The newly elected President of Christian Tourism Practitioners Association of Nigeria (CTPAN) Dr. Israel Kristilere has unveiled his plans to take the association to greater heights. In this interview with Christian Benefits, Dr. Kristilere, CEO of Oasis of Faith Intercontinental Ltd and Senior Pastor of Shepherdhill Baptist Church, Lagos is poised to increase the membership of the association and source government’s subvention for the members. He also shares his experiences and the significance of pilgrimage to Israel and other holy sites. Excerpts.
Sir congratulations on your election as the President of Christian Tourism Practitioners Association of Nigeria (CTPAN). What is CTPAN all about?
It is an association of private tours companies in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there are two ways of taking people on pilgrimage to Israel. Firstly, you can go through the government’s Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) at the national and states levels. Secondly, you can go through private companies. CTPAN is an umbrella body of private-owned companies of like-minds in Nigeria that take people on pilgrimage to Israel.
What gave birth to private companies taking people on pilgrimage to Israel?
I will answer this from my own perspective. The first time I went to Israel it was through the Federal government arrangement. Then, there wasn’t much sanity in Christian pilgrimage to Israel. I went with a group of 19 people that were called the Federal government officials, which included the then Chief Justice of Nigeria and his wife. We travelled in the same aircraft with the contingents from some states. We waited at the Abuja airport for hours for the aircraft that would fly us to Israel. Our flight scheduled was 7p.m, but the plane did not take off until 6a.m the next day. What baffled me was that while we were waiting at the airport I saw some people who claimed they were traveling to Israel buying and drinking beer. When we landed in Israel, I asked myself, is this the way the people who claim they are going to the holy land behave? Some of them even flew with their girlfriends to Israel and were messing around on a supposed holy pilgrimage. I later discovered that many of the people on the government entourage to Israel were politicians and government officials on free tickets. It was then I realized the reasons some of the people were misbehaving. They didn’t have the desire to encounter Christ at the holy land. Many of them saw their traveling to Israel as a jamboree and also as an opportunity to get estacode from the government. My roommate was a medical doctor. I had no doubt he was a child of God. We had a wonderful time together and supported each other. He assisted me to climb Mount Sinai, one of the holy sites in Egypt. There I made a vow, a sort of a silent prayer to the Lord that if I ever come to this land again; I want to come with people of the same mindset to encounter Christ in Israel. When I returned to Nigeria, and to the glory of God some people started troubling me that they too want to go to Israel. I made enquiries on how I can facilitate their travel to Israel. I was able to make some connections and we made our first trip to Israel in 2007 with 23 people on the trip. That was what birthed the pilgrimage arm of Oasis of Faith Intercontinental Ltd. Oasis of Faith has been in existence since 1996 as a ministry of books, tapes, CDs and DVDS before we started the Christian tourism arm in 2007. Oasis of Faith is a registered business company for the Lord.
Now, what birthed Christian Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (CTPAN)?
It was the desire of people of like minds whose essence of taking people to Israel is to make them have a renewed encounter or a fresh encounter with Christ at the Holy Land.
How old is CTPAN and what are its contributions to the Nigeria’s tourism sector?
CTPAN was officially registered as an association about seven years ago. The association contributes immensely to the Nigeria’s tourism sector despite that its members are limited by the government to visit only holy sites like Israel, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and others. CTPAN members have been able to take a lot of people outside Nigeria on tourism to various holy sites across the globe. It gives Christians the privilege of visiting the holy land and helps them to understand the scriptures better. It also helps in moral remolding out of spiritual encounter such that when the pilgrims return, their lives are never the same. It helps people in fulfilling their dream of traveling to the holy land. The first time I traveled with my private group to Israel, I heard an elderly woman joyfully exclaimed, “To God be the glory, finally here I am in Jerusalem. All my life until now I had been singing Jerusalem in heaven. But now I’m in Jerusalem on earth.” CTPAN has been helping those who have a similar yearning to fulfill their dreams.
What is the spread of CTPAN across Nigeria and its benefits to the members?
CTPAN is spread across Nigeria. The large chunk of our members is in South west. About 70% of our members are in South west; out of which 60% are in Lagos state. Nevertheless, we have members in Abuja, Kaduna, Warri, Owerri, Port Hartcourt, Uyo etc. One of the things the new exco is planning is to have regional leaders to acquaint our members across the six geographical zones of Nigeria with whatever we are doing to ensure everyone is up and doing and that we do not lower our standard. As registered Christian private pilgrimage operators, we came together to form unity among ourselves, to assess one another and ensure we are not lowering the standard. We came together to network with other similar organizations at home and abroad and to explore other areas of pilgrimage that we are not yet exploring. If not for COVID-19, last year 2020 Oasis of Faith was to spearhead a visit to Turkey to see all the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. We had made all the necessary preparations including advisement placements. We were supposed to visit in June but COVID-19 set in March in Nigeria. By the grace of God we are hopeful that when the coast is clear, we will make the visit to Turkey.
What makes private tour companies better than government tour agency?
There is a minimum standard that is expected from all our members and that is excellent service. This makes the difference between the private tour companies and the government tour agency, including the costs. Nobody should expect a private tour to charge lesser than the government agency will. It is like comparing private universities with government owned universities. The differences are wide in favour of private universities. The services and accuracy of private tour companies are far better than government tour agency.
