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IF YOU DON’T BEG POLITICIANS FOR MONEY, IF YOU TELL THEM THE TRUTH ALWAYS, THEY WILL RESPECT YOU.
– Bishop Emmah Isong
Bishop Emma Isong, General Overseer of Christian Central Chapel Int’l and Chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Cross River State for eight years is an Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist well-known in conferences, Television, Radio, crusades and revival meetings because of his healing and deliverance anointing. He left his banking profession to respond to God’s call. In this interview conducted by Bola Adewara recently, Isong speaks on various issues such as the principalities and powers around Nigeria, Issues concerning the Church of God, his experiences as the PFN chair of Cross River for eight years and his understanding of the politicians. To him if preachers do not go to the politicians for money, politicians would respect whatever the preachers say, adding that the growth of Nigeria lies with the Church.
Did you ever imagine that stuff like Boko Haram will ever happen in Nigeria?
Yes, some of us knew this kind of thing could happen but we took it for granted. Islam has not just woken up and starts making noise. Study the history of Nigeria from the time of Usman Dan Fodio, the time Islam came through to the time of Ahmadu Bello. Their plan was to plant the Quran in the Ocean. They vowed that Islam will rule Nigeria. The word Islam is found severally in the constitution of Nigeria and the word Christianity is never found. Are you aware that all the military take-overs that happened in Nigeria were not just military take-overs, but Islamic take-overs?
Islam has phases of invasions. The first phase is to take over the political realm. The second, the economic. The third, the propaganda and then having landed properties and heading established institutions and the last is to strike when they see that they have achieved ninety per cent of their projects. That is how they do all over the world. That is what they did in Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Israel, the cradle of Christianity. Islam is not just a religion. It is a force. It comes in as a religion, develops into a military force and takes over as a government anywhere in the world.
Boko Haram did not just come in yesterday. It has been in the form of Maitatsine in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, and Bauchi all these years. It only manifested as Boko Haram only recently. Jihadism is the evangelism of Islam. It is conversion by force. It’s beheading of the infidels. It is the maiming and the killing of those that do not believe at all and those who believe but are not in the same form of Islamic beliefs. My prayer and information to all Christians and their Moslem brothers is that this form of terrorism does not spare even their own blood brothers. Look at what happened: they shot at the late Emir of Kano. They attacked Mohammad Buhari. They killed in the mosque. You cannot end violence in Islam. They don’t believe in education. They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe in westernization. They don’t believe in Jewish movement. They don’t believe in Christianity. They don’t believe in the Star of David. They don’t even believe in Mohammed, whom they claim to follow. All they know is blood!
What kind of faith do you think we Christian require to face this kind of insurgency and attack on Christianity?
I don’t want to appear confrontational. If my family and I sit at home and one Aliyu, a terrorist comes in with a machete to behead my wife and I, what will I do? Just give them our necks? That would be suicidal. Then I am going to hell fire. That is how to be an infidel, if you cannot protect your family. I will fight it out. It is our wrong doctrine that makes this matter go worse. If we Christians decide to fight back, this nonsense will stop. Nigerians should go to Mali, Niger and Chad to fight. That is where Boko Haram is. Boko Haram is not in Nigeria. Our boundaries are porous. There is no boarder control. United State took the fight to the streets of Iraq, Afghanistan. They went after Osama Bin Laden and traced him to Pakistan. If we go after them the way they come after us, I am sure they will not dare us again. Our wrong approach as a government and our wrong doctrines as a Church is promoting Boko Haram. We should fight back.
Talking about wrong doctrines, are you satisfied with the quality of sermons from our pulpits?
No. Our messages are saturated by motivations speeches. When you listen to the average speaker, we deal too much on a particular area. If its holiness, it’s over emphasized. Motivation, same. Prosperity, same. The Bible says I wish above all things that you be in good health and prosper even as your soul prospers. Everything should be balanced. There should be no prosperity teacher. There should be no holiness preacher. There should be no motivational preacher. A preacher should be a preacher. The beauty of the flower is the colour differentials. Also some of these messages are watered down. So many preachers are preaching what the people want to hear.
