President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, spoke with PASCHAL OKEKE shortly after the celebration of his 40 years in ministration. The cleric explained some knotty issues, particularly those relating to his new jet. Excerpts:
RATHER than preaching repentance, it is prosperity that most clerics preach these days. Why is it so?
First of all, let me say that the Apostle Paul said ‘I have preached the entire gospel.’ The gospel is a complete thing; it is for the spirit, the mind and for the body.
But what has happened through the years is that in every dispensation, there are certain emphases that become stronger than others, and such emphases do not reduce the former, but add to them. For example, Martin Luther King was the one who started becoming inquisitive about the scripture and began to go into the Bible to see the reality of how the word of God changes a human being’s life and he began to do that. But as time went on, you got to the Baptist.
The reason we call them the Baptist is that their founders laid a lot of emphasis on water baptism, not because they did not believe that you needed to accept Christ and be saved to go to heaven; what happened was that the founders had the revelation and understanding very deeply and convincingly in water baptism.
So, they emphasised that, but did not remove the other part of repentance. Now, what we have today, when some of us gave our lives to Christ, there was a deep emphasis on salvation; that is accepting Christ and working in the knowledge of Christ.
Now, revelation is progressive; it now went on that there have been people who have, through inspiration and study of the word, started having more understanding in the area of prosperity. So, they started emphasising prosperity. The problem is that there are those who preach and almost their whole emphasis will be prosperity and I think that is not good.
I believe that there should be a balance; I do not believe that you should not preach prosperity, but I do not believe that you should preach prosperity and neglect the preaching of salvation, because we are still going to heaven at the end of everything. We must leave this world; this world cannot be a permanent place.
Even if you live very long, according to the scripture, probably, it will not be more than 120 years, and if you leave, where are you going? So, there is still that part of it and the need to emphasise salvation, knowing Christ and going to heaven.
Why is it that Nigerian pastors flourish, while members of their congregation languish in poverty?
Well, let me begin like this; because this is a major issue, especially now that I have just been presented with a gift of a private jet. Let me say that every pastor that is a pastor must be conscious of the people he pastors; it is very important.
I can tell you that as a pastor for 40 years, if you talk to people that are genuinely my members, they will tell you the kind of pastor that I am. A young man is in Cyprus, he just resumed school about a month ago.
He had been trying to go to the university for three years, and I did not know. But one day, after the church service, one lady who is one of our pastors brought him to me.
He fell down and wept, grabbing my legs. He showed me all his papers, saying that he had tried to get into the university in Nigeria, but it never worked. He finally got an admission in Cyprus. I paid all the fees, ticket and everything; he has gone to school now. How many people will know that? We have done that to a number of people.
Over the years, we have sponsored countless number of people to universities and polytechnics and most of them have come to share their testimonies in excitement. And their parents have come to thank me, but I did not know them from Adam. Every 25 December, I organise a big thing here. We call it poverty alleviation. I gave out, last 25 December, about eight brand new cars to people, irrespective of their denomination or religion, which means nothing to me. What qualifies you is that you are a human being. I gave out 20 tricycles, about 100 sewing machines and about 100 grinding machines.
You need to see the excitement; how people were crying. Some of these people are still coming to give testimonies; some are now married with children and are living fine. When I see them, I feel so good. We have an orphanage here. As we speak, an American couple has gotten in touch with me that they want to come and adopt a child in our orphanage.
We have a clinic that, hopefully, one day, will be developed into a full-blown hospital. People go there and pay a token to be attended to.
When it was announced that you got a jet as a gift, a pastor in London was quoted as saying most pastors were living on the struggle of the people, enjoying prosperity while the people that attend their churches are suffering. What is your opinion about that?
Most pastors that talk like this are mischievous; they have what is disturbing them and the reasons. Some of them are bitter about something and they are not telling the full story of what is making them bitter; they have problems. They have all kinds of situations in their lives. As I said, a good pastor must be concerned about his people. We have buses and other means that we use to carry people. There is a woman in this church. When she came to this church, she only had two blouses, a wrapper and a pair of slippers. She worshipped with us here for a few years, and it was announced that they wanted to give people business in her community and they mentioned her name. They offered her a job of about N40 million and I do not think that at that time, she had ever seen N10, 000 before. She went to our micro-finance bank, which my wife runs without earning N1. All our directors there do not earn N1 and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said they ought to earn something by all means.
