Winning souls for God, my greatest achievement in life – Bishop Dominic
Bishop Onuigwe Chukwuemeka Dominic, the general superintendent of the National Evangelical Mission Inc. belongs to the first generation of clergymen who took gospel of Jesus Christ to people in different localities in Nigeria for the sole aim of winning souls even at great personal costs. As he celebrates 70 years of age, 50 years of married life and 48 years of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ from the pulpit, Dominic looks back through the years with gratitude to God for his exploits, triumphs and staying faithful to the call. In this interview with Olisemeka Obeche and Ben Obika, the newest Septuagenarian provides perspectives into his past.
How would you introduce yourself?
I am from Aguluezechukwu in Aguata local government area of Anambra state. I am happily married with seven children-four of them are male while three females. By the grace of God, all my children are graduates, married [except two] and are doing well in their chosen careers.
Being the only child of my parents, I married early, at 20. We had problem of child bearing, losing our first child and suffering five miscarriages until after about five years before having children.
What kept you and your wife going during those five years?
Our strong faith in the Lord. It was the most joyous time in our marriage because it was time we really loved ourselves and our situation didn’t affect us at all. What kept us through was peoples’ prayers, our faith in God and our love.
You are celebrating your 70th birthday, 50 years of marriage and 48 years of priesthood. How does this triple celebration make you feel?
I feel very happy and grateful to God for his grace. It’s God’s doing. I, honestly, don’t feel 70. I am just overwhelmed with joy and I give all the glory to God.
So, what do you consider your greatest achievement and why?
Winning souls for God is my greatest achievement in life. For the past 48 years, I have been on the pulpit. That is the only thing I can boast of today.
What about your earthly possessions?
Why would I boast of them? I’m not a wealthy person. My boast is always in the lord, because He has never disappointed me. God is always there to take care of my needs.
At 70, what is your favourite philosophy about life?
I hold my integrity very dearly. People normally call me Original because I believe in persistence in what I am. I hold fast to whatever I believe and do, no matter what challenges. So, having faith in God and maintaining my integrity remain my greatest guiding principle.
You don’t look 70; what is the secret of your robust health and youthful look?
Number one secret is the joy of the lord. That joy that came into me the first day I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Second is my simple nature. I don’t retain anger in my life. I can be angry as a normal human being does at times, but no animosity with any man. I’m always happy.
What amazing moments and challenges have you had with your wife these 50 of your 70 years together?
I can tell you that, as soon as we married, we just entered the ministry and began to enjoy preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and winning souls. It was really amazing going about as a young couple holding crusades and touching lives. It was the life I lived almost all my adult life, so I consider that as amazing because I have a partner that also supported what I was doing and enjoyed it.
Being that I married early because I was the only child, the delay we experienced in child birth was really a great challenge. As my wife kept suffering multiple miscarriages, pressure was everywhere and we were going from hospital to hospital in search of solution. By the time she had had it up to five times, we were told that the womb had been affected. We kept faith and eventually, God worked a miracle and we started bearing children, ending up with seven.
Besides that, there was equally the challenge of money such that, at one time, my wife spent two weeks in a hospital because we couldn’t pay the hospital bill after she was discharged. It took me two weeks, running around to borrow and pay the bill.
In fact, lack of money to take care of our needs was one of the major challenges. Besides those few challenges, our 50 years of marriage has been a wonderful journey so far.
How did you feel on the arrival of your first child?
I was happy that, at last, God had answered our prayers. At that time, I was rejoicing, Satan was whispering to me saying: ‘It’s not child bearing that is the matter but grooming them. You have to watch whether it is going to work’. (Bursts out in laughter). With that whispering in my ear, my excitement disappeared. I became cautious and watchful, but I never doubted God.
As a matter of fact, the joy became overflowing when children started coming in quick succession. At a point, I prayed that God should stop bringing them but begin to give to those people who don’t have. In order to press this home, I named my last child Chukwuagozigom, meaning God has blessed me, implying that I was contented with the children He had given me.
What was it like starting a marriage at 20 years of age and what circumstances drove you into marriage at that age?
Frankly speaking, when I married my wife newly, it didn’t feel as if we were married. We didn’t know anything about marriage and were virtually behaving like children. The funny aspect is that she came into my family and become my sister. You know, in those days I didn’t have any girlfriend and was staying lonely. My wife is the last born of nine siblings in her own family and when she came to me, an only child without brother or sister, she became my sister, girlfriend, wife and everything. We grew with that kind of relationship and, up till now, we are still living like that kind friend, brother and sister. And that is because she was there when everything started. I didn’t have a house or any tangible property then. We only put up in a little thatched house.
