Gboyega Akinsanmi writes that the new 30,000 capacity auditorium of the Deeper Life Bible Church is not just a befitting place of worship, but a doorway to the Kingdom of God
Unlike any period in its 43-year existence, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry (DCLM) dominated the public space recently. It was not for any bad reason anyway. It was about its ultramodern auditorium, a magnificent superstructure built inside the swamps with the help of 21st century technologies.
Even before its inauguration late April, this superstructure, which was designed to take in at least 30,000 worshippers at a time, has indeed become Gbagadaâ€™s sole portrayal. Gbagada, a sizable town where middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs often love to reside, hosts the cathedral many now refer to as the â€˜gate to Heavenâ€™.
Beyond its globally acknowledged grandeur, however, Pastor William F. Kumuyi, the Churchâ€™s General Superintendent, said the new auditorium â€œis not for self-glorification in any way for any reasonâ€ as critics might think, given the churchâ€™s conservative posture and its outright devotion to bringing the message of love to every home.
Rather, the pastor said this place â€œis first and foremost a gate to Heaven. It is indeed a pilgrimage centre to emancipate the society from the shackles of sin. It is a place set aside to address social ills plaguing our fatherland through the message of Christ. It is a place to prepare the Christian pilgrims for eternal homes.â€
In a country where social vices are rampant and armed insurgencies claiming lives at an unprecedented rate, the Church truly offers eternal hope for the Christians, who the Vice -President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo said, were facing persecution. The Church also represents a refuge, which remains committed to preaching Christ as the only way for the oppressed and downtrodden.
That is the sole mission of Deeper Life Bible Church, the general superintendent said. Its mission indeed justifies the imperative of the new auditorium, which Kumuyi said, is not in any way an advertisement of self or riches. Likewise, according to him, the new auditorium is not the outcome of mega wealth from some money bags. Rather, he said it was a product of membersâ€™ generosity.
In the beginning
From different accounts of the church leaders, the beginning was not pleasant. At inception, it was full of ups and downs. At some points, it was a tale of stern persecution, which the church and largely its members suffered at different times. But the journey progressed in faith, which a senior pastor said, had turned to be a testimony for the church and mostly its members.
After 43-year walk of faith, another senior pastor said the mission â€œhas turned out testimonies on a large scale. The testimonies are not just about the height the church has attained within the time of its existence, but also about members whose lives have been transformed and about the captives who have regained their freedom after accepting the message of love.â€
With 15 disciples that shared his conviction, Kumuyi took a leap of faith in August 1973 with a bible study, which according to him, started in his official quarters at the University of Lagos, Akoka. But three years after, the number grew in leap and bound, a development which compelled him to relocate to a sanctuary of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Ebute-Metta.
For years, Kumuyi taught at the bible study centres, which evidently produced fruits of conversion and diverse testimonies of deliverance for millions of souls that had come in contact with the church. Citing its unprecedented growth, the DCLM acquired a permanent site at Gbagada, where a 3,000-capacity church auditorium was constructed in 1980.
But the 3,000-capacity auditorium, which was built in 1979, does not fit into Kumuyiâ€™s dream of an international headquarters edifice. However, the former auditorium provided an ambient place of worship for the churchâ€™s teeming members, its converts from across all denominations as well as other religious faiths.
In true sense, the vision for the new auditorium predates 2005. In Kumuyiâ€™s words, the church took a leap of faith in June 2005 to construct a 30,000-capacity auditorium, whose substructure was handled by Trevi Foundation and superstructure undertaken by Cappa Dâ€™Alberto Construction Engineering Company.
At different stages, architectural and structural details were reviewed to achieve the goal of a modern international church auditorium, which the church claimed the general superintendent conceived almost four decade before it was eventually realised. With its completion, the church had become a pilgrimage centre where spiritual tourists are desirous of visiting in the country.
Apparently, its completion was a testimony, according to Kumuyi. For any reason, it was not unveiled to advertise the church or its riches. Rather, he explained, a new and larger auditorium became imperative due to the need to accommodate more worshippers. It was built purely from the membersâ€™ sacrifice of love.
There is indeed a lesson for every church to learn from the approach of Deeper Life to community development. As indicated in Kumuyiâ€™s speech, the church was not unmindful of its social responsibilities having the impact of the mega cathedral on its host community. The church, therefore, built a three-storey car par and a link bridge to create easy passage for residents of Atunrase, Ifako and Soluyi.
