By Boniface Ihiasota
A down to earth, well-read and ministry passionate clergy, Venerable Clinton Esono, Rector of the All Saints Anglican Igbo Church, played host to Excel Magazine’s Boniface Ihiasota shortly after one the church’s explosive services in Maryland, United States. He shares about his calling, sheds lights on understanding spiritual gifts and advises Christians on the need take discernment of spirits seriously in “these last days” in other not to be misled into ignorantly serving the devil.
Who is Venerable Clinton Chukwuemeka Esonu?
Venerable Esonu: The son of Christopher and Catherine Esonu (both late), born in 1951 and raised in the Anglican Christian tradition. Went to Boys Anglican Grammar school Onicha Uboma, Birabi Memorial Grammar school BoriOgoni and Anglican Grammar school Umuahia; McGregor Teachers College Afikpo, University of Nigeria Nssuka, London Bible College and Virginia Theological Seminary Alexandria Virginia in the USA. I am married to my beautiful wife Ngozi for the past 38 years. Father to three great and accomplished children: Mrs. Ruby Dike who is a Social Worker, Dr. (Mrs.) Sharon Ihezue who is a Pharmacist, and Dr. Christopher Esonu Jr. Grand Father to five very active grandchildren: David, Onyekachi, Catherine, Munachimso, and Nzubechukwu with many more to come. I moved to the USA in 1996, served as a priest in a number of Episcopal Churches in the District of Columbia Matro Area. Now, I am the priest-in-charge of All Saints Igbo Anglican Church, 5901-3 Medical Terrace Cheverly, MD 20785.
What will you say is the secret behind your success in ministry?
Venerable Esonu: One verse of scripture summarizes my attitude to ministry, John 3:30. He (Jesus Christ) must increase but I must decrease. My job is to lift Jesus by preaching and teaching the undiluted gospel and to pray that He would draw the people who listen to himself. So for me, there is no substitute for the faithful and correct preaching of the gospel. The other thing that matters to me is to let the people know that they matter, that they are loved by God and me. People want to know that their pastor cares about them, when they are rejoicing and when they are in pain. So I try to be present for them in whatever situation they find themselves in, visiting, calling on the phone, to find out how they are doing.
Has there ever been a time you made an unpopular decision as a priest?
Venerable Esonu: We live in a world of political correctness in which people want to hear what will make them feel good. I decided from the onset that I will speak, preach and teach the truth of the word of God as I understand it, no matter how sweet or bitter it may sound or taste. It was very tough at the beginning but it is working. The people now understand that this is the way their pastor operates. I mean why should we not call a spade a spade?
Every job produces different levels of stress. What was the most stressful aspect of your position at any of the churches you have served?
Venerable Esonu: The work of a pastor is in my view one of the most stressful. As I understand it, the pastor carries the weight of the problems of members of his congregation as if they were his own. When any member of his congregation is sick, hungry, in trouble of any kind, the pastor finds himself scrambling for solutions. He is everything to many people – mechanic, doctor, accountant, law enforcement agent, and advisor on a plethora of issues. All that can bring a lot of stress on the individual pastor. When you add all that to a situation in which some members of a congregation decide that they have a better vision than that of the pastor and decide to steer the whole congregation in that new direction, the stress becomes greater as the pastor then has a task to return the church to its usual path and outlined vision. This is a problem we have had to deal with here at All Saints.
What will you say are the core tenets of Christianity?
Venerable Esonu: Simply put Christianity teaches that God is the creator of the universe, that God created human beings in His image but that through sin, human beings lost the image of God in them. To restore that image of God in us, because of His undying love for the human beings, He created and sent His son Jesus Christ into the world to die on their behalf so that their sins may be forgiven and their relationship with God restored. Hence we read in Scripture, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life….” and “…as many as believed in Him, He gave them the power to become the children of God ( John 3:16 and John1:11-12). At its core, therefore, Christianity is a way of life that advocates repentance from sin that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Christianity preaches that the blood of Jesus Christ shed on Calvary’s cross washes away our sin and restores the lost image of God in human beings and makes that human being a candidate for the kingdom of God.
How do you deal with stress?
Venerable Esonu: People have different ways of dealing with stress. For me, giving self-time of rest from time to time is an important element in dealing with stress. I have also discovered that meditating on the word of God, especially His promises, helps me to overcome stress and stressful situations.
Please share with us what you have discerned to be your spiritual gifts.
Venerable Esonu: I believe that God called me to be a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Time and space will fail me here to elaborate on that call, but it is enough for me to say that I am so convinced of this call that I have spent the most meaningful part of my adult life learning to preach, preaching and seeking ways of improving my ability and skill in the preaching of the gospel, always guided by my favorite scripture, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John3:30). To His own glory, the Lord has also equipped me with those graces appropriate for the pastoral aspects of my calling. He enables me to be a source of encouragement to those in difficult situations, providing godly counsel that help, guide and point God’s people in directions that are biblically acceptable when they need it.
Is it possible that you have colleagues in the ministry who are not gifted in the areas they are serving?
