(Continued from last week)
Even the most puritanical of pastors admit that men of God are not immune against temptations, especially temptations from the two Ws and M-wine, women and money. But there is no consensus on the degrees to which these tempters easily beset them.
However, when Pastor Ayodele Oritsejafor, General Overseer, Word of Life Bible Church, Warri, president, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, and president, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, sat down with us recently for a biographical interview to mark his 40th year on the pulpit, he admitted that pastoral ministry is, indeed, not an easy road to tread. It is fraught with temptations. But while some preachers consider women as the biggest tempter that assails the faith of the men in cassock, Oritsejafor rates money as the worst and “most dangerous.”
“We don’t all face the same level of temptation in a particular area,” the outspoken preacher declares. “There are some areas where I have faced more temptation than even the women issue. For me, women have not been a major issue.”
So, what makes him to mark money out as the ‘most dangerous’? Although he says money, for him, is a servant, an instrument to be used in achieving set goals, it has the tendency to easily ensnare and enslave people.
“Men of God must never put money on the front burner,” he warns vehemently. “It is the most dangerous thing that a man of God can do. The moment you don’t see money for what it is, money would control you. And the moment money controls you, it can be worse than women. It is dangerous. … Money, for me, is a servant. We use money to achieve goals.”
Please, sit back and enjoy the rest of the interview.
How did you meet you present wife? How long did you have to wait or she had always been there even when…?
Ah, no ooooo…(he laughs). Actually, I waited for almost two years and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really looking because I was still going through pains. It was still there. If you looked at me, you won’t know but it was still there. I came to Lagos at a time because I live in Warri. I can’t remember what I came to do.
To minister or something?
I can’t really tell. But I was alone, feeling very lonely. And what I used to do, then, is this… Oh, I don’t like to talk too much about this. You are forcing me. To beat my pain and loneliness, I would leave Warri, sometimes, come to Lagos, and just check into a hotel and stay a few days. I was born here and still have family here but I won’t go to them. I just check into the hotel and a few friends and people who know I’m around would come around. I used to stay a lot at the Sheraton (Hotel and Towers, Ikeja).
So, I was there and one of my members that used to be in Warri but now in Lagos, found out that I was here and came to visit me. He came with my present wife to visit me. That was the first time I saw her but, honestly, I don’t know but something happened.
I know what happened…Her beauty swept you off your feet!
(Roaring laughter…) Well, you are putting it in words for me. But I knew this was it. I knew I had to follow up this and I really did. I followed it up immediately.
Oh, yes. I tell you. I took my former member aside and asked her: ‘who is this lady?’ And she laughed. She said ‘she’s my friend’, and all that. I asked some more questions that night. So, I made an appeal to her to please bring her again to me. I extended my stay in Lagos a little bit, and they came back. I was trying to check her out. We spent some time talking and it developed from there. Today, the rest is history (laughs again).
And then six years ago, God blessed us with triplets. Most people don’t know because I am a private person. It’s just in recent times that I am beginning to come out. So, we have three children, two boys and a girl. I named them Ayodele, Ayodeji and Ayodeta (laughs). They are all Ayo. Ayo one, two, three. The girl is the Ayodeta but she is actually the first. I like girls but the three, you know what that means? Triple joy at the same time, you know.
If you had them only six years ago, it means there was a period of waiting between you and your current wife again?
Oh, yes, there was. There was a time of waiting. But, again, like I said, I have always tried not to make it an issue, and it wasn’t an issue. She is an incredible woman. I think God just blessed me with her because she wiped my tears away. She is a woman of many parts. She is a preacher and sometimes I tell her that she preaches better than I do. She is also an administrator and I call her an actualizer because dreams that I have had, things that I want to do, as I pray and share it with her, she makes them happen.
Today, we have a microfinance bank with which we help a lot of people. She made that happen. I had been feeling very strongly that I would want to start a hospital, she made it happen.
What is the name of the hospital?
The bank is Eagle Flight Microfinance Bank; the hospital is Eagle Health Medical Centre; then we have a foundation called Eagle Hands International Foundation. We also have a school, from nursery up to junior secondary school; she made that happen too.
What’s the name of the school?
The name of the school is Eagle Heights International Schools. It’s like a franchise that we have. They are all ‘Eagle’. She made it happen too. In fact, there is an organization that gave her an award. I don’t know how they came about it, but they adjudged the school as number one school in the country. They gave her an award for that about three months ago. Yet, I don’t think the school is up three years old, and it has already won an award. She works so hard.
What did she study initially?
She studied Mass Communication.
She is not even a teacher!
No! She studied Mass Communication. But like I said, she is good at everything she does. She is an incredible woman. We are working on a university now. We have a satellite station called African Broadcasting Network and it reaches across Africa, a little bit into Europe, Middle East. She also runs that. She runs everything. I was telling somebody that she runs me too. She is a blessing, indeed, and God used her to change everything. Now, all the pains are gone. I feel like a new person.
