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COVID-19 Is The Harvest Of Man’s Carelessness-Dr. Ope Banwo



Worship Without Walls

Dr. Ope Banwo is an embodiment of several qualities in one body. Known for pioneering several innovations in Nigeria, he is a Lawyer and a music executive. He is also an internet expert among many other things. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, he spoke about the COVID-19 Pandemic, pioneering a full-fledge online church among other things in this interview.


The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as all sorts by men of God in Nigeria, what is your opinion about it?


I don’t think that the Covid-19 pandemic is about God punishing mankind at all. It is about mankind reaping exactly what it sowed according to the word of God, and according to natural laws that the creator wove into creation at conception. “Do not be deceived, a man (and a world) will reap exactly what it sowed.” We are at liberty to choose whatever we want as humans, but we cannot choose the consequences. We control the seed, but God decides the fair harvest from that seed. So, when a man places all God’s natural laws on his head, decide to keep eating what God said is not good for us to eat, and when we start experimenting with viruses and altering God designed DNA, it’s only a matter of time before we all get what’s coming to us. Covid-19 is the harvest for man’s carelessness, willful disobedience to natural laws, and an attempt to be like God in experimenting to change what they did not create. So, this is not the fault of God or even the fault of Satan. We chose to exercise our will in allowing our governments to defy nature, and now Covid-19 is the reward for that recklessness over the years. So, let’s leave both God and Satan out of it.


There are also those who say that the pandemic is a sign of the end times, do you agree?

I want to put it on record that men of God who claim that this is a sign of the end times are either ignorant of the word of God or just being plain mischievous to frighten people into coming to church. Does it not strike you as ridiculous that every time there is a crisis in the world, the church is the first to shout, “End Times” and yet we are still here? They said it in the time of “Black Plague” in the middle ages. They said it during the First World War, they said the same thing during the time of Hitler. They said it during the 911 attacks on the USA. Yet, the world is still here. Are they not even embarrassed to keep playing those games?


If these are not signs of the end times, what are they?

The fact is that Jesus will come when he will come, and he said nobody will know when. By the way, pestilence, wars, or rumors of war are not signs of the end. In fact, the Bible clearly says those are signs of a beginning, not the end.  Mathew 24:6-8 says: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places, there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” How they twisted that verse and shout “End Times” all the time, I don’t know.


Will the pandemic be over soon?

The COVID-19 pandemic is not going to be over anytime soon. It’s a kind of flu and the flu has been with us since forever. This too will become a way of life soon and we will keep living with it. The genie they cooked in the Wuhan lab, or meat market or wherever it is already out of the box and the world will have to live with it for years. It is what it is, our way of life will change, but that is not always a bad thing. Either way, life will go on.


You left ministration for a while and have returned, what motivated your return?


I was actually convinced that I would never go back into ministry. Frankly, I am not sure if my true calling is to be a Pastor in God’s Kingdom for the long term. I believe I am more of an enabler for pastors, and a catalyst to help pastors take territories as a visionary and strategic consultant. However, five years ago, God gave me a vision of how churches can maximise the great commission using the internet. I was trying to convince pastors to think more holistic about the idea of internet church as a possible stand-alone full-fledged parish, to complement their physical churches, but nobody was listening. Some even called me a heretic for suggesting that you can have an all internet church where everything about the ministry would be done online. I am talking of doing worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, and discipleship on the internet as full departments of an online church.


Following the disappointing responsewhat kept you going?


I kept seeing visions and watching the direction internet was going and it was clear that the next battleground for souls would be on the internet not in church buildings. Churches across the world were experiencing a decline in attendance while the internet was exploding with people on Sunday mornings. It was a no brainer that instead of whining about people who would rather be browsing online than coming to church, we should be thinking of taking the church to them where they were. That’s what Jesus did in his own time. Yet, many people that mattered just couldn’t see what I was seeing. Most pastors thought that broadcasting their church services online or posting recorded sermons online is doing Netvangelism and I kept telling them that’s not enough. I kept saying that we must take the whole church online even as we continue to operate physical churches.


What did you do to push this idea in Nigeria?

I organised a full day free workshop at Protea Hotel and online too to share the ideas with those who have been called to be pastors. Over 100 pastors came to the Lagos event, some including general overseers of their churches, but they were still confused about how they could run a full-fledged online church.


Didn’t the Holy Spirit play a role in all of this?

I heard a voice in my spirit right at the Protea Hotel where I was training then, to go and demo what a full-fledged online church is all about for them and then step aside once the inevitable rush to do it starts. I had resisted the call for three years until a particular day in October 2019, when I thought I heard God say, either I go and do it or he would go and find someone else. So, against my better inclination, I obeyed and started The Cyber Embassy of Christ, a 100 percent internet church on December 19, 2019. I started not even knowing that the whole question of whether you can do 100 percent online church or not would become a rave three months later with the Covid19 pandemic.


Are you claiming to be the pioneer of online internet church?

