It was an excitement and glamour day as worshipers of First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso gathered on Sunday September 27, 2020 to appreciate God for landmark achievements of the ancient church. The church, stationed in heart beat of commercial city of Ogbomoso was suited at Oba Jimoh Oladunni Oyewumi Street, Okelerin, Ogbomoso. One cannot believe that the small church then has grown to what could be described as architect of many churches.
Anniversaries are worth celebrated and when it reaches a milestone of 135 years, it calls for rejoicing. Though, the celebration was in low key due to the observance of the social distancing demanded by the battle to free Nigeria of the ravaging/deadly COVID-19 pandemic. To mark the anniversary, all the church members wore white clothes of different designs and video documentary on church history was presented to the general public on that day.
To its credit, Okelerin First Baptist Church has through its social responsibilities and evangelism, won many souls to its fold. The church had in the past served as roll call to many churches and worshipers of faith, in relenting to the assignment giving to them and commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel across the world and win souls from going to hell, the church had established many ‘preaching stations’ across the globe.
It is on the pages of History books that, Thomas Jefferson Bowen, the Southern Baptist Convention, U. S. A.’s pioneer Missionary to Nigeria directly founded two local Baptist Churches: defunct First Baptist Church, Orile Ijaiye and First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso in 1852 and 1855 respectively. On his trip from Ijaye, Bowen had walked and from time to time carried in hammock and Laurenna his wife had ridden on horse-back as there were no motor vehicle or any other mechanical conveyance in those days in Nigeria. When they got to Odo-Oba, the river was swollen with the September rains and crossing it posed a problem. They had to be ferried across on large gourds on Saturday, September 22, 1855. They were eventually reached Ogbomoso the following day during the reign of Baale Odunaro, the ruler of Ogbomoso then. The Bowens began Sunday School the following Sunday, September 30, 1855. Many people came but they were more inclined to look than to learn. Rev. Bowen preached to the Baale, his wives and some other people. This was the genesis of the First Baptist Church Okelerin. Meanwhile, the outbreak of 1862 Yoruba Civil War which was resulted in the total destruction of the Orile-Ijaye First Baptist Church, following the destruction of Ijaiye town thereby leaving First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso as of today as the oldest. Having given this historical background, the history of the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso (1855-2020) as written leaves no one in doubt that no other Baptist Church in Nigeria can rival this church in its contribution to the growth and spread of Baptist evangelism ministry in Nigeria and throughout the West Coast of Africa. In a real sense, the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso, can be described metaphorically as the hub of the Baptist Christian Faith in Nigeria from which the spokes of the gospel radiated to other towns like Ajawa, Iluju, Ikoyi, Igbon, Iresa, Ejigbo, Ede, Iree, Iresi, Igbajo, etc. , in the West and Ilorin, Offa, Jebba, Minna, Zungeru, Zaria, Jos, Gombe, Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Bida, Kafanchan, Keffi, Gusau and other towns in the North. The same can be said concerning the planting of Baptist Churches in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Ivory Coast (now Cote d’Ivoire) and other parts of West Africa. It is on record that number of churches within Ogbomoso metropolis grew out of Okelerin, some of the churches were planted as mission points by Okelerin Baptist Church. In addition to all these, about twenty other churches outside Ogbomoso metropolis trace their origin to the evangelistic fervour of some members of the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso. It is not, therefore, a surprise that Ogbomoso is called the ‘Mecca’ of the Nigerian Baptists in some Baptist circles in America. Some others call it the ‘Jerusalem of Nigerian Baptists’
Apart from these successful evangelistic labour of love that have placed the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso, in an enviable class by itself, there is a unique administrative setup which should be a case study for those who are interested in a contextualize church administrative structure.
Another feature in the history of the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso since its existence is the keen interest the church has in children ministry. The children ministry which was started by Mrs. George Green in the 18th century was taken over by WMS in 1906. By 1964, a separate children department had been erected and manned by teachers trained in Children Ministry at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso.
One other unique note in the history of this church is the array of great names of ministers that shepherded the church these one hundred and six-five years of its existence. Following Thomas Jefferson Bowen who was the founding pastor, in 1855 down to the current pastor, Rev. (Dr.) Victor Oyelowo. The present pastor, Oyelowo doesn’t see himself as all in all. His open door policy help the smooth running of the church. Rev. Oyelowo allows the members of the church to bring their ideas to move the church forward. Whether one is youth or adult, whether wealthy or not too wealthy, his doors are open for those stuffed with ideas. Not surprisingly, the church is now a good example for Baptist Churches in Nigeria and beyond. Although, Satan and his hosts were not happy about the advancement of the God’s work. For this reason, the past years before the coming of Rev. Victor Oyelowo were cumbered with many challenges, difficulties and schism for First Baptist Church, Okelerin. It was a trying years for the church which was eventually overcome. It is significant say that the church came out of the storm more united, strong and progressive. God has been faithful. What has been known for First Baptist Church, Okelerin since 1855, consistently followed the teaching of Christ by going out “to teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” Mathew 28:19 is very paramount in today’s activities of the church.
The church is strongly of the view that education is the key to building the nation. The church currently had strings of schools, namely Okelerin First Baptist Church Nursery and Primary School, Ogbomoso and Premier Baptist Academy, Pakiotan, Ogbomoso. At the same time, the church is one of the major financial contributors to Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State.
With all these good news, however, as First Baptist Church, Okelerin clocked 165 years September this year. I congratulate the minister-in-charge, and the entire members of the church. May this anniversary be a sign of the continued good work of the church. I hope and pray that, the good God will continue to strategically use Okelerin First Baptist Church, Ogbomoso for the spread of His kingdom. Amen!