One of the age-old debates in the Church is whether women should teach and/or hold positions of authority. One Timothy 2:12 is often used to support the theological view of ‘complementarianism’. Churches that hold this position believe that the teaching authority in the local church should be a male. On the other side of the pendulum is ‘egalitarianism’ – the view that there is equality in authority and responsibilities between men and women. Irrespective of one’s position on these polarising views, it’s difficult to ignore the unique giftings God has deposited within some of His daughters.
As March is ‘Women’s History Month’, what better time to shine the light on some of these women than now? Standing on the shoulders of the female preaching powerhouses – Pastor Yemisi Asimolowo, Rev Celia Appiagyei-Collins, Pastor Marjorie Esomowei, Pastor Penny Francis (to name a few) – are a brand new crop of female ministers: Mimi Ajala, Sola Irukwu, Juanita Francis, Ify Alexis-Lee, Kika Ashanike, Wonu Adefala, Nia-Cerise – all part of the new breed, determined to win the lost for Christ.
Akosua Dwomo–Fokuo recently caught up with Mimi Ajala, Pastor Sola Irukwu and Elder Juanita Francis.
Akosua Dwomo-Fokuo (ADF): I know you are very busy planning your forthcoming IGOGW Conference, so I’m really grateful that you have taken time to chat with me.
Mimi Ajala (MA): The pleasure and honour are all mine.
ADF: You run one of the UK’s premier women’s conferences – ‘International Gathering of God’s Women’ (IGOGW) – annually drawing thousands of female attendees. You have hosted Tasha Cobbs, Juanita Bynum, Kierra Sheard and many others at IGOGW over the years. How was this vision birthed?
MA: Many years ago we started our woman’s conference called ‘Loose Her’. The conference was about the shattered, broken and hurt woman. God then spoke to me and instructed me to progress from dealing with the hurts and brokenness of women, to raising women who are in His image and who reflect what He has designed them to be. So that’s how the International Gathering of God’s Women (IGOGW) was birthed.
ADF: Many of our women’s gatherings do tend to focus on brokenness and emotional healing, so it’s refreshing to have a women’s ministry that takes things further – empowering women to walk in the fullness of what God has for them. You are a wife and mother, how do you balance family life with ministry?
MA: Ministry is something I feel called to, therefore it has my complete attention. I recall that during the period of preparing for marriage, my attention was drawn to several women in ministry whose marriages had struggled due to the pressures of ministry. I purposed in my heart that my testimony would be different, so I started to read about godly marriages and seek knowledge from mentors. I reprogrammed my mind to understand that my home was my first ministry. My husband serves with me and supports me, and this enables me to go out and minister. He cooks, cleans and looks after the kids when I am away ministering but, once I get home, I make sure that my family have all of me; they have the best of me. Even though I am a leader outside my home, once home I am a wife and mother, so I ensure I am submissive to my husband and follow the Bible’s instructions for wives.
ADF: What can we expect from Mimi Ajala Ministries this year?
MA: I am so overjoyed at all God has planned for Mimi Ajala Ministries this year. We have our annual conference, IGOGW, in February and this year’s theme is ‘I am His’. It’s going to be a great time of the Word and worship. We run many other seminars and events throughout the year to empower the body of Christ. I do believe that our assignment this year is to build the community of the body of Christ, so we will be launching some new initiatives. God wants to use the Church as a tool to influence this nation, so we hope to be a part of that.
Many of us will remember the cute little 7-year-old girl, who joined Donnie McClurkin on stage two decades ago at his ‘Live in London’ recording. Well, two decades later, that little girl has grown up into a fierce Christian warrior. She is a psalmist, teacher and preacher, currently serving as an elder at Ruach City Church.
Akosua Dwomo-Fokuo (ADF): Massive congrats on your new assignment, Elder Juanita.
Elder Juanita Francis (EJF): Thank you so much.
ADF: You started out as a dancer, when did you discover that you had the gift of preaching?
EJF: I don’t know that I discovered it; it found me. I was 15 years and attended an annual dance conference hosted by the Chenaniah Dancers in Miami, USA. One night the girls (Chenaniah) and I were speaking about the Word of God. They decided after hearing me expound the Word that they would have me speak. I was hesitant, but because they were family to me, I agreed on a 15-minute exaltation. By the time the date arrived, it had turned into 45 minutes. I was extremely nervous, but what made me commit to doing it again was the impact the Word had on people. That day, a lady had checked herself out of hospital with kidney failure and, on her return after the service, was healed immediately. It was experiences like that, that made me yield to the call.
ADF: That’s an amazing testimony. You are still quite young, so what are some of the challenges you face as a young woman in ministry? I think I gave away your age earlier on… Oops. Thou shalt never give away a woman’s age! (Laughs)
EJF: (Chuckles) I find people can be disrespectful, especially if they don’t believe in female preachers. Sometimes I get called names, and told I am going to hell. It’s quite sad but I’ve learnt that people often speak from a lack of understanding, so I do my best not to take it personally.
