Her persona is summed up in simplicity and grace. Mrs. Florence Nnenna Uche, wife of the Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, is a woman of substance and a paragon of the ‘capable wife.’ But before her life as wife of Methodist Church’s spiritual head, Florence as she is fondly called pushed herself beyond boundaries to actualize her dreams. A school administrator par excellence, she got her school certificate after four children, acquired her first degree after six children. Selfless and resilient, Funke Olaode chronicles Mama Yard’s travails and triumphs as she celebrates six decades
Her husband, Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Chukwuemeka Uche’s image looms large as one of the respected spiritual fathers in Nigeria. Of course, that also places his wife on the front burner as both spiritual mother and a rallying point for women under her wings. But over the past 40 years since her path crossed with His Eminence, Florence as she is fondly called has been a poster of the ‘capable wife’ and a dependable ally of her husband. At the Prelate Mansion tucked inside the expansive compound of Methodist Yard in Yaba, Lagos, Madam Florence radiates contentment and warmth; her smile infectious.
Her age belies a woman who would be 60 on November 29. Are there secrets to her young looks?
“It is the grace of God.” Continuing, she says: “We are celebrating God’s gracious favour in the life of His daughter Florence Nnenna Uche. I consider myself as a lady who has special love from God Almighty. Looking young is a surprising thing to me because I pass through a lot of stress in the daytime as a mother, grandmother, head of various women groups, sister and wife of the prelate of the Methodist Church popularly known as ‘Mama Yard.’
“I passed through all the levels of the church, as a local minister, circular minister, circuit minister, assistant minister, arch-diocesan, conference minister’s wife that is the national level where I am today. The challenges and the joy climax together because in all these, one’s attention is needed at almost all times. I derive joy in the works of God because I consider myself favoured to be in such a position when I am not the most qualified. It is the grace of God.” There’s more. She notes: “Again, I also make sure that my home is at peace at all times. If the home is on fire, other surroundings will not be gathered or secured well. That peace that we share in my family is second to none. That was what necessitated my voluntary retirement from my duty post. Before my retirement as an administrative staff of Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, Imo State, I was shuttling between Lagos and Owerri on a weekly basis.
“I did that twice a week by air, at times, eight times in a month. I was also on the road very often from Enugu to Owerri when my husband was promoted to become the bishop of Enugu Diocese. I covered Owerri- Enugu by road for years and would have retired from there.
“When my husband finally became the prelate, it was two years again on air and my services were transferred from Owerri to Yaba College of Technology, Lagos where I worked for another two years. I would have been promoted to Principal Assistant Registrar before God asked me to leave.
“If I had continued, I would have gotten other promotions that would have tied me down the more. And that was when my services are needed most in the Church as the wife of the Prelate. I need to take my Ministerial programmes to the whole Federation and focus more on God’s work.”
Before Madam Florence’s present, there was her past as she revisited her childhood episodes particularly the civil war of 1966 that distrupted her early life. Though she hailed from Ohube in Ihube town in present-day Okigwe Local Government Area, in Imo, she has a tie to the North.
“My place of birth was Minna in Niger State. My father was a staff of the Public Works Department (PWD) and that made him to traverse the northern states like Kotangura, Kaduna in 1966 before the civil war broke out. As a child, I could remember my father’s voice as he hurried in and said, ‘Comfort, have you packed?’ My heavy pregnant mother asked, ‘What can I pack from a home I lived in several years?’ She picked a few things and gave me a small bag.
“That was how my father, mother, older brother and I left the comfort of our living in the North and moved to the train station that navigated to the East. While my mother was pushed into the train through the door, my brother and I were pushed through the window of the train,” she recalls.
After arriving at a place of refuge, what she saw wasn’t what she expected.
She explains: “We got to the village and it was not funny at all. There was a sharp contrast that I could not understand. That was my first experience that dazed me. The darkness alone was not funny, there was no tap water, no water system, cooking was done on firewood, not stove anymore. The sound of the crickets that cried in that darkness was out of this world.
“When we go to the bush to answer the call of nature, we would see snakes. While battling of settling at home, the war came to meet us again in the village and pushed us inside the bush finally. From there, we moved to Uturu, also in Okigwe where we were quartered for years before the war ended. There was no schooling at that time, but after the war ended, we enrolled into school and continued through Ovim Methodist Girl’s High School.”
After the Nigerian civil war, Florence went back to school to actualize her dream. But her encounter with His Eminence in 1980 charted a new path in her life and temporarily halted her dream.
While in secondary school, several suitors came to seek her hand in marriage. How would she respond?
