God never fails to raise a leader when one is needed, and that was what God did with Mrs. Joannah Mobola Ayorinde, as God brought her to a leadership position both among her own African women and among the Baptist women of the world. Mrs. Ayorinde was a respected Baptist woman in Africa and beyond, and her service and remarkable leadership ability was reflected in her leadership of the organization of the Baptist Women’s Union (BWU) of Africa. Mrs. Ayorinde was a channel of blessing, a precious gem to Baptist women and to non-Christians as well in Nigeria, Africa, and in the Baptist World Alliance. She was a woman of faith, a woman of prayer, a woman of vision, and an exemplary and generous missionary. Joannah Ayorinde was called “Moon of Africa” by Mrs. Atinuke Bamijoko in her book by the same title. This appellation came to her as she thought about how Ayorinde’s life reflected the light of the Son of God, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
There were many firsts in Mrs. Ayorinde’s life. She was the wife of the first general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention; she was the first Baptist woman to go abroad for studies; she was the first Baptist woman to become the first WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) president in 1948 (succeeding Miss Young), and she was the first Nigerian president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa in 1956. Her life exemplified the life of a pastor’s child who is thoroughly dedicated to the Lord. Her motto was “Do good, no matter to whom,” and her message to women was: “Take care of your house, love your husband, love your children, and be kind to your neighbor.”
She was a popular speaker among the Baptist women of the world, and at one time, she was one of the most popular speakers in the world, among women. Her speaking ability was demonstrated on numerous occasions, but none was more powerful and dynamic than her address to the Baptist World Alliance in Miami, Florida in 1965.
Historical and Educational background
Joannah Mobola was born on September 1, 1909 at Oke Saje Abeokuta, into the family of the late Rev. and Mrs. John Agboola of Ogbomoso, and she was one of the younger sisters of the late Rev. E. O. Agboola. The Rev. John Agboola, Mobola’s father, was born to Fasanya in 1855, the day Rev. W. H. Clarke visited him for the first time. Mobola’s mother, Naomi Folasade Alade Agboola (née Bamgbose) was from Amilegbeledi Compound, Ijaiye, Abeokuta. Joannah Mobola was the fifth child in her family.
Mobola attended Oke-Saje Baptist School, where she read Standard Two before transferring to Ijaiye Baptist School in Abeokuta. After passing Standard Six in Ijaiye, she was admitted into the Baptist Girls School in Idi-Aba, which later became the Baptist Girl’s High School. She was trained as a teacher and later returned to her alma mater as a member of the staff. She was a teacher in that school until 1931, when she got married. Between 1938 and 1946, when she was in America with her husband (Joseph Tanimola Ayorinde), Mobola attended the National Training School for Women and Girls, Lincoln Heights, Washington D.C. She earned her B.S. in sociology and psychology at Hampton College, Virginia, U.S.A.
Joannah Mobola Agboola married Tanimola Ayorinde at Ijaiye Baptist Church in Abeokuta on December 24, 1931, in a service led by Rev. I. N. Patterson, the principal of Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta, where Tanimola was a teacher. Since Mobola wanted to give herself full time to homemaking, she had resigned her work as a teacher before her marriage. She helped to look after the children in her compound, and she had a unique experience in her new home, as she lived for three years among her husband’s relations, most of whom were Muslims and pagans. She took up this great challenge and used the opportunity to minister Christ to them. As time went on and her disappointment in not having her own children continued, she occasionally traveled with Miss N. C. Young to do even more Women’s Missionary Union work.
At one time, Mrs. Ayorinde had an opportunity to make an important decision in relation to her own advancement, but she made it in favor of her home instead. In 1938, American missionaries sponsored Mobola and her husband Tanimola’s attendance at the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention in America. Miss N. C. Young chose Mobola as a representative of the WMU of Nigeria, but Joannah insisted that her husband must go with her. She prevailed, and her husband was given a scholarship by the WMU of Nigeria as well. Since the Second World War began shortly thereafter in I939, the Ayorindes stayed on in America to study on a scholarship from the American Baptist missionaries.
Leadership roles and contributions to the WMU of Nigeria and beyond
It is not an overstatement to say that God chose Mrs. Ayorinde and inspired Miss N. C. Young to train her from childhood for future leadership in the WMU. Her involvement in the WMU work started when she organized a Girl’s Auxiliary and a Women’s Missionary Society. When she and her husband returned from the United States in 1946, she served with him as a pastor of the Baptist Church of Ago-Owu, in Abeokuta. For over a year, Mrs. Ayorinde was the principal contact person for the WMU organization of the church. She also served with her husband at the First Baptist Church on Broad Street, in Lagos, for several years. She could have been the first Nigerian to become principal at Reagan Memorial Baptist Girl’s Secondary School in Lagos, but in humility and because of her commitment to Christ, she chose to be a missionary in the Baptist WMU of Nigeria.
