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Grass to Grace: There were days me & my wife lived on N500 – Popular Nigerian Bishop

Some people who are quick to insult pastors, but give them the opportunity to pass through just 25% of what some pastors pass through to get to where they are, them go run. Talk is cheap!

Twenty-five years ago, Bishop Tom Samson from Delta State, Founder and General Overseer of Christ Royal Family International, also the Chief Executive Officer of many schools and hospitals, relocated to Lagos, to set up a gospel ministry.

But he ended up running into his old girlfriend in secondary school for whom he had some feelings then as much as she had for him too. The chance meeting revived old feelings, leading to courtship and eventually marriage. Read their interesting story below:

Today, the rest is history. Blessed with four biological children and two adopted ones, Bishop Samson and his amiable wife are by whatever parameters you adopt, successful couple. In this interview, with The Sun's Christian Agadibe, the couples who have clocked two decades and a half in marriage recount their humble beginning days; how they started their church in one-room apartment and how they weathered the storm as well as their happy moments

The couple unveil the secrets behind their journey of 25 years marriage. Excerpts:

Could you please tell us a bit about your background and how did two of you meet? 
Husband: I am Bishop Dr. Tom Samson, the General Overseer of Christ Royal Family International Church with branches all over Lagos, in Abuja, Port Harcourt, London, Dublin, Atlanta, Houston, America, and Cotonou. I am also a school proprietor. I am from Delta State, Ndokwa West Local Government to be precise. We are here for the silver jubilee of my wedding anniversary. We met as secondary students, we were like first lovers. In those days in Ile-Ife, students of University of Ile-Ife organized summer schools for secondary school students, and that summer school took place for the Form 1 students going to Form 2. She was there for the summer school, I was attending Modakeke High School, and she was attending Our Lady High School. So we met. You know as students, those days we used to approach people with cards, like: “There are many fishes in the ocean”, “Gold fish is different”, and “Will you be my friend?” She could sign yes or no. She is so beautiful, she is so pretty and I was following her to give her that card, expecting a reply. I think she signed no then I went with my friend to go and block her. Like teenagers, that was the norm then.

And we became friends all our secondary school years. After secondary school, everybody parted ways. I found my way after I left secondary school, my parents left Ile-Ife. I followed my elder brother then and found myself in the university. After we parted, she began to send me cards. I found myself in Bende State University, Ekpoma campus. From my first year, I gave my life to Christ. I started this church as a campus fellowship. I have sisters in campus fellowship but towards my final year, God led her to meet me even when I had the opportunity to marry people from the campus fellowship because I am the founder. This is how I left the university in 1991, and God began to direct me back to her. I came to Lagos, started this ministry. That is how we started this ministry in 1992, which is 25 years now.

What is it love at first sight when you saw her in secondary school in those days? What actually attracted you to her? 
Husband: I just loved her. You know, a woman will not tell you “yes” in those days. But destiny made our paths to cross. She is so beautiful. My wife is a beautiful lady then she is calm. She is from a disciplined Christian home. I love her calmness, she just got to me and I vowed that I must get her. That was it.

Why did you accept his coming back? 
Wife: I know I felt something for him. I love him so I went around verifying if he is really genuine and born again. So I eventually found out that pastor’s wife followed him to meet me, knowing full well that I might be convinced. She told me that he was really born again. That was Pastor Mrs. Ikebudu.

After you came together, did you have time to date? How did you convince her? 
Husband: We did. Anytime we come together both in the church, we prayed, we fasted. We dated for about six months. I now let her know that I am a man of God. She knew when we parted that I was of the world. To let you know that she was a wife material, even when I was still following girlfriends; she knew I love her and she was not offended. She was patient; she didn’t give it to me hotly. I was a ladies’ person, girls always loved to be around me. When we parted, we parted as nonbelievers. Even when she was sending letters to me, I trashed them. She has been my former lover. I only told her that I am back to marry her, and that I am now a man of God. Back then I was mightily used by God, all over the universities and on different campuses. Before I came back they were on campus, I was not happy then I contacted my pastor. And he told me: “Tom if you are not having peace, then it means you are not in the will of God.” I went back asking for God’s will to be done. That was when my spirit, my desire, strong desire began to come for my wife. My pastor volunteered to let his wife follow me to convince her that I am a man of God.

If you are not a man of God, what else would you have become? 
Husband: If I am not a man of God, looking at the background I came from I could have been a medical doctor or a businessman because of my hatred for poverty. That is what I wanted to be even when I entered Ekpoma. I had in mind of becoming a medical person but life didn’t treat me well. I ended up in Faculty of Natural Sciences to study Zoology and because I was immersed in religion then I ended up in Biology Education. Could you imagine as a final year student, I was going about from village to village crusade casting out demons? When I left university in 1991, it was glaring that this is my work. Then the Lord gave me a word that He would use me in his ministry. Now he has used me as a businessman and today we have 500 to 600 staff in our various establishments. We have 18 schools, hospitals, printing press, college of education. I am building a university. I built estates. I employed engineers and professors.

