BY CHIKA ABANOBI
On Sunday, August 13, 2023, the Deeper Life Bible Church will officially organise a ‘High Mass’ to celebrate or mark its 50th anniversary.
To this end, a big programme comprising reminiscences, testimonies, special choir renditions, presentation of souvenirs, etc. has been put together to mark the event.
Many distinguished personalities from the political, ecclesiastical, business, and diplomatic worlds are expected to grace the occasion.
The church, if you will recall, was founded in 1973 by Pastor Dr. Williams Folorunsho. Kumuyi, then a Mathematics lecturer at the University of Lagos.
But today, the ministry or church he started with 15 foundation members has grown by leaps and bounds, excuse the cliché, beyond his modest expectation and that of everyone else, friends and foes.
But my first contact with the ministry cum church was in 1979, during their Easter Retreat held at the Government College, Owerri.
Then a Class Four student at Ekwerazu Boys (formerly Paternoster) Secondary School, Ahiazu-Mbaise, Imo State, I had earlier become introduced to the Founder, not through his profound exegesis of familiar Bible verses, but through an easy-to-read mathematics booklet he co-authored with a lecturer-colleague.
It had a deep-brown cover. It was bought for me by my mother, a diehard member of the Holiness Evangelistic Association with headquarters at Owerri.
The book helped to put my mind at rest in my never-ending battles with mathematical terminologies like number base notations, basic notions, residues, indices and logarithms, venn (vain?) diagrams, and variations.
It also helped to settle issues about quadratic equations, linear graphs, logical reasoning, geometrical constructions, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, rhombus (rumpus?), rectangle, triangle, square, polygons, trigonometry, sine, cosine and tangent, circles, arcs, sectors, and segments, etc.
Mathematics not being one of my best subjects, learning it was like the Old Benjamin in George Orwell’s Animal Farm trying to study letters of the English alphabet.
As we were told, he would read from A-D. But the moment he was able to go beyond that to master E-H, he would forget A-D. In mathematics, my case was like that, if not worse.
Walking the talk, Deeper lifestyle
But the mathematics textbook written by W.F. Kumuyi and his co-author helped to straighten out difficult mathematical concepts for me.
So, you can say that I went to the Easter Retreat held in Owerri, not to listen to a great preacher but to have a closer view of the man whose textbook helped to knock some mathematical sense into this ignoramus of a student.
But at the Retreat in which you couldn’t differentiate the lecturer from a secondary or primary school teacher or the lecturers and teachers from students, you got something else.
The humility exhibited by this ‘strange’ group of ‘religious’ homo sapiens who would serve you food and wash the plates you ate with, at one moment, and ascend the wooden pulpit stage, the next, to teach, preach and admonish you from the scriptures, was something else. It was disarming as it was intriguing.
At the Owerri Retreat, members of the Deeper Life Christian Ministry, which was then in its embryonic stage, not only talked the talk but also walked their talk.
In a title-crazy society like Nigeria where almost everyone, politicians, intellectuals, and pastors alike, believe in flaunting their titles and ranks like some land title deeds, except someone told you that a particular Deeper Lifer was a high-ranking public officer, a highly placed personality in some ministries somewhere, you may never know. That was the first thing that struck me as a young born again Christian learning the ropes of Christian living.
Two years earlier before the Retreat, I had ‘surrendered’ my life to Christ at a religious crusade organised by the Assemblies of God Church. I later became an active member of the church, rising to the ‘rank’ of a Sunday School Superintendent in the local branch.
At the same time, I took an active part in the programmes of the Scripture Union (SU) which was in vogue then in many secondary schools.
But my contact with young men and women who constituted the nucleus of the Deeper Life Christian Ministry (D.L.C.M) then in 1979 made me rethink what the term “born again Christian” was all about and what we were supposed to showcase with it, in practical terms.
Kumuyi’s strange humility
A story was once told of how Pastor Kumuyi, one day, walked towards the pulpit stage to preach or teach but an overzealous Usher stopped him from going further because he did not know him in person even though he had been hearing him preach.
It reportedly took the timely intervention of the Head Usher to release the man of God from the Usher’s temporary “captivity.”
Yet, throughout the hullaballoo, the highly respected man of God did not make any fuss or comment but kept his cool. Neither did he say anything after the incident either to dress the poor Usher down or upbraid his Head.
That was the kind of humility that signposted this new religious sect. I could be wrong, and please, consider this as a subjective view, such humility was lacking in most of the Pentecostal churches that I was familiar with, way back then.
Kumuyi, a keyboardist
At the Owerri Easter Retreat, Pastor Kumuyi an accomplished keyboardist, who had, a year earlier or so, helped the ministry to produce a fast-selling gospel album (it had the picture of a wheat field on its album sleeve) would help to provide the choir with the organ or keyboard accompaniment to their songs.
