Pastor Tony Fasoore is the Pastor in charge of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Covenant House, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Diminutive, amiable, and intelligent, with a build and look that belies his age, Pastor Fasoore has a signature laughter that spiced the interview for the 60 minutes it lasted. He spoke candidly and freely to us about his Muslim background, the miracle he witnessed at a crusade, even as a Muslim, his sojourn in the US, and his pastoral journey. Ademola Akinbola reports:
Please Tell Us Briefly Who Pastor Tony Fasoore is.
I am Tony Idowu Fasoore, originally from Ile-Ife in Osun State. I relocated to the United States in 1987. My life is simple. I came to the US, studied Fashion Design, and moved on to become a Registered Nurse. I worked in that field for 10 years. From there, I answered the call of God.
How Did It Happen? Did You Surrender Willingly, or You Were Pulled Here and There?
(Laughs heartily). I was pulled here and there a bit. I gave my life to God in 1986 at CAC WOSEM, Ile-Ife. I moved to the US in 1987 and went back to my general life. I was not going to church again. After about two years, I walked into CAC Providence, Rhodes Island, and rededicated my life to Christ. I continued from there. Each time Prophet Obadare came to the USA, I was his driver and that went on for about three years. He would ask me to move some pastors from Providence to New York and from there to Philadelphia. I did all that until I moved to Baltimore in 1993.
In 1996, I was at the RCCG Jesus House, in Baltimore. I looked at the situation of CAC and Redeem and realised that there were more younger people at Redeem. So, I decided that I belong more to RCCG. Later, I became the head of the technical department at Jesus House. I continued to move from one Redeem Church to another until I heard the call of God. I talked to my pastors, they prayed for me and I decided to move from Baltimore, Maryland to Indianapolis. I did that because in Maryland at that time, each time a new church was founded, disgruntled people from other churches will flock there. I did not want that. I decided to go to a neutral ground because I wanted to be sure that it was a true call of God and that I was not hearing myself.
My belief was that if I go to a neutral ground, God will still prove himself. I came to Indianapolis in 2001 to start this church. There was no African church here then. My wife and I met people like Deacon Bode who introduced us to Deacon (now Pastor) Dare Fasipe. Pastor Fasipe was my Assistant then. We started the church on September 2, 2001. Since then, it has been a gracious journey.
Being a pioneer church, it was tough, but because God said so, he made it possible. When we started, the population of Africans, specifically Nigerians, in Indianapolis, was not more than 150. I was wondering how the church will grow considering this low population figure, and because there were other churches, but because God said so, he made a way. For our first meeting, 46 people gathered. Then we continued and the attendance increased. At every point in time, we saw the hands of God. Where doors would ordinarily close, they opened because God said so.
How Were You Able to Acquire the Necessary Assets for Your Activities?
That was the toughest time in the history of the Ministry. Before we started the church, I bought some instruments with my money running into about $7000, but they were not enough. We saw an advert on the Internet that some musical equipment was available for sale in a predominantly white community four hours away from here. So, my wife and I drove down there with our daughter in the car. When we got there, we were afraid to get down from our car because there were dogs everywhere. When I eventually summoned the courage to get down, I told my wife to get into the driver’s seat. I said if you hear me say go, just go. Leave me here.
The guy sold the equipment to us and helped us to load them into the car. When we were about to leave, he said: do not look back and do not stop for anybody. If they waive you down, you must run them over. If you stop, they will kill you and nobody will find you here. He said he was able to relate with us because he visited Indianapolis regularly, but that most people in the community have never been to anywhere. We left there late, and we saw people waiving us down, but we did not stop.
That Takes Us to the Issue of Racism. From Your Experience as an Individual and as a Church, How Have You Coped with Racism?
I do not think the issue of racism in America will ever stop, but the thing that is working for us as Africans is that we never knew what racism was about back home until we got here. So, when they direct racist remarks at us, it does not really register. We are not perturbed. That is the difference between those of us that grew up in Nigeria and those who were born here. When they call them names, they get angry. But those coming from Africa are focused on how they will excel. We just go all out to succeed, whatever name they call us does not matter. We just keep going. So, racism exists for real and only God can bridge the gap.
How are You Working to Diversify your Membership Base, Encouraging Other Africans, and Non-Africans to Join?
Yes, that is what we do best in this church, but most people do not know; they think this is a Nigerian church, No. The Head of Protocol is a Ghanaian. We have a lot of Ghanaians here. The Assistant Head of the Children’s Department is a Liberian, so we have a lot of Liberians here. We have people from Ivory Coast, Uganda, Togo, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. So, we are an all-encompassing church. That is why we have all the flags representing all the nations.
What Are Your Guiding Principles; What Are the Values You Hold Precious?
