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Okoh, Marius Anyetei
1927 to 1980
Christ Holy Church International
Nigeria

Marius A. Okoh was born on April 15, 1927. He was the only surviving child of James and Agnes Okoh. He was considered one of the few privileged boys at Ndoni to have had access to Western education. His mother being a Catholic, Marius was baptized in the church and later grew up to become a Mass server in the Roman Catholic Church at Ndoni. He was employed with the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1947, the same year that his mother began the prayer ministry. He was sponsored by his employers to further his education at Yaba Higher College in Yaba, Lagos. He graduated with a diploma in civil engineering. Following his graduation, he became one of the top personnel of the PWD in Nigeria.

His wife Pauline gave birth to seven boys but only one survived. Marius witnessed the sickness and healing of his mother, but he was at first skeptical of his mother’s claim that God had called her. The resoluteness of his mother finally convinced him that she was not deceiving herself.

The call to ministry

His mother once told him that God would call him sometime into a full-time ministry, but he derided that prophecy, particularly at the time when he was contemplating furthering his education abroad. Nevertheless, he took a correspondence course with the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence School, then located at Ibadan in Western Nigeria, and was awarded a diploma in 1952. He was awarded a certificate of Advanced Bible Lessons by the same school in 1953.
On June 11, 1956, the call to serve as a fulltime minister came through the Prophetess in a revelation and some committee members were sent to inform him about the new development. The messengers went with a lorry that was virtually empty with a view of bringing Marius and the wife, Pauline, back home to answer the call of God. When the ministers arrived [at] Umuahia from Onitsha and gave the message to Marius and Pauline, he took his wife and their property and came down immediately to Onitsha. He resigned officially from PWD on June 20, 1956. [1]
Marius was appointed secretary to the board of elders of the church. While serving as secretary to the board of elders he became a friend of reverends Collins and Cook, American evangelists working in Igboland at that time. The American evangelists gave him some lessons on the importance of evangelism and later ordained him. In 1958 he was appointed the general superintendent [2] of the church. His appointment marked the beginning of three cardinal characteristics of Christ Holy Church: administration, evangelism, and education and training.

The administration of the church under his leadership

Marius Okoh, a hefty person over six feet tall, made great use of his education and work experience at the PWD to lay down some administrative structures in the church. Prior to his appointment as the head of the church the only functioning groups were the board of elders and the choirs. He began forming auxiliary groups in the church such as women’s groups. He also formed various committees to run some aspects of the church’s business. He expanded the Order of Service which was first written by catechist Hezekiel Mbaegbu. Marius wrote an Order of Service for each day of the week. He also wrote an Order of Service for other events in the church such as weddings, baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, ordinations, death and burial services, the laying of foundation stones, and other important life events. In some cases he wrote the Order of Service in the Igbo language. He ensured that every property of the church was duly registered.

He led the board of elders to write a workable constitution for the church--defining the organizational structure, stating the roles and functions of committees and officials, setting the criteria for selecting officers, stating the procedures of doing things properly, spelling out disciplinary measures and what might cause one to be disciplined, and laying down measures aimed at ensuring financial propriety in the church. He licensed all the itinerant pastors and workers of the church and outlined a modus vivendi that was expected of them all.

In addition, Marius Okoh designed a simple accounting principle for recording the income and expenditures of all the congregations. He encouraged the recording of the attendance of men, women, and children at church services. He also encouraged all the pastors to keep exact records of all the miracles in their respective stations. One thing he did which endeared him to the hearts of many was registering a new name for the church. In consultation with the central executive council, the name of the church was changed from Christ Apostolic Church (Odozi Obodo) to Christ Holy Church in Nigeria. He registered the new name in January 1975.

What many ministers remember about Marius’ personal administrative emphases are his hard work and insistence on punctuality. “He worked from morning to night in order to ensure that what he wanted was done. There were times that he would not go to bed till what he wanted done was done just as he wanted it to be done.” [3] He was perceived by many as a taskmaster but he considered that those who perceived him as such were lazy. Marius’ love for punctuality is described by Daniel Okoh, his son:
After Marius left school he learned about an employment opportunity in the Public Works Department through one of his uncles and prayerfully prepared for the interview. On the day of the interview, young, athletic Marius left home early and ran all the way to the venue of the test due to the fact that he had no money for transportation. But as he was running in order to arrive early enough, he did not realize that the interviewer saw him as he drove past. So, at the venue, he was identified as somebody who had the zeal to work and was offered a job on the spot. It could be said therefore that his love for punctuality, for which members and workers of Christ Holy Church later knew him, helped him to secure the job. [4]
Rev. David Nwaizuzu concurs on Marius’ punctuality, “He was very strict and did not play with punctuality. He was always around 15 minutes earlier for the appointed time. He instilled that in his trainees.” [5] His sense of urgency as a pastor and administrator is depicted in his favorite scriptural verse, Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

The spread of the church under his leadership

The leadership of Marius Okoh and his love for evangelism were inseparable.

