Rt. Rev. Obadiah Agbai, Bishop of Methodist Church of Nigeria, Isikwuato, Abia State and his sweetheart, Mrs. Promise Ezinne Agbai, have been married for over 30 years.
In this interview with VERA WISDOM-BASSEY, they went down memory lane on their marriage that produced three children. They talked about the experiences and challenges they faced learning to live compatibly as husband and wife. They advised couples to stick together through thick and thin, just as they did.
How did you meet your wife?
Husband: It is a very long story, but I will make it brief. When it was time for me to marry, I prayed, and, after series of conviction through dreams, revelations, personal circumstances and situations, I approached her and asked her to pray if the Lord is actually leading her to be the mother of my children. I started the journey in 1970 but the dream became fulfilled in 1988.
What was the first attraction?
Husband: The major thing was that I was looking for a wife, not a woman, and so, I saw in her a replica of a mother of my children and I was convinced that she would be my wife. Of course, she was very beautiful, God-fearing, good-looking and very tantalizing.
How did you propose marriage to her?
Husband: You know, the way of God is quite different from the way of man. I think I fell in love based on my conviction of what I saw in her when I came to my uncle’s place for holiday. Apart from that, I was close to her older sister. But that was not the only reason; I saw godliness in her when I visited, during one of my secondary schooldays and met her in the house of my uncle. After praying, I had to make the necessary move, even though I was still in secondary school.
When he proposed to you, how did you react?
Wife: I didn’t accept his proposal immediately. From what he told you, it took me time to be convinced that he would be my husband. When he approached me I ditched the idea because I had not finished secondary school and was not thinking of marriage by then.
How old were you then?
Wife: I can’t be precise now, but I know I was still in secondary school because I didn’t start school early because of circumstances. But with time, as I prayed, God made me to know that he was the person made for me.
How did you approach your parents on this matter?
Wife: As I told you, it took me time. First, I approached my older brother because it was he who brought me up. When I told him, it was a tug-of-war; he didn’t want me to mention anything of such. I left the issue that moment but later went for a teacher’s training course. Immediately, I graduated, everything I saw in the dream and God revealed to me started to manifest. Immediately, I came back from school, my older brother called me and asked me about what I told him earlier. I repeated what I said, that it was still what I was saying, and he asked me to go ahead.
When she told you what her older brother said, how did you feel?
Husband: Any man who is expectant would be happy. So, I felt glad in my heart. I felt joyous. I prayed to find a wife of my dream, and God sent her.
What have been the challenges over the years you’ve been together?
Husband: By April this year, we will be 30 years in marriage. I was in secondary school when I got the conviction. But at a time, I never expected that I would have a prolonged engagement but it came to be, it was so challenging.
How long did you stay or wait for each other?
Wife: For almost ten years. It was the challenges that made us to wait for each other; we were convinced that it was the will of God. There were more challenges on my own part because my parents died when I was very young and it was my older brother that brought me up. I was supposed to obey him in everything. But when it got to the issue of marriage, I now discovered he had his own opinion and I had mine. So I had to wait until things got normalized. Thank God everything was eventually normalized. Actually my older brother told me that we really suffered in life, therefore he wanted me to get married to a man that I would not regret. I was eight-years-old when my parents died while he was only 18. All the same, he struggled to take care of us. He trained us to become somebody in life. Today, six of us are alive.
Do you operate joint account?
Husband: When we started, we had one we opened at Owerri, but individually we agreed to open separate accounts because of her work, she is a teacher and the nature of her traveling all the time. But we agreed that, whenever we have need, we must put our resources together and solve our problems. What I am saying in essence is that I was not looking for a wife who would suffer with me. I was in school when I approached her, and even when we wedded I was in school, Emmanuel College of Theology and Business Education. In fact, I was on a monthly salary of 75 kobo as a teacher when I approached her. You can see how long it has been yet she never defiled herself. I married her, and proudly enough I can say I married her as a virgin. Despite those prevailing circumstances, lack of money, people looking down on us, I remember what I was told about her, God kept her. For her, it was a miracle when I resigned from teaching and joined the ministry. We stood together after I left Emmanuel College. When I was in the college, from Aba I would always come. I even left to look for a vacation job in the North. It was so turbulent and difficult, financially, morally and otherwise. In terms of accommodation, we were staying in one-room apartment and when we came out from the college, my salary was N477 while she was being paid N200. We put the money together to help me attend university. The same year she did her NCE, I was running my own degree in the same university, and that was when she became pregnant with our first child and so it was not easy. You can imagine N477 as a minister and N200 as a teacher. We had other children who were living with us and they were not our children. And, we were living on that salary.
How were you able to cope with the N200 salary, given the number of children you have to take care of?
Wife: I did not have any baby until he came out of school; it was God’s plan. It was not until we came together as husband and wife that we decided to put our resources together to further our education because I had only the teachers training certificate (TTC) before we got married. It was in the 1991 that I started my NCE (Nigerian Certificate in Education) and he started his first degree. It was not easy because within three years, 1992, 1993 and 1994, we had three children. The last born among our children is now undergoing the compulsory National Youths Service Corps. So that is how God planned it. We had other children but it was stillbirth, but we thank God for the three we have. Our prayer is that God will preserve them.
How did you cope bringing up the children?
Wife: God helped us; whenever we found ourselves at a crossroads, we joined our hands in prayers. When things are good he would take up the training of the children and I would take up the feeding at home, but when the school fees is much we put our resources together. That’s how we run the home.
What’s your advice to women especially pastors’ wives?
Wife: I advise women, encourage them to find means of livelihood, because while I was raising these children, there was nothing I did not lay my hands on. I was into zobo making, puff-puff making, etc. in order to take care of my family because it was not only my family members that we were taking care off. When we were in Jos, people from Lagos would come, our house was like Mecca, I was struggling to make ends meet. The salary was not enough, yet I was able to meet up. Even today, I still make buns and zobo. I am still selling them today. I can still farm; when I am free I go to my farm and do some jobs there. I am not lazy. So, I encourage young wives to do something to earn a living. Whatever you can do, do to assist your husband.
Husband: I have always told young men that when you want to marry, be convinced and know what you are looking for in the would-be-mother of your children. Also, I always tell them not to look for an already-made family. Make sure you are supportive and innovative. Again, when you suffer together with your wife, you also enjoy together, because today my wife can agree that we started together from the scratch. I have always said that one should depend on God. Apart from depending on God, work hard, have a vision, target, goal and pursue it vigorously, because when you attempt great things for God, you will attain great things for him. So, I believe in suffering before enjoyment. I don’t believe in saying that, ‘my father is this and that’, but I believe that I have to struggle and suffer to make my own family.