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I was called violent Tom – Bishop Tom Samson

Delta State-born, Bishop Tom Samson of Christ Royal Family International Church, speaks with BOSEDE OLUSOLA-OBASA about his personal life and ministry

People say that you are a flamboyant pastor, how would you react to that?

It is because of where I am coming from.

In fact, your neck chain has been described as expensive, just like those worn by Nollywood stars…

It is because they don’t know where I am coming from. I am here to make a statement, including the way I build my buildings. Look at this facility, the one in Ikeja, you also need to come to Royal City. The crown on the building alone costs a lot. Even the school I build must spell class, the hospital and so on, the cars I drive, the clothes I wear – they are all a reflection of what God can do. I will never do anything inferior for God. Who says that being flamboyant is satanic? Satan has nothing. The Bible says, “I give you power to get wealth.” Even if I look expensive, it is more of what I give out than what I wear or have. Between last year and now, I have given out about 20 cars to those who needed them – especially missionaries. Where I live, the people didn’t have electricity supply for four years. I had to intervene with transformer and accessories. I depict and reflect God. My message is that God can lift anyone. I tell the whites that being a Nigerian doesn’t mean one has to beg. In Florida, a man of God wanted to know what needs we had in our church and I said I would rather ask him that question and I gave him $2,000. God’s word says it is more blessed to give than to receive. I finance all my churches abroad.

So, you have no apologies for being so flamboyant?

No, I don’t.

What about the programme your church has been publicising?

Come December 15, our ministry will be 22. We are marking it great; we are dedicating our 100-acre multi-billion city, Royal City. It is worth celebrating because exactly seven years ago in Dublin, Ireland, God told me to go to Ota, Ogun State and build him a city. All I had then was this Egbeda church. He told me to build chalets for camping, hostel facilities, primary to university schools, stadium for crusade, printing press for religious materials and so on. As at that moment, I could not comprehend it. I wondered how I could get it done and I got His assurance that it would be done. Seven years ago, I found myself in a forest in Iyesi, Ota, Ogun State. I parked my car, worked a few kilometres to get there. But today, that forest has been turned into a city. Almost all these have been accomplished, including a hospital that allows us to reach out to the communities around us. There is also the project in Ewekoro, Ogun State. Within this period and from that word that God gave me, I opened London Church, Manchester Church, Atlanta Church and so on. It is worth celebrating; we are celebrating grace, God’s faithfulness. We are celebrating God’s ability to lift the down trodden, God’s wonder. We have, through our construction equipment, been able to assist the community to maintain roads and to get boreholes. I also give out transformers to our immediate communities. It is an amazement even to people from abroad, especially because it was not built with borrowed money. It is a wonder.

This appears to be a trend – are pastors now celebrating architectural landmarks instead of souls?

When you win souls, you need a place to put them. When someone has built so and so capacity seat auditorium, is it not souls that will occupy it? It is a reflection of revival. We also believe in making church more inviting. We want people to be in church and enjoy it. We are in the business of saving souls and solving problems. If not for the church and the messages, there will be no country to govern. The church gives hope to the dying, I use my life as an example. When I first came to Lagos, I had nowhere to lay my head. Somewhere in Ojuelegba, I had to sleep in a corridor. My friend with whom I came to Lagos couldn’t harbour me because of his parents. So, we got a place in the neigbourhood. But I never gave up hope, because I had an assignment in Lagos, that was 22 years ago.

But the belief is that pastors milk the poor to get rich…

Let me tell you something about the church – do you know that to the contrary, many people come to church without offerings? Yet they wait around after the service to get money either for transportation back home, for feeding, housing, children’s school fees, health bill and so on. When church members can’t pay their rents, they don’t remember their senators or government, they run to the church. Yes, you see crowd in the churches, but you need to speak with the pastors to know what they are going through, the bigger the church, the larger the responsibility. When people have challenges, the question they are asked is, ‘who is your pastor?’That is because they know that the church is built on compassion, even people who are not church members walk in to ask for help. Thank God for today when offering is given in envelopes, envelopes cover secrets. Some are usually empty. If pastors emphasise on money, the people will go away; what they need is encouragement. Today, many people who bless me have never met me in person; they only watch me on television. My TV programme gulps N3m monthly. It takes an insider to know that there are students in my schools who do not pay school fees; they can’t afford it, but they are not my members. I tell pastors that if they serve the poor, God will make the rich to pay their bills. I believe I am speaking the minds of most pastors except for those who collect money for projects and use it for personal gains, God is the judge.

