Mary Ibeso, like Anna of the New Testament, was a woman of the temple (or church). She threw her whole energy into maintaining and cleaning the church. Indeed she assumed the role of a woman in the household of God. She was the epitome of Christian widowhood, a model for today’s Christian widows.
Her early life was sorrowful. She lost her only daughter one year after the death of her husband, Mr. Iselegu. She was from the Ogbe Onodi quarters of Emu Uno.
She understood well the Pauline teachings of celibacy, with respect to serving the Lord and not being unequally yoked with unbelievers. Following the death of her husband, she had the courage to refuse every non-Christian suitor who came her way. For this non-Christian men hated her. But Christians admired her virtue. She was called Nne Uku (mother of the church). Associated with this, it was her custom to wear a white cloth, a symbol of purity and of being set apart for Jesus Christ whom she often called her husband. She was the first Christian mother of St. Peter’s Anglican Church Emu Uno and she was in charge of instructing young women converts.
Madam Mary Ibeso was a woman of prayer. She was often seen around the mission house praying for countless hours. She was known to pray for Mr. Godwin Okeriaka and Mr. Abraham Osaele, for grace to be multiplied unto them. An observer reported that she often prayed for generations yet unborn. Her whole life was given to intercession for the growth of the church. She often prayed that the good reports, which she heard from other lands (Isoko, Urhobo, Abraka) also become a reality in the Emu church.
Such was her zeal in evangelism that some men reportedly warned her to stay away from their wives for fear they would be converted to Christianity. Mary Ibeso spared no opportunity at the cassava mills to speak of Christ to the women. She was also involved in house-to-house evangelism. If any woman visited the church, Mary Ibeso took her on as a “challenge” and would follow up her visit and become involved in the woman’s life until she became a committed member of the church.
Mary Ibeso led the women in the cleaning of the church, going on a three kilometer trek to obtain uro-ocha (white clay) from a stream. They used this clay to rub the church walls every Saturday and they rubbed the mud benches with cocoyam leaves. (These do not stain when dry.) They dug the white clay with broken calabashes. Mr. Peter Okogbue a post-pioneering indigenous agent, always accompanied them.
The Anglican converts in Emu Uno took care of Madam Ibeso during her later years. She died in 1945 at the age of eighty-nine.
Jones Ugochukwu Odili
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This story, received in 2003, was reprinted with permission from “The Role of Indigenous Agents in the Advent and Growth of the Anglican Church in Emu Clan of Delta State 1911 - 2002,” a Masters thesis (Department of Religious and Cultural Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Choba, Rivers State, Nigeria) by Mr. Jones Ugochukwu Odili.