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My wife Dorothy and I read books together. Recently we have been reading “Fire In His Bones: The Story of Benson Idahosa” by Ruthanne Garlock. I knew Benson, as both of us were involved with Jim Bakker and The PTL Club. Also, he was a great friend and mentor to my friend Harry Westcott, who took over Vision Ministries in Australia when we moved to America in 1980. Benson ministered for me several times, including in Sydney, after a major crusade with Harry Westcott in Canberra. He also ministered for me when I was pastoring a church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. However, although I knew basic things about Benson, I did not know all the details. The book “Fire in His Bones” gave me a greater appreciation for this extraordinary man of God.
I want to share some of the things that stood out for us as we read the book, as we can all learn lessons from this great man of God.
BENSON OVERCAME OBSTACLES IN HIS EARLY LIFE
Benson was born in Nigeria. When he was a baby, he kept fainting every few days. His father rejected him and told his mother to put Benson out on a rubbish heap and leave him there to die. His mother did so but later rescued him during a storm. Deciding to leave her husband, she fled to her parents home taking her baby with her. Later, after Benson’s parents were reunited, Benson and his mother returned to live with Benson’s father.
BENSON HAD A THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE
When Benson was eight years old, he was enrolled at the Anglican Mission School at the edge of their village. Attending school stimulated Benson as nothing else ever had in his mostly mundane existence.
However, this was short-lived, as when Benson was eleven years old, his father sent him to live and work with his Uncle Joseph. Besides doing fieldwork, he served as the “house boy,” gathering and chopping firewood and hauling water for his uncle’s two wives. At night, he slept on a grass mat. His cousins, who were younger than him, seemed to like him immediately, and together they would play games at night.
Benson’s cousins were enrolled in a school, but Benson was required to work, so he was not allowed to attend. However, in the early evenings after supper, he would sit with his cousins as they went over the lessons they had learned that day. This became Benson’s classroom and gave him a chance to learn. He was an eager scholar and worked on the lessons at every opportunity with dogged determination. Later, he returned to live with his parents.
BENSON BECAME A BELIEVER
When he was sixteen years old, Benson’s paternal grandmother in Benin City invited him to live with her. She agreed to pay his school fees at a Methodist boarding school 70 miles away. After completing the course at the boarding school, he returned to Benin City, moving to the Iyara District to live with his Aunt Beatrice. There, he visited various churches.
One Sunday afternoon, through a series of events, he experienced healing at the hands of Pastor Okpo, who invited him into his small church. It was there that he prayed to be born again. When Benson got up from his knees that day, he felt like a new person. Later he was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, he became involved with Pastor Okpo and his church. At the same time, he shared his new experience in Christ with everyone he saw. After becoming a Christian, Benson’s thirst for knowledge was greater than it had ever been. He even enrolled in a correspondence course from a school in England to study accounting and business administration.
BENSON PROVED HIMSELF IN A SECULAR POSITION
Through his grandfather, Benson was introduced to the manager of the Bata Shoe Company, where he was given a job as an assistant to the stock clerk. From the first day at his new position, Benson quickly learned the procedures of his tasks and won the admiration of his supervisors. With his first pay envelope, he took out 20% of his earnings to give to his church.
During this time, he went back to visit his parents and witnessed to them about Christ. He later led his mother to the Lord before she died. He also began to organize teams of people from his church to witness in villages surrounding Benin City. Two years after beginning his job at Bata Shoe Company, he was promoted and given a salary increase. He was now 25 years old and felt it was time to rent his own small apartment.
BENSON RECEIVED A CALL FROM GOD
One night Benson was abruptly awakened from sleep by the sound of a voice speaking to him. Sitting up in bed, he knew it was a message from the Lord Himself. “I have called you that you might take the gospel around the world in my name. Preach the gospel, and I will confirm my word with signs following.” The room seemed charged with the persona of God. Benson fell to his knees, “Lord, wherever you say to go, I will go. Whatever you say to do, I will do.”
