November 06, 2016

How My Husband & I Survived Eight-Year Forced Separation – Lagos Big Girl Turned Pastor

Life is deeper than what many take it to be...May the good Lord help those who sincerely seek help.

Dr (Mrs) Funmilayo Iroh is one woman who has enjoyed life as wife of former top Lagos socialite and philanthropist-turned-pastor, Oluwafemi Iroh. In his heyday, her husband bestrode the social scene like a colossus, riding to parties in convoys of many cars while musicians took turns to sing his praises.

Funmilayo was there when Oluwafemi was bestowed the chieftaincy title of Borokini of Lagos and she the Yeye Borokini of Lagos. Together with her husband, they acquired landed properties in choice parts of Lagos and were involved in real estate business.

And when, according to her husband, God needed them for His work, the whole family moved to US. But there, in America, the wealthy family fell on hard times.

Her husband returned home to heed the call, to be joined later by Funmilayo and his children. She relives her experience, in this interview with The Nation's Paul Ukpabio. Read below:

You were once a socialite but now a pastor at Christ Unity Ministry. How did the ministry work begin?I joined the ministry 10 years ago. Before then, I was in America with my children. My husband was here in Nigeria doing the work of the Lord in His vineyard, so I returned to join him in the ministry in 2006. We had gone to America together in 1995, but he returned to Nigeria in 1998. So I was alone with the children from 1998 to 2006 until I came back to Nigeria to join him.

What took you to America?
Actually, I was supposed to go there on vacation. I went with three of my children at that time, and with my husband. But when we got there, the children liked the place and they didn’t want to come back. So they started going to school. In America, you cannot keep your children at home when schools are in session. So we decided to put them in schools in order to avoid going to jail. At the end of the day, they liked it and enjoyed it, so I had no choice but to stay back there with them.

What did they like about America that forced them to stay?
Among other things, they loved the fact that they had light 24/7. They also loved the fact that the roads are tarred, the school system works, and there is structure even for further daily development. No strikes in schools. But more importantly, people showed them love, so they decided to stay. But my husband did not stay back with us. He returned to Nigeria. But initially, we were there together. He couldn’t stay back because God called him to the ministry.

How was life in America?
It was very tough. I went to America with three of my children, but when we got there, we had another one, our last baby, making four. It was quite challenging, but God saw us through.

So, your husband left you in America and returned to Nigeria?
He got a call to return to serve the Lord. Upon his return, life was not easy for him out in Nigeria, even despite the call by God to return home to serve Him. So he tried to come back to the US, but God did not support that. God wanted him to remain here to serve Him. Much as he tried to come back to the US, there was no opportunity for him to do so. He had been ‘arrested’ by God in Nigeria. He couldn’t leave. He was forced to stay put in Nigeria and heed God’s call. Not because he wanted to do so, but because he had to do so.
But how was life in the US without your husband?
(Shakes her head) It was tough. I have three boys and a girl. I always said it that from my experience, it takes a man to train a boy into a man. That was always on my mind. So I had to depend on God to help me train them daily. But I had to fall back on my father’s advice of those days. He used to say that one should not cry of cold when one is in water. So I knew then that I had to either face the situation or die. I summoned courage and with the help of God, the church in which we fellowshipped in Texas, and with the help of my sister that was living with me around that time, I was able to forge ahead.

He was in Nigeria and you in America. How were you both able to sustain the relationship?
We were daily on the phone. We were also on the internet. We were daily in touch with one another. That kept the relationship going. As a matter of fact, it was like we were seeing each other during those years, because we kept very much in touch. However, there was a need to see him. So during those years, I came to Nigeria once. That was in 1999. I stayed briefly and then left. He had not started his ministry then.

There was a time both of you were highly celebrated society folks…
Yes, those were the days that we adorned our chieftaincy titles as Borokini of Lagos and I was the Yeye Borokini of Lagos. I can still recall that there was no big party in Lagos and its environs that our presence was not felt or missed, whichever case it was. That was because even then, it was not all the parties that we attended, it had to be of a particular class in the society.