Operating from an ocean front like Calabar, what are your encounters with principalities and powers?
Satan is the same everywhere but its influences and agents could be different. In Yorubaland, it could be idolatry. For Igbo man, it is the craze for money. Ibo man can sell his brother because of money. When you come to the riverine areas, or delta areas, marine spirit. Sexual immorality. Polygamy. Divorce. In the North, bloodshed and false religion. Different manifestation in different places.
There is no town as peaceful as Calabar. No traffic Jam. Armed robbery is almost zero percent. No violence but it is spiritually loaded with power of marine spirit and multiplicity of religions. Calabar is the only town where every man can recite John 3:16 but he is born again. He could be a member of one lodge, a fraternity. He could be an elder in a Church and still be in different cults. They don’t see any evil there.
How do we deal with them in the Church? We make sure they get born again through altar call and discipleship. All Idolatry tends to push people into penury and that was the order of the day in Calabar. Once we get them born again, we begin to teach them the principles of prosperity, holiness, righteousness, and principles of the kingdom of God and of course when you look at the picture today, things are different.
So many people around the Calabar and Akwa Ibom axis used to work as cooks in oil companies or house help across the nation. How do you react to this?
I think that attitude has stopped about eight, ten years ago when people like Governor Godswill Akpabio came to power. He declared free education in the state. He sent Lorries to Lagos to bring home indigenes that for reasons of poverty could not send their children to schools. So many of them today are graduates, millionaires. All the Ekaette and Okon syndrome, the slaves, the slaves, the mentality of slaves in Shell or cooks in homes have stopped. Now if you come to Akwa Ibom/Cross River axis,. Looking for house help, you will find none. The mentality has been wiped out. The average Akwa Ibomite now prefer to stay in Uyo than in Lagos. Uyo now has the biggest stadium in Africa, the biggest five star hotel, the biggest Golf course, e-library and even in Cross River, the Tinapa is there, December festival, so many ministries coming up. See flyovers. Primary and secondary education is free for indigenes and non indigenes. Those kinds of things Awolowo did in the west. Godswill Akpabio did it in Akwa Ibom.
What has been your relationship with the politicians?
Very sound and very rough. Very sound because I tell them the truth, and very rough because some of them are bitter about the truth. Politicians are people who always look for your electoral value. They want to use you for elections and throw you away after. I have been involved in the political affairs of my area because the Bible says pray for the land of your captivity, for in their deliverance you shall be free. I do not think that the preacher should only be on his kneel praying for his country. The preacher and the congregation have voters’ cards and the essence is to participate in political engineering of the people.
This is a new philosophy. In years gone by, the Church warned its members to move clear of politics, a dirty game and that has made the Muslims to monopolise the political landscape even in places where the Christians are in demographic majority.
Yes, it was a wrong doctrine then. Every head of the Church must be involved in the political engineering of his environment. As I am seated here, you can never be my local government chair, House member or governor without my consent. You must seek my understanding or negotiate with me concerning the interest of the Church or else I will fight you openly. I am the South-South patron of the Nigerian Union of Journalist, before you rise to that level, you must agree with me that you must have been making impacts in social contribution. I am also a member of INEC Social Education Committee. I have been given over 72 awards worldwide. I am a member of American Congress given by American House of Representatives. I am an appointed Jurist in the American state of Texas. I am a member of Institute of Management in Cambridge. I am an Alumnus of Institute of Transformation in Malaysia. I am actively involved in the politics of Cross River and Akwa Ibom and Rivers States. The governors speak to me to seek my advice. I may be colour-blind but I am not politically blind. I do not believe politics will burn my hands so far I do not have interest to contest. Two members of the state house of Assembly are my Church members. Members of the government of the states are in my Church. There is no person wanting to contest elections in my state who will not consult with me for prayers and endorsement. None yet. All these to the glory of God. I cannot get my fingers burnt because I will not go into any dirty politics with anybody. That is what I mean when I say Church leaders should be actively involved. If you don’t beg them for money, if you tell them the truth always, they will respect you.
