By Leke Beecroft
“Revival broke out in Nigeria in the very early 80s, preparations were on and intensely so in the 70s; it changed the face of Christianity globally.
Is there any nation of the earth where Nigerian Churches are not? No”
-Dr David Olaniyi Oyedepo
1st June 2021
With the benefit of hindsight, a peep into the divine visitation experienced by Nigeria in 1981 leading to the birth and/or explosion of several indigenously established global ministries
‘And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people’.
There is a revolution in worldwide Christianity; the Faith that was once exported by European and American missionaries now draws virtue from the ‘south’ and especially, Africa. The missionary movements of the 19th century inspired devout adventurers to travel to Africa and spread, according to David Livingstone, “Civilization, commerce and Christianity.”
Today the process is reversing itself, as the population of churchgoers dwindles in Europe, stays almost constant in the United States and explodes in the “global south” — a geopolitical term that encompasses Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.
In the book “The Next Christendom,” by Philip Jenkins, he predicted that the global south was about to become Christianity’s center of gravity. In the 20th century, the population of Christians in Africa grew from 10 million to about 360 million; this could double by 2025, and by this time it is projected that Africa would be home to a quarter of all christians. The world now has over 600 million Pentecostals, the largest bloc after Roman Catholics. In Africa, the number of Pentecostals have grown from 18 million to about 160 million since 1970. By 2050 most of Africa will be Christian, estimates Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke University—and most of those Christians will be Pentecostals.
Modern Pentecostalism was born in America in the early 20th century. From the start, the faith appealed across ethnic lines to the poor and the marginalized. Its lack of denominational structure meant according to Vinson Synan, that “Common people [were] pastoring common people.” Televangelist healers like Oral Roberts, Kenneth Erwin Hagin, T.L Osborn and Gordon Lindsay and others played major roles in the spread of the revival.
Nigeria’s evangelical surge dates back to the late 1960s when university students formed campus prayer groups. Christian students, rejecting their parents’ conservative beliefs, became born again and embraced Pentecostalism, which had long been present in Nigeria but previously was considered lower class.
My dad often tells the story of his salvation with relish. While listening by some chance to Evangelist Billy Graham on radio, he knelt in his room at the University of Ife and surrendered his life to Christ. Political factors also spurred the revival, particularly in later years, as Nigeria suffered through a series of military juntas. A letter from newly converted Benson Idahosa to T.L Osborn started a relationship that has become a lasting spiritual handshake between Africa and the West till today.
Ministries emanating from Nigeria have now reached out to the whole world; says Bishop Bart Pierce, an American minister, “the African is the midwife for next great move of God in America.” The turning point of this move was 1981, the year of divine visitation.
The year 1981 was very unique. Early that year, the USA inaugurated her 40th President, an actor named Ronald Reagan whom I grew up to see regularly on the cover of the Times Magazine.
A few months after his inauguration, an assassination plot on his life failed. Few months after the inauguration, the Crown Prince to the British Throne, Prince Charles got married to Princess Diana in a wedding watched live by 750 million people and with another 250 million following on radio. It was the same year IBM launched the first Personal Computer. None of these however quite prepared the world for what was about to follow from a former British colonial-Nigeria.
In 1981, the Ogunpa Flood ravaged the City of Ibadan, the Ife Modakeke crisis raged. Alhaji Shehu Shagari was President. Prophesies had gone forth stating that believers would soon become objects of envy. To many, this was just the usual ‘pentecostal madness’. However, a number of people at these gatherings filled with Pentecostal flame took notice.
How did Africa rise to this place of prominence in pentecostalism and Christendom at large? All these can be traced to what I call ‘1981, Nigeria’s year of Divine Visitation’.
1. Archbishop Benson Andrew Idahosa
In 1981, Benson Idahosa, a charismatic Pentecostal minister started a series of events that would kickstart the full blown management of educational institutions at all levels by churches, the type we have today. The Church of God Mission (CGMI) established a child care program which was officially registered on 23rd January, 1981. It started with an enrolment of 23 pupils, three teaching staff and two helpers. By 20th September, 1981, the nursery school received government approval from the state Ministry of Education. In April 1981, he held a groundbreaking service for the establishment of a university, the Christian Faith University. However, the actualization of this vision had to be suspended to provide room for the establishment of the WORD OF FAITH GROUP OF SCHOOLS (Nursery, Primary and Secondary).
Today, Churches in Nigeria have become the greatest stakeholders in education asides the government and at the present pace, by 2025, even the government at all levels would be unable to compete…from nursery to university education, up to PHD level. Those who criticize church owned universities for not providing free education just don’t get it. Missionaries who came to Africa NEVER provided free university education and in fact, university education for private proprietors started only in 1999.