Thereafter, he would pick up his Bible which he usually put under his armpit, and ascend the stage to teach. But for the fact that you had read his mathematics textbook, you never would have known that he read mathematics in a university, much less having a First Class in it at the prestigious University of Ibadan.
This was because, throughout his messages or teachings, you never heard him use any mathematical terminology or symbol to either illustrate his message or explain his points.
You were to learn afterward that the reason he strictly avoided sounding off in such a way was because he regarded that as ego-tripping or pride generally considered one of the seven deadly sins in the Roman Catholic creed.
Please, he would not want this to be a general practice except in a situation where you can prove that the Lord commanded you so as it seemed to be in his own case.
From ministry to church
From 1979 when I attended their first National Easter Retreat in Owerri to 1982 or thereabout when it became a full-fledged church under some circumstances the Founder didn’t initially envisage or bargain for, Deeper Life remained a ministry.
Under that arrangement, you could attend its programmes, namely December and Easter Retreats for necessary “spiritual rearmament” through sound teachings and applications of the Word, and thereafter go to your church –Anglican, Roman Catholic, Assemblies of God Church, the Apostolic Faith, Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), Scripture Union, Grace of God Missions, Christian Pentecostal Mission (CPM), Baptist Church, etc, to live out the life. That was the original vision of the Founder.
He did not intend to set up a church in the strict sense of the word. But when persecution arose, and he was accused of ‘stealing’ their ‘sheep,’ by fellow clerics, ministers of God, and church founders who nursed some deep suspicion of what his true intentions were, he had no other choice than to start a church.
The purpose of the church was to accommodate the ‘excommunicated’ members who found themselves in the middle of nowhere, as far as belonging to a church or ministry was concerned. That was how the idea of becoming a church came into existence.
In Imo State, for many years, the state chapter of the Deeper Life Christian Ministry held its regular Monday Bible Study, Thursday Evangelism and Miracle Revival Service, and Sunday Worship Service at Uzii Layout Primary School, Owerri, located somewhere off Wethedral Road.
I would attend these meetings from Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri, where I had secured admission at the end of my secondary education in 1980.
Then, Bible Study was not taught centrally as it is done today by the General Superintendent, through satellite transmission. Rather, it was handled by State Overseers, some of whom are either dead or no longer with the church today.
Several years after my Owerri Retreat experience, I was to enjoy a much closer view of the Founder when I worked under him and his late wife, Mummy Biodun, as an Editor of the church’s publication for 15 good years.
As the church celebrates its 50 years of existence, half a century that is, I want to warn the reader that what you have here is not an official account of the history of the church’s growth and challenges but some personal recollections.
And, like any other account, it is not corroborated by two or three independent sources. There are bound to be inadvertent omissions. But as someone who has worshiped with the church for 44 out of those 50 years, here are 50 lessons that I’ve learnt:
Lessons the church taught me
- Know the person you are working with. Know what value he has been sent to add to either your ministry or business. In my first face-to-face meeting with Pastor Kumuyi, he wanted to know more about me: my background, where I had worked, why I left the place, and what made me believe that I had a calling to work for or in his ministry. From his enquiries and findings, I learnt that it is good to know something about the staff you work with. Is he/she there because of the problem of unemployment out there or to add value to your vision, work, or business?
- Anybody can claim to be a Christian or to be born again but “the Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
- The Lord gives grace to the humble but resists the proud (James 4:6).
- “Except a corn of wheat fail into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). The Message put it thus: “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life.” So? To die to self-perception, people’s opinions and carnal reasoning is to bear much fruit!
- “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? (of soul winning, holiness, mentoring, leadership and discipleship) he shall stand before kings: he shall not stand before mean men” (Proverbs 22:29). Over the years, Pastor Kumuyi has demonstrated the truth of this statement with his meetings, in many fora, with great statesmen, local and international.
- “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). This truth was proved in 1979 when Ghanaian Christians invited Pastor Kumuyi to establish the first outpost of the ministry in Ghana. To raise the money for the work he had to sell his personal car. Today, apart from Nigeria, Ghana is one country where the church is deeply rooted, in terms of spread.
- Don’t sell your soul for a mess of porridge, like Esau did (Hebrews 12:15-17), because if you do, you will regret it. Sooner or later!
- Salvation is different from being religious. So, the two cannot exist in one person.
- Temptation is a common denominator for believers and nonbelievers alike. Only true repentance and genuine salvation experience will keep you from falling when you are tempted.
- Some people that come to you claiming to be born again are only out to dupe or defraud you. But if you are prayerful, watchful, and attentive to the voice of God’s Spirit, they will not succeed in their mission.
