I speak the truth in love, and I refuse to be competitive
Bishop Israel Ade-Ajala is ebullient. That was what struck me the moment my colleague and I stepped into his office. He is the presiding bishop of Kingdom Connection Christian Center, in Denver which, in addition to being a worship center, has been a free food supply hub throughout the span of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was meeting him for the first time, and he turned out to be immensely humane and radiated a lot of joy. The bishop is married to Rev. (Mrs.) Adeola Ajala and they have remained an exemplary couple for 30 years. They have three children, and he is very proud of them all. Listen, I don’t believe all clergy will go to heaven but when he asked that I be served a cup of his great-tasting tea, I knew he would go nowhere else but heaven. I was blessed meeting him and glad that our scheduled interview happened. Afrik Digest captured the conversation below.
Bishop, please tell us about yourself
I was born into a Christian home in Osogbo, Nigeria. My family was and still is a tight-knit family. I was raised with Christian values by godly parents. My mum was a missionary to the Muslim world, my dad was a community leader, a great musician; both of my parents were educators. I went to a Muslim elementary school, where I’d the opportunity to study the Quran. I attended a catholic high school and graduated with a bachelor’s in economics from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Nigeria. I furthered my education and acquired my master’s and doctorate degrees.
Can you tell us briefly about your ministry path and the spiritual milestones along the way?
I gave my life to Christ in August of 1973, and I was ordained as a pastor in 1987. My first mission journey was to Ghana, where I worked under Youth with A Mission (YWAM). I later joined Mercy Ships – largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world – where the Lord used me to help provide free medical services in the developing world, in Europe and Africa. I’ve been to 68 nations across all the seven continents, preached the good news of Christ, planted churches, taught in schools, commissioned pastors and has continued to change nations one life at a time. I arrived in Denver in March of 1994 and began working with YWAM. I joined the pastoral staff of Church in the City in the same year and stayed there till 1999. By God’s instruction, leading and help, I planted Kingdom Connection Christian Center (KCCC) in the year 2000.
In your spiritual walk, how has God used adversity to mature you?
God never used adversity to mature me, but in all adversity, God has been faithful.
There’s a dearth of integrity nowadays, what steps do you take to cultivate and guard your integrity?
Simple obedience to the Word of God. I surround myself with godly people and put myself under the leadership of my spiritual father. I try to do my work as a spiritual leader and tell the truth. I’ll be very honest with you, the reason some of our men don’t like to come to Kingdom Connection is because I hold them accountable. I tell them I’m holding you accountable; you cannot mistreat your wife; you cannot mistreat your family. I’m not here to sell myself or sell my authority. Some of them think I started pastoring when I came to America, but that’s wrong. We’ve been coming to America long before I decided to settle here.
So, I speak the truth in love, and I refuse to be competitive, especially in ministry, because that also brings failure. We are supposed to complement one another and not be competitive as it can make one compromise the Word of God. The Bible says, “as long as the king Uzziah sought guidance from the Lord, he prospered”. Accountability is a key word for anybody that doesn’t want to fail. When you are accountable, you want to ensure certain things are done sincerely. There are certain things I would have done when I was growing up, but because I do want to bring disgrace to my parents, I refused to do those things. Everyone in authority should be accountable to all those watching. Also be accountable to people who can speak into your life. I mean those who can tell you to knock it off when you’re on the wrong path, and you will have no choice but to stop.
These people are your mirror that shows you what you can’t see about yourself. A husband and a wife can be accountable to each other. Men tend to quote the part of the Bible that says, ‘Submit to your husband’, and they forget the part that says, ‘Love your wife as Christ loves His church’.
Through these long years in ministry, what’s been your secret in avoiding failure?
Being accountable and obedient to the Word of God. Refusing to be competitive especially in ministry. I speak the truth in love.
Knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself when you first started ministry?
Knowing what I know now I would be more careful to choose who I place in leadership. I realized that I didn’t really test people’s capabilities before putting them in leadership positions, earlier on, and they hurt so many people. Knowing what I know now, I would make sure that I raised and trained ‘children’ instead of ‘workers’. You see, your child has your interest at heart. They defend and protect you, but workers are just interested in their compensation. Your children know your strengths and weaknesses, yet they stick with you. Even when they go, they still come back. Their desire is to learn from you. You’re not just a disciple to them, you’re also their mentor, a role model. Your children are patient with you so that when you do something wrong, they wait for you to tell them why you did it. You are vulnerable to them, and they are vulnerable to you. They love you for what you are to them, and they don’t judge you. They think of how to make you better, as you think of how to make them better. Anyone who is quick to bad mouth his leader is not a ‘child’ to that leader, he/she is a mere worker. Alas
What has been your biggest joy in ministry?
