It was in summer 1981 and I had just returned from a holiday in company of other cousins in Cotonou, Benin Republic, where an uncle was on diplomatic mission. Another uncle picked me up and took me with him on a visit to a friend. On arrival at the friend’s residence in Ilorin, Nigeria, my uncle knocked on the door and I was shocked at the strange response to the knock; ‘come in if you are born again!’. As my uncle opened the door and I followed in tow, I met his friend as both of them exchanged pleasantries with banters. He was introduced to me as ‘Brother George’. The first question he asked my Uncle after I was introduced as a nephew was, Is he saved? My uncle answered in the affirmative. Next was, ‘is he filled with the Holy Ghost?’, ‘Not yet’, my uncle answered. ‘Minister to him, he is old enough to receive’ was his next response to my uncle who promised to do so. I wondered what that was but guessed it might be the reason my uncle came back home from university this time, speaking in a strange language. Except that he remained his pleasant and humorous self, we would have become quite concerned about his mental wellbeing.
A year later, my uncle ministered the Spirit to me, although I was not sure I received a valid experience. I still entertained my doubts but He however prepared me that Brother George would visit in the evening and would want to hear me speak in tongues. I had to memorize some gibberish to repeat again and again when brother George comes to the house out of fear. Somehow, he had acquired an authority through what will be described latter as his ‘Contagious Christianity’. He was always interested in getting people saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, healed or delivered from demonic oppression. The passion, the commitment, the pursuit and the energy with which he pursued the cause was exceptional, remarkable and even puzzling. Why will a man be so committed to other people’s spiritual welfare as if his life depended on it? Just a remembrance of my early encounters with him still fills me with that sense of awe, reverence, amazement mixed with curiosity and a hunger to know him, to know what he knew and to be able to do what he did. Within another two years of Brother George inspiring my uncle to minister the Spirit to me, I became a student of the Kwara State polytechnic where Brother George lectured and there developed a bond between us that grew beyond the ordinary. Like others who yoked with him also, before long, I began to speak like him, pray like him, talk like him and affect others like him. His contagious Christianity had affected me for good and turned me into a contagious fellow myself.
I cannot be who I am today if not for that divinely orchestrated relationship and I have concluded that there are heaven made relationships like that. So indispensable are such relationships that at times, they can determine success or failure, life or death, prosperity or poverty. I remember our relationship going through a test. I had fallen out of favor with him as I abandoned my administrative duties for another course in the polytechnic a couple of years later, leaving the ministry office in comatose. Not the type to hide his feelings, his countenance showed his complete disappointment with me. Instinctively, he stopped hugging me, celebrating and humoring me like he used to do. As a teenager who always relished his affection, approval and affirmation, I was emotionally crushed. I decided to go back to our former church where my uncle was the leader. I will be accepted and celebrated, I said to myself, but the still small voice of the Spirit of God warned me. ‘If you leave this ministry, you will loose yours’ and I look back today and understand how it would have been so.
Divine relationships will be tested. There will be unmet expectations, betrayals at times, misunderstandings, conflicts and even rebellion. We are humans and at times fall short of God’s standards. In our frailties, we do not meet up to our obligations and responsibilities to one another nor keep our covenants. If however the relationships are divinely orchestrated, we must find our way back home. Such was the story of John Mark. Raised by one of the women who followed Jesus closely, he became a committed disciple that was raised under the spiritual tutelage of Barnabas, because he was his cousin. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey only to disappear from the team without permission. Obviously unable to cope with the rigors of Apostolic ministry, he went back to the safety and comfort of Antioch. Attempting to follow them again on their second missionary journey, it led to a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas and their subsequent split. Worthy of note is that from that moment in Acts 15, the ministry of Barnabas was no longer chronicled, and yet John Mark was a writer who wrote the Gospel according to Mark. Barnabas was not supposed to break free from Paul but to continue to persuade him to restore John Mark to ministry. This Paul would eventually do when he demanded for him because he deemed him helpful to him in ministry (2 Timothy 4.11). No doubt, John Mark retraced his steps and Paul also accepted him back. The authority of Marks gospel was certainly accepted by the Gentile church because of his association with Paul.
Divine relationships take various forms. While God has made all parent and children relationships, sibling and other family relationships also a matter of divine orchestration, some of them go beyond natural affinity as God will have them partner in business, ministry, politics or government. The contributions of my wife to the growth of our ministry is unquantifiable and I am grateful that she has always been a rock and huge support. My older brother has been an inspiration and mentor to me. I see him as more than a brother and friend but divinely planned to be a leading light among the preachers in our extended family, and there are a good number of us. I have cousins with whom I have shared mutual support and encouragement over the years beyond our blood connection. So also has God blessed me with friends who have helped me maintain sanity in difficult times, stability in times of temptations, opened doors of ministry to me and consoled me in times of grief. Then, there are spiritual sons and daughters who have loved, served and supported me as I have served and led them over the years and have with their contributions in significant ways contributed to where I am today. No man is an Island. We all need a myriad of relationships, but my prayer is that ‘May God open our eyes to discern the divine relationships of our lives’. Such relationships are fundamental and indispensable to the fulfillment of God’s purpose on our lives. In my next article, I will explore biblical guides to discerning divine relationships.