JOSEPH AYODELE BABALOLA (1904-1959)
Among the revivalists of the 20th century, no one embodied the Pentecostal movement more than Joseph Babalola. In 1930, he became the central figure of the revival that ignited when his prayer revived a dead child at Ilesha.
Joseph Ayo Babalola was born at Ilofa, near Odo-Owa, in the present-day Kwara State, on April 25th, 1904. By January 18, 1918, he accompanied his cousin, Mr Rotimi to Lagos, where he began his education. He quit primary school education at Standard Four, in 1928, and then left to take up an appointment in the Public Works Department (P.W.D), as a steamroller driver.
While on his daily schedule along the Ilesha-Akure road in October 1928, the roller he was driving suddenly stopped functioning. At this point, he heard a voice that asked him to abandon his work, and go and preach the gospel. Not certain of the origin of the strange voice, he undertook a seven-day fast. During the fast, the Lord Jesus Christ visited him and gave him a bell, which symbolized the Lord’s authority given to him to ward off evil spirits. He was also given a rod, with the interpretation given in Psalm 2:8,9. Thirdly, he was given a bottle of water, which was for the healing of all sickness and ailments. He was told that any time he prayed over water and gave it to the people, they would be healed.
Armed with this revelation, Babalola set out to Ilofa, his hometown. He arrived at Ilofa, a distance of about eighty miles, in August 1930 at 10:00 pm. He entered the town on a market day, in a very strange manner reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet. He was naked, covered with palm fronds, and had a bell in his hand which he rang to awaken and raise an alarm to the people. Many people who saw him mistook him as mad. Babalola held several meetings at the Anglican Church in Ilofa. But his stay was short-lived because a petition was written against him to the Anglican Bishop in the person of Bishop Smith, complaining about his unfamiliar manner of preaching, and his very loud prayers.
On November 29th, Babalola held a meeting with the Faith Tabernacle Congregation brethren in Lagos during which he explained to them his encounter with the Lord; he was warmly received and baptized by Pastor Sadare.
Months later, he decided to return to Lagos to see the brethren at the Faith Tabernacle so as to acquaint himself with the doctrines and tenets of the Church. However, rather than allow him to come over to Lagos, the brethren advised him to wait for them at Ibadan, they were to meet him there while on their way to Ilesha.
THE SPARK IN ILESHA
The meeting was eventually held on the 9th and 10th of July, 1930. While it was in session, a sudden divine disruption that affected the course of events at the meeting occurred. According to some sources, a lady who was carrying her dead child, a boy, was passing close to the venue of the meeting, when Babalola was led by the Spirit to come out from the venue of the meeting to go and pray for the dead boy. After his prayers, the dead child came back to life. This incident triggered off the revival many of the revivalists had been praying for. The spark of what later came to be known as the Babalola revival had been lit in Ilesha.