You said she preaches better than you do. But I recall when you first got married, many people saw her as a dazzling happy-go-lucky lady. Now, you are saying she is so deeply spiritual that she preaches better than you do.
(Cuts in…) They were saying that because they only see the outside. God sees the inside. And because I’m involved, I say without an iota of doubt that she is a deeply spiritual person. She is an incredible person but she is also a very spiritual person. That’s the interesting thing about her. There are some things in the Bible that as Christians, somehow, we need to consider. We see it in the Old Testament and we see it in the New Testament and the Bible says, “Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.” There are people you look from the outward and say ‘no, this one can’t be spiritual.’ But I tell you many times, those are the very spiritual people if you get to know who they are. She is one of the most spiritual women I have ever known.
At the same time, she is an outgoing person. She loves people. She loves to help people. I don’t even have to tell her before helping people. I have also told her that if you feel like doing something for anybody, do it. That’s the way we both are.
As the leader of Christians in Nigeria, you must have heard people complain loudly about pastors who establish universities or school, and children of their own staff could not attend because of ridiculously high tuition. Consequently, many staff and church members go outside to get education for their kids. As president of CAN, do you think this is okay? And how is your school different from this kind of setting?
Well, I want to be very careful on what I say on this matter. I don’t want to sit here and tell you that my school is that different from what you are describing. But I think there are many things we should and must consider. The challenge is that we didn’t just look at schools and say ‘look, this is a church, this is the school, everybody should be able to go there’. It’s more than that.
First of all, I would say it’s a painful thing for any pastor to have his staff not being able to afford to go to his own school. I would think that any genuine pastor would feel bad. It’s possible that some may even decide to find money on their own to help in situations like that. But again, what people don’t consider is standard.
Schools were started by churches in Nigeria. The missionaries started schools in Nigeria. I don’t care what part of Nigeria they (missionaries) started, but the fact remains: schools began with Christianity and the church. In those days, everyone could afford to send their children to the mission schools. Why was it so? There are reasons.
First, missionaries brought money from their countries to, first, establish the schools, and secondly, fund the schools. Our local people did not have to bring out money to fund the schools. The schools were being run by monies that were coming from abroad. So, there was enough money to run the schools. Number two, most of those schools started with very basic facilities in those days. The standard then was the same, set by the same people. So, as far as facilities and a lot of things were concerned, they didn’t have full complement of them. But they had good maintenance probably because of their own culture. They established these schools and were running them, making sure that things worked. In those days, you couldn’t bribe teachers. You can’t influence teachers like they routinely do these days. You can’t try all those nonsense that we see today. They were not just there. Christ was the main factor in everything.
One of the biggest setbacks of this nation, as far as education of this nation is concerned, is that our leaders, at a time, took God away from the schools. Period. Because you can’t separate nation building from education. One of the setbacks to nation-building, one of those things that has retarded the progress of Nigeria, that has stunted the development of this country and literarily destroyed the educational foundation of this country, was the mistake that the military made at a point. I don’t know who took schools away from the missions, but it was a bad advice. Those military leaders didn’t know much about how these things work. They just based their decision on whatever they were told. Certain persons gave them that advice and it is possible that some of those people had their own ulterior motives. They had their own agenda. In the meantime, they had destroyed this nation. They did that when they took God out of our schools. That is number one.
The central theme of the mission schools was Christ, God. You couldn’t go to a mission school without inculcating into your system some of the fundamental things about Christ, about God, about the Bible, about doing the right things, and so on. You couldn’t but learn these things. It was the main thing. It was the real issue. Mathematics and history, geography and science, they were all good but this was the main thing. You got Christian Religious Studies not only as a subject but also as a way of life because when you go to the dinning hall, you pray and do all that. You had it everywhere. You felt it in anyway. But when they did this, they literarily took God out of our schools. And our schools became Godless.
The moment the schools became Godless, anything was permitted. Now, it is government and civil servants that ran the schools and they ran the system aground. Look at our schools and see what is there. Now, there is cultism in primary schools. Cultism has replaced God and the word of God. That is what we are experiencing now. Remember what brought me to this is standard. There is no standard anymore. There is nothing that people can look up to. Once you remove God, where is your standard? Nothing! The thing has become so bad that you don’t even know when school would resume especially the higher institutions and when they vacate. All you have is strike today, strike tomorrow, and crisis here and there. This is what is making people to start sending their children to schools in Ghana, Sierra Leone, even war-torn Liberia, and they are clapping! It’s like they have gone to London. It’s a shame. It breaks my heart.
