By Oyeyinka Oludayisi Fabowale
“In Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith, you have the spherical, stirring and spicy story of a multi-faceted and quintessential cleric many in Nigeria and the global community have always longed to know more intimately. Not told elsewhere before, the presentations amount to a faithful account of this unique man… No aspect of his persona has escaped the rare biography. From the untold story of his early life to his exploits as a global spiritual force, the narrative is bound to challenge you and alter your perspective on this apostle of holiness.”
This claim on the blurb of a newly published biography of Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi, General Superintendent of Deeper Life Christian Ministry and Deeper Life Bible Church (Worldwide), would easily be dismissed as mere exaggeration, a selling gimmick. That a book, half the size of an A4 paper and containing a modest 325 pages, can capture the widely ramified life story of one of world’s foremost influential Christian leaders and reformers of this age, is as incredible as it is audacious!
The authors themselves appear to appreciate this fact too. Hence, a caveat entered in the introduction to the work: Though unprecedented and peerless by sheer volume and depth of credible information, insights and appreciation it proffers on the subject, the attempt to capture all the details of the momentous career of the illustrious preacher and evangelist in a single volume as this “could be but only a feeble shot”, they humbly admit.
Despite their modesty, the reader must agree, after engaging this work, that the quartet of Banji Ojewale, Segun Babatope, Emeka Izeze and Tunde Opeibi has almost certainly written the most definitive, authoritative and exhaustive account ever about the inspiring life and works of the enigmatic cleric and preacher who transformed a fledgling 15-member Bible study group into a global movement that has changed the course of Christianity in Nigeria and beyond in the last 50 years through a ‘radical’ doctrine that spurred a resurgence of righteous character and conduct as against debilitating orthodoxy, syncretism, worldliness and materialism widespread in Christendom in the 60s, 70s and 80s and which has resiliently stood against aggressive influx and upsurge of entertainment – oriented preaching that has negatively impacted the standard of Christianity in recent years.
Acclaimed as the first in-depth, systematic exploration, synthesis and documentation of diverse aspects of Kumuyi’s personality and career presumably lacking in existing fragments of resource materials -articles, reports, interviews and other publications including those from his two reputed organizations – DCLM, DLBC and their affiliates, the biography bears the authority and imprimatur of sources with inside knowledge or close enough to know much of the deep, intimate disclosures about the eminent cleric. It also evidences excellent literary/journalistic craftsmanship – what with the genius, brevity, terseness and elegance it blends, compacts and presents tonnes of information, views and arguments, in one gripping narrative flow!
These qualities, of course, do not surprise, as the authors belong to the privileged ring of the iconic evangelist’s close associates and mentees, some of them accomplished masters in the writing profession.
The fact also clears up the paradox in the book’s claim vis- a- viz its deceptively diminutive size and look.
In intense, breezy and well-paced narrative, dovetailing into sometimes deep reflective, elucidatory and persuasive discourse that nevertheless never loses its thread, the book in 14 chapters traces, interrogates and explains the phenomenal rise, persona, exploits and impact of this extraordinary religious movement leader and reformer.
From his relatively obscure and poor beginnings, his lifestyle, beliefs, motivations, goals, philanthropy, his famed unique systematic, expository and explicit preaching style to his charismatic leadership and organizational talents, and miracles which are hallmarks of his ministration.
His biographers also x-ray underlying principles and factors responsible for the growth and exploits of Kumuyi’s ministry through the lenses of the scripture, history, philosophy, scholarly paradigms as well as the views and testimonies of people who had encountered the man both within and outside of the church.
In the end emerges the portrait of a legend whose name encapsulates and emblematizes his destiny, life and mission. It is the story of the transformation of a mediocre, carefree youth into an intellectual powerhouse, firebrand preacher and extraordinary tool for a universal spiritual revival and soul-saving campaign.
It is a revelation and study in archetypal leadership and organisational skills and talent, depicting how Kumuyi, through personal example and a combination of uncanny and several spiritual and leadership development initiatives designed for his church members, built a formidable ministry that by 1988 ranked third largest single congregation and planted substructures in over 40 countries in Africa and 20 in other continents. The book also shares the ‘secrets’ of how the evangelist raised a huge army of hundreds of thousands of intrepid and fire-eating believers –men, women and youths of all ages, actively busy pushing the frontiers in every sector of the society and across social classes.
