Upright: Sir, can we meet you?
Uncle Imo: My name is Imo Ihezie. I was born in the mid-sixties. My father was a staff of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, so I was born there. I started Nursery school in 1970 after the war; and then did my primary school at University of Nigeria Staff school. After that, I went to Government College Umuahia,where I gave my life to Christ when I was 13 years. The same year I wrote WAEC, I gained admission into University of Nigeria, Enugu campus to study Accountancy. I did my National Youth Service ( NYSC ),in Ilorin Kwara State. I come from Abia State, Umauhia North Local Government.
Upright: Tell us about TOM; how it started and how far TOM has come.
Uncle Imo: Yes, we thank God for TOM- Teenagers Outreach Ministries. By the Grace of God, this year July, TOM will be turning 28years. We started TOM in 1992 by the Grace of God and I will say that because I know the story of TOM from day one, TOM is truly of God.
Basically, like I told you earlier, I gave my life to Christ in 1979, when I was about 13 years; and that meant I went through a lot as a Christian teenager.During my teenage years, there were so many different types of Christians like you have them today. You had Church goers, people who were in the Christian youth circles and many of them didn’t understand the concept of being born again. Around then was when Scripture Union was the core center of the Christian faith in Nigeria, and soon after that, Assemblies of God also came up .
After I gave my life to Christ, I felt the great need for fellowship as a Child of God, and God showed me Mercy. Another teenager in my neighborhood, around then also gave his life to the Lord and we were encouraging one another.
At a time, as I grew up, and getting to Senior Secondary (Form 4) I accepted responsibility as a Christian leader and that helped me a lot.
Between sitting for WAEC and entering the University the same year in 1983 I started working with children. I became a children Sunday School teacher right from then. God opened my eyes to the great spiritual needs of children.
And in the course of working with Children, my eyes began to open as well to what Teenagers were passing through: the neglect they were going through; the fact that the body of Christ didn’t understand them; their parents didn’t understand them and all that. It became an issue and God began to burden my heart for them.
I was also largely motivated by what I went through as a teenager. I was lonely, I wouldn’t go party with my brothers; they would think I wasn’t being fair to them , putting up a ‘Holy Holy’ attitude and all that. So I knew what it meant to be a Christian as a teenager, and I realized that they needed to be encouraged and supported to live a Christian life.
As I worked with children, the burden for teenagers began to grow. The more I looked at them, the more I saw what they were passing through: the neglect, people not understanding them, people not appreciating them, and so on; and a burden grew in my heart.
I began to pray for teenagers, I began to ask God to raise a teenagers’ ministry in Nigeria,apart from the regular ones like S.U,F.C.S. etc. I didn’t see myself as being part of it since I was already in Children ministry. I saw myself as somebody called to work with children, so I was looking for somebody in the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) or in Scripture Union to start this new ministry .
Somewhere along the line, God told me to start fasting every Tuesday and praying for teenagers. On my own, I began to wait upon the Lord; I’ll start around 5pm, every Tuesday,worshipping and praying for teenagers,till 6pm and the break my fast.
It was a great burden in my heart. It was in one of those fasting days, I just as I entered my room to start praying, I heard a clear Voice! It may not have been audible, but that voice was strong. “You are the one I am raising to reach teenagers”. It was so powerful I ran out of the room and I went outside. My goodness! God can this be you ,I wondered then?
That was around 1990. I began to consult with respected brethren. I needed to pray more until I got a confirmation. With all the prayers, fastings and consultations, TOM finally started on the 1st of July, 1992.
Upright: So how far has TOM Come since 1992?
Uncle Imo: Well, by the grace of God, since 1992 we have shown presence in 26 states in Nigeria. We have held programs in virtually every state of this Country; from one program to the other.
On the average we hold about 20 5 day Vacation Camps in Nigeria every long vacation. I have published four books, my wife has written one. We have made an impact by the grace of God, in the Teenage Ministry. As a matter of fact, when TOM started, some people thought we were not supposed to be a ministry. They did not understand.