So I was pleased when I returned briefly to Nigeria then and I found that he had started aligning himself to the work of God, though he had not started his ministry fully. It is not that he was not going to church while we were making waves on society scene. He was attending church, but he was not concentrated on it. He used to say that pastors are a lazy lot!

I was indeed excited for him when during that my brief stay, I found that he had finally embraced the calling unto the gospel. Then I used to ask him after church service, ‘Did you understand what the pastor was saying?’ And he would reply, ‘I didn’t understand what he was saying.’

When you decided to join him in Nigeria, was your mind made up to be a pastor too?
That was actually what I returned to do. I remember assuring myself with the bible passage: what does it profit a man to inherit the riches of the world but lose the kingdom of God? So as a child of God, I keyed into my husband’s calling. It was not a surprise for me, because I am passionate about God and the things of God. So for him to embrace the call was exciting for me, despite all the challenges he had then.

How did your friends react when you abandoned the social scene for the gospel?
(Laughs) It’s amazing the way things naturally work out for those who believe in God. What happened was that without me even doing anything about it, God started separating some people from me. These were friends who would have distracted me from following God. He suddenly started separating me from them. I didn’t notice that until after a while. I started noticing that I was not seeing them again. Most of them did not call me. They did not stop by to ask how I was doing. Also, upon my return, many of them did not even know I was back in the country. All these also helped in allowing me to balance my faith and focus on God.

But of course, there were a few who saw the change in me, who knew that I was back in the country and wondered about the change in me. They asked if it was really true. They asked if it is true I am doing the work of God. But again, the change was visible like the change in my husband. We had stopped attending parties. We had cut off from the social scene. I was not seeing a large number of them. But in recent times, some of them have traced us to our present church, seeing that it is really true. We live for God now. These ones have keyed into our ministry and I can say that at least two of them are supporting our ministry now. They come for church programmes too.

Does that mean that your transition was a sudden one?
No, I don’t think so, because I have always had the fear of God in me. I knew it was going to happen eventually. That was because of the love and attachment that I have always had for the things of God.

What do you do differently these days?
What I do differently these days is that I spend more time with God, reading the word of God. I spend more time teaching and ministering the word of God to people. I spend more time creating church programmes.

Your husband went to a bible school. Did he lecture you at home or did you attend one too?
I did not attend a bible school like he did, but God gave me His teachings by Himself. When I came back to Nigeria, I met many challenges. The challenges were so much that I wanted to run back to America immediately. A lot of it was financial. But God said no, I have to stay here. Then he began to comfort me and trained me in His scriptures. He taught me about things of the spirit. God told me that I was not just in Nigeria to assist my husband, but also to fulfil a purpose in my life, because there was a reason He asked me to return.

When you stayed back in Nigeria, were the children able to take care of themselves abroad?
My eldest son is married now. But when I returned to Nigeria then, he was in the university and there was a structure in place to sustain them while I was here. They were living like that until my first son graduated from the university and my daughter graduated too. They have their own houses and are taking care of their younger ones now.

How often do you go there to see them?
You won’t believe it, since I came back to Nigeria, I have not been able to go back to America. But two of them came to see us and stayed with us for a while. They returned to America last year December.

While your husband was alone here, were you not scared some other ladies could snatch him?
(Laughs) That wasn’t much of a problem for me at that time. That was because I was more pressed with my challenges in America and the struggle to survive with four children. So it didn’t bother me that much. I wouldn’t say it was not at the back of my mind. You know we are all human. So I thought regularly about him because I love him.

But one thing that encouraged me and I also loved about him then was that he called every day. The relationship was even better on the phone. I was busy thinking of how to survive in a land that I knew virtually nobody at all. Other thoughts were secondary or not even considered. My husband perhaps knew I would be worried about that, so he didn’t give me room to worry because he was talking to us as if he was with us over there. He was also sending money and taking care of us while he was alone here.

