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Oschoffa, Samuel Bilewu
1909 to 1985
Celestial Church of Christ (Aladura)
Nigeria

Introduction

Following the scramble for Africa and the subsequent partitioning of the continent in accordance with the decisions of the Berlin Conference in 1885 [1], people of the same tribe, with the same culture and speaking the same language were forcibly and unjustifiably separated to conform to the wishes of the imperialists [2]. As a result, the embattled town of Imeko, hometown of Oschoffa's mother, and Dasatre, his father's hometown, in spite of their common culture, language and history, were unjustifiably separated by the imperial powers: Imeko was accordingly placed under British authority in the colony of Lagos while Dasatre was made part of the French colony of Dahomey. The geographical similarities between these two places cannot be over-emphasized. The climate, vegetation and soil are similar [3]. The human activities especially in the field of agriculture and palm oil cultivation which were basically on a subsistence level are the same in the two places. Similarly, the cultural bond between Imeko and Dasatre could be seen in the common language of the Egbado stock of the Yoruba people spoken in both places and the intermarriages between them.

Oral tradition claims that the parents of Daddy Osofa (Oschoffa's grand-parents [4]) namely Pa Ojo and Mama Kosina emigrated from Abeokuta and settled down at Dasatre. It was at Dasatre that Daddy Osofa was born. The name Oschoffa has its roots in the Yoruba proberb Oju ki i se ofa ti ota le ta bani ka subu which means: "The eye is not an arrow that the enemy can use to cause one's death." This expression was shortened by the Yoruba to "Osofa" which was further anglicized, becoming "Oschoffa."

According to oral tradition, Daddy Osofa was a polygamist [5] and Madam Toun Alake Iyafo was one of his wives. Madam Alake Iyafo hailed from Imeko, an Egbado town within the Ogun State of Nigeria. The most striking aspect of Daddy Osofa's married life was that it was estimated that he had thirty-nine children. But sadly enough, with the exception of Oschoffa, none of them reached adolescence. Furthermore, all the children except Oschoffa were females. Daddy Osofa faced two serious problems: first, the loss of his children in infancy and second, his near inability to produce a male child. However, considering the high rate of infant mortality in Africa in those days, could it have been caused by lack of proper medical attention? Could it have been caused by an unhealthy environment and poor sanitation? But notwithstanding the inadequacy of the health care system at that time, it seems inconceivable to ascribe the loss of thirty-nine children within two decades to the lack of proper medical attention and poor sanitation. Could it also have been caused by forces more powerful than Daddy Osofa?

Answering any of these questions requires an understanding of African traditional religion, cultural heritage, social ethics as well as the environmental conditions at that time. With regard to African beliefs, the existence of a Supreme Being possessing the power of life and death over all mortals is widely accepted. It may be said that the real problem that Daddy Osofa faced was his inability to produce a male child who would inherit his property after his death. This was in line with the Dahomean [6] culture which gave the inheritance to the firstborn son. It is important to note that patrilineal system of inheritance is common in West Africa with the possible exception of the Akans of Ghana and Ivory Coast who practice the matrilineal system.

Birth of S. B. J. Oschoffa

Daddy Osofa was one of the early converts to Christianity in Porto Novo and in the light of his domestic problems he prayed ceaselessly to God to give him a baby boy [8] who would live to inherit his wealth and immortalize his name after his death. It was therefore not very surprising that in 1909 in answer to Daddy Osofa's prayers Mama Alake Iyafo safely delivered a male child. The joy with which Daddy Osofa received the news of the birth of his first son cannot be described. In accordance with Methodist practice, the child was blessed in the church and later christened as Samuel Bilewu, a Christian name with the biblical meaning "gift of God" and an indigenous name derived from a proverb in the Yoruba language Bi 'le aiye wu ko gbe, sugbon mo mo wipe mo ti toro re lodo Olorun which means: "If the world pleases the child let him stay, but I know I've asked God for you."

Among the Yoruba people and most West African tribes, there is a strong belief that some children called Abiku are unstable and choose to come and go. These children invariably die during infancy. Thus the name Bilewu clearly suggests that the child born to Daddy Osofa was believed to be one of these children born to the family but who died in infancy. The naming of a child in Africa and particularly in Yorubaland is more than just a convenient label for identification. Names are given often in relation to the circumstances, religion, time, and conditions under which a child is born.

In appreciation and fulfilment of his vows to God, Daddy Osofa sent Samuel Bilewu Osofa to an evangelist called Pastor Nathaniel Yansunu of the Methodist mission in Porto Novo when the boy was seven years old, for spiritual training and to learn Christian principles. Osofa did this because he feared for the survival of his only son, should the child reside at his house, especially as he had lost all of his other children between birth and puberty. However, at the early age of seven, S. B. J. Osofa was too young to be sent away from his parents and so he could not cope with the domestic challenges of the mission house and he chose to return home.

By 1922, at the age of thirteen, S. B. J. Oschoffa was still at home as he did not have access to western education for reasons beyond his control. Daddy Osofa sent him once again to the mission house to receive basic Christian training. He was there with many other boys of his age group. It must have been at the mission house that S. B. J. Oschoffa adopted the name Joseph and also anglicized the spelling of Oschoffa. He was thereafter called S. B. J. Oschoffa.

