by Akan Ido
After all the arguments back and forth about the propriety or otherwise of acquiring private jets by religious leaders, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who has literally been in the eye of the storm since he was presented with one by his church members, finally opens up on the circumstances surrounding it.
Please read the interview below conducted by Vanguard Newspapers:
There is a huge gap between spirituality and actual faith in God. There is the belief that the love of money has taken over Christendom, rather than the preaching of undiluted gospel of salvation. Why do you think there is a shift towards prosperity?
First of all, as somebody who has preached the gospel for 40 years, I know that the gospel is a total package—it is for the spirit, mind and body. What has happened through the years is that in every dispensation, there is emphasis that becomes stronger than the others and such emphasis does not reduce the format but add to the format.
For example, Martin Luther was the one who searched the scripture to see how the Word of God could change the human being. But as time went on, we started seeing the Baptists. The reason why we call them Baptists is because the founder laid a lot of emphasis on water baptism; that is why today they are being called Baptists, not because they don’t believe that you need to accept Christ and be saved and go to heaven. What happened was that the founder had a revelation and a very deep understanding and conviction in the area of water baptism and he emphasized that.
Again, today, when you give your life to Christ, there is a big emphasis on salvation; that is accepting Christ and walking in the knowledge of Christ. Now, the revelation is progressing; as that went on, there are people who through inspiration and the study of the Word have more understanding in the area of prosperity and so started emphasizing on prosperity.
The problem is that there are those who preach and their whole understanding is in the area of prosperity. I think that is not good. I believe there should be a balance. I don’t believe you should not preach prosperity, but I don’t think you should preach prosperity and neglect the preaching of salvation, because we are still going to heaven at the end of everything.
This world cannot be a permanent place. If you live very long, according to scripture, probably you will live for 120 years but, at the end of the day, you will still die and go, so where are you going? So it is important to emphasize on salvation, knowing Christ and going to heaven.
Now, what will eventually happen is that, with time, these things will level out and those who place emphasis on prosperity will realize that prosperity cannot be the main thing. The main thing must still be holy living and going to heaven. So this is basically what is going to happen.
I will say what I have always said that we must emphasize on the area of living for God. That is why Nigeria has problem today. People who go to church, especially those who, one way or the other, are privileged to be in certain positions, forget the basic thing of God, which is the fear of God and all they want is money, they forget about really serving God.
They don’t take God to their work place, they don’t bring God to the positions where God has put them, but I believe that, eventually, these things will level out and the right thing will take its place.
For 40 years, you have been in the pulpit preaching the gospel of God, during which there have been miracles, touching lives and all that. But there are certain things that some people don’t know about you and this has to do with your calling. How did you get the divine call?
I have shared it so many times but I don’t mind repeating it because it is the main thing about my life. My mother prayed to have a male child. She told God that if He gave her a male child, she would give him back to Him. That was my mother’s prayer at the First Baptist Church in Lagos.
That was how she conceived and I was born. I didn’t know this prayer and my mother forgot about the prayer just like any average human being will do. So I grew up and went my own way and lived my own life and got into a lot of vices, a lot of things that were not right. I have told people that if there is any bad thing that anybody could do in this world, I did it.
Can you elaborate on this?
(Laughs) Well, at my age and at my level in life, these are things that we are not proud of and will not want to give these things prominence, but I was into so many wrong things. I leave the rest to your imagination. Yes, this was the life I lived.
However, I remember one day, I was walking along Marina in Lagos, very sad, I couldn’t explain why. You know, when you live on the wrong side of life for a while, that is how you feel. But even the worst human beings you see today on the street, no matter how bad they look, they still have soft spots.
That night, around 9.00 p.m., I was walking along Marina then, Marina was Marina and not the one you have today. There have been a lot of changes. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and I started praying, well, should I really call it a prayer? It wasn’t a prayer as such.
