This is the story of my life as knocked into shape by a five-year period during which things were so low for my family that I practically had no legs to walk on… That I was so hopelessly helpless I couldn’t muster the energy to ask friends or others for help. It was a period so devastating that it was a major miracle that I still have all members of my family with me today.

But first a “disclaimer”: this story is not to elicit your sympathy; it’s not to make you wonder if you could have intervened. No. This is written so as to make clearer the benevolence and power of God; to repeat the often lightly acknowledged sayings that you are useful to God only after you’ve been broken, knocked down and raised “from the dead” (having gone through fire and storms, but still standing, even if shaken).

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My story may not be as spell-binding in its pathos, as others you might have heard or read, or maybe even yours; but it happened to me! My ‘wahala’ did not start because I left Fame magazine in controversial circumstances; nor because I chose to walk away from Encomium magazine in trauma better forgotten. My extraordinary journey with God started one year after we started our own publication, New Treasure.

During the terrible four years, I never stopped meditating, praying and fasting – in fact, hardly a week passed that I didn’t fast two or three days; sometimes seven days. At least, I had fat to fast on…but I watched in embarrassing pains as my fading wife insisted on fasting along with me, even when it was obvious to both of us that it was dangerous to her health…such selfless sacrifice made me feel small. Would I have the ‘liver’ to do that for her, if tables were turned? I constantly blamed myself for bringing this lovely lady down with my sorry self.

Such selfless sacrifice made me feel small. Would I have the ‘liver’ to do that for her, if tables were turned?

By then, I had been born-again for six years, and been to Bible College… So I understood the temptations and tribulations a straight-talking, forward-looking Christian could go through. My wife, Iretunde, and even my three children were active collaborators in the spiritual warfare to beat back the on-rushing army of poverty, failure, disappointment, shame, financial losses, sickness and you can add the rest. But the more fervent our prayers, the more devastating our abject situation got.  At a particular low point, my pastor called my wife from London, fishing discreetly to find out if all was well in my household…he was informed that FAJ had died in Lagos, and his obituary was in the newspapers. The man was in agony how to enquire after me from my wife, on the phone. He was stunned when I screamed into the handset that I was alive, and intact. I staggered at the news.

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In my sorry state, I began to look for reasons behind my calamity. Since I couldn’t blame God, I piled blame on my former lifestyle; on my professional exuberance in going where angels feared to tread; on my intellectual inexactitude that led me to journalism instead of better paying jobs. I just dug up all sorts of excuses.

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You see, it was not that I was born into a well-to-do family. Far from it. I’ve always struggled to make it; but after “making it”, I had never “lost it” that terribly. It was so bad that my twins could not go to school for a full term! The eldest who was going to a good school was on “probation”.  And when the school got tired of my payment default, they seized her JSS final result! We then searched for a cheaper school… and the battle to pay continued. I received two quit notices from my Landlord, who was shocked that I was struggling to pay the moderate annual rent after 12 years of dedicated prompt payment. My staff had to be trimmed from near 40 to six, as we re-engineered and re-invented from New Treasure to Treasure People & Life (TPL) to Treasure Life & Style (TLS) – struggling to stay relevant, competitive and to basically survive. Then the staff slimmed down to my wife, my children (who could collate newsprints and transcribe interviews), a freelance photographer and me.

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By the start of the following year, we sacked ourselves. Rested the entire moribund operation. That decision was made for us a month earlier…when I broke down during a terrible Xmas edition and cried like a baby inside a high-grade digital imaging printing press in Somolu, because our magazine was going to be overly delayed. My wife patted me on the back, encouraging me to stop crying and go on our knees to God. It was around December 15, and we had been in the press since November 20 or thereabout, hoping to come out first week in December. As we all know, by December 20, magazine agents would be in holiday mood – the result was obvious and damaging. We had saved about N1.2m to produce a “perfect Xmas special edition” that would inject life into our magazine business… but right before our very eyes, all was going down…Oh, my God!  I had denied my wife, my children, myself so much, that if I was more sensitive it was the right time to commit suicide.

Oh, my God!  I had denied my wife, my children, myself so much, that if I was more sensitive it was the right time to commit suicide

That year was the height of our depression – when things got so bad. Looking back today, three years after, I recognize that was the point God completed the demolition job on us; and began the re-construction. It is now easy to say that; but it didn’t appear so then.

It was the year everything that could go bad went really bad. It was the year God visited my wife in dreams and visions with instructions that baffled and terrified me. It was the year my wife was diagnosed of terrible hormonal imbalance. It was the year my entire office moved from a duplex in Ogba GRA to a one-room space in Anifowoshe, Ikeja… and then to the sitting room of my Dopemu three-bedroom flat.

