Whether in United States, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, or across Africa and the world, Her Eminence, Rev. Mother Esther Abimbola Ajayi, needs no introduction. Known as the Iya Adura (Mother of Prayer), within the Cherubim and Seraphim Church fold, the Founder of Love of Christ Generation Church C & S, Clapham, London, and the grand/life matron of many non-governmental organizations located across continents, has made significant contributions to the work of the church cutting across denominations, African/traditional, orthodox and Pentecostal. As a humanitarian and philanthropist, through her charitable organization, The Esther Ajayi Foundation that caters for people in need, especially the homeless, the poor and the underprivileged, she has touched many lives in many parts of Africa and the world.
Married to Rev. Dr. Ademuyiwa Ajayi, today, a lecturer in theology at Faith Bible College, Ota, Ogun State, the couple has known each other for over 40 years and so much so that they are now able to read each other’s mind perfectly. During the interview, one of them would start a sentence and the other would complete it or, both would chorus the response. The couple are interviewer’s delight as they freely poked jibes at each other and would, from time to time, gladly give “hi fives,” to each other, where it is called for, hailing with “Ore mi”, which means “my friend” (in Yoruba). Their marriage and family life story filled with timeless lessons for married couples, young and old, will make a full-length book any day. In the first part of their inspiring interview with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, in Abuja, they shared the testimony of how they met and married, despite oppositions from both families. Excerpts:
While we thank God for keeping you together as husband and wife all these years, could you tell us how you met before two of you got married?
Husband: We met at Ikeja Grammar School, Oshodi. When I was in Form 2, she was in Form 1. At that time, we were very young. I believe everything was God-planned. He wanted us to meet because initially I was not in that school. I was on transfer. She was an art student while I was in the sciences. As God would have it, I used to teach her mathematics, geography and other subjects she was not good at.
Was it the same thing with you, or are there details you would like to add, at least on your own part?
Wife: Both of us were new students. He came from Ikorodu High School as a boarding student and they wanted him to become a day student at Ikeja Grammar School. Then letter of admission was usually sent through post office but mine did not arrive on time. Both of us were standing in front of the office of the principal, Mrs. Kehinde Abayomi, of blessed memory, waiting to be attended to. Where we sat, we started talking with each other as young people. He was about 13-years-old while I was 12. We were asking each other: ‘Are you afraid?’ ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ And that was how our relationship started. Everybody in school in those days knew that we were always doing things together. My husband was a very brilliant student. He was one of those students who, when they scored 98 percent, would go and ask the teacher, ‘where is my remaining two percent?’ But in my case, once I scored 70 or 75 percent, I would do thanksgiving. So he was teaching me subjects I was not good at, especially mathematics. I never liked mathematics. So we grew fond of each other in the cause of his teaching. We used to call each other ‘the-next-neigbour friend’. Since we met, there has been no stopping us.
How long have you been married?
Wife: Our first child will be 36 this year. We got legally married at Ikoyi Registry in 1989, but we got traditionally married on June 3, 1984.
Husband: Our relationship is well over 40 years now.
Was there any opposition from anywhere: relatives, friends, concerning your marriage?
Husband: Yes. Normally, in marriage, you will encounter things like that. In our own case, the opposition was from my mother’s side. My mother was a strong Catholic while my wife was initially a Muslim of Irawos stock and then Cherubim and Seraphim. When at first, she came into our home, my mother did not approve of it, at all. She said: ‘you are supposed to marry a Catholic girl. But now, you are going to marry someone from Cherubim and Seraphim. You know, we used to make jest of those wearing white garment. At first, you said she was a Muslim and now Cherubim and Seraphim. What is this? You are going to get married to a Catholic girl. That’s all I can say.’
Wife: On opposition to our relationship, of course, there was. The Irawos then, averagely, we would call them rich people. I was raised in Mushin area and they asked me: ‘you didn’t see someone in Mushin, why somebody from Ebute Metta? What have Ebute Metta people got to offer except that they read and read?’ And, truly, I made my first money at the age of 19 doing business. There was this wristwatch called Alapere wristwatch then. I was buying and selling it. So they said Ebute Metta people normally read book but they don’t have money. So, they put wealth at the back of their minds. But eventually, they all came to love him just like his own family accepted me as well.
What did you do to overcome the opposition?
Wife (cuts in): I always say to young people: ‘if you say someone is bad, I agree with you completely. But use your goodness to change that person.’ That is my story. When they saw that we were in love and that there was nothing anyone could do to make us change our minds, they had to give in. My mother-in-law of blessed memory and I were best of friends till she died.