A glaring factor for Kumuyi’s success is his demonstrable leadership by example by which he inspires confidence of the multitude of his followers. In the book we see a cleric who practices what he preaches– an intense, devout, busy and low profile life, marked with modesty and simplicity. The Deeper Life boss is said to preach four to seven sermons per week in addition to regular ones at evangelistic crusades, retreats and other special meetings, counselling people and overseeing church administration. Never one to show off, he shuns security escorts and carries his Bible himself to the podium.
This lifestyle of Spartan discipline, hard work he imbibed from his strict parental upbringing and his atheistic mentor and principal of Mayflower School, Ikenne, the late Tai Solarin, under whose tutelage he ironically had the watershed spiritual experience of being ‘born-again’ after attending a Scripture Union programme in 1964!
Besides punctuality, meticulousness, adherence to rules and a whole lot of personal refinements in attributes and conduct, he is also reportedly the first to observe the “safeguard policies” he enjoins on church ministers and members to avoid temptations between the sexes. Besides keeping only male as personal assistants/secretaries and being accompanied on most of his travels by his wife, he allows just enough privacy and comfort for those who come to him for counselling, but makes the session conspicuous enough to forestall any indecent conduct.
The book is replete with accounts, which underscore Kumuyi’s humility in leadership. Until recent years, the church founder was addressed as ‘Brother’ by all, he had his hands and legs muddied while participating in physical work when the magnificent Deeper Life Headquarters building at Gbagada was being built at the site which used to be a marshy swamp and reportedly did his own share of the house chores including fetching water in the open field when as a bachelor he shared his apartment with mentees.
Pastor Kumuyi’s pulpit prowess is another sphere he has directly impacted humanity. His power-packed expository sermons and short, but fervent prayer are reputed to be efficacious; they free bound souls and are accompanied by signs and wonders. He teaches and interprets the Bible so lucidly and with such depth and novel way and context that his hearers, irrespective of their age, education and social status easily understand and are brought to recognize the higher standard of God’s expectation, their neglect and failure and are inspired to repent their sinful ways to avoid Divine wrath. Many weep and on being converted, become zealots of the church’s doctrinal creed which forbids among others, ostentatious living, dressing, wedding and other ceremonies, marriage to a non-believer and the concept of restitution that requires atoning (sometimes a rather inconvenient ordeal) after confessing one’s sins.
With copious scriptural quotes, the book supports and vigorously tries to explain some of the church’s positions including alleged forbidding of possession of entertainment and luxury gadgets like television, for which members are castigated and accused of misinterpreting in the extreme and being fanatical.
Interestingly, the book reports apparent new thinking or rethinking of some of Kumuyi’s and the church’s old stance on a number of issues including hitherto seeming aloofness in relating with other Pentecostal bodies as well as deployment of new media technologies and strategies to disseminate the gospel to the global audience. It has embraced and now transmits its messages via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, its website and several social media platforms to reach the world.
Pastor Kumuyi’s perceived indifference to politics, his silence over misrule by leaders and calls on the oppressed masses to pray for the authorities, which have earned him the accusation of being an enabler of oppression, also came under focus.
The book’s explanation, like clerics own response to the same charge over the Buhari government recently, is rooted in two Bible passages which see solutions to social problems not in obtrusive interventions or participation in secular affairs but in spiritual reformation.
Read: “All of man’s exploits including the immense political forces are themselves at the behest of God force”; and “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people”. To the clergyman, therefore, he need not play to the gallery by agitating or antagonizing government, to satisfy the media, but to fervently pray and give them advice without any media glitz, – a quiet endeavour, we learn in the book, dates back to the military era. Of course, he occasionally comments on governance, corruption and politics, but only as led by the Almighty to draw attention to a missing link in the society for the benefit of the entire society.
On miracles as feature in Kumuyi’s ministry, the book explains that the preacher does not hold them out as bait to entice or catch souls or win followers per se, but that their use is consistent with scriptures to convince people about the supernatural power of the Almighty and thus win their souls.
