Wife of the presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) Bishop Peace Okonkwo turned 70 few days ago. Ever-smiling, vivacious and amiable, she spoke about life, ministry, marriage with her hubby, Dr. Mike Okonkwo and lots more.
How was life before Bishop Peace?
Life was rough. I grew up with my grandma. Even when I came into the ministry, it wasn’t easy. When we were young, grandma didn’t believe in grinding pepper, you would beat it. You know how difficult it is to beat dry pepper. And we trekked to school. We didn’t have a car. St. Barths to Uwani in Enugu, we trekked it. When we returned from school, you would cook the food you would eat; or else you wouldn’t eat. Life was rough. Even when I came into the ministry, it wasn’t that rosy. I drank gari without sugar and milk. But look at it today. If I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to eat because of weight. You just have to trust and believe in God. It was tough. I remembered when I started working, I was married at the time, I was in a Molue, and a young boy was struggling to come inside the Molue. I allowed the small boy to sit on my lap, not knowing the young boy was targeting my purse. He took my purse, and by the time I got down, I didn’t see my keys. It wasn’t easy at all. People that look at us and say, I want to be like Bishop Peace, get ready, you will pass through the mills but if you are ready to put your eyes on Jesus, you will do more than I am today
What does June 10 means to you or signifies in your life?
June 10 means so much to me. It was the day I was born. The day I came into the world. It is a special day. Growing up, I know that June 10 is my birthday.
You really don’t look 70. You walked stylishly upstairs for this interview. Can you tell us the secrets?
Everyone says so. I would just tell you, apart from the few things I do, I think, it is the grace of God. When God gives you grace. When you know things you are supposed to do and He gives you grace to do them…
I was telling a lady, that last Thursday of every month, I stand for about three hours to minister to women. God has given me that grace. I eat right (I suppose) and I do a walking exercise. That’s all. Not much. I just walk round my compound.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
So many lessons. Where would I start? Life is ups and downs. Good and bad, but you just have to trust God. We have passed through a lot. You just believe God for the best. No matter how bad it is, it will get better.
Let’s look at the good and the bad sides of life as you said. Shall we look at the good side first?
The good side is when I married the Bishop. When I had my first child is the good side. The bad side was when my first daughter died and when we lost bishop’s brother (the doctor), it was bad. One thing we have to do in life is, we have to look up to Jesus. If he allows it, why can we question Him? Our lives are in His hands. That is what I have learnt over the years. Everything that comes to me passes through the hands of Jesus. If Jesus allows it, I allow it. I keep on serving. When I lost my first daughter, it was terrible. Women came from the church to sit around me. I said, please let us go to church. David said, my son cannot come back to me, I will go to him. I told them, let’s go to church. The young girl is dead and she’s been buried. The women were like, what is wrong with this woman? Is she off? I’m not off. I didn’t know I was ministering to somebody there. One of our pastors’ wife, when her only brother she was living with died, she remembered what I said. And that kept her going.
What informed your decision to become a pastor? Is it because you are married to a pastor?
No. I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When bishop came to marry me, he was okay, but he was not a pastor. I like to work behind the scene. I like to pray, help people. The pastorate just came. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He is a God of plan, purpose and objectivity. He had a plan for me, which I can see now. The way he took me, he was working it out. I just married the Bishop, and the rest started to unfold. Even the day he made me a bishop, I cried my eyes out because I knew I don’t know much. I said, for what, what am I looking for? I just want to serve God. He said, God told him. Thank God he didn’t tell me at home because if he had told me, I wouldn’t have come to church.
Was he already a pastor when you met him?
No. He was working in the bank when I met him. I knew the family, I knew the mum, the father.
My grandmother that time was in the same church with them, so I knew them. I knew Mama Iloh (his older sister) particularly.
After the war, everybody was looking for God. So, we went to the same church, UCC. I love listening to the music and also I love to dance. I love music. I just went there to listen to the music and uplift my spirit. That was where I met him in the youth fellowship.
What was the attraction?
Bishop had an air. When he was coming, he was always flinging his father’s car key. But he’s a pleasant person. He’s very shy. He couldn’t talk to me; he went to talk to the older sister that he liked me. The rest is history.
Bishop Okonkwo looks hard, what type of man is he?
Bishop is the simplest person you can deal with. He is very simple. I’m the hard one. Don’t look at the hard face o. He’s very soft in the heart. If you look at the face you will be deceived. He is very soft.
What do you love about him?
So many things. He’s loving, he’s caring, he thinks about you. So many things. He tries to help.
If there’s anything you want to change about him, what would that be?
Bishop can give you his house. How do I know? Somebody will come to the church and say mummy, thank you so much. I will say thank you for what? When I get home, he would say, that money we kept, he doesn’t have his house rent, I had to give it to the person. But when I have now found out that’s him, I don’t begrudge him anymore. He can pay school fees. Let’s allow him to be who he is.
You said something about Bishop Mike making you a bishop. How do you feel in a position where men feel that they are the ones that should be Bishops?