At the mission house, Oschoffa could not cope with the strict disciplinary measures which a white missionary called Rev. Garner initiated basically because of his stubbornness. At one time, when the pastor ordered the boys to assist in the construction of a seminary, Oschoffa defied the orders and refused to participate in the construction of the building. As a result Oschoffa and others were expelled from the mission house.

At home, Daddy Osofa was disheartened by the behaviour of his beloved son resulting in his expulsion from the mission house. His image as an outstanding member of the Methodist Church was being tainted by the attitude of his son. There, he promptly petitioned the pastor to pardon his son but Rev. Gamer was adamant saying his expulsion order was irrevocable. Disappointed as he was, but being a carpenter himself, Daddy Osofa resolved to take his son on as an apprentice.

Oschoffa soon acquired the necessary proficiency in carpentry and was regarded as one of the best carpenters in town. As he specialized in roofing, the erection of kiosks and wood planing, the aging Oschoffa became proud of his son's dexterity and expertise in carpentry. Notwithstanding the popularity his son enjoyed in the course of the profession, Daddy Osofa was still not satisfied for he had wanted his son to become an evangelist.

Old age was seriously telling on him and on June 15, 1939, Daddy Osofa died peacefully at Porto Novo. The death of his father marked a turning point in Oschoffa's life. He soon began to take an active part in church activities. He was a member of the singing band and tried the trumpet and other musical instruments. He also served on many committees in the Methodist Church at Porto Novo. Oschoffa however, still continued to work as a carpentry after his father's death.

In December 1946, almost seven years after his father's death. Oschoffa abandoned carpentry to take up trading in timber. He began supplying timber logs to carpenters in and around Porto Novo. He seemed to have enjoyed his monopoly [10] in this business which, according to him, fetched him about ten times the amount of money he had initially invested. Even though Oschoffa had not received any formal education, in his short stay at the mission house he had learned to read the Holy Bible. Everywhere he went Oschoffa carried his Bible along. It must be remembered that right from his birth, his father had encouraged him to be a good Christian. His enthusiasm in church duties and his role in the choir made him one of the respected Methodists in Porto Novo.

The Founding of the Celestial Church of Christ

On May 23, 1947, Oschoffa left home for Toffin, a village in the Ganvie area to carry out his usual business. He had already purchased a canoe for himself but since he did not know how to paddle, he engaged the services of a paid paddler. He set off in the morning for the forest specifically to look for mahogany and ebony trees. Oschoffa, as usual, equipped himself with food, drinking water and other personal effects for the trip. At the shore, Oschoffa instructed the paddler to keep an eye on the canoe and the items inside it while he entered the forest.

It must be mentioned that the identification of specific species of trees entails careful observation and scrutiny particularly where the trees are very close and have formed canopies. Surveying the land is important in tree identification. Oschoffa combed the forest searching for the correct species of mahogany and ebony. Oschoffa himself said he noticed a sudden change in the weather when the sky darkened. This spectacle terrified him and, as a result, he opened his Bible, which he always carried with him, and read some Psalms to strengthen his faith. It soon dawned on him that the abnormality in the weather was an eclipse of the sun. The eclipse, though short, was noticeable in many villages around Porto Novo. The phenomenon of an eclipse is usually given various interpretations in Africa. It could be interpreted as indicating the imminent death of a great man. It could also foretell the occurrence of a disaster or another great event. At any rate, the disappearance of the light of the sun caused Oschoffa much anxiety. While he knelt down to pray for God's guidance, Oschoffa claimed to have heard a strange voice shouting, "Luli, Luli, Luli."

He looked up and to his great surprise he saw a white monkey [11] with wings, its mouth wide open, sitting on the branch of a tree. Next to the strange monkey was a multi-coloured bird which resembled a peacock. It must be mentioned that these two creatures are abnormal because in Africa, there are no white monkeys and no monkey has wings. Furthermore, the multi-coloured bird had features which shone with light.

The monkey could not be described as an angel of God because the biblical description of angels of God portrays them as having human features and with two wings with which they fly. Neither could it be described as a bat since bats are not so large and have no tails. The multi-coloured bird could not be associated with any divinity because the dove is the only bird said to be the bearer of good tidings. Viewed from an African perspective, strange birds which are so lovely and sing beautifully are associated with witchcraft.

While Oschoffa was still contemplating the meaning of all this and the power behind such an event his attention was drawn to a noise from the ground. He looked down and saw a short snake, about thirty centimetres long. The people of Dahomey (Republic of Benin) at that time considered snakes sacred creatures and it was an abomination or taboo for a Beninese (Dahomean) to kill a snake either intentionally or without any justifiable cause. Snake worship among the Dahomeans was widely accepted and the Dangbe god of Porto Novo was a python god. The wonderful scene compelled Oschoffa to retreat to the shore. On his return, he found the paddler writhing in pain. He immediately prayed to God for quick healing and laid his hands [12] on the paddler.

The paddler was immediately healed and later confessed to stealing some of Oschoffa's food kept in his custody. Oschoffa rebuked him for being greedy because he had been adequately cared for and he had just stolen out of greed. Oschoffa decided to relax under a nearby tree to reflect on the events he had experienced that day. When he woke up, he found that the paddler had disappeared, leaving the canoe [13] behind.

