He was not there at the inception of the church. But Pastor Gabriel Okpako Uyeh, LAWNA Territory Vice Chairman and Lagos Area Superintendent of The Apostolic Church Nigeria has evolved over the years to be at the centre of activities in the church.
His life is intertwined with the church’s evolution. He tells you the story of the church without blinking an eye giving details of the early days.
He has also traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria preaching the gospel of Jesus. He recalled in a chat with Church Times Nigeria that it was his search for the truth and a desire to see a kinsman preach that brought him to the church.
He said one of his kinsmen, a founding member of TAC was his first attraction to the church. The man who God was mightily used of God came to his village in Delta State from Lagos to hold a crusade in 1962 and to establish the church.
He was fascinated by this kinsman and had the urge to see him and also listen to him so he attended the crusade. Rather than meeting his kinsman, he met Jesus at the meeting.
“Though I was searching for the truth, the motivation to attend the meeting was to see my kinsman. At the crusade, I saw how God use him greatly. I was also exposed to the truth of the Bible. That was how I submitted to Jesus. I read the Bible for the first time when I joined The Apostolic Church,” he reminisced.
Never wanted to be a full-time pastor
While noting that it is the tradition of truth and love that has kept the church strong till date, he said, he was satisfied being a teacher in the church after he became born again and was offered the right hand of fellowship as its being done in the church. He never wanted to be a full-time pastor.
He had just finished his school certificate then and was looking for a secular job. “I traveled everywhere looking for work. It was easy getting a job in those days, but I could not secure one. But when I finally got one, I could not go to collect the letter of employment. On the day I was to go, I developed a pain in my leg that I could not walk. It was when the recruitment exercise was over that the leg became okay.”
That perhaps was a sign that God did not want him to take a secular job. As time went by, it became clear God wanted to use him in the church as a full-time pastor.
So, he started with the church on a salary of 4 pounds. He was in Delta State and was actively involved in the pioneering efforts of TAC there. He recalled that the revival that gave birth to TAC started in the West, spread to the South-South, and then to the East.
“In those early days, the different regions were operating independently. I am one of those who prayed for the unity of the church and we experienced the unity. The East was independent of the West. Gradually our fathers felt we needed to come together. Before the coming together of the regions, they were all running their race independently, dealing with The Apostolic Church in Great Britain.”
But in 1981 according to Uyeh, TACN severed links with the British and became independent. All the regions then came under one umbrella.
The early days
In those early days, Pastor Uyeh was doing a lot of work in the church because he was one of the few educated people in the village.
So, he had the task of putting the village people through the Bible in a painstaking way. He said though the white missionaries were still around, they did not dominate operations in the church.
“I was not directly involved in the administration then, but the white did not dominate so much. Their active presence with TAC was just from 1932 to 1940 or thereabout. They became active when Christ Apostolic Church separated from The Apostolic Church. The founding fathers then like Pa Samuel Adegboyega, Pa Odubanjo were in the Lagos area but the whites were in Ilesha.”
He recalled that Pa Adegboyega and many others were instrumental to the strong ecclesiastical foundation of the church.
Pa Samuel Adegboyega
On Adegboyega he said, “I learnt from his feet between 1963 and 1979 when he died. He was a bold leader and straightforward. He was not tribalistic. He had the vision of buying the land where the LAWNA Territory is located in Ketu. The Church was able to acquire the whole of the express road land up to mile 12.
“But we were not financially buoyant to develop it. That was why we lost a greater portion of the land. He was the brain behind the TAC Grammar School and all the land assets of the church. He was the first LAWNA chairman. The British gave him the advisory for the whole of Nigeria. It was when the issue of our autonomy came up in 1981 that Pastor EE Okon became our first president.”
Those who look at the church from outside may be tempted to see it from the prism of a Yoruba-dominated church, but that is not true. The church has many people from the south-south and south east at the top. Its present National President, Apostle E.Sampson Igwe is from the East.
Uyeh avers, “The Apostolic Church is not tribalistic. There can be some bad elements. But from inception when I joined, there is nothing like tribal affiliation. When Pastor Samuel Adegboyega was the LAWNA Chairman the next person to him was Pastor Tsado who was from Delta.”
He recalled also that the late Pastor Adegboyega and the founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pa Josiah Akindayomi were good friends and prayer partners. “these two personalities saw the work of God as the work of God.
“There was no self in them. They were not thinking of acquiring assets for themselves. There was a time the founder of RCCG was thinking of submitting his ministry to TAC to show how selfless he was. But it was Pa Adegboyega who counselled him to continue with the ministry God gave him.
Maiduguri was home of peace
Uyeh has had his own cup of challenge since he joined the church but he says what has kept him going is his love for the Lord. “I want to die serving him. All that God told me in those early years are still fresh in my memory. He moves in mysterious ways. He has not disappointed me. I started as a local worker and rose through the ranks to where I am today. It can only be the Lord’s doing.”
Giving a rundown of his work experience, he recalled how he was posted to work in Maiduguri in 1996. Though the place is now the hotbed of terrorism in Nigeria, he said then, it was called the home of peace. “The Elkanemi who was the traditional ruler then said any day there was war in his town, he would die.
He said that was what his father told him. To show you the extent of peace in the town. We used to sleep outside then because the place was too hot. They were not hostile to Christians. We lived together in peace. Unfortunately, the story is different today.”
From Maiduguri, he was posted to Ibadan where he worked for 7 years, and then to Makurdi and then came to Olorunda and now in Ebute Metta, Lagos.
He said the Maiduguri Church Area is still standing but now being headed by a Hausa pastor.
It pays to work for God
Summing his walk with God, he says, “it pays to work for God. We are trying to fulfill the mandate, go ye to the world. I feel honoured that I had the privilege of going around the country. I learned a lot by going around. The lesson is that we work not only with our people, we work with people who don’t like our faith.
Talking about his marriage, he says “I married in 1965 that was at age 21 having been born in 1944; because I was getting revelation that I would soon derail. So, I forced myself and begged my mother to help me financially so I could marry.”
The marriage was a blessed one. But the unthinkable happened in 1999 when he lost his wife in an accident. “We were returning from convention in 1999 when the accident happened.
“We were rushed to Gwagwalada hospital in Abuja. She was in the hospital intensive care unit for two weeks. When she started to talk, we were happy that she had recovered. But not long after she passed on.” Uyeh recalled with a deep sigh.
That period was a discouraging time for Uyeh. But with people around and the help of the Holy Spirit, he was able to come out of the trauma of losing a loved one.
Years later he remarried stating that no matter the circumstances one should not lose hope “As a young man, people discouraged me from doing God’s work. But God was encouraging me that he would sustain me and promote me. I never believed I could be Vice Chairman and Superintendent in the church, but the Lord has done it. I also want to thank God for all the biological children the Lord has given me. They are doing great.”
Uyeh @ 77 still on fire
At 77, Uyeh is still on fire for God taking giant strides and embarking on gigantic projects for God’s kingdom. The TAC branch where he is the pastor in Ebute-Meta is building a big sanctuary across two streets from Bola Street to Cemetery Street at Ebute meta.
His special area of calling is evangelism and administration. “God has taught me so much administration. I have the gift. I do whatever God gives me accurately to the glory of God. I recalled having to cope with a difficult pastor in Ibadan. People used to complain about him. But when I got to work with him, he had no option but to love me. That was the person people complained about. To live with people, you need to be tolerant. I had to lower myself while working with him. He could not find any fault.”
For Uyeh, to live is indeed Christ. “As long as l live, I will continue to do His will as he supplies the grace.” He concluded.
By Gbenga Osinaike