To be a good preacher, what do you need to observe?
A good preacher must first of all hear from God and speak to man and hear from man and speak to God. That is what intercessors do. Intercessors are people who stand in the gap of two enemies with a view to reconciling them. You can’t just be saying miracle with giving and worship. We must return to God what He wants and to man what he wants. The position of a middle man to tell man what God is saying and to tell God what man is saying.
What have you noticed as the biggest challenge of the 21st century Christians?
Shallowness of faith. If mosquito bites him in Church A, he moves to Church B. If grasshopper lands on him in Church B, he moves to Church C. If the pastor did not greet him well in Church C, he moves to Church D. So shallow people. Our relationship with ourselves and with our pastor is so deep but our relationship with our God is so shallow.
Look, I pastor a Church and I have seen things. Our relationship with God is not deep. If people don’t get married quickly, they are ready to quit Christianity and marry a Muslim and say we are all worshipping the same God. Those days, we go inside the rain to preach. We were glad to be persecuted. We trekked seven kilometers to get to our churches. Today, if you don’t have a Church bus, they are not coming. We suffered for Christ; we don’t go to Church for miracles. We got to Church two hours before time and start praying for the day’s service. When Church ended, we still remain in Church. Our testimonies were not about miracles we got, they were about the souls we won. Men stayed with women, sleep in the same room and no one would suspect fornication. We didn’t even remember she is a woman. All we were planning was winning souls for Christ. All that is lost. Soul winning has died.
At what point did you notice that things began to change negatively for the Church in Nigeria?
The very period we began to introduce deliverance and prosperity preachings. Those days, we were preaching evangelical and heaven. We did not balance it with deliverance and prosperity. We did not know how to mix the two. When the prosperity message began, greed came with it. A small boy is ready to leave the ministry when reprimanded by the senior pastor and goes to establish his own. Through this, half baked doctrines emerge. He wants to buy his own cars, house, etc.
Now, prosperity preaching on it was own is not bad. It is biblical. What I am saying is that there must be a balance. The current prosperity message has watered down evangelical side of our messages.
What should a Christian look out for in getting a godly wife/husband?
He should not look out for anything. If he does, he will fall into the same pit he is trying to avoid. It is natural. When you see your wife, you will know this is my wife. When Isaac saw Rebecca, he knew this is his wife. There must be that I-know-you-you-know-me thing. The synergy will be there. The metabolism works. The prayer ends that day. You don’t search again. When you engage in searching, you move from Church to Church searching for a wife. You will make mistakes.
What are the conditions for which you will advise a Christian to leave a particular Church
We do not say there are no conditions under which someone should leave a Church. There are so many reasons why someone can leave. One is if married out. If he is transferred to another town. Also, if there is apostasy, a state of false doctrine in the Church, where the pulpit can start teaching there is no Jesus, heaven is full, Jesus was not born by virgin Mary. Member should not just vamoose, they should stay and correct it. But when there is insistence of such heresies, you can now leave Sodom like Lot so that you will not be destroyed with them.
Let us look at pastors disengaging for a general overseer. This has caused some challenges in the past. How should disengagement from Churches proceed?
The best form of disengagement of a younger pastor from the senior pastor should be seen in the book of Samuel, how Samuel disengaged from Eli. The first thing you have to notice is that God will speak to you and you have to proceed to your Eli that God is speaking to you. Then Eli may not be generous to tell you ‘go’. He may say go and lie down. God may not call you once. He may call you three to four times. If the Lord speaks to you, He will speak to your master. But that is not the case in our Churches now. Before they speak to their master, they have packed their bag and baggage. Print handbills. They have rented halls and started campaigns among members. Let me give you seven points to guide a man leaving another person’s church.
