By Tony Ogaga
Bishop Isaac Idahosa needs no introduction. The stylish Bishop of Illumination Assembly, Ajah, Lagos, oversees one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. With just N50,000 he started the ministry in 1989 and today it has blossomed, stretching its tentacles across the globe. And at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was at the forefront of giving succour to the common man. In this chat, Bishop Idahosa talks about his humble beginning, his success nuggets and his plans to collaborate with Nollywood, among other interesting issues.
Minna, Niger State, is the cradle of your ministry, how does it feel like going back there?
Going back to Minna always reminds me of my humble beginning. It was like an emotional home-coming when I returned for a programme recently. I saw one of my members, who was celebrating his 70th birthday. He was about 40 when the ministry started. I got to meet old faces and those who were with me from inception. It was a great experience.
At what point did you first realize that this was your calling?
That was in 1979 when I saw the light of the gospel and then in 1985, I chose to go to Bible school. I love God and wanted to serve him and that was what led me to Bible College. But then, people always said God’s hand was on me and I was like, if God’s hand is on me I must feel it first, you don’t have to tell me first (laughter). Then I was in the choir and involved in a lot of church activities. Unknown to me, God was preparing me for the end time harvest. Depopulating the kingdom of darkness and populating the kingdom of God is what I live for.
What gave you the inspiration to set up such a massive church auditorium?
God is too big to make you small. God created the earth and put two people in charge and told them to fill the earth. If it is too small that you can carry it alone, then God is not involved. If it is too big for you then the grace of God is helping you and when God is involved it is big. He funds the project so you must create room for God and I believe in giving God the best. You don’t build with money but by faith; faith attracts the cash to build. Whatever you want to become you have to see it in the realm of the spirit and then allow for the conversion in this tangible world with faith and patience. We are a city set on a hill; we don’t conform to the world so we don’t reduce our standard for the world, but the world system should take standard from you. We are the light of the world, not the light of the church. We are the salt of the earth not the salt of the church. Salt does not take after rice, it is vice-versa so we take the gospel to the people and raise the standard. That is what is called the ‘higher life.’ What you see in Ajah will soon be duplicated in Ikota, Lagos.
What is the next level for Illumination Assembly?
We have acquired a piece of land for N250 million to build a community hospital and schools at Ikota. We are going into human capital development. Beyond the spiritual we want to impact the normal people on the streets. We want to reach out to parents who have intelligent kids, but can’t send them to school. We are also building a 5,000-seat auditorium; we want to balance humanity with divinity.
You have come under criticism for bringing Iyanya, who is a secular artiste to minister at your church because he has not confessed Christ publicly…
Who are you to judge another man? That is the problem with us. Iyanya is born again. So they saw him doing what? Was it not Saul that became the St Paul and wrote two thirds of the epistles? The fastest way to getting people changed is loving them the way they are. Jesus says ‘come unto me all ye who are heavy laden.’ It doesn’t matter how you are, just come and then you will find room for change. Not even the Holy Spirit condemns you but convinces you. We don’t go with the gospel of condemnation but with the gospel of reconciliation.
What are your five nuggets for success in ministry?
Without the grace of God there is nothing! It is not by manual effort but by the grace of God. When we become partakers of the grace other things come into the mix. You must have a mentor, you must be very courageous. When you understand your vision, every other thing will follow but believing is not by power but by God’s grace. Every other thing is secondary.
Could you share some of your mistakes with us?
No, this is not the time…
But people will glean inspiration from them…
… Just love your mistakes and…
Which was the most profound?
All were profound. Every mistake has the ability to sink you if you do not take the right steps.
Could you share your experience meeting Bishop Benson Idahosa?
Meeting him was great! Nobody met him without being inspired. He was a global inspiration. And he would always pump hope into you and make you look larger than life. He was a man who cut across every ethnic group or religious circle. He did not mind where you came from.
Has there ever been a Prophet Jonah ‘moment’ when you felt like running away from the call?
A lot of times I felt like giving up when my anticipation was beyond what normal growth should be. You want to bypass processes and just be that dream but God taught me to grow up and not to jump up because if you do, there is a natural process that will bring you down; growing up is a process. There were times when I was discouraged because my aspirations were not coming to pass; I wanted them in my own time. And most times it won’t work but we wait for Gods time, he makes all things beautiful. In life times will come when you feel like quitting if the vision is beyond you. If it is what you can do, then God is not needed but if it is what God has given to you, it requires God’s capacity to enable your ability to function. God never calls you and then leaves you. And then he says ‘I will be with you in the midst of it all.’ So you have to ask Him to break it down for you. But God will never disappoint anybody. Even though disappointment is inevitable but discouragement is a choice. I knew all along that when God calls He equips and it is not without challenges; challenges don’t mar you, they make you. So you should know how to harness them. It is not what happens to you that defines you, but your response to them. Each time I saw difficulties I also saw windows of opportunity. In every difficulty there are opportunities and in every opportunity there are difficulties.
You are a very busy person, how do you relax?
Whatever you love you give time to. If you don’t give time to it you don’t love it. The ability to strike a balance makes you mature. If you don’t rest your body, your body will rest you. You must be able to find time to relax and when I relax I listen to music and read books. I have authored several books. I like quiet places. Sometimes I try to swim, play table tennis, gym and meet people who will inspire me.
Are you fulfilled?
Yes, it could be better but I am so grateful to God. In everything we must give thanks to God. We must appreciate and be content where we are and forge ahead because appreciation is the application for more.
A lot of people see ministry as a money spinner. What is your reaction?
(Laughter) They should open a ministry and see how they survive! Beyond that even Peter who was called was sinking. Peter said ‘if it is you, bid me come.’ And as he was coming he started sinking. If he who was called was sinking, how about he who was not called? He will crash land! Peter screamed ‘Jesus I am sinking’ and Christ saved him. Ministry is not a bed of roses, if you are not called, you will be called to other things.
2020 was a very challenging year. How did COVID-19 affect your ministry?
It was a perfect opportunity to spread the hand of love. I did a lot of palliatives and reached out to widows. The records are there. I was made a COVID-19 Ambassador. We seized the opportunity to display the love of God by helping the common man.
Tell us about your foray into Nollywood?
I love relaxation, laughter is medicinal. Nollywood has put Nigeria in very good light. Unlike foreign TV stations, Nollywood presents us as kings and princes so we need to give them a little push for their dreams to come true. Five to 10 years down the road, people would have forgotten what happened, that 2020 was elusive because of one pandemic. So I am trying to join hands with them for a movie on COVID-19.
How did you meet wife?
It was in Yola when I went to preach for Bishop Fred Addo at Praise Worship Chapel in the early 90s. I saw this young lady singing and it was captivating. I was the guest speaker so I couldn’t have access to her. As heaven will have it I returned to Minna and I saw this group, Anointed Singers, singing and she was leading so after that I told her to come and train my choir and everything just fell into place. If I say that I toasted her I would be lying. I am very shy except when I am on the pulpit.
You come across as stylish, what inspires your style?
When the heart is clean the system will be clean. Style comes from the mind. If you have a clean mind it will reflect. When your mind is clean you don’t allow clustering. It takes a thoughtful person to think clean; cleanliness is from the mind.