BISHOP PEACE OKONKWO is a woman you will fall in love with meeting her for the first time. In this interview, she tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN about her life with her husband, Bishop Mike Okonkwo as he turns 70 in September.
The headquarters of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) located at Anthony-Oke, Lagos is enveloped in quietness this bright Wednesday morning in August. It is not a Sunday hence such stillness is expected. A couple of notes from a group of people rehearsing a song in one of the buildings filter through the air as I find my way to the administrative department on the church premises.
It is the first time; I will ever get so close to the grounds of TREM. As a girl growing up in the early 1980s, the images of Bishop and Bishop Mrs. Okonkwo loomed large in Pentecostal Christendom. In my opinion, they are one of the early pioneers of modern-styled preaching bringing a radical change to how God’s word is consumed in contemporary times.
And so, I was eager to meet in person Bishop Peace Okonkwo, the great woman behind the man, Bishop Mike Okonkwo and his ministry. Anyone who is familiar with the pathetic story of late Apostle Ayo Babalola and his wife will agree with me that for the marriage of the Okonkwos to still be standing after 35 years means a lot of effort must have been put in by Bishop Peace.
As I walked into administrative building, I was ushered into the well decorated mini boardroom. A well framed picture of Bishop Okonkwo hung on the cream coloured wall. He looks well polished in his purple robe. On the other side is that of his wife, Mama, as she is fondly called. She is also dressed in a similar purple robe.
After waiting for a few minutes, she walks in beaming with smiles. Her countenance amiable, her simplicity shines through. Dressed in a floral print white jacket on a black skirt, she looks ageless. In a couple of weeks, her husband will cross that golden Rubicon as he clocks 70. No doubt, she has been a strong pillar of support for a man of God whose ministry has touched many lives and transcends the shores of Nigeria.
“Life with Mike Okonkwo,” she tells me as soon as our interview began, “is an interesting one but not without challenges. “Since I married him about 35 years ago, God has really been our helper all the way. I told you there were challenges we had our own share. But the bible says we should look onto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. And because we agree together, we overcome. The bible says if two will agree together many things shall be done. We always stand in faith trusting God to help us.”
Mike and Peace met shortly after the Civil war in early 1970s at a time when everyone needed succor. The only place they could turn was the church where they found refuge for their deprived souls. It was in the midst of all these that Bishop Peace was approached by Bishop Mike’s sister. “I didn’t meet him first,” she recalls, “I met the senior sister. The woman sort of took likeness of me. She likes me so much. Because Bishop at that time was very shy, he couldn’t talk to a woman. He is a very shy person; his sister was the one who said my brother likes you. I said which of your brothers? Because they are all brothers; she said the one that is a banker. I said we will talk about it.” And so, one thing led to one another they got married some years later.
Mama is honest enough to say the first time she met her husband, she didn’t like anything. “I felt he was arrogant because of his family background. The first time I thought to myself, what is wrong with this young man, why is he cocky? For the 35 years we have been married, God has really been our helper and he has seen us through. It is not been all rosy. Anyone who tells you that everything has been beautiful is not true. There have been ups and downs but we just hang in there. There is nothing else you can do because you can’t run from God. When it comes to God, you run to Him. When there are challenges He is the only one who will see you through all the challenges. I will say it has been 35 years of God’s faithfulness, helping us; helping us in the ministry and home. He has helped us thus far to be able to bring up our daughter. By the next few months, she is going to get married so God has been good.”
Bishop Peace surely has fond memories of their early days as newlyweds. That was a time he defended and stood up for her. And he has never stopped doing so.
“Bishop is somebody that can defend you anytime,” she says. “He loves you, he stands for you. He is not somebody that will deny you when the chips are down. He will stand for you once he knows you are doing the right thing.”
And in those 35 years, Bishop says her husband has been a very good cook and they love playing games together. “One or two things I know he likes to cook. He will also teach you how to do it. It is so funny that he came from a background where they are about six boys they always had people who lived with them who did all the cooking. I don’t know how he learnt how to cook this vegetable soup. There was a day he said let me teach you and he is a funny person. To play game with Bishop, you will fall on the floor with laughter while playing with him especially Ludo game. If he is the one winning, just resign to your fate. He will make you laugh in such a way that you won’t feel bad losing.”
In addition, they are both lovers of football but ironically they support different clubs. Bishop Peace is a big fan of Chelsea while her husband supports Manchester United. Hear her describe a typical moment when they are watching football together: Bishop is quiet interesting. When we watch football we sit on the carpet of our sitting room to watch it. Because I love Tennis, he became interested in Tennis. Those moments we watch tennis together, we laugh. Sunday evening especially, we love to relax.”
Bishop Peace is a remarkably honest woman even when she talks about the love of her life. She is honest enough to say her husband is more fashionable than her. “He is the one teaching me how to dress. Bishop is very stylish and he can put things together. My daughter tells me that if I want to buy anything for her that her father must see it first. I don’t really care about fashion, all I know is just wear good cloths and be clean but my husband is really into it.”
She says she shares so many things in common with her husband. Often, they eat and play together. For them, getting old is no barrier to joy and fulfillment.
“Like this morning, when we finished prayer, we started talking, Uche, our daughter, joined us. He doesn’t like Toothpaste pressed from the middle and am used to it. We eat together and we do exercise together in our compound. We play table tennis together.”
In addition to being a good wife and mother, Bishop has used her position to advocate for female inclusiveness in their ministry. “The ministry started when there was no woman as a pastor. We started the women ministry. There was no mentor then and now there are so many ministers now. We have Mama Idahosa, Mummy Mercy Ezekiel, Rev. Roseline and so many others but we pioneered the ordination of female pastors.”
She says her family values include a husband and wife seeing things the same way. “There should be an altar in the family. The way things are going everywhere, it is hard for people to have a family altar because a family that prays together stays together. Training of the children is very vital. You must pray about their schools and other things. Also, I advise women in our church on seeking God’s face while looking for life partners to like the person and when you start praying, certain things will happen and God will lead you. For instance, my husband and I used to quarrel all the time in that church before we began dating and finally got married. However, he found out that he is so fond of me. Don’t allow anyone to tell you this is your husband.”
Finally, she didn’t end the interview without a birthday message for the man who makes her live and love: “Man of God, you know I love you so much and apart from God, you are the best thing that happened to me. My prayer for you is keep on keeping on. The Lord is with you and I will love you till I die.”