Sunday Magazine

Rich churches: Feeding big off poor members

It is an irony. While churches in Nigeria grow big, get bigger, many of their members are wallowing in need, poverty and sqalour. The belief is that the more one gives, the more God gets happy. Thus, while churches have set up schools and other business ventures, a majority of their members find it hard to afford the cost of such church rendered services. In this report, TAI ANYANWU writes that the age-old role of the church as a hope for the hopeless is fast vanishing

 

 

 

Ifeyinwa was 18, when she got married to Obiefuna Ikpe, a young and prosperous journalist. Ten months after the noise of their glamorous wedding, Obiefuna, an Assistant Editor in one of the national dailies, lost his job.

 

Their first baby arrived three days after the job loss and the young family was plunged into a sudden phase of hardship. Uncertainty and despair tormented Obiefuna and Ifeyinwa, who incidentally were not the religious type.

 

Now humbled by the afflictions, the couple found solace in the redeeming faith in Jesus Christ.” “We cherished every single moment our pastor taught the life-changing word of God.

 

Our energies, time, and what was left of our once buoyant resources were devoted to virtually all church activities. We hinged on the hope that tomorrow will be better and that one day, we will be able to give our child the best in life, including sound education,” Ifeyinwa added.

 

Obiefuna said a few years later, their local church, Assemblies of God’s Church, Badore, joined other branches of the church in Apapa District of Lagos State to raise funds for the building of Evangel College in Okokomaiko.

 

“My wife and I were excited, believing that when the project is actualized, our child will have a chance of getting balanced nurturing; in the word of God and sound academic teachings,” he related.

 

Hence, despite their poor financial standing, Obiefuna and Ifeyinwa never relented in giving offerings, paying tithes and contributing to project levies.

 

The couple also joined other members in Apapa District to render free labour at the Evangel school site. Obiefuna’s child, Yvonne, eventually got admission into Evangel College, when the school became operational.

 

But their journey of faith was almost shipwrecked when the church management hiked the school’s tuition fee, beyond what the couple could afford.

 

“After the first year of operation, my child was sent out of Evangel College because my wife and I could not afford the new school fees. ” Obiefuna related.

 

Estranged from collective heritage

 

Obiefuna and Ifeyinwa felt unjustly deprived of the right to enjoy the services of an institution that they believed, ought to be the collective heritage of the congregation.

 

The truth is; they aren’t the only ones who have had cause to feel used and dumped by the church in Nigeria. Sunday Telegraph’s survey revealed that different denominations in Christendom in the country are equally guilty of this kind of extortion, deprivation of privileges, and ungodly treatment meted to church members with impunity.

 

A social commentator, Mr. James Idemudia, who spoke to our reporter, observed that in addition to the customary collection of tithes and offerings, church leaders across the nation often raise funds to execute a variety of projects. Some of the projects include profit-yielding ventures like Day Care centres, Nursery/Primary Schools, Secondary Schools,

 

Theological Institutes, Universities, Printing Presses, Pure Water factories, real estate, and a host of other church-operated businesses. Who are the people contributing the funds for the multimillion Naira businesses and facilities being built by churches? Idemudia said: “They are millions of poor church members, who cannot afford to sponsor their wards in school.

 

They are members who frequently contribute their offerings, tithes, special project levies, and other hardearned resources. But they are eventually are impoverished.” Contrary to the word of God, which enjoins worshippers to give willingly, according to one’s capacity and without compulsion, today’s church operators feed fat on both the rich and impecunious believers.

 

A visit to any church in session reveals just how wealthy church operators have perfected the act of frisking hard-earned resources and psyching poor church members to give compulsively.

 

A first-time worshiper, Uju Omenka, who was invited to one of the annual deliverance crusades of King in Christ International held at the National Stadium Lagos, shared her experience: “I went to the crusade in search of a miracle, and I saw some startling miracles take place before my very eyes.