By November 1957, American evangelists Rev. Dale Collins and Rev. Cook joined Marius Okoh and the other ministers of the church to organize one of the greatest evangelistic campaigns east of the Niger River. The revival meetings which were held in open fields recorded many miracles – the blind received their sight, the lame walked, and people testified of freedom from the power of charms and darkness…Apart from the Americans, African evangelists like Apostle J. A. Babalola, Prophet D. O. Babajide, and Pastor J. A. Madaiyese assisted Marius Okoh in spreading the gospel. [6]

The success of the first outdoor evangelistic revival set the tone for a series of indoor and outdoor revivals in the church. “He selected some young men and trained them specially to carry out the task of evangelizing the communities in Igboland. These include Enoch Okonkwo, David O. U. Nwaizuzu, H. D. Mbaegbu, Godwin Obikwelu, W. O. Orafu, W. N. Asoh, and Christopher Okereke.” [7] In order to proclaim the gospel without any hindrance, Marius Okoh “bought a Volkswagen bus from Collins at the cost of seventy-five pounds (£75.00) to help propagate the Gospel. This bus, which was bought single-handedly by Marius, became the first gospel van of this ministry.” [8] The purchase of the Gospel van galvanized Marius and his team of pastors to proclaim the gospel in many new places. Daniel Okoh sheds some light on the spread and results of the evangelistic campaigns:
Major villages in the East that benefitted from those early campaigns include Nnewi, Arondizougu, Agulu, Ogidi, Ajalli, Otoucha, Awka, Aba, Amaigbo, and Nkwere. In all these campaigns, many miracles were recorded and multitudes abandoned their shrines and evil ways for Christ. Many witch doctors that heard the gospel and saw the miracles openly burnt their idols and turned to Jesus Christ. Praise God! People who were healed of all sorts of diseases and those who accepted the gospel of Christ as was preached by Marius Okoh and his team went home and happily donated pieces of land to the church for the purpose of establishing [a] church for the benefit of their communities. The church responded quickly to this kind gesture by sending evangelists to these new and fertile areas. [9]
Officials of Christ Holy Church International refer to Marius Okoh as the “foremost African evangelist.” When asked by Glad News to give reasons for that description, Enoch Okonkwo said: “He did a lot of great works. He trained us. We started as full-time workers before him, but he trained us. God gave him a lot of spiritual gifts which enabled him to distinctively evangelize, counsel, pastor, teach, and perform miracles in the name of our Lord Jesus.” [10]

When Okoh was called to eternity, “Christ Holy Church had gone beyond eastern Nigeria to spread to Northern and Western parts of the country like wild fire…the church had over 300 branches [congregations] in the four cardinal points of Nigeria.” [11] The significance of the spread of the church under the leadership of Marius Okoh is significant when one realizes the fact that before he was called to lead the church, there were fewer than ten congregations. His emphasis on outdoor evangelistic campaigns, his ability to identify with people from other ethnic backgrounds as a result of his public service outside of Igboland, and his education broke the dominance of Igbos in the church. The church attracted Yorubas, Hausas, Efiks, Tivs, Urhobos, Ishans, Kalabaris, Itsikeres, Ojos, Ibibios, Igaras, and some Ghanaian immigrants in Nigeria.

Pastoral training during his leadership

When Okonkwo and Nwaizuzu were asked to identify Marius Okoh’s major contribution to the Church, they unanimously and unhesitantly exclaimed simultaneously, “Training of workers!” [12] Prior to his leadership the church adopted the Elijah/Elisha type of training, i.e., the mentoring of a person on a one-on-one basis. He changed that system to a formal type of training. Training of the catechists of the church became a priority after the success of the evangelistic campaigns. The pressure that the ministry received from the communities to open stations prompted Marius Okoh to start a more formal training of catechists in 1963. [13] He set up the Christ Holy Church Catechists Training School (now known as the Marius Okoh Memorial Seminary – MOMS) at Onitsha in 1963. The purpose of the school was to teach the catechists about evangelism, the Bible, and pastoral ministry. According to Rev. Nicholas Udemba, the general secretary and assistant general superintendent of the church, Marius sensed that some of the pastors had their own gifts that needed to be developed. Another thing that caused him to set up the school was the need for uniformity of training. [14]

The initial curriculum included an introduction to the Bible (book by book), some basic doctrines of Christianity, the history, nature, and purpose of Christ Holy Church, and the church’s philosophy of ministry, preaching, and administering of the sacraments. Studying at the school was mandatory for all catechists. Thus everyone, including the leaders who preceded them, went through the educational process of the school. Tuition was free. Okoh was initially the sole teacher, in addition to his numerous other functions. Students at the school were intentionally trained to expect and endure hardships. As a result, the students were intentionally denied the comfort of sleeping on mattresses. They were made to sleep on mats spread on hard floors so that they would learn to undergo hardships that they might encounter in their pastoral stations. Depending solely on God for one’s sustenance was greatly emphasized. Respect for authority without regard to age and personality was another cardinal principle at the school. Students were also taught to be humble and to care for one another.

