Saudi Arabia Church: How we started the first open Church in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-Apostle Aigbogun
Apostle Olusegun Aigbogun has an enviable credential. Though the founder of Grace Outreach Global Church with branches across the world, he is a food technology expert with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.
He worked in the US with reputable Food companies while also doing ministry. His passion for God is simply contagious. Despite his deep involvement with the corporate world, he has been able to strike a good balance with his preaching engagements across the globe. In this online interview with Church Times, Aigbogun who comes from a humble background shares a bit of his life. It’s simply inspiring. Below are excerpts:
Kindly give a brief about your background, your academic and professional life, etc?
I am the second of six children of my parents. My parents were hardworking but financially poor. We were raised in a very small village called Ikaro, in Osse Local government of Ondo State. My father was a well-respected farmer in that village and my mother was a petty trader. Despite their diligence and hard work, they couldn’t afford my education. Poverty starred us in the face daily. But growing up in that village was fun.
We didn’t know better but we were contented with the little we had. Because of my parent’s financial predicament, when I obtained my primary leaving certificate, they sent me to a Modern School which was almost tuition-free. But most of my classmates proceeded to Secondary School.
But then I was fortunate to have gained admission to St John/Mary College Owo, a Teacher’s Training College, after my three years in Modern School. Teacher’s Training Colleges then were free in Nigeria and actually in our third and final year we were paid N8 every month stipend.
That was the money I saved to obtain the GCE form. I studied at home and sat for six subjects including physics, chemistry, and Biology. I had A’s in all six subjects. I wanted to study medicine. But I couldn’t afford a university education. So, I ended up studying Food Science and Technology at The Polytechnic, Owo now Rufus Giwa Polytechnic where I obtained my HND in Food Science and Technology.
But then, I was very good at music. That made a very rich man by the name Captain Israel Ademola Haastrup of blessed memory to pick interest in me. He took so much interest in me because of my proficiency in music. I became very useful in the Church. Because of the love he had for me, he decided to send me to the United States to do my Master’s in Food Science and Nutrition at Chapman University, Irvine California. I later obtained a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.
My Food Science profession took off in the US where I worked for reputable Food companies like Dannon, ConAgra Foods, and Campbell Soup. I later moved to the UK where I worked for Uniq Foods as the Head of Innovation, before moving to Saudi Arabia to join Almarai Company, one of the largest Food companies in the world as General Manager of Quality and Product Development. I’m now on the transition to a new Executive role with Coca-Cola to be based in Dubai looking after Product and Technology for Emerging Markets. I’m excited as this will possibly be the last lap of my career! Don’t ask me what I’m going to do thereafter – Because the answer will be “I don’t know”. That is my story in a quick version.
At what point in your life did you become a Christian and what informed your conversion?
If being a Christian will mean being in church, I will say I was born into the church. And I have been in church all my life. But if being a Christian you mean being born of water and spirit to become a joint heir with Christ, it was on the 6th of June, 1998 in Dallas Texas under a very peculiar circumstance that I cannot get into now for the sake of time. But it started with me attending the first service of Bishop T.D Jakes when he moved to Dallas. At that time Dannon Company had just moved me from Los Angeles to Dallas two years before. And I was the Shepherd of the Celestial Church of Christ Los Angeles Parish before my encounter with Jesus in a Personal way.
On attendance of Bishop Jakes First service in Dallas, the altar call was for me. But my status in the Celestial Church World Wide at that time made me turn deaf ears to God’s call.
Two weeks later I found myself in a situation where the Lord threw me down from the high horse and introduced himself to me in a peculiar way. A stranger subsequently led me to Christ and I became a Christian.
You talked about operating in the music ministry and people had thought that was your calling. What was your experience while operating in the ministry?
I was born in the Cherubim and Seraphim Movement; the church where my mother was a prophetess. That was where my ability to sing and play music was exposed. I later at age of 18 joined the Celestial Church for one reason only, because it was the church that loved music and I saw myself becoming a superstar in the gospel music in the church. I played almost all the instruments in the church. I was the Choirmaster of Choirmasters and I launched a couple of Albums before I left Nigeria for the US. Writing worship songs and performing was my life other than being in school. My music Ministry continued when I got to the US. I started a band in LA called Segun Victor and the Triumphant Singers. And I was a household name in the US Celestial community. But Food Science never left me.
How then did you arrive at what God had called you to do?
When I went back to LA in 2000 now being born Again, I enrolled at the Trinity Bible College and chose the City of Refuge with Bishop Noel Jones as my church and that was when I discovered that God was calling me into Preaching! Campbell Soup where I worked sent me to the UK in 2005 where my wife and I started attending the Grace Outreach Church London under Bishop Paul Fadeyi.
