‘I Came Close to Death Four Times but…’

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Dr. Denni Inyang, general overseer, Sure Word Assembly Okota, Lagos in this interview with Mary Ekah, shares his life experience, his frustration of waiting for over 20 years for fruit of the womb with his wife as a minister, among other issues

What does hitting 55 mean to you sir?
It means a whole lot. First of all, I am alive and well. I am not doing this interview on life support or even from the hospital bed. So God has been good to me. Just being alive till today is enough to celebrate. You see, I came close to death four times but each time God saved me. The first was during the Civil War. I was about five years old and was going to the stream with my step mother when I slipped and fell into a well. It was a very deep well full of water. As I was going down, my hand caught a stick. That gave my step mom the chance to reach down and grab me. The second close shave with death was as a student in Methodist Secondary School, Nto Ndang, in Ikot Ekpene. I was a member of the school football fan club and we were all crammed into a pick up van heading to the stadium to cheer our school to victory. I was so hemmed in that I could not see the outside. We were singing and drumming. The driver was swerving the van left and right to the rhythm of our songs. I can’t tell what happened but suddenly I heard screaming from everywhere and the next thing was that I saw myself seated by the roadside and policemen all around us. I was told that the vehicle had flipped over severally. Yet, I came out or should I say I was brought out, without a scratch. Again, while in the University of Calabar, I went from the campus to Ikot Ansa to get some documents needed to collect my bursary. I was on a bike travelling at full speed on the expressway when suddenly a car crossed our path. The bike man and I saw the car but it was too late to do anything. We slammed into the car and I flew into the air. I was going to land head first on the tar but God in His mercy intervened and provided a small spot filled with sand right on the express and my head landed there. You can imagine what would have happened if my head met the coal tar.

The last one was around year 2000. My wife and I had an event at Golden Gate Hotel, Ikoyi. We were driving back at about 9p.m. with a couple we had given a lift and as we turned the bend into third mainland bridge, we ran into a group of robbers. It happened so fast that before I knew it, we were surrounded by very young boys, wielding dangerous weapons. They took my wife’s bag. Of course, we did not resist. I don’t know what I did that made one of them to cock his gun to shoot me. But God saved me as another member of the gang jumped at the guy and pushed the gun away.

I have recounted these encounters to show how good God has been to me. He preserved me because He had a purpose for my life. My joy and contentment is that I’m living out that purpose today. You see, God has been good to me. I am 55 but I feel 45 and some people have even accused me of looking 35. He is renewing my youth like the eagle’s.

Tell us about the challenging moments of your life. When were the major milestones and turning points?
Life is, indeed, full of issues and challenges. It’s the challenges that make life interesting, isn’t it? Someone said that greatness is not seen in what you have achieved but in what you have overcome. There are many things that I can talk about but, for want of time, I will pick out just two or three.
I had a challenging childhood and that was because my father and my mother were separated. I should ask my Dad when next I see him how old I was when that happened because I never saw them together as husband and wife. Well, that left me dangling between two worlds. Growing up, I had the feeling that the environment was quite hostile to me. Unfortunately, the way I thought I could cope with that was to become rebellious. I don’t think that anyone really expected me to amount to much. But God did. He had His loving eyes on me. Before I travelled far on the road to perdition, He saved me and changed my life forever.

When I decided to go to the university, I did not really know what that would entail. My father was out of the country at that time, trying to find his feet in a strange land and my mother was a Grade Two teacher. The burden fell more on her but the demands were more than she could bear so I ended up going through school mostly on charity. Things were rough but I pulled through with the help of my friends. One particular year, it was a friend that paid my school fees. It was normal for me to spend the holidays with my friends because I really didn’t have a home to return to. As a result of that experience, I value my friends and place a lot of premium on relationships. Like the scripture says, a brother is born for adversity and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. So whenever I have an opportunity to be of help to another, I count it a privilege. That was what motivated me to start a scholarship scheme about 10 years ago so as to assist those who are in need, like I was.

Now, let me talk about the challenge I faced in ministry. I know there are many who would like to hear that. Sure Word Assembly started in a tiny room of a brothel with nothing except the clear conviction that I was in the will of God. I did not know it was a brothel until we showed up for our first service but there was nothing I could do because we had no money to pay for a fancy place. We could not even afford to print a banner or a signboard. We had no public address system and no musical instruments whatever and I had no money to hire any. So we got started with a seminar which had in attendance my wife and I, one convert of ours and three sympathisers who made it clear they would not be members. That was in 1998. Ten years after, we were a church you could not ignore in the Okota community. We had hundreds of worshippers attending our multiple services every Sunday. So, riding that momentum, we moved to an Event Centre which, we got to discover, were not only too expensive but could not give us the comfort we were used to. It was at that point that we decided to move to a land which we had bought few years before then. That movement greatly tested our faith but for God, could have snuffed life out of the church. I used to joke with friends that surviving that period was clear proof that God indeed called me.