The following night he had a vision of being in a large field with a great tree standing in the middle. The tree was completely dead. The Lord instructed him, “Stand under the tree. Someone will come and ask you for help.” Starting with one lady in her eighties, people came to stand under the tree, and Benson helped them put down their loads. Eventually, young men began to help Benson. At the same time, the branches on the tree were densely covered with leaves, and the tree was now vibrant with life. The voice spoke again, “This is what I shall do with your life. If you begin to help people drop their burdens at My feet, I will bring back to life that which was dead. Just as you are now standing before this great multitude, you will one day stand before thousands around the world and speak of my great power to heal and perform miracles.”
BENSON FOUND A WIFE
Benson’s growing relationship with a special young lady, Margaret Izeubigie is a story in itself. At first, it was more like an older brother-sister relationship. It was at this time Benson was used to pray for a baby that had died. The baby came back to life and Margaret was deeply moved by the event to the point that she prayed for Jesus to forgive her sins and come into her life.
After Margaret had completed a course at the Teacher Training College, Benson visited her one evening in a pretty serious mood. He told her, “Margaret, I have been praying about finding a wife, and I believe the Lord has shown me you are the one I am to marry.” The young woman was taken entirely by surprise. On top of that, she didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife. However, on April 6, 1967, they were married in the little storefront building where Benson was teaching Bible studies. Over the years, she developed in leadership and a ministry of her own in conjunction with Benson.
BENSON’S MINISTRY STARTED SMALL AND GREW
As the section of Benin City where Benson was now living had no full-gospel church, Benson felt the need to begin instructing the new Christians in their walk with God. People had been crowding into the little storefront building for the Bible study sessions when Benson had a dream about a short street leading off the main road. The Lord spoke to him, “In that place is some vacant land that I have kept for Myself to begin a work for my glory.” The owner wanted about six hundred dollars, but he told Benson, “You’ll never make it.” On a Sunday in April 1970, Benson asked the people to give offerings and make pledges. By the end of the week, the amount needed had come in.
During this time, Benson also overcame opposition by the elders of the church, who were seeking to replace him. Benson didn’t fight it, and God took action to remove the four elders, and Benson’s position as pastor was vindicated.
BENSON SOUGHT A FATHER IN THE FAITH
Alone in his bedroom one day, Benson was praying when the Lord spoke to him very clearly “I have a servant in Ilesha named Elton, whom you have never met. Go there and see him.” Benson had a vision of what the man looked like: a white man with gray hair, about sixty years old. Benson went with one of his elders to Ilesha, one hundred and seventy miles away. Eventually, Benson was able to meet him and tell him that, “The Lord had called me to come and see you and ask you to be my father to lead me in the ministry.” Elton became his father in the faith and, in time, introduced him to Gordon Lindsey of Christ for the Nations in Texas, who would help put the roof on their church building. Benson and Elton decided to get together at least once a month so that Elton could give advice and direction to Benson’s ministry.
BENSON RECEIVED FURTHER TRAINING
In early 1971, Gordon Lindsey came to visit Benson. At a gathering that followed, Elton turned to Gordon Lindsey and said, “I believe this man is going to be a key man in the work of God in Nigeria – I think we ought to ordain him for the ministry.” “Yes, I agree,” said brother Lindsey and then and there they ordained him.
Benson also received an invitation to come to Dallas, Texas, with a scholarship to study at Christ for the Nations. The shoe company gave him leave to go, and Benson began his studies as the first foreign student at the school. However, this schooling was cut short as Benson felt a great call to return to Benin City. He had learned a lot in the short time he was there and took books back with him to continue his studies in Nigeria.