By the grace of God, as I went from minister to minister, church to church, holding seminars, talking to parents, people gradually began to get accustomed to Teenage Ministry and we became stronger and have grown to what it is today in Nigeria.
Looking back, I wish we have done more, but I thank God we have been able to create a good awareness as; we have reached a lot of teenagers directly through camp meetings, through Club meetings and through our seminars.
Upright: I am aware that TOM has also been able to reach beyond the shores of Nigeria. Can you tell us about that Sir?
Uncle Imo: Yes. By the grace of God, after God gave me the vision for TOM, over the years, He has continued updating the vision.
I remember clearly, one day that God told me that “you will go out to other nations” and I just laughed. I said “God, I can barely eat, I have not done anything in Nigeria and you are telling me I will go to other nations of the world”. But thank God, when it was time, God began to take us out.
Now since TOM started, we have been to Ghana, Sierra-Leone. Zambia, Gambia, South Sudan, Burundi and Cameron,holding Camp meetings, teenagers meetings,Parent’s seminars, teenage workers’ seminars, trainings, so on. We have been to United Kingdom where we held a Teenagers’ Camp and Teens Workers trainings. So we have done things outside our country to the Glory of God.
Upright: Sir, I will like you to tell us about the major sacrifices you and your family have had to make as a result of TOM and other Kingdom commitment.
Uncle Imo: You see sincerely speaking, I know we have made sacrifices but I do not see it as anything extraordinary. I want to see it like every child of God is called; some into the market place, reaching people directly the way you are doing it, etc. I have seen others make sacrifices like the ones I have made.
I can give you an example: I was not happy with the school my children attended because I would have preferred to settle in a better environment for the sake of my children so that they could attend a better school. But it occurred to me that I could well have been a business man who is making money in this community: like my friend who is a doctor here, whose children have to go to school here because this was where he felt God led him to run his hospital.
So, yes, there have been sacrifices, but nothing too extraordinary. I know of people who gave their salaries and are living by faith because they want to see the work of God grow in their hands. So I think that there is nothing spectacular about making sacrifices to the glory of God.
Upright: Sacrifices are normal for everyone that is called to be a visionary.
Uncle Imo: God bless you.
Upright: Sir, what are some of the profound testimonies you have recorded at TOM; things that happened through your ministry in the lives of people, that you know could only have been the work of God?
Uncle Imo: Yes, there are a number of testimonies we’ve recorded. For instance, there was a girl that came for our camp meeting. She did not want to come at first because she was afraid of all those dry Camps . But as she said, as soon as she stepped her feet on the camp ground, her life began to change so dramatically, that by the end of the camp, she was born again, delivered, filled with the Holy Spirit and her life was never the same again. These kinds of testimonies keep reoccurring.
Again, one of the young people I was ministering to for a very long time came back to me once and said to me, “Uncle, I now understand all you have been trying to tell us, I am saved and I am doing what God wants me to do”.
Such testimonies of salvation and changed lives!
I can show you some text messages sent by some people: one is from a young man who is in ministry now. He said something that touched me, he said “Uncle, a long time ago you gave me a ride in your car and you asked me, if I was considering going into a full time ministry”. This is a guy who was an undergraduate at that point and today he is in full time ministry.
So we have testimonies like these all over the place and we give God the praise.
We have had series of protection testimonies. I believe you have heard of this: the Dana plane that crashed, Dana Airline; I flew that plane that day from Uyo ,it labded safely in Abuja,took off for Lagos immediately and crashed before landing in landing in Lagos. I thank God that he saved me. We have so many testimonies.
On one occasion, we were travelling from Gambia and the engine was shutting off on its own in the air. I knew it was serious because the pilot’s voice started trembling and he was panicking; he was shouting at the air hostess and people were visibly scared.The lady in front of me was weeping out her eyes. It was close, very close and we were on top of the water. The plane turned and headed to Liberia and to the glory of God we landed safely.As soon as we landed we saw Air force and fire service vehicles rushing out to ensure our safe landing. It was God. So we have had testimonies of touched lives, protection and when I talk about provision, there have been so many of them.
