The Shepherd-in-charge of the Celestial Church of Christ, Genesis Global, Prophet Israel Oladele Ogundipe, in this interview, culled from the Nigerian Tribune, speaks about the scandal that led to his imprisonment and why he infused some changes into the church’s doctrines
With agitations for separation across the country and some arrests being made by the Federal Government, as a cleric, what is your take on this?
I am indifferent. All I am just going to say is that the will of God should be done in Nigeria. If the separation is not going to take lives, bring about destructions or cause irreparable damage, it is fine. But if there is a way for our leaders to think and be productive, they will know that what we have achieved as a nation is not supposed to be destroyed by lack of love, respect for humanity and commitment to service. They should stop thinking from the angle of ruling and start thinking from the angle of genuine service.
If God says separation will move Nigeria forward, so be it. Sometimes, we try to raise what God is killing and sometimes, we kill what God is raising, but prophetically, I am not seeing war in Nigeria.
Is the church doing enough for the peace of the country?
Not at all, because I am going to be blunt. We have many of our leaders competing against one another and preaching against one another. There is no love in the body of Christ, and where there is no love, there cannot be growth. We are busy complaining about leaders in the country; is the Church not part of Nigerian politics?
For instance, imagine the large number of churches that spring up every day and more branches are being established. Now, if we have such number of schools and invest such money on social amenities, will that not have a great impact? In fact, you won’t need to force the Bible on people before they start following you. Now, we have churches which have said their parishes should be like five or ten on a street. If you have one parish in one community and use the money being used for other branches to build community schools and hospitals, it will go a long way. That was the ideology of the missionaries who brought Christianity into Nigeria.
The children we have refused to train are the ones now attacking churches. Pastors using private jets and living large, I want to believe they are not getting it from church, because I also run a ministry, and there are some things God will just do for you through some people genuinely that you don’t have to touch church’s money. For me, I have never been a part of church’s money.
We are always complaining and condemning those in power and that the other religions have taken over. Where are Christians in politics? When are we going to raise one governor or any political leader and all the pastors will give a collective support? If we are not careful, all the church branches we are planting will collapse through disagreement, killings and war. Can’t we have schools that will have Bible Study as their major course so as to draw our children closer to God? People are crying every day and you are happy celebrating your mega churches. Our church is not small as well. I am not an enemy to those succeeding. But we should think about it. We haven’t got our own church school, but we have always met the needs of community schools. We came across a school which pupils have been attending classes for 16 years without chairs and God said before we start any project in the church, we must go and sort that school out and we have done that and we are not stopping. The Jesus we all preach was going about, doing good. He never had a house or car of His own; He was not even the one keeping the ministry money. Then, what are we now talking about?
Do you see yourself as more than being a Shepherd according to the doctrine of the Celestial Church?
Yes, I am a Shepherd because I am a servant-leader. I am a trainer, a life coach, a father, a prophet, a preacher, an entrepreneur. Though I don’t have a business, I teach people how to make money; I teach people how to do business. For instance, anyone who comes to me with an intention to give church a sum of N10 million and such person does not own a land or established his wife, I will reject such money, because that is foolishness. Why would God say that to you? God did not raise me to raise foolish people. I will tell you to go and use the money to get a land and take care of your home. What is the purpose of us coming to brag about money when I know your family is not okay? Your first church is your family. That is what will make your family and even you pray well in church. I teach people how to invest and not spend all. It is not as if I am buoyant; sometimes people don’t know that I don’t have up to one million naira in my account because we engage in so many projects in the church because we ensure to use the money raised in church for its purpose. We constructed the road for the community where our church is situated, running into millions of naira. This is how we can affect the community as a church. We run a cooperative with interest-free loans for members of the church.
How would you receive your first salary in January and bring it to church as first fruit, so what will your family depend on? I am sorry, if some people hate me because of this, I don’t care as long as I love myself. Sometimes, I preach outside the Bible, not to cajole people, but because there are some things not working in this generation. I am not saying it is not good for you to bring your first fruit, but we need to be realistic in life.
Would you say the path you took as a cleric led to your recent scandal that landed you in jail?
Yes, of course, when you are doing something differently, you fight different battles. Sometimes, when you talk, it is as if you are running people down, but that is not so. You asked me a question; I did not mention any church. Why would you use it to attack me that I was referring to you? Differentiation will bring about unnecessary enmity through envy because I was not referring to you. That I am not collecting first fruit does not mean you should not collect it. I am not saying pastors collecting it are bad. In Genesis, we don’t go to the stream. Though we go to the stream and pray in the bush, when I realised that all where we were using had been sold out and the security challenges of the nation cannot be totally guaranteed, we resorted to praying and constructed a swimming pool for baptism in our church.
