A Panoramic History of The Apostolic Church in the Old Eastern Region of Nigeria
Samuel A. Isaiah
The Emergence of The Apostolic Church in Creek Town and Calabar
The origin of The Apostolic Church in the Old Eastern Region of Nigeria can be traced to Creek Town in 1931 and Calabar, 1932, respectively. This was through the powerful Pentecostal evangelical work of Evangelist Ayo Joseph Babalola, assisted by E.N.O. Ene, J. U. Udom, and others from that region. Thus, it could be rightly stated that the missionaries of The Apostolic Church from the United Kingdom neither came to plant the church in Creek Town nor in Calabar, rather they came to follow up the work already commenced through indigenous efforts.
Pentecostal Revival in Old Eastern Region of Nigeria
An evangelist was raised by God with a mighty healing power among the Lagos brethren. This was Evangelist Ayo Babalola. Pastor Udom had written to the Lagos leaders of the church to release him to come to minister among the brethren in Calabar. The reply was delayed for some time but after the meeting at Calabar news of great healing campaign was noised beyond the River at Creek Town, similar to the one held in Ibadan in 1930 by Evangelist Ayo Babalola and Elder Daniel Orekoya. Pastor Udom on hearing the news of this campaign decided to visit Creek Town immediately. On his arrival there, he found that it was this very evangelist whom he had written requesting for his ministry in Calabar.
There were few members of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation in existence in Calabar in 1931 (however, not in any link with the Nigerian Faith Tabernacle revival of 1931). John Ubok Udom and family arrived Calabar on transfer from Ibadan on 10 March 1931, as an Assistant Entomologist Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture to take charge of the Government Botanical Garden; because the senior officer in the ministry of Agriculture Mr. Nyanibor died.
On his arrival at Calabar, he met with Pastor Emetanjo and one Ebube, all of Asaba and members of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, and Mr. Asuquo of Marine Department. They had a place of worship in a small store belonging to Mr. Victor Yellow Duke near Bassey Duke’s Effigy. Their meetings continued in the acquired place by the Faith Tabernacle. Pastor Udom at once began evangelical work in the Town of Calabar. He went about first preaching the faith to some interested friends and succeeded in bringing in Mr. Jonah Ettefia and his cousin John Ettefia (both of them later became Pastors in The Apostolic Church). They were meeting for worship in Pastor Udom’s house at Harcourt Street in Jacob Taylor’s premises.
The First Tarrying for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Calabar
Meanwhile, John Ubok Udom, the leader of this group had been reading tracts and other religious pamphlets from America and Great Britain. He had been reading The Apostolic Church Herald and Riches of Grace from The Apostolic Church in Penygroes, South Wales and England: these embodied the teachings on the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit of 1907 – 1908. As a result, Udom himself believed in the baptism and the works of the Holy Spirit as taught in the Riches of Grace and in the fellowship.
At the newly acquired place of worship, the members of the team were organized to pray in turns for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Many who believed in this teaching joined the group in continuity of prayers and fellowship.
Consequent upon the evangelical experience of Udom from the West under the influence of the popular evangelist, Babalola, who had conducted Pentecostal revival campaigns in the old Eastern Region under the auspices of The Apostolic Church Nigeria, the group in Calabar experienced the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. In one of the regular meetings on Saturday in early 1932, the Holy Spirit fell upon the members present at the meeting. These early receivers included one Okon Ekpo from Ikot Ntan Nsit, Akon Ebong, who later became the wife of Pastor J. E. Ettefia, and also Arit David, the nephew of Pastor Udom. Other members of the team eagerly sought and subsequently received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While Pastor I. J. Vaughan was conducting the revival in Calabar. God was also mightily using Evangelist Ayo Joseph Babalola to sow the seed of Apostolic Vision in Creek Town as well. The meeting of the two teams produced great results. The news of God’s miraculous work had spread far and wide. Souls saved multiplied and assemblies began to spring up at Creek Town, Calabar and beyond.