Upright: We know that you have representatives in Benue. What are some of the structures that have helped you? How do you get these people? How do you run a camp concurrently throughout the Federation once a year? How does it happen?
Uncle Imo: Basically, when I started TOM, I must confess that I had worked with the Children Evangelism Ministry. I worked with them for 5years. I worked closely with the president of CEM, and I learnt a lot from him. I came to discover that your greatest asset in ministry are trust worthy people. Then when I started TOM, as I was praying, I didn’t want to steal flock; I didn’t want to steal people from CEM. So I left quietly and nobody from CEM followed me. I left and just began to pray, and God gave me a new set of people.
One thing that God told me then was that, He wasn’t asking me to start something that was new, that He had spoken with different men in different places to work with me, to work along the line of teaching teenagers. So all I did was get in touch with men that share a similar vision, and allow them work. TOM Is like a franchise, so you get people who are committed, people who are burdened and then you release them. Give them support if they need it and in some cases, some of them will not need it.
When I went to Calabar to start TOM, we got about 9 or 10 people. After the training, as I was going back to Ilorin, I asked, “who will help this work, who will reach teenagers in Calabar?” One woman quickly raised her hand, “I’m the one, I’m the one. God has spoken to me. In fact, I’ve been saving money for some time, God said I should be saving money”. And from then, she became the coordinator. She gave a lot of money then and she did a lot for TOM in Calabar. So the structure in TOM has been raising faithful man. Then, trust. When you trust people, they go all the way with what you have entrusted into their hand.
There were times our fingers were burnt. People stole our money and all that; but it’s almost negligible compared to the number of people that has delivered. So that’s the structure we have had. TOM is like a franchise; we meet people who are burdened and are willing to reproduce the vision in their communities.
Upright: Teenagers are very peculiar. Many parents, even Christian parents, lack capacity and even those that have capacity have lost hope in handling teenagers. How is TOM handling this near-hopeless situation?
Uncle Imo: It’s a very sad situation, very sad, but if you ask me, I’ll blame the body of Christ for this, for where we have found ourselves. I’ll blame the body of Christ because the attention been given to teaching on parenting is very low. The body of Christ thinks that as soon as a guy is mature and can get married and have children that the anointing to raise a child comes upon him. That’s not true. Just like people go for marriage classes: when you are about to get married, they teach you some things; in fact, some Churches go as far as teaching couple how to have sex which to me makes sense because some people don’t know. I was talking to a couple that got married and hurt themselves in the process of trying to have sex. Some churches have gone to the point of giving very extensive lessons on marriage, how to tolerate one another, how to do this and that, which is good and its helping. It might not be solving all the problems but its helping. But you’ll notice that there is no single course on parenting in the church of God, not even one: that’s where the problem is.
And some pastors who don’t have grace for parenting in family life don’t want to bring in external speakers to handle this topic; and when they try to do it themselves, they mess it up by making it very boring and nobody is blessed. So it’s a very sad situation.
Sometimes, TOM tries to reach parents, to teach them, but because of the poor awareness, nothing happens; they don’t come, and you can’t reach them. You can’t reach them through their churches, you can’t reach them through a platform outside the church, so it becomes very difficult and the case is getting compounded. The church is the main custodian of Christians. We are trusting God that through this new emphasis on Online Ministry, we will be able to do more in the area of parenting. I’ve written a wonderful book on parenting for parents and teenagers, and many parents have testified that the book has turned around their family lives.
There was a church in Lagos that needed someone to talk about their teenagers, and they couldn’t bring me from Abuja. One of them told them, “you don’t want to pay for what is important to you”. After some arguments, they finally agreed to pay for my fare. At the end of the day, when I finished, it was amazing.
It was a church that was disciplined and I like that, so I kept to time. But my brother by the time I wanted to finish, they were like ‘No, no’. You know, we are all lacking in one area or the other, but the point I’m trying to make is that; this is something the Church needs and if Churches can open up to right teachings on parenting, things would change. Parents can even at times be used by the devil to mess up the lives of their children. It’s a sad situation.
Upright: Some things happening in the church can be worrisome.