She went to my wife and said she needed to borrow some money. She was asked how much she needed and she said N40 million and my wife told her that she needed to open an account and asked her how much she had and she said N2,000. She told her to open an account with it and my wife went around and sourced for money, because at the time, we did not have such an amount of money in our account. She was loaned the money.
She did her business and in less than six months, she paid back. Now, she is one of the richest women in this town. She bought me an incredible car some years ago. The point is that people do not understand that all these things happen. Coming to the issue of the jet, I had no idea of it. It is true that people like us have got to a point where we need to have a means of movement that will help us.
I have talked about my trip to Indonesia in September. I had to get to Jakarta and stayed at the airport for five hours to wait for my flight to go to the very city where I was going to preach. I was only to preach for two hours. I flew from Nigeria to Dubai, changed flight and flew into Jakarta and then stayed five hours in the airport to catch a flight to get to where I was going. When I got there, I preached two hours and got a flight to get back to Jakarta for another number of hours I cannot tell and then, flew into Dubai and back to Lagos. It took me four days to make a journey to preach for two hours.
I am a human being and I am not getting younger every day. The acting General Secretary of CAN is aware of this. His father died in Ikot Ekpene in Uyo. I had all kinds of engagements and I had to be there. I had to preach in Lagos on Friday, because the burial was Saturday and I had to preach in Warri on Sunday and at the end of the day, there was no flight. They said we came too late for the flight that would have taken me, and I spent N3.5 million to charter a plane that took me to Uyo, waited for me as I stayed with them for some time, and brought me to Warri. I paid N3.5 million.
Sometime ago, there was a young pastor in Port Harcourt. His church built a new building and they had been on me for almost a year. I gave them a date to go and dedicate this church and suddenly, there was this flood. You know that the road between here and Port Harcourt is gone. So, here I was; I had made a commitment. I had to go. If you want to go round, it will take about 10 to 12 hours to get from Warri to Port Harcourt. Then, I had to preach in Warri and I had to preach in Abuja. So, finally, I was able to find my way to Port Harcourt from Lagos, but it was on a Saturday. So, there was no road to get to Warri, and I had to get to Warri that Saturday so as to be able to preach on Sunday. I usually preach in two services on Sunday. You know what I finally did? I chattered a helicopter that cost me N2million; just to drop by at Warri. As they alighted me here, I cannot tell you the way I felt; that I had to part with N2 million. But I had promised the young pastor. If I said I would not go, would it be right? I can go on and on.
So, sometimes, my schedule is so complicated. For example, we finished this programme on 18, and on 19, Foursquare was dedicating its new headquarters building and I was the spiritual father of the day. Foursquare had been trying to get me for the past five years and I had not been able to go. So, Monday 19, I had to be there. On 20, I went to Port Harcourt to preach. On 21, I would fly back to Lagos to preach. On the 22 I preached in Abuja. On 23, I preached in Onitsha. On the 24, I was back in Abuja on Saturday because I knew I would be preaching today in Abuja.
So, before I will get back to Warri, it will be 26. How do I cope with these movements? Do you see what I am saying?
I did not even know that I was going to get a jet. I had said this to journalist who interviewed me in Port Harcourt.
I explained some of these things that it is not every preacher that owns a plane that is bad. I started explaining my own kind of schedule. Now, with this plane, it changes everything for me, because now, I can move. I can even go and come back home and go the next day. I can move and it is a little bit more convenient for me. I suspect that a lot of these other preachers have planes today for the same reason.
My congregation understands my movement and the pains I go through and the pains they go through for not seeing me most of the time. They are troubled; they do not like it. People buy planes, but I cannot afford it. I do not have that kind of money. So, it is people who want to assist me, I do not know the people themselves, but I know that there is a committee. I had no idea how the jet came about. So, this is my story about the plane and I am not ashamed to own a plane. I think it is a necessity and not a luxury.
Culled from Tribune