Family and Educational Background
Pauline Agwe Okoh, also known as “Maa Miss,” was the wife of the first general superintendent of Christ Holy Church International, Rt. Rev. Marius Okoh, and also the mother of the present general superintendent, His Grace the Most Rev. (Dr.) Daniel Okoh. She was very active in the early years of Christ Holy Church International and contributed greatly to the growth of the church as it is today.
She was born in 1930 into a middle class family. Her father, the late Pa Mazagwu of Ogbe-Otu, Onitsha, was a primary school headmaster and by the standard of the time, an educated person. Her mother was from Ndoni, Rivers State of Nigeria. She died when Pauline and her elder brother were still very young and so Pauline was brought up by her father. Some of her brothers had died. Her immediate elder brother, Daniel, became a senior civil servant in Nigeria. He was one of the few people who worked at the control towers of some of the Airports in Nigeria at the time.
She grew up in the midst of a large family in which education was valued and everyone was well trained in one field or another. For her primary education, Pauline attended a school in Onitsha. Later she went on to attend a school that most girls attended at that time: a vocational institute that was owned by the YWCA (Young Women Christian Association), Onitsha, where she studied fashion, design, and general home economics. After graduating from the school, she set up a fashion house and had quite a number of apprentices. It was a big business by the standard of her time. She continued to run the fashion house until she got married.
Marriage, Family and Early Christian Life
Pauline and her husband Marius got married in 1950. Marius was a very poor civil servant at that time; the only major visible property he had then was a bicycle. In fact, some people thought that he was marrying Pauline for her money. After their marriage, they suffered repeated experiences of child mortality. Four or five times, Pauline conceived and carried her baby for nine months, only for the child to die after delivery. Through prayer, the Lord brought an end to these sad experiences.
Pauline was a lead soprano singer in the choir of the Bishop Crowther Memorial Anglican Church, still at Egerton Road, Onitsha. She was also a lead dancer in the traditional dance of young girls at that time in Onitsha, called “Egwu Aja”. At one point, she and her husband ran a dancing school for couples. Couples who registered were trained in ballroom dancing. Pauline remained a very good dancer until she died. She brought that skill into the ministry in a positive way. She was also wonderful cook. She prepared the foods of almost all the major tribes of Nigeria. She could taste a meal that she had never prepared before, ask a few questions and then prepare it herself, and it would be delicious. Cooking was one of her hobbies.
Pauline was not a member of Christ Holy Church before she got married, although she was a Christian. When she got married, the church had only been established for three years. At that time, the church was just a growing prayer ministry with only one location in Onitsha. Marius, her husband, was then working with PWD (Public Works Department) at different times at Enugu, Owerri, Okigwe and Umuahia.
Contributions to the Growth and Development of Christ Holy Church International
In her capacity as the first General Deaconess of Christ Holy Church International and the Head of the Women and Children Department of the church, Pauline played a major role in the development of music in the church, particularly in the area of hymns. She organized a singing competition together with the Late Revds. E. N. Okonkwo and D.O.U. Nwaizuzu for the branches of the church in Onitsha at that time, in order to find excellent hymn singers. She taught hymns in Christ Holy Church and also taught many new church members who came to the church from backgrounds in African Traditional Religion. She participated very actively in the choir. She also played a major role in developing the church’s interest in African Christian choruses. Some of the choruses in the Christ Holy Church chorus book today were composed by the Women’s Ministry of Christ Holy Church of that time. For instance, the song that was sung by the women in their recently released music album, Bianu K’anyi nye Ya onyinye (O come let’s give Him an Offering).
Many women were motivated by Okoh’s spirit of industry and enthusiasm in Christian worship, and she mentored many young women. Most of them approached the church’s founder, the holy Prophetess Agnes Okoh, through Pauline, even though Prophetess Okoh was always available. She guided them on how to approach the Prophetess, who was also known as Mama Odozi-Obobo. In addition, she was a great role model and taught many of her disciples to believe in themselves instead of depending on their husbands. She taught the art of baking bread, making cakes and snacks, and sewing clothes, among other skills. She also played a big part in the moral and spiritual edification of the ministers of God.
Origin of the title “Maa Miss”
The story behind the title is that in those days, female teachers and seamstresses who had apprentices were referred to as “Miss”. So she was called “Miss” because of her role as the head seamstress, and her role as a teacher of music in the church. Later on, due to the increase of female ministers and teachers in Christ Holy Church, members thought of attaching “Maa” to her title as a way of differentiating her from others. Hence, she was referred to as “Maa Miss”. That title was given to her exclusively as a mark of respect.
One of her most striking qualities was her humility. She was an example to many young women and male ministers. As a result, God endowed her with great wisdom, which led many ministers to go to her for advice. Many of them have confessed that if not for the advice of the first general deaconess, they would have long since left the ministry. Some of them have become leaders in the church today. Her wealth of experience was a source of inspiration to many who looked up to her.
Her Relationship with the General Prophetess
Mrs. Agnes Okoh (a.k.a. Mama Odozi-Obodo) was the General Prophetess and founder of Christ Holy Church International. She was also Pauline Okoh’s mother-in-law, and their relationship was like that of a mother and daughter. Mama Odozi-Obodo had only two children. The first, a daughter, had died at the age of ten and afterwards her son was her only surviving child. On Pauline’s side, her mother had died when she was young. So, she took the Holy Prophetess as her own mother. She would cook for her, prepare her room for her and make all her clothes. She made everything that Mama Odozi-Obodo wore - gowns, head ties, blouses, etc. She knitted Mama’s sweaters, gloves and woolen hats.
Mama Odozi-Obodo moved to Ndoni in 1976, and her cook got married in 1978, so Pauline used to travel from Onitsha to Ndoni about three times in a week, sometimes on a very rough road, in order to prepare Mama’s meals. She prepared food for the founder and her contemporaries, and visitors. She took very good care of everyone in the house and she did it effortlessly. She played a great role in upholding the value of hospitality, as emphasized by Mama Odozi-Obodo.
She did all this at the same time as fulfilling her role as general deaconess and head of the women’s department. In all, God used “Maa Miss” to bless Mama’s ministry. She was a blessing to her not just as a daughter in-law but as a daughter. She made herself available for Mama’s service with joy. She had access to all of Mama’s belongings and Mama completely trusted her. In fact, on the day Mama Odozi-Obodo passed on, the leaders of the church found it very difficult to tell her. She was already ill at the time and she cried like a baby, in spite of her age. She felt that a very important part of her life had gone because the two women had been together from 1950 to 1995. Mama was with her through thick and thin throughout her ministry.
The dreams and labors of the first General Deaconess of Christ Holy Church International Pauline Agwe Okoh have truly borne good fruit today. The strong foundations which she helped to lay for the women’s fellowship of the church are now being built upon by the fellowship’s present leadership.
Pauline Agwe Okoh died on July, 18, 1995 and was buried on August, 19, 1995, at her compound at No. 1, 2 X Umuonaji Quarters, Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.
Austin Asiegbu and Ambrose Onwudinjo
Adapted from Glad News, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2015, 4. Glad News is a publication of Christ Holy Church International in Nigeria.
This story, received in 2015, was written by Austin Asiegbu and Ambrose Onwudinjo, missionaries of Christ Holy Church International. It was submitted by Thomas Oduro. Rev. Thomas Oduro, Ph.D., is the President of Good News Theological College and Seminary, Accra, Ghana, and Regional Adviser to the DACB.