Florence admits: “I did not listen to them because my education was my priority. But in December of 1980, Christmas happened to fall on Monday, which means that there were services on Sunday and Monday as well. My parents as good Christians especially my father would never allow us go to church late because he said, in his vision anyone who gets to church late, the angels would not recognize them and again, if you leave the church before closing time, the angels would not shake your hand as they stand invisibly by the door to shake worshippers.
“Again, they positioned me in the front seat to listen so as to come back and tell them what was said. My father said to me, ‘Nne, the front row is for the serious-minded students, the middle row is for the noise-makers while the back benchers are unserious people in the church.’”
According to her, she met her future husband during her first holiday from Ovim Methodist Girl’s School.
“I didn’t know he was looking for a wife. I have always known ‘Brother Emeka,’ now my husband, as my Sunday School teacher before he became a young priest who preached on both Sunday 24 and Monday 25 December. He had resolved after his prayers that any of the girls whom he had been considering that would defy the Christmas celebrations and attend both services would be his wife.
“After the service on Christmas Day, he called on me; greeted me very well, held my hand and said, ‘Are you going home?’ I said ‘yes.’ Suddenly, he said, ‘You are my wife.’ It sounded very awkward to me. He said, ‘Are you lost? Go and tell your mother that I will invite you to come and see my family.’ I agreed,” she narrates.
Florence felt his proposal came like a command. But why did she listen?
“I listened to him because a few days before his proposal, I had a dream where I saw a bed in a room, a white cassock hung on the wall, six-spring bed and a pillow. On that cassock were cobwebs and I used a broom to remove the cobwebs. In that dream, a man walked in and asked, ‘Nne, are you removing the cobwebs?’ I said yes and woke up,” she exlains.
“My interpretation was that maybe God is saying we should not wear dirty robes and sing during this festive period. I quickly went to church and washed two robes for my friend and I. It was when I finally visited him after three days of his proposal that my vision was confirmed. My mother asked me, ‘Nne, this one that you are telling me, maybe you like him because you have been driving other suitors away. But I know that if you marry him, he does not have anything now, in future, you will have all that you need and more and will enjoy your marriage.’ One thing led to the other, we got wedded and family life set in immediately, education was put on hold.”
Many women would have preferred a man with a deep pocket and turned a blind eye to following a man’s pastoral passion.
Florence admits: “ I listened to my mother’s counsel. When he came as a young priest to ask for my hand in marriage, my mother said don’t look at your friends who are marrying men with earthly things like ladies’ machines, trunk boxes filled with clothes that suitors normally bring. I want you to focus on your education first. When Brother Emeka’s time comes, his wealth will be like a drop, and grew to become an ocean. I was six years old when my parents took me to the front seat and since then, I have not left the front seat as if they knew what I would be in future. I have actually admired being in the work of the Lord. I did not know I would marry a minister.”
For Madam Florence, her life’s trajectory lies between self-determination and self- actualizationas she rekindled her early dream.
“It was after my fourth child that I completed my secondary school and got my first degree in Environmental Social Studies (Education) after my sixth child and have also attended several courses in my calling. I was introduced to church at age six, been married a minster of God for 40 years, and became ‘Mama Yard.’”
What has been her staying power?
“My staying power is prayer, commitment, and dedication, passion for the work, love for my husband, children, and people within and around us, sharing. Another strong weapon is revelation, creativity and initiating original programmes.”
Called into the Methodist fold, she’s played many roles as a spiritual mummy which she mixes with philanthropy. Her legacies still lingers where she had served and still serving.
She discloses, “After our wedding God asked me to start programmes for the women. Now, there are a lot of projects.”
According to her, doing the work of God also comes with challenges.
“Humanly speaking, there is no one that can do the work of God if you are not willing to do so. Isaiah 1:18-19 says: ‘Come let us reason together. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat from the land.’ It is that willingness and obedience to the word and work of God that have made us to put behind all the distractions. While I was in Owerri as a bishop’s wife, I met such brick but God proved himself,” she reveals.
“I told the women that we would create a project that would yield proceeds in future, hell was let loose. But at the end, we raised nursery and primary schools and bought a school bus that is yielding money today. God gave me the grace of vision and it has been working for me.”
Like father, like mother, the offsprings of the Uches have embraced God wholeheartedly.
“We are grateful to God that our children are doing great things. One is engaged in fulltime ministry,” she enthuses.
Balancing family life with the ministry isn’t for the faint-hearted.
But Florence, has got a hang of this.
“It has not been easy,” she acknowledges. “But like I said, willingness, obedience and responsibility to the work of God will lead you right. I can tell that I am graciously favoured by God to take care of all these responsibilities. I am celebrating God’s gracious favor in my life because I am not the most qualified, just a child of God’s grace.”
Turning 60 in a couple of days, she says: “I will continue to devote my time to God. I will continue and end up with God. I will concentrate on counselling the young people, married couples and write books that will empower the young people.”