Oschoffa was left alone and was stranded as he could not paddle on his own. In his attempt to find a way back home, Oschoffa said he lost his way in the forest. He was believed to have stayed in the bush for three months during which he claimed to have eaten only honey. He continued roaming about in the forest in his attempt to find a way back home. During those three months, he was believed to have seen many revelations about the Kingdom of God. It was during these months that Oschoffa observed changes in his body and received spiritual gifts. He ascribed his power to heal the sick to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in his life in the forest. There is no doubt that Oschoffa's faith in God was greatly affirmed at this time. In the forest, he claimed to have seen fearful creatures like boas, pythons and other strange creatures yet he was not afraid. The belief that God was manifesting Himself in his life steeled his heart.

He continued roaming in the forest, he came to an inselberg [14] which the local people called Fagbe located near the village of Zinvie. At this place he met a man called Michell for the first time in three months [15]. Incidentally, this man reportedly became a prominent member of the church later founded by Oschoffa. Michell, being very familiar with the terrain, led Oschoffa to the nearest village called Hungon.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Oschoffa prayed for the inhabitants of the village. He also got a new paddler who voluntered to help him paddle his canoe back to Porto Novo. After a long search, they found the abandoned canoe at Agange, a few kilometres from Toffin. They had hardly settled down in the canoe when Oschoffa heard some mourners crying at Agange. Oschoffa immediately ordered the paddler to head for the village, wanting to establish the cause of the wailing among the people.

He was told that a young man called Kudiho who was a staunch member of the local Methodist Church was in a coma. Kudiho had been ill for a long time and all efforts to cure him had proved futile. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Oschoffa asked all the people to leave the house of the sick man. He then placed his hands on the sick man and prayed in the name of Jesus Christ for healing and immediately Kudiho was said to have been healed [16]. It must be noted that this was Oschoffa's second healing of the sick after the vision in the wilderness.

The news of Kudiho's miraculous healing spread like wild fire and Oschoffa's name soon became a household word. At Agange, Yusuf, a Muslim, offered to be Oschoffa's host after the miracle. It was this man who told the people in the vicinity about Oschoffa's newfound powers.

At home, Oschoffa's family had concluded that he was dead and so the news of his being alive was received with astonishment and great relief. Yusuf was believed to have described Oschoffa as a wonder-working man who healed the sick in the name of Jesus Christ just by touching them. Oschoffa was however described as being somewhat unkempt and wearing wretched clothes. This portrait of Oschoffa was the result of his having being lost for months in the forest.

People could not believe the story about Oschoffa and those who knew him were anxious to follow Yusuf to Agange to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Oschoffa had left Agange for Dasatre, his hometown, after hiring a new paddler called Zinsou. Barely three days after his return to Dasatre, the news reached him that a nephew of his called Guton [17] was dead. Oschoffa was inspired to go to the house of the deceased. When he arrived, he first dismissed the native doctors, fetish priests, herbalists and others who had been making abortive efforts to revive Guton and then opened his Bible and read some Psalms. Oschoffa was quoted as saying: "Really, God is unveiling his powers." He prayed to God to prove his power over death. In the name of Jesus he commanded the dead body to wake up and praise God. Immediately, Guton arose and the Holy Spirit descended on him and he started prophesying.

This miracle was a clear testimony of God's power in Oschoffa. The news of this miraculous raising of a dead man spread in and around Porto Novo. People were very surprised and could not understand the source of Oschoffa's power. They knew him as a carpenter and nothing more. Others ascribed Oschoffa's powers to Satan and called him the devil's disciple. Muslims, Christians and especially western missionaries were very sceptical. Some of them said Oschoffa's miraculous healings were unorthodox and not inspired by God.

The Cherubim and Seraphim Movement (C&S) which had been established around 1925 at Porto Novo was also cold in its reception of Oschoffa and his new powers, despite the fact that they practiced faith and spiritual healings too.

Oschoffa's Trance

On September 29, 1947, while meditating with some well-wishers in his house, Oschoffa claimed to have witnessed a mysterious and divine appearance [18], where a winged angel [19] bathed in an intense light stood before him. The angel of the Lord allegedly delivered the following message to S. B. J. Oschoffa in the Egun language which reads in English:
Peace be with you. It is the wish of God to send you on an errand of preaching to the world. Many nominal Christians when confronted by difficulties and problems of this world, run after fetish priests and other powers of darkness for all kinds of assistance. Consequently, at their death they cannot see Christ because, by their action, Satan has left his spiritual mark on them. To assist you in your work so that men may listen to and follow your miraculous works of healing: divine healing will be carried out by you in the name of Jesus Christ. These works of divine healing and God's spiritual mark on you will testify to the fact that God sent you.
This was Oschoffa's great commission. The appearance of the angel of the Lord was later confirmed by a woman called Marie Zevenu who claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ visiting Oschoffa. In her vision, she said she saw Oschoffa's body illuminated and sparkling like a twinkling star. Marie Zevenu later visited Oschoffa to see whether his body was actually transformed. Oschoffa admitted having been visited by an angel of the Lord. Marie, accompanied by her husband, Fredrick Zevenu, a catholic, left for home full of joy and inspiration. The news of the visitation of the angel of the Lord to Oschoffa in no time spread throughout the ancient city of Porto Novo and its surroundings.

