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In The beginning…

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Our family relocated to Abuja from Lagos in October 2000. Setting out for the federal capital, I knew that God was sending me to do a new work of Ministry as I was, until then, one of the Ministers at the City of David Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Lagos. My wife, Obiageli (Oby), who had been assigned back home from the Harvard University Centre for International Development in the United States, was provided a dual purpose accommodation (office and home). It was located in the Maitama District.

Within weeks of our relocation to Abuja, I had a chance meeting with Pastor Ugo who was a church worker colleague during the early 90's at Freedom Hall (the old Apapa Parish of RCCG on Jimoh Odutola street in Surulere, Lagos). Ugo would subsequently become my Assistant Pastor in the new work that became The Everlasting Arms Parish (TEAP) of RCCG.  Pastor Olu Obanure (now of blessed memory) was at that time the Pastor in charge of the Northern Region. He and his wife, Funke were the first team sent from the then Apapa Parish in Lagos to start a RCCG Parish in Abuja. It was therefore providential that I had the privilege of sharing the vision for a new work with them. The Obanures were extremely supportive of our vision to establish a new RCCG Parish in Abuja under the administrative oversight of the City of David Parish then led by Pastor Eskor Mfon (now also of blessed memory) in Lagos. So supportive were the Obanures that they started having scheduled prayer sessions with us to prepare for the new work. 

At that time, we had no clue on what the name of the Parish should be; nor its location within the city. We therefore relied on prayers to receive direction from God even as we began to take the necessary steps for establishing the Parish. Eventually, God impressed on me that the Parish should be called The Everlasting Arms Parish from His word in Deuteronomy 33: 27: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you saying, ‘Destroy them!" 

From that moment, the Vision of God for TEAP was simple: It is, "to empower us to work with Him as He builds us up to become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national community Church with a focus on loving the Lord Jesus and loving one another." 

Identifying a venue for Church services was crucial. But providentially, our residence was so large that we decided, at least in the interim, to convert one of the living rooms for church services. We commenced our services on the 3rd of December 2000 and for the next year and a half, began our search for a permanent church venue. 

The church services started with only two and a half families: My family, Pastor Ugo Ikpeazu's family and Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Azodoh whose husband was at that time still in the military and resident in Lagos. However, as months went by, more families joined our services and the numbers began to grow. When, 18 months later, my wife completed her Harvard University assignment and was appointed into the Federal Government of Nigeria, our accommodation was still available. With the former office section given to us as part of our residence, we had even more space available to use for Church activities. 

We, however, did not have the financial and human resources that a new Church Parish required. Yet, I recall how all our family members chipped in to make the vision possible during the first year of TEAP. We were doing everything. We were the ushers. We were the prayer warriors. And we were choir members. One major highlight of our gathering was an after-church-service activity which we called the "Upper Room". After each Sunday service, our congregation would climb up the staircase to interact and feast on any meal of that day. The Upper Room reminded us of the way the Early Church is described in Acts of the Apostles. 

As a Church congregation, we and our young ones were growing in number, growing in the Spirit of God and faith and also closely bonding within and across families. But while the Church grew with many more people attending our services, our landlord became disaffected. Despite explaining to him that the dual use was provided for within the lease agreement (although for office purposes) and that using our home for Church was temporary, he went ahead to serve notice of unwillingness to renew our lease on expiration. With that development came an urgent need to find a new home as well as finally settle into a proper Church facility. 

A colleague of my wife, Mallam Nasir Elrufai (current governor of Kaduna State), who was amazed and impressed with what he regarded as selflessness of my Ministry to Prisoners which I was at that period carrying out at the Kuje Prisons, made a pledge to help us find a location for Church services when it became critical. He took a strong interest in our Ministry efforts and was instrumental to our being allowed the temporary use of then Sofitel Hotel (now NICON Luxury Hotel). The hotel was abandoned and vacant at the time but there were plans to complete the construction and furnishing for its use by the Federal Government to host the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government conference. Fortunately, we were able to occupy and use one of the several halls at Sofitel up until the time we had to move out for its completion work. 

During our time at Sofitel Hotel, we became aware of several ex-service (army) men who were sleeping on the streets. We designed a welfare programme to care for them. We fed them not only with the word of God but also with food just as we met their other needs. So deprived were they that many of them would collect provisions such as clothing and Bibles and sell them to earn cash. It was a huge financial burden for us and the Church to care for those abandoned pensioners. But our welfare efforts led to the salvation of some of them and their presence increased the membership of the Parish.

At some point, we decided that it was more convenient for the pensioners to have a Parish of the Church closer to their abode. We went on to establish a mission Parish for them and called it “Sought Out Parish” under Deacon Philip Yakubu. It was located within the shanty community behind the Abacha Barracks where majority of the pensioners lived.

Visiting their community brought us in close contact with pernicious poverty. That community was only 15 minutes from the seat of government and yet was one of the poorest places in Nigeria at the time. The children in the community were mostly out-of-school even though many of them were evidently very intelligent. So, we designed a school programme for them and focused on supporting their mothers in the trades and entrepreneurship for improved household income.  And that began for us the phase of ministering to the poor that subsequently became core to the vision of TEAP.

