Reverend Tor Uja is the Executive Secretary of the National Christian Pilgrimage Commission (NCPC). In this interview with SEYI SOKOYA, he speaks on his experience so far, his mission in NCPC and why he supported the decision of the Federal Government to discontinue sponsorship of pilgrimages. Excerpts:
It is almost two months since you were appointed the new National Executive Secretary of NCPC. How has it been since you assumed office?
I would say that since I was appointed into this office, in less than few months, I have found pilgrimage promotion and mobilisation very exciting and with the look of things, I have found that the church, as well as the Nigerian population, is ready to stand as one on supporting Christian pilgrimage. I am also resolved to representing Christ the right way and also represent this nation right. I believe that one of the things affecting pilgrimage is the weak mobilisation of Nigerians throughout Nigeria; we have not been given sufficient reasons to believe in Nigeria, represent it and to serve it. These are some of the things we are going to do. Of course, we will do it as a commitment to Christ and to the teaching of the Bible through Jesus Christ in emphasising nationalism. If one truly lives for God, one’s greatest asset is one’s nation and Nigeria is a nation that is in the eye of prophetic manifestation. However, it is beholding of the church to rise up and fulfill the biblical prophecy by serving and lifting Nigeria up and representing Nigeria well wherever we go within and outside Nigeria. I have found out that if we Christians represent Christ right and present our nation well, Nigeria, like Israel, will be unconquerable.
What is your take on the report that the Federal Government wants to stop pilgrimage sponsorship?
With the situation of the economy at present, one cannot easily blame the government, especially as there are challenges of foreign exchange. We believe that the church has the sufficient capacity to sponsor pilgrimage. Nigerians also have the resolution and strength to handle pilgrimage financially and socially. So, we are not distracted by the government’s inability. Rather, we are strengthened by asking the church to take responsibility and charge of owning pilgrimage as its product. We have been going on pilgrimage before the government got involved. Government has done a good thing by establishing the legal framework; the NCPC is a legally constituted framework which enables us to legally mobilise and supervise Christian pilgrimage all over Nigeria. So, government has done its bit, it is now for us to believe we can take it further.
How would you do things differently during your tenure?
The secret is that I believe in team work to achieve greater things for our lives, the Christendom, the nation at large and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. I see things as a calling and I want everyone directly and indirectly attached to the commission to look at it from the same vision. We should see it as an investment rather than as a business. The most important thing I desire is greater communication within and outside the system and operate together as a corporate entity. One of my main priorities is to ensure a solid relationship with the Private Tours Operators (PTOs). An annual conference with this body is in the pipeline and this will be the first thing we will do to connect with the association; we will engage ourselves with biblical teachings. We will also do some planning and discuss the way forward to liberate this nation. I wish to transform the pilgrimage system and change people’s orientation about the exercise. The number of pilgrims must increase compared to our previous records and the initiative must have positive impact in people’s lives and the nation as a whole. The Federal Government has given a concessionary rate and the president wrote me a letter of a concessionary rate of N197 to a dollar. I pray to God to heal the church so that we can possess our possession. What I have discovered is that we the church complain a lot and give excuses and eventually, we settle for peanuts. We need to take up our position and forget the small things. I want us to lift a minimum of 20,000 pilgrims in this year’s pilgrimage which will come up between October and December and I am confident that we would have doubled that figure next year. All the projects we are going to embark on are to promote Nigeria. I represent two nations; the nation of Christ and Nigeria and I must always honour the two.
How do you intend making this a reality when Nigeria has been stigmatised in some foreign countries?
This is one of the notions I want to correct. I have a dream to bring people, especially foreigners, to the country to have a feel of the great things God has done in this country. Nigeria is perhaps the only nation that is experiencing spiritual revival right now. We have a lot of ministers of God with good reputation in this country. When are we going to promote pilgrimage in Nigeria so that people can visit places like the Redemption Camp, Canaan Land and some other places where God answers prayers in Nigeria? We should also cultivate the habit of celebrating ourselves; our men of God are better than the foreign ministers we invite. We must not be inferior to other nations. It is time for all to work to make people around the world come to Nigeria to receive their own healing. I want people to see pilgrimage as not what involves the lives of men, but the eternity of men. It should involve both physical and social healing. It is a way of recovering our youths. Christian pilgrimage is one of the instruments that can restore Nigeria. I want to call on Christians to come together and focus on the call of Jesus Christ.
You have stated that pilgrimage is not about tourism. What is the essence of this exercise?
Pilgrimage is a spiritual and productive engagement and also to enhance the focus on the Nigeria of our dreams by impacting positively on people through teaching and prayers. We must be productive and this can only be achieved through planning and serious work. When I went on pilgrimage for the first time, I marvelled when I saw the formation of oranges that were planted and as a farmer, this changed my orientation. When I returned to Nigeria, I tried what I saw over there on my farm and it was so beautiful.
As a farmer, what are your plans to contribute to the current campaign of investing in agriculture in Nigeria through this commission?
This is part of the goals I have outlined to achieve through this commission. By God’s grace, next year, we will organise farmers’ pilgrimage and we will take people who are interested in farming. We will pray with them and teach them as well as expose them to the best practices of farming in Israel so that they can replicate it in Nigeria. I want every Nigerian, beginning with pastors, to return to the farm. Pastors can run farms alongside their ministries without any clash. Churches should also mobilise their members in farming, even if they do not make money from it; it is great to eat from one’s farm. Personally, I don’t buy chicken, yams and almost any foodstuff because I grow them on my farms. In my culture, everyone, especially the male child, must have a farm no matter how small; you will be shown where your farm is once you are born. We can extend it to commercial frontiers to make income for the country. I urge all Nigerians to go back to the farm, because it is a dignifying thing. I used farming proceeds to pay my school fees. My parents paid my fees from the farming proceeds. I have always farmed and it has not hindered me from doing other things in life. It is indeed a blessing.
What are you doing concerning the age restriction for pilgrims?
It is part of our commitment to adjust the age restriction and I want to assure people that from next year, we will give nearly 70 per cent attention to youths and women. We also want to visit other countries for spiritual engagement such as Turkey, Syria, Greece, Italy, Germany, among others. These are countries full of revelations and which have redefined the work in building the church. Most importantly, I want to reorganise the sites pilgrims visit. I want to remove and add some sites that will affect people’s lives positively. Also, tourists should no longer guide us; we will now guide ourselves.