James Tanimola Ayorinde was born in 1907 in Abeokuta in the Old Western Region. According to Yoruba custom, it was revealed to the Ifa priest who performed a divination at the naming ceremony that he would be an Ifa priest and that his name would be Tanimola, which means, “Who knows honor?” Ayorinde’s great-grandfather was likely among the first settlers in the new Abeokuta. Ayorinde was from Matiku compound off Sokori stream; Matiku was a prominent Balogun of Owu who was stationed off Sokori stream to ward off the sporadic attempts at invasion by the Dahomey warriors. Ayorinde’s father was a worshipper of the Yoruba deities Sonponna and Mole. His mother was his father’s second wife. Ayorinde was his father’s third child and his mother’s second surviving child; he and his older brother grew up in their mother’s compound, Fadubi in Totoro.
Ayorinde’s early life was recorded by Barbara Epperson in her book Out of Shango’s Shadow. In the book, Ayorinde is described as his mother’s son; he spent his childhood with his mother because his father spent most of his time on a farm about thirty miles south on the way to Lagos. So Ayorinde did not see much of his father; he probably accompanied him to the farm on only two or three occasions. His mother was a trader on the Lagos/Abeokuta route. On many occasions he traveled with his mother to Lagos. Ayorinde was for some time apprenticed to an Ifa priest from whom he learned Ifa worship, but nothing indicates that he went far in Ifa studies.
Olive Edens was appointed a missionary to Nigeria in 1916. She attended Ago-Owu Baptist Church where she was a Sunday School teacher. Ayorinde started attending church when he went with his friend to listen to Miss Edens and heard the story of Jesus for the first time. He was most impressed by the little card with pictures given to him by the missionary. He ran home enthusiastically to show the card to his mother. From that time on he went to church every Sunday to listen to the missionary. In 1918, through the influence of Mr. Olopade and his friend Olaleye, Ayorinde enrolled as a pupil at the Baptist Primary School, Ago-Owu, where he enjoyed studying English and Arithmetic.
In primary school Ayorinde professed faith in Christ and became a regular worshipper at Owu Baptist Church. He joined the enquirer’s class and was baptized on December 7, 1919 by Rev. John Agboola, whose daughter Ayorinde married twelve years later. Ayorinde was not a young child when he started school formally in 1918, but he was very bright and was among the boys whom Mr. S. G. Pinnock selected in 1922 from three Baptist primary schools in Abeokuta to form the foundation students of Baptist Boys High School (B.B.H.S.), Abeokuta. The school, formally opened in January 1923, was the premier secondary school for Baptists in Yorubaland. Professor N. D. Oyerinde of Baptist Academy, Ogbomoso was the guest speaker.
Ayorinde was carried away by Professor Oyerinde’s speech. He decided to leave B.B.H.S. to go to Ogbomoso with Professor Oyerinde. There Ayorinde faced difficulty paying his fees because his mother did not support his going to Ogbomoso. However, Rev. Pinnock arranged for a family in America to help him. Ayorinde was part of Professor Oyerinde’s household in1923, and in 1924 he entered Ogbomoso College–that had been established by Rev. C. E. Smith on May 3, 1898–to train as a teacher.
In 1920 the name of the school was changed from Training School and Academy, Ogbomoso to Baptist College and Seminary. Ayorinde was supposed to spend five years in the school but because he was so bright it only took him four years. In 1929 Dr. Carson, the acting principal, suggested that he sit for the Teachers’ Certificate Examination; he did and passed. During his school years Ayorinde had become acquainted with the Nigerian Baptist Convention where he played an important role in later years.
Ayorinde participated in the debate during the convention session in Ogbomoso in 1926. He was there as the general secretary of B.Y.P.A., an organization in which he played some part later. When he left the college he was assigned to B.B.H.S., Abeokuta as a teacher. Sadly, Ayorinde’s mother died before he finished his course in Ogbomoso; his father had died before he went to Ogbomoso.
Ayorinde returned to Abeokuta and started teaching at the Baptist Boys’ High School in 1927. where he was put in charge of the standard IV. There he met Chief J. A. Odebunmi who later became a lifelong friend.
Ayorinde married Miss Mobola Agboola on December 24, 1931. They were joined together by Rev. I. N. Patterson, the principal of the school where Ayorinde was teaching. Mrs. Mobola Ayorinde was the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rev. John Agboola of Saje, Abeokuta, and Lanlate fame.
In 1936 Ayorinde served as the acting pastor of Ago-Owu Baptist Church shortly after the retirement of Rev. A. L. Olopade. In 1937 Ayorinde undertook a tour of Nigeria with his wife during his sabbatical leave. The country-wide tour was in connection with certain aspects of the couple’s convention work. Ayorinde’s wife was involved with the Women Missionary Union (W.M.U), and Ayorinde was with B.Y.P.U., now known as the Church Training Program.
In March 1938, Rev. and Mrs. Ayorinde traveled to America, where she represented the W.M.U. of Nigeria at the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Southern Baptist Convention. At the end of the Jubilee celebrations, both Ayorinde and his wife stayed in America to study. He entered Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, and completed his studies in 1940 with a major in English Language; the degree was conferred in 1941. According to a former president of Virginia Union University, Ayorinde was studious and participated vigorously in student life and activities.
Ayorinde then attended Oberlin in Ohio and obtained an M.A. in philosophy and religious education in 1942. He was ordained into the ministry on New Year’s Eve 1939, at Ebenezer V Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia.
