What was your experience like as a young priest?
One thing I normally tell young people, when they come seeking advice, with regard to their call and ministry is that: For me, the ministry is a matter of life and death. It is not just a casual decision. I believe that God calls us so that we will give Him our all, no reservation. You don’t need to have any connection, know the Primate, the Archbishop or the bishop. Just be who God has called you to be and let your loyalty be to Him.
The first thing has to do with knowing this God and giving your life completely to the Lord Jesus Christ. There should be no iota of doubt about whom your commitment is to because if you please Him, it doesn’t matter whether others write you off or not. God will open up your ministry. You may be good in teaching; you may be good as an evangelist, a preacher of the Word of God. You may be good in administration, in visitation or pastoral care. Just find out what your own part is within the body of Christ, find out from the Lord where He has called you to be and to minister.
Several times, from 1987 till the time of my election as Archbishop, there were pressures on me to leave the North and go to the East or the South. And even as a bishop, there were pressures. It is like a covenant with God and He has been faithful. So for me, it is a matter of life and death to obey this Lord, to follow Him, to be where He wants me to be. I don’t really need to know everything before I do what He wants me to do. Both as a priest and a bishop, He has been there to instruct us, to tell us what to do and what not to do. In fact, as a child of God, if you don’t hear from Him, be troubled and worried. In all things, both great and small, in difficult and challenging situations, even attempts on our lives, we have relied on Him and He has never failed us. So, as far as I am concerned, the ministry is about walking with God, moving with Him along this narrow way of life, and also He helping us to do what He wants us to do. We are not in competition. You have your ministry and I have mine. You have your calling and I have my calling. He is the One Who will judge us; the One Who will reward us and bless us.
I would say to every young man or woman in ministry, just be focused, especially on the Lord. He Who called us is faithful and He knows where He is taking us. Mine will be different from yours, and the way He is dealing with me will be different from the way He is dealing with you. I don’t need to be jealous of you. You may be in a big church and you stay in that church as an archdeacon and enjoy whatever goodies are there. It doesn’t bother me. That is the way the Lord is dealing with you. In my own case, the joy of serving the Lord in the North is that you have to depend on Him for everything. You have to pray for everything, you have to believe God for everything and when He does it, your faith is encouraged. For me, that is what matters and we have also brought up our children in that same way. When there is a challenge, we call them and tell them that this is what is happening now and we need to pray. And when you struggle with your children on those issues and the Lord breaks the yoke, the family comes back, and you say praise God, the Lord has done it; their own faith is encouraged. But when it is all about complaints, we portray the ministry as if we are in it by force. That is why some of our clergy children are not willing to serve God.
What was your experience when Boko Haram started in the North?
The issue of persecution in serving the Lord and challenges in ministry in the North is very real. But you know one thing, just as I have said, you need to listen to the Master. He said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and these other things will be added unto you.” Again, He said: “Go into all the world and preach, teach and baptise.” I don’t know how others may interpret it, but I love taking the Lord by His words literally and it has helped me in my ministry. When you make God’s priority your own priority, God has a way of helping and supporting you through it. Indeed, God likes to be challenged. For example, when you say Lord, this one, I am not going anywhere until you do something for me, and you stay put, you wait on Him, I have never seen Him fail. It may not be easy; it is one of the most difficult and trying things.
