By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
I had been seated and waiting for over 30 minutes when his secretary, light complexioned Jenny lit my afternoon with another bright toothy smile.
“Pastor will see you now,” Jenny motioned to me as she led the way into a matchbox outer office that led to two inner large offices.
To the left was the office of Aity Dennis-Inyang, a gospel singer, and the pastor’s wife of 23 years. The door was ajar and I could hear her talking on the phone. Jenny led me to the office on the right and politely ushered me into the office of the presiding pastor of Sure Word Assembly, Pastor Dennis Inyang. As I stepped in, the strong aroma edikanikong soup assailed my nostrils and I remembered I hadn’t had breakfast and it was way past 2pm.
Pastor Inyang is a stickler for perfection. From his fine tailored dress to his neat office, it was obvious that the man sitting before me was dapper.
One thing you can’t ignore is the absence of clutter on his desk. Every item seemed to be in the right place. A grin broke his face as he peered at me from behind his designer spectacles, outlining a perfect set of glistening white teeth as I flopped into a chair opposite him.
Pastor Inyang has definitely paid his dues in the ministry. Born again over three decades ago, at the age of 16, he was ordained into full pastoral ministry by Archbishop Benson Idahosa. In 1998 he founded Sure Word Assembly after serving under Archbishop Idem Ikon and having a short training at Word of Faith Bible Institute under Bishop David Oyedepo. He is happily married to his friend, Aity, one of Nigeria’s most outstanding gospel music ministers.
Pastor Inyang met Aity while studying at the University of Calabar. For him it was a case of love at first sight the moment he set eyes on the damsel, who would later become his wife.
“We met at the University of Calabar at a programme that was hosted by the Christian Union. Interestingly, the programme was tagged: I’ve Found It; probably that was prophetic,” begins Pastor Inyang, a look of nostalgia etched on his face.
“She got saved that night and came on the podium to give her testimony. The moment I saw her something within me was stirred and I said in my heart, ‘this is a beautiful girl. I must meet her again!”
By the end of the service, he was restless and overcome by a strong desire to meet Aity one-on-one; and so he pleaded with his covenant brother in church saying that he just had to meet the young girl that gave testimony during the programme. “It turned out I knew her roommate and we started visiting. Eventually we became friends and started a relationship.
“She was16 and I was 20 when we met and fell in love with each other. It took two years for me to ask her to marry me. I had no money when I proposed to her; it was by faith and not a function of how much I had,” he confessed, adding that his dream had been to tie the knot at the age of 25.
Inyang says proposing to his wife was something he planned and executed meticulously because he was keen on winning his future wife’s heart as well as making sure she truly loved him.
“I did mine like a village boy,” he says recounting that romantic evening years ago at the University of Calabar. “She knew my intentions but I didn’t know she already knew that I planned to propose to her the day I did. I made all the preparation and asked her out that evening. We went somewhere at Malabo in UNICAL.
“I started telling her about myself, about my mother and father and the fact that they were not together anymore. I told her about the challenges I had growing up. How I was going through school and how I didn’t come from a very wealthy family. I was just downloading on her. I told her that chances were that we would live in the village since I had no plans to go anywhere because I was a village boy.
“I told her that my village was a local place and we did not have good roads, no pipe borne water and no electricity. I was trying to scare her, to test her love. And when I was done with all of that, I told her that I wanted her to marry me. I thought she was going to tell me what other born again girls would say which was, ‘let me go pray about it.’
“Back then in the Christian Union, it was unthinkable for any girl to say yes to a man the first time he proposed. You needed to keep the man waiting and probably say, ‘I will pray about it’ possibly for three or six months and all of that. But I was surprised that she said yes right on the spot! And when she told me yes, I was happy, I was overjoyed and that was just the beginning.”
However, his dreams for an early marriage soon ran into a brick wall because he did not reckon with the opposition he was going to face from his father in-law.
By the time he was done with youth service he did not have a salaried job but was determined to press on with his marriage plans. However, his father in-law gave him a no no.
