|Urhobo Historical Society|
|THE LIFE AND WORK OF AGORI IWE|
FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
|Originally Published in 1998 |
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
RETIREMENT AND REST
If you have read the rest of this biography from the first chapter till the last, little need be said here, to convince the reader of the greatness, the saintness, and leadership qualities of Bishop Agori Iwe.
The adage, ‘the taste of the pudding is in the eating’ says it all. And yet what you have read is only an insight into the ma Agori Iwe. Here, I confess my inadequacies for doing less exhaustive Biography of Agori Iwe than I had anticipated. Perhaps it is proper that it should be so, in order that others coming after me can still have more, indeed much more, to write on Agori Iwe.
Agori was a pioneer through and through. His decision to move C.M.S. Headquarters from Otovwodo, to Ovwodawanre, in 1947, a vast land not occupied by any one, the cutting down of the gigantic trees of the land, the shooting at the owls which perched on those trees and instilled fear on the single household there at the time – all this speaks eloquently of his pioneering spirit. Agori was a pioneer C.M.S. Teacher in Urhoboland; he was a pioneer catechist in Urhoboland; he was a pioneer pastor; he was the first Urhobo to be elevated to the rank of an Archdeacon; and He was a pioneer Bishop of the Diocese of Benin.
An in all these spheres of life he displayed sterling qualities of a born leader. As an outstanding leader of his people he disciplined himself both in his private life and in public life. And he was endowed with such a charisma that all he led looked up to him as an example to follow if possible – if possible, because not all who admired his sterling qualities of leadership could follow his examples.
He so endeared himself to his own local community of Okuama, that he became known as Agori of Okuama. As will be recalled, he saved the Okuama community from the wrath of the government of the day. Wherever he served whether in Urhoboland, or in Igboland, or in Bini land as Bishop of Benin Diocese, he laboured selflessly and was ready to spend and be spent in the service of the master; materialism did not attract him otherwise he would have been lured to work in Government on his return from St. Andrew’s College Oyo. When people rioted in College because of food, he could say, he did not come all the way from Urhoboland to Oyo in Yorubaland to eat food, but to be trained as a Church leader for his people. And all his life he lived in the spirit of the prayer of Ignatius Loyola.
Lord teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wound To toil and not to seek for rest
To labour and not to ask for any reward, save the joy of knowing that I am doing
As one of his children testified to this writer, while as a Bishop in Benin Diocese while lesser men in secular jobs enjoyed watching Television, they could not, because their father, though a Bishop, could not afford it at the time. Instead he spent his little earnings for the education and training of his children. And much of it on hospitality.
In his presidential address to his synod at Agbor in 1973 (See App I) the theme of which was “Ambassadors for Christ”, the Bishop exposed the differen dimensions of the life of a Christian illustrated by the nicknames given to him. Says the Bishop the Christian
(a) is called soldier because of his warfare against sin, the world, and the devil.
(b) He is called foreigner to define his status in the world.
(c) He is called a Pilgrim to illustrate his life’s journey on earth.
(d) He is called a servant to mark him, a person under the command of a great master.
(e) And a Christian is depicted an Ambassador – representative of a great king, in a country, not his own”
In his life journey Agori Iwe depicted all these aspects of the Christian life. After serving His master faithfully, as teacher, preacher, Evangelist, Pastor, Priest, Administrator, and Bishop from 1923 to 1977, he retired 21 March 1977. But in his retirement Agori had little time to rest because of a crisis which followed the choice of a Bishop for Warri Diocese which was well known, that crisis almost ruined the Anglican Church in Warri Diocese. The though must have been agonizing to Agori, as he recalled those churches, many of which he founded, and all those churches must have been similar to the experience of St. Paul who said “apart from other things, there is, the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corin. 11:28).
And when on the eve of his departure the crisis had not been resolved, in order not to leave the flock entrusted to him without a shepherd he was constrained to single-handedly consecrate Rev. Canon John Onyaene Dafiewhare Bishop for the people. The merits and demerits of that action we cannot enter into here. But Agori must have carried out that action as a last resort, and that was his last public duty in the church militant, before His master whom he served so faithfully called him to eternal rest on Monday 9th July, 1979. Only a man who had the courage of his conviction could have acted the way he did.
It was Thomas A. Kempis who wrote:
“hard to many seems this word, deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow Jesus. But far harder will it be to hear that final word, depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire. For those who readily hear and follow out the word of the cross now, will not then be afraid of hearing about the never ending condemnation. The sign of the cross will be in the heavens, when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the cross who conformed themselves in life to be crucified will approach Christ the judge with great confidence”. (Imitation of Christ, p. 68).
So will his faithful soldier and servant, Agori Iwe.
At the funeral service for Agori Iwe, his children composed and rendered a song the first three verses of which read.
Bishop Agori Iwe
Your spirit lives on
As we gather here today
To remember you
For your contributions to Christianity
We will remember you
Everyday of our life.
Chorus: We will remember you
For your courage
And your determination
To spread the gospel
You were never tired
You worked till the end.
Chorus: We will remember you..
Your exemplary life is leading us
To meet the challenges of our daily lives
You taught us to be humble
Chorus: We will remember you.
Surely, not only those who knew Agori in the flesh, but all who heard his story, and read his biography, will remember him. For, we shall all be remembered by what we have done.
Work, for the night is coming
Under the sunset skies
While their bright lights are glowing
Work, for day light flies
Work till the last beam fadeth
Fadeth to shine no more
Work while the night is darkening
When man’s work is o er
Then, you will rest from your labour as all the faithful departed have done.