Moments With Pastor Sola Irukwu
An interview with Pastor Sola Irukwu during Women of Worship (WOW) Conference at God's House International Centre, Bristol on the 5th of March 2016.
Pastor Sola Irukwu, wife of the Senior Pastor of Jesus House London,
Pastor Agu Irukwu; and head of the Church Social Responsibility (CSR)
department at Jesus House, was one of the guest speakers at the recently
concluded Women of Worship conference at GHIC.
We had a chance to catch up with her briefly on Day 2 of the WOW conference.
Eager to find out a bit about Pastor Sola herself, we asked her about the key experiences in her youth which have shaped her, and she had this to say: I grew up in a family that worshipped God and taught me to do the same. I was born in this country, and those days a lot of us who were children of foreign students were sent to foster parents outside London so they could look after us while our parents studied. I was fostered by a lovely Christian couple, till I was about 7. They instilled in me Christian values and a love for God, as did my biological family.
My Father loved me almost to distraction, if I may say so, and because he loved me so much, I understand easily, by God’s grace, the love of God; this understanding has definitely helped me in my walk with God.
One other thing that shaped me was the sudden passing of my father; it was probably the first traumatic experience I ever had and, as often happens to people who have had a traumatic experience, I could have been broken completely. But somehow in it, I got to a place where I developed a desire to know more of God and His word.
Also my father put in me a love for the world around me and a love for travelling and tourism. This had an effect on my perspective, and led to a passion for making the world a better place.
It’s not surprising that the same passion finds expression in her role as head of Church Social Responsibility at Jesus House. Of this work, she spoke, “Corporations have what they call Corporate Social Responsibility, and so what we’ve done is replace the ‘Corporate’ with ‘Church’. It’s because we realised that it’s really not the corporate organisations’ mandate, it’s actually the Church’s mandate, because Jesus gave us the Great Commission (Go out and make disciples of all men) and He gave us the Great Commandment (Love your neighbour as yourself).
As a church, it wasn’t really on our radar as a full-time initiative in this sense, until our
Senior Pastor, Pastor Agu Irukwu, went to a church in America where he sensed God
speaking to him about this being a missing piece in the puzzle of the church - how can
we say we’re disciples of Jesus Christ and not love?
I was thereafter given a mandate to get the idea of Church Social Responsibility into our
DNA as a church, taking it beyond where it was at the time.
The idea was that if people mentioned Jesus House, one of the things that they would
also say is that it is a church that has a heart for the less privileged, disadvantaged and
By God’s grace, years later, I believe God is taking us closer to that mandate. It’s taken
us time, but we’re at a place now where we are willing and serious about supporting
causes that we see as impacting the lives of people.”
We asked Pastor Sola to share with us how she and her team have gone about setting this mandate up, as the call on the church to reach our world can be pretty daunting and churches don’t always know how to start and how to make it ‘flow’. She explained, “Church Social Responsibility in its current form i.e. being a structured, organised department at Jesus House started about seven years ago. It was a gradual process where we reintroduced the Great Commandment to people, helping people realise that it is one of the things that Jesus would have us do; it’s a commandment, not optional. We created an awareness of the department and sensitivity to its cause.
Where something has never been done and it’s slightly alien to the culture, it’s not easy to get it going. In a Caucasian church, charity and social responsibility is more within the fabric and is a no- brainer. However for the average person of colour and, what with the responsibilities from ‘back home’ that we typically shoulder, it’s not so obvious.
So we had to start by breaking those stereotyped views/myths, and get the need to be charitable into people’s consciousness. It was important to do this without being condemning, or casting judgment on their Christianity, as all that does is create a barrier.
We also focused on things that people could easily connect with; for example everybody can connect with the need to look after an orphan or a widow. So we partnered with Compassion, and my husband and I went on a Compassion trip to Ethiopia which we recorded and showed the church when we returned. We asked them to support by sponsoring children, which people did.
And so from the familiar and easily accessible, we moved into things like Social Justice and supporting the International Justice Mission who work to fight against sex trafficking, slavery etc. We’ve recently spoken at church about supporting the Persecuted Church.
It’s important to understand the mix of the church, break things down, get people sensitised and then gradually grow from there.
It is also about understanding that we can’t take away all the ills of the world, but we can do something and do it well.”
Speaking about CSR’s local initiatives, Pastor Sola said, “CSR has local and global arms. I head the whole team but my main area of jurisdiction is International, we have a lead for the local who makes sure that our local community is not left out. In our borough we do things like ‘Christmas Lunch on Jesus’; around Christmas time the church members donate and we pack hampers for people containing everything you need for a Christmas meal. People who can’t afford a Christmas call in requesting hampers, and we take it to them on Christmas day.
In the run-up to Christmas, we give out teas and coffees at a few stations around us. That one is actually amazing as people are grateful for a hot drink, but you also see the suspicion as they ask what the catch is or how much it costs. We tell them we’re just spreading the essence of Christmas – love, joy, peace, and then they stop and chat.
Jesus House is in a Jewish neighbourhood and when we first started these initiatives, there was a bit of a wall, as the residents were keen to protect the heritage and respectability of the area. But gradually over the years, we’ve seen that wall coming down, we started getting smiles from the locals and people would stop and chat with us and sometimes even take some sweets from us. Unfortunately, they couldn’t eat any of our other fare because they weren’t kosher. So one year we brought in kosher milk and kosher food. That really touched their hearts, and they expressed their gratitude.
We’d do a newspaper round, and give residents papers and take the opportunity to chat with them. In the summer months we do something called ‘ACTS’, where we go and help senior citizens and others who need our help with mowing their lawns, clearing gardens and so on.
Still in the spirit of helping others, Pastor Sola climbed Kilimanjaro in January 2016 with a team of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to raise awareness about, and funds for, the work being done by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in global health and the improvement of women’s health in low income countries. Climbing Kilimanjaro is one of those once-in-a- lifetime undertakings that have a profound and long-lasting effect.
On how it has affected her outlook in life, Pastor Sola had this to say: “The Holy Spirit has
become more real to me than He was before. You can come to church and you can be told
that the Holy Spirit is your helper, strength and standby, but there’s nothing like being in a
situation where you feel you’re going to pass out, where your head feels fuzzy and you
wonder if you’re beginning to succumb to mountain sickness; and then you feel the Holy
Spirit take over and empower you, you see Him send helpers of destiny, like our guides, to
help at the right time. It has also changed my outlook about kindness; we get so busy in life,
we mean well, but we get busy. But those guides laid aside what they would rather do and
were kind. I came away thinking more about the need to stop and go out of my way to be
kind to people.
It also changed my outlook with regards to having a strategy. I’m a type-A person and I’m
always on the go and multi-tasking. But the Kilimanjaro experience made me realise that it’s
more quality over quantity, and so if I have a strategy I can achieve better. The strategy can
be for any area, including my prayer life, for example, I can ask the Holy Spirit what He would have me pray about and how He would have me pray. I would say if a chart of my life was plotted, Kilimanjaro would definitely show up for many reasons.”
Article by Kemi & Chaneen