By Christy Anyanwu
Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is the founder of the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), London with branches in Europe, America and Africa, including Nigeria. Born on March 17, 1952, he turned 70 this week. In this interview, the cleric who hails from Ode-Omu, Osun State, talks about his growing-up years and lifestyle.
How was life as a young boy living in the barracks? Were you a bad boy?
Not everyone born in the barracks was a bad boy. Barracks was even a place of discipline. I was in the barracks until I was 18. We went to Army Children School which was a place of discipline. Some of our teachers were soldiers. Today there are great achievers who grew up in the barracks. There are federal ministers who used to be barracks boys. Girls also! I think Mrs. Enenche is also from the barracks. Barracks do not destroy you. It’s not where you live; it’s what is inside you. You can find a good seed in a bad place and you can find a bad seed in a good place. There are villagers in the city and there are city people in the village.
Over the years, who influenced you before you became who you are today?
Well, for some of us, our life is like the lives of a bee. A bee creates beautiful honey but it’s not from one flower. It picks nectars from a thousand flowers to make beautiful honey. We pick from several people as we were growing. They include leaders in the church where I first had my training, the Foursquare Gospel Church, people like the late Dr. Sam Odunaike, my father-in-law under whom I served as a pastor. Fantastic man, he was a man of focus, purity, and integrity. Those people influenced me. Then books. Books maketh a man. I read books written by people like Billy Graham and Kenneth E. Hagin. These were people whose books shaped my thinking and direction in life. In the journey of life, you might find out that this person mentored you on faith. One mentored you on finance; another on how to preach. Different people contributed. It really takes a village to raise a child.
How do you feel at 70?
I feel good. I’m enjoying my life. I have no regrets, rather too much to thank God for. He took me. He blessed me and made my life a testimony.
What lessons have you learnt from life?
One, you need to have a relationship with God. I was glad that when I clocked 20, it was like a milestone. That was when I received Christ into my life. Some people might think that life became restrictive for me. I say no. I didn’t stop drinking. It’s the fountain that changed. I didn’t stop dancing; it’s the music that changed. I didn’t lose happiness. Rather, I found joy. I didn’t lose anything, rather I found purpose. At 70, God has made something beautiful out of my life. I came from a family of extended challenges – battle, poverty but God blessed my life. Not because I’m smarter than the people who came out of that house but because His mercy found me, built me and blessed me.
Your preaching shows evidence of vast knowledge of different spheres of life. Could you share the secret with us?
Passion, hunger, there’s nothing you cannot attain to in life once you are hungry. The challenge with a lot of generations is lack of hunger. I have made it a passion to be hungry for knowledge in particular. What I even do now is too crazy. I read four books a week. It’s very stretchy; very tiring. I started something since January last year which is even more difficult. I go through the whole Bible in one month. Before you came I walked this estate listening to the audiotape of Bible reading at the same time. By the end of the month, I would have finished it or before the end of the month. Anything is possible; you just set your mind to it. We waste and spend time and resources on things that have lesser value.
What influences your dress sense?
You are addressed the way you dress. A lot of things we buy are visual; we see it first before we buy. So, the things we see influence how we buy. If a beautiful thing is badly packaged, we treat it that way. Secondly, I was raised in poverty and lack. I didn’t have clothes; I cannot forget. I was the most brilliant in my school and we went to act a television drama. I didn’t have the clothes. I can never forget. And, there was a boy who was my age. He had beautiful clothes. I spent three hours begging him to loan me clothes to wear to act in the play that was to be shown on WNTV Ibadan. It was called the “Sleeping Beauty.” I begged him but he refused. That was how poor I was. We lived with people who took advantage of us. They made us wear rags and shorts that were torn at the back. So, I would be leading the whole school but my own clothes were torn. Even when I became born again, I was still struggling with that kind of mindset. I was in Bible College, Foursquare Bible School. I went to Ikorodu town on a Sunday. It was mandatory for us to go to church service every weekend. So, I went to town (church); it was a long walk, like seven kilometres. As we left the church, my shoe gave way and was opened like the mouth of a crocodile. I dragged my legs on for seven kilometres, from that point to Agbowa Road, to Foursquare Bible School. People don’t see that. They don’t know that you had gone through the valleys. We knew lack. So, if God blesses you, why don’t you take care of yourself?
As a widely traveled man, where would you say is your best destination?
I was thinking it’s Dubai but now it’s South Africa. Dubai has aesthetic modern buildings and high rises. Cape Town doesn’t have that but I don’t know if you have heard about table mountain. It is a mountain that actually looks like a table. It’s huge. And my hotel room’s window was overlooking the table mountain. Not far from there is where two oceans, Indian and Atlantic, met but they don’t mix. It’s amazing. It is a city where you find valleys, mountains and some houses up there. The beauty and elegance are breathtaking. I love Dubai. But I guess it was built for show. It was a desert that was converted but Cape Town was a city made by God. Amazing! So, Cape Town really, really, won my heart. I have been to all kinds of places. I had been to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I had never seen a city that has many high rises, I think it’s because the city is populated. They have several 20-storey buildings where people lived.
Tell us your favourite food.
I don’t eat rice, yam and eba. I eat before six. I eat a small portion. I do three to four hours of exercise. The problem with some of us is that the food we know was designed by farmers. Pounded yam was designed by farmers who have to work heavily but you and I don’t work as heavily as farmers do. The smartest thing to do, therefore, is to eat less because anything you eat stays in your .body. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I eat beans. I can use beans to do a thousand things. I can eat just akara but Yoruba would say akara and what? That means you need to come out of the box. I eat moi moi. But Yoruba would say moi moi and what? Whereas moi moi is a full protein, you can put an egg in it. You can never over-eat protein. But you can over-eat carbohydrates. Once you see a man that is excessively big if he reaches 85 it is a miracle. Could you go and check it? This is because you give your heart, blood, and legs too much work. Your body has a limit of what it can carry.