Don’t you think this is against the doctrine of the Celestial Church?
Yes, when Jesus came, everything he did was against the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is not about those who love me. It is about God who has created me to be who I am. Some of the problems we have in the world is about trying to be like somebody else, trying to please people and living by other people’s opinions. All these do not matter to me as long as I know that I am on the right track with God. I owe my members a lot, not anybody that does not like me.
I am not going against the church’s doctrine and I don’t have issues with the leaders of the church; they are my fathers. There was speculation that I was summoned, that they announced to me that I am not part of Celestial Church again. I don’t know. I am still the Celestial Genesis Global. So, I was not summoned. Maybe I was summoned because a popular Fuji artiste, Alhaji Wasiu Ayinde, came to my church and I told them I cannot tell him not to come again. A church is to win people. Even mad people can come; area boys can come to church. Let them come.
Imagine me being summoned on what right I have to dash out church offering to a needy. Is it their money? And that was not the first; I have done it several times, because sometimes, I will be led by God to assist the needy in the church or during a programme. Many people, especially those who have lost hope have benefitted from this opportunity; even non-Christians. So, I cannot be intimidated. I would never allow my loyalty to become slavery. I am a lion-hearted person. I don’t care if you love me or not.
A scandal led you to the prison recently. Can you tell us your experience in the correctional centre?
I am getting stronger to the glory of God. According to wisdom, sometimes, if you try to lift a load that is bigger than you, you will stagger. So, I have fallen several times, but I never stop getting up again, because one is bound to fall and rise in the journey of success. It has been a long case, since 2009. It was just being delayed for no reason, there was no way they would have roped me, but when God wants to do everything for you to get your life better, He will turn everything together for your good, even your friends will suddenly become your enemies.
This is what happened to Job, but we should not hate them; rather I see them as agents that God used for my transformation. The isolation was for my transformation. I don’t want to talk much about the case, because it is still in court. I have appealed against the judgment. The only thing I will say is to appreciate the judge, the accuser and everyone, because they are the ones who have helped me to help other people in the other world. The experience also helped to expose some ‘frenemies’ around me. You see them as friends but they enemies, especially when you have a challenge. Though I have forgiven them, as that is the highest level of maturity. I know that God has used that storm to validate the originality of my calling.
As a pastor, you should ask yourself, if I should go through that, will I survive it? Even if I do, will you come back to meet your congregation intact? For me, instead of the congregation reducing, I met double. The house I was accused of not buying is still there, I bought it for N1.4 million and now, it is worth about N11 million.
So what actually happened between you and the woman that led to your prosecution?
People, even the media don’t bother to verify news before they spread it. When the case started, I told a police officer when I wanted to buy the land for the church, it was the person that donated N1million, the police was asking me why I did not deny that and I said I am not going to deny it because we were together in it. I was not tortured to tell my story about the whole thing. Now, you are telling me it is not good, to be honest. Since 2002, the property had been handed over to her. I bought it for N400,000 per plot, it is worth millions of naira now. I did not sell it. It is not the fault of anybody, it is the journey God said I would go through. The IPO came to court and said he was not the one that brought me to court. I was kidnapped to court in 2009 because the case is in court.
So, how did you feel when you eventually found yourself in the prison?
I knew it was going to happen that way because I am a prophet. The judgment was passed on my daughter’s birthday. It was passed because our harvest ceremony was coming. Why didn’t they do that a few months before then? I called my wife and told her to celebrate my daughter’s birthday despite the situation. I have even made up my mind to give back to prisoners every November 18, as I have tagged it “Liberation Concert” and I have been able to establish my prison ministry. I did not feel bad I went there. People who are better than me are there. Immediately I got to the prison, so many people were rejoicing. They had been hearing about me and that they were happy to meet me. Some said before they had a problem, they wanted to meet me. They handed the church in the prison over to me, though there are many pastors and Muslim clerics there. We held services every Sunday and Wednesday, and I was in charge. People blessed me and I blessed them. I had the privilege to cater for them.
Meanwhile, I gained freedom on bail, I was supposed to complete my term in July, but we appealed. It was supposed to be two years concurrently. Even if I had served it, I would have been celebrated. So, to the glory of God, we went to court of appeal and I was granted bail. That is why I have limited things to say about it.