God sent me ahead to prepare the way for internet churches,  going about the logistics of how churches will keep operating online when their buildings are closed, but even I didn’t realised that’s what God was saying at the time. I just obeyed. Now, I am blessed to be in a position to be training 100s of pastors on how to improve their ministry delivery on the internet now that churches are closed. We give God all the glory for being a chess player who already made provisions for what was to come.


Would you describe the online ministry as a child of necessity or was it inevitable?

God gave me the vision more than five years ago, but I resisted doing it until December 2019, because I really did not want to be a pastor, and did not think I was qualified, or even called to be one. All of us have our callings and our spiritual gifts. Mine, I believe, was to be a catalyst for kingdom ideas and to provide backup support for pastors to do their jobs better. I have always felt very happy in that role, and some can say I even excelled at that based on how many churches I consulted for. I believed that the skills for Pastoring long term is a bit different than my skill set. Even now, I do not plan to run the Cyber Embassy beyond one year. My plan is that I will be handing over to someone God will show me before the end of this year. At least, that’s the plan, but who knows what God will want? If you look at our domain, you will see that I registered it about four years ago. I even built the site but did not launch it because I was really reluctant to get back into formal front end ministry work. My skill set was more suited to backend support, but God wants what he wants. So, it’s either obey or die. In hindsight, it has now become clear why God wanted me to pioneer the idea of a 100 percent online church, but I am not spiritually arrogant enough to say God showed me COVID-19 or the coming church closure in advance. I never thought that was a possibility, to be frank, but I was sure the internet was going to be a major player in the great commission. I was just not sure how that would happen until it did.


You were recently quoted as saying that those who criticised you when you started your online ministration are now coming to you for trainingcan you mention names?


Of course, I am not going to do that. Of what use is that to the advancement of the kingdom other than blow my own ego and shame good people who just didn’t see what I saw at the time? To be honest, I think unless you saw what I was seeing, the idea of doing Holy Communion online, or doing naming ceremony online, or ordaining pastors online, or worshipping God exclusively online would have sounded heretic to you too. So, it’s not their fault and I never took it personal at all. So, my mentioning that fact of old critics asking me to help out now, in a previous interview was not to gloat at all, but just to highlight how God can turn a situation where people ridiculed you to what everyone is now embracing. It will be utterly in bad faith for me to mention names.


How successful has your online ministry been?

We give God all the glory. It has been a stunning success. In our four months of pre-launch because we only formally launched the church less than two months ago though we have been operating since December 2019, as the 1st truly full-fledged 100 percent online church flowing in all five purposes of the church exclusively online. We now have over 35,000 members of which over 800 have actually attended our one-week full members’ class and joined our private church Cybertorium group on Facebook. We now have some of our services going out to over 600,000 people each week with some little adverts. I have a few sermons that have had over 700,000 views in two months. We have over 120 church workers who are working round the clock to minister to people online in different ways. We have over 20 different programs going out to the world each week and we have had lots of lives dedicated to God online as a result of our efforts. We executed a Food For Widows giveaway for a target 2,500 widows and currently going through a 40 Days of Purpose Challenge with over 1,400 registered participants. They are split into 34 different small groups on WhatsApp. It’s just amazing what God is doing. To be frank, I have been surprised at the growth and the commitment of our unpaid workers who work day in day out to bring the gospel to the people online.


You spoke about feeding the widowscan you tell us more about that?


Well, we are a 100 percent online church. So, that means we should also do ministry to others and benevolence online. When the Coronavirus struck, we discussed with the ministry team about who were the most vulnerable segment of the population who would need palliatives more than others. Someone brought up widows, and I thought that was an inspired idea. So, we came up with the idea of feeding 2,500 widows and their 5,000 kids assuming an average of two kids per widow for one week as a coronavirus palliative. We were given a budget of about N7,000 to feed a widow and two kids for a week. We also came up with the plan to raise the funds exclusively online and that’s what we did. We didn’t end up taking care of 2,500 widows and 5,000 children as projected, but we did about 700 widows and about 1,400 children before I stopped raising funds publicly and took it private with my own personal donations due to logistic issues we were having with some of our distribution partners. We simply abandoned the idea of buying food and taking it to them and simply send them wire transfers of N7,000 each to buy their own food and we have proof of receipt for most of them. I would say the Food For Widows drive has been the most fulfilling project for our 100 percent internet church to date though we believe that will be eclipsed by our ongoing 40 Days of Purpose Challenge that already has over 1,400 people participating in different WhatsApp groups we created for the purpose.