Venerable Esonu: If I understand your question correctly it has to do with people involved in ministry to which they were never called by God, and you don’t need to look very far to encounter such situations. We live in the last days of which the Bible prophesied, when people inspired by the devil, will devise all kinds of falsehood aimed at deceiving others and making them twice the candidates for eternal damnation. Let’s take the matter of miracles as an example. Some charlatans go before the people and make these bogus claims of being able to work miracles. So people troop to them expecting them to produce miracles. But what do they find? What these seekers discover to their greatest disappointment is that they have been deceived. Many of the so-called miracle workers have either sold themselves to the devil in order to produce some magical forms that look like miracles or end up leaving their followers with nothing close to what they claim. Why it is happening in our day calls for a heightened sense of godly/spiritual discernment, without which seekers will follow the devil to hell thinking they are following the Lord.
In your opinion, what is your greatest achievement as the rector of All Saints Igbo Anglican Church?
Venerable Esonu: The word of God declares that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents. What gives me the most joy in ministry, therefore, is when people confess faith in Jesus Christ and receives Him as the Lord and Saviorof their lives. The salvation of souls is the main reason Jesus died on the cross and seeing that main goal accomplished becomes my greatest achievement. That said, it has also been my joy to be part of God’s work in raising an altar for Himself in Washington Metropolitan Area.
About 10 years ago, Igbo Anglicans in this area among whom I serve the Lord, (All Saints Igbo Anglican Church, ASIAC) decided that the only way they would be able to worship God in the tradition familiar to them was to embark on a building project, and raising a sanctuary they could call their own. A piece of property was identified and acquired. The building project thus began, while this gathering of God’s people continued to worship in rented facilities. Our testimony is that the grace of God prevailed over all the challenges we encountered and we moved into a completed church building which was dedicated to the worship of our God by the Episcopal Bishop of Washington in September of 2018. Being able to provide the spiritual context that enabled God’s people to accomplish this task can be viewed as an achievement of some sort.
How do you evaluate the spiritual growth of your ministry?
Venerable Esonu: I cannot claim to have done anything out of the ordinary. All I have tried to do is live out what I understood to be my calling from the Lord to the best of my ability, preaching and teaching the word of God to His people within and outside the congregation as the opportunity presented itself. It has been my honor and privilege to see people’s lives transformed, their love for the things of God and willingness to bring their families to God increase. The evaluation of the spiritual or numerical growth of the ministry, in my view, is better left for God and His people and I yield that to them.
Can you recall an incident as priest where your faith/belief was challenged?
Venerable Esonu: My humble answer to this question is a resounding ‘NO’. Nothing has ever been said or done by anyone to make me question my faith/belief in God. Even in the most dare of circumstances I have always held that God will make a way where there seems to be no way; that He will show Himself strong and mighty on behalf of His people; that he will comfort the bereaved, heal the afflicted, bind up the brokenhearted, provide for the needy, make the impossible possible. There is nothing beyond God’s ability. So things are the way He wants them to be, otherwise, He would change them to what He wants them to be. Therefore when things turn out to be contrary to what I want, I yield to the will of God. My desire is to be able in all situations to pray like Jesus, “…Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Can you share with us an example from life experience that has conveyed a powerful message about trusting God?
Venerable Esonu: Many things have happened in my short life that has proved to me beyond every reasonable and unreasonable doubt that trusting God is the way to go, even when it doesn’t make human sense to do so. But one of those things stands out for me. In 1984 I was working for Baraka Press and Publishers Limited in the city of Kaduna in the northern part of Nigeria. It had become clear to me that God was calling me to the ordained ministry of His church. Sadly I was one of those Christians who would answer God’s call by responding, “Here are mine Lord, but send my brother.”
But I couldn’t respond that way anymore. It had become a matter of life and death. “Obey God and live or disobey and die” quite literally. So I was willing to obey. But I began to ask God to do things that looked impossible, given my situation at the time. I said things like, “God if you want me in the ordained ministry then I have to study theology abroad. You will have to send my family and me abroad to England or USA to study and then bring us back to Nigeria for the ordination. I thought I had given God an impossible assignment. But no! The Lord had made amazing plans beforehand that took us to England for four years of theological studies. Ngozi and I, with our little daughter Ruby and Sharon on the way, decided to trust God and take the plunge, not knowing how things will turn out. Time and space will fail me to write here all the details of what transpired. It is just enough for me to testify that God went beyond our expectations and saw us through those four years, and brought us back to Nigeria for the ordination, all expenses paid in full, and more. I give Him all the glory. Yes, it pays to serve God and to trust Him completely while doing that.
What will be your advice to pastors in Africa? There are so many disturbing tales about pastors in the continent.
Venerable Esonu: I have lived long enough to know without a doubt that God is real; that God cannot be mocked; that whatever a man sows he will reap, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the living God and that He is a consuming fire. I also experienced God as a faithful father, who is trustworthy. He never fails those who will dare to trust and walk with Him in sincerity and uprightness. He provides for the needy and does not commission people without equipping them for the task to which He sends them. With all that at the back of my mind, I plead with my fellow pastors: be sure you were called by God to be a pastor (a shepherd of Gods people). Convince yourself this that is the case. If your heart tells you anything that remotely suggests the contrary, please resign and look for another job. Members of your church who have the mind of Christ and understand the risk you are running will help you find a more suitable job. This is of grave importance for you and for those you lead as pastor.
Next, if you are sure that God called you, let’s join hand to “play by the Book” and stop trying to cut corners in order to enrich ourselves illegally. Let’s strive to PREACH and LIVE by what the Bible says. Then let’s trust the God who called us to provide for us everything that pertains to life and godliness. He is a Faithful, reliable God and He will.