Aside, the church installed streetlights and undertook other projects around these communities. Kumuyi succinctly justified the churchâ€™s decision. He said: â€œWe embarked on additional projects because we believe that the development of our cities and country cannot be left to the governments alone. All churches and corporate bodies must be involved in discharging our social responsibilities.â€
In the love of truth
Aside the churchâ€™s superlative magnificence, the general superintendent noted that the church auditorium was dedicated to the message of love, which he said, was the core of his calling. Kumuyi did not just make this declaration based on his wishful thinking, which apparently had no place in his conviction.
Like the case of the biblical Solomon, Kumuyi conveyed the message of an indwelling spirit to thousands of worshippers that graced the churchâ€™s dedication. And his message was founded on a scriptural conviction espoused in the book of Haggai 2:9. Full of thanksgivings, the cleric declared: â€œThe glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts. And in this place, will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.â€
From different ends of this latter house, the worshippers kept responding in rancorous amen. Apparently, history has been a true witness to what Deeper Life represents not just in Nigeria, but also in Africa. In the era of its former house, as the church archive reveals, Deeper Life is synonymous to preaching the life and death of Jesus Christ. Also, it is dedicated to spreading the message of love.
Armed with this evidence, one does not need a prophet to conclude that the new auditorium, which Kumuyi likened to the biblical latter house, was conceived out of Kumuyiâ€™s undying passion for sinners and indeed in the love of propagating the truth. That also explained why he called on the church members to saturate the world with the message of Christâ€™s love for all men irrespective of their races.
He added that the Deeper Life Bible Church would remain true â€œto the propagation of the message of love embodied in the life of Jesus Christ on earth. So, this new auditorium will be a pilgrimage centre for spiritual development. It will be a centre to emancipate our society and people from the shackles of sin.â€
Kumuyiâ€™s call for aggressive evangelism was simple. His call was premised on a conviction that only the eternal truth in the message of Jesus Christ â€œhas capacity to lift Nigeria from the forces plaguing its journey to unity and prosperity. There is no person born or yet to be born that can stop the gospel of Jesus Christ.â€
It was conceived in the love of truth for which the latter house was constructed. On this same ground, the general superintendent passionately urged the church members â€œto defend and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ daily with a note that the inauguration of this latter house is not an exhibition of the worldly type. Rather, it is a gate to eternal rest that all humanity must seek.â€
In a rather pungent instruction, the cleric called on members of the church â€œto take advantage of the new auditorium to continue to propagate the gospel.â€ This rests on Kumuyiâ€™s conviction that only the eternal truth in the message of Christ â€œhas capacity to lift Nigeria from the force plaguing its journey to unity and prosperity.â€
In the eye of storms
Even though Kumuyi came with a message of hope, Osinbajo urged all Christians â€œto pray for the country and indeed those who are in different positions of power.â€ He then provided rare justification for this renewed request. Perhaps speaking based on his personal experience as the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Osinbajo said governance â€œis a spiritual warfare.â€
What makes governance a spiritual warfare? He gave different instances of persecution the Christians â€œare undergoing worldwide.â€ Even, Nigeria has its own share of this gall, which he believed, only true message of love could turn it around. For Christians worldwide, the Vice-President said, this is perhaps not the best of times.
Some have been murdered cold-blooded as reports revealed daily while others suffered unquantified scale of damage. As Osinbajo observed at the churchâ€™s inauguration, persecution of the Christians â€“ whether Orthodox, Pentecostal or Protestants â€“ is on the rise daily in Nigeria. By implication, he said, such killings and other cases of untold sufferings have become huge burden for the governments.
Sordidly, Osinbajo cited the case of two Catholic priests and 17 worshippers that suspected Fulani herdsmen murdered right on the altar at Ayar Mbalom, a community under Gwer East Local Government Area, Benue State. The Vice-President also cited the gory tale of how Boko Haram insurgents â€œare marauding Christians killing, kidnapping and raping women in the North-east.â€
For him, all these acts of violence on the Christian communities are truly a high level of sacrilege. On these horrific accounts, he came to a conclusion that governance â€œis a spiritual warfare. If anyone does not know that, I know. I ask the church to pray for every one of us in the position of authority in this land.
â€œFor any reason, we, as a body of Christ, must not lose focus. We must obey the Lord. It is the duty of the church, as we are, that the church prays for the government at all levels; that the church upholds the hands of those in government, not by complaining but by supporting us with prayers,â€ he said with a heart full of distress for the Christians in the eyes of persecution.
But Osinbajo admitted that the inauguration of the new church â€œis one of the proudest moments for me as a Christian. This great edifice is for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.â€ Aside, the Vice-President said it was â€œan exceptional moment in the history of Christianity in Nigeria and indeed the world. We must then work to achieve the Great Commission for the right to freedom of worship is the right guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution.â€