Bishop Fadeyi is my Spiritual father. He confirmed the call of God on my life and ordained my wife and me in 2007. That was around the time my professional career took me to Saudi Arabia where I planted the first Church that is not Celestial Church ever in my life.
We started Grace Outreach Church in Riyadh and it became the first open Church in that land where the church is forbidden. I pastor that church 6 years before I was transferred to Egypt by my company specifically to please the government who wanted me out so that the church would die. But God kept the church because it wasn’t built on me. That is a different story.
You operate in the soft drink industry and also do ministry. What has been the experience?
I worked in the Dairy and Beverage rather than the soft drinks. God spoke to me many years back when I was the Shepherd of Celestial Church Los Angeles that I have to work to support the church financially if I was ever going to be fulfilled in what he had called me to do. My experience being a Pastor and a full-time professional employee has been so pleasant. People ask me how do I do it and my answer has always been I don’t know. I do two things that I enjoy.
One of my colleagues wrote about me in her farewell to me as I was transitioning to my new role. She said, “You were not just the boss that taught and coached me to be a better product developer but you showed me how to trust God”. That is in Egypt and she is a Muslim. So that tells you God didn’t just give me a pulpit, he gave me a platform and I love it.
Do you see yourself giving up your job for full-time ministry? Has it occurred to you that your work is a distraction?
If full-time ministry will mean making the Ministry my source of livelihood the answer is No. I will never Pastor for a living. That is not what God called me to do. Let me give you an insight into my answer. In 2017 May, God told me to go and plant a church in Akure for your young people. And he told me that I will have to support their education, motivate them in their talents and show them that Church is a blessing and not a curse.
I told my wife and she said, so are you going to quit your job to do this. I said no! God didn’t ask me to quit my job. In November of that year, my wife and I decided that we will commit one-third of our income to the assignment and we did. Grace Outreach Global Church is now the fastest growing church in Ondo State today with the church paying the school fees of many and getting many employed. My wife went to help raise these young men and women while I fly to Nigeria once every month to be with them.
So you don’t think your work is a distraction?
Distraction? No! Because I know exactly what He wanted from me for the work of the Ministry and that is my focus. I am careful I don’t take my eyes off what he has called me to do, that is to Teach, Train, and Raise leaders for the Kingdom. I don’t have to quit my job to do that. I need the job to do it.
We have a Church in Saudi, a Church in Egypt and Nigeria. My involvement, support, and focus are the same for all the churches.
You live in the UK and run the ministry. What has been the experience?
Whatever you are committed to will control you. I’m committed to God and He controls my calendar, my schedule, and my time. He gives me time and the grace to lead myself. Because the most difficult person to lead is you. Technology is helping but beyond that when I spend three days in Akure, I accomplish the work of three weeks. And the bonding I have with the church is like I’m there every day. Don’t forget my wife is there most of the time. We are a team for the assignment and God is doing what only Him can do. When Jesus sends you, He sees you through.
What is your assessment of ministry in Nigeria compared to the UK?
Unnn! Ministry in the UK is dominated by the Pentecostal Churches and surprisingly dominated by Nigerian Pastors. So if you ask me, it is not that different! Great things are happening with the Church in both nations. Jesus is proving himself as the Lord of the Church every day. However, the vice that is plaguing the church today that I call the spirit of Mammon is indeed prevalent in both nations. And pragmatic faith is dwindling day by day. People are just as gullible to the false doctrine in the UK as it is in Nigeria. But Great men of God who will not compromise the Gospel are indeed keeping the flag of the church flying for Jesus in both nations. I surely don’t see much difference – good or bad.
You once preached that it is the gift of a man that makes a difference in his life. I was particularly fascinated when you said it was the Courage in the life of Paul that was his gift. Are you saying gifts could be that abstract? One would have thought the gifts are what the Bible talked about.. courage is never mentioned in the Bible as a gift. How would you explain this?
Wow! I never thought that will catch your attention. Let me say yes, Gift can be that abstract especially when you have to look at its sociological connotation away from theology. Let’s say the word gift in the Bible was used as a physical thing offered or given until Peter used that word in Act 2:38 when he added the Spiritual to it. Pauline epistles were where it was amplified as something spiritual that can be impacted. And if it is spiritual then its root becomes invisible while the manifestation can be confused for the gift. Yes, the word courage was not considered by Paul as a gift for spiritual success. It was not considered a gift that allows you to walk without stress in your Christian life.
