By Banji Ojewale
Years ago Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi, General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, opened a chink in the curtains of the future he anticipated for himself. Preaching to a large congregation of local worshippers that also had an overflow of global online audience, he said he happily looked forward to a season when no black strands would remain on his head. It would be a glistening crown of white hair. The revered cleric said he hoped that before then, by the Mercy of the Great Master he serves, he would have succeeded in spreading the Gospel of Christ worldwide. He is not ready to retire, he assured the assembly. But in very advanced age, he would request the Deeper Life Bible Church to acquire a reclining chair for him to enable him undertake more of searching the Scriptures, more of hearing from Heaven and more of teaching the Word.
As Pastor Kumuyi foresaw it, the white hair has since landed, dominantly and decisively defeating the black. Again, as he predicted, the Church the Lord used him to found is taking the message of Christ’s love to every corner of the globe, beginning right here in Nigeria and to other African countries, and beyond. What we haven’t seen is the chair. Will it be a cane seat? Or the steel version? Either way, many don’t expect the pastor to ask for it soon.
Hitting 80 on June 6, 2021, Kumuyi’s body language suggests that the chair must tarry. A well-known ‘defier’ and displacer of worldly protocols and norms to satisfy evangelism obligations, the pastor is given to reinventing the wheel many times over, whipping the ageing, aching, ailing outer man to bend to the promptings of the restless, resolute and rigid inner man.
The man of God is guided by a passage in the Bible: “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.”
So, at the moment, the chair to chain the General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry to a sedentary life is itself condemned to an indeterminate future, giving Kumuyi ample liberty to travel nationwide and across the globe, his age and accompanying health concerns a scant consideration. Only recently in April this year, the preacher left his base in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, for the nation’s capital, to host a six-day crusade that covered the whole of the country’s northern swathe. He delivered sermons every day during the period, with the media reporting that large crowds congregated to receive blessings of salvation and such other Gospel bestowals as sanctification, power of the Holy Ghost and healing for diverse afflictions among numerous other benefits.
Kumuyi takes after John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of the Methodist Church. He has not only read a lot of the great English preacher’s books and sermons, but also he has adopted his legendary stoicism. A biographer records that once, Wesley sprained his ankle, an accident that disabled the Methodist leader. The writer said John Wesley didn’t stay away from the pulpit on account of the impairment. ‘’On Sunday,’’ he wrote, ‘’(Wesley) preached on his knees, because he was not able to stand on his sprained ankle…On Tuesday (of the same week), he was preaching, once again on his knees.’’
A feisty Kumuyi at 80 has a similar predilection for conquering limitations imposed by nature or physical ailments, all to honour the call of his Lord. He is known to ignore counsel from medics to observe long rests from preaching because of his age. If he heeded them for a short span, he would stun them later with a comeback that raised posers whether he was the same person who days earlier was deemed to need intermission. He often did so, not because he contemned the experts. Not at all. The point is that for preacher Kumuyi, the work for Jesus Christ is an all-consuming force. It is like a juggernaut, against which nothing must stand, whether it is ill health, age-related disability, lack, culture, career, country, club, community or class distinctions. They must all give way to the King and His Kingdom servants…or be crushed. Like Vladimir Kuts, the Russian athlete of the last century, Kumuyi believes that ‘’It is impossible to talk about limits where man’s capabilities are concerned…This power must…be developed, by his life, by his experiences and by his training.’’
The clergyman confounds those who hold the view that when you age, your abilities abate. In Kumuyi’s cosmos there appears to be a reverse of that principle. Otherwise, he would not at old age stand on his feet for one and half hours, preaching an assiduous sermon laden with alliterations that make his audience wonder if he secretly studied Literature in English and Stylistics after he was done with his First Class degree in Mathematics at the University of Ibadan.
In his younger days in the 80s and 90s, Kumuyi’s Bible Study every Monday was an hour-long affair. He used to construct his teachings on a simple tripod. Although Pastor Kumuyi still works around an arrangement of three points to draw out the innards of the message, he has now brought upon himself the arduous task of marshalling three more sub-points into each guiding point. So, at the end of the day, you have twelve points, all offering a feast of masterly alliterations. You are torn between watching out for Kumuyi’s literary jewels and absorbing his legendary and scripturally informed interpretation of the Word of God. The point is you need the two; so you can’t but be wholly attentive when sitting at Kumuyi’s feet.
Professor Tunde Opeibi of the University of Lagos exquisitely explains the laborious technique of captivating your audience through an alliterative labyrinth in his seminal book, Discourse, Politics and the 1993 Presidential Election Campaigns in Nigeria. Opeibi writes: ‘’Although alliteration can be described as a stylistic device…it is a strong rhetorical tool deployed to evoke emotions, get attention and convey…messages in a more appealing and persuasive way. It is a figure of speech because it often creates images and conveys meaning beyond the string of words that make it up. When creatively and effectively modulated, they can deepen meaning and enhance musicality.’’
Born in Erin-Ijesa in Osun State on Friday June 6, 1941, Kumuyi relocated to Orunwa, in Ijebu area in Ogun State along with his parents. He had his primary education at St. James Anglican School, Orunwa, which was founded in 1908. Young Kumuyi later moved on to Saint Michael Primary School, Owu-Ikija, in Ijebu division of the sprawling Western Nigeria. His father enrolled him in the pre-secondary Modern school system, but later withdrew the lad, leading Kumuyi to gain entry into the famous Mayflower School, Ikenne.
Here Kumuyi met the great Tai Solarin, the irrepressible founder and principal of Mayflower. Kumuyi has described him as a ‘militant atheist’. Tai Solarin was a humanist who had nothing to do with God. He taught his students to repudiate Him, insisting that man was what he made of himself through hard work and study. So he strove to lead Kumuyi into his world through three approaches: atheism, discipline and dignity of labour.
After a spell of conflict at the crossroads, Kumuyi finally disavowed his mentor’s irreligion and embraced his ascetic and industrious disposition. These were two virtues that came into contact with the more enduring control of the Gospel of Christ which Kumuyi believed to become a born-again child of God on April 5, 1964.
The journey since then has offered tumultuous concerns: expulsion from a denomination, conflicting experiences in founding a ministry, losing a wife, enduring the challenges an erring son posed, overcoming journey mishaps and attacks, renouncing the riches of the world etc. But the quintessential Kumuyi wouldn’t allow any of these life-threatening roadblocks to stop him. He says if they didn’t hold back his Lord and the apostles, they dare not stop him also.
The Church and the nation can’t celebrate Pastor Kumuyi at 80 without a takeout from his life. As a leader of an institution, he gives his all, including his life, to ensure its existence. He has forsaken lucre and all it represents—power, position and popularity—to serve the organization selflessly, such that he has become indifferent to personal or private property. That’s the virtue Nigeria’s leaders lack, that has bred a citizenry whose god is materialism, the unbridled pursuit of which has led to the criminal antisocial activities all over the land. A society discovers its essence in its leaders. If the leaders are apathetic to the welfare of the ruled, the ruled will throw back apathy at its leaders and society.
Happy Birthday, Beloved Pastor!
-Banji Ojewale, a veteran journalist, writes from Lagos. This article was first published on this platform on 6June 2021 when Kumuyi turned 80