“Ido not know of an individual who has influenced my own generation more than Pastor Tony Rapu in Christianity in Nigeria today…The fathers of the faith even acknowledge that what he started is what ignited the fire in the city of Lagos and Nigeria as a whole… when the divine history of Nigeria is being written, Tony Rapu would be one of the people to be acknowledged’ says Pastor Ghandi Olaoye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Jesus House, Washington DC.
Debonair, dapper, svelte, a power-dresser – is probably how you would describe the six-feet-four Tony Rapu when you see him. When you draw close you also realise he has a quick wit and an independent streak. He is at once courageous, sincere, self- effacing, non-conformist, a disciplinarian and a perfectionist. When you draw even closer you discover a deeply spiritual man with an unbridled passion for the things of God. Dr Ada Igonor, whose story is featured in the movie 93 Days, describes how Pastor Tony supported her when she went through the ordeal of Ebola infection ‘…Then I got a call from my pastor. He had been informed about my predicament.
He called me every single day, morning and night and would pray with me over the phone. He later sent me a CD player, CDs of messages on faith and healing, and Holy Communion packs through my husband. My pastor, who also happens to be a medical doctor, encouraged me….We would then discuss the disease and pray together. He asked me to do my research on Ebola since I had my iPad with me and told me that he was also doing his study. He wanted us to use all relevant information on Ebola to our advantage.’ God heard those prayers. Dr Igonor was the only infected staff of First Consultants Medical Centre, Obalende, Lagos (where the first case of Ebola was recorded in Nigeria) who survived the Ebola epidemic which is said to have a 99% mortality rate.
Tony Rapu was born in Kano on January 1st 1957, the only son to an Ibo Catholic family. He is the fourth of six children. His father, T.D. Rapu, worked with the Nigerian Customs while his mother, Maria Rapu (nee Ofili), was a teacher. He grew up like any well bred, middle class young man as would testify those who knew him at King’s College Lagos in the 70s or in the 80s at the University of Ibadan where he took a degree in Zoology and later in Medicine. During his Ibadan years, he met Miss Nkoyo Bassey, who was then a student at the International School Ibadan (ISI). She was just 16 and he was 20. Reminiscing those days, former Miss Nigeria, Helen Prest-Ajayi, who was Nkoyo’s friend and classmate at ISI says,“I remember those hot, hazy afternoons spent chatting and strolling down our school driveway in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Tee Raps racing by on his ‘Harley Davidson’ … it was the biggest, baddest bike around… this was the era of John Travolta and ‘Grease’ was all the rage…”.
While he was working as a Medical Doctor at Eko Hospital, in 1986, he gave his life to Christ at a Friendship Bible Study meeting in the Ikoyi residence of his eldest sister, Mrs Bridget Itsueli. Shortly after his conversion he had an epiphany and in a bid to make sense of it, his sister introduced him to a doctor of mathematics-turned-preacher called Pastor E.A. Adeboye.
Pastor Adeboye describes this meeting as a divine one. He explained that the day Tony Rapu stepped into his office, God told him the young man was one of three men who would be instrumental to the realisation of the vision of the RCCG to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
In 1987 he married Miss Nkoyo Bassey, who was by this time a lawyer working with Allan and Ogunkeye. She had come to know the Lord at a Bible study in the Victoria Island home of Gabriel and Rosalyn Oduyemi. Husband and wife became active members of the then hardly known RCCG and worshiped at the Head Quarters Church in Ebute Metta. They also held a house fellowship in the Rapu family home, at 27 Ekololu Street, Surulere, where they lived. This home ‘church’ consisted mainly of young, upwardly mobile professionals from different denominations. Here, Tony Rapu would also hold prayer meetings that would sometimes last through the night or for what seemed like unending hours during the day.
In 1991, under the direction of Pastor Adeboye, Dr. Rapu led a team of some 50 newly converted born- again Christians, mainly members of the Ekololu house fellowship, to begin the Apapa Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Pastor Tony preached an intelligent yet uncompromising gospel attracting professionals and recruiting them into the service of the Lord. From hours spent in daily personal study and prayer, he developed training material with which he would disciple the church workers. These intense discipleship sessions comprised hours of worship, bible study, prayer and frequent seasons of fasting. He gave the worker training groups prophetic names: Pioneer, Elisha, Freedom, Frontline, Reformer, Government, Missionaries, and Territorial Workers. We were programmed to see the world as our congregation, our vocation as our pulpit and our lives as the epistle that people will read to be drawn to God. He taught us that we were all in full time ministry, whether we held secular jobs or not and that serving God is never something we do at our convenience but a cause around which we built our existence. Many of these professionals would pastor RCCG churches alongside their regular employment.
