Ogunfeyimi, Elisha Ilene
Elisha Ilene Ogunfeyimi was born in Eruna in the Ugbo Kingdom of Ilaje Local Government Area, Ondo State, Nigeria, in 1901. His father was Jacob Ogunfeyimi Odola, and his mother was Olayenika Ogunfeyimi. Elisha was a middle child, with several brothers and sisters. In later years he married and had many children and grandchildren.
Elisha was described as a handsome boy, of moderate height with a dark complexion and thick, curly hair. He was said to have keen eyes and a strong yet musical voice, both contributing to an air of authority. His build was not athletic, however, and as a child people did not think he was cut out for physically challenging work. He was thought of as a fairly average achiever. Yet as he grew he proved to have patience and an inner strength to persevere during hardships. Elisha knew from experience the meaning of poverty and hunger, and was willing to undertake any task, no matter how challenging.
Young Elisha did not have the opportunity to receive a formal Western-style education; however he was highly intelligent and literate in the vernacular tongue. He had a vast memory for storytelling and was a gifted public speaker. His extraordinary knowledge of the Bible helped build people’s trust in his spiritual authority.
Elisha Ilene started his career as a commercial boat rower, taking people from Eruna, his place of birth, to Atijere and Lagos. For a brief period he practiced trading, buying and selling clothes, food, and other goods. After that he became a fisherman, first in the small streams of Eruna, then around the Lekki lagoon near Mobi in Lagos State, and finally along the seashores of Sumoge in Delta State. As a fisherman he was tough and fearless. In those days fishing was hard physical labor, demanding strength and will power. It involved rowing boats through strong winds and heavy waves, mending torn nets in all kinds of weather, and working day and night. Like the Apostles Simon Peter and Andrew, Elisha’s vocation parallelled his later spiritual calling, when he also became a “fisher of men.”
Christianity didn’t reach Ilaje land until around 1900. Ogunfeyimi’s parents were too old to embrace a new religion at the time and held traditional beliefs: the name Ogunfeyimi means, “the god of iron is my benefactor.” But Ogunfeyimi responded with faith when the call from God came, and he joined the West African Episocopal Church (WAEC), Eruna, where he eventually became a very energetic choirmaster. By 1928 he had joined the Cherubim and Seraphim Church as a pioneering member. The Cherubim and Seraphim Church had been founded by Saint Moses Orimolade Tunolase in Lagos in 1925.  Ogunfeyimi received some training from Tunolase in Lagos, and he said that Tunolase had predicted that he would be a renowned prophet in the Cherubim and Seraphim Church.
A turning point came in Ogunfeyimi’s life when he was forty-seven years old. He had a vision in which he was led to a frightful ghost-infected jungle called Ugbonla, near his hometown. It was an uninhabited wilderness where condemned criminals lived and people considered evil were buried, and where wild animals roamed. In the vision he was shown a big church in this wilderness, and a voice directed him to dedicate the spot and set it apart for God. In obedience, with hope, courage, and faith, Ogunfeyimi led a group of people, including his family, to the place of his vision on February 16, 1948. Ugbonla became Ogunfeyimi’s home for the next forty-eight years.
In the wilderness, the strength of Ogunfeyimi’s character was tested. By this time he had worked various jobs, traveled different places, and met many people. He had experienced poverty and prosperity, suffering and health, and these experiences served to mature and prepare him for the challenges he would face. He was either going to prove his spiritual mettle or he would be left alone without converts or followers. But his faith was rooted in absolute confidence in God. As the saying goes: “Faith, mighty faith / The promise says / Laughs at impossibilities / And cries, it shall be done.” He faced the challenge with courage and began the consuming work of evangelization and the development of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion. Ogunfeyimi had vision and missionary zeal, and he saw the group at Ugbonla grow in numbers and in strength.
God performed many miracles in answer to Ogunfeyimi’s prayers, including the healing of the blind, barren, lame, and deaf. As a result of these signs, people flocked to Ugbonla, and it became a place of spiritual refuge, a place where good things abounded. After a while Ogunfeyimi and his people had to move out to spread the Good News to others in their various communities. The people had been in need both spiritually and physically, lacking health care and education. So they listened to the evangelists and accepted their message of good news with enthusiasm. The converts were encouraged to settle down in their own small communities that were organized to enhance their spiritual development.
The Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion was open to all people, with no bias against anyone in terms of color, ethnic group, status, gender, or age because barriers between social classes had been broken by Christ. Because of this universal acceptance, the church grew quickly. It spread beyond Ilaje Local Governement Area, Ondo State to other parts of Nigeria, as well as to Cameroon, Gabon, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Congo, Zaire, Liberia, and Gambia. It also spread overseas to the United Kingdom and the United States. Ugbonla became a city of global prominence with electricity, shops, schools, colleges, clinics, and transportation and communication systems. It also became the international headquarters of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion.
In the face of all these accomplishments people regarded Ogunfeyimi with awe and admiration but they also praised him for his simplicity, humility, and dignity. Members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion looked up to him as a father figure with executive, administrative and advisory powers within the religious organization, and he was widely esteemed as a man able to inspire those around him. He took time to teach and develop leaders so that the church would have a stable future, and never lack able leaders. Through learning on the job, orientation courses, and the delegation of authority, Ogunfeyimi showed younger leaders how to be dependable and competent. In this Ogunfeyimi showed administrative skill, vision, and foresight.
In recognition of his achievements he received various honors from both secular and sacred institutions. He was made the head of the council of elders and kingmakers of the Ojadele ruling house, and made the proprietor of Cherubim and Seraphim primary schools, Ondo State, between 1968 and 1977. In 1979 he was president of the Cherubim and Seraphim Unification Conference, Ondo State. That same year he was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by the board of the Ondo State Cherubim and Seraphim Unification Conference. He was made one of the patrons of the Teachers’ College, Igboegunrin, Ondo State, in 1985, and became a justice of the peace in 1986. The Young Progressives of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion gave him the title “Patron of the Youth.” Other honors he received are: the Egbe Omo Ilaje National Merit Awards (1989), the King of Zion (1981), the Spiritual Father of Nations (1994), and the Ondo State Merit Awards (1995).
He died in 1996 after a brief illness, at the age of 95. The news of his death brought sorrow to many people–Zionists and non-Zionists, far and near. In his life, Ogunfeyimi modeled hard work, singleness of purpose, a commitment to mission, and dedication to the service of God and humanity.
S. O. Jedo
Moses Orimolade Tunolase was born into a royal family in Ikare, Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria in the mid-nineteenth century. He began his mission as an itinerant prophet and toured many parts of Nigeria proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ before he finally settled down in Lagos in 1925.
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Works by Elisha Ilene Ogunfeyimi:
Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion C/S Constitution, 1984.
Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion C/S Daily Bible Reading Church Man’s Almanac, 1992.
This article, received in 2009, was researched and written by Dr. S. O. Jedo, provost of Christ International Divinity College (CINDICO), Erinmo-Ijesa, Osun State, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator and president of Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, a DACB participating institution.