How I suffered so many personal losses that threatened my calling to ministry – Bishop Mike Okonkwo
Members of the Association of Christians Correspondents of Nigeria (ACCoN) on Wednesday, November 3, met with Mike Okonkwo, the presiding bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), during a courtesy visit to the revered Christian Leader’s TREM headquarters, Anthony Village, Lagos. SEYI JOHN SALAU was there and now brings the excerpts of the interview the bishop granted:
The Church is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary; can you tell us how the journey started and how it has been for you?
There is no way I will be able to articulate all that God has enabled us to do in 40 years of ministry. But, suffice it to say that for me, it has been 40 years of the adventure of faith; 40 years of foundation-laying; 40 years of seeing God for who God is; 40 years with all the blessings and goodness of God, but they are never without the challenges that come with them. But the good news is that in spite of the challenges that we have, because it is not just what they call a walk in the park at all. It has been like 40years that I ventured into faith; that means you don’t see everything manifest before you take your step. You take out the step because God told you to. And, when you took the step, God helps you to take the rest of the step.
That is the way it has been and through it all, I must tell you that it has been quite a very inspiring and encouraging experience, which I won’t take for granted – God has helped us; from the days of small beginning from where we have moved from to the days of convenience where anyone will desire to be. But God took us step-by-step and every step has been an experiment. So, I really give God the praise for what he has done with us so far, but I know that it’s just the tip of the iceberg just like ours.
What is the indication to the ministry?
Just like I was sharing with the congregation during our close of fast last week, which was last Sunday evening; that whatever we have been able to achieve as a ministry so far, that God is saying that is just a foundation we laid. And, being first-generation or the founding bishop of the ministry and God kept me alive so that I can ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the next generation that will now take it up to another level. Mindful of the fact that one person does not accomplish the vision that God has for a people.
Not one person if you want – If you understand that concept it will enable you to apply yourself, you see? The scriptures in Psalm 90 said, teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart to wisdom. So, there is a limitation by mortality; so, no matter the desire and aspiration you have for the work that God has called you: you still have human limitations, which you cannot accomplish in your lifetime. And that is scriptural because when you check the scripture, you will find out that most often, not one person accomplishes a vision. When you don’t understand that fact, then the vision will die in your hand, which I don’t intend that it does as far as we are concerned.
What are some of the peculiar challenges faced by the ministry in the last 40 years?
At the inception of the ministry; there were challenges of: first of all, is the difficulty in believing what God was telling me. I had a hard time believing some of the things that God was telling me that we were going to do in my lifetime in Ministry because looking at my background and how we were – I didn’t see the possibility of it happening. There were things that would have been a source of discouragement to me within the period at the inception of this ministry, I lost my first child at the age of 2-plus and by then we were just coming up, and for that to happen was enough to discourage me. And then while I was still thinking in terms of that and how with all those challenges, I lost another younger brother of mine, my immediate younger brother, who was a medical doctor who was a surgeon lieutenant in the Navy. Why it was too painful to me was the fact that he was more or less, the only person out of my family who stood with me. By then, he had not been to the university; he studied at the University of Lagos. By then, he just finished his higher HSE in Government College, Sokoto.
But he was the only one out of my entire family who supported me when I answered the call. No one believed in me. No one accepted and I should because I had to leave the bank to go to answer the call of ministry. I was working in the bank successfully, doing very well and suddenly I left the bank for the unknown. Not like today when ministry has become something that people are talking about and are attacking ministries and complaining and talking about ministries interested in money; collecting people’s money. In those days, to even think of being in ministry was a curse. When you tell somebody that you want to marry their daughter– it’s an anathema.
Why would you, who are you to come and marry? That was when I started a ministry. And so, this young man was supportive of me. Just believe that somehow God was going to see me through; but somewhere along the line after he’s been through school and he was working with the Navy as a medical doctor and he was shot by arm rubbers. It was when arm robbery was just starting in Lagos. It was arm robbers who shot him, and shot him right inside the Church, but not outside the Church – then we were at Akoka.