The results of the training were phenomenal in the life of the church. “The school which was sown like a seed in 1963 trained more than 5,000 ministers of God, both male and female, who have transformed many citizens of this country through the WORD.” [15] Marius Okoh is fondly remembered for the training he imparted to the pastors. “He came in with his education and modified many things. He trained many people and ordained them.” [16] To Very Rev. Innocent Afunwa, “Rt. Rev. Okoh…made Christ Holy Church to be what it is today. We learned many things from him.” [17]

Publications during his leadership

Marius Okoh did not limit the education and training program to only the pastors and staff of the church. He appointed a board of publications and charged it with publishing a church magazine. A quarterly magazine called Good Tidings was published as a result. The purpose of the magazine is stated in the third issue:
Surely, God has never outlived any generation or century without manifesting His miraculous power to them through His holy prophets and chosen servants. Our age [is] not exceptional; hence the floating series of the Healing and Miraculous magazines from various parts of the world to prove God [is] the same yesterday, today, and forever. GOOD TIDINGS is one of its kind. It is far from politics, fiction, exaggeration, and denominational malignity. Therefore every page of GOOD TIDINGS contains plain truth, divine inspiration, healing testimony, and inspired sermon and commentary. It has been designed to satisfy the curious thirst for the immediate Christian literature the country now needs. [18]
Contents of the Good Tidings included poems by some members, teaching material on some topics selected by Marius Okoh, healing testimonies, news, and events. The Good Tidings was a tool for educating the corpus of Christ Holy Church on the beliefs and practices of the church. The testimonies and news sections were aimed at building the faith of the members both in the church and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some members with literary flair were given the opportunity to demonstrate their skills by writing. Also, Okoh’s love for education led him to sponsor the education of some poor members of the church.

His healing ministry

Marius Okoh was not only an administrator, evangelist, and teacher; he was also a gifted healer. He was said to have healed many people, but one miracle that many remember is the raising back to life of elder Benedict Aroghalu Mbamalu, one of the early members of the church who was very wealthy. In 1961, while leading a Harvest service at Onitsha, the Okoh was told the news of the death of the elder but he did not tell anyone; he was also not in a hurry to go and console the bereaved family. He took his time to conclude the Harvest ceremony before he told his team of pastors about the sad news. He and his team proceeded to the deceased’s house at Isiokwe, a suburb of Onitsha. He got there in the evening, several hours after the man had breathed his last breath. He sent away all the women who were weeping in the room where the corpse was laid. He began praying. After a long prayer, whitish mucus came forcefully from the dead man’s nostrils and he opened his eyes wondering why he was in that state. It is said that Benedict later lived to a ripe old age of 110 before he died again. [19]

Post-Biafran war activities

His leadership acumen was noticed when the civil war ended, as it brought many challenges. As the leader he was faced with the challenge of settling many members who had lost properties. Those who had lost their limbs needed to be comforted. The entire administrative set up had to be reorganized because many of the stations in the war zones were closed down. Many members had been displaced from their homelands and farms. Marius Okoh faced the situation by challenging those who were less affected by the war to help those who were affected the most. His emphasis was on being one another’s keeper. Thus, members used their own resources to support those who had lost properties during the war.

His popularity

The quality of his leadership style earned him the appellation Igwe, a title reserved for traditional leaders of Igbo communities or towns. It literally means “sky” but in Igbo communities it stands for “authority.” He was said to be impartial and a good listener, a man who listened to and respected peoples’ views regardless of their status in society. His affection and popularity among the clergy and laity of the church can be gleaned from the way with which he was welcomed to Enugu when he went there to dedicate the church building:
As the great crowd was anxiously waiting for the arrival of the general superintendent at the appointed time on Sunday August 1, 1976, there was [an] explosion of jubilation as the Mercedes car of the general superintendent, the Rt. Rev. M. A. Okoh glared from a distance. Until he arrived, there was an unceasing cheer of IGWE! IGWE!! IGWE!!! [20]
His death

Marius Okoh was in a motor vehicle accident in August 1979 while traveling from Asaba to his office at Onitsha. He suffered an injury to his spinal chord that affected the way he walked for the rest of his life, but the accident did not slow him down. He continued doing his pastoral duties until he died in his sleep on March 2, 1980, at the age of fifty-three.

