A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. (Proverbs 18:16).It is one thing to recognize recognize the gifts you have when you come to this earth, and another thing to invite the Lord to bring about their full manifestation in your lifetime. Some people are fortunate to catch on with the revelation early in life. For others it is in mid-life or in old age. Many have gone to their graves without discovering or running effectively with what they were called to do. Nigerian-born Pastor Sunday Adelaja found his purpose very early in life and against the odds of race, poverty, and communism; he founded at the age of 33 and built what has become the largest church in Europe, with a congregation that is 98 percent white.
Born in a very small village in Idomila Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state, Nigeria, Adelaja’s mother abandoned him as a baby. He does not know who his biological father is. He was raised in a simple Christian setting by his very poor but loving grandmother. At the age of 6, the mysterious deaths of three of his grandmother’s four children in one year marked his entrance into the world of unimaginable hardship. He began going into the bush, picking and selling firewood to survive.
At 12, he met his biological mother and wore his first pair of shoes. When he turned 15, his grandmother died of cancer. Her death broke the wall of bitterness and anger that poverty and her inability to be there for him had erected in his young mind. It dawned on him that his grandmother had sacrificed a lot for him, but he was too consumed in the pursuit of personal attention to notice her efforts. He worked hard in school and in 1986, got a full scholarship from the Soviet Communist party to study journalism in Byelorussian State University, USSR, with hopes that he would return to Africa and help spread communism. Man always proposes, but God has an interesting way of disposing.
Although Adelaja grew up Anglican, he was not a practicing Christian. Six months before his departure for the USSR, Adelaja was watching a televangelist minister and was so impacted that he invited Jesus Christ to be his personal Lord and savior. His thirst for the things of God became unquenchable.
He got the shock of his life when he arrived in Russia. He describes it like this: “When I got to Russia, there was no church, no pastors, no believers, and I needed to survive. Things were very difficult. I thought I was going to lose my life. Three times I thought I was going to be incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, because believers were being sent to psychiatric hospitals and some of them were deported because they were believers. We couldn’t have any relations with the underground church, so we were just isolated on the campus–the student campus. We had to hide our faith, pray in the toilet, read the Bible under blankets. But God protected me. I had a very difficult time trying to survive communism. I knew I was giving up, feeling defeated because communism was shrinking me and the brothers and sisters who came as believers–we were all backsliding.
“There was another believer who was my friend. We made a covenant and we said, ‘We are going to meet every day no matter what we do, no matter where we go, no matter what happens! We are going to meet every day until God does something or heaven opens.’”“So we made a covenant with ourselves to meet together–not to talk, not to preach, but to intercede and pray together for two hours minimum daily. That was the most difficult one year in my whole life. I could pray before then for two hours, but to do it every day? Everything fought it. My classmates would come, and you couldn’t pray openly. You were being watched. You were being monitored. We needed to go through hell just to keep that covenant.
“After a year of praying two hours every single day, heaven broke loose. It was like we were no more under communism. The Spirit of God descended on us like mad. People began to get saved through us. God broke the chains and led us supernaturally to the believers, to the Russian believers in the underground church. We got a breakthrough. We began to fellowship together, preach together.
“That was how my ministry began in 1991. The Holy Ghost began to appear. Whenever I woke up in the morning, I would lie on my bed, cover myself and pray for one hour, straight in tongues, no English, no Russian, till fire swept through the room.
“After Gorberchev came and there was Perestroika, there was more openness to witness the Gospel. That was when I realized that God probably stationed me and several others in the backyard of communism to train us in a unique and peculiar way so that we would propagate the gospel in the enclave of communism. From 1991, there was more freedom for the gospel and I started preaching openly around the same time.”
God gave Adelaja several visions of preaching to a crowd of white faces and a promise that he would revive Christianity in Eastern Europe. Armed with the visions and promise from the Lord, Adelaja began prayer meetings in his small two-bedroom apartment in Kiev and, in 1994, the name of his ministry became Word of Faith Bible Church. The only attendees were seven fellow African students, including his wife Bose, who studied engineering in Russia. Despite his degree in TV Journalism and an extensive use of the media (TV, radio and print advertising) to draw people to his church, his efforts proved abortive. He was convinced that the Russians were not listening to him because of the color of his skin. Discouragement was slowly but surely setting in.
When it seemed like it was over, the Lord stepped in and ended his captivity.
The turnaround began on the Sunday morning service when an alcoholic who introduced herself to Adelaja as “Natasha Alcoholic” came to his church. This was not the kind of audience he was targeting. He ministered to her and told her to come back again. That night he went before the Lord with a heavy heart and complained about the prejudice he was facing and how things were not working out as planned. To his greatest surprise, the Lord said, “It is not just their prejudice, it is mainly yours. Get out of the pulpit, go and look for the needy, the down and out, and those looking for a touch of my love.”
