By Koko Kalango
At the age of 23 I quit my 9-5 job in a French oil service company. In those days the banks were the choice place to work. An uncle of mine was a Director in one of the top international banks and offered to facilitate a job for me there. The thought of being locked up in a high-rise, fast-paced, cutting edge, techy-savvy office transacting financially petrified me. I fled the opportunity, put on my loafers and my rucksack and embarked on the exciting vocation of teaching French and English as second languages. My students included diplomats, captains of industry, directors of multinationals, other professionals, children and select individuals. That was in the early 90s. I also had one unlikely student: Mrs. Folu Adeboye.
What first fascinated me about this ‘student’ was the fact that as the wife of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), as well as leader of the women’s arm of the church as well as the mission schools (being a trained teacher herself), and a mother, she obviously had her hands full. I wondered why she would want to add French lessons to her already busy schedule. But I was too polite to ask, so I dutifully turned up at her office in Ebute Metta, weekly, to teach her French.
Our lesson time was the most difficult of all my lessons, not because the student was not keen or quick but because she allowed her flock interrupt us at will. She just could not tell them that she would not be available for one hour!
Apparently things have not changed much. In 2015 I found myself in the position of the needy flock. I had a challenge which got to Mrs Adeboye’s attention. I got a call from her. She asked for the details and I related them in as concise a manner as I could, conscious of the demand on her time. She then handed the phone to Pastor Adeboye for his prayer and counsel. Some months later, in 2016, I reached her on the same matter and she asked me to see her at the Redemption Camp the following day. This happened to be the time of her annual Feast of Esther convention. When I got to the venue and saw the multitudes seeking audience with her, I did not think I stood a chance. As I waited, I had an interesting chat with her diligent P.A. I told the lady that she had a duty to shield her principal from the pressing crowd. She agreed with me but proceeded to narrate what happened when she once did that. Mum Adeboye apparently found out, scolded her and told her to go to the bypass and the highways and call back all the people she had turned away! That day, I too benefitted from her benevolence as she spotted me and somehow made time out to see me, alone!
Once again Mum Adeboye decided to escalate my case for her husband’s attention. She found a way to leave the conference just to take me to her home where she left me and returned to the meeting but not before telling me to ensure I gave her feedback. Talk about leaving the 99 to attend to the needy 1 sheep!
The first time I set my eyes on Mrs Adeboye, she and Pastor Adeboye were attending the wedding of my sister, Nkoyo, to Dr Tony Rapu in August 1986. She wore a blue top on white and blue George wrapper. Till today she is always dressed in a lovely yet modest way. When I did my national service the year after, I joined my sister and my brother-in-law to worship at the Head Quarters of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, in Ebute Metta. As the church was relatively small at the time, we related closely to Mum and Dad Adeboye.
Once, in the early 90s, I got a peep into Mum Adeboye’s personal life when I interviewed her for our church magazine. In response to my question of what her typical day is like, I learnt that she wakes up at about 3am for personal fellowship with the Lord before joining the family prayers and then getting ready to face the day. What a life of discipline and commitment.
Mrs Adeboye also deserves applause for the way she has brought up their four children and the way she runs her home. My observation of the young Adeboyes over the decades is that, much like their parents, they are humble, hardworking and god-fearing. Sometime in the early 90s, a team of us church workers from RCCG Apapa Parish were in London to assist at Jesus House. We were staying in the home of ‘Uncle Toks’ and ‘Aunty Yinka’ Adesanya. Deolu, the oldest of the Adeboye ‘children’ also lodged here with his father. Deolu served us diligently. I found this very impressive, especially for a young man. Last year, my husband and I accompanied some English missionaries to see Pastor Adeboye. This time it was Leke, their last son, who served us, we got the same warm welcome. A visitor to the Adeboye home is always well catered for and when you are leaving Mum Adeboye is likely to load you with goodies (such as a variety of fruits and drinks).
Recently, my sister Eme Akenzua and I were with Mum Adeboye at her home, taking her hat orders. As we sat together deciding on styles, my mind went back over 25 years to when Eme began John 3V3 Hats. One day Mum Adeboye came to visit the office/our residence then in Surulere. She prayed for the business. Eme offered to give her some of the products as a gift but she insisted on paying for them. A few years later God blessed Eme with a shop on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. Again, Mum Adeboye came to pray and dedicate the new shop. Now here we were, in 2017, still trying on hats! God is indeed faithful. On the lighter side, it was evident when Mum Adeboye did not like a hat. She wears her heart on her sleeve. In the same way you can almost always tell what she thinks of a situation or a person by the look on her face!
‘Mama A’ has a sense of humour and a simplicity about her. From time to time she makes a witty remark with a straight face. On this occasion, for instance, to make a point that I was putting on weight while Eme was losing weight she teased that I was eating all the food in the house – Eme’s portion and mine. Again, she has a way of throwing a punch rather casually but her communication is deep with meaning. Once in a while she would also make a comment about herself and her husband. I recall her narrating how, at a time, whenever they travelled abroad and were offered food she would ask what a meal was made of before deciding whether or not to eat it. Her husband gave her wise counsel – don’t ask about the ingredients when a meal is set before you: just accept it from the host with thanks!
Indeed they once accepted an invitation to a meal at my parents’ home in Port Harcourt in the 90s. My father was very much impressed by the couple and he remarked that Mrs Adeboye reminded him of my mum – that would translate to her being the epitome of a virtuous woman.
In a private celebration of his 70th birthday in 2012, I heard Pastor Adeboye say he can tolerate anything from anyone but should someone trouble his wife, they would see another side of him. He also said if she happened to go to heaven before him we should get ready for 2 funerals because he would follow shortly.
At a surprise celebration for his 75th birthday and their 50th wedding anniversary, last year, Pastor Adeboye said it is impossible to find a woman like her. He told of a time they both completed a 40-day fast and shortly after he decided to go on another 40-day fast. She insisted on going the second round with him. All attempts to dissuade her proved futile. On one occasion, when he preached at House On The Rock Church in Lagos, he fondly referred to her as his girlfriend. Indeed in her, Pastor Adeboye has a dependable partner for his life’s journey, the ideal help mate for the amazing assignment God has committed to him.
Mrs Folu Adeboye is gentle but strong, unassuming but on top of things, simple but powerful, seemingly ordinary but deeply spiritual.
Who can find a virtuous woman? … her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband does safely trust in her… she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life… her husband is known in the gates when he seats amongst the elders of the land… she looks well to the ways of her household… her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her…favour is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman that fears the Lord she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates’ (Proverbs chapter 31).
On the occasion of her 70th birthday, I toast a compassionate, industrious, down-to-earth, beautiful and godly woman: Pastor (Mrs.) Foluke Adenike Adeboye.
*Koko Kalango, MON, founder, Rainbow Book Club & Project Director, UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.