Ever-smiling, charming, anointed and spirit-filled wife of Bishop Mike Okonkwo, the presiding bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), was 70 years old on June 10, 2022.
The celebrant, Bishop Peace Okonkwo, in this interview with thelaurel.com.ng, relived many memories and lots more. Excerpts…
What does June 10 signify in your life?
June 10 means so much to me. It was the day I was born, the day I came into the world. It is a special day. Growing up, I know that June 10 wad my birthday.
You really don’t look 70. You walked stylishly upstairs; can you tell us the secret?
Everyone says so. I would just tell you, apart from the few things I do, I think it is the grace of God: when God gives you grace, when you know things you are supposed to do and He gives you grace to do them.
I was telling a lady, that the last Thursday of every month I stand for about three hours to minister to women. God has given me that grace. I eat right (I suppose) and I do a walking exercise. That’s all. Not much. I just walk round my compound.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
So many lessons. Where would I start? Life is ups and downs. Good and bad, but you just have to trust God. We have passed through a lot. You just believe God for the best. No matter how bad it is, it will get better.
Why did you become a pastor, was it because you married a pastor?
No. I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When Bishop came to marry me, he was okay, but he was not a pastor. I like to work behind the scenes. I like to pray, helping people. The pastorate just came. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He is a God of plans, purpose and objectivity. He had a plan for me, which I can see now. The way he took me, he was working it out. I just married him (Bishop Okonkwo). The rest started to unfold. Even the day he made me a bishop, I cried my eyes out because I knew I don’t know much. I said, for what, what am I looking for? I just want to serve God. He said God told him. Thank God he didn’t tell me at home because if he had told me, I wouldn’t have come to church.
Was he already a pastor when you met him?
No. He was working in the bank when I met him. I knew his family, I knew his mum and father.
My grandmother, at that time, was in the same church with them. So, I knew them. I knew Mama Iloh (his elder sister), particularly.
After the war, everybody was looking for God. So, we went to the same church, UCC. I love listening to the music and also I love to dance. I love music. I just went there to listen to the music and uplift my spirit. That was where I met him, in the youth fellowship.
What was the attraction?
Bishop had an air. He was always dangling his father’s car key. But he’s a pleasant person. He’s very shy. He couldn’t talk to me; he went to talk to the older sister that he liked me. The rest is history.
Concerning the good and bad sides of life, as you said, let’s look at the good side first…
The good side was when I married the bishop. When I had my first child was the good side. The bad side was when my first daughter died and when we lost Bishop’s brother (the doctor), It was bad. One thing we have to do in life is, we have to look up to Jesus. If he allows it, why should we question Him? Our lives are in His hands. That is what I have learnt over the years. Everything that comes to me passes through the hands of Jesus. If Jesus allows it, I allow it. I keep on serving. When I lost my first daughter, it was terrible. Women came from the church to sit around me. I said, Please, let us go to church. David said, My son cannot come back to me, I will go to him. I told them, Let’s go to church. The young girl is dead and she’s been buried. The woman were like, what is wrong with this woman, is she off? I was not off. I didn’t know I was ministering to somebody there. One of our pastors’ wife, when her only brother that she was living with died, she remembered what I said. And that kept her going.
What advice do you have for women who suffer abuse?
I tell them to speak out. Before the ladies thing came out, I just felt in my spirit that we should talk in that area. I brought it up in February. In that meeting, I told women, Many of you are abused and you are hiding it. You will die for nothing. A problem discussed is a problem solved. Speak out. In the congregation, one mama, about 80 years got up.
She opened up on what she has seen over the years. It could be emotional abuse. Then women started speaking up. We are going to have the second edition soon. Don’t die for nothing. Speak out. If there are people to help you, they will help you. If there are people to talk to your husband, they will do that.
Despite abuse and battering, some women stay in marriage because of their children, what should such women do?
Nobody is telling you to leave your husband but you have to find a solution. If the man beats you and you faint and you die, those children will be alone. You better ask for help so they can tell you how to handle him.
Before becoming Bishop Peace, how was life?
Life was rough. I already told you that I grew up with grandma. Even when I came into the ministry, it wasn’t easy. When we were young, grandma didn’t believe in grinding, you had to beat it. You know how difficult it is to beat dry pepper. And we trekked to school. We didn’t have car. St. Barths to Uwani in Enugu, we trekked it. When we returned from school, the egusi was there to peel. You would do it or else you wouldn’t eat. Life was rough. Even when I got to the ministry, it wasn’t that rosy. I drank garri without sugar and milk. But look at it today. If I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to eat because of weight. Processing time, it’s not an overnight thing. You just have to trust and believe God. It was tough. I remember when I started working, I had married at that time. I got on a molue. A young boy was struggling to come inside the molue and I offered he sat on my laps; not knowing the young boy was targeting my purse. He took my purse and by the time I got down I didn’t see my keys. It wasn’t easy at all. People that look at us and say, I want to be like Bishop Peace, get ready, you will pass through the mills, but if you are ready to keep your eyes on Jesus, you will be more than I am today.
