Deborah Adeyemi ‘Ladeji was nicknamed the “Iya Gbagbo” of Masifa area, meaning “the Mother of Faith” in that area, and the name was well-known in Masifa. Her husband’s family house, which was the Maboyeje compound, was literally renamed the house of “the Mother of Faith.”
Deborah Adeyemi ‘Ladeji was born in 1888 at Ile Olorisaoko in the Masifa area in Ogbomoso, Oyo State of Nigeria. Her father Adebiyi was also from Olorisaoko compound, Masifa area, Ogbomoso. Her mother was from Olubere compound, a few kilometers away. Adeyemi means “Crown fits me,” while Deborah was a name given to her after her conversion to Christianity. Adeyemi was the second child of three children and the only daughter. Her elder brother was named Adeshina, and her younger brother, Adegoke, later became the priest of Orisaoko after the death of their father.
Adeyemi’s parents were not Christians, but rather worshippers of Orisaoko, the deity of the rural estate or province. The family was especially known for the display of, and worship of, the python snake. The worshippers of Orisaoko could not eat fresh yam until it had been dedicated to Orisaoko in a special celebration which would be conducted by Adeyemi’s father. At an early age, Adeyemi was dedicated to the worship of Orisaoko and she was to marry one of the Orisaoko priests according to the Ifa oracle (the Yoruba deity of divination).
Deborah Adeyemi was very intelligent in matters relating to Orisaoko’s worship. As a teenager, she became famous with the Alaafin of Oyo, who was one of the most prominent and powerful king in Yorubaland. In Nigeria, the Yoruba could be found mainly in the southwestern part of the country, which presently covers Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Ekiti States, and some parts of Kwara and Kogi States. She visited the Alaafin of Oyo, the Soun of Ogbomoso, and other prominent rulers in the Oyo area during religious festivals with a python snake around her neck for rituals, and to support her family financially.
Education and Marriage
Deborah Adeyemi never received a formal education. After her marriage, of her own volition, she attended an adult literacy class organized by the Masifa Baptist Church in Ogbomoso, where she acquired the skills needed to read and write in Yoruba, the indigenous language of her people.
The story of her life changed when she fell in love with a Christian man named ‘Ladeji (meaning “honour becomes doubled”). The family disagreed with her, remembering that the Ifa oracle had predicted at her birth that she would marry an Olorisaoko priest. After much pleading with her father, he would only allow ‘Ladeji to marry his daughter on the condition that she would continue to worship Orisaoko after her marriage, which would force her to continue to carry a snake around her neck and make money for the family. Marriages between Christian men and pagan women were very common in those days since the husbands raised no objection to the idol worship of their wives. They supported their unbelieving wives during idol festivals. A common adage at that time was “Igbagbo o pe k’ ama soro ile eni,” (meaning Christianity does not prevent a person from family idol worship). ‘Ladeji agreed to the condition and the family sanctioned the marriage believing that she would continue in the worship of Orisaoko after her marriage. The marriage was blessed with only one child, Dorcas Adebola.
After some years, her husband died and she had to remarry to her husband’s junior brother, Joseph Babalola (the Yoruba tradition demands that young widows marry a close relative of the husband). Since Babalola resided in the northern part of Nigeria she had to go there, but she returned to Ogbomoso a short while later.
Adeyemi had wanted to know about Christianity since she was young. She had watched Christians go to church at Okeelerin Baptist Church, which was the mother church of Masifa Baptist Church, and she wanted to know about the rituals they observed in church. After her marriage, Adeyemi was faithful to the demands of the family, and she went back from time to time to worship Orisaoko. The husband did not hinder her from obeying her parents’ desire, but he was persistently and fervently praying for her conversion.
One day, Deborah Adeyemi felt that she needed to follow her husband to church, and after several visits, she gave her life to Christ. This was not easy. However, her conversion remained a secret. She practiced her new faith secretly until it was time for the Orisaoko festival, at which time she bluntly refused to participate in the worship of Orisaoko. Adeyemi told her parents openly that she would no longer worship Orisaoko because she had found new faith in Jesus Christ. According to the testimony that she shared with both young and old when she was alive, it was not an easy decision, but she could not resist her conviction that “Jesus is Lord.”
Her decision to follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord was not acceptable to her family or to other Olorisaoko worshippers. There were consequences for having denounced her faith in Orisaoko, and she needed to face them: she was to die on the seventh day. However, her husband, missionaries, pastors, and the whole congregation prayed for her and her faith became stronger. She decided not to go back. Her favorite statement was “Ibi aba ti se o daaro, a o gbodo tun lo se ekaale nibe” which literally means, “Where you have said good night, it is not appropriate to return to say good evening.” This was said to have affirmed her decision never to return to the worship of Orisaoko. The decision did not augur well with her, but the Lord Jesus, whom she had decided to follow, delivered her in all her trials and temptations. On the seventh day, it was a matter of life and death, and she was seriously ill unto the point of death, but God was glorified in the end. When they discovered that she was still alive, she was inflicted with a sickness that caused her to have a limp in her right leg. Also, every birth she had was difficult, and although she gave birth to many children, only one survived, Dorcas Adebola Ayanrinola.
