Papa Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, the retired Methodist archbishop of Ilesa and Ibadan is a father to me. As the Chairman of the Editorial Board, Literature Department, Methodist Church Nigeria and while he was still serving as the bishop of Ifaki and Ibadan, Papa Ladigbolu between 1993-2000 mentored me as the Conference Editor, and Editor of the Methodist News. Papa adopted me as a son and supported me during my training as a minister at Methodist Theological Institute, Sagamu while I was still working as the Conference Editor at Wesley House, Marina, Lagos. It was a great pleasure to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2005 with Papa Ladigbolu, his wife and my late father, Moses Olalemi Okegbile.
Papa Lawrence Sanda Ladigbolu was born on Monday 27th June 1938 into a royal family which embraced Islam. It was through the ministry of a British Methodist missionary that he accepted Christ as his Saviour, and this ‘led to four years of exile from his family.’ According to him at his early age, ‘like all other children of the family the best education available was Islamic education. As the first male child from my father’s side of the family, I had the very best Islamic teachers to teach me the Quran. I became well-versed in the Quran and the tenets of the religion of Islam. I very quickly rose to become an assistant to one of the most prominent Muslim scholars and evangelists in Yorubaland.’ As a prince and under the mentorship of an itinerant popular evangelist and preacher, Papa Ladigbolu ‘went everywhere with him … did a lot of market-square public preaching and disputations.’ Papa Ladigbolu’s testimony indeed resonates with that of Apostle Paul ‘inciting the largely Muslim crowd to shout at them as infidels (Kafir) or stone them.’ Papa Ladigbolu’s ‘popularity among the people grew, and many of them openly prayed for the day when the old king would pass away, and I would become their king and champion of the cause of Islam … This dream was never to come true.’ Worthy is the Lamb! Halleluyah.
At a point in time, Papa Ladigbolu under the fear God as a ferocious judge ‘sometimes bribe Allah with my ritual prayers five times daily, fasting before and during Ramadan (the month in which the first passages of the Quran were revealed to Mohammed) and giving alms to the poor, I still found that deep down in my heart I could not satisfy the demands of Allah.’ Under the burden of sin, Papa Ladigbolu’s quite cry was, “Who will deliver me from this burden of sin?” In 1960, Papa Ladigbolu came in contact with the first “Christian” group who risked their lives and dared the consequences for approaching and reading the Bible with the prince. Papa Ladigbolu said, “As I went from the Old Testament to the New Testament, I found that there were matters, statements and claims about which I needed to ask questions – particularly about Jesus the Son of Mary. These people did not give me any satisfactory answer to these questions …I became more curious about the Bible and read it over and over without fully understanding all I was reading, except the familiar Old Testament portions.” Papa Ladigbolu later met his Ananias like Paul in Acts chapter 9, his ‘first real Christian brother and friend. .. a member of the Methodist Church.’ It was this brother who introduced “the peace and joy which faith in Jesus alone can give you.” According to Papa Ladigbolu, ‘the beauty of my friend’s Christian life, and the certainty and assurance evident in his witnessing, convinced me that I too needed this Jesus if he could set me free from the burden of my sin and my fear of death and judgement, and further enhance my prestige by making me a prince in the royal courts of heaven.’ For Papa, it was a dangerous venture bearing in mind the prospects of his ascending the exalted throne of his father and for the fact that ‘the kingmakers were all Muslims.’ With the persistence of his friend and the army of intercessors, the more Papa read the Bible, the more he ‘began to feel the Spirit of God drawing me to understand what the Bible says about Jesus. I was struck one day with the statement: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him”(John 3:36). In his friend’s room, Papa, under the main burden of the anger of God because of his sinful life confessed and asked Jesus to come into his heart, ‘to cleanse it of all sin and to make me a child of God. Right there and then, I felt as if ice-cold water were dripping from heaven through my head and into the rest of my body. It was a most pleasant and refreshing feeling. That first day of October, 1962 was an unforgettable day. Every year when Nigeria celebrates her political independence on October 1, I also celebrate my “new birth” day and the genesis of my pilgrimage in the company of the redeemed.’ His friend later introduced him to a Methodist superintendent minister in Oyo about his encounter with Christ. Papa for the first time went to Apara Methodist Church on the first Sunday in January 1963.
Papa narrated his ordeal when he returned to the palace after the church service. According to Papa, the first thing my father said was, “Welcome back from CHURCH. What in the whole world took you into a church?” At that moment, I was sweating profusely all over my body. I felt as if my tongue were tied with a rope at first. I did not know what to say in reply. All of a sudden I found myself speaking, but the words I spoke were not coming from me. I just lost all consciousness of where I was, and I was speaking. After what seemed like a long time, my eyes opened and I saw that everyone sat or stood quietly gazing at me. No one was talking. All the elders of the family were there. My mother too was present. They all just stared at me. Then my mother suddenly burst into tears. A lot of them began wailing. I later learned that they thought I had been possessed by an evil spirit or that I was showing signs of a mental problem. In the midst of their wailing, I was able to say to them, “A young man told me about Jesus Christ, and I found what he told me to be true. I needed to escape from the anger of God, and Jesus had rescued me. When I asked Jesus to come into my heart, I felt him come! Jesus is real to me. He is a living Savior. I will follow him the rest of my life.” My mother came forward, laid prostrate in front of me and pleaded, “Ayo, you are throwing away everything I have lived for. You are putting my life in danger. You are putting your youthful life at risk.” She continued, “Don’t you see the future ahead of you, and all possibilities? Don’t you consider what will happen to me?” She just went on and on, and I could not control my tears because she was sobbing as she pleaded with me to reconsider my decision. But the die had been cast and there was no going back. I had tasted the Lord Jesus Christ and found him sweeter than honey.’
Indeed, for Papa Ladigbolu, it was a new dawn and new honeymoon with Jesus. To Papa, ‘the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward’ (Ps 19:7-11). The reflection is that our new in Christ life begins with the Word and we stay alive by the Word. Without the Word of God we perish. The Word of God rejoices the heart and has an effect in our lives that compares to eating the most enjoyable thing like David, Papa Ladigbolu could think of—fresh honey straight from the comb.
Under the fear that Papa was bewitched, his ‘mother consulted and paid many Muslim scholars, Mallams and medicine men’ to remove the spell. At the family meeting Papa’s father declared that, the family has disowned him because “naked fire and gunpowder cannot share the same room …We consider you as dead, and you may as well be dead.” Papa Ladigbolu later met the Methodist minister, the late Rev Dr. A.T. Olude ‘who gave me a note to take, first to a remote station in Ogbomosho Circuit, and later to the United Missionary Society missionaries in Ilorin. These missionaries became my parents and family and, through their kindness, I lacked nothing that I needed in those four years of exile.’ It was in exile that Papa felt the call to be a Christian preacher and the testimony was that towards the end of his training at the United Missionary Theological College, Ilorin, he received a message that his father wanted to see him. Papa came to Oyo and in the midst of another family meeting and under a tearful and joyful reunion, his father said “I believe this faith you have embraced is good for you. If you would like to return to this family, you are welcome anytime.”
To the glory of God, Papa at 80 have no regret because according to him, “I have gained a more glorious crown, the crown of life. The Lord Jesus has been my sufficiency in spite of my losing all the power, prestige, money and land associated with my earthly royal birthright.” At 80, some members of Papa’s family are now Christians and his conversion continue to inspire him praying and labouring ‘for the rekindling of the evangelistic zeal in Nigerian Methodism,’ and in Bible translations and distribution all over the world.