Christy Anyanwu and Bianca Iboma
After her husband’s death, Apostle Nkechi Francis Anayo-Iloputaife became the head of one of the largest churches in Africa. After her husband was murdered in 1995, the Nigerian cleric doubted she could survive the grief, much less handle the reins of their growing Victory Christain Church in Lagos.
For 23 years she has upheld the vision of the ministry, taking the city by storm with dozens of community service initiatives, including a 24-hour prayer chain, daily Bible studies, food table, shalom shop (Shop without money) and monthly Agape Sundays when the church offers food, clothing and medical services to its host community and its environs.
With the economic hardship and pressure hanging on Nigerians, she has added other empowerment scheme, in which widows are empowered with vocational skills, establishment of small scale businesses and scholarship awards to children of the host community as well as the needy. She was a year older penultimate Sunday and the amiable woman of God talked about her life, her husband, and the journey so far.
You celebrated your birthday recently, can you tell us about it?
I am grateful to God for adding another year to my age. I have been celebrating since the early hours Saturday morning. The children were just dancing, eating. It was a whole day of activities. We thank God for that. January 27th every year is so important to the members of Victory Christian Church and first Sunday in February of every year is the appreciation day. The entire church directorate and locations gathered at the headquarter church to celebrate me.
What has kept you going all these years, nothing seems to have changed in your physical appearance, what is the secret?
The grace of God. Today, you see people talk about lifestyle change and looking good, but the best recipe for you to look good is to have a vital relationship with God, have a good conscience and eat right, the rest God takes care of. I owe everything to God. I have heard people say to me, you don’t look like the things you have been through and I say to them it is the grace of God.
Over the years what lessons have you learnt about life?
I have had to acquire new lenses. I see life and people differently. Growth is a continuous thing and the longer you live, the wiser you become. Sometimes you go through things in life and you complain, those difficulties are things that shape the character of future greatness. I have learnt from my mistake. I have learnt a lot about life, about people, I’m not the same person today, I am different. I am older and wiser.
Growing up, who influenced you, your mum or dad?
Hmmm;, Hmmm; None of them. None of them.(Shook her head)
Considering your strength as a woman, there must be someone who influenced your growing up?
I had a difficult childhood and God himself used the circumstance to prepare me for today. I discovered the need for God in my life as a little child. I kept crying out to God. How that happened I cannot say, but God programmed everything. I was not privileged to have a childhood with my parents. That’s why I say none of them. I stayed with foster parents, we know how far anyone that’s not truly a true parent can go in your real interest. I really owe who I am today to God. God used my childhood to prepare me for today. Every glory has a story. Another, person that I can say shaped my life was my husband, Bishop Harford Anayo Iloputaife, He came into my life and became everything. Father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, auntie, friend and my mentor. He loved me so much that he believed in me, he saw in me what I didn’t see by myself and he kept telling me what a gift I was to him and to humanity. Those words and affection shifted my thinking. I would say to God be the glory for using his servant, Bishop Ilopitaife to shape who I became today.
It’s been 23 years since he left, what would you say you missed about him?
That man was the closest representation of Christianity that I have ever known. 12 years of marriage filled with so much fun. I saw in him Christianity as a living faith. I saw him practice Christianity before me, that’s one of the things that upheld me not to take offence, I used to tell him, ‘when I grow I want to be like you’. He helped me to grow up spiritually. He did everything to encourage my spirit to grow. It’s going to be 23 years he passed on to glory in February, he’s the closest representation of Christ likeness in human form.
He was open -minded; he did not have a separate life from the pulpit. There was nothing different between his public and private life. He was consistent. The only thing that could be different in him was his attire. He did not live differently from what he preached. He practised true Christianity, because he was a Christian in character, words and deeds, those who knew him can attest to this.
As a young child, did you envisage you will become a pastor someday?
