‘Waiting over 20 years for kids wasn’t pleasant’- Popular Lagos Pastor Confessed
For over 20 years, Dr Dennis Inyang, general overseer of Sure Word Assembly Okota Lagos, waited for fruit of the womb with his wife, Aity, a popular gospel musician.
He shares the frustration of waiting as a minister as well as other challenges in life in this interview with Sunday Oguntola
What does hitting 55 mean to you?
Pastor Dennis Inyang
It means a whole lot. First of all, I am alive and well. I am not doing this interview on life support or even from the hospital bed. So God has been good to me. Just being alive till today is enough to celebrate.
You see, I came close to death four times and each time God saved me. The first was during the Civil War. I was about five years old and was going to the stream with my stepmother when I slipped and fell into a well. It was a very deep well full of water. As I was going down, my hand caught a stick. That gave my stepmom the chance to reach down and grab me.
The second close shave with death was as a student in Methodist Secondary School, Nto Ndang, in Ikot Ekpene. I was a member of the school football fan club and we were all crammed into a pick up van heading to the stadium to cheer our school to victory. I was so hemmed in that I could not see the outside. We were singing and drumming.
The driver was swerving the van left and right to the rhythm of our songs. I can’t tell what happened but suddenly I heard screaming from everywhere and the next thing was that I saw myself seated by the roadside and policemen all around us. I was told that the vehicle had flipped over severally. Yet, I came out, or should I say I was brought out, without a scratch.
Again, while in the University of Calabar, I went from the campus to Ikot Ansa to get some documents needed to collect my bursary. I was on a bike traveling at full speed on the expressway when suddenly a car crossed our path. The bike man and I saw the car but it was too late to do anything. We slammed into the car and I flew into the air.
I was going to land head first on the tar but God in His mercy intervened and provided a small spot filled with sand right on the express and my head landed there. You can imagine what would have happened if my head met the coal tar.
The last one was around year 2000. My wife and I had an event at Golden Gate Hotel, Ikoyi. We were driving back at about 9pm with a couple we had given a lift and as we turned the bend into third mainland bridge, we ran into a group of robbers. It happened so fast that before I knew it, we were surrounded by very young boys, wielding dangerous weapons.
They took my wife’s bag. Of course, we did not resist. I don’t know what I did that made one of them to cock his gun to shoot me. But God saved me as another member of the gang jumped at the guy and pushed the gun away.
I have recounted these encounters to show how good God has been to me. He preserved me because He had a purpose for my life. My joy and contentment is that I’m living out that purpose today.
You have been through issues and challenges in life. When were the major milestones and turning points?
Life is, indeed, full of issues and challenges. It’s the challenges that make life interesting, isn’t it? Someone said that greatness is not seen in what you have achieved but in what you have overcome. There are many things that I can talk about but, for want of time, I will pick out just two or three.
I had a challenging childhood and that was because my father and my mother were separated. I should ask my Dad when next I see him how old I was when that happened because I never saw them together as husband and wife.
Well, that left me dangling between two worlds. Growing up, I had the feeling that the environment was quite hostile to me. Unfortunately, the way I thought I could cope with that was to become rebellious.
I don’t think that anyone really expected me to amount to much. But God did. He had His loving eyes on me. Before I travelled far on the road to perdition, He saved me and changed my life forever.
When I decided to go to the University, I did not really know what that would entail. My father was out of the country at that time, trying to find his feet in a strange land and my mother was a Grade Two teacher. The burden fell more on her but the demands were more than she could bear so I ended up going through school mostly on charity.
Things were rough but I pulled through with the help of my friends. One particular year, it was a friend that paid my school fees. It was normal for me to spend the holidays with my friends because I really didn’t have a home to return to.
As a result of that experience, I value my friends and place a lot of premium on relationships. Like the scripture says, a brother is born for adversity and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. So whenever I have an opportunity to be of help to another, I count it a privilege.
That was what motivated me to start a scholarship scheme about ten years ago so as to assist those who are in need, like I was. We source for funds from kind hearted individuals and corporate organisations. We have been able to help over twenty students so far in nursery, secondary and tertiary institutions.
Now, let me talk about the challenge I faced in ministry. I know there are many who would like to hear that. Sure Word Assembly started in a tiny room of a brothel with nothing except the clear conviction that I was in the will of God. I did not know it was a brothel until we showed up for our first service but there was nothing I could do because we had no money to pay for a fancy place.
