ITUA IGHODALO: On Finding Joy At Christmas
Itua Ighodalo is the charismatic Pastor in charge of Trinity House, a non- denominational Christian worship centre in Lagos. The product of Kings College Lagos, and Economics and accounting graduate of Hull University, England, began his professional career at Price water House. He later founded Ighodalo and co, a professional public accounting firm. In 2004, the company later merged with three other firms to form SIAO, one of the 5th largest accounting firm in the country providing professional audit, tax and advisory services.
But since answering the call of God in 1993, and ordained a pastor in 1995 in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the accountant turned pastor has been Passionate about the transformation of the nations through the active renewal of the mind with the word. He not only teaches the word but demonstrates the word in his giving through several foundations that he sits atop, as well as his own foundation- the Itua Ighodalo Foundation.
As the world celebrates Christmas today, the man of God with a huge sense of humour and the husband of former beauty queen and boss of Elizabeth R, Ibidun Ighodalo talks about how the mind can be renewed to fully embrace joy and gladness which is the real meaning and message of Christmas.
There is so much preparation going on to celebrate Christmas but it does seems to me that a lot of those making preparations don’t really know what Christmas is all about. What is Christmas about?
Christmas is a celebration for the people of faith, people who truly believe that there is a God. God is interested in the affairs of men and He will do anything to make life comfortable, satisfactory and beneficial to man and above all, to make sure that man eventually makes it to heaven. It is the beginning of the recognition of the sacrifice that God made to come down to earth as a baby, born in a manger, of a virgin, lived through our lives, suffered what we suffer and eventually, died on the cross. So it’s a very important time of remembrance of Gods sacrifice. Anybody who understands this would know that Christmas is the beginning of a season of joy.
So are we celebrating it right?
Not quite. Most of the things we do, we tend to do it a little bit over the top and we cover it with our fleshly desires. Christmas is a time of sober reflection, thanksgiving and a time of deep expression of love and exchange of gifts, and things that will benefit the others especially, the less privileged. It’s not a time to be drinking, over eating and dancing. Yes, there should be joy but not garrulous over celebration.
The date, December 25, has remained a subject of controversy. Does the date really matter?
To be honest with you, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Some people believe it is between January and March. What you need to know is that Jesus was born and that is a fact. Although history has it that there was also a pagan celebration around this date, but Christians came and took over that date so I don’t think it really matters whether it is December 25th or another date.
There has been deep economic recession in the country that incapacitated many financially especially the crash of the MMM. How do you spread this message of joy in the face of deep recession and depression?
Joy is an attitude and a state of your mind. It depends on how you see and receive something. Is the cup half full or half empty? Yes, there is a recession, but it’s time to think and reflect and curb excesses and to re strategize. You may not have as much money as you desire, but you are alive and well; you are not dead, you are not in the hospital, if you are in the hospital, you are not dead and if you are dead and in the morgue, hopefully, you are on your way to heaven. So in every situation, there is a reason for thanksgiving and to really thank God for his sacrifice.
You define joy as an attitude but there are a lot of people who think joy is dependent on the acquisition of one material thing or the other. How do we re-direct people’s minds to what true joy is?
That is a challenge that we face and that is part of the teachings of Christianity. The bible in Romans 12 vs 1-2, talks about being transformed by the renewing of your mind. One of the biggest things we can do for people is to change the way they think and see things. That is one of the biggest challenges of the gospel. We need to train people, to re-educate them to see things differently, to help them appreciate what they have, and be grateful for the little things and, be hopeful for greater things.
As a minister, how challenging is this for you?
First of all, we encourage the people. The bible says a living dog is better than a dead lion. As long as a tree has roots, once there is a little water sprinkled on it, it will spring again. There is a cycle of recession not just in Nigeria but all over but there is hope. Another thing we do is share whatever we have no matter how big or small it is. If we can’t share a ram, we can share a chicken or a chicken thigh or an apple, but, share it with love and thanksgiving and work hard for a turn around.
How do you convey this kind of message properly to people who have suffered losses or are grieving in order to help them have a fresh start?
It is important that we keep encouraging them, giving them examples, sharing testimonies, telling them stories, getting them to relax and getting involved in their lives. And one of the things we need to teach the people is that our happiness should not be people dependent. You can cooperate with people, work with people, but you must not tie your happiness to people because, people will always pass on. It’s been like that and they pass on at different times. As you are celebrating Christmas, somebody is passing away. As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen again and again. I’ve seen people rise from the depth of grief and despair to the mountain top of hope and achievement. Only recently, a lady lost her 21 year old son who had just finished school and about to start life. The family launched a foundation in his name. So instead of the situation becoming a source of sorrow, it has become a bastion of hope. Of course, there will be quiet moments when we miss him, but this is how to teach and encourage people to turn a seeming disaster in into great victory.
