While the world is still celebrating the change of address by Rev Dr Billy Graham, the world is set to celebrate the 20th year remembrance when Archbishop Benson Idahosa whom Osborn described as “Africa’s greatest ambassador of faith to the world,” also changed address. The history of the Church of God Mission International, the new generation churches episcopal seed bed is the personal story of its founder, Archbishop Benson Andrew Idahosa. Notable men of God that contributed to Idahosa’s personal spiritual development include Rev. S. G. Elton, his first modern Pentecostal spiritual father in Nigeria and Dr. Gordon Lindsay, both men of God who ordained him into the ministry on the 29th March, 1970. Others include Rev. Oral Robert, who assisted Idahosa at the pre-early stages of starting the Faith Medical Centre. Idahosa’s description as the penchant of Pentecostal leaders for a prosperity gospel, and major African motivator behind the formation of the Pentecostal collectives called New (Independent) Pentecostal Churches (NPCs) in Africa, is a pointer to his gifting and  contributions to the growth of Pentecostalism in Nigeria.

Idahosa was born in Benin City on September 11, 1938 of pagan parents. As an infant he was rescued from the rubbish heap where he was abandoned to die. He was later converted by Pastor Okpo, under whom he received a vision to take the gospel around the world. Idahosa’s early village itinerant ministry later developed into a Bible Study Group as early as 1962 and his church was officially inaugurated in October 26th, 1968 at No. 26 Forestry Road, Benin City. The Ministry was incorporated on 18th September, 1974, and the major landmark that followed was the official opening of the historic auditorium known as the Faith Miracle Centre in the year 1985, supervising over six thousand churches worldwide.

In the same Spiritual and ecumenical orientation like Billy Graham, the cooperation and support of Idahosa’s friends spread across other denominations in Nigeria contributed to his personal life and the ministry with episcopal and ecumenical instincts. The constitutional declaration of the Church which is Episcopal in nature is centred in love with open membership to all people who believe and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Idahosa’s episcopal ministry therefore uses different witnessing mediums in his bid and further adherence to the CGMI mandate of ‘Evangelism Our Supreme Task,’ for the promotion of Christian cooperation, and evangelical faith and practices all over the world.

After his overseas training, Idahosa returned to Nigeria with the burden to evangelise his people in cooperation with other local pastors. The first Benin City for Christ evangelistic outreach like that of Graham’s Los Angeles Tent Cathedral was with the cooperation of all the local church leaders from different denominations. Idahosa later suggested the need to form a fellowship of evangelists to spread the Gospel across Nigeria. The leaders agreed in principle with Idahosa, that they should have unity among themselves, ‘but settling on a unified course of action proved to be more difficult than Benson had anticipated.’ The plan by Idahosa for a unified evangelistic effort with other Benin Christian leaders for effective National revival was aborted. There were suspicions among the leaders coupled with structural control of the unified body. Idahosa, with the support of Pa Elton, divided the Nigerian map into four sections and it was decided to schedule an evangelistic crusade in each section. The first one was held at Ogbe Stadium, Benin City in the then Midwestern from February 25-29, 1972. The planning of the crusade led to the birth of ‘Christ for the Nations Evangelistic Association, Nigeria.’ Idahosa later led the repeat of the Benin crusade in three other sections of Nigeria- the Eastern, Western and Northern Regions. Idahosa’s desire and vision for Christian cooperation in Nigeria is expressed in the special clause of the CGMI constitution:

The stated mission of CGMI as the seeds of All Nations For Christ Bible Institute takes the banner of the Lord round the world is better accomplished than the skeletal church planting approach of just training and having only people who remain and bear the name Church of God Mission in The Bible Institute.[1]

Idahosa’s influence on the PFN has been phenomenal. A number of leading charismatic pastors in Nigeria were either trained at his Christ for All Nations (CfAN) Bible School. Among such leading pastors in Nigeria today is the former National President of PFN and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Ayo Oritsejafor. As part of his holistic ministry Idahosa’s CGMI engages in social, health and community work. The Faith Medical Centre was established with the motto. ‘Jesus Saves and Heals: Prayers and Medicine’ or ‘We Treat But God Does the Healing.’ Oral Robert assisted in the establishment of the Medical Centre with the employment of Dr and Mrs. Doren Babo. Idahosa’s vision was to develop the Centre to a school of medicine at his private university in Benin, based on a threefold emphasis: theology, medicine, and agriculture.

Idahosa’s description ‘as a protégé of several American televangelists’ like Graham is linked to his pioneering role in the establishment of the Redemption Television Ministry with a potential viewing audience of 50 million people. The Ministry reached fifteen of the then nineteen States in Nigeria, ‘including a release in the Northern states through which many Muslims see “Redemption Hour.”’ The emergence of the Christian media station not only connects Nigerian Christians through sermons, but has also become a powerful tool to mission and evangelism. The dominant presence of the PFN leaders in both the print and electronic media contributes to the growth of PFN in Nigeria.

Idahosa, the third National President of the PFN boosted the vision of the fellowship, and used leadership platform to promote a sense of understanding and mutual co-operation, not only within the PFN members but among the generality of Christians irrespective of their denominational affiliations. He died in March 12, 1998, and his wife Bishop (Mrs) Margaret Idahosa has been consecrated as the new leader of the CGMI and the first female Pentecostal Archbishop in Africa. To remember Idahosa is to repent from ongoing seduction of the Nigerian Church, especially, the influx of the new generation churches. As the Nigerian revival is losing its cutting edge, we need to repent from deviation that have crept into our consciousness about wealth at all cost. Idahosa’s vision of developing his Centre to a school of medicine at his private university in Benin, based on a threefold emphasis: theology, medicine, and agriculture should be revisited especially by new generation churches with private universities that are not affordable even to the church members.

Please, remember the wife, the ministry and the entire Body of Christ in Nigeria in your prayers.

[1] Constitution of Church of God Mission International Inc., Gift Prints, Benin City 1997, p. 66