MY FATHER REJECTED ME WHEN I BECAME A CHRISTIAN
Bishop Sunny Ugbah presides over Church of God Mission International in Akwa Ibom State. He is one the most gifted preachers this century has produced. Humble, dynamic and welcoming, he is has traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He spared 45 minutes to share some of his experiences, growing up as a Christian and observed that the greatest influence on his life, aside God, was Archbishop Benson Idahosa of blessed memory. Enjoy the moment with Bishop Ugbah.
Who is Sunny Faith Ugbah?
I am someone that acknowledges the help of God. Yes, everyone is helped by God but they are some whose help of God in their lives is so obvious, particularly when you don’t have an enviable background. I didn’t come from a Christian background, I find myself in between the scripture in John 1:6 which says ‘John was a man sent from God.’ Though no one claims to be sent from the devil but this scripture makes me know that I am someone on a mission, just as John was.
I held from Ogwashi Uku, Anochia South LGA in Delta State. I grew up to observe my parents worshipping idols, their local deities but God in his mercy showed me the light in 1977 when I was thirteen years old, a class mate preached to me and I gave my life to Christ. The first church that I attended was the Church of God Mission International in my village. So, I came into the church as a teenager and I’m very grateful to God for different phases and the pastors whom God has used along the line to mould me. What really helped me was the zeal of the Lord that burned in me. I was so eager to serve in different parts of the church, which brought me to what I am today.
At 24, I got a call into ministry. One thing that has kept me going is my desire to know more of God, so anywhere there is knowledge about God, I had to seek it and that led me to attend different Bible institutions.
Additionally, I was so privileged to know the Archbishop Benson Idahosa of blessed memory and worked closely with him as a presbyter at 30. He was a major influence on my life. He was a man that loved knowledge and would always go for the best. I grew under his tutelage and learned from him. I couldn’t see Jesus physically but I saw the Archbishop and learned from him directly. That was a major influence that got me to where I am today. I have been to almost all parts of the country, serving in the ministry and have interacted with all ethnic groups, this has helped me to be able to relate with all kinds of people.
As someone who was privileged to work closely with the Archbishop Benson Idahosa, which of the fond memories of encounters with him could you recollect?
There are so many but there is one particular striking encounter I cannot fail to mention here, because in life when you have the evident of something you cannot deny it. That happened when I was in Jos, pastoring one of our Churches in 1993. The Archbishop was a lover of crusades and had scheduled to hold a crusade in Jos, Plateau. One day he called me and said, “Son, you’re going to organize crusade for me in Jos.” It was a huge task organizing crusade for the Archbishop, getting all the different denominations and Christian bodies like the PFN and other blocs of CAN to be involved. I was determined to success and not to fail, and that took a toll on my health.
The Archbishop observed the weight on me and said, “Son, I’m impressed by your zeal, commitment and dedication to ensure the crusade succeeded. What do you want me to do for you?” I did not know what to ask for and I just said, “Daddy, pray for me.” He prayed for me and my wife. Then we had a four year old daughter and my wife was having some issues with ovarian cyst that required surgery. The following month she had to attend a conference in Benin and the Archbishop spotted her and called her out, gave her a blow in the tummy and said, “Go, you’re returning to the conference next year with your baby. That same month she took in and Papa named the baby Ruth. And to the glory of God, that daughter is now 30 and has given birth also. That was a miracle that I can never forget in my life. I thank God that I met Archbishop, it wasn’t that I was told, I witnessed the miracles through his hands.
For years now Papa has been away and Mama stepped in his shoes and she has been able to showcase class and has done incredibly well. How has this been made possible?
It is something very phenomenal, something that we can say, it is only God. And it had always been only God. You know when Papa left, it was like, “Would that be the end of CGMI?” But thank God for the wisdom of the elders who decided to bring up Mama, because she was not interested in the leadership, she was just mourning her departed beloved husband. She was surprised when the elders co-opted her into leadership. Then she yielded herself to God, and of course having worked closely with Papa, not just by being his wife but being in the ministry, travelling with him everywhere for the crusades and conferences, she did witness the miracles and had to just flow in the grace and unction of the husband. Mama has surprised everybody.
Her success is phenomenal. People outside see a little of the impact she has made. Men judge by what they see- the structures and expansion. But for us who are inside, she is a mother who knows how to develop people.
When Papa left I was still a presbyter. She said to me one day, “Son, I believe in you. I can see that you have a future.” The mystery of it is that, it is not just me alone but others she has developed and raised into leadership. We relate with her, not on the basis of being our head, but as a mother whom we can go to anytime and share our concerns with. This is the kind of love she has shown us and we are doing our best to reciprocate it, none of us wants to fail her. She knows how to develop people, if you look at the ministry now, you see a lot of youths because she deliberately shows interest in developing young people. Her skills in relating with both the old and the young are astonishing.