1. Thou shall not go by the time you said God called you. Your master must agree.
2. You shall not leave until your master agrees. Even if he is stubborn, beg him. Do all you can to appease him until he releases you.
3. Thou shall not tell other persons before you tell your master.
4. Thou must not start work before he tells you to start. No printing letter head, flyers.
5. Thou shall not carry the rich men in the Church along with you, or collect their phone numbers, campaign among them, etc. you will be destroying his church.
6. Thou shall not invite another pastor to inaugurate your ministry. It has to be the very pastor from whom you are coming.
7. Thou shall go very far from your former church. You must go as far as 100 kilometers. It cannot be opposite. The name must not be the same or be linked to the other. His own is Power Pentecostal Chapel yours is Super Power Pentecostal Chapel. His is the Sanctified Church. Yours is Glorified Sanctified Church. Your Church name must be far. Your distance must be far.
Bishop, what were you called to do in the ministry?
The Lord told me in John 16: 33 to go and tell my people to be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. He also gave me responsibilities: win your generations to Me. Revive the body of Christ and plunder the Kingdom of hell. He also showed me in Obadiah 1:6 about holiness, power and prosperity. He told me that people should be of good cheer. There is so much sadness, melancholy, frustration in the body of Christ. He showed me that frustration and ignorance is the greatest weapon of the enemy against the body of Christ.
How did the very call of God in your life happened?
The call came in different stages and phases of my life. When I was in the University of Calabar on the 8th of January, 1984 in my year one, my salvation came together with my call at about 1 am Sunday morning. I believe that encounter was the beginning because the Lord asked me that if I die today, where would I go. That time, I was a Methodist. I began to think that going to Church was not enough so I gave my life to Christ. That was what happened to Saul. His salvation was his call.
The second experience was during my NYSC in Benin. I was part of the Benson Idahosa’s Church in 1987/88. I was living close to the church, Faith Arena. I was an usher and a youth leader. My one year stint in Benin became two years under that walking bible called Benson Idahosa. My life was impacted upon. I got to know who God is, who I am and who the devil is not. I was led through this to Calabar to start what I called The Good Cheer Partners, a non-denomination fellowship that ran for six years in a hotel in Calabar.
After six years, I had another encounter with the Lord in Ghana after which He led me into a fast for three days. It was after this that I had the revelation of the Christian Central Chapel International in June 1989. The Church which began with just 120 people grew so slowly and so discouraging until I met a man called Yongi Choo in one of his conferences in Libreville. I had an encounter at the conference where the anointing for Church growth came upon me. I moved back to Calabar and the Church grew into thousands. This began what we called the Morning Dew. The Morning Dew, which is about 14 years old now, is attended by so many people from around the world.
So in all my movements to about 44 nations across five continents, I found myself preaching the word of Christ, impacting them with the gospel.
In your years in the ministry, what is the biggest challenge you have come across?
Every man of God must come across challenges anytime he is about entering another level, and no man of God going somewhere will deny persecution, trials and tribulations. If he does, he has denied the Holy Spirit because He said through many tribulations we shall see God. My biggest Challenge was when I was called upon to be the Chairman of Cross River State branch of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) for eight years.
As the PFN chairman for eight years, what were your observations of the churches in Calabar and across the nation?
There is nothing that has original that does not have its fake. The fact that so many people have abused the tenets and benefits of Christianity shows us the originality of Christianity and this goes to encourage us to believe that there is something about Christ which every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to copy. Everyone that is original will stand the test of time. Everyone that is not, will not last. So many have come and have been blown away, so I am never bothered by their presence. But true and discerning people should be able to detect these fake ministries through their standards, the lifestyles, marital decorum, content of the revelation of the word of God in them and their heart of compassion and love in their environment, their relationship with pother ministers and their testimonies by others.