Today marks the 14th year since Idahosa’s death on the 12th of March 1998. Benson Idahosa has been described by many as the Father of Nigerian Pentecostalism. Idahosa is also truly one of the pioneers of Neo Pentecostalism in Africa. Who then is Idahosa?
Benson Andrew Idahosa was born in Benin (now Edo state) as an unhealthy child into a poor family. His health was so bad that his father instructed the Mother to throw him away. The mother did throw him away, but after a while she took him back. This caused a temporary separation between his parents. Later Idahosa struggled to be educated up to secondary school this was due to lack of finance. He was so poor that he could not afford a pair of shoes until he was eighteen years old.
In 1952, through a dramatic incident Idahosa became a Christian in an Assemblies of God Church in Benin. After his conversion he read the whole of John’s Gospel and decided he had to witness to his friends. This was the beginning of Idahosa’s preaching the Gospel. Idahosa later sought after the experience of Baptism in the Spirit and he asked the Pastor at the Assembly of God to pray for him. He was filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. After this experience Idahosa began to preach in the different villages organizing open air meetings. He did this in the evening while he worked for a shoe company (Bata) during the day. He was also an active and committed member of the Assembly of God Church where he was converted.
The open air meetings witnessed people being healed of epilepsy and many other sicknesses. Other miracles were also happening in these meetings. The news about the open air meetings started to spread to other villages and this led to more evangelistic activities. In order to reach more people with the Gospel he bought a motorcycle to help him travel to distant villages to conduct Gospel meetings.
In June 1967 Idahosa lost his father during the Civil War riots. A year later, during one night, his room was filled with God’s presence and he was awoken from sleep by a voice. It was the Lord speaking to him about his future mission; “I have called you that you might take the gospel around the world in my name, preach the gospel, and I will confirm my word with signs following. After this experience he began to do more evangelistic meetings and outreaches. He would ask the Chiefs who head the villages for permission to conduct an evangelistic meeting in their village. They responded and more people were saved through his ministry. He directed the converts to existing Pentecostal Churches such as the Assemblies of God. Due to his evangelistic activities Idahosa soon became a leader under Pastor Okpo (the pastor at the Assemblies of God Church where he became a Christian) who gave him directions in ministry. However this did not last long as Idahosa decided to follow his own vision and establish a church. To this end Idahosa started a Bible study group in front of a store and within few years they outgrew the place bought a piece of land to build a bigger church facility. In order to build this new church building members of Idahosa’s church contributed a lot of money, time and labour.
Later Idahosa met one of the Apostolic Church missionaries, S.G. Elton and they became good friends. Elton became Idahosa’s mentor and it was him that introduced Idahosa to Gordon and Freda Lindsey (one of the healing evangelist of the Latter Rain Movement). Both Elton and Lindsey ordained Idahosa into ministry in 1971.
Idahosa was granted scholarship to study at Gordon Lindsey’s Bible College, Christ for the Nations Institute in Texas United States. Gordon Lindsey also helped Idahosa financially to build the new church. While Idahosa was studying for a Diploma in Divinity, he read T.L.Osbourne’s book on evangelism and he became very concerned about evangelizing Benin his home town. He later asked permission from Gordon Lindsey to go back to Nigeria. Permission was granted and he went back in 1972 not completing his Diploma in Divinity.
Idahosa, the elders of his church and Elton began to organize Gospel meetings in stadiums. The first was the one at Ogbe stadium in Benin which attracted 10,000 people. They publicise the meeting on radio stations, print posters and leaflets. This was a pioneering effort by Idahosa as it was American evangelists who usually do this sort of thing in those days. This type of gospel meetings (usually known as Gospel Crusades in Africa) became a defining feature of Idahosa’s ministry and would later attract hundreds of thousands of people. As Idahosa and his team did these Gospel Campaigns all over the country, converts were won and this eventually led to many church plants. This church planting concept was pioneering then as it was new to Nigerian Charismatics who were not sure whether to start founding churches.
Through his personal experience of poverty, the effects of the Civil War riots on Nigeria, the global recession that deflated Nigerian economy and the influence of American evangelists, Idahosa started to articulate Prosperity Gospel making him a pioneer in Nigeria and other African countries. In 1973 Idahosa claimed he received this message from God.
The world and its people are complaining daily of poverty and want. I have given you the mouth of miracles and blessings to my people. I have asked the cashiers of heaven to be on duty as long as you have a need for my own honour and glory. I shall supply all your needs according to my riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).
Begin to bless your people with all blessing; ask them to ask me anything they need, and I shall provide it for them. If only they will honour me with their wealth, I shall make them to be prosperous in all areas of their lives. I shall bless your partners and co-workers.
Wake up, go to the Church in the morning, and tell them poverty died last night. What you bless on earth is blessed in heaven. Bless my people, says the Lord, who came to give the good life of abundance.
Since then Idahosa has been preaching Prosperity with his life style and story. He dressed flamboyantly, used the best cars and pursued big projects with big budgets. It would however be wrong to conclude that he only used the money for his benefits, because he helped people financially, gave scholarships to the poor, fed people, gave cars and spoke on behalf of the voiceless to the Nigerian government on several occcasions. One of his sayings was, “it is better to live for posterity than for prosperity” This was why he built primary school, secondary school, a University and a hospital. In 1981, he was ordained as the first Pentecostal Bishop in Nigeria by David Du plesis (known as Mr. Pentecost) and two other Bishops. Idahosa also pioneered a television ministry, ‘Redemption Hour’ which made him to become the first TV evangelist in Africa. His Bible College has trained the likes of Bishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams of Christ Action Faith Ministries, Bishop Charles Agyin-Asare of Word Miracle Church International, Bishop James Saah, Bishop Christianah Doe Tetteh of Solid Rock Chapel International and many others. Many of today’s Nigerian Pentecostal ministers can trace their roots directly or indirectly back to Idahosa’s ministry and influence. Men such as Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel, Bishop Francis Wale Oke of Sword of the Spirit Ministries, Bishop Mike Okonkwo (former president of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria), Ayo Oritsejafor, current president of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) and many more. Before his death in 1998, Idahosa had visited and preached in 125 countries including Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, USA, Ghana, Cameroun, South African, Australia and Kenya. He will be remembered as an African apostle to the nations.