Growing up, who influenced you as a person?
I would say, apart from my grandma, my auntie. After I finished primary school, she decided I should come to England, I will help you.
She is going to come here, by the grace of God, on my 70th birthday. She was the one that were behind me, telling me, Peace, don’t worry, it will get better.
But if it comes to ministry, when we started, nobody was there. All the women ministers were deaconesses. But Bishop said he read in his Bible that there were women pastors. So, we emerged as the first women pastors, not only me, the rest of us.
As a pastor’s wife, what are your challenges?
As a pastor’s wife, one of the challenges you face is that everything that is wrong in the church is you. The men are always right. You will not hear that their pastor did this, rather it is their wives did this. Also, you should make sure you are a woman that is under the pastor. For everything you want to do, your husband must know about it so he can give you his blessings. As a pastor’s wife, don’t select those you would love and those you won’t love. As a pastor’s wife, you don’t talk too much. You pick and choose what you say. As a pastor’s wife, even when you are suffering, don’t go and tell your members, we don’t have food today in the house, can you borrow me some money? It’s not acceptable. I told you, I drank garri. There are members that I could have asked for food. Believe God for everything. There was a time we had scarcity of eggs in Nigeria and that time my first daughter was still alive; I used to boil eggs for her, but that day we didn’t have any egg at home. Somebody from Ojo Road church, if it’s somebody in Obanikoro church, I would say maybe she has come to my kitchen and looked around, she was going to supply eggs and she heard in her spirit, keep one crate for Rev. Peace, and she brought it. That was how God met the need of eggs for the family.
You must be a woman of prayer. The Bible says God supplies all our needs, he didn’t say some. Make the Holy Spirit your partner, he would tell you, he would direct you, and don’t live in competition. I don’t like to live above my means. Those that compare themselves with others are not wise. If God wants you to have something, He will give it to you.
There was a time they were saying, we have to get a car for Bishop Peace at the Synod. This thing became another thing.
One day, I told the Bishop, sir, please, can you cancel it. If I can’t pray it out then I don’t know the God that I serve.
I said let nobody should talk about my car again.
But a woman in Germany that had never met me, when Bishop went to minister in that country, the woman came to the bishop and said God told her, your wife does not have a car.
You must have this experience for you to believe God. She said, I’m going to buy her a car, ship it to her free. The only thing Bishop told her was, don’t buy her a big car because she won’t drive it. She bought a BMW and sent it to me. So, how would you not believe in this God for another thing? After a while, God told me, give the car to the pastor in Ghana.
The rest is history. Cars started coming, not one bought by the church.
Bishop Okonkwo looks hard, what type of man is he?
Bishop is the simplest person you can deal with. He is very simple. I’m the hard one. Don’t look at the hard face o. He’s very soft in the heart. If you look at the face, you will be deceived. He is very soft.
What do you love about him?
So many things. He’s loving, he’s caring, he thinks about you. So many things. He tries to help.
If there’s anything you could change about him, what would that be?
Bishop can give you his house. How do I know? Somebody could come to the church and say, Mummy, thank you so much. I wuld say thank you for what? When I get home he would say that money we kept, he didn’t have house rent, I had to give it to the person. But I have found out that’s him. I don’t begrudge him anymore. He pays school fees. Let’s allow him to be who he is.
Your favourite travel destination?
From the beginning, I don’t like travelling. But the ministry has made me to travel. US is very far. If you are telling me to come to the US, it has to be towards my conference. England is not so far. I have been to Dubai once. It’s okay. The thing that would make me go is ministry. Throughout the pandemic, I didn’t go anywhere. The COVID test, isolation, keeping you for days but now it is no more. I will be ministering in London in May.
Your experience during the COVID-19 period, what were you doing?
It was terrible. It is not good to be discussed. You wake up in the morning, have your devotion, sit down in the house, the only thing you can do is slot in tape and be listening. It was so boring, terrible time. Somebody could not visit you, you could not visit somebody. God, I thank you that it is all over, by the grace of God. It was terrible.
How did you do it that your daughter is in the ministry, well behaved?