It was God’s doing that two campaigns took shook the Old Eastern Province of Nigeria. The news of God’s miraculous work had spread far and wide. Souls saved multiplied and assemblies began to spring up at Creek Town, Calabar and beyond.
The First Apostolic Church Missionary Visit to Calabar, 1932
Pastors George Perfect and Idris John Vaughan (the first set of resident missionaries from TAC Great Britain) visited Calabar from Lagos in 1932. On hearing that the U. K. missionaries had arrived Lagos, the brethren in Calabar quickly acquired a plot of land and built a thatched house at Wilkie now Edgerly 32, from Edem Asuquo and Ekpo Asuquo, all of Efut Abua in Calabar. The first meeting in the mud wet house was conducted by the missionaries who opened and dedicated the building. Pastor I. J. Vaughan prophesied that “the new assembly will be great in my will” From that day the two signposts disappeared. The assembly was then the real active Apostolic Church in Calabar. They were housed in Mr. E. N. Amaku’s bungalow at the rent of Five pounds (N10.00) a week, but after a fortnight stay they returned to Lagos.
During their stay with the brethren, the Lord spoke through Pastor Vaughan that one of them would return to help in the establishment and expansion of the church in Calabar and in the Province. During the pioneering visit of George Perfect and Idris John Vaughan to Calabar in 1932, J. U. Udom and his co-servants were called into the office of Pastor. They waxed strong and powerful in gospel evangelism, reaching out and winning many souls.
The Arrival of the First Apostolic Church Resident Missionary in Calabar, 1933
In fulfilment of the earlier prophecy, Pastor Idris Vaughan was eventually sent by TAC Nigerian General Council in Lagos to Calabar as pioneer resident European missionary in November 1933. He was quartered in Chief Edem Asuquo’s house.
Sometime later, after the arrival of Pastor Vaughan, some native leaders were called and ordained as pioneer indigenous apostles and prophets in Calabar Province. The ordained apostles were: Pastors J. U. Udom, J. B. Ettefia, J. O. Assiak, E. N. O. Eneh, B. E. Eta and C. E. O. Mfon . Similarly, Pastors J. E. Ettefia, R. P. Akpabio, Joe Thomas, O. E. E. Offiong and Peter Ndem were ordained as Prophets.
Thus, 1933 was the beginning of the real active service of The Apostolic Church in Calabar. Open Air services were organized and conducted in all quarters of the town, souls were saved and added to the fold. The influence of the young church had begun to spread far and wide. Many believers from all parts of the Old Calabar Province who were touched with the gospel took the good news along with them and planted it wherever they came from. And so, within a short time The Apostolic Church had covered all known communities in Calabar Province and the Eastern Region of the time.
Growth and the Expansion of the Work into Mainland from 1933
It is without any controversy that all the new converts to the apostolic vision in Calabar due to the powerful and zealous evangelical work of Late Pastor J. U. Udom and others with him empowered such converts to travel from Calabar back to their various homelands with the good news of the gospel. These vibrant ambassadors of Christ took upon themselves to plant Apostolic churches in their homes and villages. Just to mention a few examples:
- 1. John, Matthew, Ekpo Ettefia of Ikot Akpaden in Opobo (now Ikot Abasi) were used in establishing the church there.
- OBOT IDIM NSIT:
The church was planted there through Late Elder James Ekim and Frank Okoh were the instruments of spiritual movement covering Ikot Ntan Nsit (two towns), Obiokpok, Ikot Udobia, Oboetok (three towns). James Okoh was an evangelist in the Apostolic Church in Obot Idim Nsit from 1933 till death. From Obot Idim Nsit, they spread to Ndot in Abak Local Government Area and the hinterland of Abak.
Late Pastor Tom Isangidoho spread the gospel through Ekeja Okobo and all Oron hinterlands.
- IN IBESIKPO:
Late Pastor O. B. Akpan was an earlier instrument to plant churches there.
- IKOT EKPENE:
One James Ukpong and others who were of the Faith Tabernacle at the time, changed to The Apostolic Church, this congregation formed the baby Apostolic Church in Ikot Ekpene.