No, I did not. I was very religious growing up. I was a Catholic and I attended every church service, confession, I followed everything. I wanted to be a very renowned influential intellectual, philanthropist, give money to the poor and support the church. I had a friend who introduced her fiancé to me, an architect who is a pastor and I said to her, ‘why do you want to marry a pastor?’ When she introduced this man, he was too sophisticated to be a pastor and equally handsome. When I got born again, I did not have the idea that I was going to marry a pastor. I saw pastors as Jesus, I have this respect for them. How do I fit in as a pastor’s wife? Those were my reasons then, an initial phobia I had. Also, because pastor’s wife in those days were regimented. They have their way of life. And I felt I would not fit into the status of a being a pastor’s wife. I only wanted to be influential, serving God and having impact on lives. I had my own dreams before I met my husband, but I do not have any regrets being a pastor. I am where God wants me to be and I’m happy.
Why haven’t you considered remarrying?
I don’t think it’s the will of God for me. And I say that with clarity of mind. I say that because growing up, I’d said I could only be married once. First of all, my initial philosophy was that I would not marry, because I used to see a lot of battering. I thought that was what marriage was, but as I began to grow up, that perception changed. But if I must marry, it has to be a man that loves me and a man that I can love too. Then, I used to talk about a man of my dreams. He has to be nice looking, know God. I would say, I had a good marriage. The boundaries were clear. Husband, love your wife, wife submit yourself to your husband and we learn how to be successful within those boundaries.
You have engaged in humanitarian services for several years, but have not been in the face of the media. Why have you chosen not to publicise your activity?
I have a heart for people. I fight tears when I see people suffer. Today, the geniuses are in the street, the life they are living cannot match their design. The vision of the church is to meet the felt need of the people. Right from inception we have engaged in charity, it is part of the ministry. We have embarked on life transforming project. We give to charity, that’s why today we have a love hall called Agape. Widows go through hell, I have over four hundred widows whose children are under my scholarship scheme. Every Sunday, we have what we call food table where people can pick anything they need, especially at this time in Nigeria when people are faced with so much hardship. We do this to meet the felt need of the people. We have borehole here that serves the community and also at home I allow those in my environment to benefits from it.
Whenever, I am driving and I see a child who is supposed to be in school hawking, my heart bleeds. Who knows what these children passes through every other day. Funny enough, children from disadvantaged home who go through such painful experience, hardship and difficult times tend to be geniuses, but do not have the means of survival. They are encouraged to go hawking in order to put meal on their table. It is my plan to have a world class institution with affordable fee to improve the standard of education. We can’t talk about development and not think education especially with the advancement of technology in the 21st century, we have to complement it.
My passion for humanitarian service is a thing from my heart. I understand that the reason why I am a pastor is for me to serve the people. The felt need of the people was important to Jesus. I did not think about the business aspect of the calling. I want God to provide the money that matches the heart of service. I understand that church is about people, my husband taught me that. We have established the home church in the ministry, what is referred to as community transformation programme and we use that platform to reach out to our members, in -reach. While the other community transformation initiative is achieved through the community change agent established as home church to meet the needs of the people. Under the outreach initiative, we have awarded scholarships to indigent children in Abule community and it’s environs, distributed clothing materials, food items and conducted free medical screening and administered medical services to people diagnosed with ailments through the help of UNICEF and our medical practitioner.
Many years ago we built a 26 bed- hospital inside the church compound to serve the community’s immediate need with the help of a foreign embassy. But, it was demolished by the state government in power then. an initiative meant to meet the needs of the community in Abule-Osun. It is so sad, but I know that agenda came from the pit of hell. The ministry is bent on improving the lives of the people.
Also, we have the prison fellowship, I am one of the grand patrons of Nigerian Prison Fellowship of Nigeria where we reach out to inmates. Everybody was not born as a criminal.
You look stylish what is your kind of style?
I like to blink but not to be busy. I like elegance and, simple appearance. I have my fashion sense. I don’t go with fashion trends, because I just like to be simple. I create my style and I go with what suits me. I equally like fashion as a vocation, it is something I am comfortable with. I can add that to my creative ability.
How do you unwind?
I am learning to do that now. I have a choleric personality trait that just wants to work. I derive a lot of energy working. When my husband was alive, he knew how to balance things for me, because he had a personality trait that helped him halt when he needed to take a rest. He was a choleric, but had another blend of choleric- sanguine personality traits that creates balance. I can be busy organizing things and he would say to me baby, you need to stop, so we can play. After many years I now know how to strike the balance. I watch TV, thank God for the advent of DSTV. There are so many channels to flip. I get Spa time; it helps me to relax.