By WOLE BALOGUN
Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye’s moving story truly illustrates an ascent from grass to grace. The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, (RCCG) has what could pass for the humblest background anyone could imagine.
Indeed, it would shock many to know that the man who now heads the largest African indigenous church, with over six million members, had attended both primary and secondary schools barefooted. He did not also begin formal education until he was about 11 years old. Reason? His parents could not afford it, as they were hit by abject poverty.
Born on March 2, 1942 to a poor family, in the village of Ifewara, Osun State, Adeboye’s father was an illiterate farmer who opposed formal education for any of his four children because he could not afford the fees.
Therefore, for Adeboye, he had to put up a very stubborn disposition to force his father to enroll him in the only missionary school available in their village at that time. His rebellious act was inspired by an encounter he had with a smart looking African colonial teacher, whose suave appearance in short sleeves suit and shorts, created a burning desire of being educated. It was in pursuance of this ambition that Adeboye decidedly went on a three-day hunger strike to convince his father that he was ready to starve to death if denied enrolment in the missionary school.
Adeboye had to do this because his stern father was unyielding to his mother’s pleadings that their son’s humble desire to be educated be granted. The old man had stuck to his guns, spitting fire, despite Adeboye mother’s tricks to goad him to change his mind. He was to sell his only goat and jewel then, to get few shillings for his son’s enrolment in the primary school. Eventually, he got him enrolled with the money he got from the sale of his prized goat.
Once in school and apparently the oldest among his classmates, Adeboye displayed an uncommon brilliance and maturity. He learnt fast and led his class. In no time, he was given accelerated promotion. His teacher, who had inspired him, found out that he was specially gifted in mathematics and greatly encouraged him.
Determined to stay in school when his father could no longer sponsor him, Adeboye began to fend for himself. He began doing some odd jobs that fetched him peanuts. One of these was fetching firewood from the bush to sell. During one of such ventures, he was stung by a swarm of bees, which he had inadvertently disturbed. Blood gushed out from his eyes and he ran home abandoning the wood. It took the timely help of his mother, who quickly applied local herbs, to prevent him from becoming blind as a result of the attack.
Indeed, the Adeboyes, in Ifewara village, an outskirts of Efon Alaye town, Osun State, knew and lived in abject poverty. The six of them, father, mother, three girls and a boy, were farmers.
They trekked for hours from their mud house to the farm daily. They depended only on the proceeds from the farm for livelihood. It was so tough that there was wild jubilation on a fateful day their father bought a small umbrella during the rainy season. Amid admiration and prying eyes, every member of the family was anxious to touch the ‘strange and wonder’ thing first.
Adeboye’s father was a pagan, although, he later became a member of the Anglican Church in the village. This did not stop him from observing idol practices, as other villagers did. Thus, Adeboye had an upbringing in some kind of Christian doctrines. This must have implanted some Christian virtues in him at adolescence. He recalled in a movie, entitled: The Covenant Church, which dramatized his biography: “I am from a family of idol worshippers. They were Ogun (Yoruba god of iron) worshippers because they were warriors who led other warriors to war. My father later joined the Anglican Church in our village. This ensured I had some level of Christian upbringing. But it cannot be said that we were really saved then as we were still involved in idol practices.” This meant that Adeboye was not yet treading the clerical path destined for him.
Coming from a very poor background, the thought of getting to the ivory tower remained a tall dream, although he was unrelenting. Fortune, however, smiled on him as he got a government scholarship through his excellent academic performance. He earned an MSc in Mathematics and again got sponsored for his master’s degree in Hydrodynamics and eventually upgraded his studies by proceeding to doctorate degree in Mathematics.
Adeboye’s brilliance was the magic wand that kept opening doors for him. He excelled as a lecturer. He enjoyed fast promotion and was the envy of his colleagues in the academia.
He recalled a pain this success once caused him. His bosom friend had advised him to visit a local spiritualist, who would prepare some protective charms for him against unforeseen attacks from his enemies. Being naïve on such issue and being convinced that he needed some protection, he had agreed and the friend had taken him to a babalawo, who prepared charms to be kept in the car, on his desk in the office and on his bed, among other spots. The most embarrassing thing was that the juju man had instructed him to buy a live goat from the market and bring to his hut. He was not to drive the goat in his car. The goat proved very stubborn and disgraced the respected lecturer on their way to the man’s hut.
He said: “It was really embarrassing and painful, as I had to drag the stubborn thing all along in the full glare of everyone, including my students, who offered to help but whose offer was turned down, in obedience to the juju’s instruction that I must bring the live thing myself.”
Adeboye’s wedding in 1968, at 25, presents another interesting episode. There was no cake, no refreshment nor any meaningful party. Dressing was very humble. But his affairs with his wife was like Romeo and Juliet’s love. He was only a fresh graduate then. Bright future awaited him, but it was also a tough time. Recalling how rough he had it then, Adeboye said: “There were times we lived from hand to mouth. Times were when my wife and I watched each other mischievously for the first person to take the only meat in the soup. If I picked it first or if she did, so be it. The first to pick ate all the meat because it was so small that it was unthinkable to share it.”
The young couple also faced caesarean opreation by which they had their first two babies. The medical diagnosis was that birth by natural means was impossible because of the formation of his wife’s pelvic bones and they were advised against having more children. The couple searched seriously for a solution to this problem. They combed all parts of the country, visited herbalists, spiritualists, and many medical doctors to no avail. It was while seeking solution that led them to the Redeemed Christian Church of God in 1973, headed by the General Superintendent, Pastor Josiah Oluwafemi Akindayomi.
Adeboye became a born-again Christian on July 29, 1973 by whole-heartedly giving his life to Christ. This marked a real turning point in his life. He, thereafter, became a dedicated worker of the church propagating the gospel through his personal life and evangelism. He was ordained pastor in 1975.
He worked in the church translating sermons from the Pastor’s native Yoruba into English until Akindayomi’s death in 1981 when he took over leadership, as the church’s General Overseer. This was based on a prior instruction by Akindayomi that Adeboye should be his successor. The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has branches in 110 countries from Haiti to Germany, with over 300 branches in America and 360 in the UK. Its bi-annual all night prayer service, Festival of Life, in London, attracts 30,000 people – the largest Christian gathering in Europe.
Fondly called Daddy G.O by members of the RCCG, Pastor Adeboye ranked highest in the list of the most influential black pastors in Nigeria. The tremendous wealth of the pauper teenager-turned wealthy cleric can be partly measured by his recent acquisition of a private jet.
•This story was derived from a book and movie on Adeboye’s life
• Have you ever found yourself in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ and bounced back to life, as happened in this story? Your comment please