Let us have a look at the administrative structure of the association?
We have the national exco of which I was recently elected the President. We have a Vice President who assists in membership drive. We have a General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary, Publicity Secretary and Treasurer. We have other key officers who assist in the leadership of the association.
Tell us about your election as the new president of the association
I was elected as the successor of Mrs. Adeola Adekola who served the association well from its inception as Chairperson for about seven years. She recorded many achievements. I’m someone who doesn’t look or fight for elective posts because it is a burden. I have enough assignments and I am not looking for additional burden. Nevertheless, if God asks me to do any job, I’m confident He will give me grace. I was nominated and unanimously elected by the members as the new President of the association. I never asked for it. I never campaigned for it. But when nominations were called for the post of the President, five members raised their hands and all of them nominated me as their candidate for the post of the president of the association. Nevertheless, the whole house still went ahead to vote and it was unanimous.
What are the expectations of the members from you as their new President?
The expectations are high. I pray God give me the grace to match the expectations. There are lots of grounds to cover. My predecessor and her other exco members quite did well because it is not easy to lead an association from the scratch. There will always be challenges and unexpected setbacks. So, the last exco did very well. They laid the foundation and we have to build on it, especially in terms of how to bring more practitioners into the fold. There are still several Christian tourism practitioners that should become members of our association. And also in terms of the ability to relate with the government agencies, (especially NCPC) on how they can do more in assisting private tours like how NUC relates with private universities. For instance one of the things that were discussed at the recent Babcock University Medical Students’ graduation was how the government can give subvention to private universities. We are also looking at how the government can also give subvention to private tour companies. We are also looking at widening the publicity of the association.
Tell us your programmes to take the association to greater heights?
Our first plan is to work together. My own understanding of leadership is the ability to work and lead together. We have to work in unity, maintain integrity, vigorously pursue our goals and agenda and ensure erring members are not left unchecked. We will form a system of checking members from contravening our rules to prevent them from tarnishing the image of the association. While reaching out to more members into the association, we will maintain integrity and honesty. We will always speak with one strong voice so that we can tackle our challenges together. To some, pilgrimage is business but to me it is a ministry. The goal is to make people encounter Jesus Christ on our trips. It is not about the money we expend. Many times our investments are more than our gains. But God covers it all for us. Many of the people who travelled with us and are satisfied with the experience appreciate us in terms of gifts and other patronages. The current President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Dr. Olasupo Ayokunle has traveled with Oasis of Faith in the last 7-8 years. We do not call our visits to Israel pilgrimage per se. We call it “Holy Land Experience.” We take people to experience the holy land. And when they do, their lives are never the same. We will also build on our content by expanding the scope of holy sites we visit to reach to other sites that we have not reached.
What are the challenges of the association and your plans to solve them?
The major challenge we inherited is disunity. We will try our best to bring back to the fold those who have left and give them reasons why we should work together. There is also the challenge of unnecessary competitions in the Nigeria tourism sector. Some state pilgrims boards feel private companies are competing with them. By so doing, they want to undermine and undo us. We will try our best to make them realize that we are partners in progress. Our own goal is to make people experience Christ wherever they find themselves. I have never been jealous of Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Board for taking people to Israel. So, I don’t think Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Board should be worried that Oasis takes people to Israel. We are all Christians except we have not understood the word of God. We will make efforts to achieve a cordial relationship with other agencies and the State pilgrims boards. The main challenge now is the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected our operations for over a year now. Oasis and two other agencies were privileged to be the last pilgrims to enter Israel before they shut their borders to limit the spread of COVID-19. But now that Israel has reopened her doors to internal tourism, we are hopeful that very soon they will reopen their borders to external tourism too.
What are the requirements for admission as a member of CTPAN?
Some of the requirements are you must be a Christian; your tourism company must be duly registered and licensed and you must be interested in Christian pilgrimage. Interested members can apply for registration via our email: firstname.lastname@example.org and make enquires. All necessary information will be supplied to them via our email. Once they are duly registered they shall begin to pay our annual dues.
Tell us the importance or the significance of going on a pilgrimage to Israel?
Going on a pilgrimage to Israel is not as if one is trying to imitate Muslims going to Mecca. I must say that until I went with the government to Israel in 2007 I never believed in pilgrimage. I got the privilege to visit Israel that year courtesy of my father-in-law who was the Commissioner of Police for Kogi State then. He was given two slots of visit to Israel by the government. He gave the slots to me and my wife. But I couldn’t go with the Kogi state contingents that year because of a function in my church while my wife went. I pleaded if they could reschedule me for another time and they did. That experience changed my life. We need to let people know that we are not trying to imitate Muslims. There is a special encounter or experience one has when one visits Israel. That singular experience transformed my life in many ways as I began to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It gave me the opportunity to see with my eyes the historical sites that we read in the Bible. Above all I was able to feel God’s presence as if we were physically together. Many have had their prayer requests miraculously answered while on a visit to the holy land. The spiritual benefits cannot be overemphasized. It is an experience every child of God should desire if there is money to achieve it.