University education is not the same at any level in terms of comparison with other tiers of education. Like in the time of Idahosa, he was mocked that it would never happen and when it happened as always, he was mocked that it could not be godly. Idahosa thus pioneered the heavy criticism of Pentecostals which took a new dimension in 1981.
On Sunday May 31, 1981, Idahosa earned a Doctorate of Divinity from the Word of Faith College in New Orleans. Up until this time, most Pentecostal leaders were stark illiterates. In 1981, the wave changed. In the same year, Africa got her first Pentecostal Archbishop still in the person of Benson Idahosa. He was consecrated in November 1981 by David Du Plesis (Mr. Pentecost), Dr John L. Meaves and Bishop Robert Mc Alister among other pastors.
By the time of this consecration, over 650 churches had been planted within Africa (Nigeria and 9 other countries) by CGMI while 15 were in Benin alone while Benson Idahosa had visited 66 countries with the gospel. In the USA alone, Idahosa had been on evangelism missions to 40 of the 50 states. By this alone, Idahosa had started the trend of the ‘reverse missionary’. That is, returning to minister the gospel in lands which had brought the gospel to Africa. Today, Nigeria is one of the most prominent countries with missionaries in most nations of the world.
2. Bishop Mike Okonkwo
Dr. Mike Okonkwo received Jesus in November 1970 and then started attending Church services in the United Church of Christ, (UCC) headquartered in Enugu. He was ordained into the ministry in 1971 and began pastoring in Lagos in November 1972 with UCC. He served faithfully in UCC under the leadership of Late Apostle Samuel Egbo from 1971 to 1980. On January 4th 1981, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM was founded.
In 1981, Mike Okonkwo, taking after the steps of Idahosa who soon became his spiritual father graduated with a diploma degree from the Morris Cerullo School of Ministry, San Diego, California, USA. In a short while, TREMites began to make the devil TREMBLE. This became the Model Pentecostal Church in Lagos, the most populated city in Africa. Today, there are several thousands of worshippers in about 175 church branches in 10 nations. The headquarters of the Church, a 15,000 capacity auditorium at Gbagada, Lagos was dedicated in 2011 as the Church celebrated her 30th anniversary. Again, it started in 1981.
3. Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye
“Made in heaven, assembled in Nigeria, exported to the world”
In the early 1970s, Josiah Akindayomi, the RCCG Founder began to search for an educated successor. He by divine unction chose Enoch Adeboye, an academic, who joined the church in 1973. Adeboye initially became one of the interpreters translating Akindayomi’s sermons from Yoruba to English. He was ordained a pastor of the church in 1975, and his appointment as leader of the church was formalized by the posthumous reading of Akindayomi’s sealed pronouncement-That was in 1981.
Andrew Rice, writing in ‘The New York Times’, described the RCCG as “one of (Africa’s) most vigorously expansionary religious movements, a homegrown Pentecostal denomination that is crusading to become a global faith”.
When Adeboye resumed as G.O, he described the RCCG Mission Statement as:
1. To make heaven.
2. To take as many people as possible with them.
3. To have a member of RCCG in every family in every nation.
To get to heaven, he said, “holiness will be our lifestyle”.
To accomplish the other two, RCCG will “plant churches within five minutes walking distance in every city and town of developing countries and within five minutes driving distance in every city and town of developed countries”. The church intends to pursue these objectives “until every Nation in the world is reached for the Lord Jesus Christ”.
To put it in context, when Adeboye became GO of RCCG which was now in its 29th year, there were a total of 2,000 members in 38 branches including one in Ghana.
The church’s international headquarter formerly located in the Ebute-Metta suburb of Lagos is now the national headquarter while the international headquarters has been relocated to the Redemption Camp, Km 37 Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. This is the largest private estate in the world with a landmass of over 40,000 acres. The NEW ARENA, the biggest of the 3 major worship centres in the camp alone which is a 3km by 3km auditorium is able to contain 9 million people at full capacity and is equal to 1,260 soccer pitches; some 2,250 acres.
In Africa, RCCG can be found in Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Togo and Zambia among many others.
In Europe, the church is present in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Finland, Malta island and in virtually every county in the Republic of Ireland.
Within the United States, RCCG is located in Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, New York, New England, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Oregon, Minnesota, California and Colorado. In the Caribbean Islands, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are all hosts to the RCCG. In Canada RCCG has parishes in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. The RCCG in the United States and Canada together form the RCCGNA, which has its headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
The RCCG can also be found in Asia and the Pacific with presence in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Adelaide and Perth), New Zealand, Fiji, Malaysia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Singapore. In India alone, it is present in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. It also has a presence in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Pakistan has RCCG Churches in Lahore, Kasur, Sahiwal, Mureed Ke, Mian Chanu.