My biggest joy in ministry is seeing the lives of everyone I meet transformed. It also includes seeing my spiritual children doing well in life and in ministry and seeing their lives transformed by the Word and love of God. God took me to India when its entire Christian population was around three million. Now seeing Christians in India increasing to around 15 million, that’s the joy. When I hear someone from India say, “Thank you for what you have accomplished in India,” I know that I contributed a little to the kingdom. It also speaks to what we are doing in Syria, what we are doing in Nigeria and what we are doing in Montserrat. During my consecration as bishop, the prime minister of Montserrat was here. So, this is my joy.
You know that Kingdom Connection is one of the largest food distribution churches in Colorado. We started the food ministry 19 years ago but Covid19 kind of expanded the need. We give out six semi-trucks of food supplies every week. If you come here tomorrow, you will see vehicles lined up for food all the way to Colfax. These are people who need food, and we are able to give them good, fresh, nutrient-filled food. We have chicken, fish, salad, pizza, sausage, and even ice cream. Before 2020, we went outside of our church to find people who needed food. We used to distribute flyers or spread it by word of mouth; sometimes we got the word out through Body of Christ News. We had and still have a lot of donors. USDA would give us 10,000 pounds of beef, every week, for many months. As we speak, Starbucks, Walmart, KingSoopers and Tyson Foods have all joined us.
Where and how did you meet your wife? How long have you been married, and who first proposed?
I and Adeola have been married for 30 years. We met at the University. We were both in the Campus Christian Fellowship. I proposed to her after two years of courtship.
Did you have heroes growing up?
My mom and dad were my role models, but my hero has always been Christ, since I was young. That person who gave His life for me is my hero. I became born-again very young, before then I was just a churchgoer. In 1973 my pastor told me that my parents couldn’t save me. He said to the congregation, “Would you like to give your life to Christ?” I did.
My mom was a Christian missionary to the Muslim community. She was never a Muslim. Her mission was to go among the Muslims to preach the gospel to them. I remember I had Muslim friends and 13 of them are pastors today. Our duty then as children, is to invite our friends to our house, and my mom would prepare and serve rice in a big tray. As we all sat down eating, my mom would read the Bible to all of us. My dad has always been a Christian since I’ve known him. He serves as an organist at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.
If you could choose an age to remain forever, which age would you choose?
I would never choose an age to remain forever. Every stage or age brings different privileges, different challenges, and different experiences, and I have enjoyed them all. I would not trade one phase of life for another.
What has been the best thing to happen to you this year?
Being alive and being in Christ have been the best things to happen to me this year. To be alive is a privilege. Every time you take a deep breath, and you are able to breathe out on your own; not being attached to a machine, it’s a privilege. It’s not just for the peculiarity of this time, but at all times. Satan has three jobs: to steal, to kill and to destroy, but it’s by the grace of God that we overcome. We don’t deserve the life we have. I have seen people with six packs, whatever it is, dropping dead. I have seen many men of God drop dead. So, every day that I’m alive, I am grateful. I am also grateful to be in Christ because if you are not in Christ, you will soon be in crisis.
If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
I would love to go anywhere I can offer joy to people. I have been to different places and met different people. I’ve had different experiences in my travels. I’ve met the presidents of nations and regular people. I honestly enjoy everywhere I go, but you don’t go to a place to find joy if it’s not already there. You might find happiness there, and that’s transient. I live in the joy of the Lord, so everywhere I go to is a vacation spot if I can give joy there. One thing I know is that you cannot come to my office and go home depressed: it’s not possible. Again, you can’t come to my presence and leave discouraged; it’s not possible. I will share with you what is in me. We can only give what we have, so I’ve chosen in my life that I will be a source of joy to people that I meet. I will be like a candle with light on it. I tell people here if your heart is full of darkness, you should check your light. I’m not a thermometer; I am a thermostat.
Has there been a time when voicing your opinion was uncomfortable, but you stuck to it because you believed so strongly in the value of your perspective?
I have never been uncomfortable sharing my opinion to anyone or group. The person I’m sharing it with may be uncomfortable because in a state of lawlessness, it becomes criminal to be law-abiding. If a person’s mind is already debased, you will need to work a lot harder to help them. Your showing them the word of God, first of all, makes them angry. I don’t have to be uncomfortable sharing the truth to such a person until change happens. You cannot do anything against the truth. The word of God is the truth. And so I say to people, you need to listen to the raw truth because there’s no way to refine craziness. There is a time and place to say, be careful, and there is a place to say you are being stupid. I don’t feel offended when I do a stupid thing, and someone calls it out. I say to people, it’s okay to step on my shoe if it’s just to enjoy my shine.
Let me tell you this. Look at many evangelical leaders running after Donald Trump. Donald Trump should not be the person Christian leaders are running after. When Christian leaders take their identity from the political stage, they become irrelevant in the eyes of God. It’s not good to care more about our intimacy with people than our intimacy with God.
What perspectives do you have on COVID-19 vaccine and climate change?
