NIGERIA’S RICHEST FEMALE PASTOR, APOSTLE HELEN UKPABIO SPEAKS ON HER MINISTRY, MARRIAGE AND MORE
Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio is unarguably Nigeria’s most successful female preacher. Married to Dr. Elijah Ukpabio and blessed with three children (Iniobong, Imaobong and Mfonido), she is the founding president of Liberty Gospel Church, headquartered in Calabar, Cross River State. With over 250 branches of her ministry scattered around the world, the 40-something year old has indeed been doing exploits. Both exceedingly and abundantly. A deliverance expert, she has dozens of books and movies to her credit. YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, spent three unforgettable days with her in Calabar sometime ago and the result is what you are about to enjoy…
In 1988, I just got married then. So, when we were praying, my husband and I; I was leading the prayer, but he discovered that I veered off track and I was like communicating with somebody. I went out of the prayer point and I was now talking as if there was another person there with me. So, when he noticed that, he quickly got up and took a pen and was writing most of the things I was saying. A voice was asking me: Do you know this person? I will say no; it will mention another person, I will say no. The names being mentioned were those of long-standing ministers; some in the 18th century, and some in the early 19th century. Some of the names I didn’t know; some, I hadn’t even heard. So, He will show me all the person did that was good; all the ones the person did that were bad and He will now say you must not follow this. So, like that, I had that kind of trance for about two weeks and each time we wanted to pray. So, my husband being a more mature Christian told me that maybe God wanted to use me; that I should be more prayerful. But that didn’t mean anything to me then because whenever that happened, I ignored it.
But after those two weeks, I was able to see a lot of things. On one occasion, it was like I was taken to a very big territory; valley-like. Different countries. And God was showing me how He sees the world. From heaven, it’s as if you are in a valley. But in the valley, light was shining. However, some people refused to travel with the light extensively. So, I was now told that there are too many people that are suffering from demonic problems and who the past people sent didn’t want to rescue. Some tried a little, but some didn’t want anything to do with them at all. Then, they showed me how a pastor in right standing was being murdered by the powers of darkness. People that posses evil forces. So, from there, I was told that these people who operate in this realm, they are witches and they are many and they’ve infiltrated the churches; I should go teach…They also showed me how the church would soon be. That the church will so degenerate, that they will be like the world and ministers will come up to defend anything the church does like the world. They will say it doesn’t matter! They showed me how women will look like and they showed me then how Christian women were looking like and they also showed me how they will look like in future and I was told not to be like them and that I should also teach people not to be like them. The Lord kept saying He’s coming for the remnant, not for the multitude. But then the multitude must be warned because it is out of the multitude He will get the remnant. So, those were the visions I had that time. That was how the vision came – and since then, from time to time…I was still doing my training in the Nursing School then. And something will say what are you doing there? And when I come back, I will tell my husband I heard a voice asking me what I was doing in the school. And my husband will say (voice rising), complete that school. It is not a wrong thing to complete one’s education. So, I now started thinking that may be God wants me to come and be a trader (Laughs), because seeing many people, I was initially thinking it’s a market; that they wanted me to come and sell. And my husband said, so when you sell, people will be delivered from demonic attacks? We used to laugh about that, not knowing what was ahead of us. But as time kept going, I had finished from School of Nursing then; I had been posted to the Mary Slessor Joint Hospital in Itu. Anytime I wanted to give someone an injection, I will feel guilty. Something will be saying to me, don’t you have a better way of handling this situation; why don’t you talk to God; why do you enjoy pricking people? I will give someone an injection and I will become very guilty. Then, when I prayed for patients, they will recover! They hospital said no, that I should stop that because the government wanted them to recoup their investment. I remember a patient that was to go for hernia operation. She just said black nurse, come and pray for me and I did. Do you know that they took her into the theatre in the morning; I did night the day before. I prayed with her that morning, I laid hands there. Instead of praying that the surgery should be successful, I prayed that she should be healed and it was so. When they went into the theatre, they saw nothing. And instead of her to keep quiet, she said the black nurse prayed for me that they will not see this thing, so the doctor that was the superintendent was very angry. When I resumed for work, I was summoned. But I defended myself by saying that in nursing we are told to pray for patients if they ask. So, what is it? They now said I should stop it, if not they will write to the ministry; that if I want to do church, it’s not in the hospital. That I can pray generally for the patients; not a few. So, I was so angry. Out of that anger, when I got home, I told my husband I wanted to resign. Without him asking me anything, the next day, as I was leaving for work, he said take your resignation letter, I said ah, you should have shown me, he said no, when you get there, give it to them. So, when I got to work, I gave it to them. The matron of the hospital called me and said look, nursing is a noble profession; you will regret this, go and combine both. You can still be a nurse and pray for people. But I told her my decision is final…
(Interruption) – So, after you resigned what happened?
