by Kolapo Olapoju
When a scandal erupts within a church, only the most ardent believers and loyal members would stay put, and weather the storm.
While some may jump ship and take a walk, others would see out the turbulence, whether as a result of strong conviction in the church and those involved, or probably, due to an underlying sense of faith in the parties involved.
Believer’s LoveWorld Inc, popularly known as ‘Christ Embassy’, has come under the public radar and intense scrutiny, less than a fortnight ago, for two reasons.
A church faced with two demons
First of which is that the church is reeling from the shock of news reports of an imminent divorce between the founder, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and wife, Rev. Anita Oyakhilome.
The wife has reportedly filed for divorce in a London law firm, citing “adultery and unreasonable behaviour” as two of the reasons why she wants out of the union.
The suit number of the divorce case is; No FD14D01650, and it was filed on 9 April, 2014 at Divorce Section A, Central Family Court, First Avenue House, High Holborn, London, UK, on Anita’s behalf by Attwaters Jameson Hill Solicitors.
Pastor Chris hasn’t out rightly denied it, but he has gone one to state that the media reports are “false and fabricated” and that it’s all a deliberate attempt to ridicule him and the church. He also says he might take legal action against the media for reporting the story.
The statement released on his behalf by Mr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), said, “Be warned therefore that unless concerned media houses desist from further publishing words and stories which are false and damaging of our client’s reputation and the church, we shall, without further recourse to the concerned publishers, promptly embark on appropriate legal machinery with a view to protecting our client’s reputation and that of the church.”
The second reason why the church has been in the spotlight is another report that the church, “Christ Embassy” is being investigated by United Kingdom Charity commission over controversial payments.
The United Kingdom Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry to look at the transfer of at least £3.6 million (N941 million) between 2008-2012, by the church to overseas entities.
The commission had on 11 August, cut off the powers of the church’s board of trustees, after it appointed an interim manager, Rod Weston, of the international audit and accounting firm, Mazars, to take over the management of the church.
The commission stated that “until the investigation is concluded, Mr Weston would take over the management of the charity, including its staff, assets, interests, and relations with third parties.”
Without trying to sensationalize or glamorize the crisis, it is more than apt to describe the situation as a ‘scandal’, hence, it was only proper to have a first-hand experience of the first Sunday service after the divorce tale came to fore.
An expectant, yet defiant congregation
So, when I visited Christ Embassy, Araba branch, Alapere, on Sunday, 7 September, I did not know what to expect. I arrived midway through the worship session, which was overstretched as the leading pastor kept muttering, ‘let’s just worship the Lord’, while she belted out series of worship songs in different octane levels.
The church was half-full, and the ambience, although not entirely demure, was lacking of the trademark ‘Christ Embassy’ dramatics and excitement. Undoubtedly, the hovering ‘elephant in the room’ had inadvertently affected the congregation’s demeanour.
As the sermon commenced and the usual suspects dozed intermittently, I perused the faces of the 100+ church population. Except for a few people who got carried away from time to time, majority of the congregation seemed hooked on the Pastor’s words. I could sense a high level of concentration and evident expectation.
Midway through the sermon, the female pastor digressed to address the issue on everyone’s mind.
She said, “In regards to news reports about our pastor, don’t join people to discuss about things you don’t know. Everybody goes through challenges, and Pastor Chris and Rev. Anita are human beings. True, there is a divorce case, but there is no basic truth in all that is being said by people.”
“The best thing we can do for our pastors now is to pray for them and ask God to take control. We should tell God to arrest the situation and let his will be done.”
“Everyone faces challenges, no one’s is perfect. Don’t let your faith be shaken. Don’t let one little thing affect what we’ve built over the years. Christ Embassy has done a lot, we have won a lot of souls around the world. Do you think the devil is happy that we are gathered here together? Don’t let the devil destroy your belief. This period especially, is the time to be close to God,” she added.
After the service, I sought to speak to some Pastors to sample their opinions and standpoint on the matter, but I would meet a defensive and resistive stance that has been embraced by many ‘Christ Embassy’ workers, cell leaders and pastors, since the can of worms came pouring out.