As usual, adversaries, reactionaries and many doubting Thomases made unfavourable comments. Oschoffa's name and many of his miraculous healings were associated with magic, but it is interesting to note that the western missionary churches while condemning the wonders being performed by Oschoffa, did not succeed in stopping their members from seeking prayers and healings from him.

Oschoffa in Public

As expected, Oschoffa's residence soon became a centre of attraction as more and more people visited him daily. There was virtually nothing he could do to minimize or regulate the frequency of visits. An attempt made for police control did not materialize. However, a suggestion by the police officer [20] at Porto Novo that a convention should be arranged with the people in an open place seemed to have solved the problem. Consequently, an open air convention was arranged and people in the thousands thronged to Porto Novo. It undoubtedly offered an opportunity for those sceptical about the authenticity of Oschoffa's power and credibility to see things for themselves.

Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, traditionalists and other interested groups were largely represented at the open air convention. It was a remarkable day because it was the first time Oschoffa was holding such an event. As earlier stated, at about this time the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, another independent African Church [21] under the leadership of Prophet Moses Orimolade had established a branch of that church in Porto Novo. Oral tradition has it that Oschoffa was one of the staunch members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society at Porto Novo but later withdrew his membership because of a misunderstanding between him and some members who claimed control over the local church. However, at Porto Novo, it was alleged that Oschoffa withdrew his membership from the Cherubim and Seraphim Society because of a charge of adultery voiced against him. The prophet denied this and claimed that he was never a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society though he was friendly with the society.

During a visit to Cotonou with Professor J. A. Omoyajowo on February 6, 1984 to cross-check the facts of the allegations, Pa Loko of the local Cherubim and Seraphim Church confirmed that Pa S. B. J. Oschoffa was with them in the C&S before founding the Celestial Church of Christ. However, every attempt at tracing his name in the Cherubim and Seraphim Church register at Porto Novo failed. We met other elders,--some of them in their eighties,--who confirmed that Pa. S. B. J. Oschoffa was very much with them in the local C&S. The inference one could draw from this is that the emergence of Oschoffa as a new spiritual leader of a religious group was not in the interest of the existing churches in Porto Novo, especially the Cherubim and Seraphim Church and the Methodist Church, both of which Oschoffa was said to have belonged to at one time or the other. It was therefore not surprising that the first question at the open convention came from a certain Alexander Aganyimi, a leading member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, who supposedly asked: "We understand that Moses Orimolade was sent by God and it is true that he works wonders in God's name. Now, you Oschoffa, also claim to have been sent by God. Which of you do we have to follow?" Oschoffa replied that John the Baptist came before Christ and people thought that he was the Messiah. Similarly, Cherubim and Seraphim are both attendant angels of the Lord and so the church by that name is a forerunner of the Church of Christ, come to prepare the way [23].

Another man, a member of the Catholic Church, asked whether Oschoffa who claimed that his power was from Christ would go to Rome (the Vatican), in the same way St. Peter and St. Paul took the Catholic Church to Rome. Oschoffa was quoted to have replied philosophically saying:
Young man, we gave you one kobo to hold and you held on to it; now we are telling you to reject the one kobo and accept two kobo because the glory of two kobo is more than that of one kobo. But if you refuse to relinquish one kobo, at a future time when you come to see the glory of the two kobo, you will want to retrace your steps and embrace them, but it will be too late as others will have taken your place.
His intelligent answers moved most people who had thought that Oschoffa would not live up to their expectations. It is even said that many sick people were healed at the convention. Most people left there fully convinced of the manifestation of God's power in Oschoffa's ministry. The convention seemed to have achieved tremendous success and the misconception about Oschoffa's religious movement appeared to have been corrected.

Oschoffa and Reverend Parrinder

As earlier stated, Oschoffa in his youth, played a leading role in the Methodist Church at Porto Novo as a chorister. Oschoffa, in an interview, claimed he was among the regular members at Rev. Parrinder's church services in 1945 [24]. Rev. Parrinder [25] does not recollect this alleged fact. Admittedly, it is not easy under normal conditions for a pastor to know all the people in his congregation. According to Oschoffa, he later had an audience with Rev. Parrinder who was then lecturing at the University of Ibadan in 1947. Oschoffa claimed that Rev. Parrinder visited Porto Novo specifically to interview him about his new religious movement. In his own words, Oschoffa claimed that his religious movement was only three months old in December 1947 when Rev. Parrinder paid him a visit.

Rev. Parrinder was said to have asked him why he (Oschoffa), a Methodist, decided to form a religious movement instead of staying to use his talents within the parent church. Oschoffa replied that if the Methodist pastor Rev. Gbeyangbe had made the effort to inquire sincerely about his new powers, rather than reject him (Oschoffa) outright, he would not have founded a new movement.

