The founding pastor and prophet of Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) Worldwide, Rev. Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oshoffa (1909–1985) was born and bred in Porto Novo (Republic of Benin) into a predominantly Muslim family of Yoruba extraction from Ogun State, a Nigerian who settled in Porto Novo. His parents were the only converted Christians and members of Methodist Church.
His journey of service to God started early at the age of seven in fulfillment of a vow his father made to God at his birth. He took him to a Methodist Catechist, Moses Yansunu, for spiritual training and to learn basic Christian principles. At the age of thirteen, he was moved to stay with another Methodist Bishop of Porto Novo and former Bishop of Methodist Church, Olowogbowo, Lagos, Rev. David Hodonu Loco. Some years later, after his tutelage and grooming under these Methodist clergies, he returned home and learned to be a carpenter like his father, a profession he was proficient and good at, until he decided to trade in ebony wood by going to the forest for the purchase and later sale of the ebony wood to carpenters in town. For reasons beyond his control, he did not have access to formal education.
Though, with no formal education, he learned to read the Bible, took part in church activities as a member of the singing band, playing trumpet and other musical instruments. He also served on many committees in the Methodist Church in Porto Novo. His enthusiasm and commitment with roles in church activities earned him one of the respected Methodist members in Porto Novo.
The Forest Experience and Encounter
The forest encounter and experience where SBJ Oshoffa usually went to buy ebony wood for his trade is very significant in the history of Celestial Church and important in his thirty-eight years spiritual sojourn on earth. It was in one of the trips, he eventually spent three unplanned months in the forest and wandered without food, neither was he hungry, but had to live solely on honey he discovered in a honey comb in the forest and was able to dig out after driving out the bees. This singular experience remains mysterious; with the grace, ability, strength and drive that sustained and kept him throughout in the forest, during which time he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, scriptural guidance and visions that catapulted the rare life changes he experienced and encountered in May, 1947 when he heard the strange voice, “LULI”, which the same voice interpreted to him as, ‘the Grace of Jesus Christ’. On the day he heard the voice, there was an eclipse of the sun and the spectacle caused him anxiety and terrified him. He read his Bible that was always with him and prayed.
After three months in the forest, he found his way to return home and got into the canoe he had hired to bring him to the forest for his usual trade, but mysteriously disappeared, while the hired paddler left him unceremoniously. Without knowing how to paddle a canoe, he entered and allowed himself downstream by the current of the stream. That was how he got to a village called Agange, where God performed the first miracle through him in the name of Jesus Christ, by touching and healing a Methodist young man reportedly very ill for a long time and was at the point of death.
As a Methodist groomed by clergies, he was exposed to reading the Bible and praying. This became part of him, even at the pursuit of his trade in the forest. This practice significantly contributed to his spiritual encounter and revelation that marked his ecclesiastic journey of grace, power and commission.
Everyone, in and around Porto Novo, especially western missionaries were surprised and skeptical of his power. They knew him as a carpenter and a Christian and nothing more, so his transformation raised dusts and there were adversaries, reactionaries, doubting Thomases and unfavourable controversies.
In September 29, 1947 he received DIVINE ORDER to establish a church with the name Celestial Church of Christ, divinely received through the revelation by one of his early convert and follower, Alexander Yanga, who reportedly saw the name boldly written on the rainbow and asked for a piece of chalk, looking at the rainbow, he wrote the name of the church as shown to him, Eglise du Christianisme Céleste, which means “Celestial Church of Christ.”
A week later, in October, 1947, he got the COMMISSION to start a new church that is now globally acknowledged with evangelical and spiritual exploits, 32 years after his transition.
The berthing, expansion, existence, spreading and flourishing of the church spiritually, geographically and numerically from unknown Agange village in Republic of Benin to the bushy village of Makoko in Lagos, to nook and crannies of Nigeria and, at present, in 20 countries of the world proves the rich spiritual foundation, prophetic order and revelation the church was built.
If the church is not God’s agenda or the establishment not purposeful, before or by now, with raging controversies, isolation and crisis, the church membership would have declined and the church gone into extinction.
“It is the wish of God to send you on an errand of preaching in the World. Many nominal Christians who were confronted by difficulties and problems of this world run after fetish priests and other powers of darkness for all kinds of assistance. Consequently, on their death, they cannot see Christ because by their action, Satan has left his spiritual mark on them. To assist you in your work, sign and wonders shall follow you, so that men may listen to the fact that God has sent you.”
How the Church came to Nigeria
After the birth of Celestial Church in 1947 at Porto Novo, Republic of Benin and the spread in many parts of Dahomey. No plan or process indicated the movement outside its domain, until a group of fishermen who were members of the church in Porto Novo on fish farming and trading in Lagos introduced the church to their customers who wished for the church leader to visit Lagos. On hearing about Lagos people’s wish, SBJ Oshoffa turned down the request on two occasions, for the fear that Nigeria is a fast and difficult country enveloped his mind. He reluctantly accepted to visit on the third invitation. He arrived at Makoko area of Yaba, Lagos (then a bushy village) in early 1951 where he met with some clergies from different churches who confirmed to have heard stories of God’s miraculous exploits through him in Porto Novo and wished God used him to replicate such in Lagos. They witnessed and testified God making it happen at a meeting with him. After the encounter with the clergies, news spread and people came on hearing what God had done by bringing to life a dead seven years old boy, healing of the sick and other miracles in the name of Jesus. This led to establishing the church at Makoko in 1951.
Growth and Spread
For many years, Celestial Church of Christ was relatively unknown outside Lagos and its environs because the new church’s activities centered on Makoko.