You know the thing just came like that. And all that while, we hadn’t even thought how I was going to do the ministry (Laughs). Two weeks after I resigned, my husband left for abroad to go and complete his PhD. And I now noticed that I was no longer going to work. And I was writing this book (The Seat of Satan Exposed) in that 1992. So, I managed to complete it and I just fixed a date for the launching. I called a few friends and told them and before I knew it people were coming in, people were giving me money. In fact, they made everything possible for me to launch the book. I’ve never experienced that kind of thing before. They even referred me to Aba (in Abia State) to bring one man. I went to Aba and the man accepted to come and I said ‘small me’ and this big man. So, they came and the event was big. They launched the book and the book was all over Calabar; oh, somebody has written about Olumba; some people were buying to go and give to Olumba; they said he will deal with me; others were buying to know the truth. So, that was how it all began. I didn’t make any announcement that I will start a ministry because I was scared…
Yes! After the book; we launched the book in May 1992, but I didn’t tell anybody that I was going to start anything. On my own, however, I told my sister that I will be praying for people every Wednesday. I still don’t know how my sister got out the information. So, one Wednesday, I was inside my bedroom, I was just lying down and my sister came to say there were so many people in the parlour (sitting room). I said what are they looking for? She said ‘se you said you will be praying for people on Wednesday’. I said but I’ve not started! She said well, I told some people. And most of them were people who attended the book launch. From there, they started bringing sick people, people that felt they had demonic problems. That first day, when I came out, there were 58 people in our big parlour. My husband was a lecturer then and the university used to give them houses that time and the parlours used to be very big. So, the whole place, parlour to the dining, was filled. Even my neighbours brought seats and they were looking for people’s dining seats to use. When I came out, I was scared. Then, I said praise the Lord! And before I knew it, I was teaching and that was how it started.
The name, Liberty Gospel Church, how did you come about it?
During that time I was having those series of vision, I was actually told that I’m going to liberate the people by the power of the Word. So, when I wanted to unveil the book, The Seat of Satan Exposed, I now wrote Liberty Gospel Church. The main essence of our ministry is using the gospel to liberate people. So, that became the name of the ministry.
Your first official service, how many people were in attendance and how many of those people do you still have in the church?
On the 16th of August, 1992, when we had the first Sunday service, we were 32; I was very happy. I didn’t know a lot of things then and it was good. I think that’s even the best way to start a ministry – not knowing much about it so you will learn along the way.
How many of those 32 people do you still have as members?
I still have Sister Emilia and the children. That time, she came with the husband and the sons. I have one Sister Clara. She’s one of our deaconesses now. I have one Rita Williams and the husband, Edem. Both of them have PhD now. There are many of them who are still around. Even one that wedded weeks ago, one George. They were little then and their parents used to bring them. If I want to count, I still have more than 20 of them, those foundation members.
As at that time that you were hearing those voices…
(Cuts in) – And seeing visions and seeing pictures…
Mine was coming each time we were praying. It will not come until we were praying. So, I was not having any dreams, it was in my conscious state. But my husband will notice that I’m no more praying along, I’m now talking about something else. So, he being a matured Christian, told me that may be God wanted to use me; that I should pray more.
Why didn’t your husband pray so that God can also use him? Why did God by-pass him for you?
I can’t tell. That is how God does His things. He said He does things according to how He pleases. So, we didn’t even have our minds there. Like I said, we did not consider too many things. And after that he left for his PhD in America and I was alone. So, I needed to actually yield and go ahead. I knew that it was God speaking because when I was to launch the book, I didn’t know people, but I’m telling you, over 500 people gathered and they filled the Calabar Hall. One man, he used to be a DPO, but from Warri, Delta State, he said he was directed by the Lord to be the first to launch that book. As at that time, he gave me N20,000. N20,000 then could buy two plots of land in Calabar. So, for him to give me N20,000, it was like solving all my problems. More so, when I used only N4,000 to plan the programme. There were a lot of things to show me that God was in it.
What do you like most about being a minister of God?
When people truly repent by my message, it gives me the greatest joy of my life. Then, I’m also thrilled when people say I used to have this problem, but when I came to you, surrendered my life to Jesus, as I followed you, now those problems are over. I also get happy because it is in line with my vision. Or may be somebody was sick and you hear the person coming to say we travelled, we went to all the hospitals, we spent money, we did this, but when we came here, you said something, you didn’t even know that we were here, but when you said it, we claimed it and we became alright. So, those are the things I like most.
What don’t you like about being a minister of God?
