Rev. Tony Akinyemi, Senior Pastor, The Shepherd’s Flock International Church, (TSF) Ikeja, Lagos, shares with Christian Benefits his rebirth experience and steady walk with the Lord since April 1978 when he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Excerpts.
Sir, how long have you been born again?
I have been born again since April 1978. It was exactly 45 years last April 2023 since Jesus saved my soul.
Please, share with us how you lived your life before Jesus saved your soul.
Before I met Jesus, I was a self righteous person. I was very religious and did my best to be a good boy. I neither smoked nor drank alcohol like other people of my age. Of course, I tasted alcohol once in a while and tried my hands on cigarettes a couple of times like other average young man, but I never really took to smoking and drinking. I never had a girlfriend till I met Christ. I went to church regularly every Sunday and thought I was a very good Christian. I didn’t realize that I was lost in sin and needed to be born again before I could call myself a Christian. I thought I was a Christian simply because I went to church regularly and lived a fairly decent life. Even though I told lies once in a while, I didn’t consider that to be a big deal! I thought everybody did.
Tell us about the circumstance that led you to eventually accept Christ
I attended a crusade at Ondo Town hall in 1978 that was organized by Foursquare Gospel Church from Lagos. The gospel crusade was to serve as a precursor to the planting of the first Foursquare Gospel Church in the old Ondo State (now Ondo & Ekiti States). The preacher was Rev. Mitchell Bellobaba, a white Canadian man. He was the Dean of the L.I.F.E Bible College in Ikorodu. I can never forget the sermon he preached that night. In that sermon, he told us that his grandfather was a preacher and his father too was a preacher, yet he claimed that the fact that both his grandfather and father were preachers didn’t automatically make him a Christian. He said, for him to become a Christian, he had to repent of his sins and personally receive Jesus Christ into his heart as his own personal Saviour and Lord. In one word, that night, he was able to shatter my grounds for calling myself a Christian. I didn’t give my heart to Jesus that night when he made the altar call. However, I left the crusade ground confused and with a heavy heart. For the next two weeks or so, I pondered the sermon in my heart. The message refused to leave me. The Holy Spirit of God convicted me that I was a sinner and not a Christian yet and that for me to become a true Christian, I couldn’t count on my own righteousness or on the fact that my parents were Christians, or on the fact that I went to church regularly. I needed to become a Christian through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. One evening, I entered my room and dropped on my knees beside my bed and cried out to God to forgive me of all my sins, save my soul, and make me a true Christian. That night I had an encounter with God all by myself alone in my room. Nobody else was there with me. Tears rolled in my eyes and I knew that God had heard my prayers for salvation. The joy of the Lord flooded my spirit and I knew that something had happened on my inside. Since that day, I became a changed person. My life took a new turn!
Tell us more about your joy of salvation after your rebirth encounter
An inexplicable joy flooded my soul. I had peace with God and the peace of God in my heart. Somehow, I knew that God had washed all my sins away by the blood of Jesus and that my name had been written in the Book of life. I had this assurance (and I still have) that if I die, I would go to heaven, and not hell.
What were the sinful habits that you struggled to let go after your rebirth encounter?
Many of the sinful things I did before I got born again just left me instantly after I got born again. I found that I couldn’t tell lies anymore, for instance. Yet, there was one thing that refused to go easily, and that was masturbation. I struggled with this for a couple of years as a young Christian. I prayed and fasted and even went for deliverance but it wouldn’t leave me. I would stop for a while and then it would be back. However, at some point, I read a book by Professor Zacharias Tanee Fomum of Cameroun titled THE WAY OF SANCTIFICATION. In that book, he gave an exposition on the FIVE SPIRITUAL LAWS in Romans 6,7 & 8. Suddenly, I gained an understanding of the different spiritual laws at work in our lives and how to take or appropriate the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus to overcome the law of sin and death. That was it! I was instantly delivered through knowledge. Proverbs 11:9 came alive in my heart. It says “…through knowledge shall the just be delivered.” I got delivered there and then from the sin of masturbation, and I have remained delivered ever since. Praise God!Rev. Tony Akinyemi, Senior Pastor, The Shepherd’s Flock International Church (TSF)
When and how did you eventually receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit after your rebirth?