Contribution to Christianity
Deborah Adeyemi was discipled by her pastor, Rev. Oyadiran, and the American missionaries who became her new friends. Prominent among them were Rev. and Mrs. Smith and Rev. and Mrs. Cason, Southern Baptist missionaries to Nigeria. Rev. and Mrs. Smith fell in love with her family and later became close friends of her only daughter. Deborah Adeyemi was very intelligent and Holy Spirit filled. She could sing almost all the hymns in the Yoruba Baptist hymnal by heart and quote Bible passages from memory. When she was old, she used a broom stick as a Bible marker to remind her of where the pastor preached every Sunday so she could go home and study the passage over and over.
Through her testimony in Ogbomoso, and especially in the Masifa area, everyone knew that faith in Jesus was enough to calm every fear and the storms of life. She was committed to her local church, Masifa Baptist Church, where she influenced lives for Christ. She was one of the founding members of the church and a strong member of the Women’s Missionary Society. She was prominent and active in the early morning prayer meeting, Sunday school, and both morning and evening worship.
Evangelism and Confrontation with Idol worshippers
Deborah Adeyemi was passionate about her new faith and she decided to evangelize some of her former colleagues in idol worship. She always confronted Oro worshippers with the gospel during their festivals–Oro is another deity which females must not see face to face lest they die. Adeyemi usually refused to go inside the houses during Oro festivals and their black power (juju) had no effect on her. When the idol worshippers discovered that her faith in Jesus was too strong for them, they left her alone.
Adeyemi’s desire was for her two brothers to know the Lord. When her effort was unsuccessful, she focused her evangelistic outreach on the children of the idol worshippers. She led all her nephews and nieces to salvation in Christ and today, there is no-one worshipping Orisaoko in her family. Also, she worked hard to make sure that her daughter and other children she adopted knew the Lord. Adeyemi was a disciple maker. She had a great influence on her daughter, who later became a deaconess in Masifa Baptist Church and was known for evangelism and church planting. Adeyemi also raised a granddaughter and a grandson. The granddaughter is now a deaconess at Sabo Baptist Church in Ogbomoso. She dedicated her grandson to mission work at an early age, just as Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord. Today, her grandson, Rev. Dr. DurosinJesu Ayanrinola, is a renowned missionary and the current General Secretary of All African Baptist Fellowship.
Her faith influenced many young people who were like her grandchildren. Gbile Akanni from Peace House, Gboko, one of the prominent sons of an Ifa priest in Masifa area, testified to the spiritual upbringing he received from “Iya Gbagbo” in one of his books:
She brought me and my very bosom friend, DurosinJesu, who is her own grandson, on her knees every blessed morning between 1970 and 1973, for deep prayer and intercession before we left for the “Grammar School” …and on our return in the afternoon, she gathered us again around her waist for more prayers and thanksgiving. She wished and prayed for me to become “a shining light” out of my very dark family. When persecuted at home, she was one “refuge” I could run to, who had soothing assurance in her words, “Don’t mind Akanni, your father…he will also leave those things, as I left my idol worship. I was threatened left and right, but I purposed in my heart, I would not deny Jesus. Till I die, I will ever live to serve Him.” 
Her Commitment to Christ even in Death
Deborah Adeyemi was very kind and generous. “Iya Gbagbo” would never sell on Sunday. If anyone came wanting to purchase bread or kerosene on Sunday, she would prefer to give it to them free of charge so she would not be guilty of selling on Sunday.
Deborah Adeyemi was very old when her grandson was about to get married. Many people believed that she would die because she was seriously ill. One day she called her grandson and said, “DurosinJesu, do not be afraid. I am not going to die before your marriage, but I’m sure I will not see your first child.” And this is exactly what happened. Before she finally died, she remembered the compulsory family rituals of Orisaoko, rituals that are supposed to be performed on the corpse of a son or daughter. Accordingly, she sent for her only surviving brother reminding him of her faith in Christ, “Goke, do you remember that I am no longer part of you and your idol worship? Please do not try to do any family rituals after my death. I belong to Jesus and not Orisaoko.” Deborah Adeyemi died on October 2, 1980 at age ninety-two.
Comfort Arinlade Ayanrinola
Gbile Akanni,* No More Two: God’s Principles for Marriage* (Gboko, Benue State Nigeria: Peace House Publications, 2nd edition, 2006).
Church History Committee, *History of Masifa Baptist Church Ogbomoso from 1920-2000 *(Ogbomoso, Nigeria: Equatorial Qualitex Prints, 2000).
Maria Ajagbe (granddaughter), interview by author, undated, Ogbomoso, Nigeria.
Rev. Dr. I. D. Ayanrinola (grandson), interview by author, undated, Ibadan, Nigeria.
Mr. Adeshina (nephew), interview by author, undated, Olorisaoko compound, Masifa, Ogbomoso.
This biography, received in 2012, was written and researched by Comfort Arinlade Ayanrinola, a student at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Leke Ogunewu and Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.