‘My happiest moment is when i see somebody’s life is better’
Bishop Peace Okonkwo is the Resident Pastor at the International Headquarters of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), and the wife of the General Overseer of the church. She is the force behind the Women of Global Impact, the umbrella body for all humanitarian services of the church which seek to be a source of succour, inspiration, and empowerment for women at all levels of the society. The network reaches out to provide support for women through International Women Prayer Conference (IWPC), Rehoboth Homes and Skills Acquisition centre, Widows Empowerment Initiative, Children Education Support, Orphanage Support and Free Cancer Screening Programme. As she celebrates the golden age of 65, the Bishop in this interview with ADELOWO ADEBUMITI spoke about her brainchild the Peace Campaign initiative, her cervical cancer screening project for women, aids to widows and how Nigerian women can overcome the economic challenges posed by recession.
How did Peace Campaign come into existence?
Peace Campaign is a thing that came out of what I saw when I went for a seminar. I noticed they were showing the women that were dying of cervical cancer and I was not too happy because it is treatable. Once it is detected early, it could be treated. So I said, God, how do I become a blessing? That was what gave birth to the Peace Campaign initiative. When I turned 60, I said life is nothing if you are not helping others. I told people, I said, thank God for gifts and every other thing, but what I want is to be able to bless humanity, particularly, women and children. So it came about on my sixtieth birthday and by the grace of God, so far we have treated 8,000 plus or 10,000 women. We go to the villages, cities and other states as well.
How do you source for funds to take care of women with cervical cancer?
We connect them to a general hospital where once someone is detected to have the cancer, they will be treated immediately. We also make sure we follow them through with the treatment. If it is money that is going to stop them, we give some money. For fund, it is people that volunteer to be a blessing to others. I also put my money in it. Because when you believe in something, you put your life in it. This year that I turned 65, I know how much I put in this campaign. I do not need to mention it. But that is what gives me joy.
Why do you also include the deworming of children and other treatments in your programme?
We have general medical for people. Even now the Eye Foundation has said that they would remove cataracts for people free of charge for anyone. This is what we have seen this year. They have told us that we should transport anyone with cataract to the hospital on a particular day they gave to us and they will do the treatment free of charge.
In your interaction with rural women, what is the predominant sickness or disease you have noticed?
You can understand that for a woman in the village that is not able to eat even two square meals per day, any sickness can come. So I would say, it is poverty, because, I also do widows’ empowerment. I do it once a year and I do it in the village. Apart from the one we do here in Lagos, each time I go to the village, we see some women and we actually know that this suffering is too much. So we give them different things. We give them foods, wrappers and some money to trade. The first time I did it, I thought I was a very strong woman, but I cried, because they started praying from 10:00 am in the morning to 6:00pm in the evening. They said : “How can God send somebody from Lagos that does not know them?”
Looking back at 65, what has life taught you?
I came from a very humble background. Life has taught me to be a blessing to humanity. It is not about me, it is about what you can do to put a smile on somebody’s face. It has not been easy, but God has been helping me and I also need to use my position to help others.
How do you feel at 65?
Age is a number. A lot of people see me and say, “ Mummy, you don’t even look it.” I will say it is the grace of God. So I would say I do not feel any different only that we are catching up.
Did you do anything extraordinary to look this fit?
I do not go to the gym, but I do a lot of work. I was telling people you have to do a little bit of exercise and eat healthy. You know we eat the wrong foods. We think to eat all this big food is because you have money. Canned foods are not good for any human being. So you eat fresh food and vegetable. We have surplus in Nigeria. I do not drink soda; I drink water. I drink a lot of water. I can come to your house, and you give me water and soda, the soda will remain for you. I will drink the water and go.
Do you still cook?
I have taught my cook and my girls a lot, but sometimes I go to the kitchen to make sure they are doing it well, especially when it is native foods.
Is the Peace Campaign going to be a yearly or quarterly event?
We go from place to place. We will only be here for some time. Then, we will go to other places. But we now decided that since I am turning 65, they will do this one here.
Is it only for the church members?
Outsiders are all over the place. I saw a woman asking them where is the restroom. That will show that she is not a member of this church.
At 65, what more should Nigerians be expecting from you?
I want to do all I can. I want to do much more. As God gives me power, gives me strength and finance, I will do much more.
While growing up, did you envisage that you would one day reach this position as a personality globally recognised?