Knowing that there are so many fake ministers makes me feel bad because people can easily group all of us together. But I also have my consolation in the fact that there will be many false prophets. So, that gives me consolation. Well, even those things that people say they don’t like, even those ones that people complain of, for me, I see it as part of it. It has to be there to make the work what it should be. So, I don’t really know. But you are in the eyes of everybody; people that know you, those who don’t even know you. They talk about you, they gossip you; they tell lies about you. Your children can be where people are lying about you and they don’t know that they are your children (Laughs) and they will listen and know that everything they say about you is false. All over the internet I have been labeled as killing children, stigmatizing them, whereas such a thing doesn’t even exist. So, those are some of the things that I don’t like, but I feel that if they did it to Jesus, they should do it to any pastor. Yes!
What do you like best about being a pastor or a preacher?
Everything! (General laughter).
What is the greatest thing that being a pastor has done for you?
What has it not done for you?
Nothing! It has done everything for me (Laughing). Everything!
What makes a good preacher?
Somebody who is able to preach the truth and stand by it and defend it without unnecessary compromises. Because like I’m talking about fake pastors now, ministers have erred in certain traditions they brought in. So, because of that, they try to defend it as if it’s a Biblical doctrine, but most of them have actually abandoned the Bible doctrine of repentance of sin. Watch your television screen, very few pastors preach on sin, if at all you will hear it. Whereas every pastor has a duty of giving eternity to people and let them reject it. So, you must preach that message of eternity, of repentance, of pointing people to Jesus. Let the people be the ones to reject it.
What are the ingredients of a good message?
Every message is a revelation of God, of what God wants you to do, of whatever He wants people to change from that time, or what He wants to change in the lives of the people; maybe their devotional life is becoming weaker. So, He can give a message along that line. Do you know what the Bible says? The Bible says we, the pastors, should look at the state of our flock. So, when you are praying for the flock, the Lord will give you a message. If God gives you a message, it’s not for you, it’s not for your family; it’s for the people. So, when God sees the need of the people at a particular time, He can plan a programme. Maybe the people are becoming too sickly; God can give you a message-theme or a programme-theme so as to address those issues.
Why is it that most preachers don’t succeed?
Oh! I’ve not really taken time to observe that…
How does one become successful as a preacher and also be able to sustain it?
First of all, it has to be that the person knew God and the source of his wealth was clean. Yes! And if it was clean, it will be sustainable, because the God that supplied will never close His flood gate. The Bible says those who acquire wealth in haste; it shall suddenly vanish. There are some people that acquire wealth speedily; they are not innocent. So, that means when that thing doesn’t click again, it ends. So, the best way to acquire wealth is to acquire it very ‘cleanly’, without injuring anybody, without hurting anybody, without oppressing anybody, without using anybody; it has to be your real labour and when God backs you up, it prospers.
(Interruption) – Yes, there are too many unsuccessful preachers. What must one do to succeed in the ministry?
First, were you called? Are you among the called? Were you chosen? It might be possible that you were called, but not yet chosen. So, a lot of people have chosen themselves, not that God has chosen them. Some people come into it because they don’t have jobs and they want to make a business out of it and make their earnings out of it. So, they fail because you can’t see the focus. And some other people too, the Bible says by their fruits you shall know them. That’s why when they say they have a call, people say this person; I can’t commit my soul and eternity to his hands. I better look for somebody more serious or that has a definite calling. Some people are called, they say, but they don’t have direction, they want you, another person to direct them. But I say no, when God calls you, He gives you the direction. Because God is not a familiar spirit.
People say you are the most successful female pastor in Nigeria, do you agree with them?
I don’t know! (Smiles). I’ve not actually taken time to do a survey, but quite often, most of the female ministers I meet are people that pastor along with their husbands. That is, their husbands have the vision and they share in it or their husbands are no more and they are continuing with the work. I think the difference between that and mine is that from the scratch, I started the work. But my husband is a very mature Christian; he preaches at times when it is convenient. He helped me in the early stage of the ministry when he came back by training workers in the ministry. But the actual thing is that I was called and I have the vision. I have what I’m pursing and I was told what I needed to do and I’ve kept to it.
They also said you are the richest female pastor in Nigeria, do you agree with that?
Are pastors really rich? Because when I hear rich, rich…I don’t understand (Laughs). Can pastors be rich? People who are rich have money in the bank. Well, maybe they may think so, but I live by faith. Every day, what the Lord does is that, when I have needs, I pray. Sometimes He brings it at that time, sometimes He doesn’t have to bring it at that time and I need to be patient. But one thing the Lord warned me about from the inception of my ministry is not to be begging for money. So, I’ve never printed cards to beg for money or write people letters to tell them my problems. Maybe because of that aspect of my being contented with what I have and moving with what is available; people think that I’m too rich. And more so when they come to me to beg, sometimes I foolishly give them. Even when I have needs of my own!
Liberty Gospel Church is over 20 years old now, how will you describe the journey so far?