But outside of your Christian life you still have some God-given assignment that whether you are Christian or non-Christian, destiny doesn’t spare you. When God called Joshua, he never asked him to be prophetic. He never asked him to take the gift of miracle, healing and all of what you said are listed in the Bible. Guess what he asked him to get – Courage. God is not saying that as an instruction, he was telling him what he needed, to succeed in the assignment. He was telling him of the kind of gift required for this kind of assignment and God knew he had it. He just didn’t want him to leave home without it. No one succeeds in life doing what they don’t have the ability for. I hope that explains my thought in that sermon. And thank you for allowing me to explain myself.
￼What is the area of your ministry focus and how does the church-run in specific terms?
God has given me the grace to plant churches in strange places. For example, Saudi Arabia, where most Pastors that have tried it have ended up languishing in prison. And most of our members are young men and women who have come to Saudi as maids or casual labourers. They are people who are isolated with meager incomes and prone to end up converting to Islam when they don’t have a church where they could feed their souls. We support them, bring them to church, and not just make them have a sense of belonging and self-worth. We also feed them with food and drinks, while teaching them to come to the full knowledge of the love of Christ.
We have done the same in Egypt and we are doing that now in Akure, not Lagos, not Abuja. So the area of focus is raising leaders from the grassroots to ensure that church has capable leaders for different areas of the Ministry.
We have a Board that consists of people of diversified backgrounds and nationalities and professions. Bishop Paul Fadeyi of Grace Outreach London is the father for the Grace Outreach Global and I’m the chairman of the Board.
Every local campus has an autonomous structure to fit their purpose being led by a Resident Pastor who is also a member of the central board. The central board reviews the Church policies from time to time and drive the overall governance.
What is your understanding of welfare as being practiced in the church? Do you see it as a means of evangelism or the lifestyle of the believer? What would you consider as the appropriate welfare response of the church to the unbelieving world?
I see welfare as the lifestyle or culture of the church. Jesus never asked us to go and feed the world, he asked us to go and preach the gospel. But because welfare is our lifestyle and culture, it should come naturally to us and should reflect in the way we reach out in Evangelism. If we introduce Jesus, it should be seen in us. I just don’t think we should turn it to a game. Like if you have my Jesus then you can “Come have food, come and have these clothes and come have this rice”. That is not the culture of compassion. People should see us that we will never turn our eyes away from the need of people irrespective of whether they accept Christ or not. Because if the Word is preached, people will be reached. Unfortunately, we are in the era where the church is milking those they are supposed to be feeding.
In ministry who are the people, you look up to…who has been the greatest influence on your life?
In Ministry, there are two Men of God that I look up to. They have not just uniquely touched my life, they are the ones feeding my soul regularly as I carry out my assignment. One of them is Bishop Paul Fadeyi of Grace Outreach Church London, he is the Pastoral covering over our church. And the second eminent person in my life is Bishop Joby Brady of Potters House of North Dallas who has been mentoring me for the past 8 years. He does not shy away from keeping me straight and letting me know that the Kingdom assignment is not for people who are not disciples. I cannot but say that the person that influenced my spiritual inclination and allowed me to be who I am was my mother. She planted the fear of God in me and my siblings and sharpened my prayer life.
You’re a grace teacher. There have been so many controversies about grace message. What do you think is the missing link?
The message of grace had been controversial ever since Paul started preaching it and to the days of the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. I think the missing link is the inability of a Grace Teacher to separate the Subject of Character from the Essence of God’s nature of Love. You cannot feel comfortable in the garment of Grace with the unregenerated mind. But your failure does not change the nature of God and cannot reverse the finished work of the cross. That is my position on the subject of grace.
What is the role of your wife..is she in full-time ministry with you. How has is it been in your marriage.
Yes, my wife is in full-time Ministry. We both plant together with each one of us playing our part like Paul and Apollos. My wife is the founder of Hand of Grace Ministries which is the arm of our church that goes on Medical Mission around the world ever since we started the Saudi Church. I will say my wife is the gift of God to me that allows me to be able to do what I do. She hears from God to confirm our actions. So when I said God said we should go to Nigeria, it became a go when she also heard directly from God. Our five children love what we do and they give us their support.
What are your projections for the future?
First, on a general note, I project that the church will come back stronger after the crisis of Covid-19 and God will separate the weed from the Wheat. Jesus will remain the center of His Church.
For us as a Church, we want to be able to sponsor a minimum of 500 students through College in good Universities in Nigeria and abroad in the next three years.