She is strong, smart, forthright and independent-minded. A style icon with grace and pristine beauty, Franca Onyeje Atokolo is intelligence and ebullience personified. She tells Adedayo Adejobi about her being a reserved girl, growing into a mature woman. Busy with her three kids, she also doubles as church mother, counsellor, chaperon, hostess and a telephone -answering ‘assistant’ to her husband’s ever-growing congregation. Her life has been filled with joy, occasional set-backs and responsibilities
- Many Still Find It Strange that I Married a Pastor
- He’s a Pastor but if He Cheats on Me, I Will Forgive Him
- The First Time I Preached in Church, I Spent Two Weeks Preparing
- Church Members Could be Difficult, but You Must Learn to Deal with Them
Tell us about your background?
Iam from Benue State, the fifth of nine children born to Hon Anthony Akoto and Mrs. Catherine Akoto before my dad became a polygamist. So I’m from a large family of many siblings. I had a good childhood with great and interesting memories, though I had some struggles because of things I needed to overcome to be who I am today. At 19, while in my third year in university, I gave my heart to the Lord and there I found an entirely new meaning to life. With my new found faith and exposure to God’s word, I began to understand that God loved me beyond words and that He had a better plan for my life than what I could comprehend. As I sat under the balanced teaching of the word of God, I began to find my true identity in Christ. As I walked with God, He began to reveal me to me, how He saw me, and His definition of me nullified all the lies the devil had been whispering to me all along. I remember how I failed for the first time in my life. My classmates had to leave me behind and proceed for the one-year NYSC because I had two courses I carried over that resulted in an extra semester. God used this incident to teach me humility and that it’s okay to fail sometimes, but to fail forward.
The rudest shock to all who knew me then was my engagement to a preacher. I didn’t look like the ideal preacher’s wife. The stereotype idea then was that a pastor’s wife should be vibrant, and very confident; she has to be very mature in the Lord, and be able to sing and preach. She shouldn’t be too beautiful or attractive, or they’ll say she is a mermaid or seductress sent to destroy the ministry. I wasn’t all these and more. But one thing I knew back then as I prayed was that the opportunity to marry this pastor was God’s will and it was my gateway into God’s plan for my life. It’s been 21 years since that journey began, I’ve been married for 18 years and it has been an interesting and amazing unwrapping.
How about your education and career?
I was born in Zaria but then my family moved to Benue State where I enrolled and completed my primary education at the Makurdi International School. I proceeded to Federal Government Girls College, Gboko in 1986 to begin my secondary education. After that, I was granted admission into Benue State University in 1992 to study Economics. After my university education, I took a short break from academic pursuits and went for spiritual enrichment. While already married and nursing my son, I enrolled at the University of Abuja to obtain a post-graduate in education in 2006. I have other professional trainings to my credit in other aspects of education such as the Accelerated Christian Education and Montessori Method of Teaching.
I started my first business while still a student. There has never been a season since I got married I never had a business running, mostly in sales and marketing.
As a response to God’s call on my life and a passion to inspire, mentor women to realise and actualise their unique potentials, I founded the Balanced Feminity Network 15 years ago. I have positively affected old and young women. I have always had a love for education and strongly believe in a holistic approach to education.
How and when did you meet your husband?
I became a member of his church after my conversion in 1995. He was my pastor and predestination happened.
What are the roles and challenges of being a pastor’s wife?
Pastor’s wife’s role is multifaceted, but majorly to be a supportive help to him, and ensure he is well taken care of at home so he can function effectively as pastor to his congregation. A Pastor’s wife faces unique challenges because of the special position she occupies. It’s one of the toughest roles a woman can play, as it can be extremely demanding, self-sacrificing and emotionally draining. She lives in a glass house where she has no privacy, and as most people peer through the glass, they do it with shades of prejudices and biases. So most of what they see has been distorted because they are not seeing with clear eyes, thus resulting in unnecessary pressures, criticism, and unkindness from church folks who expect a pastor’s wife to be perfect. But she is not in any way. She is a normal woman like any other with emotions, interesting hobbies and hopeful dreams.
Do you ever feel vulnerable as a pastor’s wife? Do you also feel the same way about your husband?
Yes. This feeling is bound to occur because of our position and visibility. Pastors are always criticised and attacked by dissatisfied followers and ignorant folks who might not necessarily be connected to the ministry. The wife usually faces attacks from congregants as either too forward or too laid back. Often times, neither the pastors nor their wives can defend themselves.
