Saturday, 27th May 2023

My experience in ministry has been mixed grill — Okwuonu

By Chris Irekamba
14 May 2023   |   3:07 am
I am from a Christian family; my parents are Christians and my mother is still alive. She is about 87 years old now. She raised us in the way of Christ. We were core Anglicans until I came to Lagos in the 70s after my secondary school and joined the Deeper Life Ministry; then it was a fellowship at the University of Lagos.

Apostle Enyinnaya Okwuonu is a 1982 graduate of the University of Port Harcourt and the incumbent Chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Lagos Chapter. He took over the leadership of PFN after the demise of his predecessor, Bishop Olusola Ore. He is also the Senior Pastor of the New Life Christian Church, Apapa, Lagos; President of, International Alliance of Frontline Pentecostal Apostles and Prophets; Executive Director, Church Care International, an NGO; and the Coordinator, Widows Care Africa. In this interview with journalists, Apostle Okwuonu laments the recent death in the Lagos PFN leadership. He also talks about the health challenges that men of God are exposed to, among other issues. CHRIS IREKAMBA was there.

What is your rebirth experience like?
I am from a Christian family; my parents are Christians and my mother is still alive. She is about 87 years old now. She raised us in the way of Christ. We were core Anglicans until I came to Lagos in the 70s after my secondary school and joined the Deeper Life Ministry; then it was a fellowship at the University of Lagos.

We later moved to Ebute Metta, Lagos, then under the tutelage of Brother Williams Kumuyi. From there, I joined the Church of God Mission.

I gave my life to Christ at the Scripture Union (SU) Camp on December 24, 1972. My mother encouraged me to attend the camp meeting; fortunately for me, I gave my life to Christ. God enabled me to stay focused in the faith in my secondary school. I was later baptised in the Holy Spirit and that empowered me much more. When our then fellowship leader left, the mantle of leadership fell on me to lead the fellowship. Since then, I have been pastoring for over 45 years now.

While in the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, I was involved in Christian union activities. I was the president of Christian Union of UNIPORT from 1971 to 1980. After that, I went to Kwara State for the national youth service. I was posted to Okene (now in Kogi State). I later joined the Church of God Mission (CGM) under the late spiritual leader, Archbishop Benson Idahosa. I was there for a while and by God’s grace, we pioneered a couple of branches in Lagos.

How did you come into the ministry?
There was nothing dramatic about my call into the ministry. I felt I want to do what I had passion for and still served the Lord. This was the case until one day a young lady walked into my office and said what am I still doing in the office, while thousands of souls are perishing out there.

This troubled me so much that I had to resign from the civil service. I was 39 years old. I left government work to focus on the ministry. There was no dream, no trumpet call, no vision or revelation. It was just that the burden to leave was heavy in my heart.

How did New Life Christian Church start?
It started in my house at Government Reserved Areas (GRA) in Apapa, Lagos. I used to have fellowship and outreaches on Sunday evening and sometimes during the week. We began growing that one of the days, I had a three-day outreach away from my house and the crowd was massive. So, on the last day, I told the people I could not counsel them at the venue and we arranged to use a nearby school for counselling.

By then, Church of God Mission (CGM) has begun to have two services and I was to minister in the second service. My intention after the three-day programme was to attend to the people in the morning; pray for them, counsel them and rush back to join CGM second service. But I never did, because of the pressure on me and with the people I was then counseling we began the New Life Christian Church. By God’s grace, the church has been growing from strength to strength.

I have been in the ministry since 1974 and have pastored in different places before the birth of the New Life Christian Church in November 1990. It was formerly called the Living Water Christian Ministry. The church is to raise people as ambassadors of Christ and also to train leaders.

What are your experiences in the ministry?
Initially, I did not attend any Bible School. I felt with my Christian lifestyle, pastoral ministry and leadership exposure both in the secular and in the church that I was fit to run a church. In the first few years in the ministry, we had some challenges that I could not handle and that resulted to the church splitting into three. Some young men that I brought into the ministry really shook the church; they took control of most of the members, took the church money and other things.

It was a very big blow on me and that episode taught me some new lessons on trust and raising people. I engaged people that I felt were good Christians, people I thought would make good leaders, into different leadership positions, but I was disappointed. I travelled and left the church in their care, but to my disappointment, they split the church into three; leaving some children to me. We had to start from scratch again. God has been faithful to us and the church has grown much better both in structure and membership. The unfortunate thing, however, is that none of those three churches still exist. They fought themselves and either one or two of them is dead.

My experience has been fantastic. I am glad I answered the call. When I look at the number of people that I have positively impacted on, people who have become great leaders as a result of my teachings, I thank God because such things give me some joy. I have come across trustworthy and genuine believers. I have also come across people who are opposite of this; they are everywhere. However, my experience has been both good and sour.

You took over the leadership of PFN, Lagos Chapter, from the late Bishop Olusola Ore, how will you describe his death?
It is one incident I want to put behind me. It was a very traumatic experience. Sola Ore was not only the chairman while I was deputy; he was a friend and brother. We shared a lot together. We travelled together. We slept in the same room together. We were wonderful together. There was no sign that he was going to pass that time. So, it hit me. I could not believe it. We spoke a few days before then about the state of his health and we prayed about it.

