The Evangelist News Edition, April 17, 2023. By Obong Akpaekong
Don DeLillo wrote in his brilliant and funny novel, White Noise “This is why people take vacations. Not to relax or find excitement or see new places. But to escape the death that exists in routine things.”
Nigeria tumbled into a deeper routine and hardship in the last few months and weeks before the Easter weekend. Stagnation was her new identify.
Her economy caved in. Her people were deeply famished and their hope very much diminished. An ill-managed cashless policy of the government joined a scarcity of petroleum products of several months to deliver what became the straw that would break the Camel’s back. There were yearnings by families and entire Nigerian population to have a break from the experience of hunger and routine suffering.
The Easter weekend offered that break to the thousands that flooded the Miracle Campground of Bible Standard Church at Ndon Uruan in Akwa Ibom State for the church’s 2023 Annual Convention. The five-day event (Thursday, April 6 to Monday, April 10) with the theme ‘Forward Ever, Backward Never’, became the balm for restoration of hope in the people.
The villagers sat outside their houses watching and waving their hands at the convention participants who were arriving from parts of the country; mainly Lagos, Ogun, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states as well as Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, FCT, where the church has branches.
The excitement in Ndon Uruan heightened moments later as the loud speakers in the campground’s Miracle Tabernacle (the worship auditorium) vibrated with a resounding “Praise the Lord” followed by the familiar response of “Hallelujah.” The voices were those of the first day’s moderator David Udoh, the church’s Abia State overseer; Abasiekeme Okon, his interpreter and that of those in the congregation.
The banquet had started. A greater feeling of joy swept through the campground as people moved into the auditorium for prayers, singing of choruses and choir ministrations.
By the time Pastor U.A. Ekwo, founder and general overseer of the church and a former high school Mathematics teacher, mounted the rostrum for the first evening message titled “Move Forward Spiritually”, the Spirit had taken over every space.
He told the people to focus on a new lifestyle – accept Jesus into their lives (for those who were yet to) and move forward with their newfound faith. He shared with the congregation the story of the conversion of Saul, later known as Apostle Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute and to kill Christians before his encounter with Christ and how his life changed.
Reading from Acts 6, Romans 3:23 and 6:1-2, Ekwo said Paul’s life did not only change, he also moved forward and became a great preacher. He enjoined the convention participants to emulate Paul.
He cited the case of a once ‘unprofitable’ youth – Onesimus, who became born again and useful to the master Philemon, the Church and all. He said when the sons of Zebedee were converted, they left fishing to work with Jesus for the salvation of men. Over 100 persons out of the total 527 people that gave their lives to Christ at the event did so when he made an altar call to round off that message.
Sick people were adequately attended to at the event. Pastor Ekwo speaking during another session on the topic “Sickness must not take me backward”, said all the sick people in the campground would be healed by God as they made Jesus their focus, rather than deceivers, fake prophets, prophetesses, etc. The prophecy was heart-warming.
Among cases of miraculous healings that Jesus did which he cited were those of the woman with 12-year issue of blood (Mark 5) and the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5). Many were healed in the course of the message and during prayer after it. Yet the campground has a healing centre more popular as Power House. Twenty-four hours prayer went on there with many healings and deliverance from powers of darkness.
In another message, “The great forward movement”, Pastor Ekwo sought for men who would push the word of God the way Paul and the apostles of Jesus did. He said Paul’s persecution of the Church, (Acts 8:1-3) was a great negative movement. God, he said was looking for volunteers to serve Him – people who can pray for revival, preach the Word and sacrifice their time and resources for the expansion of God’s kingdom.
As in previous years, many born again people walked up to the altar and offered to serve God as pastors and evangelists.
Rev. Imeobong Udoh, JP, the vice president of the church, who spoke on “Grace to move forward in life” said God has made His grace available to every believer to make progress in life. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled”, he read to the people from Matt. 5:6. He emphasized the need for Christian men and women to have something doing. “If you don’t work you become hungry.
If you don’t have a job, you may steal”, he said, citing the Holy Writ’s admonition in Proverbs 26:13-15. He referred the congregation to God’s word in Joshua 1:5, saying that God’s grace was there to respond to persecution and all manners of challenges.
Rivers State overseer Pastor Simeon Simeon admonished the people never to go back to the world. “If you move forward, never go backward again, as going back to the world would mean going back to the things you left behind”, he said. He cited the young widow Ruth, in the book of Ruth, chapter 1 as a good example of one that decided not to go back to old lifestyle. “Despite the death of three in the family including her husband, Ruth chose the God of Israel”, he said.
He said the 12 disciples of Jesus stuck to him despite the challenges of the ministry (John 6.) Simeon said Joseph was rewarded for holding on to his faith while Lot’s wife who turned back became a pillar of salt.
Pastor Edwin Ene, zonal pastor for Uyo admonished the people on financial responsibility. Speaking on “How to go forward financially” Ene described money as an important factor in life, saying without it one finds it difficult to move forward. He said however that to make wealth one must walk with God and hear from Him. Reading from Genesis 12: 1-4 and 26:12 he recalled how Abraham and Isaac separately obeyed God’s instructions and prospered. Abraham moved out of Haran while Isaac stayed back in Gerar, sowed there and reaped one hundred folds.
“Our God is a God of forwardness. Value what you have. The children you have are money. If you invest well in them, they will be fruitful”, Ene said, urging Christians to develop the habit of giving to people and to God for their prosperity.
Pastor Asuquo Nyong of the Abuja church who spoke on relying on the power of the Holy Ghost to move forward said all believers must look to Him for grace, instruction, guidance and revelation. He shared with the participants the pathetic story of the man of God who could not hear from God anymore and was killed by a lion (1 Kings 13) and warned: “Do not go back on your faith. This will affect your prayer life, consecration and devotion. The miracle you are looking for is in your going forward.” According to him, the Holy Spirit makes believers relevant, prompts them to take positive actions and leads them on the path of victory.
Pastor Ekwo’s last message to the convention, which came after many testified to God’s blessings upon their lives during the event, tended to summarize the gathering. Dwelling on the convention theme of “Forward Ever, Backward Never”, he urged all to go back and keep the faith. Assuring that the era of stagnation and failure in their lives passed out at the campground, Pastor Ekwo told them to return from the event to pursue their dreams – forge ahead with business, focus on education, lead healthy family life, succeed in farm work, ministry and enjoy favour and promotion in workplaces, etc.
“Your business will bounce back. You will break history. You will become a star”, he prophesied. The tabernacle was soaked with the Spirit as people prayed their hearts out while claiming the general overseer’s prophecies even as he cried: “You must not stop your journey halfway. Your must not go back to ‘Egypt.’ You must always go forward.”
Pastor Ekwo said during the closing formalities of the convention that he was happy that the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the scarcity of petrol or any other thing did not affect the convention.
With a total number of 527 persons accepting Christ and another 142 baptised with the Holy Spirit and many others baptised in water, healed of diverse sicknesses or delivered from demonic powers, the event can be said to have been fashioned by heavet to heal the land and move the people forward.