Busola Joel was a journalist while in Nigeria. He worked with Punch Newspapers and rose to the position of Chief Correspondent before traveling to United Kingdom about 9 years ago. Now he pastors a parish of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Green Pastures parish in Lester, UK and also works in a government establishment in the UK. In this interview with Church Times, Joel who is married with children gives an insight into the challenges of pasturing in a foreign land. Below are excerpts from the interview:
What was the thing that came to you as a shock in the UK when you got there nine years ago?
The church tradition in UK and that of Nigeria are quite different. I actually struggled to cope with some of the practices in the churches in the UK. I was initially critical of the pastors and felt they were not doing much in terms of emphasizing the whole truth of the gospel until I became a pastor myself and discovered that many of them were actually handicapped by the environment. But that is no excuse in the real sense for preaching the truth. God helped me I did not lose my goal of being focus and being a pastor that tells the truth. There is a difference between soul winning and soul gathering. Many of what we do sometimes is only geared towards soul gathering and not soul winning.
What is the effect of the environment on the church?
I think the environment is quite appalling there is open display of immorality. People dress anyhow and are not sensitive to the feelings of others. It is a society that many find it difficult to proclaim their faith publicly. You cannot wake up early in the morning and praise God the way we do in Nigeria because you are conscious of your neighbour. In a way it is good but the other way is that you are not free to express yourself before God. I’m not advocating one should disturb his neighbour but what I’m trying to say is that there is a kind of self-censorship in the UK.
In the UK many Christians are forced to keep their faith to themselves so that they will not be tagged as not being politically correct. In the places of work, many believers are quiet about their faith. There is no tradition of long fasting and praying and before you know it the strength and the impact of the gospel is going down. You can even feel it when you preach. The atmosphere in the UK is heavy and difficult to penetrate unlike when you preach in Nigeria. Some ministers drink a lot of water while preaching not because they are thirsty but because they are spiritually dry. You see cases of some pastors sweating while preaching. It goes to show that a lot of work needed to be done by the pastor to make impact in the UK than in Nigeria. Generally, the Nigeria environment is more conducive to the flow of the Holy Spirit than the UK. The Nigerian preacher in the UK has to fast and pray more to make impact in the UK.
What about posters, banners and street evangelism. Do you have freedom to do those things?
The state does not permit the placing of signposts indiscriminately. You have to get permission to get signboards and before you place any signposts you have to get permission from the authority and before you can even do that the church building must have a packing space for about 50 cars and that is quite rare. I remember an instance where we placed a banner on a street and the police came looking for us. We had to go and remove it. The environment does not allow you to express yourself. You have to be stubborn to do that.
What about other religions in the UK?
From my observations other faiths are more vociferous especially Islam. They still do their call to prayers and they have their loudspeakers and nobody is harassing them. They are more aggressive. Christians are too quiet but there is a lot of background work being done by churches. For example, in our church we do what we call spiritual mapping; it is about winning the war on our knees and not necessarily making noise. The Bible says they that know their God shall be strong and they shall do exploit.
From what you are saying about other faith, the problem is not necessarily the government clamping down on Christians as such but about self-censorship on the part of Christians?
It is just that government tends to be on the side of adherents to other religions than Christians because they are trying to be politically correct and not wanting to be seen to be taking side with Christians. Concerning child protection for instance, the Hindus still beat their children and the state does not do anything about it. But when Christians do it they are sanctioned. There is the case of a town called Derby where a church that is Pentecostal has a foster home.
When government officials were interviewing the authority of the church on the gay issue and what they would teach the children at the home and they said they would not be comfortable teaching children that gay life is right and because of that they stopped them from having a foster home for children. They believe that their belief is injurious to the children.
The Catholics had to close their foster homes because of this issue because they stood on what the Bible stands for. But the irony of it is that the Church in England makes their position clear on the issue of gay but the national mood believes that it should not be loud on the issue. There was a live debate for instance where a church was brought under severe attack but thank God that one of the people in the debate gave a testimony that the church that was attacked had been a tremendous blessing to environment.