But, would such a measure not further indulge people to, in their ridiculous, arrogant belief in their self-importance, expect it as incentive to acknowledge their Creator and strive for their own salvation?
The authors argue that the acid test of the deployment of miracles is the integrity of the fruit the preacher’s ministration bears, which they remark, must be in sync with his calling, holiness, teaching and practise. The noble virtues of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and dedication to duty for which Deeper Life members are known and for which employers specifically request for them to fill various vacant positions vindicate the church and its leader.
Kumuyi’s agency benefitted immensely from studying almost all the major international preachers, evangelists and reformers across generations. Without any theological training, he studied books on Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon and taught himself piano, music. He learnt how they overcame difficulties and resiliently held their ground until their missions flourished beyond expectations.
Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith is also an odyssey on resilience, perseverance, fortitude, courage, grit and hard work, faith in God, which at various points in his life helped the charismatic religious leader to overcome his personal and ministerial battles as well as testy situations along his journey of destiny notably hostilities by colleagues, neighbours and professors’ and persecution including his expulsion and that of his band of fellow Bible students by their various churches in the early years. All this, however, turns out to be blessing in disguise as it imbued them with stoic courage with which they fearlessly evangelized and opposed all forms of indecency and adversaries of the Redemptive Word of Truth. It also accelerated the growth of the small group into the mega organization it eventually became.
It was the kind of courage a ‘witchdoctor’ in Ikorodu, Lagos saw in two young members of the church during an outreach that made him repent and “surrender his life to Jesus Christ”. Unmoved, the duo had dared him when he threatened them for warning him that he risked perdition unless he forsook ‘his evil ways.’
In defence and pursuit of the cause of the gospel, Kumuyi sacrificed his career at the University of Lagos, was excommunicated from the Apostolic Faith Church for “preaching without being an ordained minister” sold his cars and personal belongings and assets.
With fifty, a huge fraction of his almost 80 years, committed to this campaign, this brilliant mathematician-turned- famous preacher has proved that he is living his call, his destiny as Defender of the Faith’ which incidentally is the meaning of his name, William, from which the book derived its apt title! The others are no less symbolic– Folorunso “He whom God watches over” and Kumuyi or Ikumuyiwa “Death (of Christ which impelled preaching the gospel) has brought this”
Although not precisely indicated, the book is in two parts, with the first section covering chapters one to 11 as the main body of the story, while the second part consists of the last three chapters -12, 13 and 14. The concluding chapter forecasts the future of Kumuyi and his charge and submitted that the pace of work and development is unlikely to slow down with a man of such tremendous and boundless energy. The two preceding chapters contains a sesame of views, testimonies and anecdotal reminiscences by people across the world including heads of states, among them Zambian and South African leaders, former President of Benin Republic, Boni Yayi, church ministers, laity members and others who had encountered the preacher.
These chapters elaborate on, illustrate and attest to all that is written in the first part of the book.
Naturally, the authors’ detached and objective language and style, at least as much as they could manage up to this point, gave way, in some cases, to effusive emotional, exuberant and superlative lingo by the contributors in describing the church leader: “meteor”, “Bible expositor par excellence”, “my daddy”,” holy man of God”, “mentor”, “Uncommon General of God”.
With references, indexes at the back, a quick list of landmark events in Kumuyi’s life under the flag ‘Milestones’ on one of the fore pages, and photo illustrations clustered in the middle, Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the biographical and Christian literature in the quest to deepening the knowledge and understanding of the man, Kumuyi, his place on the national and global stages. It will also help readers to know how to focus and be committed to God, with Kumuyi’s example.
Here is a well-researched and well-baked fare everyone especially those interested in the history of Christianity in Nigeria and the world, leadership and development issues must have a taste of. The reader may also well find out that he knew so little about the man, Kumuyi, than he had probably imagined as he follows and savours the saga from the piquresque landscape and beautiful scenery of Erin Ijesa, the cleric’s birthplace and home to evergreen forests, rivers, brooks, and streams, projecting hills and rocks, to Lagos, other bustling cities and towns in Nigeria and Africa and nations’ capitals across the world, in thrilling prose!.