We could not even afford to print a banner or a signboard. We had no public address system and no musical instruments whatever and I had no money to hire any. So we got started with a seminar which had in attendance my wife and I. There were also one convert of ours and three sympathizers who made it clear they would not be members. That was in 1998.
Ten years after, we were a church you could not ignore in the Okota community. We had hundreds of worshippers attending our multiple services every Sunday. So, riding that momentum, we moved to an Event Centre which, we got to discover was not only too expensive but could not give us the comfort we were used to. It was at that point that we decided to move to a land which we had bought few years before then. That movement greatly tested our faith and, but for God, could have snuffed life out of the church. I used to joke to our friends that surviving that period was clear proof that God indeed called me.
Before the movement, Ago Palace Way was good, even if not perfect. I used to jog from my house to our land. But shortly after we moved there, the road completely collapsed and became inaccessible to vehicles. I’m talking about the section between Century Hotel and the bridge, if you know the area well.
Just before our church junction there was a big ditch which busses could not pass. Taxis would not take you beyond there to our church no matter how much you offered to pay. Those who drove through the ditch with their car did so at great risk. And that was a risk our members took week after week.
Some days before preaching, I would thank the people for coming against all odds. And I meant it. I was touched that our members were so committed. Did we lose some? For sure. A lot of people could not cope and dropped out. But majority of our people stood firm.
We knew that the road would be fixed but when, nobody could tell. In the meantime, we kept praying and I kept prophesying over the road. Whenever I declared that the road would be completed, well paved, dualised and complete with street lights, the people clapped but I’m not sure all of them believed it. I had to keep hope alive.
The turning point came when, in answer to our prayer, Governor Akin Ambode looked in our direction and fixed that portion of Ago Palace Way. We are still grateful to Governor Ambode for that.
You waited for over 20 years to have your biological children. What kept you going for that long and what lessons did you come away with?
This was the mother of all challenges. I have documented that experience in a book I wrote for men called Waiting Dad: What Should a Man Do When the Babies Are Yet to Come?
I got married at 27. I am an only son and you know what that means in our culture. My wife was 24 and both of us were just in love. Initially, children were not on our minds. We even took some contraceptives to make sure we didn’t get pregnant. After a few years, we thought we were ready. That was when we realised there was a problem.
My first reaction was that of a typical African man who thinks that when the baby has delayed to come it must be the woman’s problem. You know that African type that would not even follow his wife to see a doctor or accept to do a basic fertility test.
After some years, I knew I had to do something because time was running fast. So, my wife and I started seeing doctors and we saw all types. Some would make us feel that with a little treatment, my wife would get pregnant in no time. It did not happen and we were heartbroken. And some would give us diagnosis that made the situation seem hopeless. But we refused to give up.
It is easy to talk about it now but waiting for a baby is not a pleasant experience. It is more difficult for a teacher of faith like me. But in spite of my experience, I kept teaching that there is no impossibility with God.
I would stand out there in church with my wife sitting right in front and declare that by covenant, no woman who is born again is barren. The devil would whisper to me, “what of your wife?” And I would answer, “she is not barren!”
I really believed that my wife would give birth to children one day, no matter what and no matter how long. That was because I saw in God’s word that if we served the Lord, none would be barren.
Did I mention that we did some surgeries? My wife did a surgery to remove fibroid while I underwent what they call a vericocelectomy. When all the specialist physicians and consultants didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, we tried IVF. That also didn’t work. Then we tried immunotherapy and it failed.
So we just waited on God. At a point, we stopped praying for children. Whether it was prayer fatigue or faith, I don’t know. I told my wife that we had prayed long enough and God was not deaf. So we would pray and fast for every other thing except for children.
In all those years, putting away my wife or having a child by another woman was never options. Why? Because I love my wife. It did not matter to me whether she gave birth to a baby or not. I did not see her primarily as a baby- making machine but a lover and a life companion.
And you know what? In over twenty years of waiting for a baby, my wife and I never quarreled over it in any way. Nobody abused anybody or called anybody names. OK, I called her names but good names. I used to call her by the names of our unborn children. But I did not put the blame on her. I took responsibility.
