Thoughts on Gomba Oyor’s Death
By: Deji Yesufu
Sometimes between 1999 and 2000 a number of people died in the local church that I attended in Samaru, Zaria. These deaths were unusual because some of the people who died were young persons. At that time I had only been a born-again Christian for a year or two but I could discern that the reaction of the congregation to these deaths were not biblical. There was palpable fear over the whole congregation and the pastor immediately declared sessions of prayers and fasting. I remembered his mentioning that some of his mentors in the ministry went for as long as five decades before they buried anyone in their congregation – he could not understand why this was befalling him and he was trusting in his prayers to stop those deaths. Thankfully the deaths stopped. When I came to live in Ibadan, the local church I attended was a typical Pentecostal assembly like the one I attended in Zaria and the congregation went through a great deal of time (from 2006) before a single death was recorded. But the moment one person died, it appeared the flood gate of death was opened on the church. When these people began to die, one could sense fear in the congregation. It was so bad that I remember sending my pastor a text encouraging him to take heart in the face of these deaths – God was in control. I know of a popular Pentecostal congregation in Nigeria where the word death is scarcely used. They do not perform burial services in the church. And I suspect that now that the founder of this church is nearing his grave, they may have begun considering changing those policies. These are just some examples of how Pentecostals react to deaths.
On Sunday, 8th August, 2020, I was preparing to go to church when I flipped Facebook open and I saw some people announcing the death of Rev. Gomba F. Oyor. Until his death, Oyor was the General Overseer of the God-Will-Do-It Ministries in Ibadan, Nigeria. The church is a Pentecostal church that takes after the likes of Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries, led by Daniel Olukoya, in doctrine and practices. Just as the name connote, the God-Will-Do-It church is concerned with helping people of all walks of life overcome challenges of life. What might seem impossible to man, “God will do it” they seem to say. The church is situated behind the popular Bodija market and in recent times has experienced some expansion – including the construction of a four storey building for offices and other ministry endeavors; which usually are deliverance sessions, prayer retreats and so on. God-Will-Do-It ministries is a “sea” of some kind; it never runs dry. There are always people around – mostly women – seeking solutions to one problem of life or the other. It is this ministry that Oyor led until he breathe his last at the age of 61 after a very brief illness.
My concern for Pentecostal churches on the manner they view death has not changed since my days in Zaria. The only difference is that I have more experience and knowledge around the matter now. To put it succinctly: Pentecostals have a morbid fear of death. In fact all that the Pentecostal Christian does in life is to evade death and its other affiliates like sickness, poverty and any form of incapacitation. I find this thinking baffling especially when one does not have to be a Christian to know that death is the one constant that human beings have to deal with in this life. Yet, a whole denomination of Christians have committed themselves to evading or avoiding death but death keep striking in their midst. One would think that the sheer number of burials that hold in these congregations will make people think differently about death. But this is hardly the case. The heart of the gospel that reigns in these churches itself, particularly the Word of Faith doctrines, have a strong aversion to death. In the long run many Pentecostal Christians are not taught to die. They usually do not die well. What is most distressing is that when a theology is concerned mostly about this life, one begins to wonder whether its adherents are prepared for the life to come.
The beauty of the Christian religion is that our Founder, Jesus Christ, not only lived and died; he has also risen from the death – he alone being the only man that ever lived who rose from the dead and never dies. The very foundation of our faith is premised on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus died for our iniquity but he rose to obtain justification for us before a holy God. Because Jesus lives, even though the Christian dies – he would yet live again. The Christian cannot fear death because we have eternal life. A so called Christian theology that does not prepare its adherents for death should be held suspect. Most religions offer their adherents some hope about life after death. I would never understand why many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches do not do this for their members – despite the rich theology and confidence that the Bible gives Christians about the life to come.
My trainers at seminary would say that the primary duty of a pastor is to prepare his people to die. Ever since imbibing this ideology, I have begun to prepare for my death. When the Coronavirus hit, I wrote a book on the Christian gospel where I enunciated all that I know there; stating that if I were to be killed by the virus, this is one message I would want the world to hear from me. The gospel that I preach in the congregation that I oversee has death as its underlying theme. I preach the gospel in such a way that if any of my congregants were to die, they would wake up in eternity with Christ. Death is the motivation for my ministry. While indeed Christ is life and has called us to go and spread the fragrance of the gospel all around, the reality is that every man that hears the gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection will one day come face to face with his death. A message of health and wealth cannot immune a man from death. As I have pointed out earlier, the only constant in this life is death. A wise ministry would indeed be preparing its people for their grave and not for the next breakthroughs in life.
My mother died of breast cancer in April 2006. She lived in the United States. I understand that when she was first diagnosed with the dreaded disease, she was actually on stage 3 – which is not a death sentence anywhere in the world. My mother was placed on a particular treatment regimen which she was supposed to adhere to strictly for some days. But in October 2005 her 97 year old mother died and she felt she needed to come to Nigeria and bury her. By coming, mother missed some of the treatments she was placed on by her doctors in California. By the time she returned to the States after the burial, her doctors told her that it was too late. After mother’s death, anyone undergoing that kind of treatment in the US today is locked up in a room until they conclude their course. That is the lesson that America took from my mother’s death.
I am wondering whether there are lessons to be taken from Gomba Oyor’s death. I think there are and I would make a few suggestions and round up this article. First, I want to plead with Pentecostal churches to examine the gospel they believe. The Christian gospel is not about securing physical well-being for human beings; it is about securing eternal life for sinners. The truth is that even if we were to enjoy all the health and wealth until we are 200 years old, this body is designed to perish and woe betides that soul that is not prepared for the after-life. Second, I would want to show all General Overseers of Pentecostal churches that their end is at the corner and very soon they would be standing before their Lord and maker. It is important that they are prepared. One of the things that demystified the Prosperity Gospel in the United States in recent years was seeing the deaths of their founders. E. W. Kenyon died of brain cancer. William Branham died of complications following an accident. Oral Roberts died of a bad heart. Kenneth Hagin died of a bad heart. Same with Paul and Jan Crouch – founders of the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). All of them, despite their years of preaching a health and wealth gospel and denigrating medicine, ended up in the hospital and perished. It is easy to preach health and wealth when you are young and can run around a stage. But the days of old age will come when you should rethink your gospel. Now we have the likes of Enoch Adeboye, David Oyedepo, and W. F. Kumuyi, all nearing their graves and one day they will die. It is important that these men begin to reconsider the heart of their theology in the light of the fact that their deaths are just around the corner.
Third, and lastly, it is important that adherents of the Pentecostal/Charismatic religion reconsider what they have believed. If whatever you know of Christianity does not give you peace in the light of your own mortality, you may want to check and see whether you are a Christian. What is abundantly clear to me is that increased faith in Jesus Christ equates with reduced fear of death and an increased longing for an eternity with God in heaven. If as we grow older, our vision in this life does not increasingly reflect a desire to go to heaven and be with Christ – the hope that we possess in our hearts may not be a Christian hope.
The long and short of my essay is that death is around the corner and the wise Christian is the one who is prepared to die. Amen.
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