The week-long 64th Annual Convention of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) became an unusual miracle and the confirmation of the power of vision on Friday, August 7 at the new 3 kilometre-3 kilometre auditorium called The Arena.
The miracle was not any of the many miracles of healing and blessing which characterize Pastor Adeboye’s services and other events; it was not about the 89 babies, 53 boys and 36 girls and including a set of quadruplets, delivered at the Church’s maternity centre at the Redemption Camp during the Convention.
It was the sheer size of attendance observers put at millions of people who filled all the completed sections of the massive Arena. On completion it will have a seating capacity of 12 million people. The Arena on Friday was one big ocean of heads.
From the pulpit where the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, spoke, he had a good view of the calm ocean of heads. And he said, “A first time visitor to the Redemption Camp would be amazed at the millions of people that have gathered for the programme.
“This is coming as an inspiration to Nigeria from the heart of God Himself and not from any man.”
Pastor Alex Okoh of the Olive Tree parish of RCCG on Banana Island, Lagos, texted this gleefully on the Monday after the Convention: “Some events last week truly opened my eyes to the power of possibilities. That dogged pursuit of vision always conquers.
“Last week, I saw the power of vision at work. A project of monumental proportion that would easily displace some of those listed as the Seven Wonders of the World. And right here in Nigeria. Hmmmm! I wondered how many would have questioned this great vision at the onset.
“But dogged faith manifested the substance of what was hoped for. The largest gathering of people on the face of the earth and an edifice to contain that gathering is truly a wonder to behold…”
The Arena was the project in reference. When the plan to build it was announced some years back, some people described it as a weird idea, inspired by inordinate ambition.
But Pastor Adeboye is not new to attackers of his divine vision. He knows where the church is going and has never yielded to pessimists. He tells an interesting story of one of such cases: “While praying one day, the Lord said to me, “Son, one day, presidents will come to this Camp to worship.’’
And I said, “Amen’’ as at that time there was no likelihood of this happening. I told my people what God said and the need to build a place for the presidents to stay when they visited. So we built a presidential lodge which was the largest building at the Redemption Camp at that time. Thereafter, we waited for the first three years but no president came.
Then one day, my senior pastors met and said they didn’t understand what I was saying. They said to themselves, “This man wants to live in a big house but does not want to tell us. Now he has completed the building, he does not know how to move in.”
So they came to me and said, “You are our president. Move into the house.’’
“No, it is not my house,” I said. “Presidents are coming.”
Today, God has fulfilled His word before our very eyes. Presidents visit and stay here.”
At the last count, the church has spread to over 188 countries, with over 32,000 parishes in Nigeria alone and at least 540 branches in the UK and Ireland. And so, millions of people from all over the world come for the church’s Conventions and the monthly Holy Ghost Congress at its Redemption Camp. And with the numbers surging out of available space, the Church had to go for the Arena. It is located on Simawa Road, a few kilometres from the current one-and-half-kilometre by one-kilometre auditorium.
In fact, the church has been changing auditoriums since the relatively small one was built close to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the Redemption Camp.
Pastor Adeboye said in one of his testimonies: “Some years ago, I came to the Camp to pray and the Holy Spirit said, “Son, I want to take you on a little journey.”
I said, “Yes, Lord.”
So He began to lead me in the direction he wanted me to go. He took me to the first auditorium and said, “When we built this one we thought it was big.”
I said, “Yes, Lord.”
He brought me to the second auditorium (wooden section) which we also thought was bigger. Then He brought me to the third auditorium (iron section) which we consider the biggest. But God said, “Son, one day this new thing you are calling big will be the children’s auditorium.”
This was too amazing for me to swallow. But can I doubt the King of Kings? He has said it, and it shall come to pass.”
From Mushin to a new city
The story of Pastor Adeboye is as interesting as it is inspiring. Before the Redemption Camp stories, he had been busy begging God for a house in Mushin, a Lagos suburb, only to get a humorous response.
His account: “Prior to becoming the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, I was the head of Department of Mathematics at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. I was living in a mansion with a two-bedroom guest quarters. I also had servants’ quarters with four bedrooms. All these were not part of the main house. But when I became the General Overseer, I had to live in a one-room apartment at Mushin (a relatively poor suburb in Lagos). I left my wife and children in Ilorin to be in Lagos to work in the church. Due to my difficult living conditions at that time, I had to tidy up things before my family could join me.
Before bringing them over, I went to God in prayers and explained the challenges I was facing to Him. I told God to build a house for me. Left to me I did not mind using the one-room apartment, but the thought of housing my entire family in one room posed a great challenge to me.
God’s response to me was, “Son, don’t ask for house because I have decided to build you a city.’’
That response was beyond what I could comprehend. After this encounter, I began to dream of a city where everybody would be a Christian; a city where there would be no molestation; a city where there would be no power failure or water shortages. God began to stretch my mind to see a city where His praises would fill every mouth.”