Let me tell you something about Uche, briefly. When I lost the first one and I didn’t have another child till about four years and I had her, I made a commitment to God that, If you give me another child, I will give her to you. So, when she was growing up, living like a normal child, I didn’t tell her anything. I still remember what I told God, and God is a covenant keeper. So, when she went to school, she went to UNILAG Staff School. I remember one of my ladies telling me, why don’t you send her to Corona. I said I don’t have money for Corona. I don’t look for what I don’t have money for. But as God would have it, she finished. I prayed about everything. I asked God, which secondary school would she go to.
She went to Redeemers’ College. It was after she went to Redeemers’ College that all Tremites started going to Redeemers’ College. While she was in the college, I found out there was a time she didn’t do well at all. Uche is a smart girl but I noticed she dropped from second position to 10th. So, I went to the principal and I was told she’s distracted. That time, I was travelling with Bishop, I said, No more traveling. I have only one child, let me bring her up in the way of the Lord. Travelling will always come. That’s what I did. She started sitting at home, doing her homework. Immediately after that, she took Junior WAEC, she came second. You have to sacrifice something for something good to happen to you.
When she finished secondary school, we started looking for a university for her. Thank God for the late Bimbo Odukoya. She asked which school was Uche attending, I answered, maybe UNILAG. She said, No, she should take TOEFL, once she passes it, that’s where my children are. She did the examinations and she passed.
They took her in the same school, Oral Roberts University. Money was yet to come but God said He would supply our needs. I thought the school fees was once a year. I didn’t know you had to pay every term. I told them the ministering of angels was still around. In her second year, we couldn’t afford to pay up her school fees. I prayed. In America, if you owe 50 dollars, they would send you out until you pay. That particular day, as I was counselling, a woman came to my office and told the girl I was working with, Give mummy this nylon.
It was a very dirty nylon. By the time I opened it, it was the exact dollar amount I was looking for. That’s what we used in paying her school fees and, since that time, God has been faithful. She started growing. I was following her with my prayers. Everything is God. I threw her back to God. I didn’t tell her. After graduation, she returned to Nigeria and started working in Bank of Industry. They were paying her good money, N400,000 a month, but she was not happy. She said, Mummy, I’m so sad. Whenever I go to work, I’m not happy, but when I cone to church I’m glad.
She said once she did one year she would resign and that’s what she did.
I won’t tell you how she got married. That’s a story for another day (smiles).
How do you feel that you have only her, amid family concerns about male children, how do you cope?
If I tell you I’m happy, I would be telling you a lie. If Bishop had told me that God told him he would not have many children, I would have run. He told me too late. It is not only him. One of his brothers has one daughter also. Children are children. There are people that don’t have any at all. You should be grateful to God that he gave you one. He gave you two and took one.
What is your definition of fashion?
Fashion is wear what fits you, but now my daughter is helping me a lot.
You see some people who are big as myself wear tight materials. It is not good. Wear something smart and what fits you. And what you can look in the mirror and say this is good and what God will be proud of.
Your favourite perfumes?
I like perfumes. There’s this guy that God has used in my life. Himself and his wife were the ones that upgraded my perfume to designers. I don’t wear the small-small ones (laughs). It is all designers now. I can’t remember the years I bought perfume last. They bought not only for me, but also for Bishop.
If you go to the perfume side on my dressing table, you’ll find different designer perfumes and they are from this couple.
Your favourite food?
I like onugbu soup and ora soup, I don’t eat so much rice. I like African soups. Fisherman soup. I ate it in Calabar. Any soup that does not have too much oil. When I see good food, I take the recipe.
What a man can do, a woman can do better, are you in agreement?
There are things for men and there are things for women. Let’s not compare. God is a good God. He knows our capabilities. I don’t like that comparison. What a man can do, a man can do. What a woman can do, a woman can do.
So, women should come up for elective positions in 2023?
I don’t mind that. Women are very smart. If a woman were ruling this country, it would have been nice. Honestly, look at the few places women handled, the difference is clear. The day a woman will become the President of Nigeria you will see the difference, because women do things the right way. We have tried the men over the years. What are they giving to us? We should try the women as well. All I owe Nigeria is to pray for Nigeria.
What are your beauty regiments?
I would say that I don’t like bleaching. I use simple cream and simple soap. I take my bath. I use moisturizer. I don’t use medicated soap. Even my inside is fairer than my outside. God blesses us according to what he wants us to be. Don’t do too much. If you are dark, black is beautiful.
You see a lot of people that are dark, they want to turn white. Don’t do that, you are killing your skin. I make sure I wash my face every night. I don’t go to bed with makeup