There have been speculations that the widows’ project is in partnership with other organisations


Food for Widows Drive is not a partnership in the traditional sense. It is a project of The Cyber Embassy of Christ online church. However, since we didn’t have a footprint on physical levels, we decided to work with widow support organisations to distribute the funds we raised by buying the food and distributing it to their widows. We felt that it was better to work with those who already have a verifiable database of widows, and who can provide proof that the food was delivered. Somewhere in the process, with gangs attacking food trucks, I changed the model and decided it’s best to just do direct transfers to the accounts of the widows, and that way they can use it to buy their own food. So, we directed the widow organisations we were working with to just send their widows’ cash and send us screenshots as proof that the widows got the money. We also did a lot of transfers ourselves since at that point there were no serious logistics involved other than sending wire transfers. We sourced the names of needy widows by announcing in several forums and then got their bank accounts to send them the N7,000 each. They were extremely delighted to get the money, and several sent us video testimonials about it. We are very proud of the widow organisations we worked with, led by the Smiling Widows International (SWI), Ajah. SWI led the effort but we worked with several other widow outfits directly ourselves or made them go through SWI.


You couldn’t have achieved so much both with the widows and the online church without funding, tell us about your sponsors


As for the church, the only sponsor we have now is the Holy Spirit. We have not taken a dime from anyone. I have so far put in my own money for a dream I believe God has ordered me to do. Eventually, we will introduce receiving offering, but I wanted the church to get established first, so people do not just think we are doing this for the money. I am very sensitive about that. As for the Food for Widows drive, the sponsors were mostly me and my friends on social media. I simply posted in some WhatsApp and Facebook groups I belonged to, and many of them responded generously.


Was Bethel Church one of the partners?

No. But the Smiling Widows International (SWI) was. It’s a nonprofit organisation of the co-founder and General Overseer of Bethel Wondercity, Rev. Roselyn Oduyemi. Though the project was with SWI as one of the widow organisations we used to distribute the palliative, it was not a Bethel project or partnership. We eventually also used other widow organisations that I sourced myself.


What is your relationship like with the church knowing you are no longer based in Nigeria?

The church is global. My being in Nigeria or not does not affect my commitment to the global church or the Bethel Wondercity local church. I am still officially an Associate Pastor there and that will remain one of my home churches as well as the one I attend primarily in Omaha, Nebraska. Whenever I come to Nigeria, Bethel is still my home church and I worship there. In fact, The Cyber Embassy of Christ is officially submitted to Rev. Roselyn Oduyemi personally as my spiritual mother. So, the bond between me and Bethel is still there and will always be there. I talk and chat with my mummy practically every week.


How did Nigerians react to the widow project?

Well, palliative is palliative. Nigerians, of course, have supported it. Nearly 50 percent of the money raised was given by Nigerians living in Nigeria. That just tells you how generous Nigerians can be even in hard times. I am most grateful to my friends who stepped up on the widow’s project for me, though I was not as aggressive as I could be to make them give. They gave anyway until I stopped asking.


Away from ministration and palliatives, your workload has not reduced despite your age, what keeps you going? 


Well, like I always tell my proteges, when you are flowing in your purpose and divine assignment, you cannot really be bored, tired, or weary. It’s when you are doing what you were not meant to do that you grow tired and complain of too much work. I wake up every day ready to rock and roll. Part of my secret also is that I don’t stay on a project when my heart is no longer in it or if the project has run its course. I don’t apologize and I don’t try to wake up a dead dog. I simply ask God for my next assignment and move on regardless of the level of success or failure of the previous project.



It is your style to bring something innovative to Nigeria occasionally, what are you bringing over after the pandemic? 

I don’t know. That’s in God’s hands, but right now I am having a very strong urge to take freelancing mainstream in Nigeria since most of the jobs are now going to be online, most Nigerians regardless of level, need to understand how to get good staff online cheap. Those who need jobs need to understand how to get one sitting in their bedrooms and earning dollars. I have been teaching freelancing to both employers and employees for years, but very few were listening. Maybe now, like the church matter maybe they will be ready. But don’t lock me down for anything yet. All I can tell you is I would be coming, and it would always be innovative. Win or lose, that’s who I am, and I am done apologizing for my gift to move from one project to the other with lightning speed.


What is the secret to your successes?

There is no secret. Simply examine your spiritual gifts, your heart, your abilities, your personality, and your experiences (S.H.A.P.E) and then make sure everything you do in life, ministry, business, and relationships is consistent with it. Don’t envy others, their skills, and never apologise for yours. Win or lose, don’t dwell on the past, just keep flowing in your SHAPE and let the critics do what they do. Understand, as you move on, that the only evaluator that counts in the end is your maker. As long as you are doing what he put you on earth to do, you are a winner regardless of the quantitative level of your earthly success or failure, while flowing in that shape.



Are you fulfilled with what you have achieved thus far?

Certainly, if I was not fulfilled, I would not be doing it. If it’s just money I wanted to make, I would have just stayed with Law. Law is always a money-spinner, and I believe I am pretty good at it, but God has created me for far more than that. So, do I have all the money I need? No. Do I really care or worry about it much? No. I am only fulfilled when I am hustling a vision God gave me, win, or lose.


What more do you seek to achieve?

Whatever my ability and vision bring my way. Fulfilling purpose is a journey and not a destination. None of us will ever really reach the end of our purpose, but we keep taking territories as we go on the journey so that when the end finally comes, God can judge us as a worthy and a faithful servant of the talents he gave us to rock our journey on earth. That’s my prayer for me and others every day.



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