The Gospel 1: My Conversion
By: Deji Yesufu
Ever since I became a Christian in the year 1998, I have been a member of four church denominations. From 1998 till my graduation in 2002 from the University, I was a member of the Christian Teaching Center (CTC), Zaria, Kaduna State. The church was opposite the Ahmadu Bello University main campus. For a brief period following graduation, I was a member of the Latter Rain Assembly between 2004 and 2005 during my search for greener pastures in Lagos. It was at Latter Rain that I became baptized in water as an adult (my mother had baptized us all as infants). In December 2005 when I came to Ibadan, I joined the Vine Branch Church, Mokola, Ibadan. I remained in this church until my celebrated break with them in 2014 after I began to criticize tithing on social media. From March 2014 till date, my family and I have been members of the Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State.
In two of these denominations, I ended my relationship with letters. At Christian Teaching Center (CTC), Zaria, I wrote my pastor a letter titled “On Doctrine and Practices: A Critical Evaluation of a Local Church’s Doctrine and Practice”. The long and short of the letter was that the gospel message was increasingly lacking in the sermons and practices that emanated from that church. I gave a copy of the letter to my pastor at the time[i] and another copy to the General Overseer of the CTC group of churches – a medical doctor turned pastor. I doubt that these two men ever read those notes because I did not hear from them. The letter was also a parting note of sorts. Because I was leaving Zaria for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program, a friend, Dr. Paul Adoyi, had asked me to put my thoughts in writing – at least for the records. I did and since then I had not returned to CTC.
On the 28th of December 2012, I went to the administrative block of Vine Branch, Ibadan, and delivered a letter to the pastors there titled “Letters to My Pastors”. I remembered the date well because it was the morning my daughter turned one. I gave copies of the letter to the senior pastor and two of his associates. Up till the time I was writing this note, I had not received an official response from the leaders of Vine Branch. The senior pastor, however, sent me a text message in which he counseled me not to allow anger to ruin my life. I did not respond to the text message because I considered it an insult. If he could not make a formal response, he should have at least called me for a dialogue.
In this letter, I was again calling the leadership of the church to the salient matter of the gospel; how unimportant matters were crowding out the gospel message from church life. After submitting the letter to Vine Branch, I found that the reaction to it was becoming unbearable for my family and me, and two years later, we left for the Chapel of the Resurrection at the University of Ibadan.
In March 2014, I met with the Chaplain of the Chapel of the Resurrection. Rather than wait till the end of my stay in the Chapel, I decided to submit a document to him about the first few months we were there. I titled it “My Concern for all the Churches”.The Chaplain claimed to have read the document but I never got any written response from him. Again, the core of that document was that the gospel was being lost in the churches and there was a need to reclaim it.
I write all these to give context to my passion and to the kind of writing I post on social media. I believe that the matter of the gospel is at the heart of my actions. What then is the problem exactly?
When I look back at my conversion, I realize that I underwent two conversion experiences. The first was an awakening; the other was about how I came to know God after encountering the gospel. Unfortunately, I have come to realize also that what many people profess as conversion experiences in the churches today are mere awakenings; they appear never to have moved into conversion proper because the gospel element is missing in their conversion story. Let me explain further by recounting how I met Jesus Christ.
It was sometimes in late February 1998. I was rooming (actually squatting) with two of my friends at the Sports Block of Suleiman Hall, ABU, Zaria. My friends had a “born-again” roommate. So, all four of us were living together, but my friends and I hated this SU guy who was also a photographer because he spent all his time at fellowship meetings. One day, I had returned early from lectures and thought I should make lunch for the boys. They would soon return and we had this practice that whoever got to the room first should cook for everyone. But we never mixed with the SU guy—Gabriel Ogah—and our things were separate from his. Gabriel was the first person to come into the room that day. For some reason beyond me, I asked Gabriel if he would like to have a plate of rice and beans (I normally would not offer him anything, but God had a plan). Gabriel accepted my food and after eating he said:
“I always thought you were different…”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He explained that no one ever gave him food in that room before this day and because he had to combine lectures and his photography business, he spent quite a lot of money buying food from the cafeteria. The meal I had offered him would save him some money that afternoon. Then, just like Isaac blessed Jacob after eating the food, Gabriel Ogah began to share the salvation message with me. He told me I needed to know Jesus as I had long been rebelling against the Lord. Then, he led me to say a sinner’s prayer. All that was going on in my mind was to quickly get out of that room because the whole environment was becoming intense. It was obvious a strange presence was with us in the room. This encounter took about an hour and none of my roommates badged in on us throughout the time. As Gabriel prayed for me, he gave what Pentecostals call a “word of knowledge”. With no prior knowledge of the state of my academic records in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Gabriel said:
“Things are not good for you in the department but if you would return to God, he would restore your result…” or something to that effect. I was in my first semester 300 level and languishing in a sorry third class 2.20. There was no way things could get better for me at that rate. But I would eventually graduate with a solid second class lower (2.56)[ii]. Today I no longer believe in Pentecostal phenomena like “word of knowledge” or prophecies. But I hold that for the sake of converting sinners, God can still work a miracle today to bring his elects to him. Yet, miracles are not the gospel and this is the point I hope to make subsequently.
