Giving Up Much for Something Greater
AS TOLD BY JULIUS OWO BELLO
For 32 years I was an Aladura.* I believed that faith healing and prayers would solve all my problems and cure all illnesses. I never bought any drugs, not even pain relievers. During those years, no one in my family was ever admitted to the hospital. Whenever any of my children fell sick, I prayed for them day and night until they recovered. I believed that God was answering my prayers and blessing me.
I BELONGED to Egbe Jolly, the most prominent social club in Akure, a town in western Nigeria. My friends were the richest and most powerful people in our community. The Deji, king of Akure, often visited with me in my home.
I was also a polygamist, having six wives and many concubines. My business prospered. Everything was going well for me. Yet, like the traveling merchant in Jesus’ illustration of the pearl, I found something so precious that I gave up five of my wives, my concubines, church, social club, and worldly prominence in exchange for it.—Matthew 13:45, 46.
How I Became an Aladura
I first heard of the Aladuras in 1936, when I was 13 years old. A friend named Gabriel told me: “If you visit the Christ Apostolic Church, you will hear God speak.”
“How does God speak?” I asked him.
He said: “Come, and you will see.”
I was eager to listen to God. So that night, I went with Gabriel to the church. The small building was filled with worshipers. The congregation began to chant: “Come, you people! This is where Jesus is!”
During this chanting, someone yelled: “Come down, holy spirit!” Someone else rang a bell, and the congregation fell silent. Next, a woman began jabbering excitedly in a strange tongue. Suddenly she cried out: “Listen to God’s message, O you people! This is what God has said: ‘Pray for the hunters so that they do not kill humans!’” The atmosphere was charged with emotion.
I believed that God had spoken through her, so the following year I was baptized as a member of the Christ Apostolic Church.
Early Contact With Jehovah’s Witnesses
In 1951, I accepted a copy of the Watchtower magazine from a Witness named Adedeji Boboye. The magazine was interesting, so I subscribed to it and read it regularly. In 1952, I attended a four-day district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Ado Ekiti.
What I saw at the convention impressed me. I thought seriously about becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but dismissed the idea. My problem was that I had three wives and one concubine at the time. I thought there was no way I could live with only one wife.
When I returned to Akure, I told Adedeji to stop visiting me, and I did not renew my Watchtower subscription. I became more active in my church. After all, I reasoned, God had blessed me since I joined the Christ Apostolic Church. I had married three wives and produced many children. I had built my own house. I had never been admitted to a hospital. Since God seemed to be answering my prayers, why change my religion?
Growing Prominence Along With Disillusionment
I began to contribute much money to the church. Soon they made me a church elder, a position that enabled me to see the inner workings of the church. What I saw disturbed me. The pastor and “prophets” loved money; their greed appalled me.
For example, in March 1967 three children were born to me by different wives. It was the custom in the church to have a child naming ceremony. So I took gifts—fish, lemonade, and bottled soft drinks—to the pastor in preparation for the ceremony.
On the day of the church service, the pastor said in front of the whole congregation: “Rich people in this church have surprised me. They want to have a naming ceremony, and all they bring is soft drinks and fish. No meat! No goat! Imagine! Cain offered God a sacrifice of large yams, yet God did not accept that sacrifice since there was no blood in it. God wants things with blood in them. Abel brought an animal, and his sacrifice was accepted.”
With that, I got up and stormed out. However, I still attended the church. Increasingly, I spent more time socializing and attending meetings of my club. Sometimes I attended meetings at the Kingdom Hall, and I renewed my subscription to The Watchtower. Nevertheless, I was still not ready to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Decision to Serve Jehovah
The turning point for me came in 1968. One day I began to read an article in The Watchtower that described the brutal persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi. It told of a 15-year-old girl who was tied to a tree and raped six times because she refused to compromise her faith. Deeply shocked, I dropped the magazine, but I kept thinking about it. I realized that no girl in my church would show that sort of faith. Later that evening, I took up the magazine and read the page again.
I began seriously to study the Bible. As I grew in knowledge, I began to see how much the church had been misleading us. As was true in ancient times, our priests were ‘carrying on nothing but loose conduct.’ (Hosea 6:9) Such men were among the false prophets that Jesus warned about! (Matthew 24:24) I no longer put faith in their visions and powerful works. I decided to break free from false religion and help others do the same.
Efforts to Keep Me in the Church
When the church elders realized that I was determined to leave the church, they sent a delegation to plead with me. They did not want to lose an important source of revenue. They offered to make me Baba Egbe, the patron of one of the Christ Apostolic churches in Akure.
I turned them down and told them why. “The church has been lying to us,” I said. “They say that all good people will go to heaven. But I have read the Bible, and I am convinced that only 144,000 persons will go to heaven. Other righteous people will live on a paradise earth.”—Matthew 5:5; Revelation 14:1, 3.
The pastor of the church tried to turn my wives against me. He told them to prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from coming to our home. One of my wives poisoned my food. Two of them warned me about a vision they had seen in church. The vision showed that I would die if I left the church. In spite of that, I kept witnessing to my wives, inviting them to come to meetings with me. “You will find other husbands there,” I said. However, none of them showed any interest, and they continued trying to discourage me.
Finally, on February 2, 1970, when I returned home from a trip to a neighboring town, I found that the house was empty. All my wives had run away with the children.
Sticking to One Wife
‘I can now straighten out my marital situation,’ I thought. I invited my senior wife, Janet, to come back home. She agreed. Her family, however, strongly opposed the idea. When my other wives learned that I had asked Janet to come back, they went to her father’s home and tried to beat her up. Her family then summoned me to a meeting.
There were about 80 persons present for the meeting. Janet’s uncle, who was the family head, said: “If you want to remarry our daughter, then you must take back the other women. But if you want to practice your new religion and stay with one wife, then you must find another woman. If you take back Janet, your other wives will kill her, and we do not want our daughter to die.”
After much talking, the family realized that I was determined to have only one wife. Finally they relented. The uncle said: “We will not take your wife from you. You can take her with you.”
On May 21, 1970, Janet and I were legally married. Nine days later I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In December of the same year, Janet was also baptized.
Enjoying Jehovah’s Blessing
Our former church members had prophesied that if we became Witnesses, we would die. That was almost 30 years ago. Even if I die now, would it be because I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? If my wife dies now, can anyone say that it was because she became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I have struggled to show my 17 children the way of the truth. Though many of them were adults by the time I became a Witness, I encouraged them to study the Bible and took them to meetings and conventions. It is my joy to have five of them serving Jehovah with me. One serves alongside me as an elder in the congregation. Another is a ministerial servant in a nearby congregation. Two of my children serve as regular pioneers.
When I look back, I marvel at Jehovah’s undeserved kindness in helping me become his servant. How true are Jesus’ words: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him”!—John 6:44.
From a Yoruba word meaning “one who prays.” It refers to a member of an African church that practices spiritual healing.