Home » Interview » I Was A Chain Smoker, Drunk, But God Saved Me –Bishop Mike Okonkwo

I Was A Chain Smoker, Drunk, But God Saved Me –Bishop Mike Okonkwo

At 70, how do you feel?

In terms of feelings, I would say that I feel happy and excited .By the grace of God, I have been able to go this far. I am grateful to God.

What is the secret, you look younger than 70?

A lot of people attribute my health and good looks to exercise, watching what one eats and all those stuffs, but to be honest with you, I will attribute mine to God on my side. Yes, I do exercise, but I don’t do exercise to go and participate in Olympic . Many people get involve with exercise but I have come to realised that fitness is not about your size or stuff, so I do little exercise. What I do most recently is to play table tennis, I like to swim but I am not too sure of the swimming pools in this country and I don’t have a private one . What I do whenever I am around is play table tennis , two- three times a week. I play table tennis but as for food I eat everything, I eat red meat, some people will say don’t eat red meat, I eat carbohydrate so I am trying to say dieting is not good but for my own part I wouldn’t say that is my doing but it just the grace of God.

What role has mummy (your wife) play in all these?

Wonderful role, I cannot thank God enough for the type of wife He has given to me but I always asked myself that if God did not give her to me, I don’t think I would have been able to achieve the much I have been able to achieved over the years. Because with the type of assignment we have as ministers of the gospel, two things we must tell ourselves and understand that part of our duty is not only husband to our wives but husband to every person as a woman in your church, you are also father to every person. And if you have a wife that does not understand this fact and is possessive, it could destroy your work and as for me I don’t know how I would have been able to survive, if every day we are fighting at home and with the huge responsibility I have. There is no way I would have been able to survive but I have an understanding wife who people will even be thanking her for something she didn’t know I did. But if she is not somebody who understands, she will come outside to rake and make noise. As for that, Almighty God has been very kind to me. She is good at knowing people, knowing their names, individually and reaching out to them when am not able . So is a huge contributor to the work of God.

What was the reaction of your parents to your calling?

They virtually almost deny me , they did not understand why I left banking job for the ministry . I was working in a bank and I was comfortable, I had a bright future in the then African Continental Bank(ACB) which I started in Martins street, with headquarters in Broad Street, Lagos . Suddenly, I stared telling them I have the calling of God and to worsen it all, of all places in the Pentecostal church which to them was Aladura. So they said if I want to answer the call of God I should be in Anglican or Catholic. At a stage, they told a police man to come and arrest me, they framed all kinds of things just for them to get at me or divert my attention but I was resolute my mind was made up and nothing can change it. So for four years, I refused to have contact with them so that they will distract my attention. I am glad to let you know that before my father died, the ministry had started growing. He was able to see that this is really destiny from God. We are not even at Gbagada then, we were still in Akoka and relatively small, but my parents were able to see that this is the destiny of God for me.

What were the challenges you faced at the beginning and how were you able to overcome them?

There were several challenges in the ministry, obviously as you begin to grow, one challenge will lead you to another challenge. The first challenge I faced, was when I lost my first child. I got married to my wife in 1980, we had our first daughter in 1982, I went for a crusade in Abeokuta, Ogun State, you know how crusades were done in those days. We came back just the following day which was 24th, a day to Christmas and on the Christmas day, she sang in the children choir and at night of the 25th, she developed high fever and by early morning 26th she died and I was going to preach in the church on that 26th. I left her in the room with my wife and I went to preach and I never mentioned to them that I had this situation in my house. So, to me for a young minister that was one of the most challenges we had. Another major experience was that my immediate younger brother who was the only support I had when I entered the ministry. He was the only one among my siblings that supported me. My parents had 10 children, six boys and four girls. He had passed his advanced Higher School Certificate (HSC) from one of the Government colleges in North and was to study medicine, but my father refused to send him to school because he was supporting me. That was the punishment meted out to him, with believe that he would stop supporting me. With the help of God, he went to the University Teaching Hospital, Lagos and graduated as a medical doctor and joined the Navy. He was still active in the church supporting the ministry, leading the praise and worship. One of the days I was travelling out of the country and I gave him an assignment with one of my elders and on they getting to the church armed robbers trailed him in his car and close him up inside the church compound and told him to give them the key of his car. I think because of his military background, he resisted and started fighting them and he was shot. They started battling for his life and I was abroad, eventually they took him to one hospital in Akoka. With Nigerian Factor, they knew they can’t handle the issue and they continue holding him there, eventually they were able to remove him to another hospital and eventually, he died. It was very devastating, but one thing God keep telling me was that these challenges could make one reject the call of God, because at the end of challenge another would comes. The best I can do was to be the best in what God was calling me for. That is the only way I can be able to grow. There were a lot of challenges; there were challenges of not having enough funds to do the calling of God. I don’t know how we have been do every project we had carried out. It was by faith and I still believe in the scripture that the just shall live by faith. God was actually the one that built this church.

