Dr. Caleb Ayanwusi, a medical doctor with love for community health outreach and General Overseer, Gospel Herald International Church with presence in major cities nationwide, was a write-off as a child. But his encounter with Jesus Christ turned his life entirely around from a rascally youngster to a responsible person. Since his conversion, he has been putting smiles on the faces of ordinary people using the medical profession and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ayanwusi, who turned 60 today, shared with Eddie Alegbe how his life turned around from being a forgotten child to a vessel God has used to rescue thousands in his generation
You turned 60 years today. Looking back at your life, what lessons can you share about life?
I am thankful to God Almighty who has made it possible for me to reach this stage in life because my background was nothing to write home about. From what my mother told me, I was not expected to be a responsible adult even if I ever lived long in the first place. At some points, I became influenced by bad peer group pressure. My character was alarmingly bad. I was a rascal. My parents started to fear that I might not make it in life as an adult. Fortunately, however, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ. He turned around my life. That turning point marked the beginning of the goodness of God.
Can you mention what made your parents write you off as a child?
To be honest, I was not a responsible boy in the real sense of the word. I fomented a lot of troubles and beat up people anyhow. I did not know what was just pushing me to misbehave even when there was absolutely no need to do so. The trouble was so much that no school in my locality wanted to accept me if not that my father was a community leader. My case was miraculous turning around from one extremity to the other.
Were you at any time involved in drugs or alcoholism?
Thankfully, I was not into drugs, but I was a chain smoker. My father was a tobacco farmer and merchant who was always with cigarettes in boxes as the Chairman of Tobacco Farmers Association of my town, Ogbomoso at the time. That influenced me a lot to smoke. I started smoking at the primary school. When I entered secondary school, I used to visit my elder brother during long vacation. He was working in Ilorin, Kwara State. From there, I also began smoking Indian hemp. I stopped Indian hemp in 1976, when a friend requested me to give him one particular thing. I did not know he had a hidden agenda. He had already secured a promise from me to give him whatever he requested. When he requested that I should stop smoking weeds, I had no choice than to give it up. Since then, I never returned to it.
What is your advice to youths who are engaged in immoral behaviour and possibly drug addiction?
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. For any person to become successful in life, he must fear God. I always tell young people one guiding principle. They must do away with anything or activity that can endanger their life. I always encourage them that whatever they cannot showcase proudly in the public, they should not engage in it in secret.
At what point did you decide to become a Christian? Or what motivated you?
I can only attribute it to destiny. I brought Islam to my family so to speak. My father became a Muslim in order to marry my mother because my maternal family members were chronic Muslims where I also grew up. For my father to marry my mother, they insisted, he must convert to Islam. Even though I was involved in all vices, I had the fear of God. I did not tell lies. I did not steal. I did not womanise or take anything that did not belong to me right from the cradle. But I grew up to see myself causing troubles in the neighbourhood and in school. I did not like it, but had no control over it. I even gave money to Imams to exorcise the root of the devil in me.
After I finished my Muslim prayers one day, Jesus Christ appeared to me in a dream where He gave me a scriptural verse to read even though I had no idea of how to open the Bible. I approached one of my cousins and he read the verse to me from John 14:6. In this verse, Christ said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” From that moment, my journey to Christianity began in earnest. Apart from being a Christian, I also became a church founder. From my personal experience, I have discovered that if a Muslim gives his life to Christ, he does not require any push anymore, because the kind of zeal Muslims give to Islam is very strong and it transits to other religions automatically.
As a former Muslim and now a Christian leader, how do you now see the rivalry between the two religions today?
We do not need to contest or drag it. What is mostly responsible for the suspicion is ignorance and selfish interest. We have turned religion to political parties where you criticise whatever your opponents do whether right or wrong. As a born Muslim, I know most good things I learnt in Quran have been very helpful to me as a Christian. There are some injunctions in Islam that help one to develop scripturally. You cannot see me criticising Islam or fellow Christian faith because religion is religion and no religion is perfect. Only Jesus Christ makes the difference in perfection. Do not forget that Islam and Christianity both emanated from polygamy. Ishmael did not recognise the authority of Isaac and Isaac will never subject himself to the authority of Ishmael his elder brother. It is simply a rivalry from two mothers – which makes religions imperfect. The only difference between Islam and Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which the Islamic religion will never accept because doing so will render the two religions the same. Do not steal. Do not kill. These commandments are the same in the two religions. I can defend it anywhere. Islam even preaches against sins more than Christianity. The Quran calls Jesus Christ Anabi Isah. It even talks about Jesus Christ more than the Bible. The only denial that the Koran has is that Jesus Christ was too holy to be killed.
Does it not bother you that some religious leaders and some Christians in positions of authority are the ones perpetrating one evil deal or the other?
It has always been like that even before Jesus Christ was born. If such acts are not correctable in the church, then can it be corrected outside? You go to our religious leaders today, what do you see? Everybody is protecting his pride at the expense of others. Take this COVID-19 pandemic for instance. They are agitating for re-opening of churches solely because they have been starved of the income from tithes and offerings they collect every Sunday without minding the health implications to worshipers.