Rev. Parrinder admits he commented on the new religious movement established by Oschoffa, but does not remember ever meeting or interviewing Oschoffa concerning the Celestial Church of Christ. Prophet Oschoffa claims he had had a vision about Rev. Parrinder's visit and had been instructed by the Holy Spirit to receive Rev. Parrinder with the highest respect. Oschoffa claims he asked Rev. Partinder to position himself at the exit door of the Methodist Church and to pick out members who wore rings which were neither engagement nor wedding rings. Oschoffa further said that he explained to Rev. Parrinder that those professed to be Christians, but practiced idolatry and wore amulets and talismans which were all reminders of idolatry and fetishism.

At this juncture Oshoffa claimed he explained to Rev. Parrinder his call and commissioning by God to preach to the world about the Kingdom of God. However, Prophet Oschoffa himself admitted that he did not understand the whole episode initially and was overwhelmed by the spontaneous following that he had.

The Name "Celestial Church of Christ"

It was now necessary to bring together the large concourse of followers into a fold, a congregation or a church. All Oschoffa noticed was that things were unfolding by divine intervention. No meeting was held to discuss the name of the new church.

The name of the church was believed to have come down from heaven by divine revelation through a certain Alexander Yanga who was one of the early followers of Prophet Oschoffa healed by him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yanga was believed to have been in a trance for seven consecutive days. At the end of the seventh day, he reportedly saw the name of the church boldly written on the rainbow. He accordingly asked for a piece of chalk and, looking at the rainbow, wrote the name of the church as shown to him, Eglise du Christianisme Céleste [26], which means "Celestial Church of Christ." After this divine revelation proclamed the name of Oschoffa's religious movement, his followers soon began to identify themselves as Celestians. He explained that the Celestial Church worship is a carbon copy of the worship of God by the angels in heaven,--an argument the hymn Tani mo bi attempts to justify.

What was unique in the origin of the Celestial Church of Christ that wasn't in other Aladura Churches before it? Members of the sect always point to the mode of worship and the name allegedly sent from heaven as unique. Undoubtedly, S. B. J. Oschoffa like most founders of new churches, intended to give the church credibility by associating it with heavenly origins. Orimolade, Captain Abiodun, Emmanuel and Ositelu all did the same. It is hard to find any church founders who did not trace the founding of their sect or church to celestial authority or divine revelation.

Oschoffa's name became synonymous with miraculous healings and people in Porto Novo and beyond anxiously awaited the day he would visit them.

The Celestial Church of Christ grew by leaps and bounds after the formal proclamation of the Holy Spirit's orders through Alexander Yanga. Oschoffa was soon proclaimed a prophet by the ever increasing followers. Apart from being called a prophet of God, Oschoffa was also allowed to use the title of "pastor" even though he had not attended any seminary nor been ordained as such. Through divine orders, the use of the name Epastoral, which was believed to have been uttered by an angel was conferred on him. The term was allegedly translated to him as pastor. Thus, the founder of the Ce1estial Church of Christ became known as Pastor, Founder, Prophet S. B. J. Oschoffa.

Miracles and Reactions

While Prophet Oschoffa was allegedly having a chat with Rev. Parrinder, a lady called Tinavie of Zevu was said to have died in a hospital at Porto Novo. Her younger sister Mawulowoe--a name which means "God will oblige"--was with Prophet Oschoffa seeking spiritual help. Upon hearing the news of her sister's death, the Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon Mawulowoe. Then and there she prophesied that Tinavie's body would be raised by Oschoffa in the name of the Lord, provided the corpse was brought to him.

Prophet Oschoffa accordingly requested that Tinavie's body be brought to his house. When the corpse was brought in, he told the bereaved family to put it on the floor. Prior to this, Tinavie was said to have been certified clinically dead by one Dr. Alexander [27].

The other residents of Prophet Oschoffa's house were predominantly Muslims who abhorred any delay in burying dead bodies. In fact, the presence of Tinavie's dead body was becoming an abominable sight to the residents of the house. Oschoffa was looked upon as the devil's disciple who was displaying black power.

On the spot the Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon him, and under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, he commanded the dead lady to stand up in the name of Jesus Christ. Eyewitness accounts confirmed that Tinavie was immediately revived and she got up. Immediately after her healing the Holy Spirit was said to have descended on her too. She prophesied about Oschoffa as a prophet of God. It was also said that after she had regained normalcy, Prophet Oschoffa asked Mawulowoe to lead Tinavie (the revived woman) to the hospital where the latter had earlier been declared clinically dead. A story is told of how Dr. Alexander panicked and almost lost consciousness upon seeing and recognizing Tinavie. According to Prophet Oschoffa, after the miracle, both Tinavie and Mawulowoe remained faithful members of the Celestial Church of Christ.

The news of this miracle had hardly died down when another miracle [28] was performed by Oschoffa. A close friend of Prophet Oschoffa named Moishe Suru Afoyan who hailed from Zevu died unexpectedly and his relatives accordingly sent a message to Oschoffa to mourn with the bereaved family. Oschoffa received the news with shock and was extremely sorrowful. Prophet Oschoffa accompanied by some sympathizers left for Zevu. The Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon Prophet Oschoffa who ordered the bereaved family and the sympathizers present to leave the room where the dead body was laid. He covered the corpse with one of his clothes and prayed to God to manifest His powers. By twelve midnight, Moishe Suru Afoyan was revived. He accordingly joined the Celestial Church and remained a devoted member until his death. This miracle was still on the lips of many when we called to verify this at Zevu.