- Being a member of Deeper Life Bible Church is not a passport to heaven. Neither will it preclude you from temptations and trials. The real passport is issued after being saved and ultimately at the gate of heaven.
- Christ our Lord had 12 disciples, yet one of them, Judas, was a devil (John 6:70). No marvel then if in a church of more than one million members like Deeper Life, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light…and his ministers…as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:14,15).
- Others may, but a born-again Christian, especially of the Deeper Life strand, cannot.
- “I’d been a Christian for donkey’s years. Our church is the first church in heaven and the first on earth” does not get anybody anywhere if you are not truly born again.
- In God’s school of tests, only the backsliders find it difficult to obey the injunctions of the scriptures.
- In any ministry or church where the Lord is doing wonders, expect a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4-15); some come because of miracles of provision or healing (John 6:26, 27), some, because of the impact of the Word that changes life and character.
- The enemies’ arrows are no match to God’s shield.
- A good heritage is a pride of honour.
- Keep yourself from sin and the Lord will keep you from its shame and trouble.
- Covetousness breeds greed and ungodliness, the inordinate desire to get rich makes one fall into temptation from which one may not get up again, spiritually.
- To stand on the promises of God is to stand on solid ground from which there is no shaking or falling.
- When the storms of life and doubts assail you, remember the Rock of Ages from which you were hewn.
- Don’t bite the finger that feeds you because that will amount to ingratitude of the highest order.
- Knowledge, any knowledge, can be acquired outside the four walls of an institution as long as there is the will and interest. Pastor Kumuyi’s case of extensive and impressive knowledge of the Bible outside the four walls of a theological college stands as a good reminder of the Biblical injunction in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
- Being the Author of knowledge and wisdom, the Spirit of God can go outside the theological box to pick and equip a man or woman without obtaining ‘permission’ from the theological eggheads. When this happens in your church or ministry, don’t behave like the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities who, in John 7:15 marveled at Jesus’s words, “saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned.”
- Don’t snub the knowledge that comes from formal training simply because the Spirit of God is using you to do one or two things in the Kingdom. Pastor Kumuyi demonstrated this truth when he attended the School of Ministry in Kenya in 1978 and when he established the International Bible Training Centre (IBTC) at Ayobo, Lagos, for interested students from Nigeria and West Africa.
- Membership of a church or ministry or leadership of same does not attract Divine attention to you but your personal consecration. Before Kumuyi founded Deeper Life, he was not satisfied with being just a member or a leader but gave himself to some personal consecrations and studious knowledge of the Bible, quite unknown to his colleagues.
- Don’t imitate what you don’t know because some conduct and behaviour are borne out of personal consecration of some lives.
- Whatever you do, don’t forget to be a beacon of hope to your generation. This is because life does not happen to everyone the same way!
- Don’t neglect the power of the printed page. Charles G. Finney, Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley on whom Pastor Kumuyi modeled his life and ministry died centuries before he was born. But their lives and words stored in print sparked the Pentecostal fire that we see burning in our own part of the world today in the person of Pastor W.F. Kumuyi and many others.
- Whether in ministry, marriage, career, or business, don’t neglect the days of small beginnings because the mustard seed you sow in faith today can become a mighty oak tree tomorrow.
- Good vision attracts good men. In Pastor Kumuyi’s case, the Christian ideals he espoused both with his life and ministry attracted men and women who, in the words of Paul the Apostle, “hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”(Acts 15:26).
- Science and technology cannot save the world nor set it on solid moral ground. This is why we need to join hands with Pastor Kumuyi to labour, night and day, to see that the world of artificial intelligence and other ingenious inventions is not allowed to go to hell.
- Whenever you discover your ship of dreams running into stiff opposition in stormy waters, adjust your sail. The vision may remain unchanged, but plans and strategies could and should change.
- Separation needs not be acrimonious or a do-or-die affair. Our people say that what the dog saw and it’s barking and disturbing everybody, its neighbour, the goat, first saw it and kept quiet. As you read this, some members who started with Deeper Life have broken away, over the years, to establish their own churches or ministries. Yet such breakaways were not allowed to constitute an existential threat to the larger church body as is the case in many Pentecostal/evangelical assemblies today.
- Many preachers who spend their time telling stories and making their audience laugh do so because they have nothing tangible but stories of their lives to share. But if there is anything that the Founder of Deeper Life Bible Church has demonstrated over the years, it is this: you can spice up your message with personal stories even as you apply the scriptures in a way that makes your audience benefit maximally from your teaching.
- Don’t compromise your Christian faith here on earth in your bid to become prosperous or famous because the values over there in heaven will not comprise bread and butter, dollars or pound sterling.