What fond memories of Christmas can you recall?
When you are young, Christmas is something else entirely. It is not your responsibility, it is the responsibility of your parents; how they do it, what they suffer to do it is their business. I remember Christmas as a child in Ibadan. We would go to the zoological garden and buy a Christmas tree, bring it home and decorate it. Then we were told Santa Clause is coming and they will tell you to put a stocking by your bed that Santa would drop something for you. I believed this so much until one day after Christmas, my aunt said to me “did you like the tie that I sent to you”? that was when I knew it was not Santa. So as a child, Christmas was exciting, going from house to house singing Christmas carols.
As an adult now, how do you see Christmas?
Christmas for me especially as a pastor, is a time of great responsibility, a time of looking after the flock and making sure that they are alright and from your own limited resources, bringing out something to share with them, looking into the word and bringing out messages of hope for the people. For me, it’s always an intense time.
What are your plans for this Christmas?
Usually, Christmas time is a season of praise. We had our Christmas carols a while ago. I plan to spend some quiet time with my family. It’s New Year that I am actually focusing on now.
What plans do you have for the New Year?
In the new year, I need to spend some time away with God; to hear what he has to say for my people, for the nation and hopefully, for myself and my family.
I think 2017 will be a different year. I think it will set the foundation for the turn-around of the Nigerian economy. Already, we are hearing a bit of it, a desire to go back to agriculture in order to be self-sufficient and a desire to diversify from oil, a desire to have less of government and more of private sector initiative. These are things we should have done 20, 30 years ago. It is a pity that we didn’t have leadership to direct us in that path. But now, God has forced us to do right now that we have our backs to the wall. So it’s a good thing. One thing that has come out of the recession, is that people’s level of consumption and expenditure, has come down drastically. A friend of mine was talking the other day that there was a time when they would wake up on a Friday, and travel to London first class with other friends to go watch Arsenal football match and then, come back on Monday to work. He said now that is history. You can’t do that again. So, instead of doing six unnecessary trips, you can do one trip and save a lot of money. One thing God likes is for you to relax and enjoy. But He is also interested in resource efficiency. l tell a lot of my friends that that party you want to do with N10-20 million, you can do it for three million then the rest of the money, you can use it to pay for some scholarships, hospital bills for a child or to help a widow that will give you more value and more credit. Don’t spend so much on food and drinks. You can still feed people with a fraction, don’t buy four attires for your wedding, buy one or two and the rest money can pay somebody’s school fees or medical bills. People need to start thinking that way; how to spend less on themselves and their desires and see how they can share out of what they have to empower others, to encourage them, and to do things that others just cannot do for themselves. And that really, is the message of Christmas. That’s the way to have peace and joy.
Nigerians don’t have the culture of investing in charities like the rich do abroad. How do we encourage the haves to donate to the have- nots?
There is really a lot of re orientation and training and speaking to and making people to understand. In the beginning in Africa, it was not so, we had a lot of communal living in Africa. We shared with one another, a child was born, that child belonged to the community and everybody did what they could to make life better for the child. We need to let people know that together we win. What has happened is that the selfishness, the desire for consumption, luxury and self- aggrandizement, has overtaken our national ethos and we have allowed it. As a responsible government, we have to change that thinking. If you spend less on yourself, it does not mean that you are less of a person, it makes you a greater person who is able to help other people. When we work together, we can all win and let everybody be happy.
In Acts of the Apostles chapter two, all who had sold what they had and brought and gave it to those who didn’t have such that nobody had too much and nobody had too little. That is the kind of life and society we should work towards. It is something that is doable. It is ironic in this world that a lot of people are hungry and yet, food is being thrown away. Some people when they prepare food for one man, it’s like a meal for seven people and they throw the rest into the garbage, while just down the road, are people who don’t have to eat. So what we need to do is to redistribute. And at Trinity House, that is what we do to redistribute resources; so that the man, who has two coats, gives one to the man who has not, to teach the wealthy to manage their wealth and reduce their consumption. If you have money so much, your lifestyle cannot change significantly. You cannot wear more than two garments in a day. So all that extra, is really for you to help other people and not for you to live it in the bank.
What can tomorrow bring? The only thing it can bring is sickness, because there is a limit to medical understanding. So once you are alive and well, you can calculate how much food you need. How many garments do you need? If you built your own house, what more do you need? You can change your car once every 5-6 years. The basic needs of man are not much. We complicate things by adding unnecessary luxury. I have a friend, his most expensive garment is about N10, 000 and he is a wealthy man.
I have standardized to a very large extent my wardrobe, simple things that you can wear and enter anywhere. It doesn’t have to be too expensive. We need to teach these things early to children so that they can plan and not waste money. We don’t teach them early enough how to make wealth. I don’t want people to go through the experience I went through, the pain I went through.