Before the movement, Ago Palace Way was good, even if not perfect. I used to jog from my house to our land. But shortly after we moved there, the road completely collapsed and became unmotorable. I’m talking about the section between Century Hotel and the bridge, if you know the area well. Just before our church junction there was a big ditch which busses could not pass. Taxis would not take you beyond there to our church no matter how much you offered to pay. Those who drove through the ditch with their car did so at great risk. And that was a risk our members took week after week. Some days before preaching, I would thank the people for coming against all odds. And I meant it. I was touched that our members were so committed. Did we lose some? For sure. A lot of people could not cope and dropped out. But majority of our people stood firm. We knew that the road would be fixed but when, nobody could tell. In the meantime, we kept praying and I kept prophesying over the road. Whenever I declared that the road would be completed, well paved, dualised and complete with street lights, the people clapped but I’m not sure all of them believed it. I had to keep hope alive. The turning point came when, in answer to our prayer, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode looked in our direction and fixed that portion of Ago Palace Way. We are still grateful to Governor Ambode for that.

You waited for over 20 years to have your biological children, what kept you going for that long and what lessons did you learn?
I knew that you were going to ask this question that was why I did not go into it when I was discussing my challenges. This was the mother of all challenges. I have documented that experience in a book I wrote for men called Waiting Dad: What Should a Man Do When the Babies Are Yet to Come?
I got married at the age of 27. I am an only son and you know what that means in our culture. My wife was 24 and both of us were just in love. Initially, children were not on our minds. After a few years, we thought we were ready. That was when we realised there was a problem. My first reaction was that of a typical African man who thinks that when the baby has delayed to come it must be the woman’s problem. You know, that African type that would not even follow his wife to see a doctor or accept to do a basic fertility test. After some years, I knew I had to do something because time was running fast. So, my wife and I started seeing doctors, and we saw all types. Some would make us feel that with a little treatment, my wife would get pregnant in no time. It did not happen and we were heartbroken. And some would give us diagnosis that made the situation seem hopeless. But we refused to give up. It is easy to talk about it now but waiting for a baby is not a pleasant experience. It is more difficult for a teacher of faith like me. But in spite of my experience, I kept teaching that there is no impossibility with God. I would stand out there in church with my wife sitting right in front and declare that by covenant, no woman who is born again is barren. The devil would whisper to me, “what of your wife?” And I would answer, “She is not barren!” I really believed that my wife would give birth to children one day, no matter what and no matter how long. That was because I saw in God’s word that if we served the Lord, none would be barren.

Did I mention that we did some surgeries? My wife did a surgery to remove fibroid while I underwent what they call a vericocelectomy. When all the specialist physicians and consultants didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, we tried IVF. That also didn’t work. Then we tried immunotherapy and it failed. So we just waited on God. At a point, we stopped praying for children. Whether it was prayer fatigue or faith, I don’t know. I told my wife that we had prayed long enough and God was not deaf. So we would pray and fast for every other thing except for children. In all those years, putting away my wife or having a child by another woman were never options. Why? Because I love my wife. It did not matter to me whether she gave birth to a baby or not. I did not see her primarily as a baby making machine but a lover and a life companion. And you know what? In over 20 years of waiting for a baby, my wife and I never quarrelled over it in any way. Nobody abused anybody or called anybody names. Okay, I called her names but good names. I used to call her by the names of our unborn children. But I did not put the blame on her. I took responsibility. I didn’t also look for a witch to blame. I guess if I looked hard enough, I could find one in her family, or even in mine. We just kept serving the Lord, knowing that He would make all things beautiful in His time. Let me emphasise that our love for each other and our commitment to God’s Word kept us going. We were also blessed to be surrounded by families and friends who showed us a lot of understanding and support.

What lessons did I learn? The first and most important is that with God all things are possible. When all hopes were gone, God came through for us. By the time my wife got pregnant, she had stopped seeing her period for four years. A kind hearted doctor sat her down one day and told her to accept the fact that she would never be pregnant again. But God overruled medical science. And He did it in a dramatic way. Now we have three wonderful children: Lovely, Awesome and Gladsome.

Another lesson I learnt is that there is no challenge a couple cannot handle and no pain they cannot bear if husband and wife stick together. I think it’s particularly unbearable for a woman when the husband becomes a judge and subjects his wife to all manner of ridicule and humiliation. Some husbands put the blame only on the wife even when they themselves have issues to deal with.

I also learned that you can live a happy life through your years of waiting. Don’t put your life on hold because you don’t yet have children. Keep living your life and pursuing your dream. At the end, your success and fulfilment in life will not be measured by how many children you have but by how well you have fulfilled your life’s purpose.

You are heavily involved in youth empowerment. How can youths make it big in the Nigeria of today?
Yes, I am passionate about youth empowerment because I understand the challenges facing our youths and the trauma they go through in their attempt to eke out a living. In my youth, the challenges were not different. There was a time when all you needed was to graduate from the university and a job would be waiting for you. I missed that era. When I graduated from school, I could not get a job immediately. I had to do all manner of things to survive.

My first advice to any youth who wants to make it anywhere, not only in Nigeria, is simple: don’t outsource your future to anyone, not even the government. Take responsibility for your life and decide that no matter what comes your way, no matter what circumstance you find yourself and no matter what others think of you, you will make it. Until you make up your mind to succeed, you will always have good and legitimate reasons to fail. As a youth, you should not be at the mercy of your environment. Recognize your potential and unleash it to create the future you desire.

Anyone who wants to make it big must attempt big things. No youth should be satisfied with handouts. He must capture a vision of a higher life and pursue it with all he’s got. Above all, he must realize that in life, without God, all your efforts will be in vain. I gave my life to Christ at the age of 16 and I believe that without that my story would be nothing worth reading about. I wish every youth would do the same.