Unfortunately, he passed on. It shook me to my foundation. I cried for weeks because we were quite close. It was a big shock. Each time we talk about it, tears swell up in my eyes. The consolation is that he has gone to a better place. He had contributed his quota in the development of mankind and the body of Christ. Maybe the Lord permitted it to happen for him to come and have his rest, his crown and his reward. But for me it was disturbing and traumatic.

How did you feel taking up the mantle of Lagos PFN leadership at his demise?
Thank God we worked so closely that it became seamless for me to carry on from where he stopped. The late Bishop Ore was very humorous, lovable, straightforward, sincere and honest. I learnt a lot from him, such as how to love and how not to put things in mind. I learnt relationship as well as leadership skills from him. We thank God for his life.

He left so many legacies behind and I thank God I was acquainted with him before he passed on. Whenever I talk about Bishop Ore, I get a little bit emotional. To the glory of God, Lagos PFN is moving on because it is God’s work.

What is your response to the frequent transitions of PFN leaders in recent times?
People die in other professions; not only Christian leaders. Doctors, lawyers and politicians die. When a pastor dies, it seems as if everything has ended. There is nothing like frequent death. When a person’s time is up, he just has to go home. It is not as if something hit the church and the leaders are dying at random. Death for a Christian means a time to move up to a higher calling in heaven. It is not a mystery that church leaders are passing on, although one might say some things could be responsible.

In some cases, some things could have caused it, but it is a pity that most times we do not take the right precautions. We feel everything is faith. It has been very traumatic for us in Lagos PFN losing Bishop Ore. In this year again, we have lost his predecessor, Prof. Alexander Bamgbola. Unfortunately, in March 2023, we also lost Rev. Femi Asiwaju who was at a time the Vice Chairman of Prof. Alex Bamgbola. Your question makes some sense, but only God knows.

My advice concerning pastors is that their health is their first wealth. Your health is your most important wealth. Pastors go through so much stress in ministry because we are still doing ministry the same old way it has been done. Everything rests upon the pastor and the people are not helping matters at all. There are so much stress and health issues coupled with the fact that most people come to church to collect and not to give. Giving is not just about money, but also about care, love, concern and time for the man of God.

But this is not the case, as pastors are the givers and not the takers. Upon this, they are falsely accused of one thing or the other. They have issues in their homes, issues outside the home and issues in the ministry. They have issues to contend with in the community and with the government. They have issues of ministry as well, handling itineraries and different shades of human beings. This contributes to their poor health.

Many pastors also have poor dietary habit. Some eat quite late and it affects their health. Sometimes you come back home late and you must eat whatever is available because you are hungry. Sometimes the food is not balanced. The issues of poor eating habits, poor sleeping habits and poor time management habit contribute to the rate of death of ministers and Christians.

If you go to any conventional hospital that clerics attend, you will find out that the clerics are among the group of people that have the highest rate of blood pressure issues, ulcer and stroke among other health challenges.

How can the situation be corrected now?
We are all exposed to the same pressure. Much of what I do over the years that has helped me to stay afloat is to do proper planning. You plan well and follow your daily routine because a man’s secret is hidden in his daily routines. Know your-to-do list and have enough time for yourself. Again, I delegate responsibilities because God has given us able lieutenants. That is one good thing about Lagos PFN. When God brought us on board, I assembled a team of professionals who can handle various issues and directorates.

I have a very effective think-tank that take much of the thinking work off me. I also balance work with leisure. I take time to rest and to have fun. I do not carry the workload on my head. I do a lot of travelling; I enjoy it and I also like nature. I do not accept every engagement and I also identify my stressors.

One of the stressors in ministry is speaking at engagements. If I am to accept every invites as Lagos PFN chairman, I would not have time for myself, lest to eat. Many times I decline invites or have them at my own time. This has helped me to stay away from stressors. I sleep well and do some exercises. I read a lot and exercise my brain. I take my supplements; immune booster and vitamin C and go for regular medical check ups.

In addition, I pray. I take time out to fast, study and believe the word of God; trust God for everything. I do not allow financial issues to bug me, which is one thing that bugs a lot of pastors. I realise I cannot do everything; so, I do what I can do and let God do what He alone can do. That takes away stress from me.

What signs must pastors watch out for to know when to have a break and to avoid sudden death?
God has built some warning mechanisms in our body systems; what you might call biological clause or biological warnings. Just like a car, before a car breaks down, it gives you some signs.

Some mechanisms have been put into the car to let you know that the engine oil is running down. You hear some sounds and you know that you have to park the car or go for general check. When you begin to have some sickly signs, stop work and visit the doctor. This will go a long way to save life.

For instance, when you become tired and irritable, you need to check some things in your body. You need to slow down on work because your body is giving you signs of being unwell.

When you don’t sleep well (insomnia) or it takes time for you to sleep at night, then there is an issue. Also, when you have frequent headache — (migraine) frontal, back, side or central — please, stop work and see the doctor. Headache is a critical sign of a health issue. Other signs are loss of appetite and forgetfulness. When your brain is overloaded you tend to forget things you should not have.

General body pains; pains in the legs and different parts of your body are signs of health issues. Procrastination is another pointer to a possible health breakdown. Chest pain is one dangerous sign of health issue. Tightness in the chest and pains in the neck are not always signs of malaria. These pains could be more critical that you need to take a break.

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