My values are based on biblical values and principles. Once you follow them you cannot go wrong. I am open and straightforward. Sometimes, people do not like that but that is the nature that God has given me. Then, I try to do everything I do by what is in the bible; Once they do not match, I do not do it. I grew up as a Muslim for the first 27 years of my life. I was born into Islam, so when I decided to give my life to Christ, I knew I was going to do something different. It must be different from what I know and that is what guides me till today.
Can you tell us some of these values?
Being truthful to your calling, being straightforward, and making sure that the call is not to feed you only. You are not called into Ministry because of money. You are called to serve people. And the good thing is that people know when you are serving them genuinely or not. I know that people know that. They know those who are serving truthfully and those who are serving their belly. I tried to do the work based on what God has specifically called me to do, to the service of people; to help people move from one level to a higher level. And, I have enjoyed doing that. That is what I do in the church.
Now, sometimes, everything is not based only on biblical principles. Sometimes, I bring people here to talk to members about business. All of us cannot be pastors. But they can do business, be honest in that business and help the church. Sometimes, I bring people in to talk about education. I was a Registered Nurse before I became a pastor. So, I encourage people to move on from factory work, upgrade, learn new skills and develop more. Because of this now, we want to start a Nursing School; we are also building a multi-purpose complex with a school, gym, and other facilities.
What Led to Your Conversion to Christianity? Was There an Incident or an Encounter?
You Know that God already knows what you will become in life even before you were born. He knows what, why, where, when, and how. Growing up as a Muslim, I went to Quranic School. But each time I went there, I just did not like it. I discovered that most of us were not actually making headway, the brilliant ones were not forging ahead. Then, one Prophet Iyanda came to organise a crusade in our town. Out of curiosity as kids, we went there.
As Muslim students, we had been told that all Christians did was just show off. At the crusade, a deaf and dumb lady in our compound, who had never spoken since she was born, suddenly started hearing and speaking during the prayers. When they called the testifiers, we could not find her. She was on the altar. They were asking questions and she was answering. It was astonishing; we all grew up together.
After the crusade, we were asking her questions and she was responding. When we got home, the whole compound was thrown into a pandemonium of excitement. Then, I think her mum made a big mistake. She was the leader of the Muslim women in the mosque. She decided to stop being a practising Muslim and joined the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian movement, which was the ministry trending in town at that time. The trouble then started. In less than three months, the lady became deaf and dumb again and remained like that forever.
I asked my mum, what happened. My mum, who was also a Muslim at that time, said it was none of my business. I do not know what she meant by that but as soon as I grew older, my mum took me out of that compound to where my brother was living. So, I knew something was wrong with that environment. I witnessed the bitterness, backbiting, and unhealthy rivalry in the Mosque then. Imams fighting one another and all that. From then, I knew I was not going to be a Muslim for a long time. I did not know what I will be, but I knew I would not be a Muslim for too long.
When the opportunity came for me to accept Christ, it was through my brother. He was drinking, smoking, and all that. But he quit all those vices and embraced Christ. Since I was living with him, I had to follow in his steps and joined his church because of him. After some time, I had my own conviction an started my Christian journey in earnest.
How Has the Christian Journey Been?
It has been wonderful. At the beginning, I was here and there, trying and testing everything. When I was preparing to come to the USA in 1987, Prophet Obadare said, my son, go to Providence, Rhode Island, that is where doors will be opened for you. But I did not go to there; I went to my friend in Richmond, Virginia to avoid doing church stuffs. Three months after I got there, my friend fought me. He said I had to leave, and I did not know where to go. I had to call Providence, Rhode Island where Prophet Obadare initially told me to go. Now, for the three months that I was in Virginia, I never got a job. But by the second week, I got to Providence Rhode Island, I got a job. I got my Social Security Number, I got my ID and nine months later, I was working for a state government without papers. I just knew that God was involved.
There Are a Lot of Criticisms, Rightly or Wrongly, On the Impact of churches on Society, Especially in Africa. The General Belief is that the Church Needs to Do More to Empower and Support Its Members to Fulfil their Dreams. Is it the Same Thing Here?
Yes, it is the same, especially among African churches. There have always been complaints. And it is true. I agree that the church must do more and the way the church can do more like you rightly said, is to impact people’s lives. When that happens, people will stay focused on God. When people do not feel impacted or affected positively in one way or the other, all your sermons will enter through the right ear and fly out through the left. That is why I focus my attention on impacting people but, again, we must realise that the church cannot do it alone. We need the government to be more involved too. But, where there are resources, such can and should be channelled toward supporting people. No matter how you preach, it is what people see that they will believe. You may not be able to feed 5000 people as Jesus did but do something impactful.
