John Ajayi Agbona, a Yoruba, was born in Oke-Emo, Ilawe in Ekiti (the present Ekiti State) on April 21, 1920. His father’s name was Agbona, and his mother’s name was Maria Alege Agbona. His mother gave birth to sixteen children, but only Ajayi and his sister Arebisola survived. Ajayi was popularly known as Adu in Ilawe, but John was his baptismal name, and Ajayi Agbona were his kinship names. His father died when he was three and a half years old, and he received no western education. He took up farming and worked as farm laborer with people like Adako, who was the the Baba Egbe of the Catholic Church at Okebedo, in Ilawe-Ekiti. At age twelve, while doing farm work, Ajayi suffered a deep gash on the left leg. Rodents were attracted to the wound at night, and it turned into a sore that would not heal.
This wound set him apart, and he was despised and hated by almost everyone who knew him. Some people hated seeing him early in the morning because of the traditional African belief that if you come across an unfortunate person as you come out of your abode early in the morning, misfortune will be your lot for that day. It was said that whenever people came across him early in the morning, they would usually quickly go back to bed so that their day would not be darkened by misfortune. Sources have indicated that nothing Ajayi laid his hand upon ended in success.
Indeed, he was counted as one of the most unfortunate people in the world until he was redeemed from misfortune by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. His first contact with a Christian was with Captain Akinwunmi of the Salvation Army, who housed him and wanted to give him an education. However, Akinwunmi’s wife mistreated Ajayi, and Captain Akinwunmi had to help him escape in the night, giving him a gift of about seventy Kobo (less than a naira in Nigerian currency). Ajayi’s sore was still a festering wound that smelled terrible and attracted flies.
Ajayi’s medical condition eventually led to his conversion and subsequent calling into the ministry. He sought help for it in hospitals and consulted herbalists, but his wound would still not heal. Finally, he had an encounter with Christ, and this encounter was the decisive moment of his conversion to Christianity. Someone told him about the miracle-working power of Jesus. There was an ongoing Pentecostal revival at Efon Alaaye, and he decided to go. Someone took him there to meet the revivalist, who was Apostle Joseph Ayo Babalola. Babalola prayed for him and assured him that his leg would not be amputated, telling him: “Should anyone come to challenge your coming here, say that it was Jesus Christ who brought you. Should that person still insist on evidence to support your oneness with Christ, show him the Bible.”
Those words came to pass that same night. As Ajayi lay sleeping, he saw a number of mice rushing towards him. The mouse leading the others suddenly turned into a woman, (who, incidentally, was later identified by Ajayi as one of his relatives). She asked him: “Ajayi, why are you here?”
“It was Jesus Christ who brought me here,” Ajayi groaned.
“What evidence can you show to support your statement?” She asked.
In response to this question, Ajayi held out the Bible as his authority. The Bible immediately changed into a sword that pursued the vicious mice. That night marked the end of the nocturnal visits of the mischievous mice, and in a matter of days, the wound healed.
This miraculous encounter led to Ajayi’s conversion, and he became a member of the Apostolic Church, the denomination to which Apostle Babalola belonged at that time. In 1939, he left with the Babalola faction that seceded from the Apostolic Church, which became what is known today as the Christ Apostolic Church.
His call into the ministry
Shortly after his conversion experience, Ajayi had strange spiritual encounters which often led to his rising up in the night to preach in the neighborhood. This experience was very strange, even to him, and he was only acting on impulse. However, the decisive call came one day in a very clear way. On April 21, 1947, Ajayi was working as a bricklayer in a place called Ogunpa, in Ibadan (the capital of the present Oyo State of Nigeria). Right where he was working, on the third floor of the building, God called him by name and told him to stop laying bricks and to go instead and mold the human mind. As he tried to look back at the source of the voice, he lost his balance and fell. To the amazement of many who thought he would be dead, he was found unhurt. It was on this very spot where he fell that God further spoke to him, instructing him to go and do God’s work. Ajayi abandoned his bricklaying profession then and there to heed the divine calling–the mandate of molding human minds for God. His ministry started almost immediately after the incident.