A miraculous addition is the Arena, where residential buildings are already sprouting out. As late as 2am on Saturday, agents of property firms were soliciting for customers with flyers to build in the area.
“Why are you awake at this time?” I asked one of them. She looked up at me, broke into a smile, and said, “It is well.”
The historic Friday
On the historic Friday, when Pastor Adeboye declared, “This is the best Convention the Church has ever had,” both the old auditorium at the Redemption Camp and The Arena were mighty oceans of heads.
During the Deliverance service at the old auditorium on Thursday, he announced the Convention would move to the Arena to “accommodate the Friday crowd.” But people could stay back at the old auditorium and participate in the service through giant screens as would people in the many viewing centres around the world.
The exodus on Friday was not very evident as I left Lagos at about 1.30pm. Traffic flow was bad and indeed thinned out at the outskirts of the city. But soon after I veered off the Expressway to the Arena, I notice the stream of people in cars, on motor cycles and on foot. From time to time the stream chocked obviously because of confluences ahead of us, particularly caused by the stream from the Redemption Camp were many people had taken up accommodation, and also served as a route for people coming from neighbouring states. I also noticed heavy build up behind us.
Hours later, we eventually arrived the venue to be greeted by a sea of cars in many parking lots and by larger and unceasing streams of people from various directions pouring into the Arena, where I arrived about an hour later to behold an ocean of human heads. Never in my life had I seen such ceaseless flow of people pouring into an auditorium with capacity to make them comfortable.
Characteristic of all RCCG events everything was orderly and ushers and others ready to help. No chaotic scene; none of the madness at some Lagos events; and no incident or accident. It was a solemn atmosphere all around!
As a journalist I was privileged to sit at the media section in front and before the programme started, I decided to have a feel of the ocean. I had broken a bone in my foot early this year so I pampered it with a gentle walk towards the end of the auditorium from the Alter, and praying that the foot will eventually heal. Since that day, I have not taken any drugs for the pain, which has vanished.
For over 15 minutes, I walked a straight aisle through an ocean of heads. At every point of the walk I could see one end of the auditorium, but it was all a mirage. It was like seeing the horizon down a round with the impression that you could reach and even touch it.
Some more minutes later, I gave up and returned to my seat early enough before the Mass Choir of hundreds of choristers rendered their songs. They are a beauty to behold and luckily I was seated right in front of them with my colleagues.
Another evidence of the size of the convention was the 5 long hours it took me to car-exit the venue after the service at 2 am, even as about half of the cars decided to wait behind. It was a long stream on exit as was the entry.
On this Friday of streams, there was yet another stream when women the church had prayed for to have babies were invited to the Alter for prayers. For well over 30 minutes hundreds of women streamed happily into a lake of people which had formed around the Alter. At the Camp, miracles happen so easily and frequently they seem to be losing their awesomeness on the people. It is becoming what in journalism they call “dog bites man story” It is just natural for a dog to bite a man, so it no news. But the reverse is big news.
At the Camp miracles have become so commonplace that sometimes the congregation has to be reminded of the need to praise God during testimony time, unlike in some churches where so much song and dance is made of occasional miracles. There was a testimony galore at the Convention.
The Convention opened on August 1 with the ordination of a total of 8,151 persons to assist the mission to administer the fast growing church. The newly ordained 4,412 deacons and 3,739 deaconesses were admonished to give priority to the Word of God and pray in their individual lives and ministry to do exploits in their various calling.
Daily services called plenary sessions started on Tuesday and climaxed on Friday, followed by a Holy Communion Service on Saturday and closing on Sunday with an Anointing Service.
Characteristically, the sermons were well-paced and richly illustrated with Bible passages and Pastor Adeboye’s testimonies he calls “stories.” For this Convention, he altered the order of service to have the alter call early to enable people who receive salvation to benefit from his prayers and blessings. Amen, the theme of the Convention meant all prayers there would be answered.
On the Friday of streams and ocean, the sermon was entitled, “The devil will flee.” Delivering it Pastor Adeboye explained that there are two principal forces in the world – the light and darkness. The light being Jesus; and the darkness, the devil that is capable of destroying people by his antics without indwelling them.
In the Friday Ocean were also dignitaries like Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of the Federal Republic; Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State; Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State; Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel; Benue Governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom; Chief (Mrs) Yetunde Onanuga, Deputy Governor, Ogun State; Mrs Sarah Sosan, former Deputy Governor of Lagos State; Pastor Kola Oluwole, Speaker, Ekiti House of Assembly, and his wife, Yetunde.
There was also a huge presence of traditional rulers. At the end of it all when Pastor Adeboye gave thanks to God and announced that next year’s Convention of RCCG will be bigger and better than this year’s I could imagine big rivers and mighty oceans of heads.