I said, ‘God, if you are God, do something and change me, I cannot continue with this kind of life’. Three months later, I came home, to Sapele, because my mother was here and one night somebody gave me a handbill inviting me to a crusade.
I just didn’t think I was one of those that should be invited to a crusade because I wasn’t that kind. But I went to the crusade and I heard the Word of God preached by the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa and that turned around my life. For the first time, something touched me. That was when I gave my life to Christ, and my life changed 360 degrees.
It is difficult to comprehend this because the, very next day, I bought a Bible and began to preach. It was like I lost my mind, but I think what must have happened was; remember my mother’s prayer many years back. You may forget, but God doesn’t forget.
I think God just took what belonged to Him, because, the very next day, I started to preach. I went to a market place, people gathered and I started preaching. People gathered because they knew the person I was; certainly, they had gathered to see a mad man but it turned out that I was preaching the Word of God. The very next day, people came out and gave their lives to Christ, and the rest is history.
The issue of succession in Pentecostal churches has gotten to a worrisome dimension. Founders and their followers engage in crises on who takes over when the leaders are out. The development sometimes leads to physical fights and often breakaways as those who feel they contributed to the growth of the churches insist the next persons in leadership must either be the wives, children, brother or direct relatives of the founders. What do you have to say about this?
I think there must never be a stereotype. I don’t believe that the fact that the woman is married to a man therefore she has to take over. A man can be a pastor and the wife may not have the call. We must come to a place where we must believe and accept the fact that if you push a woman into something that God did not call her, that ministry will collapse.
It will die on its own. But the other side of the coin is that it could be that the woman is also called. So if the woman is called, what do you do? Do you say that because she is the founder’s wife, she should not take her place? You can’t say that, that is why I say that there must never be a stereotype.
It depends on the call, it depends on God’s hands upon who ever. So, it could be the wife, it could be the son, it could be a brother in the church, it could be one of the pastors, it could be a total stranger. Sometimes, when we read the Bible, we don’t want to admit what we read in the Bible because we already have a mindset.
When you read the Bible, you will discover some interesting things. For example, when Jesus was here on earth, you would always conclude that the leader of the disciples was Peter, because of certain statements, certain things, but if you study very closely, you will find out that Jesus never appointed anybody.
He never appointed anybody to take over from him. So, that is a big point right there. Now, it is interesting that when you go to the book of Acts and study it very closely, you will find out that the only time we see an authentic leader of the church, you discover that the man that became the leader was Jesus’ half brother.
That is a bit strange. You will find out that even Peter submitted himself to James. I am not talking of the James that was one of the disciples. I am talking about James that was one of Jesus’ brothers; the same mother with Jesus. We know that Mary had other children, after Jesus. One of those children was James and when Jesus was physically alive, none of them believed in him.
They stayed away from him but, after he died, they accepted the gospel that he preached and, interestingly, one of them, James, became the head of the Church. The Bible tells us that at a point, when there was a problem in the Church and there were two factions—one group was the Peter group and the other group was the Paul group.
Now, there was a contention and it was over whether Christians should accept Christ who was not a Jew. Should they circumcise themselves and all that? One group said no and the other said yes. It became a very big problem and it was James who stood up and said: “This is my decision.
You must go to the Gentiles and tell them they don’t have to do this and that. This is what they must do”. You see, that tells you vividly who the leader was. So my point is this, that Peter accepted the leadership of James; obviously, Peter was already a disciple before James accepted Christ.
But he was humble enough to accept him as his leader. James did not make himself a leader; obviously, they all agreed that he should be the leader. That shows you the level of spirituality. If it is today, how would you interpret it? You will definitely say that the brother of the founder of the Church is now the leader of the Church.
There appears to be part-time and full-time pastors in the Church today, a development that has necessitated people to give conflicting reactions. Is it right to have part-time pastors in the service of God?
