Mrs Ifeanyi Olagbaju is the Managing Director of Abigail St John’s Advising and Formation Services, a tutorial college where students are prepared for studying in the USA. They prepare students for SSAT, SAT, GRE, IELTS and TOEFL and also help them in their college application ahead of admission.
She shares with us her experience running Alpha at the institute over the past 3 years.
How the Institute Started
I worked at the US embassy for about 15 years advising students planning to study in the USA and while there I noticed a critical gap that needed to be filled. When I started the institute I proposed from the onset not to run just another educational institute but fill up that gap that I noticed when working with the consulate which is to teach the teenagers not just to study hard but also to develop a habit of praying. I wanted the children to know that it is God that gives success.
I love working with young people, I believe they are the ripest for forming the Lord’s Army and if they are formed right they enter the world with the right values, form the right relationships and the world is a better place.
From TIENNY to Abigail St John’s
When I started the advising center, it was ‘This is Education Nigeria’ (TIENNY) but after the first year, when I went through Alpha, the Holy Spirit laid it on my heart to change the name to something that glorifies Him. In the course of my spiritual direction, I was led to Abigail St John, Abigail means ‘the Father’s joy’ while St John Vianney was a Patron saint with a deep prayer devotion.
Talking about changing the name, a lot of people said ‘the patronage will go down because people don’t like this God and also you are Catholic, people don’t like Catholicism so you have to be careful about being too loud about it’. However, I felt like you know, it is the Holy Spirit and I don’t have a say in it.
When parents first come to me they talk about numbers, statistics of success rate, Ivy league schools etc. but when the chips are down and we are planning the child’s life, I always bring prayer into it and then you start hearing the parents saying ‘now my money is working, I came for God, I didn’t come for all the ranking’. So, I don’t think people should be afraid to advertise God in what they are doing.
My First knowledge of Alpha
When I was at the Consulate, some lady came and shared her story with me. Someone within her family had suffered from cancer and died, and she had two children to cater for. It was a very heart-wrenching story but she was talking and smiling. She had hope and was moving forward.
So, I asked her ‘how on earth can you be telling me this story and still be able to smile?” and she said it was God through the Holy Spirit and I asked “how do I meet this Holy Spirit” and she spoke about Alpha and gave me an Alpha flyer.
Normally, when people do that I just tear up the flyer and throw it away, but for some reason, I kept that flyer and posted it on my bulletin board. And when I was leaving the embassy, it was one thing I brought here and I just kept it because I felt if somebody has cancer and death in their family and they can still smile, then I will find out about Alpha one day.’ However, I did not do anything about it for some time.
Then, one day Aunty Aima and Yielding Yomi (fellow parishioners) started Alpha awareness at the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy and I decided that I was going to try it, for two reasons; one, because of the logo and secondly, because of Yielding Yomi. I used to watch her in church and you know she will be at mass and she will be in tune with the whole mass and never distracted. So I said ‘Lord, I want what this lady has.’ So when she made the Alpha announcement, I just went for it.
My First Alpha Experience
In truth, I only continued the session because of the testimony and because of Yielding Yomi. You know Alpha is very simple and very quiet and I just felt nothing can be happening from this quiet process. But the Holy Spirit day-away was a life-changing one for me.
After that day I felt this desire to just know God and to seek Him. So, I joined the Alpha team. This also led me to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal at Divine Mercy and I did the Life in the Spirit ’ Seminar.
Having experienced Alpha and because I have always prayed for teenagers, when I heard that there was Alpha for youth, I decided to do it for the students; that was about 3 years ago.
“You know Alpha is very simple and very quiet and I just felt nothing can be happening from this quiet process. But the Holy Spirit day-away was a life-changing one for me. After that day I felt this desire to just know God and to seek Him”
Running Alpha for students at Abigail St John’s
Our first Alpha youth in the school was good. The parents allowed their children go through it but I noticed that on the Holy Spirit Day Away, which was held at the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, about fifty per cent of the students did not show up because some of them were not catholic and their parents didn’t feel comfortable allowing them go to a programme in a Catholic church. Then we changed the venue to a home and more students came.
But this year, the Lord put it in my heart to stay in the institute. So, we did our Alpha in one room and when it was time for ministering the Holy Spirit we moved to the common room. Amazingly, we had a full house.
Impact of Alpha in the lives of the students
At the initial stage some of the students felt they didn’t sign-up for this, so they were somehow reluctant to attend, but you know there is always food and drink and besides the videos are very interesting. By the third session, everyone was calm and looking forward to the next session and started sharing honestly.
Then we started noticing their behaviours change over time. We also saw them changing from being sceptical to acknowledging the realness of God.
“By the third session, everyone was calm and looking forward to the next session and started sharing honestly. Then, we started noticing their behaviours change over time.”
Like one of them wrote on her WhatsApp status ‘Holy Spirit is real’.
There was a particular girl who doesn’t pray normally but after the Holy Spirit Day-Away, when she got home her mum asked her to pray for her because she had been sick and surprisingly she just said yes and started praying for her mum. And her mum was surprised and asked her “what happened to you, first you agreed to pray and then you indeed prayed.”
Then the young lady said ‘something happened in school today and we did the Holy Spirit Day Away and Mrs Olagbaju prayed for me. Mum something happened to me today’.
There was a particular boy who was not doing well academically and he was very disruptive but as he went through the course, first of all, I noticed that he was no longer disruptive, then he started coming in early and third he started studying by himself and before we knew it, he started improving.
There was another girl who I noticed was very restless due to the mental abuse she was going through at home. But experiencing God’s love on Alpha she became transformed.
Why Alpha works with Young people
I believe Alpha works with young people, first, because it is easy; it is simple, and non-judgemental. You are not condemning anybody but just asking questions and allowing them to think. Also, the videos are nice, like the different people that were interviewed in the episodes – some had dreadlocks, some had piercings and the answers they give are just that random and honest. They reflect the reality of what young people are thinking, even if their parents are pastors, some do not know God personally.
Alpha has by its simplicity taught me that it is not by your power and might but by the Holy Spirit. It has shown that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name He is there, whether there is a video or not, just come together and talk about Him in love and you will feel His presence.
“Alpha has by its simplicity taught me that it is not by your power and might but by the Holy Spirit. It has shown that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name He is there, whether there is a video or not, just come together and talk about Him in love and you will feel His presence.”
I am usually not allowed in the room when they are running Alpha because it’s youth Alpha and the students stress the fact that I am not a youth. But then, I join them on the Holy Spirit Day away to pray with them. The Host and helpers are the students themselves; the staffs are there to provide training for them.
Forging Ahead Together as a family
After students are done with their programme with us, we create aWhatsApp chat group and also do a pre-departure orientation session for them, and let them know that there is strength in the family. And, what makes you a family is the fact that you have been through a process together – you have studied together, prayed together and cried together. So when you go to America, no matter what state you are in, know that you can call your brother or sister, and it works well as you see them continue to journey together over there in the USA.