ADF: That’s very sad indeed. I’m glad you haven’t given up on ministry. You pastor the youth at Ruach City Church. Statistics show there is an exodus of young people from the Church. What do you think the Church can do in order to win back your generation?
EJF: I honestly believe that making church and the Word real would be a starting point. Our generation is very much moved by what they see. If we display the power of God in our churches, we will draw them back. Young people want to see the God they read about at work today.
ADF: Very true, and not even just for young people but for those in the world too. The demonstration of the power of God, as in the book of Acts, would be a mighty tool for soul winning. Let’s move onto something more light-hearted, shall we? What are thee fun facts about you that would surprise us all?
EJF: I don’t like vegetables – especially broccoli; I did Art GSCE and can draw; I have a purple violin, as I used to play and did grades, and played in an orchestra.
Pastor Sola Irukwu
Akosua Dwomo-Fokuo (ADF): You trained in dentistry and now serve in full-time ministry, overseeing a thriving women’s ministry amongst others. How difficult was it to let go of your career ambitions and enter ministry?
Pastor Sola Irukwu (PSI): At the time it was quite difficult, as I had dreams of being a specialist in Oral Pathology and Forensic Dentistry, and someday working for the World Health Organisation (WHO). To give up all those dreams and work full-time in a church was really difficult for me. It was truly a leap of faith. At the time, in 1995, Jesus House was less than a year since its inception, and understandably was not in a financial position to pay me a regular income, which posed the question of how I was going to look after myself.
Shortly before I started working at Jesus House, I had been offered a position to work as a Senior House Office at the Whittington Hospital in North London, which was really the start of the journey to achieve my dreams. My mother and family members did not understand at all what I was doing, and thought I had become a religious fanatic, and some family members felt I was irresponsible to leave a dental career and work in a church. I also had to fight the battle of the mind as to whether I had made the right decision, as I saw my colleagues and peers climbing the medical and dental professional ladder and it would seem that I was not making any progress. What kept me going through that period – and many years later – is that I knew clearly that God had spoken and called me to work for Him at Jesus House, and that He would somehow work it out for my good.
ADF: And He definitely did. God is using you mightily to transform lives for His glory. The ‘Uncommon Woman Conference’ is the flagship annual event organised by the Jesus House women’s ministry. What is your definition of an ‘Uncommon Woman’? What is your vision for this conference?
PSI: An uncommon woman, in my definition, is a woman who lives in the knowledge of who she is in God. God did not create His daughters or any of His children to live a common life. He calls us unique, special and priceless. He calls us to live our lives with faith, passion, boldness and purpose, fulfilling the plans and purpose He has for our lives. He loves His daughters passionately, and wants us to live our lives in the knowledge that we are loved by Him. He wants us to know who we are in Christ and live our lives emboldened in that knowledge. An uncommon woman is an enigma. She is strong but meek; confident in who she is in God, but humble, and she has inner strength and peace that enable her to go through life’s challenges. She has gifts and talents that God gave her, that are unique to her, and are key to her achieving the special assignment and role that God would have her fulfil in her generation. Only she can fulfil that assignment given to her by God.
The aim of the Uncommon Woman Conference is to stir up these gifts and talents I spoke about earlier, and to challenge us as women to create an environment where women can be honest and vulnerable, and one where godly, rich and fulfilling relationships can be built. Our aim is that the Uncommon Woman Conference will provide a space where women can be taught, and testimonies of lives changed shared that strengthen us. We hope to challenge ourselves to step out boldly, and to have the courage to go out and take territory for God in the various spheres of influence where God has placed us, hence this year’s March conference (26th-28th) theme: ‘Audacious! Living Fearless’.
ADF: I love the description of the Uncommon Woman. She is truly exceptional. Social justice is one of your deep passions. You climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the less privileged and ran the London Marathon. How important is it for the Church to get involved in issues of social justice, and how can we raise more awareness about this subject?
PSI: I believe with every fibre of my being that we can change our world one life at a time. If we all positively impact the life of one person, who is marginalised, disadvantaged or impoverished, we can change our world. There are two assignments that we are mandated to fulfil by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to preach the Gospel and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
As is often said, our lives and good works are the first Bible some people will read. The Church has a responsibility to champion the cause of social justice and caring for the less privileged, disadvantaged and marginalised. A lot of these people, who are less privileged, disadvantaged and marginalised, do not have a ‘voice’ and we (the Church) must be their voice. I like to encourage people to never think they cannot make a difference. Everyone by some action of theirs – no matter how small – can make a difference. I love travelling and the outdoors, and have by God’s grace married these two passions and embarked on challenges to raise funds – through running the London Marathon, for a charity which my husband and I founded, which provides education for children in Africa who are unable to attend school due to a lack of funds. Climbing Kilimanjaro was arguably the most physically demanding thing I have done to date. However, I consider it worth it when I think of the amount of money raised to tackle maternal and infant mortality in developing countries. I hope some woman and child somewhere are alive because I joined with other like-minded people to climb the highest mountain in Africa.