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Wife of the Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM, Bishop Peace Okonkwo has turned 65 today. A week to her birthday, the ever-smiling and vivacious woman of God, held a medical outreach during which free medical check-up was given to men, women and children with specific emphasis on cervical and breast cancer screening for women, prostate screening for men and deworming for children.
The outreach was held under the aegis of her charity intervention project, P.E.A.C.E Campaign, an acronym for Providing Early Attention for Cancer Everywhere. At the venue she spoke with Effects about her life and what turning 65 means to her and other issues.
What inspired your cervical cancer and other medical outreaches and why are you embarking on the campaign in commemoration of your 65th birthday?
As I said initially, I attended a seminar and I saw a clip of women dying of cervical cancer and I wasn’t too happy because it can be treated when detected early. It was that experience that gave birth to Peace Campaign. When I turned 60 years, I told myself that life amounted to nothing if I don’t help others. Thank God for the birthday gifts and every other thing but my intention is to bless humanity, particularly women and children. By the grace of God, it happened on my 60th birthday. By the grace of God, so far we have done 8,000-10,000 beneficiaries. They go to villages and other states as well.
How did you go about the funding? The turnout for the medical outreach was huge?
From what I gathered from the planning committee members, they connected the general hospitals . If someone is detected to be suffering from any ailment, the person will be treated immediately and we’ll follow him/her through and make sure they get well. If it’s money that would sort them out, we would provide money. People volunteered to be a blessing. I also put my resources into it because when you believe in something, you go all out to see it through. This year that I’m turning 65, I know how much I have put into Peace Campaign. The Eye Foundation has assisted people to remove cataract free-of-charge for those suffering from it.
Looking back, what has life taught you at 65?
I came from a humble background. Life has taught me to be a blessing to humanity. It is not about money, but what I can do to put a smile on somebody’s face. God has been helping me and I need to put myself in a position to help others.
How do you feel at 65?
Age is in the number. People tell me, mummy, you don’t look 65 and I tell them it’s the grace of God. I also tell them, I don’t feel any different. (smiles)
Do you eat special diet or go to gym?
I don’t eat special foods. But I do a lot of walking. I told the people who came for the medicals this morning that they needed to go for a walk. You know that many of us eat wrong food most of the time. We assume that all the big foods are nice because we have the money. However, we should eat fresh vegetables. We have them in surplus in Nigeria. I don’t drink soda. I drink a lot of water. Even if I visit your house and you offer me water and soda. I’ll accept water.
Do you still cook at home, when was last time you did that?
I cooked two days ago. I have taught my cook and my girl so well. At times, I go to the kitchen to make sure they do things properly, especially when they are making native soup.
What is Bishop Mike’s favourite food?
Bishop is not always particular about food. When you ask him, what are you eating today? He would answer, ‘anything.’ So, Bishop eats anything every other person eats. He eats rice, amala; he eats everything but not all the time. He eats once a day at least.
How did you meet Bishop Mike Okonkwo?
Thats a long story. You know when the war ended, people turned their attention to God because we lost everything. I met him in one of the churches. I didn’t meet him first, I met his elder sister, (now Rev.(Mrs) Iloh).The woman liked me so much. Bishop at that time was very shy; he could not talk to a woman. He was a very shy person and it was his sister who told me, “my brother likes you”. I was surprised and asked, which of her brothers liked me because she had six brothers. Then she said the one that works in the bank and L said okay… I traveled abroad and when I returned, one thing led to another, and here we are today.
What was the attraction?
Nothing. The first time, I didn’t see anything. He was so arrogant because of his family background. The first time I met him, I asked, what was wrong with this young man? why is he all over the place? Gradually things changed.
You are a force to reckon with as a woman of God, when growing up, did you envisage one day you would be this?
As I said earlier, I came from a humble background. My mother and grandmother were prayerful women. My grandmother is late but we call my mother deaconess. She’s 87 years now and she still does everything by herself . We’re from Anglican Church background and committed.You can’t be in my grandmother’s house and not go to church. But see what God has done today to his glory.
Who influenced you more, growing up?
My grandmum. I lived with my grandmum.
What advice do you have for younger women looking up to you?
The days we’re in are of a different generation.Younger women don’t want to wait. They don’t want to go through anything. They just want things to happen. I want to advise them to just hang in there; do what they know how to do best and make sure they know God and allow Jesus to help them. Our young ladies want to wear designer dresses; they want to do these and that. All that is not necessary. There will come a time that those things will make no meaning to them any longer. I keep telling the younger ones in our church to make sure they get educated as much they can.
Can you tell us about Rehoboth home?
Rehoboth home and skill acquisition centre is where I send stranded ladies to. How it started was that there was a young lady living in a rest room. She was sick and didn’t have a home. Every night, she would go to a particular rest room to sleep. When I heard that she died, I was touched. I went back to God and God told me that I could do something. I built a four-storey building in Ketu. The news spread and some ladies kept visiting the home. We have a qualified matron and a supervisor to attend to them. We ask them what they want to do. Some of them mention vocations. Some said they wanted to go to school. We have sponsored about four ladies through the university and the rest is vocation.When they are done with the training, we’ll empower some of them . You would noticed that a lot of people are scared of going to their villages. I decided to set up Rehoboth Skill Acquisition Centre in Ogbunike, Anambra State. We dedicated it last year. We have about 33 graduating students. Currently, the centre is catering for boys and girls. They engage them with different vocations.
Can you recall the happiest moment in your life?
When I see people that could have died but by the grace of God, I was able to help them. When I went to a refugee camp in one of the African countries, that camp had about 2,000 people dying of various diseases. I went there and donated what I had. My happiest moment is seeing somebody getting better. It’s not about me. Like the vocation we did here last year. There were two girls whose mother was blind. Owing to the area where they lived, the girls were impregnated by hoodlums. The girls are in the home now. By the grace of God, we were able to send them to school. Even if they want to study up till the university, the lord will help us. That is the kind of thing that gives me joy.
At 65, what else do you want God to do for you?
I believe God for everything. I don’t have it all. I don’t even have at all. For everything I do, I trust God. Like today’s Peace campaign, the lord told me that I had to sow a seed. So, I called the organizers and told them I was ready to offer my last kobo. Its not about owning big houses, luxury cars that matter. What matters is what you can do to affect people’s lives.
There are rising cases of divorce and wife-battering, what would you say about that?
Wife-battering is a very bad thing, but what can we do? I read in the newspapers recently, the Nollywood people were saying that women should respect their husbands and that husbands should love their wives. That is in the bible. You don’t need to batter your wife. But as for divorce, that is a subject for another day.
What are those things you would have changed about your husband if you are God?
I don’t think there is anything. Bishop is such a lovely person. It’s not because I married him, he is a wonderful man. He can stick out his neck for anybody.
Can you talk about the vision behind the International Women Prayer School (IWPS)?
I’m a pastor and I counsel women. Sometimes, when a woman comes to meet me at the counseling desk, they would be crying. At the counseling desk currently, you would see boxes of tissues. Before they could talk to me, it could take them 15-30 minutes. I asked God what to do and He replied that I should gather the women together to pray and He would answer them. We started the exercise and God has been doing wonderful things. People from from Abuja, and other places joined later. The prayer session holds every last Thursday of the month and the vision is progressing. I took the programme to Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Enugu after which I extended it to other African countries, Europe, USA and Israel.