- NUNG OBONG:
The church was planted through the conversion of the United African Congregation Church at Nung Obong to The Apostolic Church in 1934. The men involved in this church planting were: Obong Elijah Akpan, John Etukudoh, and Wilson Uko, all of blessed memory.
- OFRIYO EKET:
The church from Nung Obong spread into Ofriyo in Eket through the instrument of late Elder Tom Offong, father of late Pastor U. T. Offong, the 1st Eket Field Superintendent.
Figure 1: TACN Eket Field Headquarters, Akwa Ibom Territory
On the evangelistic work of Frank Okoh from Calabar to Obot Idim Nsit and beyond, one late Elder Harry Udofa a shoemaker from Ndot Abak who practiced his trade at Etinan took the gospel over there and through his witness and spiritual endowment, many got in contact with The Apostolic Church. This infant church was fanned into full frame by apostolic elders and ministers from Afia Nsit urua Nko in present Nsit Ibom Local Government Area, 1933 – 1935.
Figure 2: The research team- Pastors Oyeleke, Isaiah, Adeleye & Fatokun at TACN Ikot Ekpene Field, Akwa Ibom Territory (the Field Headquarters where the Territorial Chairman, Pastor Udoiyak presides)
Call and Ordination of Other Ministerial Staff
In passage of time and as the work continued to prosper and increase in the entire Calabar environs, many spirit filled servants of God were prophetically identified and called into the ministry of the church as Pastors or Prophets. These were called sequentially as the Lord found it necessary in their different locations. These were Pastors E. E. Okon (who later became the National President of the church in Nigeria); I. B. I. Ita, I. E. Henshaw, W. E. Ofon, W. E. Ekereuwem, D. C. Ufford, E. E. Barclay, E. E. E. Okody, E. N. E. Okody, Matthew Ettefia, E. N. Asama, Eyo Nsa Effiok, Philip Umoh, O. E. Hogan, Okon Nyong, Etim Okon Etim, O. E. E. Offiong, E. O. U. Ituen, E. I. Esshiet (who became the 1st Mainland/Akwa Ibom State Field Superintendent in 1983), Tom Isangidoho, R. E. Okokon, O. B. Akpan, B. E. Ene, E. E. Ikpana, E. I. Akamba, Jack Essien, B. U. Umoh (who later became the 2nd Akwa Ibom State Field Superintendent in 1995), J. A. Ufot, M. J. Otu, E. A. Asuquo, A. D. E. Udoh, M. E. K. Omokwe, Ekong Essien, E. E. Ukpong, E. E. Eta, E. E. Ekpenyong who died in Great Britain in 1981), A. O. Henshaw, O. A. Essien, B. O. Ita, O.U Afia and one Emetanjo.
All these called out men of God waxed strong and went about planting churches in various places in the entire Calabar Province as the Lord gave them the enablement. Consequently, between 1933 and 1935, the church was planted by indigenous Elders and Pastors in such key places as Obot Idim Nsit, Mkpok, Ikot Ekpene, Oron, Ikot Obiokoi, Etinan, Afia Nsit and Iwo Etor. The church was early established in these major communities before it took its spread through other places beyond Calabar Province such as Maritime Field, Igbo-land Territory and the present day Cameroons Republic.
Consequent upon the rapid growth of the church in the Calabar province, the need to have more missionary leaders became very necessary and an urgent concern of the church leaders in Calabar and Nigeria at large. The church in Britain therefore sent missionaries intermittently to come over and lead the work in different locations. The missionaries who were sent to help in the work in various times were: Pastors I. J. Vaughan and Noah Evans, Pastor and Mrs. V. Wellings, Pastor and Mrs. W. E. Rodes, Pastor and Mrs. Ford, Pastor Taylor, Pastor and Mrs. E. L. Harry, Mrs. Lewis, Pastor and Mrs. Thompson from Denmark, Pastor R. M. Kay, Pastor and Mrs. Ashwood, Pastor J. A. Philips, Pastor and Mrs. D. C. Hopkins, Pastor D. H. McGill, Pastor and Mrs. L. J. Derry, Pastor and Mrs. Rearson, Pastor Graham, Pastor and Mrs. Selby, Pastor and Mrs. Faran, Pastor and Mrs. Kirkwood and Pastor and Mrs. O. C. Sanderson, the Obot Idim Nsit Bible College Principal, the last of them all.
