Posted by By Ime Ola on
If you already have an image of a pompous or arrogant new-generation pastor, forget it because Pastor Banjo Towolawi does not fit. Visit him for the first time at Evangel Pentecostal Church, Okota, Isolo and he welcomes you warmly and respectfully.
If you already have an image of a pompous or arrogant new-generation pastor, forget it because Pastor Banjo Towolawi does not fit. Visit him for the first time at Evangel Pentecostal Church, Okota, Isolo and he welcomes you warmly and respectfully. He is definitely not the kind of pastor who has airs around him. He is unassuming with a very gentle disposition. He was not even born a Christian. He was born into a Muslim family in Ijebu-Ode and christened Abdul Ganiyu Itri Saliu. He told Daily Sun that "my father was very much interested in Islam and I started Islamic education before western education."
Little wonder then that at the tender age of 12, little Ganiyu and already finished reading the Quran and the translation of the Hadith.
In 1965, he gained admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to read Electrical Engineering and graduated as the best student in his department in 1968. Throughout these years, he was a practising Muslim. If Christian knowledge featured anywhere in his life, it was a subject he did while in secondary school.
Involvement with Christianity began, however, in 1969 after graduation. He clearly knew what his parents did not know. Narrating his salvation experience, the soft-spoken pastor says: "I graduated during the Nigerian civil war and got a job with Mandillas Enterprises Ltd. I started working and getting my salary. Whenever I spend it, nothing moved. It was then I started to look at life and its purpose. I did not find any satisfactory purpose for working and spending the money. I wanted to know the real essence of life. That was the feeling which I felt only God can provide. I went back to my Quran. I read it extensively but I did not find any satisfactory answer."
Thus in 1969, he went ahead, bought a Bible and started reading on his own. He recalls: "I felt I was getting the answer."
Still hungry for knowledge, he went to a senior colleague in his company and narrated his ordeal to him. "He asked me to read John chapter one verses 4, 9 and 12. After that, he said I should read the whole of John chapter one and I read it and got the answer. My mind was at peace. After that experience, I was not anxious about my salary anymore. I got a purpose for my life and I knew I was doing the right thing and not wasting my existence."
He has that former colleague to thank for showing him portions of the Bible which opened his eyes to what he wanted to know. He started reading his Bible religiously and then gave his life to Christ. From then on, there was no going back.
But how did his parents receive the news of his new faith? "My father had died then as a Muslim. My mother actually came from a Christian home and became a Muslim by marriage, so she was not surprised. If my father had been alive, he would have kicked against it."
Armed with his Bible and great faith in God, Towolawi started attending Baptist Church and later switched over to Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) where he remained for 21 years. From an ordinary convert, he rose to become a senior elder, a position he held for 15 years.
Unlike other men of God, his path to pastoral work was not long and tortuous. He left ECWA in 1989 and by January 1990, Evangel Pentecostal Church took off from his house at Oshodi. According to him, "during our first meeting, we were close to 47, then the number became bigger than my house. We went to Yaba College of Technology before the Lord led us to this place."
Pastor Towolawi has a huge sense of modesty. Despite being the founder of the church, he insists that "we try to run away from that founder image. There are other pastors and we operate through a board." But call him pastor-in-charge and he smiles broadly.
Interestingly, from 1990 when the church took off to 1997, this father of six was combining his secular job with his pastoral calling. The Lord called him to full-time ministry in 1997 even though the company where he served diligently for 30 years and rose from a pupil engineer to a general manager in the air-conditioning division was reluctant to release him.
How was he able to combine both responsibilities? "By the time you experience Godís calling upon your life, you wonít be strange to the responsibilities that follow. If you have respect for Godís calling, then you must have respect for the responsibility."
Pastor Towolawi speaks with candour. Each sentence is well thought out and carefully phrased. He always seems to be one step ahead of a conversation and his mind is active. No question is embarrassing to him as he urges you to ask him anything.
So, how does he overcome temptation? He smiles and says: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord again is to depart from evil. When the commandment is having the right weight in your mind, youíll be able to run away from evil. The example is Joseph; his encounter with the wife of Potiphar. He said: ďHow can I do this kind of evil and sin against God?Ē So, itís that kind of fear. God gives us power to overcome the wiles of the devil."
In this age of wild fashion, ladies dress provocatively to church. Has he ever felt tempted by such dressing?
"No. I know ladies dress provocatively to church, to work, to everywhere. Iíve travelled a lot and I know that is the vogue. When I see it, the first thing is to fear that Satan is coming. All I have always said is that we preach the truth and appeal to the conscience and pray that people will understand."
Now, even as a pastor, what are those sins he still commits? Another smile and a reply: "The word of God is this: ĎIf we say we have no sin, we are liars and the truth is not in us.í When we talk of imperfection, I donít expect a priest to be telling lies, fornicating, committing adultery or cheating. For me, not doing the work of God sufficiently enough, not praying enough, not going into deep relationship with God are the areas I would present while doing confession. I run away from every appearance of the devil deliberately and consciously and I pray everyday to God to deliver me from them."
Asked what he would do if he found himself in hell, Towolawi smiled (Oh, this man smiles at everything) and exclaimed: "Ah! As I live my life today, Iím not expecting to find myself in hell. If the word of God is true, I will find myself in heaven."
Married to Ruth Idowu, an accountant and retired civil servant, he spends much time with his six children counselling, and praying for them.
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