The male pastor, who spoke to me said, “You heard what was said on the altar. I have nothing more to add. All we can do is pray for our father in the Lord and his wife.”
He added, “If you want to know more, maybe you should attend the communion service by evening. Pastor Chris may address the issue.”
Pastor Chris speaks on divorce case at communion service
At the evening communion service, which is held on the first Sunday of every month, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome did indeed address the divorce issue.
He said, “I understand that some media houses particularly in Nigeria and maybe in South Africa (I don’t know) but there are some of them that have been writing some real stupid things, and frivolous charges.
You have to understand something about a Man of God. A man of God is not just someone who worships God or who preaches God. A man of God is directed by God, set on course by God. If you study the scriptures you will not find one Man of God going against God, sinning against God, the only thing you can find is a Man of God, maybe, in two different things.”
1. Moses for example, when he struck the rock twice, provoked by the anger of the people, not because he wanted to do something against the Lord. No Man of God does something against the Lord. Are you hearing me? A man of God is set on course, there is a type of life that he’s been given, alright?
2. Then you have a young man, a young prophet, he wasn’t named, he was deceived by another Man of God, and so he went in the direction God says don’t go.
I wasn’t accused of those things you (media houses) said, nor did I commit those stupid thing that you said and I don’t need to go to that level and such discussions. Jesus Christ was accused by many, with lots of frivolous charges. There would always be those who’d like for it to be true, but you know, in spite of the accusations against Jesus, it didn’t change who he was!
There are preachers and there are Men of God. I’m not a preacher, I’m a Man of God, understand the difference. And I go in the way I’m asked to go, it may cause some troubles with individuals, but that’s not because I’ve done something wrong.
“And when it comes to Rev. Anita, what I’d say to you is pray for her, don’t act like ‘why why why is she….. Married to a Man of God does not automatically make you Woman of God! You can make mistakes, but you know, people expect the wife of a Minister to definitely be at the level of the Minister, and so they may be looked upon and the expectations maybe like that, but it’s a positional thing! “
“If a Man of God is married, it does not automatically mean the wife of the Man of God is therefore a Woman of God! That’s not how it is in the Bible. That’s why you don’t really find wives of Men of God listed in the bible. How many of them? Who was Peter’s wife? Did you ever know her name? You’d never find out! Who was John’s wife? Did you ever read the name? What about all the other apostles? How many are registered in the bible? You never find their names, why? Ask God when you find HIM!”
“So, they are little things, don’t try to make something big out of them, and we’re journeying, doing the things that God’s called us to do…Christians should not have a divorce, it shouldn’t be, but you see, that doesn’t mean a Christian may not take the step. They may do it, but that doesn’t make it right. And we shouldn’t take one another to court, but when it happens, not because we wanna go there, someone is taking us there.”
“That’s a problem, be wise, stay focused in the Word of God, and don’t let those who want to feast on things like this including Christians. You know there are Christians who like things like this, they wanna make something big about it. You should only say those things that are from God, and become honourable in your speech, and judge nothing before the time. Be wise, Glory to God.”
Unshaken belief in Pastor Chris
The founder of Believer’s world, however, failed to address core issues surrounding the divorce, especially the scandalous report that Rev. Anita wants out of the marriage because of Pastor Chris’s alleged ‘adultery’ and ‘inappropriate relationship’ with other females in church.
Even as the scandal threatens to engulf the church, majority of ‘Christ Embassy’ seem to have come to a collective agreement to give the general overseer, the benefit of doubt in this trying period. There is a high degree of denial within the church and an unmistakable sense of belief in their pastor.
Pastor Chris enjoys a loyal following, which cannot be easily swayed by public opinion and media reports, even when/if it has some iota of credibility.
Without facts and overwhelming proof, ‘Christ Embassy’ members will not crucify or castigate their leader. They may trust him less and become sceptical about his conduct, but to them, he is innocent until proven guilty.