Administration of the Church It should be borne in mind that at this time, the church had grown greatly and gained maximum progress and expansion in almost every part of the province as well as most parts of Eastern Nigeria in general. But all this time, the church was governed from Lagos. The management of the work centrally from Lagos became strenuous and hazardous; it became imperative that a new administrative set up should be put in place. The Home Mission therefore broke The Apostolic Church Field in Nigeria into Areas and Calabar became a separate Area Superintendency.
Many missionaries having come to serve in this new administrative set up, Pastor and Mrs. D. C. Hopkins became the last Home Mission sent missionary to work in Calabar Area. Pastor and Mrs. Hopkins ended their missionary work in Calabar in 1963 and handed over the work to Pastor E. E. Okon, who was the 1st indigenous African Superintendent to lead the church in the Calabar Area of the time to 2010. Pastor E. E. Okon also became the First Indigenous African National President of The Apostolic Church Nigeria from 1983 to 2010, when he was called to glory.
The Church under European Missionaries (1933-1963):
As has been stated before, the first permanent missionary sent by the home mission in UK to this part of the globe was Idris Vaughan who arrived Calabar in 1933. This was the year the Church began to be fully directed and managed by the leadership of a European missionary. This was followed by many others until Nigeria became an Independent nation in 1960.
Apostles, prophets and pastors of different periods were called and ordained to oversee and minister to the rapidly multiplying Apostolic Church assemblies. The Apostles who were ordained were:- Pastors J. U. Udom, J. B. Ettefia, J. O. Assiak, E. N. O. Ene, B. E. Eta, and C. E. O. Mfon.
The prophets ordained were Pastors J. E. Ettefia, R. P. Akpabio, Joe Thomas and Peter Ndem and the Pastors E. E. Okon, I. B. I. Ita, I. E. Henshaw, W. E. Ofon, W. E. Ekereuwem, D. E. Ufford, E. E. Barclay, E. E. Okody, E. N. E. Okody, Matthew Ettefia, E. N. Asama, Eyo Nsa Effiok, Philip Umoh, O. E. Hogan, Okon Nyong, Etim Okon Etim, O. E. E. Offiong, E. O. U. Ituen, E. I. Esshiet, Tom Isangidoho, R. E. Okokon, O. B. Akpan, B. E. Ene, E. E. Ikpana, E. I. Akamba, Jack Essien, B.U. Umoh, J. A. Ufot, M. J. Otu, E. A. Asuquo, A. D. E. Udoh, M. E. K. Omokwe, Ekong Essien, E. E. Ukpong, E. E. Eta, O. B. Ekpenyong, A. O. Henshaw and O. A. Essien.
As the work expanded tremendously, missionaries were sent to help in the work. They were Pastors I. J. Vaughan, Noah Evans, Pastor & Mrs. V. Wellings, Pastor W. E. Rhodes, Pastor & Mrs. Ford, Pastor Taylor, Pastor & Mrs. E. L. Harry, Mrs. Lewis, Pastor & Mrs. Thompson, from Denmark, Pastor R. M. Kay, Pastor & Mrs. Ashwood, Pastor J. F. Philips, Pastor & Mrs. D. C. Hopkins, Pastor D. H. McGill, Pastor & Mrs. L. J. Derry, Pastor & Mrs. Pearson, Pastor & Mrs. E. H. Williams, Pastor & Mrs. Tamar from Switzerland, Pastor Graham, Pastor & Mrs. Selby, Pastor & Mrs. Faran, and Pastor & Mrs. Kirkwood.
In 1936, Pastor E. N. O. Ene visited TAC Great Britain with Pastor Babatope from Ilesha Area. The second batch of African pastors who visited England on their invitation was Pastor E. E. Okon and O. B. Ekpenyong in 1959 (unfortunately the latter died there). The death of Pastor O. B. Ekpenyong was shocking and in fact irreparable loss to the church and Primary Schools of which he was the Supervisor.