While in the United States, another incident occurred that would later affect Ayorinde’s life. An elderly woman lying ill in a hospital read an article written by Ayorinde while in Virginia entitled “How I Became a Christian” in the Religious Herald, a publication of the Virginia Baptist Association. In the article, Ayorinde mentioned that Miss Olive Edens, a missionary to Nigeria, had been instrumental in his conversion. The woman, Mrs. Jenkins, asked her son to get in touch with Ayorinde, and this led to a friendship between Ayorinde and the woman’s family. After Mrs. Jenkins’ death, her son, Mr. Howard Jenkins, gave Ayorinde two cars to help him in his work in Nigeria.
In January 1946 Ayorinde returned to Nigeria with his family, where later that year the Nigerian Baptist Convention organized a reception for them at the convention session at Abeokuta. Upon arriving back in Nigeria, Ayorinde was invited to become the first Nigerian Principal of Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta, as Rev. I. N. Paterson, the builder of the school, had been appointed general secretary of the convention. But Ayorinde opted for the pastorate and was called by his home church, Owu Baptist Church, Abeokuta.
For Ayorinde to be called to the pastorate of Ago-Owu Baptist Church in 1946 was to come home again. When he had returned to the B.B.H.S. as a teacher, Ago-Owu was his church. Before he went to America he had also been active at the church. So when he came back in 1946 as pastor, it was to a place that was very familiar to him.
The brief time that Ayorinde held the pastorate of Ago-Owu Baptist Church was marked by two great achievements. The first was an increase in the spirit of giving in the church, which Ayorinde attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. The church, which had been struggling, was transformed almost overnight into a central point of activity. Secondly, through his pastoral leadership he inspired many young people who might have otherwise been lost to the church. Attendance increased as many of those who had drifted away from the church returned and became energetic supporters of the church; many even went into the gospel ministry. Ayorinde spent only two years at Ago-Owu before he was called to pastor First Baptist Church, Lagos in 1948.
Early on, Ayorinde had to solve the problem of the order of service from Sunday to Sunday in the church. From his upbringing and training Ayorinde knew that Baptists were not tied to a set pattern of church service. God helped him to resolve this through prayer and divine guidance without any open confrontation or bitterness at all. As in Ago-Owu, there was a noticeable change in the members’ attitudes towards giving. When he put an end to class dues people began to give liberally and willingly as God provided, although tithing was encouraged.
During Ayorinde’s pastorate, the congregation did not neglect its evangelistic mission. A new preaching station was opened at Somolu, led by Mr. G. Olla, a member of the congregation. Other areas were also mapped for church planting.
While he was at First Baptist Church, Lagos, Ayorinde also served as convention president from 1950 to 1955 and as chairman of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Ayorinde was a member of the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance (B.W.A.) and was twice a vice president of the B.W.A., from 1955 to 1960 and from 1970 to 1975. Because of their active participation in B.W.A. meetings, Ayorinde and his wife Mobola were known and loved by Baptist leaders all over the world. Ayorinde served on the Executive Committee, the Relief Committee, and the Commission on Missions and Evangelism of BWA. He also participated in the 1958 world-wide Baptist seminar on “The Nature of the Church.”
In 1950 Ayorinde became the president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Under his leadership the problem of the involvement in secret societies among pastors and Baptist church members was resolved when they openly renounced their membership on the floor of the convention. During his tenure education and evangelism grew noticeably. Church contributions to the cooperative work of the convention increased from 10% to 15%. While Ayorinde was president, Virginia Union conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor of divinity during a Baptist World Alliance meeting in America in 1953.
In February 1962 Ayorinde left First Baptist Church, Lagos and moved to Ibadan to assume duties as associate general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention to under-study the general secretary, Dr. I. N. Patterson. His duties as associate general secretary included the promotion of the convention cooperative program and stewardship education, directing the activities of the field workers, and performing any other duties assigned to him by the general secretary.
Ayorinde served as acting general secretary in 1963 and was elected general secretary at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in Ibadan in 1964. He was the first Nigerian Baptist to occupy this post in the history of the convention, and held this position until he retired in 1975.
A farewell service was held in his honor on the occasion of his retirement as the first Nigerian general secretary at Bethel Baptist Church, Sapele, during the convention session on Wednesday, June 25, 1975. The service took place at the 62nd annual session of the Nigerian Baptist Convention held in Sapele from June 22 to 26, 1975. By the time he retired, Ayorinde had been involved with the affairs of the Nigerian Baptist Convention for over forty-seven years.
Ayorinde died on Saturday, March 5, 1977, in Abeokuta at the age of seventy. His funeral service was held on Saturday, March 12, 1977 at Owu Baptist Church, Abeokuta. Rev. E. O. Akingbala, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, preached at the service, and the church pastor was Rev. J. A. Soyoye.
Samuel Olatubosun Oyedele
Adedoyin, I. A. J. T. Ayorinde: A Study in the Growth of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. 2nd ed. Baptist Heritage Series 5. Ibadan: Nigerian Baptist Book Store Ltd., 1998.
Ayorinde, J. T. Vertical File. No. 1153. Ogbomoso: The Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Baptist World. Baptist World Alliance, 1977.
This article, received in 2008, was researched and written by Rev. Samuel Olatubosun Oyedele, student at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.