This is one of the things now driving churches back to owning schools. If this is what is driving them to own schools, then, the number one thing they must bring into the school system is God. Number two is the standard. So, in this modern age, in the 21st century, how do you get that standard and how do you maintain it? Now, if a school wants an acceptable national and international standard, then there are certain basic facilities that you must provide. My children that are six years old teach me computer. I don’t know anything about computer. They take iPads and play with them. They handle these things and I’m just sitting there and asking myself, ‘what is this?’ They just laugh at me. Six years old children!
When I was six, we were still trying to do this to enter primary school (crosses his left hand over his head to touch his right ear). That was our situation. But now, look at what is happening. How do you equip a classroom with that level of computer? Where do you get the money to run it? Some people say they used the tithes and offerings to build it, let’s assume, now you want them to use tithes and offerings to maintain it, I think that would be wrong. The church has other commitments. So, you can’t also take the same tithes and offerings to start running the school. How do you get that standard, how do you get those infrastructures on ground?
What about teachers? You want the best. You want people who know what they are doing. It is not everybody who dangles a degree in your face that can actually spell his or her names. Most of them cannot even write a correct sentence. It is possible today in Nigeria for a man or woman not to enter a classroom in a university and yet has a degree.
Yes. All he or she has to do is to pay lecturers certain amount of money, they will take the money from him or her and make sure he or she gets a degree. They prepare everything stage by stage. You can pay a person who would go and sit in class for you and do the exams. All these are things happening today. I don’t know anywhere in the world where such things happen. There is so much ungodliness and Godlessness and this is what is going on literarily today. Now, you don’t want that kind of person to teach in your school.
So, if you want somebody who actually got a degree and has some discipline, some amount of Godliness in him, you must pay for it because that person also has commitments. He has his aspirations in life. So, there is need to be able to raise and maintain that standard and these things would cost a lot of money.
What is happening is that these churches know that there is no way that they can maintain that standard without money. Where would they get the money? Who would give them that money? So, the best way, and the only way, is to charge the people who would bring their children to that school. It is very possible that after some years the cost may gradually come down after it must have stabilized. There is also the possibility of people probably in the church who would come up and say ‘God has blessed me financially, how much does it cost to pay all the teachers for a year?’ And one individual can just say ‘I would pay for five years; here is the money, put it in a dedicated account.’ So, why on earth would you charge those high fees if, for example, you have already secured the salaries of the teachers? You have no reason. You would immediately slash down the fees.
So, let’s just give it some time and everything is going to come down. The fees from some of these schools owned by churches would come down. There are many factors; many reasons that would make the cost come down. But I am hoping that government would also help in two ways. For instance, government can say, look we appreciate what these churches, or these mosques, or these people are doing. So, government says ‘every year we give you certain amount of money to help you maintain the school’. That is another way to help. If government says take this amount of money, I can assure you that the fees would come down.
From your perspective, the reason for establishing private schools by churches is altruistic. It is not pecuniary or about moneymaking?
But there are people out there with this notion that churches are going into schools for commercial purposes, and, therefore, they should be taxed?
Again, that is very wrong because I can tell you that most of the schools that I know, that are being started by churches are being started because of standard. They want to create a standard that Nigerians would be proud of. It is not the money.
Forty years in ministry is a lifetime. What were the temptations that you faced, from take-off to cruising level and up to the point you are now?
I have given you one major one, in a sense, because temptation is the same with troubles, trials and challenges, it is the same thing.
Okay, what are the secondary ones?
I will tell you, whether you call it secondary or primary. The truth is that anything in life that you would do and you do it first because God called you to do it, I can assure you that it is not going to be an easy ride. There would definitely be ups and downs. I have experienced my seasons of downers and uppers. I have had situations that sometimes would have brought depression if one were not careful.
I would say one of the challenges I have always faced and still face is being misunderstood. It’s a major challenge when you are misunderstood. You mean one thing and but somebody is interpreting it differently, it breaks your heart. But when I face those seasons of misunderstandings, God has always warned me not to respond to people. I always caution myself. I feel like responding, I feel like saying certain things but I have had that caution, ‘Don’t do it. If you do it, then, there would be no room for me to fight this battle.’ So, I have always left it to God whenever I am misunderstood. And it has happened not once, not twice, but many times. This is one major thing that I have faced. That is one area where somehow I have had challenges and it can sometimes be very painful because you know that this is wrong. There are men of God who probably don’t face that. I congratulate them.
One hefty challenge that I know that men of God, especially those of you high up there, face is the temptation of women. If you don’t chase them, them chase you. What are the inbuilt mechanisms that you have to wade off the temptation from women?
What you have mentioned now is probably a temptation that every man of God would go through but at different levels. We don’t all face the same level of temptation in a particular area. There are some areas where I have faced more temptation than even the women issue. For me, women have not been a major issue; probably in my earlier days. But in the last so many years now, even before I became president of PFN and, later, CAN, the space I have to interact with people on a one-on-one basis, is very slim.
