“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.”
April is our Month of ABIB in the Apostolic Faith Mission as an organisation. It is our “beginning of months” and has been from the moment of the Azusa revival fire that put the mark of God upon the founder of the organisation, Florence L Crawford who was present at those meetings. The call on her life in 1906 led to the birth of the organisation. Fast forward to April 1976, and there was another “birthing process” in which God used Rev. Victor Olusegun Okusanya to start Apostolic Faith Mission in the United Kingdom and 24 years later in April 2000, God again did a “New Thing” by orchestrating the baton change that saw the leadership of the UK Church change hands to put Rev. Isaac Adigun on the hot seat.
Through the first 45 years of existence in the UK, God has shown Himself faithful. He has continued to do “New Things” as a routine, from assuring the purchase of the first London Church at 95 Fenham Road, to the explosion of new churches not only across the United Kingdom but also into continental Europe. All glory and honour be ascribed unto our God!
In celebration, the whole of the week from Sunday, April 25, 2021, to Sunday, May 2, 2021was spent as a special week of thankful remembrance and reminiscences. This is our time to “return to Bethel”, as it were, to rekindle the fire that God Himself lit when He set up the organisation first in Portland, USA and thence to other corners of the globe including the United Kingdom.
The devotional service on the opening Sunday of the celebrations, April 25, 2021, was quite evocative. The whole service exuded the spirit, not only of happy remembrance but of the beginning of a New Thing, which must have been divinely inspired as the message that came was “A New Beginning”! Rev. Isaac Adigun, Western Europe District Superintendent, gave the message. He looked back at the wondrous things the Lord had done in and through His special vessels, particularly Rev. Victor Okusanya, and the miraculous follow-throughs that God orchestrated. It requires faith, consecration and ceaseless prayers to move heaven’s hands. As those ingredients became available, the Spirit of God moved mightily enough for the “tiny church in Peckham” to become the focus of the local media as “the praying church where miracles occur”. The import of the message is that God is prepared, even today, to do new things and grant new beginnings to His people. Rev. Adigun enjoined the congregation, both physical and virtual, to take the week of celebrations as an opportunity to “hold on to the edge of His garments” and make “virtue to come out of the Lord” once more as it happened with the woman with the issue of blood. All it requires is that we dare to believe!
Virtual Young People’s Service – Sunday, April 25, 2021
The celebrations did not leave out the young people, the lifeblood of any community. The virtual service, held at 5 pm did justice to the spirit of the times! Testimonies of God’s healing power, even among the youth, rang out from the very kernels that have started to yield new “ears of corn” for the church. The service showed once again how blessed we are as an organisation and confirmed that should Jesus tarry, there is no need to fear for the future of this organisation that God Himself planted.
The powerful message: “Are you covered / Insured?”, drove home the point of having confidence only in God and His plan of Salvation. Taking his main text from Psalm 118: 8-9 which enjoins that we put our trust in the Lord rather than put confidence in “princes”, Bro. Stan Nyakuhwa, the leader of our group in Leicester, illustrated the benefits, especially the eternal benefits, of having Jesus as the Captain of our “Ship of Life”. He sent out a clarion call for young people to heed the call and become the “prophets of their generation” that God is looking to appoint. He reminded the virtual congregation that the work in the UK was established by “young people” who were prepared to offer their lives to God for His service.
The Celebrations continued on Monday, April 26, 2021, at 7.30 pm with reminiscences and a prayer meeting anchored by Rev. Mark Mfandarahwa, the Pastor of our Birmingham Branch Church.
It featured a panel of eyewitnesses, including Rev. Godfrey Affiah, Sis. Sola Odunsi and Bro. William Henry.
Rev. Godfrey Affiah arrived in the UK in January of 1981. The London church then was worshipping in a building, which was shared with a Nursery, provided by the London City Mission. Meetings, on average, consisted of about 6 children and 15 adults. Attendance fluctuated, depending on the number of visitors brought to the meeting. A large number of the members were students. The Sunday single service started at 12 noon and after the service, there was always time for fellowship (lunch inclusive – provided by late Sis Martins) with a review of the next Sunday School lesson.
Midweek meetings were held on Wednesdays and Fridays, and it was always required that the venue be cleaned after the meetings, in readiness for the Nursery’s use the following day. After Friday’s prayer meeting, the venue was made ready for Sunday service. All adults served as ushers. While the starting time of service was known, the time to finish was in God’s hands as “Kneeology”, the art of staying on your knees in prayer until God gave an answer, took over. Leaflets were used for children Sunday School lessons, while ‘A series of Bible Studies by the Apostolic Faith Church’, Books 1 – 36, obtained from Lagos, Nigeria were used for adult lessons. There was one single class for Sunday School as the congregation was quite small. Bro. Godfrey noted that nevertheless, it was a lovely time of great fellowship.
