Egbe: A Jerusalem in Nigeria

Rev. Tommy Titcombe (right) in 1914 with Nigerian helper, Joseph.

All of her life, she had known her grandfather and grandmother’s work in Nigeria. It never occurred to her that she could actually be here to see first hand the place where her grandparents had worked and served, but as she grew older, she began to think about this possibility. It came to pass that in October 2016, 108 years after her late grandparents, Rev. Thommy and Ethel Titcombe left Canada for Nigeria on evangelism; Diane Martin arrived Egbe, Kogi State from Vancouver.

Egbe, also known as Egbe Mekun is a Yoruba, predominantly Christian community located in Yagba West Local Council in Kogi State, whose origin is traced to Oyo and Ile-Ife in the South Western part of Nigeria.

Rev. Titcombe is reputed to have brought Christianity to Yagba axis of Okunland, the Yoruba speaking area of Kogi State in 1908 through the instrumentality of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), which later changed to Evangelical Churches of West Africa and now Evangelical Churches Winning All (ECWA). Joined by Wife, Ethel, and other missionaries, Christianity began to spread like bush fire in the area. It effectively ended idol worshipping, killing of twins and the Nupe sovereignty. It is not by accident of history that today; Egbe is populated by 99.9 percent Christians.

Titcombe established what today is known as First ECWA Church in Egbe, and several years after the exit of Oyinbo Egbe, as he was fondly called by the locals, the foundations laid by SIM served as the launchpad for the prominence attained by the community among its peers. The ECWA Hospital, established in 1952 by another SIM missionary and surgeon from Canada, Dr. George Campion, perhaps one of the best healthcare institutions in Sub-sahara Africa; the famous Titcombe College; ECWA School of Nursing and Midwifery; George Campion Academy; ECWA Primary Schools; Egbe Airstrip; Iwele Dam, the Egbe Museum, the Centenary edifice, and the establishment of 13 more ECWA churches and over 50 other churches including Catholic, Baptist, Celestial and Pentecostal churches are some of SIM’s offspring and legacies. The yearly ECWA Conference, also known as Ipade Egbe from time immemorial, drew Christian worshippers from across the country to Egbe every second week of January. And yet, the community maintained its old traditions, such as Aare Festival, which holds every nine years and its traditional titles. Inhabited by hospitable indigenes, Egbe is located at the base of surrounding hills of savannah vegetation, which are visible, as you move around the town. This explains why it is referred to as “Jerusalem in Nigeria.”

For Titcombe’s granddaughter, Diane Martin, being part of the second edition of the yearly Egbe Unity Day in 2016 was a feat made possible by an abounding grace of God.

In her message sent from Canada, a year after she visited Nigeria, Diane Martin wrote: “I actually attempted to go on two different occasions, for the 2008 Centenary of Christianity in Egbe and later for the ECWA Hospital Revitalisation launch, but plans never materialised and it did not seem to be God’s timing for me. Rick and Martha Bradford, current SIM missionaries serving in Egbe came to visit my mother and me last spring. It was a blessing to meet someone actually living there (Nigeria), to see the photos they brought, to receive the greetings and love that they relayed. It was at this time that Rick suggested that I tried again to visit Egbe. I prayed about it, preceded to make plans to go, and if God willed it for me to go this time, I asked that He would please open the doors for me. Well! Not only did He open doors, He took the doors off the hinges! I was amazed and humbled by His provision for every detail, beyond all my expectations.

“I discovered there was someone from Egbe living here (Vancouver, Canada) and working downtown. He did not know that anyone from the Titcombe family was here and we did not know that anyone from Egbe was here as well. But God brought us together through Rick and Martha Bradford, as he was providing a place for them to stay during their visit. His name is Wale Adedoyin, he is a Titcombe College graduate and his father, Chief Doyin Bolaji continues to live in Egbe and is the owner and principal of Heritage College. In His abounding grace, God opened the door for Wale to accompany me from Vancouver to Egbe and back home again.”

On her return flight from Nigeria, right from the airport in Vancouver, Diane asked to be driven straight to her mum, Edith’s place. Her mother, being one of the twins born to Tommy and Ethel Titcombe in Egbe 98 years ago.

“I had an immediate message that I needed to tell her right then and there before I got home and even unpack my suitcases. And I knelt beside her wheelchair and I took her hands,” she said.

She told her mother that Egbe people, wherever she went were grateful that her parents brought Christ to their lives. “Many faces, many wonderful sounds, many special celebrations, many moving sights, many delicious flavours, many meaningful words shared, all fill my heart as I sit here in Vancouver.” Her aged mum, she revealed, “was so moved. She was so emotional, as I held her hands and related these messages of love and appreciation.”

Edith died earlier this year at 98.

One significant takeaway of Diane’s visit to Nigeria was the “You are welcome ma” greeting culture.

She said: “In Vancouver, it is very commonplace for people to walk past each other. I don’t think it is a matter of being rude. People are just preoccupied, perhaps, or in a hurry or wary of strangers. But not in Egbe! The moment I stepped out of the bus on to the soil of the palace grounds, it was ‘you are welcome ma,’ said with a big smile, it was genuine welcome, hospitality and joy. Whether I was walking along the hospital ground, the guesthouse or visiting the town, a local school or church, everyone took time to say hello, to acknowledge that you were passing by, to make you feel that you mattered and I never took it for granted. Every time I heard ‘you are welcome ma,’ my heart warmed up and I broke into a huge smile.

“Since I came back home (to Canada), I make a point of saying hello to everyone I pass with the familiar Egbe warmth and care. It is fun to see people respond back or at the very least look at me curiously. Maybe it will catch on!”

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