The founding of his church and his contributions
Ajayi Agbona started his ministry in the Christ Apostolic Church. At first, he was an itinerant preacher, preaching the gospel of Christ with zeal and vigor in the same Ogunpa area of Ibadan where he had received the divine call. One of the signs and wonders that confirmed his ministry was that although he was not educated, God had taught him to read the Bible in the dream. This was considered to be a great miracle by those who had known him before, when he was illiterate. Another miracle recorded by him during the initial stage of his ministry in Ibadan was that he prayed for a woman who had been pregnant for seven years, and she was able to safely return to bed. Also, a witch confessed and submitted to the power of God under his ministry. In time, Agbona became a full-time minister of the Christ Apostolic Church, conducting evangelical revivals. His ministry was backed up with convincing signs and wonders.
However, after working with the Christ Apostolic Church for some time, Agbona felt led to start his own church. He shared this divine leading with the authorities of the church, and he was formally released in 1952. With support from Apostle Babalola, he founded his church on December 13, 1952. He registered this church with the federal government of Nigeria under Land (perpetual succession) Act Cap 98 as “Christ Apostolic Mission Church Oke-Igbala.” The certificate of incorporation was signed by the minister of Lagos affairs, Alhaji Musa Yar-Adua, on March 14, 1964. The headquarters of the church is presently at Abule Egba, in Lagos State.
Because of the proof of his calling and the urgent need for his ordination, he was made to undergo two weeks of intensive pastoral training under the authorities of Christ Apostolic Church, and was afterwards ordained into the pastoral ministry by Apostle Babalola at 42 Ojo Street, Odi Olowo, Mushin, Lagos, on December 12, 1954, barely two years after he had founded his own independent church. The ordination confirmed the spiritual backing of the Christ Apostolic Church authorities for the independent church founded by Agbona. After the ordination his ministry took a new shape, as more accompanying signs and wonders were registered, which led to the founding of other branches of the church. One of his closest associates in the newly founded church was Samuel Kolawole Fabunmi, who co-pioneered a number of branches with him. Agbona and Fabunmi later received ordination to the office of apostle because they showed apostolic characteristics that were reminiscent of the first century apostles as they are seen in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
Agbona had a long term impact: there are sixty-four branches of his church, which are located in Nigeria, Ghana, the Republic of Benin, Ivory Coast, and London, England. Most of these branches were planted during his lifetime. His apostolic work was prominently featured, and he preached the gospel of Christ in different lands with great passion, receiving confirmation through various signs and wonders. Some of the documented testimony includes: sixteen people, at different times, were healed from their epilepsy after he prayed for them; many witches confessed their evil works and renounced their witchcraft; a deaf and dumb man was able to speak and hear during the 1983 open air service at Oshodi; a woman who had never menstruated did so at the revival service at Abule Egba on January 29, 1987; a man regained his sight during a revival program on January 30, 1987. There were many other incidents, which are too numerous to document.
Most of these revival campaigns were followed by the establishment and consolidation of new branches of his church. Apart from his evangelistic labors, which brought thousands of people to the saving knowledge of Christ, Agbona also contributed to education in Nigeria. Because of his love for education, his church founded both primary and secondary schools in the southwestern part of Nigeria, where the headquarters are located. The church also has a theological institution which has produced a reasonable number of ministers within and outside of the Christ Apostolic Mission Church.
At some point in his life, Agbona married, and he and his wife, C. A. Agbona, were blessed with eleven lovely children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Agbona died on August 7, 2001 at the age of eighty-one, and was succeeded by pastor S. A. Ajayi as the second president of the Christ Apostolic Mission Church in Nigeria and Overseas. Although John Ajayi Agbona has passed away, his work lives on.
Samuel K. Fabunmi
M. Fabunmi, (elder and founding member of Christ Apostolic Mission Church), interview by author, Ilawe-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria.
Oyekan, (elder and founding member of Christ Apostolic Mission Church), interview by author, Alagbado Branch, Lagos.
3.”The Biography of Apostle John Ajayi Agbona,” excerpts from the burial ceremony pamphlet of Agbona, 2001.
- Olushola Ojo, “Up from Calamity - Life Story of Apostle J. A. Agbona,” unpublished paper (written to mark his forty years in the ministry), 1987.
This article, received in 2010, was written by Samuel K. Fabunmi, a postgraduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan. It was edited and submitted by Rev. Dr. Samson Adetunji Fatokun, Senior Lecturer in Church History and Pentecostal Studies, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, West Africa and DACB liaison coordinator.