When our time to vacate the premises of Sofitel drew closer, we started a congregational prayer session with the theme, “Cry your Cry”. As the Pastor, I would lead the corporate aspect of the prayer and ask our members to cry: "Oh God! Where do we take the church to now?” With church membership growing significantly in number, it was a troubling period for me. 

Notwithstanding my apprehensions, I did not want to dampen the spirit of the members and so would speak with confidence and optimism on how God would hear our cries and grant us a great location. I would say to the congregation; "where God is taking us to, we will have a school as part of church premises". With that, I encouraged those saddled with responsibility of searching for the new location to look for places that could accommodate that dream.

The search was intense but it was very difficult and a trying period for me as the Pastor. I remember that at some point I was really deeply distressed as I no longer knew where to turn to since we were not making progress in finding a venue. On one service day, I laid flat on the church floor in Sofitel and cried out to God, telling Him that I was exhausted and overwhelmed and that I had no idea where to take the Parish in the coming days. That day, I got an assurance from God that He would take care of the situation. Rising up, I felt at peace in my spirit even without knowing whether there would be a manifestation of the promise.

In between this time and when we found the new location, we simply had to move out of Sofitel as the quit notice was definitive. So, we temporarily rented a place within Savannah Suites. That move resulted in declining membership since not many people were comfortable with an itinerant church. People generally do not like the idea of a ‘Nomadic’ church without a permanent address and so, many of the members left TEAP as we struggled to settle into a venue.

When finally God intervened, He did so through an unusual and very self-effacing gentleman who owed no favours to me and my family and who over the years has become family to us. My friend, who is in the business of estate management, not only helped with the search but was pivotal to the success we ultimately achieved when we found and secured the most suitable option for the dream of locating a Church and starting a School consistent with the RCCG vision for Education. 

Before the success, we had to despairingly revert to using our living room for week-day services because Savannah Suite was both too costly and inadequate for all our church needs. With that, we lost even more members! However, our spirit revived when our benefactor got involved and succeeded in finding a three-story building in Port Harcourt crescent in Garki that was the profile of what we needed for our vision of Church and School. When we began negotiating the rent it was the lowest and the cheapest among comparable buildings. Even then, the cost was way beyond our capacity. So I kept on praying because I had not heard a word from God on how we would be able to afford the lease of the building. All that we had at the time was less than N2 million and the rent was about N7.5 million for two floors! The ground floor was already occupied by another tenant. 

My prayer then was that God Himself should provide His own church premises. I would remind Him that I did not call myself into ministry and that since He called me, He should do what must be done. To make matters worse, after indicating our interest and were fretting about financing the lease, a government parastatal offered to pay more for the building. Then our estate manager, a friend who assumed that we had the resources to fully consummate the lease called to know the status of our discussions with the landlord. Upon realising our incapacity which was a contrast from the faith and confidence we displayed during the search, he took it upon himself to support the church in securing the building. 

He subsequently did so upon establishing that with only N1.7 we were a far distance from what we required for the lease payment. Buoyed by faith, I attended a meeting he had called with the agent and at the end of that meeting, found myself signing the lease agreement for the Parish tenancy based on his promise that payment would be made to the agent within the week. The Almighty God had answered our prayers in the most dramatic way. A few days later, he delivered the bank draft for the rent minus the agency fees which we could cover with our own resources and so we took possession of the building and named it "Hebron House”. Prior to that it was just a numbered house but I had received a revelation and declared that “from this place, Hebron we will move to our permanent place.” We were further provided a John Holt 150 KVA generator and some air conditioners by my friend. 

Looking back, I will say God has been very faithful. But of all the vessels he has used to support us in our Kingdom assignments; the one that still amazes the most up until now my very dear friend. Obviously, being in Estate Management, he had been positioned by our all-knowing God to be a support to His vineyard. I call him my Big Brother because he is elderly. I remember at a point he had health issues which he told me about. He said he wanted to travel out but was not sure of what the outcome would be and I told him to go and that he would come back. Of course, I just boasted in the Lord. I had to go and plead with God to honour my faith because the man had sown a precious seed into His kingdom. The Lord heard our prayers because the man indeed recovered.

As we settled into Hebron House and with much larger space and greater stability of church administration, church membership of TEAP grew more and more. The church was becoming known in the city for being a place of worship for committed people who wished to hear the TRUTH of God's word that as Christians we must be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. The Word was preached without restraint or compromise. Holiness and Christian integrity were the constant foundation of TEAP and the concept of Church beyond the walls guided our vision and programs. 

As part of this, I charged the DARE Women Ministry of TEAP to lead some aspects of our Social Reformation agenda by establishing a nursery and primary school to advance the RCCG vision for parishes to establish mission schools across the world. The new school, known as Redeemer TEAP International School was enthusiastically received and began to grew over the two year period and occupied part of the floors of the Church.