Oschoffa had now become a controversial figure in the French Colony of Dahomey (now Republic of Benin) and a major topic of discussion. Some people however were still sceptical about the new religious movement in spite of the series of wonders he had performed. Many people, on the other hand, believed he was sent by God while some attributed his powers to some strange esoteric force.

In the course of these discussions about his powers, another miracle followed which really put Oschoffa in the limelight throughout the colony. This time it was a call from Grand-Popo, an historical town located near the border between the Republic of Benin and Togo. Grand-Popo's land was being eroded by the sea and many houses along the shore were gradually being washed away. This was a great threat to the inhabitants of the town. More importantly, all attempts made by fetish priests, traditionalists and Muslims to control the erosion had failed.

In 1949, during their annual Christmas meeting, the people of Grand-Popo resolved to solicit Prophet Oschoffa's help as they had heard about his power to work miracles. A delegation was sent to Prophet Oschoffa in early 1950 by the chief of Grand-Popo begging the prophet to come to their aid in the name of God whom, they believed, had sent him.

Acting under divine inspiration, Prophet Oschoffa took about six of his followers with him and left his base in Porto Novo for Grand-Popo. Among the elders of the church who accompanied him were Wolider Afore, Yanga and his wife Madam Silvestina Yanga and Mathias.

At Grand-Popo, Prophet Oschoffa and his team were warmly received by the chief, the elders and the people of the town who had by then assembled at the sea shore. Among the gathering was a white Roman Catholic priest [29] (whose name Prophet Oschoffa could not remember). The Divine Order allegedly instructed Prophet Oschoffa to call for an egg which can be interpreted as representing the earth. Furthermore, the Divine Order told him to call for a needle which likewise represented the sea. Prophet Oschoffa then pierced the egg with the needle and threw both into the sea after some short extempore prayers.

Immediately the sea receded and miraculously stopped at the exact place where the egg had fallen. This story was confirmed by two elderly Roman Catholics from Grand-Popo who confessed that they were present at the time of the historical event and that they were then about thirty-five and forty years old respectively. These two men who said they were members of the Olympio family gave their names as Jean Olympio and François Olympio respectively. The local Methodist presbyter just a stone's throw from the site of the incident also confirmed the veracity of the Grand-Popo miracle. The confirmation of the two Olympio brothers who are Catholics as well as the testimony of the local Methodist presbyter no doubt lent some credibility to this story.

The news of Prophet Oschoffa's miracle at Grand-Popo further added to the misgivings of the existing churches, especially the Catholic, Methodist, and the Cherubim and Seraphim Organizations, who argued that Oschoffa was using black or evil powers. But not so with the local people who said the miracles were the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Oschoffa. As a result, the Celestial Church of Christ was besieged by many new adherents who joined daily. The rate at which many Christians defected from their parent churches to join the new church was alarming. In an interview Pastor Simon Dossou [30] confirmed that about half of the members of the mission churches--the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church--were believed to have been lost to the Celestial Church of Christ.

As a result of the rapid growth of the Celestial Church and the popularity of Oschoffa, reactionaries and detractors began to undermine the new religious movement and its leadership. In the first place, miraculous healings and miracles were both condemned as anachronistic and were described as devilish. The Catholic Church was bitterly opposed to the Celestial Church and its practices. However, the Cherubim and Seraphim Church seemed to have been somewhat moderate in their attack against Oschoffa and his movement because they also practiced spiritual healing.

Scientifically, the Grand-Popo miracle defies all credible explanations. However, we are principally concerned with faith. McPherson once stated that the choice between the miraculous and the non-miraculous explanation is sometimes seen as something to be decided on the basis of evidence [31]. He concisely defined a miracle as an event which both is and is not capable of being explained in natural terms [32].

Initially, Oschoffa's followers seemed to have been people who were members of some big western Christian churches and they continued to go to their churches while receiving prayers from Prophet Oschoffa. Prayer meetings were therefore arranged so as to avoid clashes with the normal service of other churches. This was worked out after some meetings between representatives of the existing churches and Prophet Oschoffa. Thus Wednesdays and Fridays were selected as days for open air services and meditations.

Oschoffa's Tribulations

The number of adherents kept on increasing as the days passed and soon most of them stopped attending services at their old churches. Soon Prophet Oschoffa was antagonized by the French colonial administration. Perhaps at the instigation of the authorities of the orthodox churches he was accused of inciting government workers [33] to neglect their official duties especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. It must be noted that civil and public servants who joined the Celestial Church of Christ left their official duties earlier than the stipulated time of closing for Celestial Church worship during the week. It was therefore not surprising that the French colonial administration in Dahomey expressed concern about the activities of Oschoffa and his followers. He was labelled an economic saboteur.

Another accusation levelled against Prophet Oschoffa and his followers was that they were partly responsible for the moral decadence in Dahomey because there were growing cases of divorce, fornication and adultery. An historian by the name of Claude Prince, of Porto Novo, explained that since the majority of Prophet Oschoffa's followers were young and were predominantly women, aggrieved husbands as well as those opposed to the establishment and activities of the Celestial Church for one reason or the other may have been the source of these unsubstantiated accusations and trumped up charges.

