By Gbenga Osinaike
It’s not every time you get to read an autobiographical kind of book where the author bares it all. Usually, there is something to hide, there is something left unsaid.
But the book “Do you know why you can’t feel my pain? by Pastor Mopelola Aigbogun, is to a large extent a naked book.
It is a soul searching endeavour that unveils what some would consider the best-kept secret of the author. You probably wonder at the openness of the writer because usually, some writers create a facade.
But the author whose pen name is Lady Ola is not pretentious even at the risk of what people would say. She presents a gripping, pathetic yet victorious account of her family’s experience in Saudi Arabia.
She writes on how she and her husband set up the first open church in that Muslim dominated environment and how they had to leave the ministry behind in rather dramatic and emphatic circumstances.
Separation from loved ones
Beyond the story of the church are other intriguing stories about her own nuances, her husband’s idiosyncrasies and how she navigated the muddy waters of relationship with people she came across.
Before the story of the Church, she tells the story of her immediate family long before she married, how her mother had to leave her father because she met Jesus and because she was the second wife. She was separated from her mother.
The bigger separation came when she lost her father in a very pathetic condition. She lost her mother years later. Death knocked her own door too. This time, she was going for the funeral of her mother when the car she drove in crashed. The car was a “write off”. She too was written off. The doctor had declared her clinically dead.
Preparations were being made to put her in the morgue, but there was no space for her “corpse.” She was kept in the stretcher from 9.am till about 9.30 pm when they could secure a space. But then prayers were going on for her. By the time-space was available, and she was to be taken to the morgue, she came back to life miraculously. The hospital literally erupted in praise at that unbelievable incident.
Her marriage to Apostle Olusegun Aigbogun, a man she describes in glowing terms in the book, however, opened her to newer issues of life that have since strengthened her faith.
She had lived in the UK while her husband was based in the US because of his job. But with time, he joined her in the UK. Life was good in the UK until her husband was called up for a better paying job at Almarai in Saudi Arabia.
That was good news. But the thought of losing her freedom in Saudi Arabia was both crippling and foreboding. She could not fathom why her husband would fall in love with a job in Saudi Arabia irrespective of the money. She thought of the Arabian lifestyle, particularly that women were not permitted to drive and their ascetic way of dressing. She thought of the intolerance of the Saudi government to other faiths.
Her husband, a food technologist was however excited about the new job and was eagerly preparing to move his family to Saudi Arabia. He was not bothered about the restrictions and the impending loss of religious freedom. The joy of changing environment was more paramount for him.
The unexpected hitch
But then, there was a hitch. While preparing for the Saudi Arabia journey, he went for medical examination. It was a requirement for the Saudi visa. That was when he discovered he had lung cancer.
The world of the family stopped for a while. The excitement about moving to Saudi Arabia on the part of her husband died. He had to pay attention to his health.
The author notes, “That night at home was like hell on earth. He could not sleep. I could not sleep. He was on the internet all night, reading more about the diagnosis whether it was curable and how many had died of it. He looked up how people survived after their diagnosis and what the symptoms were. While he was on the computer downstairs, I was upstairs in our room crying to God.
“Throughout my entire life, the longest I have been able to pray was for an hour. On this night, I was on my knees for seven hours and did not even realize I have been praying that long.”
In between the pressure and anxiety, her husband subjected himself to various medical tests, treatment and surgery. One morning while he was recovering from a biopsy surgery he had undergone, there was a prophetic word in a 700 Club TV programme where his case was mentioned. And there was a declaration of healing. He jumped at the prophetic word. He did another x-ray thereafter but it came back to the same diagnosis. He, however, held to the word of God and the prophetic healing declared on him.
As he was battling with his health, his employers were putting pressure on him to come and resume his new job in Saudi Arabia. At a point, it was becoming impossible to meet the deadline. They said to him if he could not secure his visa to come over to Saudi Arabia, the job would be advertised again for another person.
