Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is the Senior Pastor of Kingsway International Christian Center. At the expansive grounds of the Ikeja Golf Club, he talks about his life as a minister of God, father and husband and other issues, including offering help to widows, among others.
Have you always wanted to be a minister of God?
I was born in Zaria and grew up in various barracks in Kaduna, Zaria and Kano. I was a Muslim and my name was Ahmed. My mum and dad were named Aishat and Salau respectively. My sister was Dijat and my brother was called Mudashiru.
I received Christ after reading a gospel tract when I was 20 years old. From then on, I began to have a passion to share the gospel of Jesus with other people but I didn’t know it was going to be a calling. By age 22, I worked briefly in church premises in Modakeke, Osun State. I was there for seven months and on the other hand, I was looking to get my O’levels so I could go to the Nigerian Defence Academy. I wanted to be an Army officer, because I was raised in the barracks and my dad was in the military.
My only passion in life at the time was to be an army officer in the engineering corps. The army engineering corps of those days built bridges and constructed roads.
Why didn’t you pursue a career in the military?
Somehow, I later became interested in becoming a preacher of the gospel. One day, a man came into the church premises and said I looked like a man who God would call into the ministry. Then, it didn’t occur to me that it might be my future. Once he sowed that into my spirit, I collected the address of the Bible College he attended in Ikorodu, Lagos and enrolled there in January, 1974.
Was your family against your love for Christianity?
While my dad, mum and immediate family members were Muslims, my dad’s extended family members were Christians.
Interestingly, my dad died in the Nigerian civil war and so, that removed my biggest persecution. With his death, my mum didn’t have any passion to persecute me. To a certain extent, my extended family expressed doubts and asked how I was going to meet my needs as a preacher. They didn’t realise it was a calling I had no control over.
Was growing up in the barracks a palatable experience?
It was a very difficult life. My dad was never at home and he spent the little money he had on pool staking. There was a limited supply of food in the house and sometimes, he would deliberately make us live in the poorest part of town.
He was not caring but interestingly, he was passionate about his children. That was one aspect of him people found contradictory.
The KICC parish in the United Kingdom is acclaimed to have the largest congregation of Christians in the UK since the introduction of Christianity in the country. How did you achieve this?
Sometimes I think that is what humbles me most. I did not imagine that boy who was born in Zaria barracks would be hand-picked by God. I didn’t attend the Oxford University; I only went to a bible college in Ikorodu, Lagos, and enrolled in a correspondence course in a school in America. I can’t be arrogant about my achievements because only God could have brought me this far.
Why then did the UK Charity Commission of Wales and England beam its searchlight on the activities of your ministry?
When you are a minority in any place and you have such extreme breakthrough and success, chances are that you will attract attention- good, bad and ugly. You will find that anything called a Commission would give legal reasons for their actions, but sometimes when you examine and discover that the same legal reasons were not applied to everybody in your circumstance, you begin to feel there may be other reasons. Looking back, it was just God that brought us out of the challenge. I say so because nobody has ever been fraught with all the machinery of the government and come out clean with a testimony.
Allegations of tax evasion and financial impropriety were leveled against your ministry in the United Kingdom…
No, there was no such thing. Did you read that in the commission’s statement? Nigerians just draw all kinds of conclusions; churches don’t pay tax, so the commission couldn’t have said that we evaded tax. Instead of the church paying tax in the UK, the government gives back money to churches because of its members who pay tax. Nigerians who do not know what the Charity Commission means and stands for came up with that notion.
How have you managed being a successful black man and Nigerian in the UK?
No matter how independent people are in their thinking, they would be lying if they say there is no prejudice or presuppositions in their actions. Whether racism was the motivation behind the allegations, I can only allude. From its own research, the government accepts that there is institutionalised racism even in its own bureaucracies, departments and sectors.
Did this give rise to the book you authored -What is Wrong with Being Black, which caused a stir?
It took me seven years of research and between 4000 and 10,000 references to come up with that book. It was inspired by the observation that anywhere blacks are in the majority, they are unable to build anything worthwhile. God did not create any man to be a failure. The ideal thing is to attract people to the question-What is wrong with being Black? The problem with us blacks is our inability to take advantage of God’s provision for us to become achievers.
What are your thoughts on homosexuality?
God created marriage for people to find procreation, mutual help, comfort and strength. When God started marriage, it was for Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God loves all men and he loves homosexuals. It’s just that the constitution of God which is the Bible, speaks against the practice.
How are you able to preach this gospel in societies which are permissive of this practice and lifestyle?
I was one of 10 people who signed and put our conviction about God’s original idea of the marriage institution in major newspapers. One of the fallout is the persecution that comes from taking such a stance.
We cannot run away from what we believe. If God had wanted same sexes to marry, he would have created other methods of procreation. We don’t come out to say we hate homosexuals because we love them; God loves them but the bible is against the practice.
You have been married to Pastor Yemisi for 34 years. How have you been able to stay married for this long?
It is in accepting and appreciating each other. We made the right decisions from the beginning. When I was going to get married, I was on the lookout for an evangelist. A pastor friend of mine asked me to speak to her even though I already knew her because I was her counsellor in church. Our union is awesome because we share a similar passion for Christ even though we come from two sides of the gospel; I came from the streets while her parents were born again before she was born but the same blood of Jesus cleaned both of us.
How do you divide your time between your ministry and the home front?
I came up with a philosophy I call valuable, quality time at home and quantity time outside. Even if its two hours I spend at home, I make it worth the while. When my two sons who are now married were younger, I neither accepted speaking engagements nor went out. There was a time I did not travel out of London for 11 years; I was actively involved in their upbringing at school and at home. I did not start to travel until they were A-level students.
Why are you passionate about helping widows?
Because I have been through so much suffering in life, I have a burden and passion for helping needy people. As I began to see the blessings of God in my life, I realised it was necessary to begin to look out for people. I started out giving scholarships to members of my immediate family and later, to non-family members. I observed that just providing food, drinks and celebrating the New Year with my extended family in my hometown did not really show the compassion of Christ. I soon felt God was leading us to build a university in that town and reach out to widows. The first year my ministry gave food, money and clothing items to 308 widows, by the second, third and fourth year, we catered to 850, 1000, 1500 and 1600 widows. This year, there were over 4000 widows whom we ministered to with clothing, money and food items.
What is the secret of your fit, youthful and stylish appearance at 62?
I take a lot of fiber and as you become older your joints need a lot of it. I like to take care of myself and I like to look presentable because I am in the public eye. I am watched in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the whole world via the Internet. You can either make yourself such that people switch off or make them listen to you speak. I found that while I am led by the Holy Spirit, God has given me wisdom and tenacity to make good choices as long as they are not offensive. That informs why I may be considered to be stylish.