For many years now, because of threats to my life, and a lot of issues, I have had a little security around me. I have had threats so many times.
Before you became CAN president or the threat has always been there?
It has been there for a long time but it’s now probably ten times worse.
Before you became CAN president? Why would anybody want to kill you?
Don’t forget that before Boko Haram, you had armed robbery, you had kidnappings and militancy in the Niger Delta. You had all these other situations on ground. Although a lot of the key militants or the ex-militants are my children, in the sense that I was able to locate some of them, and I started talking to them, I played my part in achieving peace in the Niger Delta. If you talk to those who understand these things, they will tell you.
When Jonathan was vice president, we took him to the creeks because (President Umar Musa) Yar’Adua gave him marching orders and said, ‘go and work with your people.’ He had to do the groundwork before you can talk about amnesty. That’s why we keep appealing to our friends in the north. The man had to go to the creeks. I went with him physically. Chief Edwin Clarke, a few of us, we entered the boat and went to all kinds of places to meet with a lot of these boys, to talk to them.
My point is that we have had a very volatile situation from the area where I came from. Then, you have always had the armed robbers and kidnapping things. It is as a result of a lot of all these things that I have had to have a little security around me for a while. Apart from that, I have my personal assistant around me. Even when I am in my office in Warri, and I am hardly in Warri anyway, my secretary is there. We have a grey room; we have my wife’s office because that is how my office is structured. My secretary comes in to my office almost every 10 to 15 minutes. So, it would be very hard for any strange thing to happen in my office.
For some years now, I don’t do much counseling myself again. It is only once in a while that I will give appointments. If not, I don’t.
Why did you step down on counseling?
Because there are so many things I am doing… I am president of CAN, that is wide. I’m in my second term as president of PFN. My second tenure would soon end.
Oh, it’s still running?
Yeah. I am still president of PFN till February (2013).
I thought when you became CAN president you automatically relinquished that?
I always wondered why people would think that. There is nothing in the constitution of CAN that says you have to relinquish one for another. The head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria became the president of CAN and was the head of Methodist Church, worldwide, at the same time. I can go on and on. It’s a lot of work. I even wanted to relinquish it at a point. In fact, at the initial stage, I wanted to relinquish it but something happened and some of our leaders said ‘no’. At that point, I had two more years for my PFN tenure to end. So, they said ‘no, just combine it and do it.’ It is a lot of work.
What other challenges you have to contend with as a man of God? Is it money?
Money is not an issue?
Ok, what is your attitude to money?
Money, for me, is a servant. We use money to achieve goals. Men of God must never put money on the front burner. It is the most dangerous thing that a man of God can do. The moment you don’t see money for what it is, money would control you. And the moment money controls you, it can be worse than women. It is dangerous.
Do you know that in the Bible, when Jesus wanted to make comparisons with God, he didn’t use the devil, he used money? He said man cannot worship God and mammon, that is money, not devil. That is how powerful money is. Not even devil. He didn’t say man cannot serve God and devil; He said man cannot serve God and money. Money has power. You can almost say money has more power than the devil because money can become a god. So, that is why a man of God must deal with this issue of money and make sure that he is able to understand the place of money in his life. Money must always be a servant.
For me, there is nothing I own that I cannot give up. Absolutely nothing. And I think it is important for every man of God to settle that because if you don’t, you are definitely going to run into trouble one of these days. Any genuine man of God must sit down and work out the issue of money well with God and be sure you understand it.
The reason I brought the issue of money is because some people say there is no difference between the pastor and the purse; that the pastor owns everything. How is the issue of money in the Pentecostal fold, in a kind of church setting like yours, handled?
Well, I’m glad you brought that up. I am going to try to make some statements but I’m going to be careful because I am the leader of every Christian in Nigeria. So, I am going to be very careful in saying this. The Pentecostal movement is the youngest of the moves of God on earth today. There have been moves of God that happened a thousand years ago. Some even a thousand five hundred years ago, five hundred years ago, two hundred years ago. But the Pentecostal movement in the world, the earliest of its moves on earth today can be probably traced to Los Angeles, and that was in 1901.
You are 40 years in the ministry this year, and you have a beautiful set of triplets who are just six years old. Do you nurse some secret fears that there might not be enough time to groom the children into what you desire them to become in life?
First of all, there cannot be fear in Christ. Fear is ruled out. Why would God wait till this time to give me children? I think God is the best person to answer that. This is not my making. If He is the one that have brought children at this time, then, He knows what He wants to do. He knows how He wants to do it. So, I am not troubled. My tomorrow is in His hands. The tomorrow of these children is in His hands. He knows how to handle it and I can assure you that His plans are better than mine. I believe we would watch and see all the plans of God unfold before our eyes.