Father Paul Akin-Otiko (OP) is the Chaplain of St. Thomas More Catholic Chaplaincy, University of Lagos (UNILAG). He works among students as a priest and also as an academic lecturer. He serves as a member of the Lagos Archdiocesan Central committee for the Youth where he got to know about Alpha and started using it to evangelize and lay a biblical foundation for students he is working with. In this interview by Chidi Ozodo, the National Youth Coordinator for Alpha Nigeria, he shares his experience running Alpha on campus.
About the Chaplaincy
The St. Thomas Moore community here actually started as an ecumenical centre. The church next door (Chapel of Christ, Our Light) is where we all started from. Some issues arose with regards to timing which led us to getting a separate structure for the Catholic faithful. Our church was dedicated in 2009 and we have been here since then.
The Experience at the Chaplaincy so far
When I first came in 2013, it was a period of transition with all the restructuring and also, I did not have that much hold on the students. Now we are trying to grow spiritually and are trying to see if we can get programs that meet their spiritual needs.
If student’s needs are not met they will go elsewhere to have their needs met. So I would rather them come to what I have for them. So, that’s what we have done so far. And Alpha has come in handy.
We would try to run it every session and I am sure we would get the best out of it. So, we are growing, there was some level of growth before I came and we have grown beyond that.
First Alpha experience at the Chaplaincy
My first knowledge of Alpha was during a meeting of a Central committee for youth (Archdiocese of Lagos), when Mrs Aima Lijadu talked about it. It was at that meeting that I decided to take Alpha to UNILAG.
I was not present for all the sessions during the first Alpha course. The Chaplaincy runs with the calendar of the school. When the students are in, you have them, when the school is shut down, you do not have them. This was a little bit of challenge.
On the first Alpha, everyone was suspicious about what Alpha was bringing. So we needed to know what Alpha was really about. My busy academic schedule affected my ability to attend all the sessions because I also teach. So, many times I was away in class while the Alpha session ran so I wasn’t fully involved. But I think Alpha was effective last year. The feedback was that they liked it but that was the very first time, and the commitment was low.
Though I wasn’t fully present for the first Alpha experience, I knew Alpha was good for the students.
Running it again
The Alpha which took place this year was better; I don’t know what happened. Maybe we prayed harder.
I was there all through and benefited as an individual. I loved the videos and I journeyed with the students because I wanted a change in them as much as I wanted a change in myself. Our experiencing Alpha produced subtle but effective growth. It was very good. And the biggest thing was how the numbers did all through. The number of students attending grew bigger by the day.
The number kept increasing (More than 200 students)
I think the Students got so committed that they started inviting others. More of an evangelization kind of thing. So they were going to bring in some more.
And the really big part was the Holy Spirit Day away with the students. I told them to prepare for it and they expected the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit came. It was a delight for me and for them too.
The experience at the Holy Spirit day away.
The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit goes wherever he wills. I woke up that morning and not that morning alone, the week before that; and I told the Holy Spirit he has to come. He is the only one that can do the job. I also told the Students to expect him. I mean I have seen the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit a couple of times so I know he can come. So I waited for him to come that day and I told the students they were all going to receive the Holy Spirit. And we all prayed. I think it was because we all prayed. I gave them instructions that they should get into pairs and pray for each other. Then we got into groups and prayed again and the presence of the Holy manifested.
The reason for increasing Enthusiasm of the Catholic Church for Alpha
I would say that part of it has to do with the Archdiocese central committee for the youth of which Mrs Lijadu was a part. She was very instrumental in bringing Alpha to the Archdiocese envisioning the committee about Alpha at one of its meetings. Additionally, the Archbishop has been to a couple of Alpha Conferences in the UK and he is also promoting it.
The truth about it is that Alpha meets the needs. I have asked these students about what was most fascinating to them during the course and many of them kept saying the videos, not even the meal was their main fascination. So that’s a good thing that Alpha has brought to us.
Taking a cue from Alpha, during meetings I would try as much as possible to project our materials on the screen. Alpha is attractive because it does not castigate any denomination so it would definitely be well accepted by all. I think it’s a platform that welcomes everybody and that has helped.
The broad vision for evangelizing UNILAG using Alpha
Amazingly, the Students already met me to say that they want to run Alpha in the Hostel halls! So yes I see this tool helping us to reach more people. But the biggest challenge we have here is that we run with the calendar of the school. So it’s really tough to have the students together for a long stretch.
For example, their exams are coming up soon so, give them this week and the next, and after that they won’t listen to you on any issue outside their Academics. Once their exams are over they immediately leave the campus. When they return they are focused on getting their hostel accommodations because these accommodations are in short supply.
They don’t get to settle down until the semester is in full swing. And by the time they settle down, they barely have 10 straight weeks with all the breaks and all. So that’s basically the problem.
Alpha has come across as very good. And I like the fact that it is Interdenominational. I think that’s the magic and I would say keep it up.
Connect with Alpha Nigeria Office to know how you can use Alpha to evangelize your community or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org