Sir, would you please share some of your experiences before your calling that can be a lesson to the younger ones?

Before my calling I live all my life in Lagos, my father came here a long time ago and we move down to Lagos when I was around 5 years. We were living in Apapa and I was schooling at Baptist Primary School and as years went on. We were a bit comfortable, my father worked with Post and Telecommunication (P&T) and as a matter of fact he retired as an Assistant Director . In 1957 he told me to go and live with a man from the same town who was a lecturer at Offa Grammar School. So, we are living in the place till I passed in to Mayflower, Ikenne under Tai Solarin. I was there for two years but with all the harassments, because I couldn’t speak Igbo very well.

Friends will turn to me and mock me that I had to go to my parents for a change of school. My parents had to changed me to a School in Oba, in the Eastern region , close to Onitsha and that was where graduated in 1963. All throughout, my parents made sure I went to church, Anglican church. Truly religious, but truly I did not have the experience of who Jesus is, my parents were very religious but they did have encounter with Christ. My father was a disciplinarian, he did not take bribe. It was one of the rules in our home not to collect any anything from any person. Things turned around during the war, there were certain things that happened in my life during the war because I was working in a bank but had the experience too, people were offering bribes to exchange money for fake , collecting money that did not belong to them. When the war intensified , I had to ask for transfer because people were afraid they were not safe in the western region again. I was transferred to Onitsha. When the war intensified they were recruiting people by force into the Army and they had to come to the Bank, I was not picked because I went to buy cigarette. They came in the second time and this time they met me but I asked for a permission to withdraw some moneys, but I used the opportunity to run away . My brother and I later went voluntarily because they might capture. We trained for three months and throughout these months ,we never fired one short, they never gave us any gun to use, they were just teaching us theory. One day they just came and said they were moving us to the military headquarters and a lot of ideas were coming to our heads and in the night they were distributing guns to everyone and I told my brother not to take any gun .He asked what, we were going to do and I told him to wait. Later we went towards the gate we came in from and we told the army at the gate that we wanted to go and help pick of the officers’ load he left in his car, that he sent us to go and collect. Surprising the gatemen allowed us and immediately we came out we ran into the bush, the next morning it was ‘One Nigeria’ the war ended. All those sent to the war front that night were all killed. Looking back, I now know that God kept me alive because of the assignment he had for me. As the war ended every persons went back to, smoking, drinking, womanizing and others, but one day I came to Lagos with Dr. Ilo and one of Doctor’s cousins were praying, because they have received Christ they did not invite me and I felt lonely right there and I told God that night , ‘if there is anything you want to do with this life I give it to you, I did not know what I did but as soon as we went back from there, the next morning I was in church. My friends said it won’t last but it has lasted till now. So I started serving God then. Some people said they saw lightening, they saw thunder, God call them by opening the ceiling, and mine was not like that. I didn’t see lightening or thunder but I know inside me that this is what God want me to do .There was opportunity, in fact I left the bank without resignation. I had the opportunity and prospects, I had everything but I was not interested and I wasn’t ready for any work. It can only be God that put that inside me. For me it has been a journey of joy and victory, God took me step by step. Yes, God gave me wonderful promises concerning this ministry but to be honest with you I did not believe it. It was not the case of I was sure of where I was going He has done what he said and he is still doing much more and for me am excited.