I didn’t also look for a witch to blame. I guess if I looked hard enough, I could find one in her family or even in mine. We just kept serving the Lord, knowing that He would make all things beautiful in His time.
Let me emphasize that our love for each other and our commitment to God’s Word kept us going. We were also blessed to be surrounded by families and friends who showed us a lot of understanding and support.
What lessons did I learn? The first and most important is that with God all things are possible. When all hopes were gone, God came through for us. By the time my wife got pregnant, she had stopped seeing her period for four years.
A kind hearted doctor sat her down one day and told her to accept the fact that she would never be pregnant again. But God overruled medical science. And He did it in a dramatic way. Now we have three wonderful children: Lovely, Awesome and Gladsome.
Another lesson I learnt is that there is no challenge a couple cannot handle and no pain they cannot bear if husband and wife stick together. I think it’s particularly unbearable for a woman when the husband becomes a judge and subjects his wife to all manner of ridicule and humiliation. Some husbands put the blame only on the wife even when they themselves have issues to deal with.
I also learned that you can live a happy life through your years of waiting. Don’t put your life on hold because you don’t yet have children. Keep living your life and pursuing your dream. At the end, your success and fulfillment in life will not be measured by how many children you have but by how well you have fulfilled your life’s purpose.
Sure Word Assembly, to some, is just another church. What’s makes it different from others?
Sure Word Assembly, as our name implies, is a Word church. When we do a vox pop and ask our new members what made them to stay back in church, most of them point to the same thing and that is the Word.
In Sure Word, the Word is taught in a simple, practical and relevant way and members are challenged and encouraged to apply the Word to their lives.
When I welcome our new comers to church, I always tell them that if they stay under the teaching of God’s Word in Sure Word for six months and apply the Word to their lives, their lives would get better. Some do not stay for so long before experiencing a turn around. Let me give you few examples.
A woman became part of our church some time ago. Before she came, she was a slave to fear. She was so fearful that she suspected everyone as being after her life. She thought her children were all witches. Even her husband. Over a period of hearing the Word taught in power, the yoke of fear was broken as she understood her position in Christ as a child of God. That was how the bond of family love and trust was restored.
There is a man who would not let me forget how the church has blessed him. He says that but for the Word of God that has transformed him in Sure Word Assembly, his marriage would have ended long ago. Many couples have similar testimonies.
I will not forget a guy who walked into church one day in the course of his work. That day, we had a youth meeting so he attended it and got saved. Between then and now, he has grown so much in the Word that he is now a minister in the church.
One day, he went to inspect a property and from where he was, he saw some men putting juju for someone on the adjoining plot of land. He waited for them to finish their fetish assignment and went down to scatter and throw those things away. He did that because he understood his authority in Christ. He did not have as much as a headache afterwards. Those are the kind of Champions we are raising. They walk in dominion and are a terror to the forces of hell.
One of the reasons you can have someone who gets saved in our church and within some years, he is equipped to minister is that Sure Word has a well designed growth programme. It takes you through the basics, to maturity, ministry, missions and to leadership.
I should mention that Sure Word Assembly is a church with a good blend of music and the Word. My wife, Pastor Aity Dennis, our members fondly call her Mama Aity, ministers virtually in every service and, you know, with her there is no dull moment. From the Praise and Worship to the ministration by the contemporary and classical choirs, to special songs by Pastor Aity, the atmosphere is just electric. In Sure Word, every Sunday is a Holy Ghost party!
Another unique thing about Sure Word Assembly is our innovative approach to ministry. By the way, we call our workers ministers because we believe that ministry is to be done by all, not a select few with titles.
We provide opportunities for our members to serve freely, and empower people to begin ministries not existing. And I think that our creativity and drive for excellence distinguish us.
Pastors are in the eyes of the storm over the tithing controversy. What’s your contribution to the debate?
Ordinarily, I would not want to contribute to the debate because, as in every debate, people have their entrenched position so it may just be a waste of my time. Besides, the Bible says that debating about the fine details of the law will not edify anyone but might hurt people and destroy relationships. However, since you have asked, let me make some remarks with the hope that it might help someone.
The controversy over tithing is not new. I was born again over thirty five years ago and have seen the controversy come and go. This one will also go away. What is new, however, is the social media. That puts a lot of power in the click of a blogger to start a debate or influence opinions.
