the fact that the spirit is with them and is waiting to be released.
Community growth is found in the release of the power of the spirit within the community. The Spirit of God works through us as well as in us; he touches our normal, natural processes of growth and change. The Spirit of God always acts with great gentleness. It is within the steps of natural growth that we will be able to discover the gentle pressure of the spirit. The first step of growth is awareness. We become aware of ideas and ways of doing things which are beyond our present experience. The second step of growth is the birth of need; -the coming of openness. We will never grow unless we feel a need for it within ourselves. Awareness and need join and lead to commitment and to action. These three, taken as one, form the pattern of growth. The Spirit of God will work in a community along the lines of this pattern.
Connolly (1984)22 writing about the work of the Spirit of God said, Jesus will lead you into all truth. Each day, a community is being led and moved by the Spirit further into the truth. Growth in community will be found in the heightening and in the refining of an awareness of the truth. The second step of growth in any sphere of life is the emergence of need. Awareness creates need, need leads to hunger. There can be no growth in community spirit unless the members really begin to feel a need for more togetherness. Many religious communities are utterly dedicated to the service of people. They are generous ‘givers’.
An effective Church must be able to touch the lives of its people, its community, responding to all their hopes and problems. Members are required to bring to their church the true expression of these contemporary needs. Share them with God, but also share them with the pastor and the church members to the extent that you will be keeping each other informed about vital needs. John Wesley emphasized church’s role in England by recalling to the church and its members, the need to put Christ at the centre of their lives and helping others to do this, too (Henderson, 1989)23. Wesley’s method was non- exclusionary of a soul in the Kingdom.
The Christian community is a body of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul extols the virtues of love, and makes us understand that without love, we are nothing in God’s presence. King James Version of the Bible used the word “charity”. Charity as used here is a translation from the Greek word “agape” which is the kind of love or affection God has for man, and which he expects us to have towards one another. Agape surpasses other kings of gifts like, speaking in tongues, prophesy, and being a mighty man or woman of faith. This love is patience and kindness. It is not jealous or boastful, and does not keep record of wrongs. This kind of love, when sown in the heart of men, lasts forever (Osagiede, 2005)24.
The leader of this ministry was a church minister seventeen years before this Gospel Light International was established. This is his 43 year in the Vineyard of his Lord. This experience has endeared him as a courageous, creative and innovative leader. He is trustworthy, reliable, and accountable, this are some of the qualities that attracts people to the ministry. At present he is the head of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
Generally, Pentecostal churches are attracting many young Christians in the contemporary time. When some individuals associate with a particular community, they do not want to dissociate themselves again. They prefer to be united with one religious family or community. This is the basis of denominationalism. Today there are many of these sects in Benin City and Nigeria as a whole. The question that may well be posed, which is germane and apposite to this study is, should a member, or member at any little provocation, desert a church and go and establish his own? If the answer is in the affirmative, what are the consequences on the body of Christ?
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