Sir, at what point did you meet your wife and how were you able to choose her?

Then talking about my wife, both of us were in the same church she came to the church before me and when I saw her I love everything about her, but I did not have the courage to talk to her , ordinarily am a shy person, it is only the pulpit that am strong. I don’t know how to toast women. So when I saw I desire to marry her but the only way I can express it was to attack her most of the time and she attack me back. She felt I was arrogant because then I would drive to church in my father’s car. She came from a humble background, she lost her father at a young age. So we were like cat and dog. Later I saw that she was attached to my elder sister so I told my sister that I like her and I would love to marry her. I was still a young Christian, people lie about the voice of God about marriage because they were not sincere, even if you have not heard the voice of God in your life, you don’t even know him much or how God speaks, but there is sincerity in your heart , it is God that will make him know He is the one speaking to you. For instance it is not a child that is born today responsibility to know how to hear the mother’s voice, is the mother’s responsibility to teach the child to know her voice. So it is God that will teach us that He is the one speaking as long as there is sincerity. So I cannot insist I will marry her if God did not confirm it and ensure that this is His way for us and she was willing to let go. So when I spoke to my sister about it who spoke to her mother and then to our spiritual head who supported us too. That was how she agreed to marry me that was before I answer the call, I was still working in a bank, I was going to church, committed but after we agreed to marry. Then people started convincing her that if she marry me she will go hungry. Who in the world marries a preacher, this type of preacher, you will die of hunger. I remember one of my cousin told her that if you marry him and you come to knock at my door, I won’t open for you. And my parents were also using other people because they wanted me out of the ministry. They now say Alright they will use her but to me I don’t care I was ready to go ahead with the ministry. For the next four years she travelled to United Kingdom to study and I was here with the ministry but God spoke to her through a prophet that your husband is a preacher and he is in Nigeria. To cut the long story short that was the end of her school days and she came back.

Your regrets in life and why did your friends said your being born again would not last?

In life people will always prove who they are and you must be willing to expect shocks in your work as you begin to live your life. Don’t leave your life and thinking every person is a saint. Challenges, pressures, difficulties are part of this life. Life is made up of negative and positive, it is never just one side, it is made up of mountains and valleys. You must settle that once and for all in your life. You should know that you are living here on earth and you will be face with one challenges of life but that should not make you stop your dream, you should keep on dreaming and keep on working because those are the stepping stones to higher things in life. If I had allowed the challenges, I had been through to stop me, I won’t have been where I am today. Challenges must come and you must learn to carry your head higher, if you don’t know how to hold your head high, learn to face difficulties of life when they come. Two, don’t play with relationship, God will always bring some people along your path, no matter who the person is, don’t take anyone for granted because any of these people can be the stepping stone to where you are going. Three, no solo success in life, you can never succeed alone, there is no self made man, let me tell you two ways you can not be a self made man, one, you did not give birth to yourself, two, when you die, you cannot bury yourself. Whatever I could have call regret is that I would have prefer to be saved earlier but I would say that is how God wants it. Knowing what I know now, I would have preferred that I was saved as a young person. I wasn’t too rough because like I said I wasn’t really into women , somebody who is shy how will you talk to women, it is only when you are bold to talk to them that you do something with them but does not mean that I do not have my own share . I was drinking, I knew I drank a lot, I knew I was smoking a lot. When I tell you smoking, I was really a chain smoker that if I did not see cigarette I would go to the ash tray and pick the one that I have smoked before and light it again. But all these stopped no one preached to me that I should stop smoking, stop drinking, I just stopped because I felt it was not consistent with my Christian life.

Sir, what are things you share with your mother?

I am more like my mother than my father , my mother was strong, was industrious, hardworking, she was a trader, she was trading in Abada and George as a matter of fact she had a store at Oyingbo market. My mother was a strict disciplinarian, she was very tough but we loved her, she took very good care of us. She believed in us and kept on encouraging us irrespective of the challenges of life .