When the colonial administration and the mission churches found out that the Celestial Church was really difficult to stop, moves were initiated to restrain and control the prophet and the activities of the Celestial Church. The prophet was told that if he wanted recognition, he should register with the Council of Protestant Churches in Dahomey (Republic of Benin). Tied to this condition was a clause which ordered the compulsory return of the members to their parent churches. We could not lay our hands on any records related to these confrontations. The churches visited in Porto Novo and Cotonou have no documents on the confrontations [34] with Oschoffa and this new faith. There are no records at the Benin People's Library at Porto Novo. Monsieur Claude Prince's frantic search for related records in all the public libraries and archives in Benin Republic turned up nothing.

Naturally the followers of Prophet Oschoffa did not accept this infringement on their fundamental right to freedom of worship. Oschoffa's refusal to abide by the order and regulations of registration was a result of the fear that the Council of Protestant Churches would in the long run be a stumbling block to the growth of his church. Under normal conditions in Benin, clubs, associations, fraternities, churches and organizations are required to be legally registered within their affiliated groups.

There was a deadlock over the registration order and the subsequent antagonism against Prophet Oschoffa and the Celestial Church went on unabated. During this period of tension, there were many invitations from numerous parishes around Porto Novo asking Prophet Oschoffa to visit them. Prophet Oschoffa decided to leave Porto Novo for Agange in the Toffin district perhaps to diffuse the tension and withdraw from public view. While he was away, detractors and blackmailers of his church thought that they had succeeded in curtailing his activities and those of the Celestial Church of Christ.

Oschoffa in Nigeria

By 1950, the Celestial Church (C.C.C.) had spread from Agange across the entire Toffin district to Gbaji from where it entered into Nigeria through some fishermen who were Celestials. Makoko parish which now functions as the diocesan headquarters is ostensibly the first branch of the Celestial Church in Nigeria. The Celestial Church of Christ reached Makoko at the same time it reached Toffin district through the legendary seven disciples of Oschoffa.

Oschoffa himself finally gave in to both internal and external pressures and left Porto Novo for Makoko escorted by Moses Ajovi on March 3, 1951. According to the C.C.C. traditions the Makoko parish was jointly established by Superior Senior Leader François, Senior Leader Layon and five others now deceased. The arrival of the pastor-founder in 1951 opened a new chapter in the growth of the church. For almost a decade the C.C.C. was hardly known outside the metropolis of Lagos and its surrounding area. In fact, the main activities of the new church were centred around Makoko.

The Celestial Church of Christ had a relatively small representation in the sixties in Nigeria. Very little attention was paid to the sect. This was probably because of the might of the big mission churches which completely eclipsed the feeble efforts to introduce the C.C.C. into Nigeria. However, the decade 1970-80 witnessed a phenomenal growth in the Celestial Church in Nigeria. Within ten years, the new sect had reached virtually every local government area of the Yoruba-speaking regions of Nigeria from its main base at Makoko. By 1982, almost every town and village had a parish of the Celestial Church through the individual efforts of persons who had come into contact with the new sect in Lagos.

There is no doubt that the famous Iyabo Olorunkoya--Indian hemp--case in London in 1970 drew the attention of Nigerians to the Celestial Church of Christ for the first time. Iyabo Olorunkoya, a Lagos socialite, allegedly defied the advice of a Celestial Church woli ("leader" or wolider) and travelled to London. The arrest and subsequent trial attracted national attention to the sect. People now wanted to know more about the C.C.C. and benefit from the prophecies, trances and visions of the church prophets.

Another factor that helped the spread of the Celestial Church was the Nigerian oil boom of the seventies. People had enough oil and more to spare. As a result, very many rich individuals sponsored the establishment of parishes into which shepherds and workers were recruited. Individual owners were encouraged to establish parishes and this practice helped in no small measure in the spread of the Celestial Church.

The use of the Yoruba language in worship and other liturgical practices of the sect offered tremendous attraction. The situation was further enhanced by the striking similarity between the Yoruba traditional religious practices and the C.C.C. worship and liturgical practices.

Despite the absence of any organized conversion into the sect, it experienced phenomenal growth and spread to Badagry, Ibadan, Epe, Zaria, Kaduna, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Owerri, London, New York and other world capitals wherever you found black people between 1970 and 1980. Thus did Samuel Bilewu Oschoffa give the Celestial Church of Christ to the world and thousands hearkened to his voice.

Oshoffa's Death

The sudden home call of the enigmatic pastor-founder was unexpected. Nobody knew that death would strike the day it did. Many had taken Oschoffa for a god. Do gods die? Oschoffa was blessed both in life and in death. He lived like a god, revered and worshipped. He also died like a god, leaving mysteriously as he had come, thus keeping the Oschoffa myth intact. Like a god, his death shook the entire Celestial world and beyond. Newswatch [35] described his burial in the following terms:
The Earth quaked in exclamation, the stars blinked to refocus, the sea water rose in disbelief, the birds sang a dirge in sympathy, while the seismic vibrations of these rumblings ricocheted against the wailing walls of the Celestial world.
The journey into the world beyond began for Oschoffa on September 1, 1985. He was on his way to Ibadan Army Barracks C.C.C. parish harvest. His car, driven by Espedit, an experienced driver, was only about seventeen kilometres from Ibadan. It was speeding along when suddenly one of the tires exploded. The car skidded and somersaulted about four times before landing in the bush. Oschoffa escaped death but was half conscious and dazed. The unconscious pastor and his bleeding driver were driven back to Lagos for quick treatment at Labi's Hospital, Ilupeju. Everybody sighed in relief, happy that the worst was over for the pastor-founder after his miraculous escape.