Adelaja received this revelation from the Lord and nailed it to his heart that “ministry is about touching people with God’s love.” He promised the Lord that he would do it but needed Him to bring back “Natasha Alcoholic,” whose real surname was Potopaeva. She returned for the next Bible study, and he asked her to take him to the parts of town where the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes hung out. Natasha introduced Adelaja to the outcasts of society. In obediently leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar, rolling up his sleeves, and venturing into the midst of the needy, washing and praying for them, a supernatural move of God took over Adelaja’s ministry. A number of addicts were transformed and their surprised families wanted to go to the church that brought about the change in the life of the loved one they’d given up on. Within a year, 1,000 people had joined the church, and it’s name was changed to God’s Embassy (a place where people can find help). The following year membership increased to 2,000, and today there are 20,000 members at God’s Embassy and 100,000 in satellite churches. Potopaeva was the instrument the Lord used for Adelaja’s appointment as one of the world’s most popular pastors. By the age of 33, Adelaja had built the largest nondenominational church in Europe, attended mostly by whites as well as the mayor of Kiev and many prominent political figures.
The church has continued to multiply even though it has had to change locations many times. Adelaja and the church have overcome many lawsuits they believe were secretly pushed by the government. He has been discharged from 22 of the 23 lawsuits brought against him in ministry, with accusations ranging from using drugs, hypnotizing people, fraud and black magic. In November 2009, he was accused of being involved in the dealings of King’s Capital, a financial group led by a member of his congregation. The company promised as much as 60 percent returns on investments and drew many of its investors from the church. Adelaja considers the police’s decision to investigate him for involvement in the financial group’s machinations as “implementation of a political order.” In defending his role, he said “that the cause of the financial problems at the King’s Capital financial group was the economic crisis rather than a deliberate fraud.” The government has attempted to deport him many times, but the saving grace of the Lord always sees him through.
To date, the Lord has used his servant to achieve the following:
- Opening 700 branches in 35 countries
- More than 20 services are held every Sunday in various auditoriums in Kiev, Ukraine
- More than 50 daughter churches function in the Kiev region
- More than 100 daughter and satellite churches exist in the cities and villages of Ukraine
- More than 200 churches in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the USA, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Holland have been founded
- 20,000 members in Kiev’s Central Church
- More than 1,000,000 citizens of Ukraine have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior
- More than 2,087 home groups with 3,000 leaders of home groups and outreaches
- More than 50 percent of the members and congregation of the church are actively involved in volunteer ministries
- Social work is being carried out in 26 educational institutions reaching 170,000 people
- The church is ministering in 35 nursing homes, helping 65,000 elderly people
- Churches have been opened in 30 prisons, counting more than 10,000 members
- More than 2,000 people have been set free from drug and alcohol addictions in the church’s Love Rehabilitation Center
- 2,000 people are fed daily in the church’s soup kitchen “Stephania”
- Hundreds of street and abandoned kids are ministered to through outreaches
- The church’s Christian television and radio programs reach approximately 8 million people weekly
- In its nine years of existence, God’s Embassy has become a well-known and respected church not only in Ukraine but internationally as well
- Tens of thousands of people from different cities and countries gather for the anniversary of the church and the various conferences conducted regularly
One important event that is politically associated with Adelaja’s church is the role it played in the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and 2005. Members came together with prayer and fasting during the 12-day standoff before the results of a presidential runoff marred by corruption were annulled.
Adelaja’s numerous awards and honors include:
The Face of Kiev 2009, an award he won in May 2009. The annual competition was conducted by the magazine Afisha, and Adelaja took first place with more than one-third of the votes, beating the most popular actor in Ukraine, Bohdan Stupka, who placed second, as well as heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, who placed third.
At the Azusa Street Revival Festival on Saturday, April 25, 2009, Sunday Adelaja received the first International William J. Seymour Award. This award is given to ministers who exhibit the characteristics of American Pentecostal pioneer William J. Seymour. In March 2008 the Archbishop Benson Idahosa Prize for Missionary Exploits was presented to Adelaja in recognition of his missionary exploits and social engagement in Kiev, Ukraine, and around the world.
His recent book ChurchShift is a bestseller. The Adelajas are proud parents of three children: Perez, Zoe, and Pearl.Let us lift Pastor Sunday Adelaja in prayer – That the Lord will continue to bless him with extraordinary favor, in Jesus’ name. Pray for the hand of God to continously protect him as he goes from place to place, in Jesus’ name. Pray that his efforts in ministry will not be in vain, in Jesus’ name.
By May Olusola
One thought on “Pastor Sunday Adelaja – From nothing to founder of one of the largest churches in Europe”
i have read this article of your story and i am really touched . i am an upcoming minister and the lord has brought me this article at the right time , just as i am about to start my ministry. i heard of your name at a theological lecture hall in Ghana and the Holy Spirit directed me to research on you. god bless you for touching many lives and giving some of us a point to start from.