Recently, Daystar Christian Centre distributed 20,000 back to school kits to students in Lagos, as a new academic session kicked off. Solomon Elusoji writes about the church’s motivation
One Saturday last September, Ilabeshi Gabriel, a bearded man in his mid twenties, stood for close to 10 hours, defying the harsh Lagos sun, to help facilitate in the distribution of back to school kits to some 20,000 students on behalf of Daystar Christian Centre. Two days later, Gabriel, who attends Daystar, took to Facebook to share his emotions.
“We plead and screamed in an effort to control the crowd,” Gabriel wrote, “But none of that mattered, not even the pains we went through. What mattered was that we were part of something. What mattered were the kids and the priceless smile on their faces. It didn’t matter if I had to stand for another 12 hours, as long as the kids were happy, excited with eyes full of hope; that was everything; that is everything.”
Gabriel’s effusive outpour of emotions resonates with the vision of Daystar’s leadership and why the church decided to undertake such a project. Senior Pastor at Daystar, Sam Adeyemi, has said the value of any church is measured by its impacts on the society where it exists and not the built cathedrals.
“We as a church believe and practice the teaching of Christ on being responsible to the society where we live,” Adeyemi said during the distribution. “We noticed the gap and a unit in our church started it over seven years ago and it has since become an annual event for us. This year, we decentralised around six various locations like Idimu, Agege, Ikorodu, Lekki, Badagry and Oregun in Lagos so that many people can benefit. We are doing 20,000 children this year and the reports getting to me show the pupils and their parents are happy. What is the value of a church if it cannot contribute to the society?”
Adeyemi also noted that although the government is doing its bit, church leaders must throw their weight on solving societal issues, particularly the challenge of providing quality education. He also urged government officials, at all levels, to maximise the opportunity to create credible legacies. “Leadership is a phenomena opportunity,” he said. “Selfishness and leadership don’t go together. It is sacrifice that makes the best of a leader’s opportunity. I want to encourage our leaders to pay more attention to these younger lives because they are our tomorrow as a Nation.”
The church benevolence unit head, Akinwande Ademosu said “the passion behind the programme annually is tied to the commitment of the church to raise the next generation of leaders. We are committed to see transformation in the true sense of it, not just in words. This massive expense is solely powered by the church without any agency’s support. However, we are open going forward to such so we can touch more lives in the society. It is about the people not the church.”
Intervening in schools
The journey of Daystar’s intervention in schools began when, one day, Adeyemi walked into Oregun High School and discovered there was no single chair or desk for students to use during instruction. “Tears welled up in my eyes that day when I saw the state of the classes because I attended public schools throughout my academic career,” he told THISDAY in an interview. “I asked where do these kids sit? They said on the floor; if they want to sit on a chair they bring it from their homes and when they are going they will take it along with them or it will be stolen before daybreak. It was too much for me to believe.”
Adeyemi blames Nigeria’s ruling class for the rot in the educational system, since their children go to boarding schools in Switzerland and the United Kingdom. “It is not that we don’t have money but it’s just going somewhere and grooming this young people is not their priority. The results are there for us right now, one million write JAMB and universities can only take a fraction of that number. What should the rest do? So you have those who passed WAEC, passed JAMB and can’t still find higher institutions to go. Some of them do that for three to four years before they can get into a university. All that will turn around to hurt the country.”
As part of its efforts to rid the Nigerian system of bad leaders, Daystar runs a Leadership Academy, which has been quite successful over the years. Included in the Academy is a programme for teenagers (age 13 to 19), which is run every July. During that programme, Adeyemi takes two courses, one of which is National Development where he discusses Nigeria with these young people.
“I cannot forget the very first one,” he said, “because I gave them the opportunity to ask questions and one of them asked what to do ‘if I believe Nigeria can change but my friends do not and they tell you that they have made up their minds that if they work in government when they become adults that they will steal money’. Now what do you do in a situation like that? My heart broke. One of our church members whose children went to school in the UK said that he was discussing with his friends, children of other rich Nigerians, and two of them were throwing banters. One said, ‘I saw your dad’s name in the newspaper, what is going on, how much did they say your dad stole because it’s nothing near what they said my dad stole’. When you hear those things they break your heart. The question now is whether the younger generation are listening, are they changing, are they redeemable? I will say the more challenging we find it the lower we must go to intervene.”
Built on leadership
Once, Sam Adeyemi was asked whether he speaks to the Nigerian President. “Yes,” he replied, before clarifying: “I know you are thinking about the president that is in the office now but I am discussing with the president that is going to be in office because I think that is the best time to talk to him or her.”
Adeyemi, together with his wife, Nike, have built a religious institution designed to churn out leaders who can function in any kind of capacity, either in the world of spirits or profit.
“We got inspiration from God before we started this church,” he told THISDAY. “Our purpose has always been the same: to raise role models in the society, to raise people who will be examples. And from scratch that indicated to us that the people who are called are influencers and leaders. So we started various platforms for doing this. But practically everything we do in our church is about growing people. It’s about helping people to find their purpose. There is something we say frequently in our church- ‘Your life is too small to be the purpose of your life’. We help people to break free from self centeredness, focus on other people, focus on people’s needs and then we help people to discover how they have been equipped by God with gifts, with talents to meet people’s needs. We encourage the acquisition of skills, we encourage our church members to get education, develop the use of their minds, specialise, develop expertise and learn to do things with excellence. All targeted towards service. That has made our church to engage the community in a practical way. Church for us is more than what we do during our services. In fact, we tell ourselves that our services are merely leadership conferences. They are places where we come refuel, recharge and then go out to meet people’s practical needs out there in the world.”
In 2002, the Leadership Academy came into existence, and Adeyemi says this was precipitated by the need to fill the huge gap of quality leadership training on the African continent.
“Africa has a reputation for producing some of the worst quality of leaders in the world,” he said. “Here we are in Nigeria, we know it. This is what we need. So somewhere along the line we asked ourselves amazing questions. So if this is such a huge area of need how come this is not part of our school curriculum? Why do we expect people to give what they don’t have? We allow people to get into leadership positions they mess up then we all complain, we grumble, we mourn. But what structure is there for preparing people, because leadership is a skill, leadership is learned and leadership has become a school curriculum now. I have a post graduate degree in leadership. I am running a terminal degree programme right now on leadership. All over the world, they are doing PhD in leadership. Where are the degree programmes on leadership in our universities? Leadership is more than an academic thing, it’s supposed to be part and parcel of your upbringing. So where is it in our primary school curriculum and secondary school curriculum? Two major things make a leader: character and competence. So where is that deliberate grooming of the character and deliberate cultivation of skills and expertise in leadership?”
Since the Academy was set up, tens of thousands of people have been trained as leaders, scaling through courses taught in typical business schools, such as: Financial Management, Project Management, Systems Development, Organisational Growth, Entrepreneurship and other practical things like Health Management, Family Success, and others.
“We also teach National Development,” Adeyemi said. “We take up all Nigerian issues and apply the principles that we learned in solving them and the testimonials that we have gotten are amazing because now employers in town recognise the small certificate that we give people these days. The Dean of one of the private universities told me two years ago, they put out advertisement for two vacancies. They processed about 3,000 people, two people were employed. When they tried to analyse what made the difference with the two they found out that the two had been to our leadership school. They realised that was what made the difference. The person told me that they are planning to make a proposal to us because the students that they disciplined may be suspended and when they come back to the university they get worse. So what they are planning is to build a partnership with us so that when they send them on suspension it will be compulsory for them to come to our leadership school so that they can come back better by the time they go back to school.”