Where can a pastor’s wife take all her cares, burdens, anxieties, and even ministry-related complaints to?
Wisdom requires a leader passes his or her burden up, not down. A pastor’s wife should share her burdens with her husband who knows and understands her heart more than any living mortal. He might be very helpful. And where God has given her other female mentors that her husband approves of, she can reach out to them, though this must be done with much discretion. Under no circumstance should she pass her burdens to church members or the people she and her husband are serving. Most importantly however, she should learn to pass her burdens to God in prayer.
Are you involved in your husband’s work, and at what point did you become involved?
Yes I am. I’ve always been involved from when we got married. However, the depth of direct involvement has grown over the years. For my role on the pulpit, I can remember the first time my husband asked me to speak in church. I prepared for two weeks and was able to speak for only 10 minutes. But the story is not the same now. God has grown me to where I now handle special meetings, conventions and conferences both within and outside the country as God keeps opening the doors.
How do you handle stress and pressure?
Once I notice I’m getting stressed, I slow down and rest. I rest my mind from work and focus on God for refreshing and rejuvenation.
Are you a territorial woman?
Yes, shouldn’t I be? I know my territory and I do all I can to protect it. I am not careless about it. But I am not possessive in any way; and my husband can testify to this.
Have you ever felt insecure in marriage?
Yes there are times I have felt insecure but I don’t stay in it but seek to deal with it as quickly as it comes.
Sundays are sometimes the least favourite day for pastors’ wives. Do you agree to that?
This is not my personal opinion. Sundays are my best days because I always look forward to the worship and the word.
How have you managed the endless hours, nosy and demanding congregants?
The rule is to walk by faith and walk in love. God takes care of all other details as we daily obey Him.
Have you at any time thought that your husband would choose a different profession?
Never! I haven’t thought about it because it would never happen. He is so convinced and consumed with ministry. It is his life. For him, ministry is not a profession but a divine call. He received the call as a little child of eight years, so he is lost in it and I like that focus.
There is the notion that pastors’ wives are sex starved, thus the increase in divorce between pastors and their wives. In a candid response, does your husband keep things fresh between the sheets?
You’ve got to trust my husband on this, he definitely does.
Who is more romantic between the two of you?
My husband is more expressive and definitely more romantic.
What inspires your sense of fashion?
I believe in excellence. So with that value in mind, it reflects in my appearance.
What is the most hysterical ridiculous college trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
It was in college. We got hungry a lot as young people. I and four other friends had money on a particular day that could purchase just two of special specie of Benue mangos. So we planned mischief which was to invade the seller’s goods, confuse her and picked five mangos instead of two. So we stole three additional mangos so that each person would have a whole mango to herself. I look back now and can’t believe we did that.
What is your go-to outfit?
I like the elegance and feeling of royalty a beautifully embroidered kaftan gives me
When you pass a shoe shop window do you usually stop to look at the shoes?
I love shoes because they are a necessary accessory that makes a huge difference in my appearance. I don’t stop to look, but I definitely catch a good glimpse. For my husband, I do my best to make sure he is well dressed, though he could tend to care less about such things.
How much time do you spend in front of the mirror in the morning?
I like to wear make-up. So if I’m doing a full make up, I spend about 30 to 40 minutes. But if I don’t have time, in 10 minutes I do my make-up and I’m off.
What is the ideal number of calls a couple should exchange in a day?
Ideal here would be relative because every couple is unique and a lot depends on the kind of job they do. These specifics require they figure what works for them.
Would you compromise your happiness for the success of the marriage?
I don’t need to compromise my happiness for the success of my marriage. Marriage was instituted by God for our benefit, not against us. Marriage is not a trap neither is it a prison room that is meant to rid you of happiness as some people take it to be. Rather, it is meant and ordained to be a good thing, to increase and multiply you.
What’s your idea of a romantic vacation?
A cruise on one of the Caribbean islands.
What’s the single most important thing for a marriage to be successful?
If your husband ever cheated on you, would you forgive him?
Yes. There is no sin God cannot forgive us. So there should be no sin we cannot forgive another human being. I am grateful to God, however, that I have never yet needed to experience this.
What is the most special memory of your union that you hold?
It was our 10th wedding anniversary. We renewed our vows and threw a big reception. It was quite memorable.
Which love song best describes your marriage relationship with your spouse?
I fell in love with my best friend, by Jason Chen.