That prompted him to visit the Saudi Embassy in the UK again. Surprisingly he was given the visa. Pronto, he put a call to his employers and told them he was on his way to take the job only to be told the company was planning to replace him the day he called. But for the call, he would have lost the job. He did not hesitate. He travelled immediately to Saudi Arabia to start his new job. His family joined him three months later.
The Saudi Arabia debacle
In Saudi Arabia life began on a drab note. There was no open evangelical cum charismatic church. There was so much restriction, life was regimented. They initially worshipped at the Orthodox Church in the British embassy in Saudi Arabia. But their urge to worship the evangelical way drove them to bring foreigners in Saudi Arabia who are Christians to gather for prayers and fellowship. That was the beginning of what later became a phenomenon.
Usually, most evangelical churches in Saudi Arabia were underground. But in this case, the church was an open church strictly for Christians because the law of the land is against proselyting. That was okay by the Aigboguns and perhaps the only way they could win the heart of the authority. Apostle Aigbogun was doing his work while also running the church.
Before long the church which started inside their residential apartment had grown big. From there they moved to another apartment from where they were given quit notice. And then, they moved to a larger place.
Favour with the Saudi government
Her husband found favour with the Saudi Arabia government. He was appointed to represent the Christian community in government circle. By this time the church had grown so much with an average of 4000 people in attendance every Friday for worship.
The then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia picked interest in her husband and decided to give the church some of his own land. The church only needed to pay a fee for the registration and for the approval. That was phenomenal. The Church, Grace Outreach, Riyadh Apostolicity erupted in tumultuous praise when the announcement was made concerning the land.
That was the beginning of the historic assembly. It was also the beginning of the exit of the Aigbogun’s from Saudi Arabia. As they were making progress, the Saudi’s minister for Interior was not pleased. He began to make moves to see to the end of the church and the exit of the founders.
Though the church was strictly for Christians who needed a place for worship, the Saudi authority became uncomfortable with its unprecedented growth. Some people began to make allegations that some Muslims were being converted to the Christian faith and that the solution was to get rid of the founder of the church.
They reported the pastor and founder, Apostle Aigbogun to his employers and made all kinds of allegations. Incidentally the company he worked for belonged to a prince in the country. They had so much faith in him that they believed he would not flout the laws of the land that is against proselyting.
Between God and mammon
But they could not help him when the chips were down. The Saudi King as at then who had bought into the dream of the evolving church was on life support. He could not help either. Two options were placed before Apostle Aigbogun by his employers because of the pressure being put on them by the government. One was for him to retain the church and leave Saudi Arabia or keep his job and close the church.
It was a dicey one. Aigbogun opted to leave Saudi Arabia trusting that the church would continue in his absence. By implication, he walked away from his job in Almarai Company. The job had promised half a million British pounds in shares. The shares was due to be collected in eight months from the time he was asked to leave the country and also leave the job.
He agreed to leave based on the promise of the Saudi Authority to let the church continue. They had thought the church was about him and was hoping when he leaves, the church would die a natural death.
But rather than die, it continued to grow. Before they left the country they handed over the church to some other trusted hands. Lady Ola further chronicles the pain, the agony, the betrayals and the long nights that came after it was clear they would leave Saudi Arabia.
Life after Saudi Arabia
Years after their exit from Saudi Arabia, the Lord has expanded their coast. The church in Saudi Arabia is still running while the Lord had enabled Apostle Aigbogun to start another outreach in Egypt where his employers eventually transferred him to work. It’s another subsidiary of the company where he worked in Saudi Arabia. This time, with lesser pay. But that was immaterial.
As God would have it, the majority of the church members are Egyptians, unlike the Saudi Arabia church where the vast majority are foreigners. He has also set up a branch of the ministry in Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria.
Apostle Aigbogun who spoke with Church Times on the phone said the church in Egypt came through a young Egyptian who converted from Islam. God had used him earlier to sponsor the young Egyptian through school.
The full story of the Saudi Arabia experience is in the book: Do you know why you can’t feel my pain..overcoming the pain of separation. It is available on amazon.com