Over the past 20 years or so I have worked with some fascinating characters: from Hollywood royalty to real royalty; pop stars to politicians; presidents and prime ministers; sporting heroes, superstar celebrities, captains of industry and everything in between.
I have heard every sort of story, told by every type of person, but I can truly say that I have never heard a story like that of Esther Abimbola Ajayi, nor have I ever met anyone like her. There is a good chance that you have never heard of Rev Esther Abimbola Ajayi either, but something tells me that over the next couple of months this is about to change.
She is embarking on a full-frontal assault on culture: releasing her book, CRAZY FAITH; building a new church; launching a new website; setting up an online fitness community, aimed at Christian women; launching a TV series about her life… Phew!
When you first meet Rev Esther, you are immediately struck by her energy; she has real ‘swagga’. Not in an arrogant, look-at-me kind of way, but with a self-confidence born out of a clarity of purpose and identity. She bounds into the room like a ‘force of nature’, and her conversations are punctuated with “It is going to happen at some point!” and “God is in it”.
Though in her 50s, with little or no presence on the newer social platforms, she is tailor-made for the Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat generation, possessing a natural ability to convert her many thoughts and ideas into tweets and sound bites.
Her strong, almost forceful personality is disarmingly counterbalanced by her million-watt smile and hearty laugh. “Laughter is good medicine,” she says. “You will always see me laughing in pictures.” Despite her countenance, you are left in doubt what her viewpoints are on any given subject; she is either black or white with no shades of grey. When she says God will do it, it is abundantly clear she means it, and it is this deep reservoir of faith that allows her to speak so unequivocally about what God is doing and going to do in her life.
OWNING THE CATHEDRAL
I first met Rev Esther at her church, Love of Christ Generation C&S Church, in Clapham. (The C&S stands for Cherubim and Seraphim). Rev Esther is proud of her church; it’s an impressive listed building.
The interior design is immaculate; the sound and vision set-up is state-of-the-art, and it’s clear they have cut no corners in creating a modern but warm character-filled place of worship. As I walk around, being a keen property wannabe, I start to do some mental calculations in my head, and think to myself that it must have cost a major fortune to do what they have done.
I came straight out and asked the question: “What did this place cost?” Without missing a beat, Rev Esther tells me: “It cost over five million pounds to buy and renovate. It was bought cash. No mortgage.”
How on earth could they afford to buy a building like this – in cash – and afford to renovate it?
She proceeded to tell me the extraordinary story of how they came to own the building.
“We started the church in our home – our living room, lounge, kitchen… you name it. First it was just us, then we added a family, then another and we grew from there. We couldn’t afford the mortgage on our house, so we moved out and rented somewhere. Again, church continued in our home, until someone complained about the noise and we moved onto another place.
“Things had got pretty bad for us financially. I couldn’t afford to even rent a house or flat anymore, so we ended up living out of cheap hotels and B&Bs. It was awful for my two daughters and me. Even though we were living in a hotel room, we continued to worship and have church. The problem was that people weren’t willing to have faith in a pastor who was living out of a suitcase, so I started praying for a church building.
I thought to myself, ‘Imagine, I come from a well-off family back home in Nigeria, and here I am, living in a bed & breakfast in Romford.’”
THE POWER OF PRAYER
“I believe in the power of prayer, that prayer changes things. I’ve seen it happen in my own life and in the lives of others. I told everyone I encountered that I wanted a church. If you asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I would tell you, ‘My cathedral.’ I continued to pray and trust God for the church.
“Someone shared a vision with me that the church would be mine, and would have a number three in its address. Through a set of circumstances, I was led to an empty church in Romford, and the number of the address was 333. This had to be it.
“I went back and told the few remaining members still with us. We were excited.”
As she recounts the events, her face lights up.
“That year, I had been to a Mike Murdock conference, and he said that you should print a picture of your prayer request and put it around your home. So I did. I took pictures of the church, and stuck them all over my house.
Another vision came that I should walk outside the church and pray. How long should I do it? No time limit. So, I did. I prayed in the sun. I prayed in the rain. I prayed in the week. I prayed at weekends. I prayed on my own. I prayed with my family. I felt like Joshua and Jericho!
“Do you know how long I walked and prayed in front of that church? Over seven years, and guess what? Nothing happened regarding the church, but there is one thing that did happen: one by one, the members left and I was left with one member… my daughter’s best friend.
“One evening I got a call from someone who was asking for prayer. I remember the call as if it were 10 minutes ago. The person shared their heart and I began to pray. For some reason, I was prompted to call on the various names of God: Emmanuel, El Shaddai, Adonai, Jehovah Nissi, Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Rapha… At the end of the prayer, the person told me that nobody had ever prayed for them like that.”
That encounter would lead to Rev Esther’s life, the lives her family, and the lives of countless others being changed beyond belief. Rev Esther soon found out the person she had prayed for was an influential figure within the Nigerian society. The lady would later call on Rev Esther for prayer again, this time at her home. Rev Esther poured out her heart in prayer and, again, called on the different names of God.
“After I finished praying, she told me that she thought I had been reading a list the first time. She seemed amazed. She then saw the pictures of the church I had been praying for, and asked about it. I explained the whole story.
“When I answered her questions, she said something very profound. ‘For someone who has the faith to call on the names of God like you did, and to pray outside of a church for over seven years, I think the church that you are looking for is not big enough. I think you need to trust God for something bigger. Start looking for a bigger church.’
That was the conversation that led to the lady buying the church in cash and paying for its full refurbishment. No mortgage, no loan, no nothing! And that’s why I have ‘Crazy Faith’, because I knew that God was going to give me a church so that I could build His Kingdom. What I didn’t know was just how outrageous the blessing would be!”
With such sudden and great wealth, I expected to find a woman basking in the glow of conspicuous consumption. I was surprised to see that her home – the vicarage at the back of the church – is tastefully but modestly decorated.
“It is not nice to be poor. I don’t like it. Nobody should be poor. Money is energy. When you have money, you can make things happen. You walk a different way, talk a different way. You can give in a different way. I can bless people in a way that can change their lives. Giving is so important to me.”
She gives as if her life depended on it. Giving helps to define and shape who she is and how she is, and she gives freely, liberally and without reservation – something people can experience after spending any amount of time with her. She recounts a recent service, where members of the church were ‘blessed’ with life-changing amounts of money, based according to their need. I immediately thought of those legendary Oprah Winfrey shows, where the entire audience were given cars.
Because she has received such extraordinary blessing and change in her personal circumstances, she sees it as her duty to share her blessing.
PRAYER AND THE PHONE
I have observed that there are two true constants in Rev Esther’s life, which are never far from her hands or from her lips: prayer and her phone. She is always on the phone, and I don’t mean it in a ‘she-uses-it-a-lot’ kind of way. I mean, she is literally always on the phone.
And… she is always praying.
Seeing her praying on her phone is a sight to behold, almost as though the phone is extension of her being – the perfect balance between woman, device and purpose, which is to facilitate prayer.
“I used to be a very successful businesswoman, running my own furniture manufacturing company. The Lord clearly showed me that I had to leave the business world behind; I would need to make prayer my focus, and I would never need for anything ever again. I’d like to say that I was immediately obedient, but the truth is, I tried several ventures but nothing worked. It wasn’t until I completely gave myself over to God’s work that everything changed.
Prayer is my thing.”