What is the controversy about, anyway? That Pastors are using the tithe to live big and buy jets at the expense of impoverished church members? That is the only reason you can say that Pastors are in the eye of the storm. But that is a false generalisation.
As far as I know, Pastors use not only tithes but every other contribution made by members for the work of ministry. If there are Pastors who do otherwise, they are in the minority. Across the country and elsewhere, there are countless Pastors who are doing ministry and serving the people at great cost. It is my view that over 80% of Pastors are living below poverty level.
Let me say this to you, and you can check it out, if you find a pastor driving an expensive car chances are that he did not buy it. Someone blessed by his ministry might have bought it for him as an appreciation.
Even when you hear that a church bought their pastor a car, if you care to investigate, you will discover that the money was not from tithe and offering.
One or two people who have been blessed by the ministry of the pastor might have put a substantial part of the money down. Then they get a little from here and there to give it a corporate feel.
If the controversy is about the propriety of tithing, let every man be fully persuaded. I tithe personally and teach my members to tithe. It is my responsibility to teach them the Word of God and not leave them at the mercy of social media. And you know what? My members have no problem with tithing because they know why they should tithe.
And they know that the money they tithe does not fund my vanity. Of course, there are those who do not tithe, I should say, who have not started tithing yet, they are still a vital part of the church and my commitment to them as their pastor is no less.
The summary of my submission is this: let every believer belong to a church and let every pastor teach his members why they should tithe and the blessings of tithing.
You are heavily involved in youth empowerment. How can youths make it big in Nigeria of today?
Yes, I am passionate about youth empowerment because I understand the challenges facing our youths and the trauma they go through in their attempt to eke out a living. In my youth, the challenges were not different. There was a time when all you needed was to graduate from the university and a job would be waiting for you. I missed that era.
When I graduated from school, I could not get a job immediately. I had to do all manner of things to survive. I wrote plays and sold the scripts to nursery schools. I started a company called Grand Connections and marketed from slippers to perfume to shrimps.
I can remember that one year I represented some soap manufacturing companies and took their products to source for distributors in Kano, Bauchi and Jos. Not done, I got into advertising, printing and later sold bitumen to construction companies.
This may surprise you but before I got into ministry, I even had a stint in politics driven by that burning youthful zeal to change the world. So, in a way, I feel that my background qualifies me to speak into the life of our youths.
My first advice to any youth who wants to make it anywhere, not only in Nigeria, is simple: don’t outsource your future to anyone, not even the government.
Take responsibility for your life and decide that no matter what comes your way, no matter what circumstance you find yourself and no matter what others think of you, you will make it.
Until you make up your mind to succeed, you will always have good and legitimate reasons to fail. As a youth, you should not be at the mercy of your environment. Recognize your potential and unleash it to create the future you desire.
It is so sad to realise that many of our youths have given up on our country. That is why they will do anything to travel out of Nigeria under the illusion that they will make it in Europe, Asia or America. For some youths, anywhere is better than staying here. That is why some of them brave the odds to travel to Europe through Libya and such dangerous routes.
Many end up as slaves and prostitutes in foreign nations. But that must change. That must stop. Nigeria is a great nation with great potentials and I believe that with hard work and perseverance, anyone can make it here.
You know, education should be the right of every child. So every youth should acquire some education. But part of the problem is that most of our youths go to school with the mind that they will get good employment when they graduate.
When the job is not forthcoming, they get frustrated and may resort to crime. But times have changed. My advice to every youth gets an education that you can use. The value of your education is in what you can do with it if nobody employs you.
I run an NGO called Excel Africa on which platform I have visited several secondary schools to promote entrepreneurship. I am convinced that empowering our youths to start businesses on their own will not only deal with our unemployment crisis but will also unlock our wealth as a nation.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with working for others. But if that is all you aim to do as a youth, sorry, you will not make it big!
Anyone who wants to make it big must attempt big things. No youth should be satisfied with handouts. He must capture a vision of a higher life and pursue it with all he’s got. He must keep at it, be able to hang on and get up if he falls.
Above all, he must realize that in life, without God, all your efforts will be in vain. I gave my life to Christ at the age of 16 and I believe that without that my story would be nothing worth reading about. I wish every youth would do the same.
‘Waiting over 20 years for kids wasn’t pleasant’- Popular Lagos Pastor Confessed