Pastor Isaiah Dayo Lawon was Oyo State Pastor for Deeper Life Bible Church in the 80s. He resigned from the Church in 1993 to concentrate on missions to unreached areas in the world. So far his mission organisation known as Full Stature Missions International has outreaches in many countries across the globe. A one-time Chairman of the LAUSANNE Committee for World Evangelisation, Pastor Lawon gave a rundown of his ministry life in this interview with Church Times Nigeria
How did you come about ministry work?
I have a faith background. But then I had to surrender my life to Christ much later in life when I was 23 as a student at Ahmadu Bello University. Giving my life to Christ became easy because my father and his friend were founders of the branch of the Evangelical Church Winning All in Kogi State where I come from. Then, the Church was known as the Evangelical Church Of West Africa. My father had so much influence on me. People used to call his friend Moses while he was called Aaron.
As a young boy, I went to church with him. I was his only son. I played a prominent role in early morning prayers. But then I was not born again. My first exposure to the gospel was while I was doing my Higher School Certificate at Titcom College Egbe in Kwara State. In that school, we heard the gospel every morning. But it was on my 23rd birthday on November 23, 1975, as a Geology student at ABU that had a definite encounter with the Lord.
There was this missionary who was the chaplain in ABU. He preached on grace. I heard the message and it transformed my life. I began to evangelise almost immediately. I did evangelism almost every weekend while in school.
Six months after my conversion we had this campus conference. The professor who preached at the conference kept on preaching every day on “Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord” for six days. And since my name is Isaiah, it was like the message was directed to me. I took the message as a personal message sent by God to me and began to work at it; responding to God’s call and taking responsibility until I graduated in 1977.
So did you go into ministry after graduation and what were your early recollections about the Christian faith then?
Not exactly. I went for NYSC in Bauchi State. At the orientation camp, I met a lot of other Christians. We formed the corpers fellowship. I remember there was a lot of argument in those days about the baptism of the holy spirit. Nobody was talking about it in the north. It was when I was in my final year at ABU that the president of our fellowship brought the message. But the message on the baptism of the holy spirit was already well grounded in the South.
So what were the things that influenced your faith in those early days?
Just when I was about to leave ABU I came across an organisation known as the Navigators. Their gospel materials helped to establish my faith. They had six books on discipleship. Those books and the Deeper Life Fellowship then influenced me a lot. I remember reading a tract by Pastor Williams Kumuyi titled, “Others May, I cannot”.
That tract made a lot of impact on my life. But for the three years I spent on campus the Navigator made more impact. I was also greatly influenced by the fellowship of believers during my NYSC. I remember in those days three of us met regularly. We were preaching throughout the 12 months of our NYSC and we had vigils regularly.
Apart from reading the tract of Pastor Kumuyi were you a member of the fellowship then?
I had not joined Deeper Life. We only had access to their material then. Between 1973 and 1978 Deeper Life sent some of its members to go all over the country to spread the tracts and Bible study outline of the ministry. So we were getting our Bible study outline from Lagos regularly through the post office after they had established contacts with us.
By the time I finished my NYSC, there was a conference at St. John” Anglican Church in Jos conducted by Pastor Pre Ovie Ovia. That was in 1978. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Deeper Life. That was my first link with a preacher in Deeper Life. I got close to him. That made me know Deeper Life better. Later I left Jos for Ilorin. In Ilorin, there was a fellowship of postgraduate students that I was a part of. I would go to the fellowship on Wednesday and go to Deeper Life on Monday. I would do other evangelical programmes in between. I did that from 1978 to 1980.
Were you not in a paid employment? What time did you have for all these meetings?
I was working with the Water Corporation of Kwara State. I was a field officer. So I was not tied to a place in the office. I had the liberty to move around. But I was more committed to evangelism. I was zealous for the Lord. I became more involved with Deeper Life, Praying, fasting, and asking God to give me a picture of what the future is.
One day I was in the field and was conducting a survey for a borehole. It was in that field that God said he was going to speak to me in three months. But then God used the life of a young man who was holding crusades everywhere and doing so much for God to speak to me. This young man had only a bicycle and he was everywhere doing evangelism. I had a car then and was not doing much for God as this young man. His evangelism was a challenge to me.
