A legend in the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Africa.
Joanna Omobola Ayorinde was born in September of 1909 at Okesaje Abeokuta, now in Ogun State, Nigeria. Her parents were Rev. John Agboola and Mrs. Naomi Folashade Agboola, who were both Baptists. She was the fifth child of the family. Her father was an ordained Baptist minister, but he supplemented his salary with farming and his wife did laundry work.
Omobola was known as a hard worker from childhood. She was used to making cassava flour, washing and ironing smaller clothes for her mother, fetching water from the brook, and also making red-palm oil from palm nuts. She enjoyed a good spiritual upbringing, and had to recite a new Bible verse to her father every morning. She also recited Bible verses as a game with her siblings anytime they walked to places like school or church meetings, and according to the game rules, you could not recite the same verse more than once. Her mother loved to take her to church meetings, as she was always known to be very attentive and quiet, and could easily recall the things that were taught at those meetings.
She did primary school (Standard one) at Okesaje, and earned the best behaved girl award several times, also placing first in the class. Once, she secretly followed her sister Towobola Agboola (Mrs. Ladanu) to Ejigbo, where she helped with selling fried yams. From there, they both went to Ogbomosho to visit their relations, the Adeleyes. The place was so interesting to Mobola that she refused to follow her sister back to Ejigbo on the day they were to leave. She hid herself in a dye pot, only coming out after her sister left, and was accepted into her aunt’s family in Ogbomosho. The family had her admitted to the Baptist Day School in Ogbomoso for Standard two. However, her parents requested that she be brought back to Abeokuta, and she returned to the Ijaye Baptist School there. She later entered the Baptist Girls School in Abeokuta, which had been established in 1910 by Mrs. Carrier Lumbly, a missionary widow. Mrs. Neale Covington Young met Mobola in this school and took a special interest in her, especially when the girl’s mother died. She covered her sponsorship from Standard two to Standard seven in 1920, when she was lodged in a boarding house at Ijaye (that school later moved from Ijaye to Idi-Aba). Her stay in the boarding school brought her closer to other white missionaries, and in 1921, she gave her life to Jesus after she was led to salvation in Christ by Miss May Perry. She was baptized in 1923 after receiving a strong warning to do so from her father, who was on his death-bed. In 1924, Mobola and two other girls, all excellent students, became the first group to graduate from the High School with Standard seven.
She started her career as a teacher as early as 1926. She was also appointed a Sunday school teacher in the church, and was fond of telling Bible stories to both young and old converts.
On December 24, 1931, she married Tanimola Ayorinde at the Baptist church in Ijaye, Abeokuta. The ceremony was led by Rev. Dr. I. N. Patterson, the first principal of the Baptist Boy’s High School, Abeokuta. Through daily prayer, devotions, and good behavior, she became a good example to her husband’s family members, who were pagans and Muslims. She looked after children in her compound, organized a Girls Auxiliary, and started a Women’s Missionary Society.
In 1983, she was asked to represent the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) of Nigeria at the golden jubilee anniversary of the WMU Southern Baptist Convention in the United States of America. She said that she would only go if her husband could go with her, and they both went, arriving on April 18, 1938. They stayed in America to further their studies, as World War II had started by then. She obtained a B.Sc. in Social Science from Hampton Institute in Virginia, and they both returned in January of 1946, when she became an interpreter for the missionaries. She emerged as the fourth Women’s Missionary Union president from 1948 to 1954. She was also executive director of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Nigeria from 1955 to 1975, and also became the first Nigerian president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa.
She traveled to many places in Nigeria and in Africa accompanied by her husband, Mrs. Edgar Bates, and, sometimes, Miss N. Young, to help to establish the WMU. The attendance at the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa meetings at Limuru, Kenya, in 1956 and 1967, was evidence of her successful work in the WMU. In 1949, during her tenure, the WMU of Nigeria led 2,932 people to Christ, and was also able to count 2,096 daily Bible readers, and 4,161 tithe-payers.
She traveled to many countries: Denmark, England, Brazil, Holland, Germany, and the United States, to represent Africa in the WMU meetings. After her retirement, she continued with the missionary work in her neighborhoods at Iwo Road, in Ibadan. She held prayer meetings with children, giving them biscuits and tea, and also opened a “breakfast tea shop” for soldiers, in a bid to reach out to them with the gospel of Christ. In this shop, neighbors also used to come to her for advice and prayers. She was known to be mission-conscious, humorous, generous, blunt, neat, open-minded, God-conscious, and a good speaker, although she could be tough at times. She had no biological children, but she gave spiritual birth to many. In appreciation of her contributions to the Women Missionary Union, a hall was dedicated in her honor on June 7, 1986, by the WMU of Nigeria.
She told people before her 80th birthday that she could “go home” after that, although some people, like Mrs. Aduke Akinola, told her that she would petition God for her not to go. However, she died at age 81 on August 10, 1996, in Lagos. The funeral service was held on September 14 at the First Baptist Church on Broad Street in Lagos, where she had earlier been a pastor with her husband for several years.
Adedoyin, T. A. Dr. J. T Ayorinde, a Study in the Growth of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Ibadan: Ibadan Baptist Press Ltd., 2000.
Agboola, Sola. “Biographical Sketch of Mrs. Johannah Mobola Ayorinde,” funeral booklet, 1996.
Akinola Aduke, Joanna Mobola Ayorinde, WMU Legend. Ibadan: Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Nigeria, 1996.
——–. Their Legacy: WMU of Nigeria: Vol. 11. Ibadan: Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Nigeria, 2003.
Bamijoko, Atinuke. Mobola (Mrs J.M.) Ayorinde, Moon of Africa. Ibadan: Women Missionary Union Nigeria, undated.
This article, received in 2009, was researched and written by Mrs. Yetunde Olaomo, Postgraduate Student in Church History, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Samson Adetunji Fatokun, DACB liaison coordinator.