I can say that anything I am today, my wife contributed 70-80 percent of it because she is stronger than me. My wife is a very strong and industrious woman and she helped me a lot.
But how did you discover her amongst other young maidens around in those days?
Well she happens to be a younger sister to my friend, the only person that I related with and I used to visit him. My mother began to put pressure on me to marry and brought many girls to me all of whom I rejected. In the end, she was the only lady that I choose. I had a cousin then that served as my adviser. Any girl that my mother brought, he would be somewhere laughing and tell me ‘no-no’; and that would be the end of it. At a point I became confused, but after my mother became tired of bringing girls for me to choose, my heart told me ‘what about this girl, sister to my friend?’ Right there, I went to tell my mother that I had seen someone that I would marry and she told me to bring her to our house for them to see.
So, I went and convinced her to follow me to go to my house, without disclosing the real purpose of the visit. And she agreed. When she came, my mother was cooking and immediately I whispered to her that this is the girl I was talking about, she observed her briefly and said ‘Ehen, this girl is going to be your wife!’ She didn’t give it a second thought. And immediately I gave sign to my cousin who was equally around. He said he approved this one. It was after I secured their approvals that we approached her parents to inform them of my intention to marry their daughter. Even at that stage, I had not told her yet. You know, in those days, the parents are told first unlike now that people can boldly approach a lady and propose without getting parental consent first.
In my own case, her parents were so happy about my proposal because they knew my parents and me very well. When my wife eventually got wind of what was going on, she also received it with joy because she already liked me as a friend of her brother. Incidentally, at that time, there was a rich man that was also seeking her hand in marriage. However, immediately, I made my intention known to her, she forgot about the man. So, I will say it was God’s plan that we marry.
You kick-started your priesthood career 48 years ago at the age of 22; can you take us back memory lane to this journey and how it all began?
Well, there is something that made my priesthood career actually longer than 48 years. You know my parents were Anglican faithful but because of problem of child bearing, they entered into a prayer house. So, even though I started my religious life under Anglican Communion, at the age of 12, when my father became a member of that church (Saviour Apostolic Church now known as New Life Winners Church) which we called Prayer House in those days, I followed them and became a member too. And when I reached the age of 15 and wrote common entrance examination, I was offered an admission into Federal Government College, Afikpo. So, my father took me to the leader of the church, Apostle Peter Ekwozor, who was also a prophet. When we arrived, the prophet asked my father if there was a covenant between him and God and my father told him that he promised God that if He gave him a son, he will give him back to serve God. Now, the man of God then told him that the Lord told him that I should not go to that school that had offered me admission; rather I should start the work of God as ‘onye-ozi’ servant of God. So, I started serving under the prophet at the age of 15.
I grew under him and followed him wherever he went for spiritual assignments. I did everything he commanded me to do as his servant and when he felt I had gained experience, he sent me to another branch of the church at Nteje, Oyi local government area of Anambra state to pastor. So, in pasturing that church, it was like I didn’t do anything again in my life other than preaching the gospel. I was pasturing that church from 1964 to 1969. Throughout the Nigerian civil war, I was pasturing that church.
However, around 1969, I began to experience somewhat spiritual emptiness in my heart; something was telling me that what I was doing was not right. At a point, I realised that I was no more satisfied in pasturing that church and I knew that something was lacking in my life. It was around that time that I married and suddenly I began to hate that church. When the war eventually ended in 1970, I was still pastoring that but I had started seeking the truth and spiritual satisfaction because my spirit had already told me that if I continued with that church my soul won’t be saved in the end.
It was not long before I found the missing puzzle. Though we preached repentance there, we never talked about being born-again and receiving Jesus as your Lord and personal saviour. The church believed that once you did immersion baptism, you were born again. So, in September 1970 I had an encounter with God and there I received Jesus as my Lord and personal saviour. Three months after that, in December 1970, we went for a convention of that church as an ordained evangelist, as I was still with them. During the convention, I was given the opportunity to preach, and I decided to preach about born again. Immediately I finished the sermon, I made an altar call and many people including pastors, prophets and many more gave their life to God. I led them to Christ.
