At 70, I Wear What Suits Me – Mike Okonkwo

Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Dr. Mike Okonkwo
At 70, the Presiding Bishop of The
Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Dr. Mike Okonkwo, walked with an
uncomplicated gait that did not give an inkling of his age. Dressed in
an attire that enhanced his youthful looks, he welcomed remarks that
complemented his looks with an exceptional grace and proceeded to talk
about his thoughts on becoming a septuagenarian.
“I feel happy and excited that I have
been able to get to the age of 70. For me, it is a blessing and I am
really grateful to God. At 70, I have come to realise that people are
still people and they would play out who they are. You must expect
shocks in your life. Challenges and pressure are parts of life. Life is
made up of mountains and valleys but that should not stop you from
living your dream. If I had allowed all the challenges I had been
through in life to stop me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Challenges
must come but you must learn to hold your head high,” he says.
former banker, he recalled his parents reaction when he answered the
call to become a pastor. The cleric recollects, “They were angry at me.
They did not consent and could not understand why I should become a
pastor since I was working in a bank and had a bright future in the then
African Continental Bank. I was serving at Martins Street, Lagos. Out
of the blue, I said I had the call of God and to worsen it, of all
places to get the call, it was in a Pentecostal church. They would have
preferred if I answered the call of God in an Anglican or Catholic
Church but not a Pentecostal church.
“They were so uncomfortable and confused
with my decision that at a stage, they arranged a policeman to arrest me
and frame me for something I knew nothing of so as to divert my
attention. But I was resolute. My mind was made up. Somebody told me not
to have contact with them so they would not distract me. They later
consented when they realised the ministry had started growing, and they
saw evidence of God’s blessings in my life.”
Even though he admitted that he did not
envisage his success, he is appreciative. He notes, “God gave me
wonderful promises concerning my ministry but to be honest, I didn’t
believe Him. It wasn’t a case that I was so sure He would do this. So,
whatever God has done for me now are like surprises. Of course, He said
He would do it but it didn’t look like it. Everything around me didn’t
show it was going to be like that. But here we are. He has done it and
He has even exceeded what He promised to do. I am excited.”
Discussing his soulmate, Bishop Peace Okonkwo, is one activity that puts smiles on his face and his

Bishop Okonkwo
countenance leaves you convinced he is still love-struck, despite being married to her for over 30 years.
“Both of us were in the same church,” the
Bishop says. “When I saw her, I just fell in love with her but I didn’t
have the courage to talk to her because ordinarily, I am a shy person. I
don’t know how to ‘toast’ women. When I saw her, I desired to marry her
but I couldn’t express it. She felt I was too arrogant because I would
drive to the church in my father’s car. She came from a humble
background and had lost her father at a young age. Eventually, I found
out that she was attached to my elder sister. I had to tell my sister I
was in love with the girl and wanted to marry her. Eventually, I spoke
to her about it. We both spoke to our parents and our spiritual head
about it and they okayed our decision.
“I hadn’t answered the call before we got
married. I was still working in the bank. When I decided to leave the
bank, it became another issue. People bombarded her with questions. Some
asked her who in the world marries a preacher. They told her she would
die hungry. Eventually, she travelled to the United Kingdom and spent
four years there. I had already answered the call and I had started my
ministry. I think a preacher told her that her husband was in Nigeria
and he was a preacher. So, at the end of her schooling in the UK, she
came back and we got married. I cannot thank God enough for the type of
wife he has given to me because I always ask myself, ‘If God did not
give her to me, how would I have coped?’ I know people may say I’m
saying this in order to cover up. But I am saying the truth. I do not
think I would have achieved the much I have achieved over the years if
God did not give me the type of wife I have.”
His life as a minister of God he said has not been without challenges and enumerated those he considered the most challenging.
“The first challenge was when I lost my
first child. It was very sad. I got married in 1980 and we had our first
daughter in 1982,” he recounts. “We went on crusade in 1984 in Abeokuta
and we came back for the Christmas. On Christmas Day, she sang with
children in the choir. After the service on December 25, she developed
high fever and on December 26, she died.
“Another challenge was the death of my
immediate younger brother. He was the only family support I had when I
came into the ministry newly. Our parents refused to send him to school
to further his education. They did that to punish him for supporting me.
One day in the 80s, I travelled out of the country and gave him an
assignment with one of my elders to conduct an interview on my behalf at
the church. Some robbers followed him closely in his Peugeot 504 car
and shot at him. He was taken to one hospital in Akoka but eventually,
he died in another hospital. It was very sad but God encouraged me that
challenges should not make me to reject the call of God.”
Talking about his achievements in life
and the ministry brings a fresh glow to his countenance. Unable to mask
his delight, he tackles the question with relative ease.
“That is a comparative question because
there are different milestones. When I built my first church inside
water at Akoka, I could not have done that but my God gave me the
biggest church. Looking back now, it is nothing compared to when we came
here, and built this present place. My greatest achievements are the
men and women my life has impacted; that is a legacy for me. Everywhere I
go in the nations, even people who are not directly involved, tell me
my life and ministry had impacted their lives,” he says.
His youthful looks cannot be ignored and
when questions related to it are raised, he responded in between laughs.
“A lot of people have good looks and good health maybe because they
engage in different exercises. If you watch what you eat and keep good
habits, you will look young,” he argues. “But in my own case, I will
attribute my looks to God. Yes, I engage in exercises but I do not
exercise to win Olympics. I play table tennis and I like to swim but I
am not too sure of the swimming pools in this country and I do not have a
private one so, I swim probably when I am abroad. What I do regularly,
at least when I am in the country, is to play table tennis at least
three times a week.”
He is not unenthusiastic about discussing
succession, a topic most persons in his position will shy away from. In
summarising his view, he puts forward his belief.
Okonkwo says, “I am working on it. I am
praying about it and I trust God. This is His work, not my work, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it. That is why I am not
holding on to anything. Some ministers of the gospel ask why I do not
transfer my people every year and I tell them those things are based on
insecurity. I just do what is right and leave the rest for God to take
care of. What God cannot do, man cannot do it. My part is to pray and
know what direction He leads. He will preserve His church.”
His style he affirms is simple and
straightforward. “I like to dress decent and I wear what suits me. I
like to be comfortable and dress my age irrespective of the occasion.”
He has a counsel though, “Don’t take
people for granted, anybody can be a stepping stone for you. Appreciate
everybody. There is no solo successful man in life. There is always
somebody that is instrumental in your life.”


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