However, between 1970-80 through efforts of people who had come in contact with the new sect in Lagos, the church witnessed phenomenal growth in Nigeria reaching virtually every part of Yoruba-speaking regions from its base at Makoko.
The famous indian hemp case of 1970 in London, involving a Lagos socialite, Iyabo Olorunkoya, who allegedly defied the advice of a Celestial Church prophet and travelled to London, her subsequent arrest and trial drew the attention of Nigerians to Celestial Church of Christ and made people wanted to know more about the church prophecies, trances and visions.
Other factors that helped the church growth was, many individuals sponsoring the establishment of parishes and the use of Yoruba language in worship, offered tremendous attraction that helped the spread of the Church.
Mode of worship and injunction
It will be wrong to displace, criticize or condemn Celestial Church mode of worship and service as unbiblical, they are rooted in the Bible and divinely instructed. The fact remains, the church of Jesus Christ all over the world has different doctrinal beliefs, teachings, tradition practices and mode of worship embedded and rooted in the Bible without being idolatry, occultic or mystic.
Members of Celestial Church of Christ are forbidden from engaging or participating in any form of idolatry, rituals, fetish, cults or black magic.
Why faithful don’t wear shoes
Celestial Church faithful are not emulating Moses and Joshua whom God instructed to do same in the Bible or saying, others who do not put on white robes nor put on shoes are not children of God. Rather, they see themselves as celestial beings or representative of the Heavenlies who are simply obeying the injunction of God to remove their shoes while in their white garment (Sutana), in the places of worship or when praying.
How the church acquired Makoko land
While a Muslim woman, Ramotu Emmanuel, was in a tussle of acquiring the entire land of Makoko. She dreamt of a prophet who had just entered the village and was told in the dream, if she wished the land of Makoko to be hers, she should visit the prophet. She made her enquiry and got the confirmation, then sought out to locate and visit the prophet in company of her son with her clerk and caretaker. On meeting the prophet, she explained her mission, requested for prayer and was prayed for without requesting or bargaining for anything with her. Three months later God answered the prayer and granted her desire, she became the undisputed owner of vast land in Makoko. Without been compelled or asked, the woman, though a Muslim, remembered how God helped her and the miracle she had experienced, she heard that the church was struggling to get a place for service and willingly gave the present parcel of land, where the church is located free without collecting a dime. Shortly before the woman died in March, 1952, she officially conveyed the property to the church in case of any future litigation.
Physical encounter with Jesus
After the third annual harvest in 1954, while sleeping at about 3.00am, Oshoffa saw the revelation of Jesus Christ in a vision which he unknowingly proclaimed to the hearing of others sleeping with him, as he was later told. As the morning broke, Jesus came in form of a blind man and first visited the wife, asking to buy tobacco, but was told she doesn’t sell tobacco and later asked for kolanut, which she replied, ”this is a church and those things are forbidden to be sold or taken”. He left her and went to meet SBJ Oshoffa who was in another house from the church. Oshoffa was able to spiritually discern Him by the beam of light on Him and the way He dressed. He received and walked with Him, accommodated and spoke with Him. He presented Him with gift and He (Jesus) blessed him. The encounter brought another dimension of spiritual turnaround to SBJ Oshoffa’s life and the church.
His Eminence, Rev. Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oshoffa (blessed memory) answered the call of God at the age of 38 and transited into fulfillment with a legacy and footprint in 38 years of pioneering, establishing and nurturing a new church indeed. He was a unique personality with humble beginnings and rose against all odds to become what God destined him to be. He once rode on bicycle to preach the gospel. A contented and selfless man with philanthropic spirit, he was conscious of heaven and never gave in to flamboyance or allowed worldly possessions and acquisition ruin him. He was paying the rents of some people, paid school fees of many children and medical bills of others.
Throughout his life time, he never travelled by air, but his legacy, vision and ministry has travelled, spread and established in every nation of the world.
Despite many great miracles and testimonies of raising the dead, deliverance, healing and breakthroughs, that followed his ministry, he never for once in words or attitude glorify or ascribed any importance to himself, he always said, “the miracle God performed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ through me, His vessel is to His glory and power to prove He is God that can do anything, anywhere and anytime through anybody”.
Rev. Samuel Bilewu Oshoffa was blessed in life and in death. He was revered, worshipped and died like a god, leaving mysteriously as he came and that kept his myth intact. His death shook the entire Celestial world and beyond.
The journey of Oshoffa into transition began on his way to Ibadan for a parish harvest in September 1, 1985. He was chauffeur driven and was about seventeen kilometers from Ibadan, when suddenly on speed, one of the tyres of the Mercedes Benz wagon he was travelling with exploded, the car skidded and somersaulted about four times before landing in the bush. Oshoffa miraculously escaped death from the fatal accident but was unconscious while two of his close aides in the car died on the spot. He and his bleeding driver were driven back to Lagos for quick treatment at Labi Hospital, Ilupeju.
In an ironic twist of fate, at the early hours of September 10, 1985, having been certified fit by doctors and waiting to be discharged, death struck. At the age of 76, the pastor, founder and one of the greatest Nigerians breathed his last at First Shadrach Hospital, Ilupeju, Lagos.
The remains of Pa SBJ Oshoffa were finally laid to rest on Saturday, October 10, 1985 amidst pomp and ceremony, mourning and thanksgiving at the Celestial City, Imeko, Ogun State, Nigeria.
Defunct Newswatch Magazine described his burial thus; “The Earth quake in exclamation, the stars blinked to refocus, the sea water rose in disbelief, the birds sang a dirge in sympathy, while the seismic vibrations of these rumblings ricocheted against the wailing walls of the Celestial world”.