“I think her father had reasons to say ‘no, you can’t marry my daughter!’ And I had to wrestle with that for many years. I had to beg and plead. I really didn’t look like the prospective son-in-law he wanted to have. I didn’t drive a car, I didn’t have a good job and I didn’t look like someone that could lift the family so he was not impressed.”
In retrospect he adds that if he was in the shoes of his father-in-law, Inyang says he probably would have done the same because his financial state was pathetic: “To be fair to the man, we were really very young,” he says laughing, “May be too young at the time we first approached him. When I look at our wedding picture, I don’t blame the man much for saying no. Probably if I were in his shoes, I probably would have done the same. After everything, God helped us and we were able to get married and settle down.”
Answering the call
For Pastor Inyang, coming into the ministry as a pastor was never planned because his dream had always been to be a businessman who would support the church from time to time. However, God had other plans.
After he got saved in 1979, he started evangelizing by making tracks and got involved with the Christian Union at UNICAL. In 1991 he was ordained an elder and from there he became an assistant pastor and finally a pastor.
Recounting the long road to God’s vineyard, Inyang says unlike other pastors, he never heard a voice urging him to dump his job and take up the ministry: “My getting involved in the ministry was gradual. God led me one step after the other until a point when he actually led me into full time ministry. I did not see an angel or hear God’s audible voice but while on a fast in 1994 seeking direction for my life, I read an article by Jamie Buckingham in Charisma Magazine on the call of Moses. As I read that material, I came under a strong conviction that God wanted me to serve Him in full-time ministry. And I said, ‘Yes, Lord, here I am.’
Sure Word Assembly
Today, he is the presiding pastor at Sure Word Assembly, a church located in Ago Palace Way, Lagos, founded 14 years ago.
The name, Sure Word Assembly, was chosen because of the belief that there is nothing that God does outside His Word.
Hear him: “If God wants to do anything, first of all, He would send His Word. How did God create the world? He spoke it into being. He said, ‘Let there be’ and there was. The Bible says that when His people were in trouble and distress, they cried unto Him and He sent His word and His word healed and delivered them. Everything will pass away but the word of God abides forever. He will bring to pass all that He has promised. He cannot fail; so God’s word is sure. By the time we were prepared to start our church, these were the things that came to my mind so we called it Sure Word Assembly aka The Megalife Centre.
“The Megalife Centre is the International Headquarters of Sure Word Assembly. The bible says, ‘The thief comes not but to steal, to kill and to destroy but I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.’ Having life more abundantly is having the mega life. The life of God is life without limits. That is the mega life and we believe that by coming here you will make contact with the mega life, receive the mega life and live life without limits,” he says with emphasis.
Continuing he says: “We are raising a breed of worshippers who love the Lord and draw from the dynamic power of the Spirit within them to cause positive change. One thing I tell my people is that I am a pastor who is not interested in long prayer lines. I believe in what I call DIY Christianity (Do It Yourself). I believe that everyone can hear from God and should learn to hear from God.
“I believe that I should bring up my members well to a point where they take authority over the devil. I believe that the pastor is not a lone star or the only mega star. That is why at Sure Word we turn members into disciples and disciples into ministers. And our vision is for a church of ministers committed to taking the gospel to the nations of the world.”
Book, books and more books…
Aside being a pastor, Inyang has also authored a dozen books. He opens up on his writing career: “I have written over 10 books. The first book I wrote was entitled Choose to Grow. It was borne out of the burden to teach converts to grow in the Lord. Another is 10 Simple Ways To Get A Divorce & 10 Ways To Avoid It. That’s an eye popping title but it’s actually a satire. Many marriages have been helped by that little book. I have a book for singles entitled, So You Want to Marry? My ministry has a strong emphasis on marriage. We devote every August to teaching on marriage every year.”
Another book he has written is You’re Sitting On A Goldmine, a book on business and finances. “I think that book has made more impact than any other book that I have written. It details what you have to do to create wealth from nothing. I found out that there was a gap between what the preacher was preaching about prosperity and what the experiences of the people were. The Man of God would prophesy over the people, pour oil on their heads and take a powerful special offering yet the people were still poor. You know, in some circles all you need to do to prosper is sow a sacrificial seed. While you cannot undermine the place of sowing a seed to get a financial harvest, there is more to prosperity than giving a fat offering in church.
