Sheik Elmarouf Okiki-Jesu Owolabi is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. A Muslim for over 40 years, Owolobi became born again in 1987 after several encounters with Jesus; although he cuts the picture of somebody who has just caught the fire of the Holy Spirit.
He runs a unique ministry and seems to be more at home reaching out to Muslims with the gospel. He does not hide this fact. He dresses in Islamic way and still goes to pray with Muslims in the mosque. He says “God has called me to be an apostle to the Muslims”
Here are excerpts of the interview he had with Gbenga Osinaike in one of the meetings in Kwara State.
Note: (This interview was conducted in December 2010 and published in the hard copy of December 2010 edition of Church Times but its just being posted on the church times website)
Kindly give us an insight to your background?
First I want to thank God for what he has done in my life. I was born a Muslim and I was a Muslim for 40 years before I met Jesus. I was a successful printer and was doing well in Kano where I used to live. I met my wife in Kano and we have been married for 33 years (now 38 years). I met her in 1975 and told her that I was a Christian because I wanted to marry her. I lied to her my name was Mathew. She agreed to marry me but by the time she visited me the following day, she looked different. She looked different because as at the time I spoke with her, I was under the influence of some strange power.
What kind of power?
It may be difficult for you to understand. In those days there were things I used to do to attract women. That was why I did not recognize her the following day. But she recognized me quite well and we continued the relationship. I had a lot of affection for her. I loved her so much that I gave her the ring and earring I inherited from my late mother. So we began to prepare for our wedding. We went to Igbo land where she comes from to do the traditional rites. But what came to me as a surprise was that her mother told me at the wedding ceremony that she did not know the God I was serving. But she said I would serve the living God later in life. Her family later returned the money I paid as bride price. We married and later went to church to consummate the wedding.
So what happened afterwards? Did you continue to practice Islam while she practiced Christianity?
Immediately after the wedding she became pregnant. That was when I showed her my true colour. I revealed my identity to her and told that I was a Muslim and that she had to abide by my faith. Unknown to her I was a die-hard Muslim. I was consenting to most of the riots where Christians were killed in some parts of the north though I never killed a Christian. I used to blame Christians for their death. I wondered why they were calling Jesus God. I was practically against the Christian faith. Our goal was to win as many people to Islam as possible.
Did you then allow your wife to practice her faith?
There was no way I could allow her. I put a lot of pressure on her to renounce the Christian faith. I persecuted her and made sure she joined me in Islam. Eventually I succeeded in making sure he became a Muslim. When she became A Muslim we had to do another wedding; this time in the Islamic way. We did Nikkai for her and she was name Khadijat. It was a celebrated wedding in Kano. She was told at the wedding that I could still marry another woman. She became angry when she heard that. But I promised her that I would not marry another woman. But I was actually planning to.
Now that she became a Muslim how did you live your life?
We came home after the wedding and continued life the normal way. But what surprised me was that immediately she stepped into my house, the Lord blessed me tremendously. God opened many windows of blessings that a lot of people thought I made charm to get money. She continued with me as a Muslim but she was not comfortable practicing the Islamic faith.
How then did she cope with you?
She was reluctant about the Islamic faith and became fed up. In 1984, she said to me that she was not going to continue as a Muslim again. When she made that statement I knew that the battle line had been drawn. I started to resist her and to persecute her. But that did not stop her. But the change process for me began with an experience I had in the Mosque.
What was the experience?
The Imam on that fateful day was making some uncomplimentary remarks about Christians and was literally against Muslims who had become Christians. That got me curious. I was wondering why the Imam was using uncomely words on Christians. That was unlike my person. So I began to study the Koran dispassionately and found a lot of things that was hitherto not known to me. Meanwhile my wife was going from church to church seeking for salvation. She was already tired of the Islamic faith and she wanted a meaning out of life. There was another instance where the Imam in the mosque was deriding Christians and the Bible. But rather than consent to what he was saying, I started weeping. It was while I was weeping that a fellow Muslim came to me and said I would soon become a Christian. That statement made me grow annoyed. I almost attacked him for daring to say I would be a Christian.
So did that now lead you to becoming a Christian?
No. In fact it took a long time after that experience for me to fully surrender to Christ. After the Mosque experience I got home and started encouraging my wife to go to church. But I remained adamant about my faith. I encouraged my wife to go to Deeper Life Bible Church. She was so happy. She went there on a Saturday and she was asked to come during the week because Saturday was workers meeting. By the following Sunday she was in Church.
She became so active that she started praying and fasting to the point that all her beauty was gone. But I remained a Muslim and a very serious one. Many Christians used to be afraid of me. It got to a point that I was no longer comfortable with my wife again. I tried to discourage her from going to church but it was too late. I used to put incense in the house but whenever she called the name Jesus while praying I would feel something in my life that made me uncomfortable. It got to a point that I became so angry with her and threatened to kill her. I would seize her by the throat and she would scream. She kept confessing that she would not die.
How come you wanted to kill her since you were the one who encouraged her to go to church?
Sometimes one cannot explain some of these things. The fact that she started attending Church was God’s own way of bringing me to Christ. But because God wanted to prove Himself in my life, he allowed me to do all I wanted to do so He could take all the glory. I just had a nudge in my spirit that I should kill her and take her dead body to the mallams telling them she was trying to make me a Christian. I was sure that would spark off another round of riot in Kano.
