Emergence of Papa Oschoffa and early missionary works in Nigeria

By 1950, the Celestial Church (C.C.C.) had spread from Agange across the entire Toffin district to Gbaji from where it entered into Nigeria through some fishermen who were Celestials. Makoko parish which now functions as the diocesan headquarters is ostensibly the first branch of the Celestial Church in Nigeria. The Celestial Church of Christ reached Makoko at the same time it reached Toffin district through the legendary seven disciples of Oschoffa.

Oschoffa himself finally gave in to both internal and external pressures and left Porto Novo for Makoko escorted by Moses Ajovi on March 3, 1951. According to the C.C.C. traditions the Makoko parish was jointly established by Superior Senior Leader François, Senior Leader Layon and five others now deceased. The arrival of the pastor-founder in 1951 opened a new chapter in the growth of the church. For almost a decade the C.C.C. was hardly known outside the metropolis of Lagos and its surrounding area. In fact, the main activities of the new church were centred around Makoko.

The Celestial Church of Christ had a relatively small representation in the sixties in Nigeria. Very little attention was paid to the sect. This was probably because of the might of the big mission churches which completely eclipsed the feeble efforts to introduce the C.C.C. into Nigeria. However, the decade 1970-80 witnessed a phenomenal growth in the Celestial Church in Nigeria. Within ten years, the new sect had reached virtually every local government area of the Yoruba-speaking regions of Nigeria from its main base at Makoko. By 1982, almost every town and village had a parish of the Celestial Church through the individual efforts of persons who had come into contact with the new sect in Lagos.

There is no doubt that the famous Iyabo Olorunkoya–Indian hemp–case in London in 1970 drew the attention of Nigerians to the Celestial Church of Christ for the first time. Iyabo Olorunkoya, a Lagos socialite, allegedly defied the advice of a Celestial Church woli (“leader” or wolider) and travelled to London. The arrest and subsequent trial attracted national attention to the sect. People now wanted to know more about the C.C.C. and benefit from the prophecies, trances and visions of the church prophets.

Another factor that helped the spread of the Celestial Church was the Nigerian oil boom of the seventies. People had enough oil and more to spare. As a result, very many rich individuals sponsored the establishment of parishes into which shepherds and workers were recruited. Individual owners were encouraged to establish parishes and this practice helped in no small measure in the spread of the Celestial Church.

The use of the Yoruba language in worship and other liturgical practices of the sect offered tremendous attraction. The situation was further enhanced by the striking similarity between the Yoruba traditional religious practices and the C.C.C. worship and liturgical practices.

Despite the absence of any organized conversion into the sect, it experienced phenomenal growth and spread to Badagry, Ibadan, Epe, Zaria, Kaduna, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Owerri, London, New York and other world capitals wherever you found black people between 1970 and 1980. Thus did Samuel Bilewu Oschoffa give the Celestial Church of Christ to the world and thousands hearkened to his voice.

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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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