- If you keep yourself pure, the Lord will keep you safe in the hours of temptation. People talk about marine spirits being sent from the marine kingdom or world to trap or cause some preachers to fall into the sin of adultery or fornication. But isn’t it surprising that in the past 50 years since the church/ministry started, no woman or lady has come out to accuse the Founder of sleeping with her or of having a secret child somewhere that he would not want members of the public to know about?
- The sanctification experience helps you to deal with the tendencies to commit sin. Believe it or not, a lot of scandalous stories we hear about the Church world today will become a thing of the past if every minister of the gospel can become genuinely born again and subscribe to this second work of grace.
- In consecration, when you give Jesus your all, He makes you the overall and when you make Him your only message He makes you His only messenger.
- In every organisation, political or religious, those who joined earlier would naturally want or expect to be treated differently from those who joined later. But the snag is, in God’s Kingdom work, there is nothing like “preferential treatment” for those who came first and those who came last. This is because we are all children of grace (Matthew 20:1-16).
- Know your audience before you preach or present the gospel. This is what we learn from the Global Crusade with Kumuyi (GCK). Know when to make your message short and when to make it long. Pastor Kumuyi also demonstrated this fact, many years ago, at a school in Lagos, where he was featured as a guest speaker on their graduation day. He quoted from the scripture only once – towards the closing part of his speech. Otherwise, he spent time quoting from the writings and speeches of famous writers and public speakers.
- Beware of politics, in the church or outside it. You can’t hope to please the One who called you into the work and ministry if you are entangled with the affairs of this world.
- As a believer/Christian leader, your only duty is to pray for your country and those in authority. But when you ignore the red line and begin to take an active part in local or national politics, you miss your way. And, you hardly come back from such misadventure with your honour, dignity, and respect intact.
- See that you continually reinvent yourself and your ideals. George Orwell’s Animal Farm which tells the story of how the pigs took over the farm from man’s control but later turned out to be worse than their original oppressor depicts human nature in its starkest form. For any Christian ministry or church to prevent itself from turning out worse than the group it met on the ground, at inception, every member must learn how to personally visit Calvary on a daily basis to rededicate themselves afresh to the ideals that gave birth to the church/ministry.
- Prosperity has a way of clouding our vision of eternity and dulling our spiritual sensitivity. So? Hold whatever you have with a loose hand while you are trying to achieve heaven’s goal.
- Be a man of one book – the Bible! If, like Kumuyi, you are, you will never go astray in life!
- We are made up of many contributors! In the formative years of Kumuyi’s ministry, he became involved with other churches/ministries like the Scripture Union (SU), His Masters’ Vessels, and the Apostolic Faith. So? Any of them can lay claim to what he became in later years. As our people would say, it takes a village to raise a child. And, in Africa, a family may own the cock but the community owns its crow or voice.
- Imagine this, 82 years old and still going strong. That’s the story of Pastor W.F. Kumuyi! When you worship and serve the God that he, Caleb, and others served, the God whose stupendous care made Caleb say to Joshua, “Lo, I am this day four score and five years old… Yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day (45 years ago) that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so, is my strength now, for war, both to go out and to come in” (Joshua 14:10, 11), that’s what you get: the kind of strength before which horsepower might need to redefine itself!
- It is good that we celebrate this onerous occasion. Surviving half a century is not easy. But we might need to do so with a parody of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address:
“Two scores and ten years ago, our Father in the Lord and other spiritual fathers and mothers brought forth in this country, and the world at large, a new church/ministry forged in the fire of consecration, passion and grit, and dedicated to the proposition that all men can be saved from sin and live a holy life, and have a deep personal relationship with the Lord, no matter their tongue, culture or creed.
“In our country and in many continents of the world, in past years, we’ve been engaged in a great battle with the flesh, the world, and forces/powers of evil, testing whether the great vision of evangelising the whole world, of reaching out to it with the whole Word, and any vision so concerned, and so dedicated, can long endure.
“We have come to celebrate 50 years of that vision and to remember those who gave their lives, money, careers, future, families, and property so that the vision might be realised.
“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this great vision. Our Father in the Lord, together with the 15 foundation members and the set after them, brave men and women, living and dead, who struggled here and hazarded their lives for the vision have consecrated and celebrated this occasion for us far above our poor power to do so with keyboards, saxophones, trombones, trumpets, flutes, cellos and violins.
“The world would soon forget what we did, in this season of celebration. But it cannot forget how they ran with this vision. It is for us, the living, rather rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work which our Father in the Lord and they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Abanobi, pioneer Staff Writer of Weekend Concord and former Associate Editor of The Sun, wrote from Lagos.