Here at Covenant House, we give all kinds of support. Sometimes, people abuse things, but we are not discouraged by that. We will not stop supporting people. We have supported students who could not pay their tuition fees. Not all of them stayed in this church as they eventually moved on to other churches. That is not a problem.
The good thing is that they are in church and have been won for Christ. It is the same body of Christ. We commit a certain amount every year to supporting people. That was the Church administrator that brought you in. There was a time we were spending $50,000 annually on various types of support and empowerment schemes. This is not a fixed amount really; it increases as our income increases. There are people coming from Africa with accommodation problems. We also support them. We also give food to people just coming in from Africa.
Do You Have Any Unforgettable Experience in Your Pastoral Career That You Would Like to Share with Us?
I have never been a pastor before until I started this church. No Bible College training, nothing. The only thing available for us was that RCCG has certain in-house training that I attended, like the School of Discipleship, Foundation Class, and all that. Then, boom! Because of what I was doing in the church, I believe, I was ordained a Deacon. From time to time, my Pastor would ask me to handle some assignments like the mid-week service. So, I had to learn on the job, literally. Things were good when we started until we hit a crisis, a rough patch, and it was quite turbulent. But the Bible says all things work together for good.
I believe now that it was for good because at some stage the church plateaued: no further growth. No new members were joining us. It is strange but, in some cases, the people you put in certain positions become uncomfortable when new people come in with new skills and know-how, and they feel threatened. They did not allow these new people to stay in the church. Because we were the first indigenous church in Indianapolis, when they saw that the church was growing, everybody began to start churches.
Eight churches have sprung out of here, but in Indianapolis, we have 32 ministries. When they saw that we did it, they summoned courage and knew that they too could do it. They are doing well, and we are supporting them financially when they come with requests. Out of the 32, I will be confident to say that we have helped over 25 in one way or the other. I know that whatever God says is mine.
Also, everybody cannot be under you. So, in 2006, we hit some challenges which eventually gave way after some time and opened the church to a new era. In the same year, our turnaround began, we benefitted from the challenge, as more people got to know about RCCG Covenant House. Right now, we have RCCG Covenant House, RCCG Solution Centre, RCCG Rod of God, RCCG Powerhouse, all in Indianapolis. And we have some in Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, and other places. That crisis was indeed divine.
Let Us Talk About Your Wife. How Did You Meet Her?
My wife has been a good instrument in supporting what I do. We met in Maryland through one of our friends. I was a bit choosy about who to marry. I wanted a certain height, figure and so on, so I was not getting married on time. I was about 38 going to 39 then. I just said it was time for me to marry. We met and got married in 1998. She has been very wonderful. She grew up as a Muslim; she is the daughter of Haruna Ishola. She had become a believer before I met her.
So, we have the same Muslim background and experience. When we met, it was divine, and she supported all my plans. She never wanted to marry a pastor, but I eventually became a pastor, and she has been supportive. I remember when we moved to Indianapolis, I decided I was going to be in full-time Ministry, and she was the only one working. She has been a strong backbone for me personally, and for the work of God. We have four children by the grace of God.
What Advice Do You Have for Youths, Single Ladies, and Single Men?
Our growing up experience as youths is different from what obtain today. Today, youths want everything done quickly and immediately. What I tell them is that they must be patient and focused. They must love the things of God. I always cite Solomon for them. But the youths of today do not give in church, yet they want to take charge of the church. They want to be in every good place in the church, but they avoid the hard work.
They only think and talk about themselves, forgetting that the world is not about them alone. What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you. They need to begin to make a strong impact in the church and in society. They should serve God; it does not affect their career. If you serve God diligently, God will prosper your career and your work. So, I meet with the youths regularly; we discuss real-life issues, not just the bible. We share experiences. They come to my house to hang out, I cook for them and we share life experiences. For the single ladies, I used to say that the way we have introduced Christianity to them if we are not careful, many pastors will turn to herbalists for the youths. Many of pastors try to influence and manipulate them as to who to marry and who not to marry. These pastors tell them to bring the names of their boyfriends and all that. For me, all that is junk. I have this experience to share.
Before I left Nigeria, I went to a church; the person they said I would marry has been dead now for over 10 years. So, if I had married her, I would have been a widower. Some of our young ladies are busy assessing men based on their look or appearance, But I tell them that these things change with time. If you marry a rascal because of his shoe, he will use that same shoe to kick you.
The thing you must investigate is that does this guy love and fear God. If he loves God, all other issues will be resolved. Does he listen to people when they correct him? If he is someone that does not listen to anybody when he is angry, do not go there. Look at all those things. He might not have anything now, that does not mean that he will not be successful. I believe that making the right decision is to direct them well and not to look at the material things, and to refocus their minds. The tallness or shortness of the person is not the issue.