As the congregation grew, the Sunday service times changed. Sunday morning service was held at 10.30 am and evening service started at 6.30 pm. Bro Godfrey asserted that prayer was the mainstay, and we bless God that it is still the same today! He stated further: “As the congregation grew, we moved to Fenham Road, Peckham in 1982 to use a building that was initially rented until the Lord, miraculously, provided the funds for it to be bought.” Rev. Victor Okusanya was the pastor, music teacher, and Sunday school teacher all rolled into one! Rev. Affiah thanked God for the strength and dedication God provided to the pioneer Pastor in those days.
Sis Sola Odunsi’s contribution corroborated every facet of Rev. Affiah’s account concerning church services and Sunday school arrangements. She also mentioned that when they moved to Fenham Road, they had a lot of work to do in terms of clearing the surrounding of the church. In those early days, there were just children or elementary classes, no junior class was available in Sunday School. Sunday School for children was taught using Sunday School leaflets for children as well as visual aids such as Bible-in-Pictures, picture rolls and flannelgraph. Sis. Sola was also co-opted into taking the young people in their violin lessons.
Sister Sola went on to recollect that after the church moved to Peckham, there were two different occasions when another group wanted to affiliate with the church, but it did not work out because there were differences in teachings/doctrines that could not be overcome, and Rev. Okusanya was not prepared to shift from the standards of the Gospel that he had received and found efficacious.
Bro William Henry joined the church in January 1982. As was mentioned, the preponderance of the members as students. Bro. William was the first Caribbean (and Antiguan) member of the Apostolic Faith Church in the UK. He started his contribution by appreciating how Christ had led the church through a turbulent birthing period. He emphasized that this celebration and reminiscences should give us hope and courage for the next 45 years if it pleased God for Christ to tarry. He recollected that initially he was in two minds about joining the AFC in the UK, but added that the motto of the church found in Jude 3, “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” made him stay as he could see brethren who literally lived out a life of contending for that faith. The group, when Bro. William joined, believed that prayers could move mountains, and it certainly did for them.
Bro. William also added that he was drawn in by the pioneer Pastor’s stance on consecration. The razor-sharp focus was prayer. “Sometimes, we started prayer meetings at 7pm and left at 12 am the following morning” he stated. In the 1990s, he further explained, the South London Press described the Church as a “praying church”. Bro. William continued: “There were people who did not have children, and some were facing deportation issues but through prayer and consecration, all these issues were resolved”. The key statement from all the accounts was that ‘Prayer Made Us Different’ and it still does today!
Rev. Mark Mfandarahwa rounded off the session on reminiscences with a call to prayer, using Psalm 85:4-7.
“Turn to us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger towards us to cease……Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.”
He said: ‘If we want God to work on our behalf, we have to engage in ‘kneeology’ (a term coined out by Bro William during his recollections) and pray’! May God give us the zeal and power to pray.
For Tuesday, April 27, 2021, we had Rev. Isaac Sodipe as the anchor for the reminiscences and prayer sessions. The reminiscences were offered by Sis. Funmi Akinwunmi, Bro. Saula Ogunkoya, Bro Ade Akinola and Sis Arit Nduoyo.
Sis. Funmi Akinwunmi’s account centred mostly on Music. She said Rev. Okusanya’s plan was to return to Nigeria after his Music study at Goldsmith’s College in the UK, for which he had a scholarship. Although Rev. Okusanya did go back to Nigeria, where he was a principal organist, music director and examiner, after his studies, God brought him back to the UK for His work. Back in the UK, with a very tight schedule of work, Rev. Okusanya still gathered people for services and through him, God mended a home that had been broken for 29 years. Rev. Okusanya was particularly instrumental in the music ministry, which was his forte.
Sis. Funmi came from Nigeria with a letter of recommendation as a senior chorister, but there was no choir and orchestra in London! Oftentimes, Bro. Ayanlaja, a student who was in the UK for his studies, would play the clarinet whilst Sis. Funmi sang. After completing his studies, Bro Ayanlaja returned to Nigeria, after which Sis Orlu arrived to join the congregation. To help with instrumental training, Rev. Okusanya brought a gentleman from his university to teach violin and cello, but the man wouldn’t teach the class as he felt the students were not qualified for the class; however, Sister Funmi’s husband, Bro Akinwunmi, would go to the man’s place to learn cello.
Rev. Okusanya taught some students with support from other qualified musicians in the church, which included:
- Sis Sola Odunsi – taught the kids Violin.
- Caroline Ladeinde – taught voice production.
- Ayo Sobowale – taught some young people rudiments of music
- Bro Solomon Oshun – prepared the Choir members for ABRSM examinations.
Bro Solomon Oshun, who until then was a member of a different Church, was invited to the Church by Bro Ayo Sobowale. God was able to later convict and save. Bro. Solomon then became the principal organist of the church. He later left for Nigeria where he became a principal organist too. God helped him to return to the UK later, where he continued as the principal organist. As a result of the progress made in music, broken chords started vibrating again as backsliders started returning to the fold.