The church was aggressive in winning souls. Evangelism was avant-garde and unconventional. He planted churches in night clubs, cinema halls and restaurants. It was he who began the giving of individual names to RCCG parishes. He came up with then unusual names like Jesus House, City of David, Courage Centre, Hope Hall and also named the London Holy Ghost Service Festival of Life. He began the first Bible School for graduates outside the Redemption Camp, the first model school (The Redeemers International School), a financial institution (Haggai Institute), a drug rehabilitation home (Hebron House), an outreach to area boys, a French church, and a hospital (House of Hope).
In the five years of this work, the church had grown in leaps and bounds and he had planted churches like Jesus House London in 1994, Jesus House DC in 1995 and City of David, Lagos in 1996. This passion, creativity and excellence, have been the hall mark of the 1116 churches spread over 110 countries that make up the Apapa family now under the leadership of Pastor Idowu Iluyomade.
Members of the Apapa parish workforce continue to excel in ministry, as well as in the public and private sector in Nigeria and abroad. They include Bola Adesola of Standard Chartered Bank, Sola Adegoroye of IBTC, Tunde Fowler of the FIRS, DG Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, former First lady of Cross River State Onari Duke, Pastor Agu Irukwu of Jesus House, London and Pastor Ituah Ighodalo of Trinity House.
God used this movement to trigger off the unprecedented church-growth that would transform the Redeemed Christian Church of God to what is perhaps the fastest growing denomination in the world today. Pastor Adeboye described Pastor Tony Rapu as ‘‘…a great man of God…a man of awesome potential, intelligent, articulate, a man passionately in love with God…” He added “If I have a thousand boys like Tony Rapu I will deliver the world to Jesus Christ in less than 5 years…”
Since he officially put down his stethoscope and picked up the Bible some 25 years ago, Tony Rapu continues to step beyond the confines of the pulpit, into the pews, and beyond the pews to meet the people where they are. He continues to roll up his sleeves and put his hand into the mud of society to address the issues we would rather look away from. His training as a medical doctor has enabled him understand the tripartite nature of man, helping him address the effects of sin not just on the spirit but on the mind and the body of men.
Today he continues his work under the House of Freedom, the umbrella organisation reaching out to different strata of society – This Present House (the flagship church), The Water Brook (church for young adults), God Bless Nigeria (church reaching out to the poor indigent communities), Holy Trinity Church (for an orthodox yet vibrant expression of faith), The Potters House, (a community church in Costain), and Mount Zion (a church reaching out in areas like Alpha Beach and Jakande). Through the Freedom Foundation he oversees Genesis House and House of Refuge (rehabilitation and empowerment organisations) and Bethesda (an education agency). His social reform work is the subject of the video documentary My Lagos Diaries, which was presented to a select audience, in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, in October and would be presented to a wider audience on January 21st 2017.
At the Freedom rally organised by the House of Freedom, in commemoration of Nigeria’s 56th anniversary, Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, testified “… I came to know the Lord through ….Pastor Tony Rapu…. As a professor of the law of evidence everything must be demonstrated by proof. Scientific proof, logic. If it does not make sense then there is no sense in it. But this man led me to understand the evidence of things that are not seen. In 1993 …. I came to the Redeemed Christian Church of God Apapa Parish, where Pastor Tony was pastoring…. I was in a workers group. Guess what he named that workers group? – GOVERNMENT! It was prophetic, – unbelievable, the number of us who actually went into government.… Oby Ezekwesili was in my same group. She of course became Minister in two different departments… The prophetic word had gone forth….”
Tony Rapu the reformer is also a committed family man, who dotes on his wife, Nkoyo, their two daughters – Dr Uju Rapu, Barrister Kene Rapu and their son, Mr Tobe Rapu, who is a university student.
60 happy cheers to Tony Rapu who turns 60 today!
––Kalango, MON, Founder Rainbow Book Club, Project Director, UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.