Today, it is almost rare to see a Yoruba woman married to an Igbo man. How can you encourage people to continue inter-ethnic marriage? 
Husband: Let me give you an example; my father who is a Delta Igbo did not support my elder brother when he wanted to marry a Benin woman. So my father married a Delta woman for him with his own money because of his hatred for Benin women. But with that woman, he married he never had rest. My counsel is that your tribe man does not have to be your God-ordained person. It is not all about tribe. Even your family friend who is from the same tribe can destroy you. You have to look at compatibility and the fear of God. When couples are born again, the word of God is what they begin to follow not culture.

What has it been like taking a tough decision in marriage? 
Wife: Many times we have compromised. And there are some things that I let go. When you hurt a woman, you can never enjoy yourself. When you leave an unhappy woman in your home then you cannot know peace. So, many times, man doesn’t always have to have their way.

Was there any objection from your family at the point when you came to marry her? 
Husband: Yes, there was, because I am a Delta Igbo, she is Yoruba. She is the only daughter of her parents. I came from a poor background and her father was scared whether I would be able to take care of her. She is from a well-to-do home. Her father was a local chief but my father was riding a bicycle in Ile-Ife. But her love for me made her to convince her parents that she wants to move in with me. It wasn’t easy for us in those early days. We started living in a flat that was virtually empty of household property but what kept us going is love.

What has sustained this marriage? 
Wife: Prayers have sustained us. God hears prayers because the family that prays together stays together. We pray everyday that even if the devil wants to come, he has no place.

Is there anything you dislike about each other since you were married? 
Husband: I shout a lot and my wife does not like shouting. That is because I am a preacher. We have different backgrounds. For instance, when I married my wife she puts our food together but she comes from a home where there is one child to one plate but mine was a plate of food for 8 children, we rushed it then. When she puts our food together, I usually rushed it then she says, “Honey, cool down.” I was kind of greedy. Everything I do is to shout, and she is not the type that wants me to shout but it took us time to learn. I like food a lot and she’s been feeding me a lot. I don’t mix up, we built our house over 25 years but we don’t have visitors. I told her I have married you, and I have married you. I don’t like people coming over to our house or you collecting things on credit so that people will not come to our house to demand for their money. And over 25 years she has kept the pledge.

What was your first five years in marriage like? 
Wife: In the first five years in marriage, I think, a man is still full of himself although there is still a lot of love. It takes at least 10 years to fully know someone. It takes a lot of understanding to know someone.

How did you bring up your children? 
Husband: It was turbulent. Imagine a situation where the children are just a year older than the other. I pitied my wife. While one was jumping on the fridge, the other was climbing, it wasn’t easy but the beauty is when they grow up.

Is there any regret so far from this marriage? 
Wife: No, in fact it now looks as if we just met. Our children have gone away on studies.

When children grow up and get married especially the female children, the woman goes for omugwo, in keeping with tradition. But it seems, at old age, the father is forgotten. What is your take on this? 
Husband: We are not at that level yet but I know a particular case like that where one of the elders in my church came to collect food from my wife because his wife went for omugwo. He was so lonely. I think, such circumstance should not be for too long. The man should be able to tell the children to release his wife on time. It is not good for a woman to stay out for too long. I am not sure I can release my own wife to go for omugwo.

Why do we have increasing cases of marriage crash these days? 
Wife: When the fear of God is not there, marriage will crash. What marriages need is the Holy Spirit.

Even though you are married, do you get tempted s*xually? 
Husband: Of course I do. The Bible says Jesus was tempted with sin but he did not fall into any. But you have to look at the consequences of the temptation. If you fall into temptation and continue with it, it will affect your relationship with God as well as destroy everything you have built. When some strange women enter into men’s life, they will begin to maltreat their wives. And it is good that men should be prayerful and as for women, they should be wary of wrong counseling.

How do you surmount storms when it comes? 
Wife: We pray together and we use the word of God as a guide in all matters.

Do you think the husband or wife should forgive each other if either of them is caught cheating by the other? 
Husband: The Bible says divorce should be based on the establishment of the case of adultery. But the same Bible says before you can decide not to forgive anyone any more, he must have offended you and you must have forgiven the person 70 times 7. He says if you don’t forgive others their sin, your Heavenly Father will not forgive you. Human beings are bound to sin because they are in the flesh. But if you don’t forgive, this world will be a terrible place to live in. Forgiveness is a virtue.

What is your advice to intending couples especially young women? 
Wife: They should be accommodating, pray well because a happy family prays together and stays together. They should be accommodating because they are from different backgrounds. But they should be willing and ready to face challenges together.
Husband: Look at the level of our success today. There were days that we had to manage N500; there were days of no food. We went through all of these but what kept us together was that love. I remember when my wife was working and I started the ministry, she usually gave me her salary. And it was that salary we managed, so young couples should know that there would be challenges in the home they are building. And what will keep them together amid the challenges is love and hope for better future.

What good memories do you have of your early days in marriage? 
Husband: I still remember the way I used to ‘chase’ my wife in secondary school. I would escort her to her house and when I was going back she, too, would, in turn, do the same, and that was how we would continue to go forth and back many times in a day (They laugh).