He was shot inside the Church when he came to carry out an assignment that I gave to him. So, you can imagine that; I mean that will raise a lot of questions in your mind. This young man came to the Church after service on Sunday to come and carry out the assignment I gave to him only for him to lose his life in the attempt. So, it was very painful – that’s another one and I can tell you many others that transpired.
So, those are some of the experiences and that incident caused me to lose my father. And, of course, after that, my mum, and I lost two other brothers. So, it’s been one tragedy after another in terms of death, and of course, while growing up we had to fight for our property. There were many properties we bought but lost which are some of the things you face in ministry.
There are currently concerns about succession in churches that do generate issues; can you give fatherly advice on this?
I don’t see why succession should be an issue for any Church that must have longevity. Like I said earlier. Why should it be an issue? let me start with Archbishop Idahosa’s issue. Archbishop Idahosa’s wife was in ministry. I quite believe that it’s not every pastor’s wife that is called to ministry. The fact that your husband is so, so, so or you are the pastor or general overseer does not automatically bestow upon you the right to become a person. But I also believe there are people whose wives are called but in their own rights into ministry. In their own rights, they are called by God just like their husbands are called.
And so, I know very clearly that Idahosa’s wife was involved in ministry. The fact that people are agitating does not change anything; the woman was called to ministry. And as at the time the man passed, she was the only one among the people who were there who has the capacity of holding that ministry if there was going to be continuity. I know a lot of people who are in that organization; some of them were very close, but the truth was that at that time she was the only one that could be able to hold the ministry going until now.
The same thing applies to any – I’m not just going to advocate for anybody out of sentiment so that it may remain in the family. For instance, the Redeemed Christian Church, Adeboye was the least person to be appointed of all the leaders of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who were older than him.
So, for him to be appointed shows that it’s not about family. Actually, the man has children but he did not appoint them to show that it is not about family. So, the transition should not create problem. Foursquare for example; they have a written document; so, if there is any rumble in the place – it shouldn’t be. Their document reads that there will always be tenure change. So, it’s not the case of you are a general overseer, you remain there forever. So, you do your tenure and then step down for another person to take over.
So, if somebody decides that he wants to remain there; obviously, it will create problems but that should not be at all. So, we as a ministry also have in our document the base of transition. If anything happens to me, the Church will not stop because something happened to me. We have in our document how the transition should take place. And so, for me, it should not be a problem. And everyone knows, as this ministry is concerned, even though God used me to start it, there is not one thing that has to do with this ministry that I own personally.
What is your view on insecurity in the country?
Everyone knows that the country is in the cup of trembling and it is not a hidden thing. And the situation transcends any human being. It is beyond what you should be apportioning blames to this person or that person. No, it is much more than that – we need God to help us. That’s all I can tell you as far as this country is concerned. Like never before, we should stop playing politics; let’s not politicize our security situation. Before I came for this interview I was just reading the news of how bandits invaded the University of Abuja and the man was lamenting and crying – one of the professors; lamenting and crying, they are attacking Katsina the president’s home state, Zamfara and all over the place. So, I am saying this so we can leave politics aside and Nigerians should be honest for once, and sit down and let us put our heads together and solve it.
We should not play politics with people’s life. My pain is that we play politics with people’s lives – it goes beyond political parties to the point that they blew up the rail line. If that is not telling us something, then it means somebody must be blind or something. So, it is an unfortunate situation and if I am to proffer a solution – I would say probably the presidency needs to profile our military and find out; are there infiltrators who have infiltrated our security architecture (army, police, and other security agency) to find out if we have saboteurs within the system; if that is not done, then you can be sure we are not going to get anywhere.
It is a business; it’s a racket; people are making money and it is unfortunate that people are making money with people’s lives. People are dying like chickens, but it’s not chicken dying but human beings are dying in the country. So, there is the need, to be honest and sincere, and the need for a leader that is brutal. Nigerians don’t listen.
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