However, a day after that preaching, the national executive of the church held a meeting where that sermon was reviewed. I was summoned to explain the rationale for such radical sermon. The leader of the church who was grooming me to take over the leadership of the church, then asked me to explain why I claimed, during the preaching, that somebody must be ‘born-again’ to get salvation? Why was I talking like that when I knew that, according to the teaching of the church, born-again was immersion baptism? I told him: ‘no Sir, immersion baptism is not being born-again’. I took time to preach to them again because that was the only thing I could do. After my preaching, they asked me so many questions which I answered. Then, they told me that they couldn’t allow me to preach like that again in their church; that I should drop that doctrine because it was false. But I told them I would not stop preaching about born again and that I was a living testimony of what I was talking about. I began to give them testimony of my conversion and what I experienced.
Then, they asked me to tell them what I had repented for since, knowing me for years, I had not taken alcohol before, never indulged in immoral lifestyle and those sorts of things. They asked me: ‘what did you repent for?’ I told them that I repented from self-righteousness; that I didn’t know that I wasn’t saved until I became born again. After all my explanation, they said that if I didn’t drop the preaching, I should leave the church. And they gave me three days to leave the church.
Incidentally, my father was the national treasurer of that church at the time while my mother was a prophetess and I was still living with them. So, when I eventually came home, my father called me to tell me that if I didn’t drop that false doctrine, he would disown me. I told him right there that I could not drop it. And he insisted that if I didn’t stop it, I should leave his house; I said with all pleasure, I would leave.
Fortunately for me, this thing was happening in January 1971, so those who preached the gospel to me were still following me up and told me that there was a revival (crusade) going on at Bishop Raphael Okafor’s place at Awka-Etiti. So, that became the first revival I attended after leaving the church and fellowshipped with group of brethren. As soon as I stepped feet into the revival, I didn’t feel the impact of that rejection from my father again. There, I witnessed pure love. In fact, my heart told me that was exactly what it had been longing for. During that event, it was announced that GMG Emesili, a prominent man of God who was living in Lagos then, had set up a Bible school; and that whoever wanted to attend that school should go to Aguleri where he came for a programme to pick the form, fill and submit. I was so excited about it that from there, I rushed to Aguleri where I picked the form. When interview was finally conducted, it was me and another person called Cyril that eventually gained admission into the school from the East. That was how I became a Bible scholar.
So, I counted the time I started pasturing as a born-again Christian, but if I wanted to have gone beyond that, I can tell you that I have been evangelising all my life because I have never done anything else other than preaching the word of God.
What played out between you and your parents afterwards?
Well, God handled that matter in another funny way. I came back from Aguleri, after filling the form, and discovered that nobody in the house was talking to me, the first person that I preached to was my mother and she received Christ. Then, I also converted two other persons living in my house then – John Okeke from Nanka, whose mother was my father’s cousin and Elias Iloka. These three persons were converted and they also became my allies. So, my father did not bother to drive me away from the house. Eventually, he repented in 1974 on the day of dedication of my first son, Oluchi. Indeed, my father eventually became the great sponsor of my evangelical missionary activities. That was because I didn’t have anything else, I did to make money and nobody paid me. My father was the one giving me and my wife food and gave me his bicycle for travelling to places for evangelism work.
How would you compare your generation of pastoral work with this new generation?
Well, the problem of modern preachers and pastors is that some of them are not actually called by God. Well, it’s not my character to say that one is called or not, but I have to watch you to know if you are actually called or not. If you are called by God, you will be doing that work, no matter the circumstances or situation you find yourself. The problem is that some of them are not actually called by God. They may be called by their circumstances. Some of them were doing business or working before and when there was no more progress; they just conclude that their setback may be the call of God. Unfortunately, they fail to know the ministry they are called into based on their spiritual gifts. They don’t know that the gift given to you can be used for the good of the church and not going out to establish your own ministry. They also don’t know that someone can be called to be an evangelist and yet may not do it as full-time vocation. In that case, the person can work as leaders of evangelical teams within the church. Even a person with gift of prophecy can still be prophesying within the church. But what we see nowadays is that once someone discovers he or she has a gift, they will go and form a new church. It doesn’t work that way. People should learn to ask God, what do you wish to do with me? Where do you want me to work, to serve you better? The danger is that when you did not ask God before jumping into pastoral work, when you operate for some time and things become difficult, you begin to look for ways to help yourself out. This is unlike our own time when people would tell you to go and meet the person who called you to solve your problems. They will tell you: ‘You said God called you, ehen, go and meet Him who called you now!’
In our own time, we lived and did the work by faith; and by God’s grace. I have a wife that understands what the work entails. I can say that she is also called to do the work because if she were not, she couldn’t have understood it and made sure that we managed whatever we had. But God was so faithful to us that we never lacked our basic needs.