Many people guess that his death may have been caused by complications that might have developed after the accident, as his tight schedule left no room for rest, but others think that it was time he left the world. The belief of the latter group is based on Okoh’s action and pronouncements at the end-of-year general meeting he held with all his pastors at Onitsha in December 1979. At that meeting he was said to have told the gathering that he had finished his work and that he wanted to go and rest. Some leaders of the church, reading between the lines, prevailed on him to withdraw that statement but he refused, justifying his position that when a person’s work comes to an end the person must necessarily go and rest. Before closing the meeting Marius Okoh promoted the pastors en masse and told them that the mass promotion was in appreciation for their support of his leadership. [21] The most unprecedented thing about the mass promotion was the promotion of Samuel Ejiofor from pastor to assistant general evangelist. To the surprise of those at the meeting, Marius Okoh promoted Ejiofor again to the position of assistant superintendent. That meeting was the last time he met with his pastors and workers.

The central executive council, which is the highest decision–making body of the church, in consultation with the general prophetess, and in recognition of his immense contribution to the church, posthumously proclaimed him “co-founder” of the church. An epitaph at his burial ground at Ndoni reads: "Here lies the body of the Rt. Rev. Marius Okoh, a foremost African evangelist, the first General Superintendent and a co-founder of Christ Holy Church who slept in the Lord on Sunday, March the 2nd, 1980. Rest in perfect peace."

Thomas Oduro

Notes

1. Daniel Okoh, “Focus on Rt. Rev. Marius Okoh: Foremost African Evangelist” Glad News, 1, no. 1, (April-June 2000) 7.
2. The highest position of authority in the church is general superintendent. The position of Marius’ mother was general prophetess. Marius was the first general superintendent of the church. He was christened “Right Reverend.”
3. Nwaizuzu, David. Interview by author, August 2, 2003.
4. D. Okoh, “Focus” article, 7.
5. Nwaizuzu, David. Interview by author, August 12, 2003.
6. D. Okoh, “Focus” article, 8.
7. Ibid., 8.
8. Ibid. Other sources (Rev. Nicholas Udemba and Rev. Samuel Ejiofor) claim that Marius used his gratuity money to buy a fleet of taxis and used the proceeds to support the activities of the church.
9. Ibid.
10. Okonkwo, interview by Samuel Ozomah, n.d. Glad News, 1. no. 2 (n.d.) 8.
11. Okoh, “Focus” article, 8.
12. Okonkwo, Enoch and Nwaizuzu, David. Joint interview by author, August 2, 2003, This view about Marius Okoh is shared by about 80% of the people interviewed (formally and informally). “Workers” as used in Christ Holy Church circles, stands for pastors and staff of the church.
13. Okoh, “Focus” article, 8.
14. Udemba, Nicholas (assistant superintendent of Enugu Superintendency, Christ Holy Church International). Interview by author, August 9, 2003, Enugu, Enugu State, Good News Theological College and Seminary, Accra. Tape recording. (Rev. Udemba is the general secretary of the church.)
15. Okoh, “Focus” article, 8.
16. Obiokoye, Clement. Interview by author, August 25, 2003.
17. Afunwa, Isaac O. “Glad News Interview with Very Rev. I. O. Afunwa” interview by Samuel O. A. Ozomah, n.d. Glad News, 1. no. 2, (n.d.). 15.
18. Obikwelu, G. I. “Prefactory.” Good Tidings, third issue, (n.d.) 1. See: Obikwelu, G. I. “The Inauguration of the Christ Holy Church in Enugu and its Temporary Opening for Prayers and Worships.” Good Tidings, third issue, Onitsha, (n.d.).
19. Ejiofor, Samuel. Interview by author, August 9, 2003. This miracle is well-known among Christ Holy Church members.
20. Obikwelu, G.I. “The Inauguration of the Christ Holy Church in Enugu and its Temporary Opening for Prayers and Worships.” Good Tidings, third issue, (n.d.) 29.
21. Ejiofor, Samuel. Interview by author, August 9, 2003.

Bibliography

Obikwelu, G. I. “The Inauguration of the Christ Holy Church in Enugu and its Temporary Opening for Prayers and Worships.” Good Tidings, third issue, Onitsha, (n.d.).
Oduro, Thomas. Christ Holy Church International: The Story of an African Independent Church. Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2007.
Okoh, Daniel. “Focus on Rt. Rev. Marius Okoh: Foremost African Evangelist” Glad News, 1, no. 1, (April-June) 2000.

Interviews:

Nwaizuzu, David Ozioma U.; retired leader, Christ Holy Church International.
Udemba, Nicholas; assistant superintendent, Christ Holy Church International.


This story in its revised version, received in 2012, was written by Rev. Thomas Oduro, Ph.D. Rev. Dr. Oduro is the principal of Good News Theological College and Seminary, Accra, Ghana and DACB liaison coordinator.