At the end of the prayers with Gabriel Ogah, I was in tears. I had once known Christ but had backslidden and this was homecoming for me. I returned to my class that afternoon a new man. I was born-again. My university classmates who used to call me DJX learnt that their famous rapper had turned to Christ. It was all jolly and well. And I remain thankful for that experience, but I am certain that, as good as the story might have sounded, that experience was not my conversion.
After my “conversion”, Gabriel Ogah took me to CTC, opposite our school. I became quite committed in the church. But almost immediately, I began to see lapses in the church. Because I was young and could not voice my opinion, I spent a lot of time praying about these things and reading scriptures. I also devoured a lot of Christian literatures, although for some reason I never found the Prosperity/Faith genre appealing. I mostly read books that taught about the born-again life and how to grow as a new Christian. It was in the process of reading that I encountered R. T. Kendall’s book titled “Worshipping God”. That book taught me what it means to be a Christian and how to worship God with my lifestyle. I still practice many of the tips this great man of God wrote in his book. In one chapter titled “The Joy of Doing Nothing”, I encountered the concept of justification by faith for the first time in my life. It was Kendall that also introduced me to Reformed Theology, the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and the whole swath of Protestant Christianity dating from the 16th century. Reading this concept of Christianity led me to study the Bible book of Romans in-depth. I believe that it was while reading Romans 4 and coming to the understanding of justification by faith alone without works, resting in Christ, how God forgives sins in Christ, etc., that I encountered the gospel and was saved. This happened in the latter part of 1998. I was still a member of CTC. I was still speaking in tongues and so on. But God had changed my heart and given me a message. It was this message that I saw lacking in the preaching at CTC that had led me to write a letter to the pastors.
Unfortunately, from CTC to Latter Rain to Vine Branch and even to the Chapel of the Resurrection where I now worship, it is either this gospel message is not taught at all or is only glossed over. What people pursue is the initial experience I had, which I am certain was just an awakening. People are awakened to righteousness through Pentecostal experiences but they never follow on to know the Lord via the gospel of grace. It is the gospel that changes hearts and makes sinners saints. It does not matter the experience you have had, if you have not understood the gospel and thus repented of your sins, you are not a Christian. Many people encounter God through miracles and wonderful experiences but they do not hear the gospel and thus are not saved. They simply continue in churches as awakened sinners and not converted people. I have had issues with many pastors who claim to have had wonderful experiences of healing and breakthrough and several other Pentecostal realities. Only a few of them talk about a gospel that changes hearts.
I hope through this gospel series I would be able to shed light on what the gospel is, and also show what it is not. In the next blog, I would be spending some time to look at the historical context to the gospel. I would point out a few instances in history where the gospel had been under attack and I hope that by reading it, you will better appreciate the core of the gospel message. In subsequent blogs, I would touch on the heart of the gospel and help you to comprehend it, with the hope that those who hear it would be saved.
Thank you for reading.
[i] I have decided that except for very extreme cases and when it is necessary, I will not be mentioning names of anyone in negative contexts. For this reason, I have removed from this blog all the names of the pastors I associated with. I think it is enough to mention the church they belong to.
[ii] It is important to note here that while I did experience a miracle in my result, God also merciful showed me practical means to excel. First because I had become a Christian, I parted company with my old friends and started to spend time with my believers in Church. Two brothers, twins, Taiwo and Kehinde Bawonda, were instrumental to teaching me how to study. They were the ones that taught me that the secret to passing exams was reading past questions. That was what changed it all. From my second semester 300L till I graduated, my GP did not fall below 3.5; eventually scaling my result up from third class to second class lower.