Covid-19 is a deadly virus, go get vaccinated. Anyone who politicizes getting vaccinated is wicked. On climate change – I know that human activities have contributed to climate change, I don’t involve myself in the politics of the conversation. American politicians remind me of student unionism, they need to grow up and be mature. No doubt that we have intelligent leaders, but some of them make mockery of leadership.
My perspectives on these are don’t be ignorant. More than 80% of our church members are vaccinated. We have to get vaccinated. The stupidity is with Christian leaders that are speaking against vaccination. The result we see now is that people are dying like flies. If you are going to walk by faith, don’t force the depth of your faith on any other person. Science is the wisdom that God gave to the natural man to combat natural disasters. Faith is what God has given to the spiritual man to live a spiritual life; both don’t contradict each other. Though we say, we are in the world and not of the world, we still live here. There is no reason to malign science. Now, the vaccine might make you sick, but you must focus on the benefits. I took the vaccine and I’m still here, I’m still born again, and I’m still leading people to Christ. I lost nobody in my church, our food bank never closed for one day due to COVID-19. I don’t know why people deny the truth and choose to die. I’m not going to scold anyone who decides to make the wrong choice, but I will keep telling them that they are playing into Satan’s hand, because their death will not be God’s doing.
What books would you recommend to everyone to read?
I would recommend the Bible anytime. The Bible is both the book of wisdom and the book of life. In our church, I advise everybody to finish the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation once in a year. The Word of God is truth and life and must become our anchor. In our church, we don’t bury people. Nobody comes here and remains the same. The Bible says, the entrance into your Word gives light and understanding to the simple. So, if everybody will read the Bible, including evangelical pastors, and stop picking and choosing what they want to preach, then we’ll be armed with the truth.
If your question is for any other book other than the Bible, then you’d love to know that I’m an avid reader, I’m an economist by profession. I read everything I see. So, read everything including newspapers. The mouth of a priest dispenses knowledge, you don’t just buy a tie and call yourself a pastor, you have to be aware of what’s going on. These days, Christians are just as ignorant as anyone else; they take one issue and twist it out of logic. Read the Bible yourself and see if you will not learn new things.
It’s amazing that we are living in the information age, and people are still ignorant. This is why people like Donald Trump can open their mouth to speak falsehoods and 30% of America believes them because they go to church. That beats my imagination.
As a Nigerian immigrant, what opinion would you like to express about the state of your home country?
The state of Nigeria right now is very depressing. I just came back from there recently. I have said it again and again, the situation in Nigeria is appalling. People are suffering. The level of corruption is unprecedented. I’ll tell you the truth, respect for the rule of law does not exist in Nigeria. Honesty and sincerity are virtues, but they don’t exist in Nigeria. People take unfair advantage of others. America is a great nation, not only because it’s a Christian nation, but because there is respect for the law. My suggestion is that we bring back the virtues, restore respect for the rule of law, and keep our lives simple. Only when these are in place will things turn around.
There is a leadership problem but that is not the root cause. Who are the people we call leaders? Are they not from among us? They operate in a system that does not respect law, so they can do things with impunity. Nigeria’s problem is with the value system. People get away with atrocities in Nigeria because there’s no rule of law. If there is adherence to the rule of law, they would think twice before even going into leadership. The governors and most of those charged with governance are looting public wealth continuously. They are wining and dining while impoverishing Nigerians. That society celebrates what they should despise and despise what they should celebrate. What a shame! My hope is that integrity can be restored from all segments.
My advice is to keep your life simple. When your life is simple, you are content with what you have. Contentment doesn’t mean you are not pushing forward. It means that if you don’t have something yet, you’re not jealous of those who already have it. Then keep working hard in a faithful and honest way. The church must become a role model. Many churches in Nigeria have failed that society. The church has failed Nigeria. Basically, there are two professions in Nigeria to make money quickly: politics and pulpit. The Bible says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves…” There is no humility in the church these days, only arrogance.
By and large, other countries of Africa are the same, though I believe Rwanda is a little different. If you go to Rwanda today, you will think you’re in Europe. This was a country that was totally decimated by war. In spite of some criticisms, they are operating within the ambit of their culture. There are certain things we copy from the west that cannot easily work within our society.
I see you do a lot of community outreaches. Do you have any reason for doing this?
We just want to make a difference in people’s lives. We want to make them know that even though things are difficult at the moment, they still do matter.
Is there anything really bothers you that doesn’t bother most people?
My answer is that people should seek knowledge. I stick with what the Word of God says. Anyone who disagrees with the Word of God, does so at their own detriment. I am bothered when I see a blind person leading another blind person. I believe people can probe to find out the truth by themselves so that they are not misdirected.
What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made in ministry?
I’m still in ministry to the glory of God, and I have made so many mistakes. One huge mistake I made earlier on is putting people in positions of leadership without testing their skills. Another mistake was thinking that every flock I’d raised was my ‘spiritual child’ and putting a detractor in a leadership position. Though I was only trying to help, it didn’t end well. Be careful when ignorant people claim specialty on a subject matter that they know nothing about. They cause more problems for you.