Look, I may say some things that are a bit different from what you have known or what you may have heard. I say things because I am convinced and you will have to find a way to digest it. Every Christian is in full-time ministry. Any other job you are doing is the one that is part-time.
If there was enough money, there would have been no need for one to work because our full-time job is to be Christians and win others to Christ. But a church must function and there are many things that must happen—life must go on, people must eat and live; if your wife is pregnant and goes to hospital, you have to pay the bills.
That is why 99 per cent of church members have jobs. If you study the Bible very carefully, you may see something that will shock you. Are you aware that Apostle Paul, everywhere he went to, to start a church, got a job? In fact, he went as far as explaining why, so that the gospel would not be abused or looked down upon; so that people will not think that he was preaching this gospel because he wanted the people’s money.
He was a lawyer by profession, but wherever he went to and couldn’t get a law job, he found something else to do and he was good at tent making. So he would start a tent making business wherever he started a church, he would go out to make tent, sell the tent and have enough money to feed everybody that was with him, and he would take care of himself and everything. So there is nothing wrong with a man who has a job and he is preaching the gospel.
Nigerian pastors are accused of prospering while their congregants continue to suffer in poverty. What is your take on this?
Well, let me begin like this, this is a major issue, especially now that I have just been presented with a gift of a jet. That makes it a major issue. Let me say here that every pastor must be conscious of the people he pastors. It is very important. I can tell you that as a pastor for 40 years now, if you talk to people that are genuinely my members, they will tell you the kind of pastor that am I.
If you watched me today, I was talking about a young man who has been trying to go to a university for three years now. I didn’t know him from Adam. One day, after a service here, one of my pastors brought him to me. As soon as he saw me, he held my legs and began to cry! He showed me all the papers, pleading that he had tried to gain admission to any university here, it never worked.
So he finally got admission to study in Cyprus. I paid his school fees, helped him with ticket and everything he needed, he’s gone. He has since resumed school and is there in Cyprus now. How many people will know that?
In the last seven even to eight years now, I have paid school fees of over 100 people in different universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
Some of them have graduated and have come here to share their testimonies, excitements and even their parents have come here to thank us. I don’t know them from anywhere. Every December 26, I do a very big thing here. We call it poverty alleviation.
This year, December 26, we will equally do it. Last December 26, I gave out about six brand new cars to people; your denomination means nothing. Whether you are a Muslim or a native doctor means nothing here. What qualifies you is if you are a human being. I gave out 25 tricycles, about 100 sewing machines, and grinding machines.
Some of these people come here to give testimonies; some are now married and have children. There was this young boy, a Moslem from Auchi. This young man, nothing good was coming out of his life, he was rejected, nobody wanted him and one of our pastors took him into a teaching centre and he was sleeping in the teaching centre. They were helping him. This boy had driver’s licence, I don’t know how he got it. He had no job and couldn’t do anything.
Last two years, when we were doing the poverty alleviation, he applied. And they brought out a name which happened to be this boy’s and he won a brand new car. Today, that boy has rented his own house; in fact, his parents who are Muslims came to church on a Sunday and worshipped with me and danced all over the place and, after the service, they came to me and thanked me, saying ‘oh, this boy that you don’t even know from anywhere, you dashed him a car.’
They were very happy. Besides that, many lives have been transformed here. We have changed many lives. We have an orphanage here. As we are talking, an American couple has gotten in touch with me. They want to adopt a child from our orphanage. We have a clinic here that hopefully will develop into a full blown hospital. People go there and pay little something for treatment, but generally on Sundays people are treated free.
These are some of the things we do. Most people don’t know this and I don’t think I am the only pastor doing this. So a lot of people who are saying this against pastors are just being mischievous. They may have their reasons, some of them are bitter about something and they are not telling the full story about what is making them bitter.
But like I said, a good pastor must be concerned about his people. We have buses that we use in carrying people. If I tell you some of the things that we used to do, it will shock you. There is a woman in my church, when she came to this church, she had probably two blouses and a wrapper, no slippers, not even bathroom slippers.