Having acquired the academic knowledge, Christian maturity, and international experience to lead the Baptist Women In Nigeria, she was elected the fourth WMU president in 1948, succeeding Miss Young, who had held the post for twenty-six years. Mrs. Ayorinde thought about, worked for, and lived for missions. She was WMU president until 1954 and became general supervisor and executive director of the Baptist WMU of Nigeria from 1955 to 1975. She was elected as the first president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa in 1956 at Ede, and held that position until 1967. As part of her responsibilities as president of the WMU of Nigeria for five years, and as president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa for eleven years, she had opportunities to represent Nigeria and Africa at overseas conferences with other women, and also with her husband. She attended the Baptist World Alliance meetings in 1947 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Mrs. J. A. Ojo, and she went to Rhodesia in 1952 with her husband, in the interest of the foreign mission work of the Baptist WMU of Nigeria. She also attended the Baptist World Alliance meeting in London, England, with Mrs. J. A. Ajani in 1955.
During her eleven year presidency of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa (1956-1967), she traveled widely in Africa inspiring women and men, pleading for better educational and economic opportunities for women. She went to Liberia with Miss Abiola Adewole (later Mrs. A. Ajao) to help with WMU work there. She and Miss Young traveled extensively in Nigeria, teaching and admonishing women and men. She taught and drilled WMU supervisors and field workers, and carried out job performance evaluations. Mrs. Ayorinde was innovative and very vigorous, and was a leader with a vision and drive. She led a crusade with the following agenda: that women must make their homes Christian; that they must fight polygamy; that they should refrain from selling, buying, or serving beer or alcoholic drinks, and that they should not sell tobacco. Mrs. Ayorinde did not only serve in her own area, but was in demand as a speaker on the European continent, in Latin America, and in North America. These achievements reached a climax in her magnificent address to a plenary session of the Miami Beach Congress in 1965.
As a woman of vision and a great planner, she was instrumental in setting up the WMU West Lagos Conference. For about two years, she pleaded with the executive committee of the Convention for this because it would make the work of the WMU much more effective. The executive committee of the Convention, for several reasons, felt reluctant to grant the request, but Mrs. Ayorinde and her co-workers went ahead with their own plan and launched the Conference, and the West and Lagos Conferences became realities. Mrs. Ayorinde retired in 1975, the same year her husband retired as the general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. On a personal level, Mrs. Ayorinde was direct, open-minded, frank, neat, and straightforward.
In 1986 the WMU immortalized her name by naming the first dormitory fully financed by the WMU of Nigeria after her, calling it “Mobola Ayorinde Hall.” This hall was dedicated on June 7, 1986, at Camp Young Ede, to honor her tremendous contributions to the growth of WMU work in Nigeria and beyond.
On Saturday August 10, 1996 at 1:25 p.m., Mrs. Joannah Mobola Ayorinde died at the age of eighty-seven, after having lived as a widow for nineteen years. Her funeral service was held on Saturday September 14, 1996 at 11.00 a.m. at First Baptist Church, Broad Street, Lagos, in the very church that she and her husband had pastored for several years. A memorial service was held in her honor at the 1997 WMU Convention meeting in Saki, Oyo State, in April of 1997.
The life of Mrs. Joannah Mobola Ayorinde was indeed a tremendous blessing to the WMU of Nigeria, the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa, the Nigeria Baptist Convention, and the Baptist World Alliance as a whole. This great Christian leader served well during her lifetime and touched thousands of souls for Christ in a positive manner. She was a very frank and bold woman, very articulate and open in expressing her views. She lived a life of moral purity and spiritual richness, and she was selfless, untiring, and appreciative of the efforts of others. She always commanded the respect, admiration, and affection of the many people who came to know her and worked with her over the years. Mrs. J.M. Ayorinde, without any doubt, will long be remembered by the Baptist family, and especially by the Nigerian Baptist Convention family, because of the impact she made.
Sunday A. Oyeniran
Adedoyin, I. A. Dr. J. T. Ayorinde: A Study in the Growth of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Ibadan: Baptist Press, 1974.
Bamijoko, Atinuke. Moon of Africa. Ibadan: Baptist Press, undated.
Tribute to Mrs. Joannah Mobola Ayorinde by Mrs. Aduke Akinola, WMU Executive Director, and tributes given by others.
Funeral service program for Mrs. Joannah Mobola Ayorinde: FBC Lagos, September 14, 1996.
Together (newsletter for the women’s department), Baptist World Alliance, Vol. no. 4, December 1967.
This article, submitted in December 2010, was written by Sunday A. Oyeniran, Ph.D. candidate at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Dr. Deji Ayegboyin and Dr. Leke Ogunewu.