Sis Arit Nduoyo’s report also had to do mainly with Music. Posing the question – “what is worship without the music?”, she corroborated large areas of Sis. Funmi’s account. Sis. Arit read portions from Psalm 149:1,4 and 150:4. She said, “Though we were few, we all sang from the bottom of our hearts, and When we sang songs from the bottom of our hearts, souls were saved”! Sis. Caroline Ladeinde was the choir leader. Bro. Bode Odulaja later joined the group from Nigeria as a trumpeter, and it was a great addition to the Choir.
As mentioned previously, Rev. Victor Okusanya had a passion for music and trained all his children in music. Sis. Ladeinde also very helpful with the music ministry. Sis. Arit mentioned that the first organ they used was FARFISA2, a manual, 1 Octave Pedal organ, which was taken to Peckham when the Church moved. When it stopped working, a two-pedal organ was bought in its place. One of the brethren from Norway donated the money that was partly used to purchase the first piano. In 1994, the first evening of music was held with great success.
Bro. Saula’s memories centred on the Boys and Girls club. The Club was started in the 80s by Sis. Funmi Abdulai and Sis. Stella Adigun with activities taking place at Sis. Funmi’s house. Later on, the club outgrew the house and was moved to the church. The club entailed activities packaged to run between morning and evening services, with lunch thrown in. The children taking part in the activities were first the children in the church, but the organisers also knocked on neighbouring homes to invite children to attend the activities.
Bro. Ade Akinola gave an account of the metamorphosis of the Audio-Visual Department. Bro. Ade joined the church in 1983 but was not very regular until 1985. The Audio-Visual (AV) department started out of necessity as the congregation was struggling to hear the service properly. Bro. Femi Fatunde, then an usher, brought him in to assist because of his expertise in electronics. Bro. Ade’s role was to make sure the loudspeakers in the sanctuary functioned properly, and people could hear the proceedings of the service well. Soon after, members started requesting recorded sermons and the department rose to the occasion by recording messages in audio cassettes. The production of these cassettes was tasking and a bit complicated for lack of facilities. Bro. Fatunde bought some Audio-Visual equipment too. Bro. Steinar Bruvoll, from Norway, gave the UK Church an Audio Tape Duplicator, which enabled the duplication of a “master tape” to four tapes at once. This proved very helpful. The church had a library where people could borrow these cassettes and Sis. Bola Ogedengbe was the librarian.
During the Easter or Christmas Seasons, the department would rent a projector for film shows. At some point, because of rising needs, they had to get a television screen and a camcorder to relay service proceedings to nursing mothers who had to watch services in the kitchen. Occasionally, outside activities like going to leisure parks created a need for documentation of those events. To meet that need, the church bought a VHS camera, and the first outing for that camera was at Safari Park.
In 2001, the church was in Liverpool for Camp Meeting, and Dr Bayo Ladeinde came on board to help the AV crew. Another video player was acquired in 2003 to enhance the work of the department. Brother Ade continued, “As the congregation grew, the main Church auditorium because too small and could no longer contain everyone, as some had to watch the services from the prayer room.” It then became necessary to acquire multiple screens to allow those in the prayer room to watch the services. This growth in membership led to some creativity in managing the needs of the department.
Bro. Ade rounded off by mentioning the contributions of a host of people to the development of the Audio-Visual Department. The roll call included Bro. Lekan Aremu, Bro. Ike Onyemaobi, Bro. James Olaleye, Bro. Toyin Ajayi, Bro. Ikpaisong Ukpe, Bro. Michael Owolabi and Sis. Esther Onabanjo. Bro. Ade stepped aside from the team in 2015.
In his concluding remarks, Bro Isaac Sodipe read from Lev 9:23,24.
And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
In those early days, the Lord brought something out of nothing. He asked: Is our fire still burning? He concluded with a call to prayer by saying we needed to check our hearts to be sure our fire was still burning.
In the 1990s, there was an influx of young people from Nigeria, and when Bro Ola Balogun arrived, he became the leader of the group, with the name changing from “Boys and Girls Club” to “Youths Club for Christ”. Under the leadership of Bro. Ola, the club grew. Children who were not members of the church were invited, using the church buses to pick up and drop them off. The allure of learning instruments made children from outside the church join the club, and this led to the start of the Salem Academy of Music. At a point, about 40% of the students of Salem Academy were not members of the church.
Salem Academy has really impacted the church, and we now have other music schools in some of the branches. It has had an impact on other churches as well, as two of the students who graduated from Salem Academy have set up a music school in their own church.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021, brought us to the midway point in our week of celebratory remembrance. The evening programme offered another opportunity to watch a movie of the celebrated Welsh Revival of 1904. The Welsh revival was one of the most far-reaching revivals that ever took place. In the movie, we saw how the revival broke out and how it changed lives and impacted the entire society. Through the use of contemporary letters, interviews, photographs, and songs, the movie examined the 1904 Welsh Revival through the eyes and thoughts of the Revivalist himself, 26-year-old Evan Roberts. From his conversion at age 13 to the outbreak of Revival in November 1904, the movie retraced the steps of his spiritual development from the coal mine and blacksmith’s shop to the grammar school at N