I told my wife who has now gone to be with the Lord that we should buy a motorcycle for this young man. It was in the morning while contemplating getting a motorcycle for this young man that Pastor Kumuyi sent for me to come and lead a Bible study programme in Ibadan.
But you had not met Pastor Kumuyi by then, how come he invited you to hold Bible study?
Yes, I had not met him. But he heard about me through another pastor in the church. There was a programme Deeper Life had in Offa, Kwara State and I happened to have handled the Bible study session of the programme. Pastor Egunjobi who is still in the Deeper Life was in that Bible study session. He was the one who went to report to Pastor Kumuyi that I did quite well in my presentation. That was when Pastor Kumuyi took note of my name.
When I applied, six months after that time to the International Bible Training Centre (IBTC) in Ayobo, he spotted my name and said instead of coming to the Bible College I should be coming to teach at the Ibadan center then. Before I started leading the Ibadan Bible Study Centre, Pastor Kumuyi was always coming from Lagos to Ibadan to take Bible study. When I took over, I was living in Ilorin and was coming to Ibadan to handle the Bible study.
At a point, I had to resign from my appointment with the Kwara State government because I could no longer cope with traveling from Ilorin to Ibadan. I resigned from my job on May 30, 1980; a day before my promotion to level 9 so that I would be fully committed to the Bible study programme in Ibadan.
You now became a full-time pastor in Deeper Life?
I did not become full-time immediately. The ministry encouraged me to look for another job at Ibadan, preferably a job that would give me time. I managed to get one room in Ibadan where I stayed. My family was still in Ilorin. Eventually, after four months, I secured a teaching job. I could not get the kind of job I was doing in Kwara State in Oyo State. After six months I could not combine the teaching job with the ministry. That was when I became a full-time pastor.
The level of commitment and sacrifice in those days was top notch. What was that thing that propelled you to make those sacrifices?
I think one of the major things that helped us then was that we heard God personally. It was not a case of being influenced by people. We had personal encounters with God. In my case, God spoke to me from Isaiah 40. I heard his voice clearly that he would send me to do specific assignments when I turned 40. So we did not see what we were doing as a sacrifice
We did not think we were doing something special or outstanding. All that we did in those days was normal to us. We were just doing ministry. We did not know whether it would affect our future. We took risks. We kept to the consecration, we looked straight, and read the Bible cover to cover. All our concerns were about souls and how they would be brought to the kingdom. We did not care about personal comfort.
From the benefit of hindsight, were there things you did out of ignorance that you should not have done?
I wish those days were back. Now I know the advantage of being surrendered to God fully. What we call risk is what God calls faith. Many people today consider the circumstances and find it difficult to go all out for God. For me, I have not regretted anything.
But there were instances of people who took extreme steps that later affected them in life.
That is true. Some of our people took radical steps all in the name of the gospel. One thing I may say is that you may have a drive, you must consider the nurture that goes along with it. Thank God for my wife who was committed and had a lot of wisdom in making sure the home front did not suffer. If not for her, my children will not be upright today. Today all our four children are married and doing great for the Lord. I believe God rewards sacrifice.
But some of your contemporaries had challenges meeting up with life’s pursuits because of the hardline steps they took.
That is the painful part of the story. Many abandoned their studies in the universities to do evangelism. Some of them still turned out well but some are not so fortunate. I have names of brethren who fell into that trap and are yet to recover. There were those of us who completed our courses because we were not exposed to extreme teachings. I will not advise anybody to leave school because of evangelism. But then, the zeal at that time was so consuming that people only saw the need to preach the gospel while many other things suffered.
Tell us about your involvement in Deeper Life. How was it in those years when you were there?
My involvement in Deeper Life was total. I became a member of the Board of Trustees. I sank my life in Deeper Life completely. Those days were very rough, challenging yet rewarding. We were holding programmes and retreats in very obscure places like poultry sheds sitting in the dust.
It was a glorious time doing ministry in Deeper Life. I spent my youthful life there. I enjoyed my leadership role at the Oyo State chapter. We planted 170 churches when I was the State Pastor. We grew from like 100 members when I took over to 12000 members. It was encouraging to see God do great things through us.
While in Ibadan, we had the grace of planting churches in Kenya because I was always traveling to Kenya to conduct conferences from 1985 to 1990. I became the Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Church’s national retreat. We had the last national retreat in 1985 because the crowd was so large. We had to break into regions. In those days we did a lot of traveling and there were also a lot of issues to contend with.