In the Middle East, the church also has branches in Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon and in nearly all seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates-numbering presently about 8 million people in 196 nations.
The RCCG has about 200 educational institutions from the Redeemers’ Nursery and Primary school to her secondary schools and at the apex is the Redeemers University.
4. William Folorunso Kumuyi
In 1973, while serving as a Mathematics Lecturer at the University of Lagos, W.F. Kumuyi started a Bible study group with 15 university students. He was then a member of The Apostolic Faith Mission, howbeit later excommunicated. By the year 1981 that small group had grown to several thousand, at which time Deeper Life Bible Church (DLBC) was formally established.
The Church Retreat in 1981 was attended by 45,000 people; efforts to start church services was resisted as had been done all along by Kumuyi, however, in 1981, he gave the go ahead after a very clear directive from God to start church. By 1988, the congregation had grown to 50,000, the largest in Africa and third largest in the world. Today, the DLBC has over a million worshippers in over 8,000 branches worldwide. In terms of education, she has established a number of institutions including 16 secondary schools and one higher institution, The Anchor University. The Deeper Life Conference Centre along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is about 900 acres with such camps in a large number of the 36 states in Nigeria as well as camps in many nations of Africa.
5. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome
The assumption of office of Dr Ambrose Folorunso as governor of the Old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States) during the Nigerian Second Republic led to the establishment of the Bendel State University in 1981. The school was renamed Edo State University after the creation of Edo State and then later ‘Ambrose Alli’ University in commemoration of the man who established so many educational institutions as governor.
In his early 20s, Christian Oyakhilome, an undergraduate architect, was one of the first students of the university. That same 1981, Oyakhilome says, he heard the Lord speak to him saying “Take my divine presence to the peoples and nations of the world”. This he has diligently pursued since then. He went on to establish the Youths For Christ which later became the foundation for Christ Embassy’s future mission. Today, Christ Embassy has about 3,500 branches. His Rhapsody of Realities has grown to become the world’s number one daily devotional; translated in over 863 languages, it is the next most translated material after the Bible and by the end of 2017, the total distributions of this devotional since inception hit the 1 billion mark.
Other arms of his ministry include the Healing School, Loveworld Books, an NGO called Innercity Missions forChildren as well as three Christian television channels namely Loveworld Tv, Loveworld SAT and Loveworld Plus. Christ Embassy has camps in Lagos, Ogun and Edo States of Nigeria; she also has presence in South Africa, UK and US and many other nations across almost all the nations of the earth.
During the recent visit of Benny Hinn to Nigeria, Pastor Chris spoke about a conference he attended in 1980 with Pa Sydney Granville Elton (S.G Elton) ministering. Elton was said to have prophesied concerning this move of God and then gave marching orders to young believers. By 1981, the fire was spreading wildly.
6. Bishop David Oyedepo
On a newly declared public holiday, the 1st day May 1981, Brother David went to visit a friend in Ilesa, a town in the old Oyo State but ‘unfortunately’, the friend was not home. He was disappointed, but said to himself ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’. He then heard God say to him “Seek a quiet place; I want to talk to you”. David went ahead and got a room in a cheap rundown hotel called the ‘International Hotel Ilesa’. As he knelt down to pray, he had an open vision which lasted about 18 hours, in which he saw a roll of afflicted, battered, beaten, tattered, deformed people. The blind, the lame and those in rags were weeping, wailing, groaning and agonizing as a result of pains and pangs and crying for rescue. David was moved with compassion, sobbed profusely and cried, asking “Why Lord?” He heard God respond “But from the beginning, it was not so”. He questioned further, “But why Lord?” and then he heard a voice
“The hour has come to liberate the world from all oppressions of the devil through the preaching of the word of faith, and I am sending you to undertake this task”.
The mandate was further confirmed to him from the epistle to the Ephesians. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16).
After that encounter, David called his partner, Faith Abiola Akano, along with Brother David Abioye, Emmanuel ‘Oset’, Joseph Ebrohimen and Dickson Olorunda among others and shared the vision with them.
Shortly after, a weekly teaching program took off known as the “Faith Liberation Hour” Also, a group known as the “Power house” was assembled which engaged in prayers and fastings among other activities in order to actualize the heavenly vision.
Additionally, Brother David began to engage in deep study. He studied 39 selected biographies, among them were those of John G. Lake, Kenneth Erwin Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Thomas Lee Osborn, Oral Roberts, Smith Wigglesworth, Asa Alonzo Allen, Jack Coe, Billy Graham, John Alexander Dowie, Kathryn Kuhlman and many others.
David Oyedepo was inspired in the school of prosperity by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, in the school of faith by Kenneth Hagin, in the school of boldness by Asa Alonzo Allen and in the healing school by Smith Wigglesworth.