Who told you that? We have a lot of women bishops. At that time, I didn’t feel I was ready for it or I was fit for it. There are things when bishop wants to do that he doesn’t discuss. He just came that day and said, the Lord told him to make some people pastors and bishops. When he called my name, I almost fainted. Tears were rolling down my eyes. I didn’t stop. I said bishop ke? I’m trying to handle pastorate already. I just gave in and started trusting God. He helps me a lot, in words and in prayers, he told me that God told him so and once you told me that God told you so, you have caught me. I will close my eyes and just follow what God said. So, bishop is not actually for men. A woman can be a bishop. It depends on your calling. A man can be a bishop, so also can a woman.
Would you say this development of the good and the bad you just narrated informed your interest in women?
When I started the ministry, I started counselling, I was more tilted to the women side. A woman would come to talk to you about her problem. If you get to my table, you will see a box of tissue. The woman would not talk but instead she would be crying and this will continue for about 15 or 20 minutes. I’m a woman. I believe in prayers a lot. I say God, this is becoming and becoming too much. I said Lord, what do I do? He said gather them together and let them pray unto me and I would answer. It started like nothing was happening.
The late Dr. Cerrullo had a programme in church. We were in the old building, we had not built the cathedral. His lieutenant, one of his assistants said, do you know you have a healing ministry? I just smiled. He didn’t tell me what they were planning.
When they came to the service, few minutes into the programme, he called me up, he said I need you to pray for healing for this people. He told the congregation, if you are sick, come out. I was shocked. I was taken aback for what God did that day. People were testifying of miracles that happened instantly. He said go and use this to work for the kingdom And I started praying that how would I go about this? My women were shouting, mummy, it has to be on Saturday so that people would come. When I went to the Lord, the Lord says Thursday morning from 9am to 12noon and once a month. People started coming from outside Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other places. Women started sharing the stories themselves. I went to the International Women Prayer Conference (IWPC) and this is what God has done. I have not had a child for 25 years and I have four children. News started flying. After a while, God said to me, start going to them not all of them can come to Lagos. That was how we opened Abuja, Port Harcourt and other places.
I have coordinators in those places. As we kept on going, African countries opened up, European countries opened up. Last month, I was ministering in London. We have to continue to pray for women. Women go through a lot of things.
Like battering and abuse.
But women abuse men too?
It is on the lower side. This other one is on the high side.
What advice do you have for women who suffer abuse?
I tell them to speak out. Before the recent battering that led to death came about, I just felt in my spirit that we should talk in that area. I brought it up in February. In that meeting, I told women that so many of you are abused and you are hiding it. You will die for nothing. A problem discussed is a problem solved. Speak out. In the congregation, one mama, about 80 years old, got up. She opened up on what she has seen over the years. It can be emotional abuse. Then women started speaking up. We are going to have the second edition soon. Don’t die for nothing. Speak out. If there are people to help you they will help you. If there are people to talk to your husband they will do that.
There are cases of abuse and battering, but women stay in the marriage because of their children. What can such women do?
Nobody is telling you to leave your husband, but you have to find a solution. If the man beats you and you faint and you die, those children will be alone. You better ask for help so they can tell you how to handle him.
How did you do it that your daughter( Uche) is in the ministry, well behaved?
Let me tell you something about Uche briefly. When I lost the first one and I didn’t have another child till about four years and I had her, I made a commitment to God that if you give me another child, I will give her to you. So, when she was growing up, living like a normal child, I didn’t tell her anything. I still remember what I told God and God is a covenant keeper. So, when she went to school she went to UNILAG Staff School. She went to Redeemers’ College. It was after she went to Redeemers’ college that all Tremites started going to Redeemers’ College. While she was in the college, I found out there was a time she didn’t do well at all. Uche is a smart girl but I noticed she dropped from second position to 10th. So, I went to the principal and I was told she’s distracted. That time, I was travelling with Bishop, I said, no more travelling. I have only one child, let me bring her up in the way of the Lord. Travelling will always come. That’s what I did. She started sitting at home, doing her home work. Immediately after that, she took junior WAEC, she came second. You have to sacrifice something for something to happen to you.
When she finished secondary school, we started looking for a university for her. Thank God for the late Bimbo Odukoya. She was the one that told us about TOFL. She did the examinations and she passed.
They took her in the same school, an American university. Money is now to come but God will supply our needs. I thought the school fees were once a year; I didn’t know you have to pay every term. I told them the ministering of angels is still around. In her second year, we couldn’t afford to pay up her school fees, I prayed. In America, if you owe 50 dollars, they would send you out until you pay it. That particular day, I was counselling, a woman came to my office, and told the girl I’m working with, give mummy this nylon. Very dirty nylon. When I opened it, it was the exact amount of dollars I was looking for. That’s what we used in paying her school fees and since that time, God has been faithful. She started growing. I was following her with my prayers. Everything is God. I threw her back to God. I didn’t tell her. After graduation, she returned to Nigeria and started working in a bank. They were paying her good money, but she was not happy. She said mummy, I’m so sad. Whenever I go to work, I’m not happy. But when I come to church, I’m glad. She said once she did one year, she would resign and that’s what she did. I won’t tell you how she got married. That’s a story for another day.