I CAME to England from Nigeria, when I was 20. Although my parents were Muslim, I went to Roman Catholic schools, and, although I didn’t call myself a Christian, I prayed every day: “God please help me.” Raising small children on my own in Hackney, I felt I needed God more than ever, in every situation, but I didn’t know Jesus, until one of my younger brother’s friends asked if I would like to go to church with him and his wife.
This fellowship was in the home of a couple who had given up everything for the Lord. Whatever they had they would share with everybody; you learned to share, to love, to give to each other. I would drive the pastor, Sister Lara, to her visits, to hospital, and to elderly people, and saw how selfless and loving and kind she was. I gave my life to the Lord, and got baptised.
The children loved church. There were activities for them, and they got baptised when they were old enough to give their lives to the Lord. Later, they joined the drama group Kingdom Players, and travelled abroad with them. We prayed regularly at home, even when we had visitors staying with us — you can’t come to my household and not know about Jesus!
I always wanted our house to be a place where their friends could come and I could get to know them. When the children were doing exams and studying, we just relied on God; it’s something that they knew they needed to do. It was my lifeline.
My eldest was in the army for 18 years, and was in every war zone, from Sierra Leone to Kosovo. Without God, without the power and the confidence and the assurance that I have in him, I couldn’t have survived. Of course, there were some challenges. It is not as if they were all innocent and it was all perfect, but I would talk to them straight and plain, and also let them find God for themselves.
When it comes to young people leaving the Church, we have to ask: have they found the Lord themselves, or have they been going to church because of their parents? We also have to check our motives. Are we concerned because of their soul, or because we just want to be seen as a perfect family? I want them to find God and love God first. I advise parents to pray for the grace of God, and for strength, because I know that raising teenagers can be so challenging, but pray for wisdom.
We also need to watch our language: what we confess over our children is so important. When I was in pain, I directed my cry not to my children but to the Lord. While they were sleeping, I would declare what I wanted them to be.
The church needs to be welcoming to young people. I make it my business to really welcome our young people, smiling and just loving them. The quiet ones, the bubbly ones — you let them know that they are wanted, and are an important part of the church community. Get to know them, whether they have a ring in their nose, or a tattoo; all that outside appearance doesn’t matter. We need to see what God sees on the inside.
We need to ask them what they would like to do; what they can bring to the church. They need people to acknowledge them, and ask if there is a need, or something they want to talk about. How do they see this God we are talking about? How do they see Jesus? What would they like to do that would be pleasing to Jesus?
They don’t need to be ashamed. Sometimes they think: “I have done so many bad things, I am too far gone and I can’t come back.” But that is what Jesus is all about. They need to know that we are not going to be judgemental. Instead, the Holy Spirit will lay it in our hearts to pray for them. We pray and let God do the rest. And we just love them.