Children Evangelism Ministry (CEM) is an international Christian organization founded in Nigeria by Evangelist Tony Chukwudile (formerly Tony Ofodile).
It was formerly launched as “Operation reach the Child” in 1979 and was later registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 1984 as Children Evangelism Ministry with vibrant branches in all the states of Nigeria as well as Abuja.
The ministry is now in many parts of the world including Albania, China, Spain, Holland, Canada, Cuba, Jamaica, and a host of others
It is expanding outreach in the UK (London), the USA, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana, Republic of Benin and the Lord continues to open doors into new locations.
CEM is aimed at producing the Total Child – a child that is developed physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. It collaborates with existing churches to carry out this task.
The ministry is presently moving into a new phase; creating more awareness and restrategizing to fulfill its set goals. To this end, a relaunch of the ministry will take place at the Sheraton Hotels on Saturday, September 17.
The Director of the Lagos Zone of the Ministry, Sola Ogunlola in this interview with Church Times gives more insight on children’s ministry and the impact of CEM.
How did you come about the CEM in the first instance?
I joined the ministry through the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF). That was when I was doing my NYSC in Lagos in 1992. The representatives of the CEM came to the camp seeking corps members that would want to serve with them. I volunteered and we were trained for about two weeks. That was the beginning of my involvement with the ministry.
What were your initial experiences with the CEM?
My experience was smooth and it’s still smooth. I read education at the Obafemi Awolowo University and I have been a teacher all my life. So I had prior knowledge of how best children can learn. My first experience teaching children was in a Nursery School. I taught children between the ages of 4 and 5. That was many years ago. So coming to CEM did not pose any challenge. The only difference now is that the content of what I teach is different.
Were there things that were strange to you when you joined CEM despite your background?
Nothing in the real sense. Coming to CEM provided a better platform to showcase God’s grace in my life.
From your perspective, how was it in those early days in the CEM bringing up children?
CEM has a structure and modus operandi. We have our books and programmes to follow. These programmes are rigidly adhered to. What has changed however is the way our message is now being presented and to some extent the content because of current realities.
We have evolved over the years. We are now I. T compliant in our presentations. We do zoom training and use modern technology to convey our messages. The challenges facing children have evolved. We have had to include topics on how to reach children of today given the realities of the current environment.
Tell us about CEM as a body, how did it start and what in concrete terms is the vision of the founders.
It’s a product of the commitment of Brother Anthony Egbuna Chukwudili. I heard him sharing his experience personally. After the civil war, he went to Liberia to school. Being a Christian and member of the Scripture Union from home he could not do without fellowship.
When he got to Liberia, he was looking for where to fellowship. He used to hear people clapping in a particular place. So he traced where the clapping was coming from. He went to join them and saw that a woman was teaching some children.
The woman was Vera Stephen. She was a child missionary evangelist from Children Evangelical Fellowship. She was the one who shared the vision with Bro. Egbuna.
But then his understanding was not in that line at that time. He began to remember some of the things he had done wrong. He said when they went for evangelism in those days, they normally excused children when they wanted to preach to adults because they felt children won’t understand the gospel.
He said he began to feel terrible about such action. He then made a vow that he would follow up the idea of children evangelism back in Nigeria. So when he came back, he began sharing the vision with Youth Corps members and began going to campus fellowships to share with them the need to incorporate children in their programmes.
The Christian Social Movement embraced the vision. That was from where the CEM began to spread. In 1979 during the International Year of the Child, all these efforts were put together and were coded operation reach the child campaign. But the ministry was incorporated in 1984
Were there experiences CEM had you would like to share? Is CEM the first of its kind in Nigeria?
There was Children Evangelism Fellowship but I am not sure they were strong in Nigeria. Some said they were in Kaduna. But in the early years, people were skeptical about CEM. They thought the founder was using style to start a church. But what helped him was the then Christian Social Movement.
They became the mouthpiece for the ministry. The campus fellowship groups also embraced it. Many of our leaders in CEM today were those in the campus fellowships of those days when it started.
Tell us about the child. What is peculiar about children that many don’t know?
Many people don’t know the place of the child in an organised society. A child that has a good background will turn out well. If a child does not have a God-fearing background, there are tendencies for the child to become a problem to society.
Unfortunately, the enemy camp has this understanding. Pharaoh for instance knew the importance of the child. He instructed that male children should be killed because he knew that is the future of Israel. When the children of Israel were to be released, he wanted them to leave their children back in Egypt.
Why will Herod kill all the children in his time, it’s because of their importance. Ritualists use children for their evil work. The terrorism we see today is because of the brainwashing of the terrorists when they were small.
I watched a clip of one of those who just left the camp of the kidnappers. He said the children among them were the fiercer. He said many of them have been brainwashed.
We see children do all kinds of things unimaginable. But then many of us are negligent. God had asked us to teach the children. In Judges 2v10, the Bible records that the generation of Moses passed and all the generations that did not know God came up.
The question is where were their children? It’s because the injunction of the Lord had been overlooked. The children of Israel went into captivity again because of their negligence. They became fetchers of waters for those they had initially captured. The neglect of the child is an invitation to chaos.
Jesus’ taught us about children. He placed emphasis on them. He said if we mislead any of these little ones, there is a severe judgement ahead. This is the main focus of the Children Evangelical Ministry. Children can make a difference.
Proverbs 22v6 says, train up a child, he won’t depart from it. But then there were children that were trained and still end up being bad. Is it that they were not properly trained or they were bound to be bad?
In the first instance, it is the neglect of the child that brings problems to society. Our mission statement is to correct the neglect of the children in society and to impact the life of Christ in them. People may spend millions to train their children but the question is, is the life of Christ being impacted?