And she is still very strong, full of energy, full of wisdom, foresight and the evidence of God’s grace through miracles is commonplace in crusades and conferences she holds. The miracles are outstanding and we couldn’t have asked for more. All we do is to give God thanks for what He has done for us as a ministry.
You have been around for years in the place of leadership. What’s your view on leadership generally?
We look at leadership from the viewpoint of influence and not from the point of position or coercion. Leadership comes from relationship. We believe in relationship so much that we ensure everyone is at least touched one way or the other. Our model of leadership is building people, just like Jesus did. When He started His Ministry, He would say to someone, “Come and I will make you…” the main objective was to make them better than He met them. This is the model we adopted in leadership, and this is about influencing others by the positive impact on their lives. Leadership is not by coercion. It’s not about making things difficult for people, forcing them to do something by intimidating them. And instead of the people doing it willingly, they are coerced. This way, people will be smiling at you on the outside, while crying on the inside. This is not leadership.
At CGMI, we build confidence in people. Our vision statement clearly spells this out: “To build people into leadership with a global passion deeply rooted in Christ.”
We believe in this ministry that everyone is a leader at different levels, we build confidence into them and help them stand. For us here, everybody is a leader, whether you have a title or not, educated or not, we acknowledge that you have something to offer. Our motive is to bring out the best in you so you can serve your generation.
In your early days as the Bishop of Akwa Ibom, you started a programme, ‘No More Tears’ what was the motivation behind it and how has it impacted on the people?
When God gave us the vision for, “No More Tears,” we looked at the purpose that Jesus came. He came to save us. Why did He die on the Cross? He died to take away our pains. Whatever was hurting us, He said: “Come to me…gather all the dirt, the rubbishes and pour them on me and let the city be clean.” That’s sacrifice!
So, we are saying that if Jesus did all these for you, then you don’t have to shed those tears anymore. Everyone has some pains, the rich also cry. Sometimes, we use makeups to cover our pains. The women will make up to cover the pains, the men will display their masculinity to cover up their pains. The Bible says in Jeremiah 31:16 “Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.”
Whatever angle you look at it, if Jesus died for us, He couldn’t have suffered all the pains and then you are still weeping today. It means His suffering and death is in vain. The goodnews is this: He wept on the way to Calvary, He died on the Cross and said, “It is finished!” So that we might have joy. He couldn’t have done all these and you’re still in tears.
This Easter, we will have another edition of “No More Tears” with the theme, The Battle is Over! Yes, you are fighting battles here and there but you’re not fighting from the point of defeat but victory, because it was already won.
When people come, we present Jesus to them, it is like when someone is sick, you present the drugs first. You don’t tell the person to get well first but administer drugs before he gets well and this drug is Jesus who himself has been crucified.
One drug for everyone and once people accept it and trusting in what He has already done for them, they will be healed.
You had a background somewhat in idolatry. Growing up in your faith, did you face any battle along the line?
Yes. Jesus said, “You cannot come into a strong man’s house and spoil his goods without first binding him. The strongman will not easily give up without a fight. We all had experiences with the past after we came to Jesus. Satan will not just give up and say, “Ok, bye bye, he will fight.
So in my case he fought. But that battle is basically in the mind, “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers” and how do they operate? By attacking our mindsets.
The devil tells you “Jesus didn’t die for you and you can’t be free.” The devil will lie to us and that is why we have to renew our minds with the word of God daily, stand in prayer and resist the devil. If you don’t resist what he’s telling you, he will attack.
I had these issues in my early development as a Christian, I had those struggles and this is why I’ve always said, “God had mercy on me and helped me.” My friends on the other side were also dragging me to come back to them, my parents also were not helping my case. As a matter of fact my father disowned me, he said: “You’re no longer my son for being born again.”
We had to fight those battles but God’s grace was sufficient for me to win those battles. I had to study the word of God deeply to know if for myself. I believed then that you must “worship God the way He has introduced Himself to you.”It was my motto! It means you must have a personal experience with God. If you’re just going to church for going sake, the day you face challenges, you will fall by the way side but if you have been touched by God, you know God for yourself, nothing can stop you or talk you out of God.
So I held onto God’s Word, praying and taking authority over the wiles of the devil and declaring the victory of Jesus. Then the light began to shine and shine brighter. It was then I began to see victory, success and peace. It wasn’t easy but God helped me.