As plans move into top gear to mark the 25th anniversary of the Glory Christian Ministries on March 8th, its founder, Dr. Iruofagha Solomon James in this interview with Mary Ekah, reminisces about how it all started, the challenges so far and plans for the future
Who is Dr. I.S. James?
The full names are Iruofagha Solomon James. I’m a son of a poor fisherman, from a fishing village called Okpoma in Bayelsa State. I grew up going to one fishing pond to the other with my parents until the discovery of oil in Bayelsa wiped off our way of life. So those fishing ponds that used to be the source of our livelihood have been deserted and turned to inhabited areas. I’m one of those people who are living far away from those places because of God’s call to go and fish for souls.
What was the turning point in your life when you had to migrate from being a fisherman to fisher of souls?
I became a Christian in my final year in the university. I went for my NYSC in Bauchi and later came back to Lagos. That was how the ministry started. It was God’s call that changed all of that and we are here so far.
When was that?
That was 1985.
Can you describe how the call came?
I knew God’s call was upon my life very early in my Christian life. Precisely about five months after I gave my life to Christ, I knew that God had called me and that was just before I went for the National Youth Service Corp. So it was during the Youth Corp that the call became so clear and distinct. In those days, the knowledge and the call of God were not like it is today. When we talk about the call of God in those days, it was not something that you want to accept or jump into very lightly. So like everyone called by God then, I struggled with it. I didn’t like it. Having been the only graduate that came from my family, to say you are going to serve God and to be a pastor, was something I could not accept so easily. So it was during my NYSC that God really established it that my call was teaching the Word, which is what I love doing today.
Teaching the word of God is the central part of my calling. I am a Bible Teacher by calling before the ‘pastoring’. But for you to tell people that you are now going into ministry was like a curse in those days. It was difficult for me but I knew obviously what God has called me to do and I was willing to do it. I struggled with it for some time. So in the month of August 1985, from the very first day to the last day of that month I really didn’t know what was happening because I kept myself locked up seeking God’s face. When I say seeking God’s face, I was literally fighting God for one whole month because I really didn’t want to accept the call. But when God has called you to do something, you can’t win over God, so that was how I came out from that one-month retreat and then accepted God’s call.
What was your parents’ reaction when you accepted the call?
To say the truth, I didn’t have the courage to tell them because it was not easy at that time. It literally took me some months to tell them and it was through my cousin because I didn’t have the courage to do so. It was literally going to send my parents to their graves earlier than expected. You can only imagine the disappointment when they were told because my parents had literally sold all their personal goods to ensure that I finished school. So for me to finish my NYSC and now tell them that I was going to become a pastor, which was in those days associated with poverty for all the rest of one’s life, was something that I struggled with. But at the end I had to accept God’s will. But to be able to convincingly communicate that to my parents was a really tough one. So it took me sometime before I could do that.
What is the significance of celebrating your ministry’s 25th year?
The Glory Christian Ministries would be exactly 25 years on March 8th 2017. It was inaugurated exactly on March 8, 1992, so we would be celebrating our 25th anniversary come Wednesday, March 8 to Sunday, March 12. It is very significant for us because in the course of the years, we have made little stride. Although it is not as much as we would have wanted, we are grateful for what God has been able to do through us. Ours is a business of life transformation. It is not as much as in the building of monuments and cathedrals. The Bible says “what shall a man gain if he owns the whole world and lose his soul”. This means that from God’s perspective, He equates the worth of one soul as far more than all of the riches of this world.
So if it is only one soul that we have been able to affect in these 25 years, in God’s and Heaven’s perspective, that is something worth celebrating. And obviously in this period we can look back at many lives in and outside of this country that have been affected as a result of this ministry. The second reason is that it was God who thought it fit. In the book of 1st Samuel 7: 12, God, through His prophet Samuel, called His people to mark a particular place with a stone and that stone was called Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”, which is God’s way of letting Israel know that they are not there yet but where they are, is how far God has brought them and that they should celebrate the victory they have gotten so far to that point, even though they have not gotten to their destination. So celebrating life, celebrating achievements, celebrating what God has done is one of the ways God teaches His people to stop and acknowledge what He has done in our lives and that is precisely what we want to do during this period of our anniversary holding from March 8-12.
There is a lot going on in the country and because we directly minister to the people, we know exactly what is going on. To tell you the truth, for some time we hesitated whether or not we should even go ahead to celebrate but again then we realised that life goes on in every situation and that God wants us to acknowledge and thank Him for what has been achieved, pray for what is coming and be always grateful for every situation and circumstance we find ourselves because for us Christians, we have been taught that ‘all things work together for good’ and so we really want to take time out to really thank God for what He has done through us and in us in the past 25 years. And so we are for that purpose, designing and fashioning this celebration in a unique way.
Unlike any of the anniversaries we have done in the past, this one is going to be about us, we are going to be the ones celebrating. We probably would have just one day for a guest minister to speak to us because even as we celebrate, it would be a time of looking back to say thank you and at the same time looking forward to what, for instance, the next decade would be for our ministry. So it is celebrating the past and looking forward to the future. So we are going to have some time to examine ourselves, ask questions and also through prayers, be able to look forward to what God wants to do.
In 25 years what would you consider to be the toughest challenge?
There are many that come to mind. For me personally, I don’t know which come first. What is most frightening to me, is having to do the work I was called to do in the way that align with the call that I received, which is like satisfying your boss. You know God calls every one of us to a particular assignment and so for me every single day and every message that I preach and whatever I do, I come back home sometimes happy and other times miserable because I feel I have not done exactly as He wants me to do. So the constant checking of wanting to know whether I have been able to do exactly what I was called to do, has been to me more than everything else, something I have to deal with.
I thank God that I have tried to do my best in that area not because I have not failed Him but because I have largely tried to do my best in that area. The second challenge is that some times the frustration of not seeing the lives you labour over being transformed, as you would want to see. I mean coming from where I came from, I can easily identify with the struggles of people, I can easily identify with people who are in need. Sometimes you try your best to minster the Word to them and you are hoping to see a transformation – a change and God’s blessings that will lift them up from that state of need and lack, so if we have any reason we are celebrating, it is for those lives that we can testify to that have been changed. The truth is, it is not all of them and so when you don’t see that change in some of them, it makes you get frustrated.
You speak so passionate about bringing about transformation on people live. Has the Church done enough to bring transformation to people’s lives?
I would say that Church generally is trying but we can do more. There is tremendous suffering in the land and if not for the churches, it could have been worse. I can’t speak for all but I also know how much we spend on the welfare of our members alone. So we thank God for the churches but we can also do more.
Looking back at the 25 years of your ministry, are there things you would have loved to do differently?
I don’t think there is a way you can do a thing for as long as that period and not have regret. I think it is just part of being human. Like they say, there is always the benefit of high insight, and so when you look back, you would always wish you had done certain things differently. That being said, wisdom has thought some of us that it is part of being human. That is the only way we learn moving forward. In all aspects of life, the only way we learn to become better is to learn from our own failures. So yes, there have been some disappointing moments but they have also acted as lessons that you could not have learned in any other way. So in that realm, all have worked together for good.
What is that particular leadership quality that has sustained your ministry?
I would say plural leadership. In our ministry, our understanding of leadership is plural leadership with singular responsibility. And so we have a set of leaders – leadership is not centered on personalities and so a lot of things go on with my supervision while other people are given the freedom to make decisions. So we allow decision to be taken by a group of people instead of concentrating power only on one single person. I believe that is how church leadership should be and it has worked well in my ministry.