The truth is that there is a heavy attack on the church by the UK government. Some people have lost their jobs as a result of faith issues. Somebody, an air hostess lost her job because she was putting on the symbol of a cross another lost his job because she was sharing her faith in the place of work.
But generally is there cohesion among churches in the UK?
There is a lot of cooperation among churches in the UK. For instance, there is a group being coordinated by one Dr. Jonathan Oluyide which has been holding interdenominational prayers where intercessions are done for the United Kingdom and the church
But how are the people faring?
A place like London is just like Nigeria. But outside London is different. People have basic things of life and that is all. There are no excesses like we have in Nigeria and people cannot just make the kind of money we make in Nigeria. The public sector in Nigeria has been weakened whereas the private sector is getting stronger and stronger. This may not be known to many Nigerians but the economy in Nigeria is actually growing. The growth rate in Nigeria is about 8 percent while that of UK is 1.2. People are being sacked. For instance, where I work we were all given letters last year and they told us our jobs were on the line but as God would have it, some of us did not lose our job eventually but some did lose theirs.
What is the regular attendance in the RCCG church you pastor?
I think we have an average of 90 people in attendance in every of our service. But broadly speaking the membership could be put at 200 in a way because people come and you don’t see them again for a long time.
So what is the greatest challenge you are facing pastoring a church in the UK?
I think the greatest problem we are facing and we are trusting God to help us solve is to de-Nigerianise the church so that it would have a global look. Because the about 60 percent of the church members are Nigerians, there is that temptation not to be sensitive to the needs of other nationals. For instance, we de-emphasise Yoruba songs and some of the songs imported from Nigeria. Not that these songs are not good but we found out that we would be shutting out people from other races. And there are times it causes a lot of problem. For instance, there was a case where the song, byebye to jati jati was being rendered in a church in Manchester and there was a lady called Jacky in the church. She thought she was being abused in the song and they wanted her out of the church. So we had to discourage songs like that and encourage songs that can appeal to people of different races It was a battle doing that. It has gotten to a point that Nigerians only hold fellowships with Nigerians because they are in the majority. Dressing in tradition way is also discouraged because it could lead to church being labelled as a Nigerian church. But if it is being done occasionally people appreciate it. We had to create a special Sunday we call international day where people can come with different attires from different cultures. The danger in emphasizing Nigerian culture is that it could lead to a situation where if all Nigerians leave the church the church will close down.
There is also the challenge of communication. The diction problem is there for many pastors. The way out is to write out our message and use power point presentation while preaching. This is done so that people can read your message if they cannot pick your ascent.
What about giving in the churches; how do you handle that?
The average white man is well organized. He does not believe in giving indiscriminately the way we do. They have planned their funds so well that there is no amount of preaching that can make them give what they had not budgeted. But they believe in paying to attend programmes. They also don’t believe you should place undue emphasis on tithing. It could upset them. If you keep repeating tithe and offering to them, it’s like saying they are deaf. What we have been able to do is to partner with traditional churches in Europe so that we can have a synergy. They have organization, they know how to access funds for the running of the church other than tithe and offering because they are on ground.
But what are the peculiar problems created by Nigerians in the UK
Some Nigerians don’t want to follow due process. We are not organized and our perception of integrity is different from theirs. Many Nigerians go to the UK with that mind-set that things can be done anyhow but the society does not allow for such. There are many pastors for instance who came into the country fraudulently.
What are your projections for the church in that part of the world?
The Bible says righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach. I don’t see the UK progressing without God. Nigeria has a greater future than the UK if we are able to solve the infrastructure problem confronting us. The unfortunate thing about the church in the UK is that the moral fibre is weak. Many pastors need God’s mercy and grace to keep on the race. There is a lot of character flaws on the part of church leaders. That is the area I believe we should be praying and trusting God to do something about. There are cases of church members wanting to sleep with pastors. There was a case of a lady that was boasting that she would make sure she gets a particular pastor and sleep with her. It is that bad. So we have a responsibility to keep praying for the church in the UK because I believe there is nothing God cannot do without prayers.
This interview was first published by Church Times.