When I was growing up, I wanted to marry someone that is tall because I am told that I am short. I decided that on my own. I met some of these tall ladies, but they never gave me peace. My wife and I are of the same height and we are living happily. You should allow God to do what He wants to do in your life. You should also be prayerful. If you are prayerful and looking for certain things from God, you should pray, fast, and sow a seed. I know they have bastardised the issue of sowing seeds, but it works.
There is a High Rate of Divorce These Days, Especially in the Church. When Crisis Happens, How Does the Church Manage It?
The church must manage every crisis well, otherwise, the problem will be exaggerated. That is why in our church, we have a group of unbiased people who can tell couples the truth and redirect them. But I must admit that it is tough when someone has made up his or her mind that the marriage is over. But when the issues are not adultery; most of the marital problems are based on finance. Where there is no openness and transparency in family finance.
We organise young couples’ forums where we meet with them three or four times in a year. It is for those whose marriage is under 10 years. They bring their questions, and we address them. We make the forum very honest and open. We address the practicality of the issues going on in their lives and talk about them openly. So, we do not just drill the bible into their heads. It has been working; have we gotten a 100% success rate? No, but there are people who have just made up their minds, maybe when they realise that they married the wrong person. In Africa, men get better jobs. Here, it is the other way around. If not well-managed, it is a potential time bomb for the marriage.
Why is it That When Most Nigerian Ladies Come Abroad, They Suddenly Change? They Start Using the White Man’s Beliefs, Culture and Lifestyle to Run Their Marriage
Yes, we do talk about that. If you bring anybody from the village, all she needs to do is to watch TV for three months. You will be seeing changes, some of which may not be palatable. I can recognise some of the changes because you are both coming from different backgrounds. If you go to work in Africa, you come back home expecting to meet food because your wife is at home and taking care of the kids. You come here it is a different ball game.
She goes to work just like you do. Both of you are tired after work. And you still expect her to cook, clean, take care of the kids, and sleep with her at night. It is not going to work! Every man that wants to keep his family knows that it will not work because you are basically doing the same thing. You must recognise that and if you do not, there is no way the church can help you; the marriage will crash. But immediately you recognise that, the situation can be redressed.
So, I always tell men that you must learn to do something in the house. They often complain that my wife has changed. Yes, she will change. You are in a new environment where you are practically doing the same thing. If you are not careful, she will start earning more money than you. When that happens, you cannot control the finances again unless you both have an understanding. I always encourage couples to be open to each other. They should share information about their income and obligations.
Do You Encourage Joint Finance?
I do in a way with a process. Some people will tell you they do not want joint accounts. There is a way around it. You can both have your individual accounts and a joint account for bills. They should also have a firm understanding of how much each of them will contribute to the bills. I do not encourage 50 – 50; I often encourage the man to take a higher percentage. Some couples will say we want just one account for everything. It works for them. So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this issue. Both approaches work once there is an understanding.
Finally, If You Must Project into the Next Five Years, Where Do You See RCCG Covenant House Getting To?
It is a wonderful place. Like I told you, we are expanding. I am over 60 now. By the grace of God, by the time I am 70, I will be releasing the leadership to someone else. Before then, there is a projection that God has given to us. Right now, we have about 25,000 square feet of building here. We are building another 22,000 Square Feet over there that will have gym for the youths. It will house the school of Nursing. I chose Nursing because I studied Nursing when I arrived in the US and it improved my livelihood. It added about $25 to my income from $12 to $37 per hour. That really helped me, and I had a lot of savings. That really helped me when I was starting a ministry. So, if I could do it, others can do it. So, the plan is that if we raise 30 Nurses every year for 10 years. That will be a lot of improvement on people’s lives and it will benefit the church too. We must align this vision with the global vision of the RCCG. That is where we see ourselves.
Looking Back at Your Over 60 Years of Existence, Are There Things That You Wished You Had Done? Are There Things That You Wished That You Had Not Done?
Well, at over 60, I feel good. I still have my energy and vitality. I think I look young. I like where I am now. Yes, there are certain regrets. One of my regrets is that if I had yielded to the call of God earlier, I believe that I would have achieved more. I believe that God was calling me all this while, and there was a time I wanted to be a politician. There was a time I wanted to be like the late Ebino Topsy (Chief Ebenezer Babatope). There was a time I wanted to join the Nigerian Army. My only regret is that I did not yield to the call earlier. If I did, the achievements would have been more than this. I want to thank God also that from the time I heeded the call till now, God has really blessed the work. When I look back and see those that we started together and even those who started before me, they are nowhere near what we have achieved. It is not because I am that good, or that I have a great vision, but because the hand of the Lord is upon the work.
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