The issue of Boko Haram and attacks, no matter what comes your way, know that the Lord is already there. Let me just share this one experience in February 2014. In 2013, the Lord asked me to organise a prayer that would embrace all the pastors within Gombe metropolis. We were to use ECWA Church and not Anglican Church. So, we threw it open and invited all the pastors, Pentecostals, Anglican, Roman Catholics, ECWA, Baptist and all the other churches, and we started the prayer. We met every Monday by 7 am to pray, and we did that for almost three months consistently. Sometimes, we were few and sometimes we were many. After some time, we stopped, but some people agitated that we should keep on praying, because by then, everywhere was burning around us— Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and sometimes they would come into Gombe to attack. On February 14, 2014, they landed, and even the soldiers ran away with their uniforms and guns. They attacked the army depot, attacked where they stored their ammunitions and looted the place before the Air Force intervened. Everywhere was thrown into confusion, but we asked the pastors to be in the place of prayer. What we did was to evacuate the women and children. We arranged and moved those who ran from the town into the Bishops court to the southern part of the state-building. While all this was happening, the Lord spoke to me and said: “Henry, I will not give this city to the enemy, I will deliver you.” He said He would not give His heritage to the wicked. When that word came to me, I held unto it. In fact, I wrote it down on a small card. As the word was coming to me, I was writing it down like a covenant word I held unto. I remembered the Lord prompted us to pray for three months, which we just finished and were waiting for the next direction. When this was happening, this word came: For every move, for every attack, for every manipulation of the kingdom of darkness, God knows, and He has a plan. His plans for us are of good and not of evil, to give us hope and to bring us to an expected end, and we need to hold on to Him. I came to the realisation that oftentimes when we are pushed to the wall and we depend on Him, we see Him opening doors and ways.
Ministry is a matter of life and death, and we need to walk with the One Who called us. Just be faithful. Oftentimes, I tell people that I may not be as faithful as He wants me to be, but He knows my heart. My desire is to always please Him. I know the flesh will always be there, I may fail but He will never fail.
At what point were you elected bishop?
I was elected Bishop of Gombe in September 1999. We were consecrated in November 1999 and enthroned in November. There were movements. I went back to Kano, to the parish as the Archdeacon of Kano and served in the Cathedral. I was in charge of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and from there, was transferred back to St. Francis to be the Dean of St. Francis in 1999. When I was transferred to be the Dean of St. Francis, people agitated. Some of them complained about the way I was being treated, that it was a place of punishment. A delegation came to me that it was ready to fight for me. I looked at them and asked the businessman, “Can I come to your business and tell you how to treat those who are working for you?” I said to the worker, “You are a worker, can I come to your office and tell them how they should treat you?” I asked them, “If I want to resign today as a priest, can you keep me?” They said no. I said: “As far as this ministry is concerned, leave me alone. It is between the Lord and I. Even if the church leaders are making decisions that are not favourable to me, leave me alone. I am the servant of the Lord. Let God do what He wants to do with me, even if it means to punish me, to kill me, or to deal with me, leave me alone. Never you put your mouth again in anything that concerns my ministry and me. I am not looking for sympathy. I will go, I will do what God wants me to do. I will remain where He has sent me until He tells me to move.” And that was what happened. Why am I stressing this? Some of us priests look for sympathy.
My wife has always stood by me. We remember how we started our marriage, and that has kept us. That is how the Lord has been taking us through life until now. When I went back to Wusasa in May, I settled down and that was where I had all my children except for the last one. We saw it as our home. By September, I was elected Bishop in St. Francis. If I had allowed people to fight for me, I would have lost it. I would have lost what God wanted to do in my life. So many ministers have lost their bearing, their calling, because they have followed men rather than obeying God, especially in the face of challenges.
It was not easy for us as a young Bishop in Gombe. Being a pioneer, we started with nothing. There were people who promised to support, but nobody came forward to do anything. I came two or three times to see the former Primate, Most Rev. Peter Jasper Akinola. I begged him to tell me who these persons were. He said: “What you will need to build that diocese is in Gombe. Go back there and do your work. I will not beg any person.” I took him by his words. He is a mentor and a friend to me. I went back and the Lord proved Himself over and over again. By making God’s priority my priority, doing what I believed God wanted me to do and trusting Him to help, God did prove Himself. When we went to Gombe, we prayed and said: “Lord, give us people, raise people to build this place,” and the Lord did it. For every person that passed under our ministry, we made sure that our focus is on the Lord, on what God wants us to do and at the same time, being the best we can for Him, both in training and admonition.
We started with 18 congregations. As a Bishop I started with N12, 000 monthly salaries. With that, you know what my priest would be earning in this church, but there are other bishops who had more to spare. The Lord has taught us how to abase and how to abound. Wherever the Lord has called us, He has gone ahead, and He tells you what to do.
You will be surprised by the things He will be asking you to put in place, as every vision may start very little, but the more you follow, the more you see that it is widening. Any vision that does not outlive us is not from God.