 

“There was this visiting evangelist. He came on stage and emptied seven full bottles of anointing oil on his head. Dripping all over with the greedy fluid, he called on anyone who wanted divine intervention in their circumstances to come with their seed faith; and also give him a big hug.

 

‘Once you do that, your miracle is settled,’ the Evangelist said assuredly. “I flew to the altar before anyone else, dropped my seed faith, and gave the ‘powerful’ Evangelist a hug with my full chest because I was believing God for a husband. The session continued for about one hour.

At the end of the day, the Evangelist gathered over seven big bags full of cash plus several free warm embraces from all the ladies, who responded to the altar call,” Uju further said. In the case of Dolapo Oyegun, she was invited to worship at Christ Embassy Church, Ikeja. But efforts to get her to drop every kobo in her possession as offering failed.

 

She explained: “I held out one N200.00 note to give as an offering. A member sitting beside me said ah! that is too small. I said but that’s what I have outside my transport fare. Another congregant suggested that, ‘if you give all that you have, you might see somebody who will give you a lift back home.

 

At that, I said to myself, if I give out all, how do I go back to Festac from Ikeja? This must be brainwashing ooo,” Dolapo reasoned. Ironically, it is not limited to Pentecostal churches alone. A disenchanted Catholic faithful, Onyejiekwe Obinna, abandoned a branch of the church recently.

 

He lamented: “It is as bad as this; if there is a call for offering in the church, people will fold their palms and dance to the altar with empty hands, drop it into the offering box, then dance back.

 

It will look as if they have given their offering but what they just did was to avoid the shame of being seen as one who is unable to give an offering.”

 

“For those of us who are above 40 and have lived part of our lives in the east and Lagos, Catholic Church initially did not take offering row by row. When it is offering time, everybody goes. If you have, you give without compulsion. If you do not have, you sit.

 

Now, they say let it be organized; people have to go seat by seat and when it’s your turn, everybody will see if you are still sitting, meaning that you do not have money to give.”

 

“That’s what is forcing people to dance with empty hands to the altar, in order not to appear as one who has no offering to give. Who are you deceiving? As if that is not enough, churches have scaled up their methods of extorting worshippers by calling for first, second, thirds offering collections in one single service,” he explained.

 

Besides, some things are sacred in the Catholic Church. For instance, during the consecration of the body of Christ, there is expected decorum.

 

“There is quietness as no one is allowed to enter the church or move around at that time. One can hear the sound of a pin fall to the ground at that time. But today, some influential personalities and yahoo boys are easily allowed to walk into the church during consecration just because they are financially supporting the church,” Elder Kara Joseph said.

 

Giving another instance, Mazi John Amadi regretted that the purity of Catholic worship has been seriously compromised. He recalled that once in St John Catholic Church, Imerienwe in Imo State, a wealthy and influential community leader, who was married to two wives, went and sat in the front row, a sitting position that is reserved for elders and devoted Catholics.

 

“But the Priest in charge of the Parish had to make the wealthy parishioner to vacate the elder’s seat and to take his place at the back seat,” because being a husband of more than one wife disqualified him to occupy the exalted place of proven Catholic devotees,” Mazi Amadi explained.

 

He stressed that this day, the church has swept lots of its puritan decorum under the carpet, for material considerations. “The church is all about building edifices, growing in buildings, properties, classy cars, bodyguards for pastors, paid bouncers for megachurch activities while members are getting impoverished.”

 

Where is the shepherd of old?

 

An elder in one of the brake-away denominations of Christ Apostolic Church, John Akani, condemned the neglect of members’ welfare and ridiculous exploitation that is rampant in today’s church.

 

Quoting the scripture in the book of James 1:27 Elder Akani contended: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

“Our General Overseers and fathers in the faith have veered away from acceptable Christian character.

 

One can only wonder why they have ditched those godly practices exhibited by shepherds of old.” But Itodo Samuel of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Jos branch, however, said that some churches have excelled in the area of caring for the needy in society through different programs and expressions.

