Since he gave his life to Christ as a young boy in 1974, Pastor Sunday Atabor has one thing going for him. That is a burning passion for the things of the kingdom. Rather than grow cold in faith like many who surrendered their lives to Christ the same way he did, the fire on his altar has continued to burn.
It was that passion that saw him resign from a federal government job in 1990 to go to his village in Kogi to preach the gospel to his people.
It was a risk. But he never saw it as a risk. “When I tendered my resignation letter as a staff in the office of the secretary to the then Military head of state and told my colleagues I was going to the village to preach the gospel many of them thought I was mad.
“In fact, many could not just understand why I would leave a secure job for preaching the gospel in the village. One of my Muslim friends told me, is it, not the same Bible that other people preach? He counseled me that I could be preaching and still be doing my work. He did not understand,” said Atabor who spoke with Church Times at the 2023 Global Mandate Conference in Badagry Lagos.
He said he deliberately kept the decision to leave his job from close family members because he did not want anybody to discourage him. He was not married then. It was easy for him to move. Or so it seemed.
But then when he was set to marry, one of the conditions his wife had to fulfill was to be ready to join him on the field. And that was what happened.
Today, Atabor has put in 33 years on the field. He is the founder of Brethren for Better Covenant Int’l Ministry in Agojeju Kogi State.
God’s specific instruction
Ironically, he did not see himself as a missionary in those days. He just saw it as one of the assignments God asked him to do. “God specifically called me and said to me I should go back to my village to preach the gospel I was preaching in Lagos. It was a clear instruction. Nobody could talk me out of it.” he said.
By the time he obeyed God, it was clear why God called him back to his village. “The people in the village were living in darkness. There was so much satanic oppression. People die anyhow. You hardly see people making any meaningful progress in life. They live in suspicion of one another. There was a free reign of witchcraft. That was what I met in the village.”
But by the time he began spiritual fireworks, things started taking a new turn. “The first thing we did was to start a regular prayer and fasting programme. We also spent time conducting deliverance and breaking the yoke of the devil in the village. Before long we started seeing changes.”
Many young people abandoned their old ways for Christ. “The beauty about the conversion of the young people was that they began making impact in their neihbourhood almost immediately. Their families saw the exemplary lives they were living. So, they encouraged them to continue. The old people too began to embrace the gospel.”
Atabor said there were initial challenges from some quarters. “Some families didn’t understand what was happening. They began to persecute their children who surrendered to Jesus. But with time they saw that they were living exemplary lives. Some of the young men of those days are now pastors across the country. I can count about seven pastors that are my converts that are doing great now in ministry.”
What gives the Kogi-based missionary joy then was the way the old people embraced Christ. “There were several aged people that responded to the gospel. They became born-again. It is a thing of joy for those people to die in the Lord. Some of them were sick we took care of them. Some had issues with their accommodation. God used us to help them out. Many of those old people have now transited. It gives me tremendous joy that they died in the Lord.”
But how did he get funds to begin the work? Atabor recalled, “When I resigned from paid employment some of my friends offered to be paying me salary every month so I could concentrate on the work. They were doing that for a while. With time I got used to the environment and I began doing some farming. Along the line, I got married. My wife was working. But then she had to resign and join me. She was doing some trading to help the family. That was how we have been able to survive over the years.”
Atabor said in the course of the work, he was connected to the Christian Missionary Foundation founded by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika. The foundation also stepped in to support the work.
He recalled how Mrs. Awosika asked if he would need a car to help enhance the work. “I got to Mrs. Awosika in Lagos through recommendation. I think she had just started the CMF to help those in missions. She asked if I was in missions. Then, I didn’t know what was called missions. I just knew I was doing God’s work in the village. I explained to him what I was doing. She was excited.
“She asked what kind of help I needed and whether I would need a four-wheel. She asked how I feed and if I would need support in that regard too. I told her I had a farm and that I was okay when it comes to food but that I needed mobility to help me move from one village to another to help with my preaching assignment.
“She said I would need a car then, I said no. I said what I needed was a motorbike that would enhance my movement in the village. She was shocked that I could be asking for a motorcycle instead of a car. That was how she stepped in through the CMF to help us.’
Today, the ministry has continued to wax stronger and stronger. Atabor said the GMC conference was a great eye-opener for him adding, “I enjoyed every bit of the conference. I believe a conference like this will go a long way to bring relief to those in missions.”