Reverend (Dr) Stephen Oyedele Ogunbode is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC), Idikan, Ibadan, Oyo State, zonal coordinator for the pastors’ fellowship of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) and the chairman of Ibadan Baptist Conference and Consultant of Ibadan Central Baptist Association. He speaks with RITA OKONOBOH on the FBC, Idikan’s experiences in the past 110 years and other religious and national issues.
How did you find yourself in the ministry?
I was a teacher, an NCE holder and was doing fine and God called me. I never knew it was God’s call when I had that dream. In the dream, I found myself in a thick bush and I saw a lion. I wanted to run away but the lion spoke and told me not to run away. I was surprised that the animal could talk. The lion said I should not go back and that I would become head of the bush. I saw a platform and the lion placed me on the platform and I was moved up and the lion said I had become the head. When I got home, I told a brother and he said that was the lion of the tribe of Judah and that it was an indication that I had been called into the ministry. My father was a Baptist pastor and I saw the life in the mission house. I never wanted to be a pastor. I wanted to be an accountant. I dropped everything I was doing then to answer God’s call. I was invited to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, for training and there I got two degrees – B.A. and B.Th. I got into the ministry in 1991 and left the seminary in 1995.
How did you become senior pastor of FBC, Idikan?
I was at Yaba Baptist Church as an associate pastor after which I was called to Ikate Baptist Church, Surulere, Lagos State. From there, I came to Ibadan and I’ve been here since March 2009. The Baptist operates on call system not posting. If there is vacancy in a church, they could call.
Brief history of FBC, Idikan
FBC Idikan actually started in 1904 from the FBC in Lagos State. It was suggested that the work of the Baptist mission be moved to Ibadan. In 1905, a meeting was held, and about seven people gathered to meet on how to come to Ibadan. Papa Obasa (of blessed memory) was the one who volunteered to lead the Ibadan church and the church started in August 1906. From that time the church grew. The first ever gathering of the native Baptist church started here in 1914. We have produced churches within and outside Ibadan. We also have churches we didn’t start per se but nursed to growth.
What would you say are some of the challenges of FBC, Idikan?
We had a lot of challenges. The first was that of membership. As Ibadan was spreading, people were moving to the suburbs to build their houses and in that wise, they were moving away from the church. They were settling down to begin other Baptist churches as they moved. That really affected our membership. Till date, people are still moving like that. However, God has a way of doing His work. As people were moving away, we had other members coming in. The exodus of members to other areas and churches was a challenge. Another challenge is that of finance. Most of our vibrant members are retirees. Although, we have younger ones who are coming up gradually, majority of those who are financiers are retirees who depend on their children. So, the power to support the work of the gospel drastically reduced. However, God is raising younger people who contributed to the growth of the ministry. Another challenge is that of expansion. The church acquired much land and with time, as people encroached on the land, our forefathers didn’t mind because, according them, they wanted to give them a chance to convert to Christianity. Some of these people became Christians but many did not. For instance, the land close to us was repurchased for millions of naira, even if it was church’s land initially. There is also the government school that has also found its way into part of the church compound. We have asked government to help us move the children but they only moved some and left others. We have been appealing to the Oyo State government to move the school out of the church but that has not been done yet but we are hopeful that we will get that done so that we will be able to expand.
The land issue is one of our regrets. The land should have been fenced round for expansion and to prevent encroachment. However, we have learnt our lessons to prepare for the future. Another regret is the school which has taken part of the church compound. The serenity and atmosphere of prayer and spirituality expected of a church is not present and it is regretful. However, by my assessment, we are not doing badly as a church.
At 110, what would you say the FBC, Idikan is most grateful for?
We are grateful to God for the opportunity to spread the gospel and for the great impact we have had. We may not be rich financially but we are rich spiritually because we have brought many to the knowledge of Christ.
The church, as you said earlier, has produced many daughter churches, and by implication, pastors. How would you then address declining moral standards and church proliferation?
When the Nigerian government scrapped religious instructions in schools, by my thinking, that was the beginning of problems for Nigeria. When a child who comes to school is not taught the fear of God and the difference between right and wrong, and even how to value life, then such children leave school with less of God and more of wanting to make it in life. That has affected a lot of growing Nigerians who have not come to terms with the reality of their salvation. That has devastated the moral standard of Nigeria. Thank God for some children who were nurtured in religious homes. Between that time of taking over schools from the missionaries by government and the establishment of private schools by missions, there was a deep gorge of moral decadence. Today, Nigeria needs a lot of prayers, especially for the young people, many of whom are not thinking correctly. I pray that the government of the day will see the need to put religious sentiments aside and instead teach our children what is right.
FBC, Idikan predates Nigeria. How would you say Christianity has influenced Nigeria?
Christianity promoted the sanctity of human life, peaceful coexistence and love. On a negative note, not all churches are Christ-oriented. That is why we have proliferation of churches. To sum it up, more positive things came from Christianity in Nigeria.
How would you advise government on the state of the economy?
For someone to move forward, you have to look backward. You look at where you have missed it and make amends. In the 70s, there was oil boom. The leaders then should have saved enough for the future. If we had done that then, many nations of the world should have come to Nigeria to borrow. God blessed us with that bounty and we squandered it. That Nigeria is talking about economic recession is the greatest calamity that I’ve ever witnessed. That time we celebrated FESTAC and a whole stretch of town was used to build houses for those who would celebrate the arts festival. We forgot the One who gave us the boom. The government should have done something better. How many countries since then have taken it upon themselves to celebrate FESTAC since 1977? What we did then was anti-God and it is telling on us now. And our leaders made it worse by engaging in corruption with the little money left with which to develop Nigeria. It is like a generational curse but we serve a God who can reverse that curse. God can give us leaders who will plan great for Nigeria. For the economy to be revamped, we need God and must settle down to hard work. We should return to farming. Government should provide avenues to make people, especially youths, many of who are idle and some without vision, more productive. Nigeria needs orientation. Someone said then that Nigeria is in need of rebranding. People cannot be branded; we’re not products. Rather, we need re-orientation. Our work-attitude must change. Everybody must be ready to engage themselves productively to earn a living. Also, let positive messages on developing Nigeria permeate the airwaves. I see a Nigeria that will be restored to glory in the future by God’s grace.
Where do you see FBC, Idikan in the future?
I see a church more focused on evangelism and spreading the gospel. We will plant more churches as we have been doing. We are also going to address moral decadence through investment in education.
How old is the oldest person in the church?
Baba Ajayi Oparemi died recently and he was aged 136. We have people aged 98, 97. The oldest person in the church is close to 100 but he no longer comes to church. However, we have very active members in their 90s. One of our fathers will be 90 in October. He still drives himself and walks without the aid of a walking stick and he is very active in church. If you want to grow old, come to FBC, Idikan. In those days, the church was a miniature Nigeria. We had Itsekiris, Igbos, Hausas, among others. We have members who have spent 60 years in the choir.our choir master emeritus, who was in that position for an upward of over 50 years, Pa Ogunbitan, is the chairman of the 110 Central working committee. He is in his 90s. He is still very active in church and still contributes with solid ideas.