His great escape from this fatal accident in which two of his dear aides died on the spot helped to boost the myth of immortality surrounding him especially among his followers and most Nigerians. As Newswatch put it,
In the early hours of September 10, 1985, in an ironic twist of fate, death struck. The pastor-founder, one of the greatest Nigerians of our age, quietly breathed his last on a chair at First Shadrach Hospital, Ilupeju, having been certified fit by doctors who were putting finishing touches to his release.
The remains of the pastor-founder, Pa S. B. J. Oschoffa were finally laid to rest on Saturday, October 10, 1985, in his mother's hometown, Imeko, the Celestial City, amidst pomp and pageantry, mourning and thanksgiving.

Albert Aduloju Agbaje


Notes:

1. J. Hildebrandt, History of the Church in Africa (Achimota: African Christian Press, 1981): 139.
2. A. Boahen, B. Webster and E. Idowu, Revolutionary Years in West Africa Since 1800: 228.
3. S. H. Beaver and D. L. Stamp, A Regional Geography of Africa (London: Longman, 1963): 64.
4. The Constitution of the Celestial Church of Christ (Lagos: Design Press, 1980): 4.
5. According to Prophet S. B. J. Oschoffa, his father Daddy Osofa had many wives and each of them bore him up to five or six children.
6. For the purpose of clarity, Dahomey and the Republic of Benin are used with reference to time.
7. S. M. Quartey, Social Studies (Accra: Orit Egwe Ltd., 1980): 2-3.
8. The Holy Bible (U.K.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977): I Samuel Chapter 1 verses 19-20.
9. N. S. Booth, (ed.) African Religions: A Symposium (New York: NOK Publishers Ltd., 1977): 185.
10. The Constitution of the Celestial Church of Christ, op. cit., 5.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. An inselberg is an outstanding rounded steep-sided remnant hill rising abruptly from a relatively flat erosion surface.
15. Michell was believed to have died in Porto Novo (Republic of Benin) in 1979.
16. The Constitution of the Celestial Church of Christ, op. cit., 6. All attempts made by me to locate and talk to or interview Kudiho failed.
17. Guton was a paternal relative from the African extended family system.
18. The Constitution of the Celestial Church of Christ, op. cit., 6.
19. Ibid. It is not yet known who the angel was, but with reference to the Bible, Gabriel is reputed for going on such missions.
20. Ibid., 9.
21. J. A. Omoyajowo, Cherubim and Seraphim (New York: NOK Publishers, 1982): 39.
22. At this time, Oschoffa's religious movement had not been officially christened the Celestial Church of Christ.
23. Rev. G. Parrinder in a letter to N. A. Sofekun, dated January 5, 1982, admitted mentioning Oschoffa's church in a French Journal Présence Africaine (February-March 1958). Source: Unpublished B. A. (Hons) dissertation by N. A. Sofekun, Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, 1982, 81.
24. In another letter from Parrinder to Rev. A. A. Agbaje dated November 6, 1984, Parrinder said that he could not recollect ever meeting Pastor S. B. J. Oschoffa. Parrinder, the erudite scholar, is now in his eighties and there is no doubt that age is telling seriously on him. This could be the reason for the inconsistencies in his present writings and attestations.
25. The Constitution of the Celestial Church of Christ, op. cit., 3.
26. Ibid., 12. (Interviews conducted at Porto Novo about Dr. Alexander supported the claim by Oschoffa).
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid.
30. Pastor Simon Dossou is the director of l'Ecole de Théologie, Porto Novo.
31. Thomas McPherson, Philosophy and Religious Belief (London: Hutchinson University Library, 1974): 86.
32. Ibid.
33. I owe much gratitude to the chief protestant historian with the People's Library Board at Porto Novo, Claude A. Prince, for information on the activities of Prophet Oschoffa and his religious movement which he documented and kept at the bottom of his box perhaps to avoid interception by the state security agents.
34. My field research assistant Mr. Thomas Poku, a Ghanaian, aided by Pastor Simon Dossou director of l'Ecole de Théologie, Porto Novo, both speak French and English and helped me immensely to gather information. While collecting materials for this chapter we were informed by the director of the People's Library at Porto Novo that the library has no record documenting the series of confrontations. The bits of information on the issue were obtained through Mr. Claude Prince in Porto Novo.
35. Newswatch, a Nigerian weekly news magazine, (Lagos: Newswatch Communication Ltd., 1985): 12.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid.

This article was researched and written by Rt. Rev. Dr. Albert Aduloju Agbaje, bishop of Sabongidda-Ora Diocese, as a chapter in the book Makers of the church in Nigeria, edited by J. A. Omoyajowo (Lagos, Nigeria: CSS Bookshops Ltd., 1995), pages 169-193.