Sunday, September 27, 2020 was a day filled with excitement and glamour at First Baptist Church (FBC), Okelerin, Ogbomoso, as worshippers gathered to appreciate God’s over 165 years of landmark achievements in the church. It is a thing of joy that the then tiny church has grown to become the “ancestor” of hundreds of churches today. The celebration though was low key in view of the COVID-19 pandemic protocols. But to mark the anniversary, all the church members wore white clothes of different designs and a video documentary on the church’s history was aired.
To its credit, Okelerin FBC has won many souls to Christ and it continues to serve as a model of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ; preaching the gospel and winning souls to Christ, and the church has established many preaching stations across the globe.
Historically, 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 FBC, Okelerin, Ogbomoso in 1852 and 1855 respectively. Bowen arrived in Ogbomoso on Sunday, September 23, 1855, after travelling for few days with his wife, Laurenna, walking and being carried on hammock and his wife on horseback. They crossed River Oba, which had overflowed at the time (due to the September rains), by being ferried across on large gourds on September 22. The following Sunday, September 30, 1855, they began a Sunday school class, attended by many people, most of whom came inclined to look than to learn. On the stool of Ogbomoso then was Baale Odunaro, who received the missionaries warmly.
Rev. Bowen preached to the Baale, his wives and some other people. This was the genesis of the First Baptist Church Okelerin, Ogbomoso. Meanwhile, the outbreak of Ijaiye-Ibadan War in 1862, precipitated the destruction of Orile-Ijaye, and also consumed the Baptist church founded by Bowen, thus, the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso became the oldest surviving Baptist Church in Nigeria. It is therefore imperative to state that no other Baptist Church in Nigeria can rival this church in its contribution to the growth and spread of Baptist mission in Nigeria and throughout the West coast of Africa. In a real sense, the FBC, Okelerin, 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 across the country. 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 the larger percentage of Baptist churches in Ogbomoso metropolis grew out of FBC, Okelerin, some of which were planted as mission points.
In addition, about twenty other churches outside Ogbomoso metropolis trace their origin to the evangelistic fervour of some members of FBC, 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 this successful evangelistic labour of love that has placed FBC, 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 its history since its existence is the keen interest the church has in children ministry. The children ministry which was started by Mrs. George Green 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 ministers that have shepherded the church these one hundred and sixty-five years, from Thomas Jefferson Bowen down to the current pastor, Rev. Dr. Victor Oyelowo. Rev. Oyelowo doesn’t see himself as all in all. His open door policy helps the smooth running of the church. He gives room for members of the church to bring 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 remains a good example for Baptist churches in Nigeria and beyond. Although, Satan and its hosts are never happy about the advancement of God’s work, thus, the church in recent years before the coming of Rev. Oyelowo, was encumbered with many challenges, difficulties and schism. It was a trying period. It is significant however to say that the church came out of the storm more united, stronger and more progressive. God has been faithful. Since 1855, the church has consistently followed the teaching of Christ by going out “to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mathew 28:19), this is very paramount in today’s activities of the church.
The church is strongly of the view that education is the key to building an advanced nation and deepening biblical knowledge, hence it has invested in schools, currently running Okelerin First Baptist Church Nursery and Primary School 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. Also, Okelerin First Baptist Church Bookshop at the church premises and First Baptist Church, Okelerin Printing Press are part of their contributions to building the society.
With all these good news however, as FBC, Okelerin clocked 165 years in 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!