Florence Nnenna Uche, wife of the Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence, Dr. Samuel Chukwuemeka Uche, is passionate about women empowerment. She is a person driven to attain heights of accomplishment through determination, focus, self-actualization and intelligence. After giving birth to her fourth child she went back to school, and capped her educational pursuit by enrolling for a degree programme at the University of Calabar after she had her sixth child. She believes very strongly that no obstacle should hinder a woman from pursuing personal development.
In this interview, she reveals what it has been like as the wife of a minister of the gospel these past 40 years. She also talks about the challenges of working with women and much more.
Now that you reached the Diamond age, what has it been like in Christian ministry in past 40 years?
It has been the grace of God. I am most grateful to God for a special gracious favour in my life. I consider myself a woman of many parts who has special love from God Almighty because I started out as a young wife of a local Christian minister after our wedding in 1982 and passed through all the levels of the church. I was a local, circuit, assistant, bishop, archdiocesan and finally Conference minister’s wife (that is the national level), where I am today as the Prelate’s wife. The joy and challenges climax together because in all these, one’s attention is needed at almost all times. One might want to have a little rest or quietly be in the presence of God, but the offices held over the years might not give such opportunity. One would not grumble rather be prepared for such times because God might want to use one to save a particular situation. I find joy in all this and consider myself highly favoured to have been through such positions all my life. It is the grace of God.
Again, when I organize programmes for women that glorify God, it gives me joy because I do the will of God which is glorious. I also make sure that my home is at peace at all times. That unswerving peace was part of what necessitated my voluntary retirement as a senior administrative staff of the College of Technology, Yaba (Yabatech), having transferred my services from the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, Imo State. While my husband was being promoted and transferred to various duty posts, I was very busy on air and road because I had a job to service. I would have been promoted to become the Principal Assistant Registrar at Yabatech, but God asked me to leave because my services were needed most in the Church as the wife of the Prelate.
How time flies and 60 years of God’s faithfulness. Can you take us through some stages in the first three decades of your life?
I was born in a small Village called Ohube in Ihube Town in present day Okigwe Local Government Area, Imo State. My place of birth was Minna in Niger State because my late father worked with the Public Works Department (PWD) and that made him to traverse the northern states. While in Kaduna in 1966 just before the civil war broke out, I could remember my father’s voice as he hurried my heavily pregnant mother to pack our belongings so we could leave immediately. My mother picked a few things from the home she lived for long and gave me a small bag; that was how my parents, brother and I left the comfort of our home in the North and relocated to the village in Okigwe. At the train station, my mother was pushed into the train through the door; my brother and I were pushed through the window of the train. We got to the village and life was just a sharp contrast from what we knew. The darkness alone was the first experience that dazed me. There was no tap water or flushable toilet; cooking was done with 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 to settle in our new strange environment, the war came to meet us again in the village and pushed us into 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 at the end of the war, we enrolled into school and I later gained admission into the popular Ovim Methodist Girl’s High School which was my dream school.
In 1980, as I returned from school for the holiday, I did not know that my Sunday school teacher, before he became a priest, was looking for a wife. I have always known Brother Emeka as my Sunday school teacher but did not know he had resolved after praying that any of the ‘choir girls’ who defied the Christmas activities to attend services on Sunday and Monday would be his wife. After the service on Christmas Day which I also attended, he called me, held my hand and then said, ‘You will be my wife.’ It sounded very awkward to me. He repeated what he said and when he saw that I was practically lost and did not understand, he added, ‘Go and tell your mother that I will invite you to come and see my family soon.’ I got home and told my wise mother who retorted and said, ‘I can see the interest because you normally drive other suitors away.’ His marriage proposal came like a command. Prior to 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. It was when I finally visited him after three days of his proposal that my vision was confirmed. One thing led to the other, we got wedded and family life set in immediately and it halted my educational dream but the urge did not die. After the birth of my fourth child, against all odds, I went back to complete my secondary education and got my first degree in Environmental Social Studies Education after my sixth child. It was not easy but God saw me through. I have also attended several courses in my calling.
How would you characterise the role of your parents in your Christian life?
My parents were good Christians especially my father who would never allow us get to church late because he said he saw a vision where angels did not recognize late comers. He also said that worshippers who leave the church before closing time miss the opportunity of shaking the angels by the door. With these, they positioned me in the front seat to listen attentively so as to come back and tell them all that was said in church, and I have passed that unto my grandchildren. My father would always remind me, “Nne, the front pew is for the serious-minded students, the middle row is for the noise-makers while the back benchers are unserious people in the church.”
What was your initial reaction to his pastoral work like most women with glamourous jobs?
When he came as a young priest to ask for my hand in marriage, my mother advised me not to look at my friends getting married to young men with worldly possessions like ladies’ motorcycle, trunk boxes filled with clothes that suitors normally bring. “I want you to focus on your education first. When Brother Emeka comes to marry you, his wealth will be like a drop of water, but later will become an ocean.” All my mother’s blessings have come to pass and I have actually admired being in the work of the Lord. I did not know I would marry a minister, now that I am married to one, I would say it is my parents’ prayer answered and joy in my heart.
You were introduced to God 54 years ago and been married to a minister of God in last 40 years. What is your staying power?
My staying power is prayer coupled with commitment, dedication, passion for the work, love for my husband, children, people within and around us and sharing. An- other strong component of it is encapsulated by revelation, creativity and initiating original programmes. After our wedding, God showed me the husband I married where he was on television shining on a platform with his cassock.
I struggled to reach where he was but could not. I asked God for the meaning and got the interpretation to wake up so as to meet up with where my husband would be in future. Once in a trance, I also got where he was in front of other bishops telling them what to do. Then he was still a presbyter not even a bishop. I inquired of the Lord and he said I want you to start now, because I will make him the leader of this church in future. God asked me to have a programme for the women. Before my husband became the Prelate, God showed me a baby and asked us to nurture, and that baby is the Methodist Church today.
What have been the challenges you encountered as a grounded wife of a minister looking at where you started from?
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 distractions behind and forge ahead. Politics in the church is very challenging and more than that of the society. PDP and APC are opposite political parties, but in churches, you all belong to the same body, yet not all would buy into your dreams and vision. At some point of my life as wife of a bishop, I have encountered such brick walls but God will always prove himself. I once told the women in Owerri that we would create a project that would yield proceeds in future, not all bought into the idea, but at the end, we raised a nursery/ primary school that is yielding funds today, to support the work of the church.
Now that you are 60, what next?
I devote my time to God. I will continue and end up with God. Now, I will concentrate on counselling the young people, married couples and write books that will empower the young people.