Ah! The journey has not been smooth, but exciting. It’s as if one is carrying a load, but very happy carrying the load. It makes me remember what Jesus said: My yoke is easy, my burden is light. Then, I sometimes say supposing it was the devil that gave me the burden, it will kill me. But this burden doesn’t kill me, it pushes me forward, it gives me joy, it gives me results, it makes me see people living their lives by my message. So, I am happy.
What have you asked God to do for you all these years that He hasn’t done?
I think He has done more than what I asked for. Yeah! He has done more than what I have been asking. In fact, there’s nothing I would have said I wanted to do in these years that I’ve not done. And the things I’ve not done are deliberate. It’s me not wanting to do them.
What will you describe as the greatest thing that God has done for you and Liberty Gospel Church? His greatest miracle so far?
The miracle of going to any city where nobody knows you and you establish a church and it stands. And you have souls. Those are the exciting things. Anywhere we just go, we succeed.
Liberty Gospel Church has over 250 branches at the moment, how do you manage them? And how did you grow them also?
Well, I train all the pastors; then I train some people to do part time while they keep their jobs. Because in the ministry, we may not be able to pay. So, I train them according to the vision. And after the training, I control what happens in the ministry. So, I’m fully in charge.
Why do we still have sins on the increase in spite of having too many churches around?
That is what the Bible says. The Bible says where you have grace, sin will multiply. The reason is we must not forget the age we are in. We are in the last days and the Bible says the Devil knows that his time is short, so he is working over time. And the essence of the church is to let people know, warn people about the time. That is why I told you earlier that the church is not actually preaching their message. We are not warning people about the time, instead we are compromising with the season and we say if you don’t do like that, you don’t belong, if you don’t do like that, you can’t carry them along. That is just what is happening now. When you allow worldly affection, worldly way of marrying, when we allow all those things to creep into the church, those people who do those things won’t take God serious.
Why is there so much disunity in the Christendom? Most pastors don’t relate.
Even Jesus himself didn’t come to preach united fellowship. He didn’t preach that, rather He said I have come with a sword. So, I and you can differ over a small thing. But that shouldn’t make me to hate you; it shouldn’t make me to jealous you. I should rather see the grace of God upon your life and what you are doing, because that is where the language, the adage or the parable of Jesus: let the wheat and the tare grow together until the day of harvest comes in. I’m not even authorized to judge any pastor…
(Interruption) – But you fought Olumba Olumba Obu? Why?
Was that a pastor? No, we don’t mean false prophets. False prophets, you must identify them and expose them. All what I did there was to expose the unfruitful works of darkness. That’s what the Bible asked us to do, and to reprove them. Not only to Olumba. By the time you teach on falsehood, so many pastors will say you are preaching against them. That’s just the problem. When you want to teach the signs of a false prophet, you will see a lot of people write letters, that they will kill you and all that. They threaten you.
You preach, plant churches, write books, sing, act and so on. How do you make out time for your family? Are they not being neglected?
No! My family is always with me. I believe that God did not just give us 24 hours for nothing. So, you have to divide that 24 hours and use it effectively so that you don’t allow any portion to suffer because of one. I used to tell my children that God’s work is number one. So, it’s my calling first. The children now have that understanding and they know that they can’t stop me. Even my husband knows he can’t stop me. So, what I do is that I’m always with the children when they are around.
How about your husband, how much of your time does he enjoy?
I don’t need to make out time for him, he has me all the way (Launching), so he is the one to make out time for me. Me, I’m there. I’m available.
What’s your dream for Liberty Gospel Church?
To go by the great commission – taking the gospel to all parts of the world. This gospel of Jesus must be preached to all the ends of the world. That’s why as I’m preaching on television now, people write me from Iran, from Iraq, you can’t imagine how happy I am. They want to know about Jesus, so we have a lot of work to do to point them to the truth.
What will you describe as the greatest miracle that God has used you to execute?
Ah! It’s not one o! They are many, only that we don’t make noise about them. For example, to deliver witches. People who are witches, which nobody had ever done before I came into ministry. I deliver them. These are not blind witches, these are conscious witches who are attending covens and they are no more going. So, it’s not one, it’s not two…That is what I have not seen anybody do. At a time people were arguing that it was because I was a witch, and I said I’ve never been a witch for your information (Laughing). I have been able to close a lot of covens.
How do you deliver the witches?
You need to be there during deliverance (General laughter). It doesn’t have a method, and it’s the work of the spirit. It doesn’t have step one, step two…
Don’t these witches fight back?
That is why I have all these problems by the Censor’s Board not allowing my movies to go. Those are the ways they fight back, but you see, my life is secured in God. And I’m not too particular about my life, protection, security, this, that, because I know that God has sent me. He is securing me and if He exposes me, that means my time is up.
What do you do for relaxation?
I watch Arsenal (General laughter). Sometimes I even travel to London to watch them live. I’m a registered Arsenal fan.
NB: First published June 2014
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