 

He pointed out a trending video on Facebook where a notorious street urchin named ‘Shano Wale’ was rehabilitated from a life of drug addiction; and transformed into a firebrand Evangelist Solomon by the General Overseer of This Present House, Pastor Tony Rapu’s Freedom Foundation.

 

For the Lagos Overseer of Motailatu Aladura Church, Rev James Akinadewo, many church premises have also become emergency relief grounds due to hardship and hunger in the land.

 

“Government has failed the people. There are poverty, hunger, and economic hardship in our country today. And many poverty and hunger struck citizens both Christians, Muslims, and free thinkers now turn to the church to get food, other relief items for sustainability,”

Rev. Akinadewo explained. Recently, the Senior Pastor of House On The Rock, Pastor Paul Adefarasin, invited several Television houses and the print media to cover a feeding programme organized by his church, for the needy in the church’s neighborhood.

 

“This has also become standard practice,” some of the beneficiaries, who happen to be members of the church workers told our correspondent. But Preye Jackson, who witnessed the feeding programme wasn’t as impressed as the church workers who spoke earlier.

 

“This feeding program is supposed to be meant for the needy in the neighbouhood but you find that 90 per cent of the beneficiaries are church workers of House On The Rock.

 

 

The meal is also poor. Above all, what is the motive for inviting over seven television stations and a crowd of print media journalists to cover the event,” Preye asked?

 

Sunday Telegraph’s survey, invariably, found out that the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) set up House of Joy, a rehabilitation centre for people dealing in   drugs, as part of the RCCG’s effort to rid the society of alarming rate of drug addiction among youths.

 

The centre, which is located at Nnobi Street, Surulere Lagos, is manned by a former Instrumentalist under late Afro Beat King, Fela Anikulapu Kuti, who is a repentant drug addict and now the Head Pastor of Tabernacle Christian Ministry.

 

Our correspondent reliably learned that House of Joy is populated mostly by children of RCCG ministers, who have drug addiction issues.

 

Loss of saltiness in education role

 

Invariably, many respondents recalled in glowing terms, the big role the church played in the education of Nigerians, especially the contributions made by early missionaries.

 

“A great number of pioneer leaders of our nation were educated almost at zero cost courtesy of early missionaries.

 

But that is no longer the case considering that today’s Christians have made qualitative education unaffordable to the poor despite the increasing number of church-operated educational institutions in the country,” Chief Okolie Ikem observed.

 

There are 39 church-owned or affiliated Universities out of 79 approved private Universities in Nigeria; 15 other missionary universities are at different stages of completion. Some of the faith-based Universities include Redeemers University.

 

 

It was founded by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Bishop David Oyedepo’s Living Faith Church established Covenant University and Landmark University; Babcock University came into being through collective funds generated from Seventh Day Adventist members. Mountain Top University is another denominational University founded by the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries; Anchor University is owned by Deeper Life Church; the Anglican Church founded Ajayi Crowder University; Benson Idahosa University is the brainchild of Church of God Mission, and Bowen University is owned by The Nigerian Baptist Convention.

 

Others include Crawford University built  by The Apostolic Faith, Bingham University by Evangelical Church Winning All, Joseph Ayo Babalola University owned by Christ Apostolic Church, Precious Cornerstone University owned by Sword of The Spirit Ministries, a church-operated by the current President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Bishop Wale Oke; to mention but a few.

 

A comparative analysis of fees paid by students of the nation’s public Universities, State Universities/Polytechnics, and churchowned Universities reveals a huge difference.

 

While Federal Government University charge as little as N25,000 – N40,000 for some faculties, Church-owned private Universities charge between N500,000 to N1.7m depending on the faculty or the institution.

 

State-owned Polytechnics and Universities charge moderately N100,000 for indigenes and N150,000 for none indigenes. “Given the economic hardship, job cuts, poor salary structure and high level of joblessness faced by many Nigerians, it is obvious that only the super-rich can afford to sponsor their wards or pay the exorbitant fees charged by today’s missionary schools.