You spoke about free medicare; to what extent is this being done?

On a six-monthly basis, we conduct variety of free medical checks and give out eye glasses. I give free medical services to people from 60 years and above. It is part of my vision. I am a beneficiary of Catholic missionary primary school. I attended a Muslim secondary school and my mum gave birth to me at a Seventh Day Adventist hospital. I have a burden to give back. My father died in the hospital because we could not afford N2,000 to buy drugs. In school, as an undergraduate, I was always the last to pay school fees. Right now, I have eight primary and secondary schools respectively. I have a foundation that gives out scholarships. From primary to secondary school, I never bought a text book. I usually prayed back then, telling God that if he ever empowered me financially, I would give back to the society. Churches are going through a lot of challenges; it is not true as some think that church is synonymous with money. A lot of pastors are struggling but those who have must give out. I am modelling after the missionaries.

But medical check-up is not medicare?

Yes, we treat some of them. We sometimes give them drugs to take care of the ailments. We do so occasionally.

You sounded as if it is a schedule of free medical services to the communities?

No, it will take government to do that. I plan to build hospitals in all our branches; it is in our vision but we pray for provision. For people that are 60 years old and above, my heart always goes out to them whenever I remember my father. He was 60 years old. Before my mother could go round to borrow the money, my father had died. I also recall what I went through in the primary school; education was free, but I still could not pay the development levy, so I would usually be called out and caned on the assembly ground. I lived in Ife then with my parents and I had to go to school in Modakeke, because that was where there was a free school. I trekked two hours to school and back everyday. When I got back, I still had to go and sell fufu (derived from cassava). Getting into the Ambrose Alli University, I could not even afford to buy books. I was second to the last among my parents’ children. We were eight in all – three men, five women. The anointing on me is to raise the downtrodden. That is why my messages are tilted towards encouraging people to see a better tomorrow. Today, more than 200 people work for me, in spite of where I began from.

Why do you choose to use the word ‘I’ to describe these accomplishments; don’t you have a team?

I said ‘I’ here because it is about vision. The team only carries out what God has laid in my heart. There are people I have raised and they are doing well, but if I didn’t believe in the vision or obey God, these things would not have become a reality. When I say ‘I,’ I refer to the man with the vision. When I came to Egbeda, it was with only chairs and a canopy. I came into Lagos with one shirt and trousers. I came to Lagos by divine direction with a message to teach people how to reign over life’s circumstances. I had no pedigree, but I believed that I could make it. People wonder where we get money from, but I must say that all my financiers today joined this church as nobodies.

What took you to a Muslim-owned secondary school?

It was poverty. That was the only free school that I could enrol in. It was a new school and was very far from home. The school was on a hill, I remember that the first time that my father tried to take me to school on his bicycle, we both fell down on the hill and I said he should stop. But I didn’t let that background stop me. I am against those who make money and go abroad to buy one building for N200m. We should learn to affect life positively. Nigeria is blessed.

Didn’t you experience a conflict of belief systems?

No because there was nothing serious about me in those years until 1985 when I met Jesus. I had a life that was fast going down – I wrote WASSCE five times and failed. I came from a family where it was difficult to succeed. One day, a pastor’s message caught my attention. He said that Jesus could take over my heavy burdens and I wilfully followed. Did you know that after that, I miraculously gained admission to the university with one credit – in Yoruba language? I prayed to God to make me the first graduate in my family but I never made my papers. But one day, I was moved to go and pick the university form and I did. On my way to submit it, I met a young man who said he was going to the university’s admission office and asked me to follow him. I didn’t know him before then and I didn’t know he had a letter with him. Eventually, the letter he presented got admission for me too. It was after I resumed school that I took WASSCE and cleared my papers as I was given time to make it up. That miracle was the reason I decided to serve God. I started my ministry outreach there in the school. I was called violent Tom in those days because of the way I ministered. That was my training ground, university was my Bible school.

Copyright PUNCH.

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