I got born again in April 1978, and attended my first Youth camp meeting in August of the same year at the Nigerian Youth Camp (now the Foursquare Camp), Ajebo. It was at the camp meeting that I got baptized in the Holy Spirit as a four-month-old-born again Christian and I began to speak in tongues. I have continued to speak in tongue since that time till date. Speaking in tongues has been such a refreshing experience for me.
Tell us some of your favourite Bible verses in the early days of your new life in Christ
When I just gave my life to Christ, I memorized several Bible passages. I was very hungry and wanted more of God at all times. My favourite passages then were 2 Peter 3:18, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:8-11, Acts 4:12, John 3:16, Revelation 3:20, Revelation 22:12.
Were there follow ups on you by anyone after your rebirth encounter?
Oh yes! My pastor and my Sunday school teacher both visited me again and again to follow me up. Either of them would be sure to be in my house almost every Saturday on visitation to follow me up, encourage me in the Lord, share some Bible passages with me, pray with me and remind me of Sunday service the next day. I bonded well with both my pastor and Sunday school teacher. It might interest you that my pastor and I are still very much together up till today after a little over 45 years of my salvation encounter. He has retired now because he is in his 80s, but I am very much in touch with him. God has established us as father and son and the relationship continues. Even though he lives in Ondo state and I am now a pastor in Lagos state, yet he still visits me and I still visit him. We speak on phone regularly. He still prays for me till date.
What are the things that helped you grow steadily in the faith as a young convert?
I was privileged to have a great pastor and a good Sunday school teacher. They discipled me very well. They taught me the rudiments and fundamentals of the Christian life. They introduced me to the Holy Bible and taught me how to read and study the Bible for myself, and not just rely on what people say. They introduced me early to the Christian disciplines of fasting, praying, vigil, soul winning, etc. I believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit that I had very early in my Christian life also went a long way to help me be on fire for God. The annual youth camp-meetings every August in those days was always a time to be re-fired for God. We always looked forward to it. Each year was an experience that took me to another level with God. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of these camp meetings any more these days in the body of Christ.
Did you experience any form of persecutions for your new life in Christ?
Fortunately for me, at the time I gave my life to Christ and got born again, I wasn’t living with my parents. I was living with my immediate elder brother in our parents’ house. Both of us were teenagers. So there was no problem for me at all. Not long after my salvation, my older brother too gave his life to Christ, and both of us began to go to the same church. Our parents got to know later and they too got born again and began to follow us to the same church. So, mine was a smooth ride as far as persecution from home was concerned. However, friends and school mates ridiculed me and did all sorts of nasty things to attempt to provoke me, but the Holy Spirit was my helper through all of these. I was able to keep my cool all through except on one or two occasions that I blew my top and reacted violently to their insults. Of course, I was immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit each time and had to cry to God in repentance for forgiveness. After a long while, everybody concluded that something had really happened to me that they couldn’t understand. They knew I was now a different person from who they used to know.
What were the Christian programmes you regularly attended, and Christian literature like books, magazines, journal etc you regularly read, that contributed to your steady growth in the faith?
Attending retreats and the Holy Ghost convention of the Sword of Spirit Ministries by Bishop Francis Wale Oke really helped my growth in the faith as a young convert. I attended the annual Foursquare Youth Camp every August. Later, when I was in the university, I began to attend the Foursquare Leaders meetings. The annual retreat of the Evangelical Christian Union (ECU) at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) also helped to build me up. For books and magazines, I read CAET newsletters, Every Home Crusade materials, the works of T.L Osborn, F.B Meyers, A.A Allen, Don Stewart, Professor Zacharias Tanne Fomum, etc. Then I took a number of correspondence Bible classes-Word Bible School, Emmaus Bible School, etc. In my university days, I got exposed to Kenneth Hagins materials and read quite a lot of them. All of these helped a lot. Of particular note are Foursquare Gospel Church Sunday School manuals. Those were my real textbooks, so to speak. They laid a solid foundation for me in Christian doctrines.
As a young believer, aside Christ, who were the persons you looked up to as your mentors and role models in the Christian faith?