But what kind of relationship did you have with Pastor Kumuyi?
I thank God for my relationship with Pastor Kumuyi. We were quite close and he took a special interest in me. People would go and report me to him in Lagos and he would invite me and bring out the letter they wrote against me. He was just satisfied with my wife and I. He was pleased with the work we were doing in Ibadan.
Were there things you would have done differently if you were to run the administration of the church then?
I think we ought to have been able to balance family life with ministry life. Many of us failed in that regard. We were so consumed by the work that it affected our families. It was my wife like I said earlier that God used to save my own family. My children turned out well because she was quite involved with them. Some did not have that opportunity. They were so much involved with the growth of the church that their family life suffered.
So for how long were you in Oyo State?
I was in Ibadan from 1980 when I joined the ministry to 1990. I was transferred to Kano. I was there for 7 months and then to Kwara where I spent 2 years and resigned on May 30, 1993.
You had a great relationship with Pastor Kumuyi. One would have thought you wouldn’t have left the ministry. Why did you resign?
Recall that God spoke to me in the early days of my conversion about a specific assignment he would want me to do. I always had that at the back of my mind. Incidentally, when that time was getting close, a lot of issues started coming up in Deeper Life. I was traveling from one point to another to help address some of these issues.
But then, it soon dawned on me that it was time for me to go too. That became so clear to me when I was transferred to Ilorin. We were told we could take a month’s leave in the ministry. I went on leave and did not come back. I then moved back to Ibadan because my family had always been in Ibadan.
You and your contemporaries did so much in the 80s even at a young age. What was that thing that made you so committed to the gospel?
It is God’s grace that kept us and enabled us to do the bit we could do. Many of the things we count so big today were not big in our eyes. We had the crowd. At that time we were doing four services on Sunday in Deeper Life in Ibadan. We did not see those things as exceptional. There was a kind of humility that God added to us. We were so dead to the world that what mattered to us was the way of service to God and nothing more. It is that grace that has continued to keep us till now.
So, tell us, sir, what were the lessons you learned from Deeper Life Ministry?
The number one lesson I picked from Deeper Life is the love for the word of God and sticking to the word. It was while in Deeper Life that I appreciated the impact and the credibility of the word of God. I also discovered that the church places so much premium on sticking to the word of God irrespective of people’s opinion.
The accuracy and correctness of God’s word are celebrated in Deeper Life. The older you get the more you see that there is misery behind the word of God. The accuracy of the old and new and the unity of the entire Bible is too perfect to be accidental. Though there were things many did not understand in the Bible in those days, yet they kept to them.
The consecration was great among the workers. In those days we wanted to serve to the point of death. People were ready to die for the gospel. Today, the slogan has changed to “We serve God to live”.
There was also a level of unity in the church then. We never heard people quarreling. Even when our leader was wrong we did not advertise it.
We never raised a voice against him. Whatever correction we wanted to pass across was done secretly. We had disagreements but we did not disagree openly. Even when we preached we didn’t talk about it. I also found out that no matter the gift and calling of God upon your life, they were deployed for the general good.
So what did you resign to do at the time you left?
I left Deeper Life to do missions because I knew some tribes had never heard the gospel. I discovered two areas that needed help: Tribes that are yet to hear the gospel and tribes where they don’t have enough hands to help drive the gospel. The Lord spoke to me about apostolic and prophetic ministry too which I am into as the Lord supplies the grace. The Lord has also helped us in the pastoral aspect of our mission. I have been involved in missions and have had to serve several mission agencies including the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association. I served NEMA as Vice National Chair from 2001 to 2004 and National Chair from 2004 to 2007. This assignment gave me the opportunity to represent Nigeria’s missions on the Board of the Third World Missions Association (TWMA) and also appointed the *Africa Chancellor of the World Link University*.
So far God has helped us to reach about 40 fresh tribes in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin Guinea Bissau, South Africa, Burundi, Tanzania, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. Apart from the branch of the church in Ibadan, we have another one in Ilorin. We have a Mission College where we have been training missionaries from 1994 to date. The college is affiliated to the University of Ibadan. So far, the Lord has been faithful.