Can anyone ever do this again like Apostle Joseph Ayo Babalola! Great men appear now and again to help shape the course of human history. The history of their lives does not of itself amount to the totality of the history of man. It nevertheless serves to illuminate that history and unravel the course of human events [l].
The story of Apostle Joseph Ayodele Babalola, his life and work can be thus classified. His unprecedented Oke-Oye Revival gave birth to what is now known as the Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C.), a Nigerian indigenous church.
Joseph Ayodele Babalola was born on April 25, 1904 to David Rotimi and Madam Marta Talabi who belonged to the Anglican Church. The family lived at Odo-Owa in Ilofa, a small town about ninety kilometres from Ilorin in Kwara State, Nigeria. His father was the Baba Ijo (“church father”) of the C.M.S. Church at Odo-Owa. Pastor Medayese wrote in his book Itan Igbe dide Woli Ayo Babalola that mysterious circumstances surrounded the birth of Babalola. On that day, it was believed that a strange and mighty object exploded and shook the clouds.
On January 18, 1914, young Babalola was taken by his brother M. 0. Rotimi, a Sunday school teacher in the C.M.S. Church at Ilofa, to Osogbo. Babalola started school at Ilofa and got as far as standard five at All Saints’ School, Osogbo. However, he quit school when he decided to learn a trade and became a motor mechanic apprentice. Again, he did not continue long in this vocation before joining the Public Works Department (PWD). He was among the road workers who constructed the road from Igbara-Oke to Ilesa, working as a steam roller driver.
Babalola’s Call to the Prophetic Ministry
Just like the Old Testament prophets, Babalola was called by God into the prophetic office to stand before men. His was a specific and personal call.
Babalola’s strange experience started on the night of September 25th, 1928 when he suddenly became restless and could not sleep. This went on for a week and he had no inkling of the causes of such a strange experience. The climax came one day when he was, as usual, working on the Ilesa-Igbara-Oke road. Suddenly the steam roller’s engin stopped to his utter amazement. There was no visible mechanical problem, and Joseph became confused and perplexed. He was in this state of confusion when a great voice “like the sound of many waters” called him three times. The voice was loud and clear and it told him that he would die if he refused to heed the divine call to go into the world and preach. Babalola did not want to listen to this voice and he responded like many of the Biblical prophets, who, when they were called out by Yahweh as prophets, did not normally yield to the first call. Men like Moses and Jeremiah submitted to God only when it became inevitable. So, Babalola gave in only after he had received the assurance of divine guidance.
To go on the mission, he had to resign his appointment with the Public Works Department. Mr. Fergusson, the head of his unit, tried to dissuade him from resigning but the young man was bent on going on the Lord’s mission.
The same voice came to Joseph a second time asking him to fast for seven days. He obeyed and at the end of the period he saw a great figure of a man who, according to Pastor Alokan, resembled Jesus. The man in a dazzling robe spoke at length about the mission he was to embark upon. The man also told him of the persecutions he would face and at the same time assured him of God’s protection and victory. A hand prayer bell was given to Babalola as a symbol. He was told that the sound of the bell would always drive away evil spirits. He was also given a bottle of “life-giving water” to heal all manners of sickness. Consequently, wherever and whenever he prayed into water for therapeutic purposes, effective healing was procured for those who drank the water. Thus, Babalola became a prophet and a man with extraordinary powers. Enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit he could spend several weeks in prayer. Elder Abraham Owoyemi of Odo-Owa, said that the prophet regularly saw angels who delivered divine messages to him. An angel appeared in one of his prayers and forbade him to wear caps.
The Itinerary of Prophet Babalola
During one of his prayer sessions an angel appeared to him and gave him a big yam which he ordered him to eat. The angel told him that the yam was the tuber with which God fed the whole world. He further revealed that God had granted unto him the power to deliver those who were possessed of evil spirits in the world. He was directed to go first to Odo-Owa and start preaching. He was to arrive in the town on a market day, cover his body with palm fronds and disfigure himself with charcoal paints.
In October 1928, he entered the town in the manner described and was taken for a mad man. Babalola immediately started preaching and prophesying. He told the inhabitants of Odo-Owa about an impending danger if they did not repent. He was arrested and taken to the district officer at Ilorin for allegedly disturbing the peace. The district officer later released him when the allegations could not be proven. However, it was said that a few days later, there was an outbreak of smallpox in the town. The man whose prophecies and messages were once rejected was quickly sought for. He went around praying for the victims and they were all healed.
Pa David Rotimi, Babalola’s father, had been instrumental in the establishment of a C.M.S. Church in Odo-Owa. Babalola organized regular prayer meetings in this church which many people attended because of the miracles God performed through him. Among the regulars was Isaiah 01uyemi who later saw the wrath of Bishop Smith of Ilorin diocese. Information had reached the bishop that almost all members of the C.M.S. Church in Ilofa were seeing visions, speaking in tongues and praying vigorously. Babalola and the visionaries were allegedly ordered by Bishop Smith to leave the church. But Babalola did not leave the town until June 1930.
On an invitation from Daniel Ajibola, Babalola went to Lagos. Elder Daniel Ajibola at that time was working in Ibadan where he was a member of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation. He introduced Prophet Babalola to Pastor D. 0. Odubanjo, one of the leaders of the Faith Tabemacle in Lagos. Senior Pastor Esinsinade who was then the president of the Faith Tabernacle was invited to see Babalola. After listening to the details of his call and his ministry, the Faith Tabernacle leaders warmly received the young prophet into their midst.
Babalola had not yet been baptized by immersion and Senior Pastor Esinsinade emphasized that he needed to go through that rite. Pastor Esinsinade then baptized him in the lagoon at the back of the Faith Tabernacle Church building at 51, Moloney Bridge Street, Lagos. Babalola returned to Odo-Owa a few days after that and Elder (later Pastor) J. A. Medayese, paid him a visit.
The news of the conversion of the new prophet reached Pastor K. P. Titus at Araromi in Yagba, present Kwara State. Pastor Titus was a teacher and preacher at the Sudan Interior Mission which was then thriving at Yagba. He invited Prophet Babalola for a revival service. Joseph Ayodele Babalola while in Yagba, performed mighty works of healing. Many Muslims and Christians from other denominations and some traditional religionists were converted to the new faith during the revival.
The fact that Babalola did not use the opportunity to establish a separate Christian organization despite his marvelous evangelical success, must be puzzling to historians, but his intention was not to start a new church. He declared to his followers that he had registered his membership with the Faith Tabernacle, the society which had him baptized in Lagos. He thus persuaded them to become members of the Faith Tabernacle. To facilitate this, he went to Lagos to confer with the leaders, especially as he was not yet well acquainted with the doctrines, tenets, and administration of the church
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