He spent 26 months in preparation, communion, watching, praying, fasting, thinking and planning. There was need for him to lay hold on details of the vision as well as a time chart to follow. During that period, he once wrote a letter to Florence his fiancee, it stated “Jerusalem is in pains, our mother is in travail, the whole creation is groaning, awaiting Zion to manifest her sons. Prisoners are awaiting their emancipation. Zion shall not only bring forth prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but shall bring forth saviours” (Obadiah 2:1). He continued ’Yet a little while and these saviours shall surface on the face of the whole earth. Joel 2, Zechariah 8 and all the related scriptures shall be fulfilled. The arrival of these saviours will compel the followership of multitudes that cannot be numbered. They will carry such aroma, the awesomeness of God will be so visible upon them, their operations shall be unique and strange. Yet a little while and saviours will surface on the face of the whole earth. Zion is in her month, this mighty army shall be released in just a moment.”
Today, the Church Oyedepo founded also known as Winners’ Chapel International is the largest church organization in the world in which the founder is alive. The Church has about 22,000 satellite churches in over 60 countries as at 2021 with numbers up to about 5 million up from 5,600 in 2017. She planted 5,082 churches in 2019 and over 10,000 in Nigeria and another 1,000 outside Nigeria in 2020. Her asset base alone is mind boggling as the Church owns almost all the facilities in which her church operates.
While the RCCG is known for spreading to every nook and cranny with some parishes with as little as 10 people, Living Faith Church is known as a conglomerate of Mega-Churches in all the continents of the world. On 25 March 2021 she laid foundation for a 109,000 capacity edifice called the Ark while she started the construction of 9,250 church buildings with 817 already completed before the 40th anniversary of the Mandate in May 2021.
The Church has over 150 nursery and primary schools (Kingdom Heritage Model Schools) as well as 20 Secondary Schools (Faith Academy). She is the only Pentecostal Church in Africa to own more than one university; Landmark University (Which emphasizes on Agriculture) and her flagship ‘Covenant University’ which in just 15 years of existence, ranks easily among the best in Africa. Oyedepo continuously provokes the heathen to envy as he displays what absolute Faith in God can do in the life of a mortal.
Today, multitudes are flowing into the Kingdom. Many of the largest Christian gatherings in the world are found in Nigeria, six of the seven largest church auditoria in the world are all in Nigeria. The Faith Tabernacle, formerly the largest is no more the largest church auditorium. This is because some of Oyedepo’s spiritual sons have dared to believe. He keeps urging them on to do great things for Jesus in his lifetime.
Presently the David Oyedepo led 50,000 Faith Tabernacle with overflows carrying capacity more than the interior has become a monument to the God of possibilities and a challenge to others. At present, the 109,000 Capacity Ark Auditorium currently under construction is programmed to be the second largest in the world on completion.
Other ministries like the Apostolic Faith Mission, Nigeria is building a 75,000 capacity ‘Great Tabernacle’ . Pastor Enenche led Dunamis has completed the 100,000 capacity Glory Dome in Abuja, the world’s largest church auditorium as at today,
and in no time (possibly in 2022) David Ibiyeomie led Salvation Ministries would have completed the 120,000 capacity cathedral in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. This is not to mention the 250,000 capacity Youth Auditorium at the Redemption Camp to be completed very soon. We will give more information on this in the next few weeks.
Open Air gatherings are also largest in Nigeria, The NEW ARENA of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, an open air pavilion, seats up to 3 million people during their annual Holy Ghost Congress in December.
Their Lekki ’98 gathering at Lekki billed to host 3 million people was announced to have hosted 6.5 million while CNN estimated a 7.2 million capacity crowd. As early as 1985, Idahosa’s CGMI already hosted 1 million at the Independence Square (TBS) in Lagos, Nigeria while the largest Christian concert ‘The Experience’ hosting about 500,000 people takes place annually every December in the same TBS. Christ Apostolic Church was already hosting tens and hundreds of thousands in the 1950s.
Regardless of what anyone might say negatively about multitudes in the Nigerian Churches, the fact is that multitudes also followed Jesus. Many followed him for bread as he himself testified. This did not negate the fact that there was a revival. When push came to shove and many left him, he asked the twelve, ‘Will ye also go away’?
The presence of multitudes during the time of Jesus as well as with the Apostles was a proof among many others of the presence of the Ark of Revival. Criticism continues to rise unabated; unknown to them however, they are another tool for drawing attention and arousing curiousity to the Kingdom, as it was in the days of Jesus and then the Apostles. From the time of the Apostles, the gospel went out from Jerusalem to Judaea, to Samaria and even to the uttermost parts of the earth. This Ark has now landed on the shores of Africa and is berthed in Nigeria.
It all started in 1981, Nigeria’s year of Divine Visitation.
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
1 Peter 2:12.