“I realized that our people needed to get more practical and embrace time tested biblical principles for wealth creation. They needed to know how to generate money-making ideas, how to start business with little or no money, how to sell whatever product they had and how to grow from a small sole proprietor to a millionaire investor.”
“Another is No Second Fiddle premised on the statement that you can actually be the best in life no matter where you are coming from. It actually details 10 steps that will help you to achieve excellence and become the best in life.”
Earlier in the year, Inyang clocked 50. With a pleasant smile he relates what it feels like to hit the golden age: “It feels good to be 50. When I clocked 50 I posted somewhere that I don’t have to wonder any more what it feels like to be 50 because finally I have made it. I think it’s a milestone. I am grateful to God.”
On a more serious note he continues: “What makes I it so special is that I look back and I find out that I have cheated death at least four times. When I was about six years old I fell into a well. I was walking with my step mum when suddenly I slipped and fell into the well. I would have drowned but by God’s grace I held onto something and my step mum was able to rescue me.
“My second experience was in my secondary school days. I had entered a vehicle to a football match along with other fan club members and the vehicle somersaulted. The last thing I remembered was singing our club song and then I saw myself sitting by the roadside with policemen all around me and I was happy to be alive!
“The third time was when I was in the university. I was going to pick the cheque for my bursary and head to the bank. I was on a motorbike and we were traveling at full speed. Suddenly, a car crossed the road without any warning. I sat at the back of the bike knowing that we would crash into the car and I knew there was nothing I could do about it! Then I heard a bang and I saw myself lifted up. I fell head first on the tarred road, but by the grace of God, where my head made impact was a pothole filled with sand in the middle of the road! That was what saved me!
“The fourth one was in Lagos here. My wife and I were returning from Golden Gate Restaurant after an event. It was about 9pm in the night. I was driving and my wife was sitting by me. As we were approaching the Third Mainland Bridge, a car had blocked the road and I saw very young boys, all armed to the teeth. Robbery wouldn’t necessarily mean that I survived death but what makes me count it as escaping death was that as they were trying to rob us, one of the guys cocked his gun to shoot at me. I don’t know what I did to make him want to shoot me but another guy, a member of the gang pounced on him and pushed the gun away from me. I think if the guy had not done that, I probably would have been dead!
“So when I turned 50, these things came back to my mind and I was so happy that God kept me alive and that’s why I believe God is going to give me a long life. If I didn’t die in the first half, He will keep me alive in the second half. The Bible guarantees that I will live to a very old age.”
50 years after, what’s been his greatest regret, what are those things he’d want to do differently?
“There are always things one could do differently with the benefit of hindsight though I can’t really think of any right now. But there is something I wish I could change. I had a great relationship with my mother. When I look back I wish she had lived long enough to see who I have become, to see how her little boy turned out, because she laboured and did so much for me. She did not live long enough to see me become who I am today. She went to be with the Lord in 1991. That’s one area I wish I could change. At the time she died she was actually living with me because I was her only child.”
Pastor Inyang says that in the past 50 years he has had many great moments. A happy glow descends on his visage as he speaks: “My happiest moments?” he asks rhetorically as he responds to the question, “I have had great moments; I don’t know which of them is happiest. Getting married to my wife, Aity, was one of them. My wife has been my friend, my confidant, my counsellor and I think I couldn’t have married a better girl. My wife married me at a time it seemed I had no future.
“I often make a joke that if I had been given free of charge to some ladies and even if that lady was paid a salary she would have rejected me and probably pleaded the blood of Jesus! Maybe I have exaggerated that a bit, but I am just trying to make the point that she did not marry me for anything material she could get because I had nothing.
“Another day was the day we had our baby, Kasemfon. The name means behold the grace of God: we also call her, Lovely. She has been such a great blessing. She is just a year old. My friends came from all over to celebrate with us because this was a baby of ours after lots and lots of years of not having a baby of our own.