My pastor Rev. Isaiah Ola Arohunmolase, was my number one role model. Then I had great men of God like Dr. Samuel Odunaike, Rev. Paul Jinadu, and Pastor Mattew Ashimolowo. They were all in Foursquare at that time. Dr. Odunaike has now gone to be with the Lord. Rev. Jinadu now lives in England and is the founder/general overseer of the New Covenant Church Worldwide. Pastor Ashimolowo, of course is now the Senior Pastor of Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC).
How will you describe your involvement in church activities as a young convert?
I got involved in church activities as a worker fairly early. I started teaching Sunday school before I was one year in the Lord. The church that I attended after I got born again was a new and young church. So, we were very few and knew one another by name. Virtually all of us were new Christians, apart from the pastor and few brethren that came from Lagos on the team as Church planters to work with the pastor. We had Rev. Albert Olufehinti and Bro. Eddie was my Sunday School teacher. There weren’t many hands available, so I became a worker almost immediately. I sang in the choir, acted in the drama group and did visitation. I was an interpreter for my pastor when he preached. I taught a Sunday school class. I was the Church secretary etc. I was Jack of all trades. I believe this helped me to grow fast too.
How will you describe your journey with Christ these 45 years now; and tell us those things that have been sustaining you in the faith over the years.
My journey with Christ has been very exciting. I have had my ups and downs but God has been very faithful. I believe God’s grace coupled with good discipleship and the prayers of my mentors have helped me greatly in my walk with God; also, always identifying with a church that I would be attending. Once I make up my mind on one, I quickly introduce myself to the pastor of the church so that they can keep an eye on me. I believe this will always help me to abide in Christ and not wander away from the faith. This is one of the reasons that I never could settle in a mega church where I can’t connect with the pastor one-on-one.
Have you ever slipped off the faith (backslide), if you had, how did you retrace your steps to the faith?
No! I have never gone away from the Lord for one second since I gave my life to Christ.
Please, tell us your understanding of being born again
To be born again is to become an entirely new creature in Christ. Old things pass away and all things become new. This new status affects every aspect of one’s life. One looses appetite for sin and one begins to be righteous. It’s indeed an Indescribable experience. Only the one who has experienced it can truly understand it.
How will you compare the Born again concept when you accepted Christ to what obtains today?
Today, it appears to me that people are confused about what it means to be born again. These days, I see folks who claim to be born again simply because they go to a gospel church or Pentecostal church or because they sing in the choir or have become an usher in the church. In those days, when a person says he is born again, you could truly tell by their fruits. They had good character and were truly God-fearing. You could give the key of your house to a total stranger who is born again and go to work leaving him in your house and nothing will miss. You dare not try that today. Those who were born again in those days were full of love and compassion for lost souls. Today, I see born again Christians that no longer have compassion for sinners. Instead of praying and interceding for the salvation of souls, “ born again” believers today are busy praying for sinners to die and go to hell! There has been an unfortunate shift and it is sad!
Tell us your main aspirations and motivations after you accepted Christ
I was always motivated by five things: (a) I was motivated by the fact that God called me for a purpose and that purpose must be fulfilled. (b) I was motivated by the fact that hell is real and I can’t bear to see people around me to go hell. So, I am always moved to do something to rescue the perishing. (c) I was motivated by the love Jesus has shown to me by dying for me on the cross. The least that I can do to show my appreciation to Jesus is to love Him in return and do my utmost for His highest. (d) I was always motivated by the moral depravity that I see among men and women and I always want to preach the gospel for the transformation of depraved men. (e) I was always motivated by the fact that one day I will stand before my Maker and Redeemer to render an account of my stewardship. The above have always motivated and inspired me to do more for all the days of my life.
Finally sir, share with us how you eventually received the call into ministry as a servant of God
I was called into ministry on March 22, 1983. I was an undergraduate at the University of Ife then. However, I did itinerant ministry from then on until 10 years later in 1993 when I settled down to plant and pastor a church. I am the pioneer pastor of Oregun Foursquare Church. I pastored the church for 11 years before God called me to start my own ministry. I started The Shepherd’s Flock International Church on February 1, 2004 under God. It has indeed been a little over 45 years of walking with God. This year February 2023 marked 30 years since I have been pastoring till now and I love it.