Sir, the issue of same sex marriage how do you think the church, school and home can help so that Nigeria youths will not take to it? The issue of same sex marriage is not in the Bible.I was ready something on it. The church should not be shocked about this same sex marriage thing because they are part of the end time event and don’t be surprised there will be other things that will come up, I won’t be surprised if bestiality is introduced, but I will be shocked if the church begin to get involved in it. Nations don’t go by bible they play politics, they are playing politics but the church must take a clear stand and not accept it . Parents must talk about it to their children and make them know that that it is not a right thing to do. Parents and church have the huge responsibility otherwise when your child goes to school and see two men kissing themselves, he may think that is the normal thing to do, so we must let the children know that this is what Bile says . Two women or two men cannot produce a baby so I think the church will be very vocal about it.

Who is your mentor? A lot of people have mentored me but I would say that my spiritual head in the church where I started. I started in a church called UCC in those day, I learnt how to be on my knees because in those days we don’t know much about bible but we can pray, I learnt how to stay on my knees and get results . Many other anointed men of God in and outside the country were my mentor, most especially, Arch Bishop Benson Idahosa, he was an institution on his own, I was telling them in church last year that no one had been able to enter the shoes of Arch Bishop Idahosa, we missed him because if he had been alive some of the things that are happening today might not have happened . Things Idahosa did, no one has been able to do it.He was a kingdom minded man , he was bigger than the church of God mission and he was a man that like to raise from little, he did not care who you are, he raise you and showed you what you can become. He was the first person that made me ride in a limousine , when V boot came out newly he told me to sit with me in his car, a V boot, what was he showing me, he was showing me visions and dreams what I can become. He will prepare a banquet table in his house, I will seat with them and eat , he was teaching me, by example.

As one with God, what will you asked from him?

Grace, Lord more grace, grace upon grace.

Are there succession plans in place?

I am m praying to God, saying God, am seventy, this work must continue and we need people who will take it to another level. No single person fulfils a dream, I have started thinking about it, started praying about it and I trust God for that.

At what time in life did it occur to you in life to get involve in the growth of young generation through your foundation?

I don’t really know how it happened but I will say Gods vision is progressing and things begin to unfold, that is how the issue of some of the things you are seeing . You get to a point in your life and asked yourself what do you really want to do. How many beds are you going to sit on. In fact in your bed you can only sleep in a corner, in your car, you are sitting in one side so you will now wonder what is the essence of life, if it does not add value to other people . So what gives me joy is to see people who my input in their lives has improved their lives, that is the motivation. With the little resources God has given to us, we put smiles on the faces of people. We are motivating and challenging , who are you going t lift up. I should let people to be responsible life Most people that have benefitted from my foundation are Muslims. God made rain to fall both on the good and the bad in other to reap them, it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, it is God goodness in one’s life that will lead the person to change. Why will I take the money I had here and leave my road, healthcare are not working, education is collapsing , roads are death traps, then I take the money to another country to give to their people low interest rate . Our interest rate is killing in Nigeria. The only way to explain this is insanity. I have never seen a person died and he or she is buried with his money. I have not seen this before.

Several ministers have lost their dignities in the course of their ministry, what have you done to have yourself intact and what advise do you have for young ministers?

One of the things I will advise young ministers are ;I have been minister of the gospel and as minister of the gospel you are suppose to represent all constituents, in other words when it comes to the issue of politics, your desire should be how can the citizens benefit and not what is your own interest

Way out of insurgency in Nigeria?

Prayers, government should negotiate if they are willing and then ensure that the military is rid of saboteurs . At least let government do what they can do as the government , go through the military and ensure we don’t have saboteurs among them. Above all, we should intensify prayers and support the government and not just accusing them and judging them. We really need a lot of prayers.

-Dr. Mike Okonkwo, the presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), will clock 70 on September 3 . In this interactive session with newsmen, he speaks about his journey to 70 years, the challenges of his ministry and how God has been faithful to him. He also speaks on many national issues. Titus Eleweke who was there reports

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