While at Hebron House there was an adjacent land owned by a prominent politician from the South-east. We approached him to consider selling it to us and it coincided with the first year expiration of our lease. We also needed to have a parking space. We thought that God wanted us to expand around the same location and so we wanted to buy the land. We wrote to him and had a committee approach him after we had managed to raised some money. He misconstrued our intentions and refused to sell the land and that was very disappointing to the Church. We direly needed a permanent place of worship with the expanding congregation as well as the school which was rapidly increasing in population. 

It is instructive that church land was a major challenge generally in the city of Abuja in those years. There were not many churches in the city that were well located like the Family Worship Centre with multiple facilities on their grounds. When I first visited FWC, I liked their location and as we took a walk around their premises, I asked some of the workers how they managed to secure such magnificent location for Church building. When they responded that they had simply applied to the Federal Capital Authority, it gave me the idea that we also should apply to the FCT for a church land and so we did. We asked for as much hectares as we imagined was the size of the Family Worship Centre.

That application went through many tortious waiting process but ended up successful . We were allocated land in the current location of TEAP for the Church's highly expanded mission school project. The story of the TEAP land will be told someday in the future as there have been so much distortions and misrepresentations of facts. But that would be a story for another day. Suffice to say that when the third year lease for Hebron House was running out, I knew we simply had to move to the undeveloped TEAP land. 

So, I informed the congregation that we had to move again albeit this time to a place the Parish could call our own-- the TEAP school land. Port Harcourt Crescent on which Hebron House was located had become a cluster for hotels and night clubs and so the environment was becoming rather unhealthy for church activities. The challenge was how to rapidly construct some closed in structures for the school and a school hall for Church services on the TEAP School land. Yet, the alternative option of remaining at Hebron House was more challenging and so we had only one choice to exercise- move on to the undeveloped land and start a church building project. 

Instructively, because of the past record of God's faithfulness, by this time of need to embark on a church construction project we had learned to absolutely depend on Him. Hence, when we were leaving Hebron House for the TEAP school land, we were faced with a trial of faith that we were confident would be surmounted with the help of our reliable God. 

This strong foundation of faith in the power of God to come through governed our credo as both a family and as leaders of RCCG--TEAP.

Integrity was and has ever remained the watchword of our Christian walk and so we steadfastly avoid any path of financial activities that fall short of the standard we set according to Biblical injunctions. When therefore some people suggested that since my wife was an influential figure in government, I should leverage the opportunity to embark on a church building project fund raising drive I vehemently rejected their counsel. Their suggested approach was not consistent with anything God had done for us in the past and He had not told me to change my usual total dependence on Him to accomplish His vision. 

One Saturday in November, we did not only physically move into the TEAP school land, but we also had our first activity which was a wedding ceremony. Since it was conducted as an open air service, we adopted the theme “Open Heaven” wedding ceremony. All subsequent Church services on the land were called Open Heaven events even as construction gradually begun through the individual contributions of members from the least to the greatest. Some of the members contributed by providing manual labour on the project site.

In the construction activities, among the many people of goodwill who played one role or another, we must specially commend the exceptional services of Pastor (Architect) Eze; who provided the  building plan and drawings for TEAP school land without charging a fee as well as Pastor (Eng ) Ikechukwu.

When the first phase of the structures was completed, we rejoiced in the knowledge that God had once again come through with His provision for the Vision of a permanent worship place through the construction of TEAP School Hall. That He achieved it in the most unusual manner using ordinary members of the TEAP congregation who freely contributed as in the day of Prophet Ezra's rebuilding of the Temple was the more remarkable. Such extraordinary outcome went a long way in strengthening the faith of everyone in the close knit TEAP family of worshippers. 

The symbol of the walk and work of Faith that the TEAP School and Church hall represent today to TEAP members is one of the key pieces of the Parish's history.  Fourteen years after, that symbol is expressed and extends into the spiritual brand of people and congregations who are known as Unusual People.

The spiritual growth of TEAP membership was the centrepiece of the TEAP strategy for achieving its vision and mission. It was after all from our membership that we trained workers who subsequently matured into church leaders of departments and parishes. In fulfilling the great commission of the Lord, TEAP strived through its focus on people as individual and part of groups; to ensure that each individual was grounded in the word of God, live a life of holiness with an eye to eternal life while maximising their God given talent in their vocation. 

To communicate this to our members lucidly, God gave me a mantra, "I am determined that every one of you who stays on in TEAP must become who you are created to be here on earth and that above all you make heaven. So, I do not care about size of the church members, I care about where each of you will spend eternity". 

We were known as a church that preached "very hard messages".  

Demanding that our members should "live the Word and be the Message" meant that some who came to TEAP in those days were challenged by the standards. People either made up their mind to stay, embrace the standard and walk daily with the Holy Spirit to keep perfecting into the image of Christ or they adjudged themselves unwilling or unable to live His values, and therefore left for other places of worship. For the TEAP Family, it was always ever about understanding the exceptional calling of God which by revelation makes us Unusual People who no matter where they find themselves, know that they are a people specially chosen by God for unusual manifestation of His greatness.  

20 years later, what began as a mustard seed of two and half families, has become a TEAP Zone of dozens of parishes with a strong family of people from all tribes and tongues spread across the land and yet glued together because we all are carried in His Everlasting Arms!

 

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