Apostle Israel Oku, founder, Home-Builders Christian Ministry International; is the quintessential family man. He has been married for 45 years; yet, he and his wife carry on as if they are young couples. Their relational disposition exudes a lot of grace.
But Oku told Church Times in a recent chat that the secret of an enduring marriage is determination coupled with God’s abundant grace.
“I believe every marriage has the capacity to succeed. It all depends on the couple. No matter the storm, if they are determined to make it work, it will work.”
Indeed, Oku has stories to tell about his marriage of 45 years. One of the inspiring stories is that of his wife who entered the marriage without a primary six certificate but who now has a university degree.
The power of vision
He recounts, “When my wife came to Lagos from the village she stayed with her uncle,. But her uncle could not send her to school because she was already old. She had to learn a trade.
“But she had always loved to go school. As a matter of fact, she always dreamt of having a home where English is the means of communication. We got married anyway and she shared her dream with me. I tried to calm her down and assured her that she would fulfill her dream.”
True to his words, Oku made sure his wife’s dream became a reality. By the time she was through with childbearing, she encouraged her to begin to pursue her dream. She first enrolled in an adult school for primary education. She later got admitted to Sari Iganmu Secondary School where she sat for her school certificate and subsequently got admission to study Religion at the Lagos State University.
The irony of her story is that her last two children got admission to LASU the same year with her. Today, Mrs. Goodness Oku holds a degree in Religion. Before the degree programme, she had done a diploma programme in Theology at a Bible school.
Oku: The village wife he did not marry
But the marriage between the duo would not have happened. Long before they met, Oku’s parents had secured a wife for him in the village. He had also agreed to marry the lady. The dowry had been paid. His parents were only waiting for him to give a date the lady would be brought to him in Lagos.
But just before he gave them the nod to bring the lady, he had a dream where he saw that the lady would not make a good wife. “When I had that dream, I said to myself that I would no longer marry her. I saw that I was sick in the dream and she abandoned me. Before the dream, I had already gone to her family to familiarise myself with them in preparation for the wedding,” he recalled.
Incidentally, it was while coming back from Ijebu-Itele, Ogun State where he went to see her family that he ran into her present wife in the public bus he boarded. They exchanged addresses and became friends. But he never planned marriage with her because he was still in the first relationship until he had the dream that made him decide otherwise.
But it took a while for him to make his decision known to his parents. His father, who was a reverend at the Christ Army Church was not comfortable with his decision. He however agreed later that he had a right to his decide who to marry.
Goodness won the day
It took about a year after he had closed the chapter of the woman she had earlier wanted to marry before he began to think of another relationship.
This time, he was in a quandary. It took his auntie and a friend to convince him that his present wife was the right person for him. “They saw that she was homely and quite supportive of all the ladies that came around me then. That was what motivated me to marry her.”
Oku who is the first surviving child of his parents after they had lost two also has a background in Christ Army Church of Nigeria. He was quite active in the church and had participated in many church activities and ministry endeavours.
But it was when he joined Divine Healing Ministry in the early 90s that he formally surrendered his life to Christ.
While in the ministry, he and his wife participated in all the church training and submitted themselves to mentorship. They attended Bible school and were quite active. By the year 2000, they got a leading from the Lord to start Home-Builders Ministry located at Oko Afo, off Badagry Express Way Road.
Today, the ministry is 21 years. Looking back, he has every reason to thank God.
Marriage ministry: How it all began
What he and his wife are doing in ministry today had long been part of their life right from their early years in marriage.
“We had flair for the family. As young couples, we were settling quarrels for married people. We started by having a conference called Happy Home Conference. It became an annual event. Thereafter, God asked me to start a church. We started with my wife and children on July 2, 2000.”
He reasoned that many marriages fail because people don’t get it right at the entry point. “I have seen people who say God said. But the next one year after their wedding they are fighting. Did God change his mind? Some say the pastor advised them to marry and all sorts. But the marriage ends up in the trash.
God, not in the business of matchmaking?
“I believe God is no longer in the business of match-making. His word already tells us that whoever finds a wife finds a good thing. Where you meet your wife is irrelevant. What is important is what can you make of the marriage?
