Miracles, Reactions and Tribulations of Papa Oschoffa

While Prophet Oschoffa was allegedly having a chat with Rev. Parrinder, a lady called Tinavie of Zevu was said to have died in a hospital at Porto Novo. Her younger sister Mawulowoe–a name which means “God will oblige”–was with Prophet Oschoffa seeking spiritual help. Upon hearing the news of her sister’s death, the Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon Mawulowoe. Then and there she prophesied that Tinavie’s body would be raised by Oschoffa in the name of the Lord, provided the corpse was brought to him.

Prophet Oschoffa accordingly requested that Tinavie’s body be brought to his house. When the corpse was brought in, he told the bereaved family to put it on the floor. Prior to this, Tinavie was said to have been certified clinically dead by one Dr. Alexander.

The other residents of Prophet Oschoffa’s house were predominantly Muslims who abhorred any delay in burying dead bodies. In fact, the presence of Tinavie’s dead body was becoming an abominable sight to the residents of the house. Oschoffa was looked upon as the devil’s disciple who was displaying black power.

On the spot the Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon him, and under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, he commanded the dead lady to stand up in the name of Jesus Christ. Eyewitness accounts confirmed that Tinavie was immediately revived and she got up. Immediately after her healing the Holy Spirit was said to have descended on her too. She prophesied about Oschoffa as a prophet of God. It was also said that after she had regained normalcy, Prophet Oschoffa asked Mawulowoe to lead Tinavie (the revived woman) to the hospital where the latter had earlier been declared clinically dead. A story is told of how Dr. Alexander panicked and almost lost consciousness upon seeing and recognizing Tinavie. According to Prophet Oschoffa, after the miracle, both Tinavie and Mawulowoe remained faithful members of the Celestial Church of Christ.

The news of this miracle had hardly died down when another miracle [28] was performed by Oschoffa. A close friend of Prophet Oschoffa named Moishe Suru Afoyan who hailed from Zevu died unexpectedly and his relatives accordingly sent a message to Oschoffa to mourn with the bereaved family. Oschoffa received the news with shock and was extremely sorrowful. Prophet Oschoffa accompanied by some sympathizers left for Zevu. The Holy Spirit was said to have descended upon Prophet Oschoffa who ordered the bereaved family and the sympathizers present to leave the room where the dead body was laid. He covered the corpse with one of his clothes and prayed to God to manifest His powers. By twelve midnight, Moishe Suru Afoyan was revived. He accordingly joined the Celestial Church and remained a devoted member until his death. This miracle was still on the lips of many when we called to verify this at Zevu.

Oschoffa had now become a controversial figure in the French Colony of Dahomey (now Republic of Benin) and a major topic of discussion. Some people however were still sceptical about the new religious movement in spite of the series of wonders he had performed. Many people, on the other hand, believed he was sent by God while some attributed his powers to some strange esoteric force.

In the course of these discussions about his powers, another miracle followed which really put Oschoffa in the limelight throughout the colony. This time it was a call from Grand-Popo, an historical town located near the border between the Republic of Benin and Togo. Grand-Popo’s land was being eroded by the sea and many houses along the shore were gradually being washed away. This was a great threat to the inhabitants of the town. More importantly, all attempts made by fetish priests, traditionalists and Muslims to control the erosion had failed.

In 1949, during their annual Christmas meeting, the people of Grand-Popo resolved to solicit Prophet Oschoffa’s help as they had heard about his power to work miracles. A delegation was sent to Prophet Oschoffa in early 1950 by the chief of Grand-Popo begging the prophet to come to their aid in the name of God whom, they believed, had sent him.

Acting under divine inspiration, Prophet Oschoffa took about six of his followers with him and left his base in Porto Novo for Grand-Popo. Among the elders of the church who accompanied him were Wolider Afore, Yanga and his wife Madam Silvestina Yanga and Mathias.

At Grand-Popo, Prophet Oschoffa and his team were warmly received by the chief, the elders and the people of the town who had by then assembled at the sea shore. Among the gathering was a white Roman Catholic priest (whose name Prophet Oschoffa could not remember). The Divine Order allegedly instructed Prophet Oschoffa to call for an egg which can be interpreted as representing the earth. Furthermore, the Divine Order told him to call for a needle which likewise represented the sea. Prophet Oschoffa then pierced the egg with the needle and threw both into the sea after some short extempore prayers.

Immediately the sea receded and miraculously stopped at the exact place where the egg had fallen. This story was confirmed by two elderly Roman Catholics from Grand-Popo who confessed that they were present at the time of the historical event and that they were then about thirty-five and forty years old respectively. These two men who said they were members of the Olympio family gave their names as Jean Olympio and François Olympio respectively. The local Methodist presbyter just a stone’s throw from the site of the incident also confirmed the veracity of the Grand-Popo miracle. The confirmation of the two Olympio brothers who are Catholics as well as the testimony of the local Methodist presbyter no doubt lent some credibility to this story.