Uncle Imo: Let me share this with you. Some years ago, I was invited to a Christian church, I respect that church till today. When the G.O got to know about TOM, he said ‘young man you are doing a great job, I’m going to take you round the whole country to minister to all my divisional heads.’ So I got to that church and I was like, ‘this is a Christian Church, the parents are Christians, what I’m I going to tell them?’ When they gathered, I ministered on relationship. By the time those children opened their mouth and started talking, I couldn’t believe it. A girl in the audience told me that her mother doesn’t mind men coming to pick her from the house and that was because they will drop money for food in the house!
So the point I’m making is that some of these parents don’t even have a clue on parenting; some of them will bring their relatives, bring their wife’s relatives, bring their children and dump them in the parlour and go into the bedroom.
I have known cases where some of these parents watch blue movies, and hide them, when they go to work, the children will pick the blue movies and watch. So you know, a lot is happening.
I was in Warri once and by the time I finished ministering, one man was so repentant. Do you know what He did? He left the meeting and went to look for his daughter because he had sent the girl out of the house. After listening to me, he realized that what he did was wrong. The next morning, he brought me a prophet offering, I don’t know how much it was; it was one small amount, and said “Oga your teaching has saved the life of my daughter. I kicked her out of my house but now that you have finished speaking, I have brought her home”. So the Church will need to operate with people like us to allow the body to benefit from our ministry.
Upright: We learnt that TOM was all you did for over 20 years, how do you handle personal and family finances?
Uncle Imo: I’ve been praying a lot. When it comes to finances, it’s not been easy. The challenge is that people have a specific view of a missionary; brethren look at main line missionaries and they appreciate them more. If people say this is a missionary and he is in Taniku field or he is in Bariba field, it’s easier for people to see him as a missionary. But you see for me; I am working with children, I am working with teenagers, it doesn’t connect. So support was long and far in between I must confess. I went through a lot and you know, by virtue of where I was, having graduated at 21years with a BSc. in Accountancy, it wasn’t pride, but I wasn’t trained to beg. So it was difficult. Also, very early in ministry, God told me not to beg for money.
It was a dramatic experience. I was stranded in Zaria, I had no money and that morning, God told me not to beg anybody. I thought my friend was going to give me money, but I knew that it was God that did it. This guy, on leaving his house, made me to pay his transport and his friend’s transport and then, dropped and left me stranded on the streets of Zaria. God just told me that morning that I shouldn’t beg anybody for money, and I started trekking from Zaria to Kaduna. But in the process of trying to trek out of Kaduna, I remembered that one of my mates with whom I did Youth service lived around there; so I decided to go and greet her. When I got there, she was not there. As I was leaving the house, to stand by the road and catch a ride back to Kaduna and then believe God for transport from Kaduna, I saw a woman coming from the farm, dressed every inch like a farmer; and that was the sister I was looking for. She didn’t look like my miracle; she didn’t look like my saviour. You know how farmers look? And she said “ahhhh! Uncle Imo you came! Let us go to the house”. We went to the house and I ministered to her and also prayed with her. As I was about to go and stand by the road to catch a ride, the sister fished out an envelope and gave me Five Hundred Naira. As at that time, I think corpers were being paid, Three Hundred and something Naira, if I remember very well. So that was like more than a month’s allowance for a corper. So that was how God showed me He loved me, and since then I have depended solely on God for my supply. Anytime I need money, I will go on my knees and talk to God. It has been tough, but God keeps doing it. He has now released me to go into tent making. So that is my testimony.
Upright: Sir, there is a global pandemic and there are trends running across the Nations of the world. How do you think these things will affect teenagers?
Uncle Imo: For me the truth of the matter is that, this Covid-19 pandemic has changed the narrative whether we like it or not. Ministry can’t be the same anymore. Maybe to an extent in a very rural areas, not much will change but in the cities, ministry now has to be done more online. This is where parents will also have to come in, because the era of Church we are going into now,will apart from Pastors and the Apostles ,include Parents.
Upright: What can parents do to ensure that they are raising God fearing teenagers in this dispensation?
