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•With football promotion, empowerment schemes and taking the church to the streets, ministry offers fresh start for Ikorodu youths, others
By Tope Adeboboye
In the past few years, Ikorodu, a sprawling Lagos community, has been the centre point of a bewildering run of panic-inducing acts of terror.
But the town seems to be getting back to life. Battered for years by cultists, kidnappers and ritual killers, the community is gradually being weaned off its criminal badge.
These days, a Christian mission, Joy Cometh Ministries, is labouring hard to transform the town and its residents through its atypical modes of evangelism.
For long, ruthless members of assorted cult groups laid siege to the town and dozens of its satellite communities, spilling blood and spreading sorrow. Scores of fellow cultists and innocent residents were mowed down. And just when the residents were beginning to nurse some optimism that cultism was being routed in the town, the mother of terror suddenly came calling.
A mysterious band of monstrous killers, known as Badoo Boys, literally overran the town. Their modus operandi was incredibly heinous. Members of the group would invade residential homes at night and bludgeon innocent residents to death in their sleep, most times splintering the heads of such victims with pestles or huge stones. They would then, it was learnt, collect the blood of the dead men and women in white handkerchiefs for ritual purposes.
Thanks to the activities of the current Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr. Imohimi Edgal as well as community leaders and residents, Ikorodu has now become less restive, and many in the community can now sleep better.
Exasperated by the confusion and criminality that pervaded Ikorodu in those years, many were the residents that relocated to more peaceful parts of Lagos.
But while others were abandoning Ikorodu for some calmer neighbourhoods, a new Christian mission, Joy Cometh Ministries took an unusual decision. Founded by Pastor Olaitan Aromolaran, a former senior pastor with The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the ministry bought a land on Ibeshe Road and commenced its mission work in November last year. Now, 11 months after the ministry held its first service on its Joy Cometh Grounds, it is bringing joy to many souls with its unusual evangelistic methods.
“The past 10 months have been challenging, but God operates better in the midst of challenges,” the ministry’s senior pastor, Olaitan Aromolaran told the reporter. “And if your challenges always take you back to God, then those challenges are positive ones. We don’t see the challenges, we see the encouragement. And God has been there for us. Those things He promised he would do for us in these early days, He is doing.”
While serving in the RCCG as provincial evangelist, Pastor Olaitan for years held various crusades, revivals and other Christian programmes within Ikorodu. He also started the Convocation to Praise, an annual all-night programme of 365 Hallelujah at the expansive Ikorodu Town Hall each December. Since Joy Cometh Ministries was founded, the mission has continued with those programmes. The mission has even added more.
In a community where a whole lot of the youth population galvanises towards cultism, ritual killings, kidnapping and other acts of brigandage, Pastor Aromolaran discovered quite early that some extraordinary methods might be needed to get them to abandon the ill-fated paths they had been treading.
One such unusual project is football. The commission has registered a football club through which it reaches to the youth population. Aromolaran informed that as a young man back in his native Igbole-Ekiti in Ekiti State, empowering the youths and giving their lives a meaning had always been his passion. And a major way to reach out to them, he asserted, is through the instrumentality of the round leather game. His ministry identified this fact and decided to use football to bring the youths of Ikorodu to Christ. At the moment, the Joy Cometh Football Club has been registered, and is participating in the Lagos State league. The commission is also hosting a competition, Pastor Lait’s Cup, with 18 teams participating.
“The scriptures are so explicit. God wants us to use every available means to bring souls to the kingdom,” the pastor said. “I believe Ikorodu can be transformed. Using football as a medium, if we can get to the hearts of these youths to preach Christ, the very definition of Ikorodu as a land of Badoo will change. That is our passion. We have no interest in denominations or even faiths. We bring youths from different backgrounds and of divergent religions together. But you even see them praying along with us. We just want a rebirth in this society. And from this launching pad in Ikorodu, we will move to the bigger world.”
Some of these youths could be weed-smoking street toughies, but the church insisted that even that was not strong enough to disrupt its plan.
“When the missionaries came to Africa, our forefathers were into a lot of evil practices. Human beings were being sacrificed to their gods, twins were being killed. But the missionaries embraced the natives and brought them to Christ. Here we are today. So, we are not discouraged.”
Education is another vehicle the ministry is using. Last month, the mission opened the Joy Cometh Primary and Junior Secondary Schools. But unlike the mega churches where even tithe-paying church members can hardly afford the extortionate fees, this ministry presents a refreshing alternative.
The church despatched a team to an expensive school in an affluent Lagos neighbourhood where each pupil pays about N2 million per term. The church got the curriculum of the school and decided to replicate it. So, teachers were employed and are being remunerated. The school started with free services. Right now, the Joy Cometh academy offers what the affluent school teaches, but it charges just a token, just about one per cent of what the mega school charges its pupils per term, from primary to secondary school.
“It’s as good as free,” he noted. “We don’t just give them the best in terms of education, we also preach Christ to them. We teach them to be better citizens. Financing it is a challenge, but we have people that God is using. We are not doing these things for self-aggrandisement. Don’t forget that the church brought education to Nigeria, and virtually all they did then was free. Some people made that sacrifice. Why can’t we continue in that tradition?”
Less than a year after it started, the ministry boasts of committed members in thousands. But the pastor said it wasn’t yet time to seek repose. So the ministry started a project tagged, ‘Church in the Street.’ As the name suggests, every Sunday, a team led by Aromolaran’s wife, Pastor Yemi goes to a particular street in Ikorodu and starts a service. Soon, people come around to see the reason for the sudden exuberance in their street and the venue gets filled up.
“We have seen scores of people giving their lives to Christ through that method. We no longer wait for people to come to church; you take the church to them. We will do everything, through Christ, to make a lasting change in this society, God helping us,” Aromolaran informed.
And unlike many churches where members are burdened with unending financial requests, the ministry does the opposite. It puts smiles on the faces of members and non-members through empowerment opportunities. Unemployed people are given some grants to start businesses, students are put in schools, aspiring artisans are registered to get trained in the vocations of their choice, among other charity works.
“We are building the people,” the pastor noted. “These same people will build the church.”
Pastor Aromolaran believes fervently that Nigeria is on a good course, insisting that God’s propitious purpose for the country would start materialising soon.