“Imissed my steps this evening. I came for mid-week service and did not have the idea anything was going on here.” Those were the words of Simeon Afolabi, serving overseer of Firstlove Assembly, Rumuokwuta, Port Harcourt, when he rose up to give a brief speech, moments after walking into the spacious ultra-modern auditorium of the assembly. Afolabi came with his wife, Ruth, to deliver the mid-week sermon, Wednesday, February 22, but found the entire church setting in celebration mood.

Tables with some white coverings were being kept from the front of the church to the back, with some bottles of water and other drinks and some four persons seated to each table. A colourfully designed cake was well-positioned. Food was waiting to be served once it was time. The faces of the people and the clothes they wore also betrayed the mood of the evening.

It was Afolabi’s 55th birthday. But the decision to hold a bash was not his, neither was it communicated to him. The bash was packaged by members and pastors of the church alongside those of the International Communion of Ministers, a forum of church workers – mainly pastors, which Afolabi has been nurturing since 2001. Linus Ochai, FLA’s resident pastor, midwifed the occasion.

“I thank the resident pastor for this undeserved honour. I thank everyone behind this coup,” Afolabi told the gathering. He went on: “What can I say at 55 than that a good name is better than silver or gold? During the day, I received calls from many in the country and parts of the world, including United States, United Kingdom, Ghana and other African countries. I can see reason for all the appreciation. Let nothing surpass the strive for a good name.”

He said in his 55 years on earth, he had found God to be true and faithful to His word and that every good deed, including a cup of water given in the name of God, would be rewarded. He urged the people to continue in their labours of love, because, according to him, God will not fail to reward. Afolabi also shared the word of God from Revelation 22:1-5, which points believers to heaven where the Bible says, will be no more suffering and curse while God will be light to all.

Afolabi was born in Ipee, in Oyun Local Government Area of Kwara State on February 22, 1962. He obtained his bachelor and masters degrees in Political Science from the University of Ibadan in I985 and 1987, respectively. He did his mandatory one year national youth service with Living Faith Church a.k.a Winners Chapel. He had thought he would become an academic and had considered going for PhD when God told him to “return to the church.” With this divine instruction, Afolabi secured a job as a pastor with Living Faith Church and served there for 10 years. His stations were Lagos, Abuja and Owerri, where he was presbyter for the Eastern region.

In spite of his love for Political Science and the years spent studying the political systems of the world, Afolabi has not worked in the secular world for even one day. ”I admire those that have experience in fields like public relations, banking and other sectors of the economy. I associate with them a lot and learn much from my contact with them,” Afolabi said.

On November 1, 1998, Afolabi founded Revival Peoples Church but later changed its name to Firstlove Assembly. Since then, he has been involved in the business of leading souls to Christ and evoking a revival of apostolic values in the body of Christ. He says the name of his church is closely related to his mandate – to restore man back to God and to provoke the body of Christ to get back to the love the early apostles had for Christ and the ministry. “The apostles loved the Lord Jesus and their work in the church to the point of death,” he says.

Clearly, this mandate and passion are drawn largely from the twin scriptures of Isaiah 42:22, which emphasises the restoration of mankind, and Jude 3, which urges the global church to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints.” His deep hunger to promote restoration of what the enemy had stolen in people’s lives and desire to build a hunger in God’s people prompted him to run the weekly ‘Restoration Hour’ broadcast on Africa Independent Television, Port Harcourt, at 6pm every Friday and 6.45am every Sunday on WAZOBIA 94.1 FM radio station in the same city.

Afolabi is clearly a teacher of the Word. This calling and drive to impart plain scriptural knowledge in the body of Christ has caused him to write many books. His latest books, The Ministry and God’s Workmen; Making the Ministry Work and The Minister’s Call to Duty were presented to the public at De Edge Hotel, Port Harcourt, on February 25 as part of activities marking the celebration. Other books authored by Afolabi include Inspiration; Concerning Giving and Receiving; Reflections; Purpose, People and Timing.

His quarterly devotional, Bread &Wine, has remained a veritable source of inspiration to thousands across the globe. Bread & Wine, which was introduced in 2005, situates contemporary issues within the provisions of the word of God. The entries are well researched to provide inspirational materials that are Bible-based. Afolabi’s goal in this is to see that the reader is driven into a deeper understanding of life with God. The glossy devotional, with an online version, is given out free and has been in high demand in Nigeria, parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Afolabi says that the secret of those who keep riding, and keep going, and never stop, is in reading the Word.

He is a good example of a liberal personality. He has said that it is the will of God that ministries spring up and flourish inside another and perhaps, bigger ministry. It is true. Unlike what obtains in many other churches, where the founder prohibits his pastors or even members from writing books and related ventures, Afolabi allows his pastors to write their books and even plays some prominent role in their presentation to the public. Many of his pastors are authors of Christian and other books that have been a source of encouragement to many in the journey of life.

The ICM is another area Pastor Afolabi has been of immense blessing to the church and humanity. He uses the forum to hold free training sessions for pastors of Firstlove Assembly and other church groups. The sessions are held three or four times in the year in the church auditorium.
Participants include young church founders and senior church workers that seek direction and leadership for success in their callings and ministry. These pastors need tutelage, mentorship and direction.

During the last ICM, held on February 13, Afolabi taught from Leviticus 13, which dwells on the priest’s handling of the leprous and is considered dry and difficult to understand. After a painstaking reading of the entire chapter, Afolabi settled for verse two of the passage: “When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priest..” KJV.

Afolabi said whereas the priest sons of Aaron were able to perform in the capacity of their father, who could go for the chief priest; a pastor in the church should carry anointing like the senior pastor or bishop and discharge responsibilities of the senior pastor whenever the need arises. He told the pastors to be thorough on the pulpit and in general church administration, avoiding errors as much as possible. He told them to be prudent in managing church and personal finances. He told them to watch their words in church and out of it and to ensure they give the right counsel to people that come to them for it. As a pastor of pastors, he insists that younger pastors pursue the building of good character for themselves and ensure that their congregations are not involved in scandal.

Afolabi was one of the lead speakers at the 2016 edition of International Pastors’ Conference, which Sylvanus Ukafia, serving overseer of Insight Bible Church and chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in Akwa Ibom State hosted in Uyo, the state capital, last July. He told the over 1,000 delegates drawn from Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroun, Gabon, and Niger Republic to strive to fulfil the purpose for their creation and calling.

“You can’t truly succeed unless you know your root and the reason for your creation. When you know your root and your reason, and you pursue your reason to the point of accomplishment, that is success,” said Afolabi.
–––Akpaekong is a public affairs analyst and the publisher of Sippar magazine