It is the life of Christ they see that makes the difference for children. Children are good imitators. The question is, in which way are we training them?
A woman came to buy phone for her 10-year-old son and was downloading all kinds of things on the phone for the child. I asked if she would download the Bible, and she said, they were Christians already and that they don’t need to download the Bible. I was shocked.
God specifically told the Israelites to write the scriptures on their foreheads. There is a pattern God instructed us to teach our children. He said to the Israelites to teach their children while sitting down, lying down, and on the farm. He told them to write the word on their forehead.
The way you dress and relate with others speaks to the mind of the child. We are supposed to teach them by the life we live. We need to impact the life of Christ in them. There were people who had no opportunity of being trained but later encountered Jesus while there were those who were trained but went back to the world. But we should play our path. Jesus is the way that should be taught.
That is the way we are talking about. The best way to teach Jesus is to live his life for the children to see. The question is, can we say we are living the life of Christ before our children?
Can we then conclude that a child that does not turn out well is because the parents did not live the life of Christ?
If you see the travail of some parents over their children, you will have no option but to join them to pray for them. Some of them have tried but they are not getting results.
I have the example of a child from a strong Christian home. The child has been a thorn in their flesh. The parents have done a lot. The father who is a strong believer went everywhere with the child in the course of evangelical work when he was small but the child still became a problem in his adolescent years.
What could be wrong in such an instance?
It could be due to the influence of society, friends, and social media on the child. You can’t rule out demonic influence too. The young man was in the university and joined a bad group. He confessed to the parents that he had done all kinds of things apart from killing and robbery. There are parents that are travailing but no result. But then you may not take away the life parents live at home from the child. It goes a long way to influence the child. If there is an atom of hypocrisy that the child notices, the devil may harp on that to confuse the child to live another type of life.
I tell my children to take their destinies into their hands though I also try to live by example. I tell them God does not have grandchildren. Christian parent should teach their children, but it’s better to live the life of Christ for them to see.
How early do we begin this training of the child? I have heard cases of children being led to Christ in the womb, how realistic is this?
In my denomination, for instance, you can’t be a full member if you are not baptised. You can’t partake in the holy communion. And you can’t be baptised until you are 12 years old. That is the doctrine of the church. But does that mean anybody that comes in contact with Jesus at age 8 or less won’t be allowed into the church?
In CEM we have a different orientation. We have what we call the baby ministry. There is empirical evidence that shows that this ministry has been quite effective in the training of the child. There is the story of this woman who read all kinds of books to the hearing of his child when the child was in the womb. Before age 8 the child read close to 200 books. There was the case of another woman that was singing to the baby in the womb. By the time the baby was born, she started singing when he was about 2 years and became a great singer.
We believe that from the womb a child is attentive. He can listen. The subconscious of the baby in the womb is alive. What makes a person Christian is a change in the heart. When a child hears the word of God from the womb, it is believed that the heart of the child is being prepared for the gospel. We are laying a foundation for the child if we do spiritual exercise when they are in the womb.
There is this brother, Lere Osundina. He is based in Oshogbo. He was the youth leader of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria. He was so versed in the occult that he could conjure up charms. His story was that his birth was prophesied by a herbalist who said his mother would give birth to a powerful child. When the mother was carrying his pregnancy, there was a time the woman wanted to carry a log of wood and the baby spoke from the womb and asked that he would like to help his mother. That sounds quite incredible. But that was the story he shared. I specifically mentioned his name so you can verify.
By age 7 he left home and was living by the Iroko tree. That also sounds strange. He eventually trained as an accountant. But then he was still in the occult. He was into this hunter game. Nobody could poison him. If anybody drops poison in his drink, the drink would foam. But if the cup does not break the poison won’t kill him if he takes the drink. He had two rings in his hand which he used to detect the efficacy of poison.
This day the palm wine he was to drink foamed but the cup did not break. So he announced to all that he was going to drink and nothing would happen. He drank the palm wine but he became mad immediately. It was in the course of looking for a cure for him that he met Christ and became a Christian. He shares his testimony everywhere.
I am saying this to tell you that the devil recruits from the womb. We should not believe a child can’t be recruited for Christ from the womb. A child does not become a Christian from the womb but he can be influenced from the womb. What we are doing from the cradle is to prepare the heart of the child to believe. When the child grows up, the child will confess Christ.
What are the testimonies of your involvement with children that you will like to share?
My involvement with CEM is more about training the teachers of children. We have about nine programmes on children’s evangelism. But I have been involved in capacity building. I have however had opportunities of interacting with children through Bible club. Every member of the ministry has a Bible club.
One outstanding thing about Children is that they are loving and have clean hearts. They have a way of confiding in those who care for them. When they see something in you different from their parents they confide in you. There are children who have told me how their fathers have been sleeping with them.
These are some of the things they will not tell their mothers. When you speak to the head, it will soon go off, but when you speak to the heart, it has more impact. So it’s important we speak to the heart of the children. I have also discovered that children also experience the power of the Holy Spirit. They share testimonies of how the Holy Spirit has been real in their lives. There was the case of a child that prayed for dumb and God honoured his prayers. They see in the scriptures that Jesus at age 12 was already impacting lives. So they also believe they too can make a difference.
Going forward for the ministry, what should we be looking at?
By God’s grace, we want to relaunch the ministry on Saturday, September 17. We are reaching out to some major groups of Christians so they can help us spread the news that children also can believe in Christ and be useful. The media is a major component in helping to drive this vision. We believe that media men and women should be conscious of children in their work. They should know that their platforms can be used to promote the cause of Christ and by extension make society a better place.