The growth of the church was unabated, but as it is not uncommon to happen in such a fast-growing organization for problems of stupendous magnitude to manifest, there arose a sharp disagreement between some African Apostles and the white missionaries over the government of the church in 1946. Some of the accusations made against the white missionaries were that they ruled the church for self interest financially at the expense of the African pastors. That the question of educational establishments was neglected when the children of the church members found it difficult to gain admission to other denominational institutions of learning. ‘The Big Five’ and the leaders of The Apostolic Church who led the opposition, Pastor J. U. Udom, Jonah Ettefia, John Obot Assiak, John Ettefia and Robert Price Akpabio, failed in their attempt to take over the government from the missionaries. This caused a serious split.
As a result of this split, the International Missionary Committee in Bradford sent Pastor H. Cousen to go and settle the matter. He was posted into Calabar in December of that year. He tried to bridge the gap by convincing ‘the big five’ to withdraw their protest and resolutions to the International Missionary Committee in Bradford but he was met with bitter resentment. The people had taken their decision very untimely, not backed by the majority. The spirit of rebellion had seated in their hearts and they refused to correct the wrongs they had committed. The outcome was that they walked out of the convention meeting in December, 1946, when the issue was mentioned in the meeting to found Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church.
The Church under Indigenous African Leadership
(a) 1st African Superintendent:
The church had grown through leaps and bounce with a very short span of time due to the zeal of the Lord and the enablement of the Holy Spirit abundantly operating amongst the saints. Consequently, in 1963, the home mission in UK decided to allow the church to be administered by African leader whom God had by His knowledge ordained. Thus, Pastor D. C. Hopkins who was the last Superintendent for Calabar Province handed over the work to Pastor E. E. Okon, as the first African superintendent for Calabar province. The church greatly developed during the leadership of Pastor E. E. Okon and covered such areas as the Cameroons, Maritime, Igboland, Andoni and all nooks and crannies of established communities in the old Calabar province. Pastor Okon through the divine plan of God also became the first National President of The Apostolic Church Nigeria until his glorification in 2010.
Under the administration of late Pastor E. E. Okon and his council, the first Field creation was done in favour of the Mainland areas of the then Cross River State; named: The Apostolic Church Mainland Field, which comprised of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Eket, Oron, Ikot Abasi areas. This Field was administered by Pastor Edem Inyang Esshiet, whose transition took place in 3 November, 1993. In continuity of the work, Pastor Benson Udeme Umoh became the second Field Superintendent, and during his administration, the Field was renamed Akwa Ibom State Field due to the State creation by the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1987.
After the glorification of Pastor B. U. Umoh in December 1997, the Akwa Ibom State Field was subdivided into three major Fields; namely:
- i) Uyo Field – under the leadership of late Apostle A. M. Ikpe.
- ii) Eket Field –under the leadership of late Apostle U. T. Offong.
iii) Ikot Ekpene – under the leadership of late Apostle S. P. Umoh.
With great development experienced by this creation, demand for Field creation began to mount pressure on the leadership of the church. Pastor Eyo Edet Okon before his death created more fields – all from the former Cross River State. These administrative Fields are:
- i) Oron Field in Akwa Ibom State;
- ii) Ikot Abasi field in Akwa Ibom State;
iii) Calabar Field in Cross River State
- Creek Town field in Cross River State;
- Akpabuyo field in Cross River State;
- Northern Cross River State Field in Cross River State;
- Igboland Territory
Also in continuity of this vision, the recently retired National President, Pastor (Dr.) G. O. Olutola and his members of the National Executive Council approved and created other vibrant Fields in the nation, namely, Ugep Central Field from Northern Cross River State Field, Ngo Field from Maritime Field.
In all, the work of The Apostolic Church in the Old Eastern Region of Nigeria is solely in the hands of indigenous African leadership and has metamorphosed currently into four administrative Territories (namely, Cross River, Igboland, Maritime and Akwa Ibom) and a Field (Andoni Field).