Abel Bello Kolawole (originally Orisagbemi Owoahere) was born at Orokere, Amuro, in Yagbaland, probably around 1894, or maybe earlier. His father was Owoahere Ajarimo, an herbalist from the Iyalojo family, of the descendants of Chief Aloko at Odo Ile. His mother was Anumeya, a native Orokere.
Orisagbemi lived with his parents, his brother Aguda and two sisters, Iyalojo and Olorunyomide, until he was about twelve years old. He was trained by his parents in farming and fetish rituals. His father had every confidence that Orisa would become a famous farmer and herbalist. He was well known as a good wrestler and on the farm he could do more ridges and hoeing that all the other boys his age.
As a teenager, Orisagbemi heard the gospel from his brother, Moses Alada, the most senior son of Owoahere’s first wife. When Orisagbemi decided to follow Christ too, his parents were disappointed. The villagers who saw him as a promising lad to lead in fetish practices were also disappointed. They planned to kill him. He was beaten and his water poisoned. He said, “My mother revealed my father’s plan to kill me and she advised me to flee from our village. She said, ‘The Lord whom you desire to worship will protect you.’”
Orisagbemi left for Isanlu where the S.I.M. missionaries lived. He worked for Rev. Craig, Miss Sandercock and Rev. Playfair between 1912 and 1920. He was baptised in 1919 by Rev. Craig and named Abel Orisa. Later he dropped the name Orisa, a name which linked him to the traditional gods, and used Abel only.
He left the S.I.M. missionaries and worked for various expatriates between 1920 and 1923. During his contacts with various Yoruba people, he made a close friend named Kolawole. This appealed to him as a good name, since it means “bringing honor home.” He hoped he would bring honor to his home town some day, so he chose this name to substitute for the one he had dropped, and became Abel Kolawole.
In 1923 Abel Kolawole worked for Miss Shantz and Miss Hood of the United Missionary Society. He soon became a UMS evangelist, and from Shonga he was sent to Loma (Babaloma) and Share and surrounding villages to preach the gospel. He trekked to most of these villages before he had a bicycle.
As a faithful evangelist, Abel was sent to Mokwa in Nupeland to work for Rev. and Mrs. Ira Washington Sherk. There he served as steward and evangelist for two years. In 1925 he was posted to Kpaki outstation as full-time evangelist. About five hectares of land were acquired for the UMS. There he pastored and opened a new church as the first African UMS pastor in Nupeland. Among the surrounding villages he visited frequently were Koda, Gbete, Tswanle, Tswankwa, Takunma, Kudu, Kpataki, Kpakiko, Bitagi, Kpakogi, Kusokpan, Kupanti, Emigi, Dakogi, Yiba, Yeti, Kpankuruzi, Ida, Etsa, Tsarati, Sakuza, Bokanni, Betagi, Kpota, Ezi, Wupo, Egbian, Tatabu, Muwo, Buka, Dafa, Kalema, Gbajibo, Jebba Nupe, Kpatsuwa, Belle, Fanagun, Kusogi, Gbere and Raba.
Pastor Abel served in Kpaki for twenty years (1925-45). Among the first converts in his ministry were Daniel Jiya, Nda Langba, Moses from Koda, Samuel Zhiri, Peter Ndace, Kuso, Madu, and Nda Yansa in Kpaki. He sank a well at Kpaki and cultivated an orchard where he grew oranges, pawpaw and pineapples. The fruits attracted many to visit him. He was a pioneer in a variety of crops.
Pastor Abel married Elizabeth Osibinre in 1929. In 1939 David Olorunfemi was born. Six children who survived infancy followed him. Debora, Lydia, Leah and Anna grew up but a boy Bandele and a girl named Grace died.
Pastor Abel’s son Dr. David Kolawole still has the diary and record book that his father kept during the years at Kpaki. His handwriting was extremely neat. There are notes of attendance, offerings and events in the church and the family. Some of the notes are written in Yoruba, some in English and some in Nupe. Anybody reading the notebook can see that although Pastor Abel was a Yoruba man, he was fluent in Nupe and at home among the people. At first the Yoruba section of the church at Kpaki was bigger than the Nupe section, but as the years passed, this reversed as the indigenes were won to Christ and the Nupe section grew larger. Pastor Abel recorded every time his son David came from Jebba for school holidays, the first rains, what he harvested on his farm and sometimes notes on his goats. The movements of missionaries in his area were also noted.
Pastor Abel experienced many hardships in evangelism during the years of his ministry. The converts suffered persecution from Muslim and pagan neighbors. They were refused girls to marry from the pagan and Muslim community. Rev. Russell Sloat later wrote to David Kolawole, “I knew your father quite well over a number of years and had a great respect for him, especially for the years of devoted service which he gave in the Lord’s work in Nupeland. The main thing I remember was your father’s faithfulness and dependability. When Mrs. Ummel was at Mokwa, your father had stomach pain and then vomited. When vomiting he brought up a small charm that someone must have hidden in his food.” Despite the attacks, Pastor Abel continued faithfully with the work.
Pastor Abel and his wife Elizabeth organized adult literacy classes. Most of their converts were taught to read the Bible and write letters in good handwriting. They were taught choruses and songs which enlivened their faith in Christ. The mission also ran a clinic to treat the people for common diseases. His converts gave Pastor Abel the name Bello, to identify him with their own culture. In April 1945, Pastor Abel was transferred to Mokwa.
After many years of illness, Elizabeth Kolawole died of pneumonia. She had gone home to Orokere because of sickness and died there on June 30, 1948. Pastor Abel married Comfort Ebunlomo in 1950. Comfort’s children are Mary, Abraham, Ruth, Funlayo, Paul, Daniel, Elizabeth, Oluwatoyin and Jacob.
By 1950 the UMS work in Nupeland had grown large. There were many UMS pastors there. Pastor Abel was ordained Overseer and given the title Senior Pastor. From Mokwa he was again transferred to Share Nupe (Tsaragi).
He voluntarily retired in 1959 and returned to Yagbaland, his home. He settled down at Orokere, Efo Amuro in Oyi Division of Kwara State, and lived in the Okeokuta Compound with others in the Iyalojo family.
For twenty-four years (1960-1984) after Senior Pastor Abel Bello Kolawole had received his pensioner certificate under the UMS/UMCA he continued to evangelise at Efo Amuro. He rang the bell, read the Scriptures and prayed aloud in his Efo residence between the hours of seven and eight every evening as soon as he started the UMCA church two years after his retirement. He built another orchard close to his residence, almost a replica of the Kpaki garden. He sank a well in the garden and another at his residence where he supplied his family and others with clean water.
Pastor Abel built a prayer house with mud walls and a corrugated iron roof, about 20 feet long, 18 feet wide and 12 feet high. It was used as the first UMCA church building at Efo Amuro. Later it served as the Sunday School building and for Adult Literacy classes. Another church building was erected by UMCA pastors posted to Efo to accomodate about 200 conveniently. A modern pastorium, the largest of all in the UMCA, was completed in 1982, a few meters away from the monument of the Abel Prayer House.
Pastor Abel went to be with the Lord he had served so faithfully on December 19, 1986.
Abel and David Kolawole
This story is from a biography of his father written by Dr. David Kolawole and from the diary kept by Pastor Abel during his time at Kpaki and Mokwa.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Faith of Our Fathers: Life Stories of Some UMCA Elders, copyright © 1999, edited by Lois Fuller, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. All rights reserved.