 

That brings to mind the question: What happens to the children of poor church members, who contributed their hard-earned resources to the church to build the missions schools where their wards are denied every chance to get quality education,” Comrade Aliyu Momodu asked.

 

This depicts the Nigerian church as a place where Christian leaders love their skins much more than those of several thousand poor worshippers who are wallowing in abject poverty. They feed fat on the offerings, tithes, donations, and special project levies of the congregants but never give a hoot about their welfare.

 

 

At the moment, Dunamis is building 100,000 sitting capacity auditorium. In addition to his existing 50,000 capacity church, Bishop David Oyedepo has embarked on the construction of another 150,000 capacity church. Pastor Enoch Adeboye of RCCG built 4 kilometers square arena; Bishop Ibiyiome has 100,000 capacity, and Deeper Life Superintendent is going from his edifice in Gbagada to Complex Christian Centre in Ogun State.

 

According to another concerned senior citizen, Dr. Juwan Ademologun, our church leaders fly in private jets, live in palatial mansions within prime property zones, compete with each other to build huge capacity cathedrals, and multiply chains of branches only to keep exploiting gullible worshipers.

 

“Such flamboyant and materialistic lifestyle is not usually exhibited by their Muslim counterparts,” Dr. Ademologun pointed out.

 

Bringing back the glory of the church

 

Recently, the Publisher of Christian Benefits Magazine, Dr. Wole Olarinde, assembled some concerned Christians in the country to champion the course of sanitizing and bringing back the glory of the church in Nigeria.

 

He said: “The present state of the church today, particularly in Nigeria, does not give joy to God. It then behooves on the children of God to arise and rebuild the church, to give joy to the Lord.” Olarinde further observed that in the quest to continue to hold unsuspecting believers spellbound, Church leaders import satanism into the House of God.

 

Hear him: “There are so many houses of Dibia (Babalawo or native doctors) called churches today. You can easily know the Babalawos in priestly robes or trending suits if you have a discerning spirit. It is your choice to be pastored by ‘pastoral or a genuine pastor.”

 

He maintained that gullible Christians are the reason why unwholesome practices fester in the Church in Nigeria. “I still heap the blames on those who patronize them. The true church of Jesus is not a house of Dibia. It is simply that most churchgoers or followers allowed themselves to be fooled and exploited at their own volition and gullibility.

 

“My take on this is that people should return to the Bible as the only basis for their living. I can only blame those who surrender their lives for exploitation more than their exploiters. For those exploiters, except they repent, they should await their judgment and punishment from God someday. My only concern is that people should be awake to their rights and privileges in God, once they are truly born again,” Olarinde added.

 

The Nehemiah generation convened by Dr. Olarinde didn’t mince words: “Nevertheless, our mission is to redirect the mind of the church and the hearts of church leaders back to the essence of the gospel (which is pure salvation) and the need for them to feed the flock and not to frisk the flock. God expressly instructs preachers to “feed my lamb,” and not to frisk my lamb. Those preachers or pastors that frisk the Lamb of God instead of feeding them are sons and daughters of perdition.”

 

Outside the shores of Nigeria, an Asian cleric broke down while preaching to his congregation back home. Here is what he said while speaking the mind of God in a trending Facebook video clip titled Repent African Pastors: “The Church in Africa listen.

 

Pastors in Africa listen; You have fooled my people, God said through your, witchcraft, magic and seducing demons; and I say to you enough is enough. Judgment is coming to you pastors in Africa.

 

Judgment is coming to you unless you repent now, God said.” “You have proselyted my sons and daughters. You seduced and bring them to immorality. You teach them to rebel against me. You seduced them.

 

Enough is enough God said. Enough is enough. I will turn the country to humility, and every false shepherd will be removed in the church, and every seducing leader will be removed and cut off in the land.

 

And I will raise another who will teach my people to love me, to serve me, to worship me, and to obey me,” the oracle of God added.

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