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Bishop Mike Okonkwo: Celebrating life at 70

Bishop Mike Okonkwo - Luxury Reporter2BISHOP MIKE OKONKWO has been through many trials since he started his ministry more than 30 years ago. In this interview, he tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN how God has kept him as he clocks 70 years old today.

I have known him to wear the same hair cut he spotted that lovely Wednesday morning we agreed to meet for this interview. He looks ageless and he hasn’t changed much even as he turns 70 today, Sunday September 6, 2015.

The fervour with which he preaches on the pulpit is the same he exhibited while answering my questions. He has a word from the bible to backup every answer. He explains each one in details and how it relates to the questions asked.

Bishop Mike Okonkwo is a very stylish man. You can’t doubt that fact when you see him afar off or have a close encounter with him like I did during this interview. The fact that he loves to look impeccable is visible. And this has defined him over the years looking at his pictures through the ages. Even with his ministry, there is this uniqueness about the way he dishes out the word. God’s grace is truly upon him as he turns 70.

And so, he tells me he feels great as he advances in age. “I feel excited that by the Grace of God, one has been able to get to the age of 70. For me it’s a blessing. I am really grateful God. A lot of people attribute good looks as health but I would even take it from there to if you do exercise, if you watch what you eat and so on. And in my case, I would attribute it to God. Yes, I do exercise but I don’t do exercise to go and win Olympics because some people really stress themselves, doing all kinds of things.”

“I found out that this does not guarantee and so I do a little exercise. What I do most now is to play Table Tennis, I also like to swim but I am not so sure of the swimming pools in this country and I do not have a private one. Except when I travel out of the country, I play table tennis two or three times a week. As for food I eat everything, I eat carbohydrate. They say don’t eat red meat, I eat red meat. I wouldn’t say it is because I have been careful with my diet. It is not true; it is God’s grace upon my life.”

He went for a crusade in 1984 in Abeokuta, Ogun State. When they returned, that was before Christmas of that year, his daughter who sang with other children in the choir, had a strange experience on the night of that 25th.

“I was going to preach that morning, after praying, the girl refused to get up. I went to where I was going to preach and never mentioned what happened to them. To me the young baby died and that was one challenge. Then my immediate younger brother who was the only support that I had, he had HND in one of the polytechnics in the north and was to go and study Medicine but my parents refused to send him to school, the punishment was for supporting me in the Ministry. God however gave him the opportunity and he passed as a Medical doctor.

Before he was called into the ministry, Okonkwo moved to Lagos to live with his father at Brickfield on Apapa Road. He was schooling at Ijero Baptist School. As the years went by, his father who was a disciplinarian felt that he needed to leave home and live with someone.

“We were a bit comfortable,” he recalls, “he was a senior civil servant in Telecommunications known as P and T (Post and Telecommunications). He retired there eventually. He moved me first to Offa in 1957 to live with an uncle in Offa Grammar school that was when the school was starting. Then I moved on to Mayflower Grammar school, Ikenne under Tai Solarin.”

Okonkwo was in Mayflower School, Ikenne, for two years where he encountered peer pressure. He was taunted by friends for his inability to speak Igbo fluently. Hence he had to return to his parents as he also wanted to change school.

“I changed school to Merchant of Life School in the East and that was where I graduated in 1963. All this while, they made sure that we were going to church. I was in the choir at St Judes Church, Ebute Meta with my sister. My father was a much disciplined man; he helped a lot of people but didn’t believe in bribes. He would warn you that people are going to come to the house and bring turkey, bring drinks to the house and that you must not take it. As a young boy, you want to take and keep it. If my father catches you, you are in trouble and he would ask you to go and return it.”

However, his turn around happened during the war. He worked at the Ports Authority in Lagos just for a few months. He was not comfortable with the work condition hence he told his brother he needed to change jobs. Eventually, his brother secured another job for him in a bank, the then ACB where he worked as a cashier.