BENSON HAD A ZEAL FOR EVANGELISM
Back in Nigeria, the fire burned in his soul, and he began to plan for evangelism. They booked Ogbe Stadium for a four-day crusade in February 1972. Such a thing had never been done before, and by the final night, about ten thousand people came. Seven hundred were born again, and many were healed. In the months following, Benson conducted crusades in other parts of Nigeria. It was at this time he resigned from his position at the shoe company. At first, they wouldn’t accept his resignation as he was such a good worker.
BENSON FOUND WAYS TO ENLARGE THE MINISTRY
As 1973 was drawing to a close, a year of unpredicted progress, they had an end-of-the-year Thanksgiving rally to give thanks to God and present plans for the year ahead. At the rally, Benson appealed to the people to give for the expansion of the work of God. “We need these things. A car, an organ, and land. A young man gave his car, and the police commissioner gave the money for the organ. Then a young four-year-old child ran up to the platform where his father, a lawyer, was sitting. “Daddy, Daddy, you have land,” the boy said. His father tried to quiet him by giving him a sweet. “No. I don’t want a sweet,” the boy said, “you have lots of land… why don’t you give the land.” The man gave in to his son. “Okay, I will give them land,” he said to his son. “Go up there and tell the pastor for me.”
At this time, Benson began to see the potential of television, and he started a program called “Redemption Hour,” which became the best program on the local station. Eventually, Jim Bakker of the PTL Club came to support the Television ministry. In November 1975, the church was dedicated, and Mrs. Gordon Lindsey was the speaker. Increasing numbers of crusades were conducted in various parts of Nigeria, and as a result, hundreds of churches were opened.
BENSON WORKED WITH REINHARD BONNKE
Benson invited evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, based in South Africa, to join him in a crusade in Ibadan, the third-largest city in Nigeria. Bonnke, in his book “Living a Life of Fire, described Benson as “a man with a tremendous reputation for evangelism” (Bonnke, 2009). Bonnke knew that he disagreed with Benson’s general approach. He said, “I preached the gospel of salvation first miracles of healing following. Benson conducted healing ministry first, then preached the message of the Gospel” (Bonnke, 2009). Night after night, Benson and Bonnke alternated preaching. Each night the crowds grew. It was estimated the largest crowd was 250,000 people.
Now, Bonnke doesn’t say this in his book, but it is interesting to note that prior to the crusade with Benson Idahosa, Bonnke had used an enormous tent for his meetings. However, after the crusade with Benson, he moved into stadiums and the open air. It is all recorded in a chapter in Bonnke’s book entitled “A Fiery Trial – A New Direction.” It seems that the crusade with Benson marked the beginning of a new phase in Bonnke’s ministry.
BENSON HEARD THE VOICE OF THE LORD
All through his ministry, when making major decisions, Benson was led by revelation more than reason. He would receive a word from the Lord, a revelation, and he would act on it in faith and obedience. As such, he was bold and fearless as a leader.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Benson died in March 1998 at the comparatively young age of 60. Yet, he left a legacy that still inspires people to this day. He was a bold and fearless leader, a man of faith and obedience in following the Lord, who God used mightily both in his home country of Nigeria and worldwide. A man who was prepared to do whatever the Lord told him to do. Just think of some of the life lessons we have highlighted here concerning Benson:
- He overcame a horrible beginning to life
- He had a thirst for learning
- He became a believer, a follower of Jesus
- He proved himself in a secular position
- He received a call from God
- He found a wife to share in his ministry
- He started his ministry small, and it grew.
- He sought a father in the faith to advise him
- He received training and was a lifetime learner
- He had a zeal for evangelism
- He sought ways for the ministry to enlarge
- He worked with others, including Reinhard Bonnke
- He heard the voice of the Lord and responded in faith and obedience
In all this, he left a legacy. I thank God for such a man as Benson Idahosa. May God raise up more like him, bold and fearless in proclaiming His Word.
Garlock, R. (1981). Fire in his bones: The story of Benson Idahosa. Plainfield, NJ: Logos International.
Bonnke, R. (2009). Living a Life of Fire: An Autobiography. United States: E-R Production.