Uncle Imo: Yes, that’s a very important question. Like in Abuja now, these past 8 weeks or so that we have not attended church, most fathers are now pastoring their children. For post COVID-19 era, a lot of ministry will be done online, and then for teenagers, their parents have to become useful tools to provide them with sound teachings and exemplary living to disciple them.
Then, it’s just occurring to me; Christian teachers as well who teach in schools with boarding houses in particular,should become more involved. It is sad today that many of our Christian teachers are more concerned about the Church outside their school than the Church inside their school. I’ve had cases where Christian teachers get upset when asked to come to Church on Sunday and minister in their students. They are like, “are you paying me for that? My work ends on Friday, I don’t see why I should be there on Sunday ‘. So in this era, children ministries will be strong, parents will have to do their part. Then guardians, you know teachers that work in schools,particularly those with boarding houses ,will also be key tools, in reaching teenagers with the gospel and disciplining them.
Let me also say this, ‘iron sharpeneth iron’. Looking back to my life as somebody who has known Christ since I was a teenager, I have realized that you can use teenagers to reach teenagers a lot, so we should also explore that in this era of ministry.
Upright: Sir, what is ahead for TOM? What should teenagers look forward to?
Uncle Imo: Teenagers should look forward to a more efficient TOM. We are really thinking of coming up with more programs online. Long before now, our Home Bible clubs were very strong and effective. But over the years, we saw Churches become stronger in terms of influence and that made the interest in our teenagers Bible home club to reduce. With this online awareness now, even though we’ve been working on it, it is now imperative that we strengthen it so that we can minister to teenagers online. Of course, we’ll be having our routine meetings, Camps, and all that. So we are thinking of engaging our teenagers more through our e books, our clubs, games clubs and others.
Upright: What is ahead for Uncle Imo?
Uncle Imo: Well, Uncle Imo is getting old, (Laughs). There are yet many lands to be covered. Sincerely speaking, I wouldn’t know all that God has ahead, I see myself doing more to reach teenagers, both directly and through other teens workers. Having gotten to a point where we know the dire need for funding in teens ministry,we keep praying to God to prosper our tent making.
As for me, I am already a tent maker. God led me to be doing camps in rural areas and foreign lands. I was in Sierra Leone last year, I’ve been going to Sierra Leone, but last year’s own was a bit touching. I went alone to Sierra Leone, fed about a hundred teenagers, for like 3 nights, fed some adults that were with them, and we ministered the Gospel very well. We conducted deliverance, did a lot of good things. We spent less than two thousand dollars and I was like, ‘two thousand dollars could achieve all of these?’ The point I’m making is that we are trusting God to put enough money in our hands,such that every year, one can send teen workers to critical areas where teenagers will be reached and make a lot of impact.
Discipleship shouldn’t be done from a distance. So for me, I’m going to do more in Ministry,both locally and outside the shores of this nation.
Upright: God will prosper your tent making, in the name of Jesus. Sir. Any final words for teenagers and young people?
Uncle Imo: Well for teenagers, I just want to share with them that the adolescent years are the most profound of any life. One of my mentors,Uncle Timothy Olonade, gave an illustration with sandwiches. Every sandwich gets it name by the filking. Chicken sandwich is because you put chicken; vegetable sandwich is because you included vegetables. So every sandwich gets its identity by what happens in the middle. Our life is divided into 3 phases: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Adolescence is in the middle. So everybody’s life is defined by the quality of the adolescent years. So no teenager should take this stage he finds himself in, for granted.
The Bible said “And he increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and man.” So every teenager should know that the adolescent years is the time to increase in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and man. So I encourage teenagers everywhere that the teenage life can be very exciting, but in all the excitement, make sure you are growing physically, make sure you are growing spiritually, make sure you are growing mentally, make sure you are growing socially, because that is what determines how you will cope in the adult phase of your life. That is what will determine the name that will be given to you. Whether successful or unsuccessful, it is largely determined by your teenage life.
Upright: Praise God! Sir, we like to appreciate you. I want you to know that we love you. When a missionary tells you he has been through so much, he has countless stories. (Uncle Imo laughs). But we want you to know that you are an encouragement to us.