“The point I am making is that we should learn to take responsibility and not put the blame on God when our marriage goes awry. In my case, I was the one who made the decision not to marry the first woman because of what God showed me in my dream. I could as well have gone ahead to marry her. But I weighed the risk and talked to myself. So, also God will not force a woman on us. It is for us to decide.”
Oku who was one time official of the Lagos Chapter of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria explains further that a man should count the cost before marriage. “You must first do a checklist of the things you like about the woman and the things you don’t like. If the things you like outweigh the ones you don’t like, then you are good to go. But if not, then you need to think.
Most of the time when we say God says, it is not that God has told us anything. It is our own infatuation or emotion that is speaking to us. I sometimes wonder why God does not always tell university graduates to marry pepper sellers? Only on very rare occasions, you see such combinations. And usually, it could be that the university graduate made the mistake of sleeping with the pepper seller and had to end up marrying her.
“So, we should stop deceiving ourselves and take responsibility.” He submits.
He reasoned that “whether the man or woman is packaged by God or the devil, couples can both decide to make their marriage work. But then if you are sensitive enough, you will not get to the point of marrying a person that God has not prepared for you.”
Delay in marriage
Also contributing, his wife, Goodness Oku observes that “In most cases, pride, arrogance and ego are causes of delay in marriage for women. There are a few cases of demonic manipulation. But usually what you find is that the lady, because of her education and status is not ready to submit to a man.
“I believe if a woman wants her marriage to work, it will work. If two agree, it will work. There must be agreement. I made up my mind that this marriage must work. And it is working.
Oku reasons also that marriages in those days endured because there were checks around. “Usually, because the wife was recommended, the parents must have done their due diligence ensuring that the home where the woman comes from is decent. But then, the man is also careful not to disappoint his parents. So, he makes sure he keeps his home. Today, there are no checks. Intending couples don’t get information about themselves. That is why we have an increased rate of divorce today.”
Why pastors’ marriages fail
Marriages of men of God according to him also suffer setbacks because many don’t carry their wives along in their careers.
“In those years when I was still doing my degree programme at the University of Lagos, I used to take my wife to campus to see life on campus. I was not a graduate when we married. We were in marriage when I started going to school too. One of the mistakes we make as pastors is that we don’t carry our wives along as we grow. If we must enjoy our marriage, we must ensure our wives are also increasing in knowledge and exposure along with us.”
For mature singles he counsels, “The right time to do anything is now. For women, it’s unfortunate their childbearing years is limited. The question for mature singles is: can they humbly submit to any man? That is where the challenge is.
“To every woman, there is a man, but who is the man, who is the woman? God is interested in the content while the devil is interested in the package. Unfortunately, many people are also interested in the package rather than the content.”
He also counseled men to always invest in their wives during their productive years for the rainy days. They should also take them out.
“Many years ago, we used to go out on Sundays for lunch. There is perhaps no big eatery in Lagos that I have not taken my wife to. I remember I used to drive home to pick my wife in Orile when I was working in Guardian Press so we could go and have lunch in Victoria Island. Those things strengthened our union.”
We had our issues too
He counselled further those men who get tired of their wives should cultivate them and shun discontentment. “Every woman will be valued by the price tag you place on her. In those early years when I see young girls dress well, I will sketch the dress and ask my wife to sew the kind of dress.”
But has his marriage been all smooth from day one? “Certainly not. We quarrel. But we have never exchanged blows. I must also say I made some wrong moves in the early years of our marriage. As a young man, I had my share of being tempted by ladies. But what saved me was that I did not go far with any of these ladies before God intervened.”
Why women have trouble in marriage
Women according to him, have issues with their marriage because they don’t want to submit. “If a woman is not obedient and submissive, she will have issues. Again, any woman who is tying wrapper around the house does not present a good picture of herself. A woman should dress well because dressing well makes you look good for yourself and then for the approval of your husband.”
Oku testified to how God used him to save many homes. He however noted that his greatest joy is that he is leaving a good legacy for his biological children. “I feel good that my biological children can look up to us. We have never hit each other for one day. People look up to us as a model. We are examples on the street we live. We have the gut to talk to people about living right.”
On what he enjoys most about his wife, he says, “I like the fact that she is submissive and obedient. She had come to understand me so much that she understands my temperament.”
For Goodness Oko however, everything about her husband is just alright. “I just love everything about him.” She blurted.