What about the high level of sins and corruption among some religious leaders?
I will not tell you things that happen outside my jurisdiction, which is Pentecostal environment. Some churches, as we speak, have millions of Naira in their custody, while some of their members are crying because of hunger. Many of them have even turned the church to their personal or family business that their wives or children inherit after them. If you conduct a survey of many of these rich pastors today, you will discover that they were from poor backgrounds. Many of them were jobless. But today they are riding on people’s influence, parading exotic cars and jets whose monies were gathered from their congregations.
Do you frown at the situation whereby the husband, the wife and the children are the board members and trustees of these churches?
I do not subscribe to the idea that the church belongs to an individual. If you were called by God, did God also call your wife and children? Did God ask you to handover the church to your son? Let the members decide that important decision after you must have left. But if your son or wife works for it and the Church decided to give them, it can be understood. That is exactly what you find in our political environment today where a governor wants to install the son to take over after him, the wife to be in the Senate or House of Representatives and the driver to be a councillor.
As a church founder, are you saying the leadership and administration of your church is not between you, your wife and your children?
None of the people you mentioned is a board number. I am proud to say that none of the Church documents is with me. They are all with the secretariat. If I die today, the church may decide not to bury me in the church premises because my family may not be able to influence them. That is why I said religion has become personal interest and not God’s interest. This is the reason there are conflicts everywhere today.
You gave palliatives to your church members and residents of the communities around your church. What motivated you to do that?
We still have selfless Christians, but they are very few. We must have feelings for others. Christianity should not be about sympathy, but empathy for others. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ left His comfort zone to carry our sins and transgressions. You can imagine how painful it is to suffer for sins He never committed. If you are hungry, Jesus was also hungry. That was why He was able to help us. He felt what we felt. It is not about being able to feed yourself, are the people around you able to feed as well? If you are selfless, you will not be able to close your eyes to the needs of the people around you. I knew a church member and a worker not in my Church, where the wife had an operation during child delivery and was billed N120,000. He could only pay N40, 000.00 out of the medical bill. He approached his General Overseer, who prayed to God to provide for him. After two weeks, the church member saw an advertisement where a property was being offered for sale at N35 million. He proposed the deal to the General Overseer, who promptly paid for the property and from which the church member was able to offset the wife’s medical bill from the commission he collected.
What is your view on the controversies on taxing religions organisations?
Government should collect their taxes where the church goes into investment even Jesus our Lord paid tax. Any country, where people do not pay tax, will not have a stable economy. I pray our crude oil should run dry one day and Nigeria will know why taxes must be paid. Three things are militating against our development in Nigeria – overpopulation, law breaking and poor tax culture. What stops the government from collecting taxes from church organisations where their leaders are driving big cars and jets? Does a pastor need a N150 million car before he can preach the gospel?
As a medical doctor, is there any relationship between medicine and evangelism?
It is like A and B. It helps you to achieve some things. There is a saying that a hungry man cannot listen to a sermon except food first. If someone is having a headache, will he be able to go to church? Medicine is like ministering to the needs of the people everyday. You now have healthy people who are happy to attend church services any day.
Is this the motivation for establishing the Caleb Ayanwusi Foundation?
I have had that dream long ago. I sited my hospital here because my Church Headquarters was here. I witnessed some needless fatalities, most especially among pregnant women. When I had the opportunity to set up my practice, I had to leave the city to come to the rural areas. Perhaps, I would be able to save one or two lives. Some of the patients, who got healed, keyed into the dream. They suggested that we should make it a foundation so that we can make it open to the whole world and more hands would be able to join the folds.
From your experience as a pastor and as a medical practitioner, how do you expect the government to touch the lives of ordinary people?
It is not a difficult thing. If the people in government can stop corruption and embezzlement of funds and be realistic to the extent that the poor need care, Nigerians are not too demanding. They do not require too many things. They need basic health and welfare as stipulated in the constitution. The primary purpose of any government is the security and welfare of its citizens. For example, give two tins of rice to a Nigerian he will praise you from here to anywhere.
If the government can spend half of the budget on what was budgeted for, life will be easy for everybody.
What is the focus of your foundation?
We focus on the poor and the vulnerable in the society. We are going to face maternal health. We have brilliant children, who cannot go to school. They will also benefit even if it is two in a year or 100 by way of scholarship.
How did you meet your wife?
It was my mother who got my wife for me. My mother had a very close friend who had a very pretty daughter. My mother felt the best way to cement the friendship was by allowing her son to marry her friend’s daughter. Her friend agreed. When we finally met, my wife first rejected my proposal. But later she sent me a note in which she gave her consent. I made the proposal.
When was your happiest moment and your most sad moment?
The first day I preached Christ in an open crusade was my happiest moment on earth. The saddest day in life was the day my closest friend, a pastor, took advantage of my situation to conspire with my resident pastor and take over members of my church.