I came from a humble background like I have said earlier. But my mother and grandmother are prayerful women. My grandmother is late, but my mother, (we call her deaconess in our house) is still alive. She is 87years. She is strong on her feet and does everything for herself. I never thought of it that I would reach this level. But we are from the Anglican background. You cannot be in my grandmother’s house and not go to church. We started developing from there. Look what God has done today to His glory.
Who influenced you growing up?
My dad died when we were very small. It was my grandmother. I lived with her. She is the one that I can say influenced me.
What is your advice to young women looking up to you growing up?
This is a different generation. They do not want to wait, or go through anything. They just want it to happen. But I will advice them to just hang in there. Do all what you need to do. Make sure you know Jesus, allow Him to help you. Our young ladies want to wear designer things, they want to do this, they want to do that. All that is not necessary. There will be a time that those things will not mean anything to you. So I keep on telling the younger generation in our church. “Make sure you go to school as much as you can. Make sure you keep yourself.
Nigeria is going through recession, what is your advice as a mother to Nigerian women to help them come out of this economic situation?
We should do more. We should come down, make sure we are not up there. You can find something to do for yourself. You can even go to the market, buy something and resell. What happens is that a lot of people want it big. You stoop to conquer. You must come down and ask God to help you. God what do you want me to do? How do I overcome this with my children? You see a lot of parents, fathers leaving their wives, their children, and their family because of recession. This thing will pass. We will not remain in this recession for life. So we should just find what we can do for now and trust God for the rest.
Why did you establish the Rehoboth Skill Acquisition Centre?
The centre is where I take in stranded ladies in need. I started it when a young lady died in a restroom. She was sick; she didn’t have a house and each time she went to one particular restroom in the night to stay. When I heard that she died, it gave me concern. So I put up a four- storey building in Ketu and a lot of ladies started seeing my fliers and the news spread. So they came to my home. We have a qualified matron and a supervisor there. And we asked the ladies, what they wanted to do. Some say they want to learn a vocation and some say they want to go to school. We have been able to train about four ladies in the university, then the rest in different vocations. So they chose different vocations and when they finish learning, we empower them. We buy them what they would need to be able to set up. I also decided to set up a vocation acquisition centre in my village, Ogbunike, Anambra State and we dedicated it last year. We had about 33 graduating students and now it is for boys and girls. The boys can do computer, POP, different vocations.
When is the happiest day in your life?
When I see people that could have died and by the grace of God, I was able to help them. Like when I went to a country, to the refugee camp there. The camp was supposed to take about a thousand or two, but there were so many people dying of different diseases there. I donated what I could. So my happiest moment is when I see somebody’s life is better. It is not about money. A child that could not have gone to school did. In the last vocational training we did, there were these two girls, their mother is blind. The woman was very concerned about them. She said if she continues in the area she lives, these hoodlums would impregnate the girls. I took the girls. They are in the home now. By the grace of God, I have given my word that we would train them in school even if they want to go to the university. The Lord will help us.
Many people believe you have it all, but at 65, what else do you want the Almighty to do for you?
I believe God for everything. I do not have it all. I don’t even have it at all. For everything I do, I trust God. Like this Peace Campaign, the Lord told me, you have to sow a seed. And I called the organisers, and I said I could give my last kobo. It is not about having big houses, luxurious cars. It is not what matters. What matters is what are you doing in people’s lives.
With the high rate of divorce, wife battering and domestic violence, what advice do you have for women?
Battering your wife is so bad. But what can we do? I read in the newspaper recently, one of the stars in Nollywood was saying women should also respect their husbands and the men should also love their wives. You don’t need to batter your wife. Divorce is a subject for another day.
What is it about Bishop that you would have loved to change?
Maybe there is, but I haven’t seen it. Bishop is such a lovely person, honestly. It is not because I married him. He is a wonderful man. He can stick out his neck for anybody.
Why did you establish the International Women Prayer Conference?
IWPC has gone from place to place. What gave birth to it was because I am a Pastor and I counsel women. And each time any woman comes to me for counseling, they will be crying. If you go to my counseling desk, you will see boxes of tissues. Before they talk to you, 15 to 30 minutes would have elapse before they will be able to talk. So I said God, what will I do to help these women? And He said gather them together, let them pray unto me and I would answer them. I started and God has done wonderful things. People from outside Lagos started coming, from Abuja, Port Harcourt, from different places, because it is once a month on every last Thursday of the month. The vision is progressing. I have started going to other states and it is also extended to the West African countries. I just came back from Gabon. We also went to European countries. I was in London in April and we went to United States of America as well. We now have IWPC in Israel.
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