The news of Prophet Oschoffa’s miracle at Grand-Popo further added to the misgivings of the existing churches, especially the Catholic, Methodist, and the Cherubim and Seraphim Organizations, who argued that Oschoffa was using black or evil powers. But not so with the local people who said the miracles were the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Oschoffa. As a result, the Celestial Church of Christ was besieged by many new adherents who joined daily. The rate at which many Christians defected from their parent churches to join the new church was alarming. In an interview Pastor Simon Dossou confirmed that about half of the members of the mission churches–the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church were believed to have been lost to the Celestial Church of Christ.

As a result of the rapid growth of the Celestial Church and the popularity of Oschoffa, reactionaries and detractors began to undermine the new religious movement and its leadership. In the first place, miraculous healings and miracles were both condemned as anachronistic and were described as devilish. The Catholic Church was bitterly opposed to the Celestial Church and its practices. However, the Cherubim and Seraphim Church seemed to have been somewhat moderate in their attack against Oschoffa and his movement because they also practiced spiritual healing.

Scientifically, the Grand-Popo miracle defies all credible explanations. However, we are principally concerned with faith. McPherson once stated that the choice between the miraculous and the non-miraculous explanation is sometimes seen as something to be decided on the basis of evidence. He concisely defined a miracle as an event which both is and is not capable of being explained in natural terms.

Initially, Oschoffa’s followers seemed to have been people who were members of some big western Christian churches and they continued to go to their churches while receiving prayers from Prophet Oschoffa. Prayer meetings were therefore arranged so as to avoid clashes with the normal service of other churches. This was worked out after some meetings between representatives of the existing churches and Prophet Oschoffa. Thus Wednesdays and Fridays were selected as days for open air services and meditations.

Oschoffa’s Tribulations

The number of adherents kept on increasing as the days passed and soon most of them stopped attending services at their old churches. Soon Prophet Oschoffa was antagonized by the French colonial administration. Perhaps at the instigation of the authorities of the orthodox churches he was accused of inciting government workers to neglect their official duties especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. It must be noted that civil and public servants who joined the Celestial Church of Christ left their official duties earlier than the stipulated time of closing for Celestial Church worship during the week. It was therefore not surprising that the French colonial administration in Dahomey expressed concern about the activities of Oschoffa and his followers. He was labelled an economic saboteur.

Another accusation levelled against Prophet Oschoffa and his followers was that they were partly responsible for the moral decadence in Dahomey because there were growing cases of divorce, fornication and adultery. An historian by the name of Claude Prince, of Porto Novo, explained that since the majority of Prophet Oschoffa’s followers were young and were predominantly women, aggrieved husbands as well as those opposed to the establishment and activities of the Celestial Church for one reason or the other may have been the source of these unsubstantiated accusations and trumped up charges.

When the colonial administration and the mission churches found out that the Celestial Church was really difficult to stop, moves were initiated to restrain and control the prophet and the activities of the Celestial Church. The prophet was told that if he wanted recognition, he should register with the Council of Protestant Churches in Dahomey (Republic of Benin). Tied to this condition was a clause which ordered the compulsory return of the members to their parent churches. We could not lay our hands on any records related to these confrontations. The churches visited in Porto Novo and Cotonou have no documents on the confrontations with Oschoffa and this new faith. There are no records at the Benin People’s Library at Porto Novo. Monsieur Claude Prince’s frantic search for related records in all the public libraries and archives in Benin Republic turned up nothing.

Naturally the followers of Prophet Oschoffa did not accept this infringement on their fundamental right to freedom of worship. Oschoffa’s refusal to abide by the order and regulations of registration was a result of the fear that the Council of Protestant Churches would in the long run be a stumbling block to the growth of his church. Under normal conditions in Benin, clubs, associations, fraternities, churches and organizations are required to be legally registered within their affiliated groups.

There was a deadlock over the registration order and the subsequent antagonism against Prophet Oschoffa and the Celestial Church went on unabated. During this period of tension, there were many invitations from numerous parishes around Porto Novo asking Prophet Oschoffa to visit them. Prophet Oschoffa decided to leave Porto Novo for Agange in the Toffin district perhaps to diffuse the tension and withdraw from public view. While he was away, detractors and blackmailers of his church thought that they had succeeded in curtailing his activities and those of the Celestial Church of Christ.

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This article was researched and written by Rt. Rev. Dr. Albert Aduloju Agbaje, bishop of Sabongidda-Ora Diocese.
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