“Another great moment was when we started Sure Word Assembly. When God called us into the ministry, the question was, ‘how were we going to do it?’ We didn’t have money. In fact the only money I had was N3, 920. And that was the money I used to pay for the hotel we used and printed handbills.”
Turning 50 is indeed a milestone event and Pastor Inyang revealed that plans are ongoing for a robust celebration and thanksgiving services that will hold on April 20 and 21: “We will celebrate my anniversary on April 20 and the thanksgiving service will be on April 21. Our church has decided that they want to make it a big thing. My friends from Lagos and outside Lagos have been notified already so we believe that we are going to have friends and family join us to give thanks unto God. “Let me use this medium to invite all my friends that I may not be able to personally reach and all the people who wish me well to come and share my joy. It’s a time to celebrate my life and to celebrate what God has been able to do with me, for me and through me.
“When I remember where God brought me from, I have no choice than to celebrate God’s grace. I talked about cheating death four times. I also cheated poverty. At a time in my life, I was in deep poverty. I had no food to eat, no clothes to wear and no roof over my head. Things were so bad that I was merely surviving on the goodwill and charity of my friends. Sometimes I would visit them when I thought I would catch them having a meal. As you can guess, it didn’t always work out.
“When I came to Lagos, I returned to square one. I used to eat on credit and trekked long distances along the express because I had no fare. One day, life lost meaning to me and suicide appeared a quick way to end all the suffering. Thank God I snapped out of it. I then poured myself into what God has called and anointed me to do.
“Today, food, clothes, accommodation and cars are not my problem anymore. God has confirmed a revelation He gave to me in those bad times. I had the opposite of Pharaoh’s dream. In my dream, seven fat cows ate up seven lean cows. That is why I know the good times are only beginning.”
Pastors and materialism
Pastors these days are accused of being materialistic and leading souls away from Christ. After so many years in the ministry, how does he feel about this development?
“The accusation you are referring to is generalized and so cannot be true. While there may be pastors that are dumping salvation, to borrow your expression, that is certainly not applicable to every pastor, or most pastors. Any pastor that dumps the message of salvation will not be relevant to God.
“I believe materialism is the spirit of acquiring wealth, or owning things for selfish ends to satisfy one’s lust and greed. I always emphasize that the difference between prosperity and materialism is purpose. If you acquire wealth to put it to good use, helping the poor and needy, creating jobs for the common good, making a difference in the society or your community, investing in the expansion of God’s kingdom and such other things, that is not materialism.
“But I will not pretend to you that I don’t know where the problem is. I think that accusation is based on the feeling that pastors are milking the people with their prosperity message and living flashy lifestyles. Unfortunately, people judge pastors based on what they perceive as the ostentatious lifestyles of very few pastors. It is my conviction that most pastors in Nigeria are living below poverty level. Someone may show me a few pastors with luxurious mansions and private jets.
“My question is ‘do the hundreds of thousands of pastors in Nigeria have private jets?’ How many are living in mansions? How many are driving flashy cars? I say that not from the point of speculation but from the point of knowledge. I know that many pastors can’t meet their basic needs. In fact, the truth is that pastors have challenges doing the work of the gospel that exceeds what the average person can relate with.
“There are certainly some pastors that are doing the wrong thing. In any fold there are quacks and fakes. Some people are there for the wrong reasons. You will agree with me that there are fake journalists and lawyers as well. There are fake pastors too, false prophets and false apostles as well. There are people whose god is their belly, who are making merchandise of the gospel.
“They sell anointing oil, manipulate people with fake prophecies and stage-manage miracles all in a bid to squeeze money out of the people. But they are not in the majority. The majority of pastors are salvation-minded. They preach salvation and righteousness but they also need to preach prosperity too because you can’t have one without the other.”
Would he buy a private jet? And he responds: “At my level of ministry right now that does not come into the configuration but because I have so many things to do, there could come a time in the life of ministry that I might need a private jet. If that becomes a need to function in the ministry, God will give me a jet.”