While working as a cashier at ACB, Okonkwo had a remarkable experience that he still remembers till date. “I was always counting money. One day, I went for lunch in the office in Marina and this fellow followed me. He said that he had some money that was counterfeit and he wanted me to help change and we would share the money. I said no, I wouldn’t do something like that and I ran, so afraid that somebody was hearing us. When the war intensified, people from the eastern extraction were afraid. I asked for transfer and I was transferred to Onitsha and the war kept going.”

While growing up, Okonkwo made a conscious effort to live a righteous life even when he was unaware he would be called into the ministry. Perhaps, he was largely influenced by the discipline instilled in him by his father. Eventually when he got that great call to start a church, his parents were furious.

“They couldn’t understand it, I was working in the bank and I had a bright future, the then African continental bank which started on Martins street branch which was close to the headquarters in Broad streets. To worsen it all, of all places it was Pentecostal church which to them was Aladura. What type of thing is this, they fumed. If you want to answer the call of God, go to Anglican or Catholic Church, the orthodox churches. At a stage they went to arrange for a policeman to come and arrest me but I was resolute. The Ministry started growing; we were not even here then. We were still in Akoka and later they were able to see the greatness of what God wanted me to do.”

As the ministry grew, his better half and companion on the journey, Peace Okonkwo, had to give up her job to support him full time. And he says she has played a great role in the success of his ministry. “I cannot thank God enough for the type of wife that he has given to me. I know that some people say that for the fun of covering up but I am being honest. I don’t think that we would have been able to achieve the much that we have achieved over the years. One of the things that we understood and told ourselves from the start is that you are not just husband to your own but you are husband to every woman in your church, you are also father to every person. If you have a wife that does not understand this part and is possessive, it’s going to bishopdestroy your work.

“For me, I don’t know how I would have survived if every day, we are fighting, then the huge responsibility that I have in the church won’t be achieved. I have an understanding wife, who people would come and be thanking for something she didn’t know I did. You know that kind of thing, something you didn’t even remember you did and then somebody going to her and thanking her for it. Then she would know that I have done another one and she would not really quarrel about it but if it is someone that likes to rage and fumes, then you are in for it.

In addition, she has helped to cover some of my own weaknesses. She is good at knowing people, knowing their names individually and reaching out to them when I am not there.”

The journey for Okonkwo has not been all rosy like all God’s generals in the Bible he has had his own fair share of adversities. The first challenge he has was when he lost his first child. He had her in 1982 shortly after he got married to his wife in 1980.

He went for a crusade in 1984 in Abeokuta, Ogun State. When they returned, that was before Christmas of that year, his daughter who sang with other children in the choir, had a strange experience on the night of that 25th.

“I was going to preach that morning, after praying, the girl refused to get up. I went to where I was going to preach and never mentioned what happened to them. To me the young baby died and that was one challenge. Then my immediate younger brother who was the only support that I had, he had HND in one of the polytechnics in the north and was to go and study Medicine but my parents refused to send him to school, the punishment was for supporting me in the Ministry. God however gave him the opportunity and he passed as a Medical doctor.

“Then he joined me again and continued to support me as one of our worship leaders. On one of those days, I travelled out and gave an assignment to him to come back to the church and conduct an interview on my behalf. That was when armed robbery was beginning to rise. Some armed robbers came to him, inside the church of God and told him to bring the key of the car. To cut the long story short, he was shot and they started battling for his life. They took him to one hospital where they knew they couldn’t handle the issue and eventually they decided to take him to another hospital. Eventually, he couldn’t make it and he died. It was very devastating.”

In spite of all these, Okonkwo made up his mind that the best he could do was be the best in what God has made called him to be.

“Everything that I have done has been by faith. Up till now, we still depend on God for every project. By the time that the church started growing, we had no place to go and we started carrying our programs to the Stadium. We were eventually directed here, Anthony Oke, it was not the kind of place that you want to build on. It was water logged and we would stand at the hill and be pointing at this place. The big question then was, ‘how would it happen’ but again, the Lord built HIS house. It’s a work of faith, when you look at things that are impossible, your best bet is in God doing it. Why would I not believe? God assured me and that is why no one can take the glory, He built it Himself.”

 

 

 

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