It was in three years ago, God began to speak forcefully about “taking care of my children”. And silly me, I kept assuring my wife that all my life would of course be devoted to giving my children my all. Again, and again, my wife would try to replay the visions in her head to me: “God is not talking about our own children… I saw other people’s sick children, hopeless children, asking us to help them… and as we obliged, they got healed, the disabled became able…”

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It was becoming too deep for me. See, I’ve been involved in several fund-raising projects to help salvage a life or career… so doing good is not strange to me, but the enormity of what she was saying astounded me. I advised her to cool down… that God would confirm it to me if He really wanted it done the way she was insinuating. After all, He did it once; my wife was inspired to tell me that we should give our old Mercedes Benz to a young friend who was visually challenged. We had no need for two cars. But I loved Benz; and this was the product of my hard savings. It was durable, and I preferred to sell it and buy a newer car. Then, God shut me up! And we gave the predictably shocked chap the old Benz. So, I know when not to argue with God – even in my lack.

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Meanwhile, earnings from few consultancy efforts and proceeds from my wife’s petty business would be shared thus: food and water, plough-back into business and the rest to charity, alms and tithes. We searched motherless homes, places where children needed help. Just in case, God was actually talking to her – that was my motto. Interestingly, in all our troubles, none of our children was ill or hospitalized once.

Eventually, God got to me. In a dream as clear as a day, I was showed a letter-headed note, similar to the one you’re reading now (on PDF) with the title, “Angel of Hope” – explaining the vision and operations of the initiative.  I heard my Pastor telling his secretary, while brandishing the note: “Have you replied to FAJ & Ire’s letter?” And I was shown the future of the Angel of Hope… how children and adolescents can find hope, a brighter future, good education, moral aptitude and mentoring through the interconnection of several kind-hearted Nigerians who happily admit and behave as Angels of Hope…in their homes, with their neighbours, helpless strangers and vulnerable young acquaintances.  Really, we do not need a million naira to be an angel of hope in any location.

So, two years ago, my wife and I, in the presence of our children made a vow… that if God turned our misfortune to fortune; if He reversed the leaking drainages depleting our finances; if He would take good care of our children, we would do all in our power to tell others, beg others, explain to others, pool resources with others, on why and how we all can be Angels of Hope to Nigerian Children – irrespective of tribes, tongues, religions, circumstances and backgrounds.

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Three months after that vow, my wife’s condition was identified, corrected and maintained effectively – now she’s robust, agile and more beautiful than ever.

Six months after that vow, when all hope seemed lost…when it seemed our dead bones would never rise again… by divine orchestration, God raised two people to help us in our business… to give it another shot. And that one shot has blossomed big-time… (and strangely, unlike my old self, we don’t feel the need to make noise about it).  After all, it wasn’t done by my expertise, knowledge or acumen. In fact, all the ones I did on my own strength, failed dramatically.

After all, it wasn’t done by my expertise, knowledge or acumen. In fact, all the ones I did on my own strength, failed dramatically

This is the summary of my story…this is the realisation of the purpose God kept my wife alive… this is why He provided hope to my children when all was gloomy; this is the reason God has graciously given us another opportunity to succeed….

Let us start now to teach our children, at their tender age, that God loves and blesses a cheerful giver – and that His commandment cuts across all faiths: Love your neighbours, irrespective of their circumstances.

But frankly, it’s not just about giving cash or gifts… please, go further, give of your talents…your ideas…your good offices…your prayers and goodwill. Get involved…in bringing succour to ailing children anywhere… be an Angel of Hope.

– Femi Akintunde-Johnson

 

POSTSCRIPT:

I believe it’s vital to add an update to the scenarios written above in order to be as transparent as humanly possible. First,  the write-up was written about 8 years ago, and therefore some waters had passed under bridges of life….

 

For instance,  we lost that thriving business and a couple of initiatives afterwards – to all sorts of socio-economic factors… But on hindsight,  I believe that we misread along the way the real “purpose”, and ignored our “vows”….

 

Now, we know a little better,  and have resolved to retrace our steps to the valleys of our vows,  and reclaim the foundation of our purpose…. giving ourselves totally to finding salves and balms that can heal the agonies of “hopeless” children we are privileged to encounter… And connecting them with people of same mind and gracious kindness in knotting a “Chain of Hope” strong enough to restore joy of well-being in those families…

We begin now… with a child near you!

 

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