Your husband somewhere else complained of financial difficulties when he returned to Nigeria. How was he able to send you money?
Before he went into ministry, even before we travelled abroad, I told you we were influential society couple and God had already blessed us with land and properties. So when he returned, it was easier for him. The real estate aspect came in handy. He was already in that business. So it was easier for him. That is why even up till now, we do not collect salary from the church. He is not paid and I am not paid. God blessed us while we were in the world. And even the plaza we built is bringing us money. That is how the Lord has blessed us. We use our little earnings to grow and sustain the ministry and we found out that the more we do that, God blesses us in other ways.

But even at that (she laughs) there were real challenges. Though we had properties, it wasn’t all the time that we could sell or see a ready buyer. There were also people who owed us; people who rented our properties and did not pay. That has happened at the plaza. For a year and months, some people did not pay. So, we experienced financial struggle to a large extent. At a point in the course of the journey, I believed that it was just God’s way of letting us know about life.

Not everybody in the ministry has had the kind of grace that we have had. For instance, the house we live in, we built it ourselves. Nevertheless, we had our period of lack. It was tough for us despite our properties. For almost four years, we couldn’t pay our son’s school fees until he finally returned to America last year. So we experienced lack in between. That is because it is not every day that you get land to sell. You have to wait and also pray for your tenant to have money to pay your rent.

Tell us the secret of your youthful looks…
To the glory of God, I am over 50. My first born is 33 years old and my last born is 20. My looks could be deceptive because people say I look younger. But I do take care of myself and my looks. I love God and soak myself in His presence. I know that if God is with somebody, the person will have His aura of grace. There are also some things that one can do to facilitate the grace of God in somebody’s life. So it is the grace of God that gives me my beauty.

Are you happier working with your husband?
Yes, I am. Happier to be with him, unlike when I newly returned. Now I am at peace with myself because I now know better.

As a former popular socialite, don’t you miss good music from musicians like Victor Olaiya, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Owoh, KWAM 1 and others?
(Laughs) I don’t miss them. I don’t miss the dance. Life itself is music and dance. There are some things that nobody will teach you but age and life will teach you. When I was young, I used to like certain things. When I got older, those things that I didn’t like, I realised that they are good for me, and my body system tilted towards those things. So as you grow in God, you tilt in that direction...

But having enjoyed the world, don’t you see your straight jacket lifestyle in church as boring?
I don’t see it as boring. It takes an encounter with God to get to the level where I am. I had a true encounter with God which built up my faith, which is equally built on the power of God. His personality attracts me. God is kind, He is loving. He is merciful. Every promise God makes comes to pass. All this makes me to enjoy church. In His presence, there is fullness of joy. Just knowing that God can turn a zero to hero is enough for me. I have had so much goodness of God in my life. I used to be a sick child but without operation, God healed me. When I remember His goodness, it brings joy to me.

As a female minister of the gospel, what advice would you give to women?
What I teach women primarily is to understand God’s purpose in their lives. There is a saying that when the purpose of a thing is abused, destruction is inevitable. You must understand why you are who you are. God is not a purposeless God. Everything He created has a purpose. When you find that purpose, you fulfil destiny, then you are completely fulfilled.

Dr. Myles Munroe said the greatest tragedy that can befall a man is not death but a man that dies without purpose. I always tell women that they should not be complaining about their husbands. I used to be a complainant too. When I returned from America, I was complaining too, because the structure in America is different from what we have here. So I used to ask why my husband had not done this or that. But later, I found out the secret. The bible describes women as destiny helpers. We are not to complain but to complement him. A woman should find her purpose, she should find her strength, then she will be fulfilled.

There is a reason God puts a woman in every family. There is a reason she married a particular man. I also preach based on experience. As a minister, whatsoever I preach to the people, I do that myself. The bible says let people see those things in your life. We should practise what we preach. The women here see those things in my life. They see the practical aspect in my life. They see what I have been through and how I overcame it. When you speak to such people, they easily relate to what you are saying.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Long but worth reading

Remi Abioye said...

Great lesson for our younger ones who always think of themselves alone. May God continue to strengthen and sustain your family and ministry.

Hassan Aderemi said...

Interesting.