How did you become a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim?
Wife: I started going to Cherubim and Seraphim before I got married. In fact, I happened to be among the first members of Scripture Union in our school. Since then I have known what Jesus Christ is all about, that you can talk to Him anytime. When they were introducing us to Scripture Union, we were told: ‘You can pray anytime, anywhere and you can talk to Him about anything you want.’ You know, the Irawos are strong Muslims. It was there my bride-price was paid. But along the line, in 1984, I started attending Cherubim and Seraphim, that is, Mount Sinai branch in Adekunle. We were still courting when I met my mother-in-law. She was vehemently against our plan to get married. But, you know your good character will conquer all, especially if God is on your side. Eventually, I asked God for heavenly wisdom. I said: ‘I am not here for any rivalry; my mother-in-law remains my mother-in-law’. But eventually we became paddies.
What made you decide to go for your wife out of the many ladies available for a pick within that period?
Husband: First, I will say it was how God planned it, that we would be husband and wife. But why I decided to get married to her is because, when we met in school, she was liked by everyone because she was very cheerful, generous and was a lover of people. She was the leader of her group while I was leading educationally. She stood out amongst her friends. She was very popular in everything she did. That alone was the main attraction that made me decide to marry her.
Wife (cuts in, amid laughter): I was the best in the Literary and Debating Society, I was very popular, a team leader. I was a leader in anything that had to do with play or drama, with the exception of sitting down to read.
What qualities made you choose him above other eligible bachelors or suitors within that period?
Wife: Muyiwa Ajayi is a calm person. He used to be a very smart guy in school. And, you know, you would want to be friends with that kind of boy who was not just brilliant but was willing to teach you. He was the type whose explanations would help you scale through in your exams. He was ready to teach until you understood. He would teach you as if he wants to open your brain and put the book in there. And, I was a restless person. I never wanted to sit down in one place. From childhood, I always wanted to enjoy myself to the full. But when it comes to reading, it wasn’t like that. Because he was usually calm, I saw him as the direct opposite of me. He would say: ‘Bimbo, try and understand this thing.’ And, I would l say: ‘Muyiwa, I don’t think I can get this thing.’ But he would say: ‘You can get it.’ It went on like that for a while until gradually he became a friend I could confide in.
How did you propose to her? What exactly did you say to her as to make her accept to marry you?
Husband: This is a very interesting question. It happened that I left secondary school before she did, just by a year difference. But when she left, she was taken from Lagos to Ibadan. And, we were not seeing each other as often as we used to. I felt they were taking her away from me, gradually. I always used to travel from Lagos to Ibadan to see her. She was living with one pilot and her sister. Then she got a job with NTA Ibadan, Oyo State. She was on a programme called “Toko Taya” and I used to watch that programme. She was also presenting a programme on the radio. I told myself that if I don’t make a move then, she would get away from me. So I decided to use my last money to buy an engagement ring, and, with determination, travelled with it, to Ibadan. I called her out and while she was seeing me off to the bus station to get a vehicle to Lagos, I told her that I have something very important to tell her. I told her that since we don’t see each other as often as we used to, I would want us to get married. I said that was why I brought the ring with me. I told her we need to be committed to each other so that nobody would come between us. That was how I proposed to her.
At that time, we did not have much money and all my aim was to get her committed to me even though we were separated by distance. All I felt then was that once you give her a ring, you would get her committed to you and there was no going back. The ring I bought was of very low quality because I wasn’t rich. The people she was living with were rich and they had enrolled her in that broadcasting training institute in Ibadan. At that time, what we heard was that any female that got into broadcasting profession, was going to be wayward because she would be exposed to people. So, my concern was that if I didn’t make any move, she would slip out of my hand. That’s why I decided to get her committed to me. Besides, I really wanted to marry her because at that moment, our relationship had gone beyond that of friendship to love. It was already affecting me that I wasn’t seeing her as often as I used to. And, because it was God’s plan, she didn’t reject my proposal. She took the ring and agreed to be committed to me. We were so emotional that day that we almost cried as we hugged each other at the park. It was such that I didn’t want to board a vehicle back to Lagos any more. We were there until evening. But she had to go back home and I had to go back to Lagos.
God always has a plan for each and every one of us. Eventually that thing that was always making me afraid that I would l lose her did not happen. She called me one day and said she was no longer interested in the profession and that she had dropped out of the school because they were always disturbing her. The day she told me that, that she had left and was returning to Lagos, was one of the happiest days of my life [to be continued].