She had never entered a classroom before. I didn’t even know her. She is from one of these oil bearing communities. There was a time an oil company in their community wanted to do business with them and she was interested but had no money. She came to us for assistance. I don’t think, at that time, she had ever seen N10,000 in her life.
So she went to our micro-finance bank, Mama (my wife) runs it without salary, she and all our directors don’t earn one naira. She went to the bank and said she wanted to borrow money. My wife asked her; `how much do you have in your account’, and she said, I don’t even have an account’.
My wife looked at her, and she called me about it and I said, `look, leave me out of it’. We didn’t even have that kind of money at that time. She asked the woman again, `how much do you have now and the woman said N2,000′. She now advised her to use that money to open an account and she did. Mama now went round to source for the amount.
The short story here is that she got the money, did her business and in less than six months, she paid back the money she collected. As we speak now, she is one of the richest women in Warri. She bought me an incredible car that cost millions of naira some years ago.
Coming to the issue of jet, I had no single idea of how it came about. It is true that people like us have gotten to a point where we need to have means of movement that will help us. You may have heard me speak about my trip to Indonesia, to Jakarta.
In fact, it wasn’t even Jakarta I was going to, but I had to stay inside an airport in Jakarta for five hours to wait for my flight, to get to the very city I was going. I was only going to preach for two hours there. I flew from Lagos to Dubai and I spent over three hours, changed flight to fly to Jakarta and then stayed five hours at the airport just to catch a flight to where I was going to, where I was to preach for just two hours.
And after everything, I got a flight from that place again to Jakarta, stayed at the airport again for another five hours, then flew into Dubai, stayed again at the airport for another three hours before I flew into Lagos. It took me four days to make a journey to preach for two hours. I’m a human being and I am not getting younger every day.
And locally, it is worse, for instance, the acting General Secretary of CAN lost his father in a place outside Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and I had to be there. I preached in a place in Lagos on a Friday and needed to be back to Warri on a Saturday, but at the end of the day, the plane that would have taken me was no where.
I had to charter a plane for N3.5 million to take me to Uyo, waited for me to finish and then take me back to Warri. Two weeks ago, a young pastor in Port Harcourt built a new church and had been on me all this while to come and dedicate the church and suddenly from no where, there was this flood that cut off the road to Port Harcourt.
There is no road now to Port Harcourt. If you want to go by road now, it takes you up to 12 hours to get to Port Harcourt and I had to preach in Port Harcourt, I had to preach in Lagos, I had to preach in Abuja and other places. Finally, I was able to find my way to Port Harcourt, it was on a Saturday.
I had to get to Warri that Saturday so as to be able to preach the next day, Sunday. Do you know what I had to finally do? I chartered a helicopter that cost me N2 million to drop me in Warri. When they dropped me here, ah, I can’t tell you how I felt that I had to part with that sum. But I had promised the young man and the church and if I had said no, will it be right? I can go on and on and on.
So, sometimes, my schedule is so complicated. Now, with this plane, it changes everything about my movements. Now, I can move, I can even go and come back home. It is a bit more convenient for me and I suspect that this is one of the reasons a lot of these other preachers have planes.
Does your congregation understand all these engagements?
They do. They feel the pain I go through and they feel painful for not seeing me most of the time. They don’t like it, they are troubled. I know some people buy planes, my schedule is so complicated. I can’t buy a plane, I can’t afford it. I don’t have that kind of money, I still don’t know the people that bought this plane, but I know that there is a committee.
I hope you will get to meet with some of the people in that committee, I don’t know them. My wife is more involved with them. She (my wife) never talked to me, (about it) and she was acting strange. Well, I don’t want to get involved in this. This is my story about the plane. And I’m not ashamed to own a plane, I think it is a necessity and not a luxury for some of us deeply involved in the work of God to own planes.