Did you then attempt to kill her?
I could not resist the pressure to kill her. I woke up that day in the middle of the night and carried the knife we normally used to slaughter ram during Ileya the Muslim festival. I wanted to stab her in her sleep. As I raised my hand, I saw the glory of God around her. I did not see her again but rather I saw a glorified body. That sight weakened me I was literally shaking, But rather than surrender my life to Christ, I got tired of life and was wondering what was happening to me.
Was that what led you to Christ?
No. As a matter of fact, it got to a point that I started to challenge God and told Him to reveal Himself to me. I went on a 40-day fasting and told God to show me the way whether Jesus is the way or not. I told God that if Jesus is the way I was ready to serve Him and give up all worldly pleasure but that if he fails to show me the way and I die and go to hell, I would do worse than the devil. Unfortunately I ended the fasting in immorality.
But in March 1987, I saw Christ in a revelation. He was looking so tall that His body stretched into the heavens from the earth and he opened Psalm 30 and asked me to read. As I was reading it I began to weep. I saw my life being shown to me like a video and the tears increased. I woke my wife in the night she prayed along with me and led me to Christ. I felt to light. It was clear to me that I had gone through transformation. The following morning I ran to a brother who sells Bible. I knocked the door. When he opened I told him I wanted to buy a Bible. He quickly closed the door. He thought I was trying to set him up because he knew I was a fanatical Muslim. I had to plead with him. Meanwhile my wife had already bought a Bible for me trusting that one day I would surrender to Jesus. She bought the Bible on the day she was born again. Shortly after my conversion I became so zealous for God that I started entering Mosques to preach the gospel. The persecution was so much that if Christ were not real I don’t think I would be alive today. God’s grace on my life has been so much that it is difficult for me not to please the Lord.
The interesting thing is that people have been urging me to start a church. But I know it is the ploy of the devil to destroy the ministry of reconciliation that God gave to me. The Lord wants me to do the work of an evangelist and I know started a church will limit me. I know if I start a church it would grow in an amazing way. But that will not be serving the purpose of Christ. I used to be in Deeper Life but I discovered that I needed to move out of the confines of the church so I went to Pastor Williams Kumuyi and shared my vision with him that God was calling me to reach out to the world especially to Muslims. He blessed me and prayed with me. I then joined the United Church Missionary Ministry. The ministry has been giving me the full support to do missionary work among Muslims.
So how has your ministry been among the Muslims?
I have been to several hot spots in the north to preach the gospel and God has been with me. I may not like to give the details how I go about the ministry work. That may not be necessary for strategic reasons. But I can tell you that God is working wonders and lives are being transformed.
In concrete terms how do you handle your converts?
It is wrong to personalize converts. It is the Holy Spirit who converts souls. We are just instruments in the hands of God. I am under a ministry. It is not a church. What we do is to go out to preach the gospel. We encourage people to attend Bible believing churches around. There have been converts but they are not our converts. They are people who have been touched by the Holy Spirit. I have met top Muslim leaders in this country and what they tell me is that I should keep praying for them. They realize that Jesus is the way but they find it difficult to jettison what they have been practicing. There used to be a very rich Muslim leader in Kano who met me and gave me a lot of support doing evangelism. My joy is that he later came to know the Lord. He surrendered to Jesus.
What do you have to tell Christians who want to reach out to Muslims?
The problem with many Christians is that we are not preaching the complete gospel. Jesus said anybody that would follow me must take up his cross. I believe anybody who takes up his cross may face physical death. But a lot of Christians are afraid of death. But what I know is that we cannot die or be killed until our work is done here on earth.
For instance I can’t understand why a man of God would be asking for a lorry load of security men before he could go and preach the gospel. It only shows where we place our faith. We are asking for protection against the people we should be preaching to. Why should we insulate ourselves from the people we should reach?. I don’t know why we are afraid of death while there are suicide bombers in the other religion who threaten death.
I tried to live by Eccl 8v8 from the word go. My wife had done her bit and I believe nobody can kill her. I wanted to kill her when I did not know Christ but God did not allow me to succeed. One Alhaji met us on the way from church one Sunday and counseled my wife and I. He said I would lose a lot of things and face a lot of persecution but that I should not be daunted. Thank God he also gave his life to Christ three years after that experience.
How has it been living for the Lord?
I tell you, the life of the Christian is a life of sacrifice. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I had to give up my printing business because God was calling me to a full time mission work. I sold all my printing machines. It got to a point that things were so tough for me and my family. But that did not affect my faith. During the early days with United Church Missionary Ministry when they gave me honorarium I used to turn it down because it did not occur to me to collect such money. I was later counseled that I would need the money for the running of my ministry. But I must tell you that God has been faithful to me. I have not lacked anything good. All my children are doing well.
You have on your car the JIHAD inscription meaning Jesus is Human And Divine and you move around preaching the gospel and yet dressed in a Muslim way. What has been the reaction from people?
Apart from being a member of UCM, I operate a ministry called Christ Ambassador Outreach. What we do basically is to move round to preach the gospel. I hold crusades that attract a lot of people. But people are afraid of joining me because of fear of being attacked.