Did you say you were kidnapped?
Yes, I was not invited. I was in my office and some guys came to me and said they came from Panti, that my attention was needed, and because the government said we should not resist arrest, I followed them. On the road, they said you are not going to Panti, you are going to court. They were Liaison Officers; they took me to court. When I got there, I saw journalists everywhere; my lawyer asked if I was given any court order, even the first thing judge asked me was who brought me to court and I replied that I did not know I was coming to court. I did not have a lawyer and did not know I had a case in court.
I guess they had to do that because I reported the case at Abuja; they re-investigated the case and quickly rushed me to the court by themselves. It was not IPO that took me. So, I was relaxed over the years, doing my ministry, because I believed that any judge will just look at that angle and throw away the case.
She said I hypnotised her, used gun to force her to write invitation letter to me to come to London. Again, you wrote an invitation letter to me in 2006, why didn’t you report to the police when I used gun to force you? They wanted to frame me up, thinking I have a gun in my house. Also, I have not been to London before. How did I get the visa? It was after the panel that I started travelling abroad. So, where is hypnotism in that case? You gave me power of attorney, were you hypnotised when you did that? Even the documents they said I have not handed over are there. I handed over the documents to the police. All they did was to kidnap me to the court by themselves. They did not serve any notice, no judiciary advice that I have a case to answer. At least, the Ministry of Justice must advise any case before it is taken to court. Who called the journalists that same day? That was in 2009, and they started the case. Never in my life since I started going to court was there a reason for my bench warrant, I was not absent in court. I was there before anybody because I know my hands are clean. I did not deny anything. The story is long. The judge said because I wrote it then that I was going to return her money, because I wanted peace to reign. Everything was N2.5 million and I agreed to pay 500,000 per month. What I was afraid of then was what eventually happened. That was what the judge now used to say I was guilty. Yet, they didn’t allow me to pay, even when God had started answering me, I went to the Ministry of Justice to allow me pay and declare myself not a criminal. I seek we should settle it out of court, but they refused.
This means that I will admit that I am thief; I stole and asked for forgiveness. I said I wasn’t going to do that, which was why the judge didn’t give me option of fine, because if I had been given option of fine, I would have paid. So, it was a well-arranged thing by God, not by man, for me to go in there.
What do you think the Church can to at these trying times of the country?
We should stop attacking one another or the government. For me, I will never attack you. I will do something different that would make you think differently. We have many blessed pastors; they should take over, even the internet to redirect the minds of people, especially youths, to proffer solutions to how Nigeria will go forward alongside their gospel propagations. I am confident that if this done holistically, it will bring a productive change.
Hunger is in the land, we need to support people more. If I grow old and die, I want to die empty. I want to be remembered for so many things, especially lives that I am able to impact positively, not segregating or saying one church is better than the other. How would Nigeria grow when churches are preaching against one another? I don’t preach religion, I preach love. Christianity is not a religion; it is a way of life.
It is obvious that you have warmed yourself into the hearts of many through your philanthropic gestures, but some people claim that it is a strategy to expand church growth. How will you react to this?
A hungry nation is an angry nation. If you want to get people’s hand, get their hearts. I have been through a lot in my life. If you ask me what took me to Celestial Church, it was because they showed me love. I was mocked when I was following my mother to a church because we were poor; they mocked my mother that she was the only one wearing one dress for four years despite the fact that she prays and fasts the most, yet she was the worst person in the church.
I later found a church where I was accepted – they celebrated, loved and gave me a white garment and that was how the story changed for good. I am not going to lie about who I am. I am not a pretentious leader. I just want to be real. So, to the glory of God, God has been faithful through that and I am not doing this to impress people, I am just supporting people because of who I am. I was once in that circle, so I know what it means to suffer; I have been a bus conductor, a wrestler and also engaged in vocations such as a tiling. I just want to leave a legacy that I won’t be part of church’s money, but to use it to affect lives and for church’s growth. I even made a covenant with God that if I am genuinely called as a prophet, people will come and bless me. Even tithes, I don’t put my hands into it. I am not a millionaire, but God has been faithful to me and even blesses me beyond my imagination. In fact, I wonder why people say I am popular. I don’t just want to be seen in that light, I want to be peculiar and natural. I derive joy in mingling with the common people. I even often prefer to ride Okada.
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