By: Leke Beecroft
Around this time 31 years ago, Living Faith opened up in Lagos at New Era Road, Iyana Ipaja and the first service on July 19 witnessed 300 people.
Some 4 years later in 1993, the Winners’ Chapel 3,000 capacity facility with the L shaped structure terminating with an 8 floor World Mission Tower in the Winners’ Complex known as ‘Capernaum’ commenced and was dedicated by the Archbishop Benson Idahosa on 12th December 1995. Located on 28, Raji Oba Street, Iyana Ipaja, it is still sometimes referred to as ‘Raji Oba Church’.
Long before the facility was completed, there was need to move again. About 19 days to the dedication (23rd November 1995), another signal came to prepare the Church to build a new structure. Emmisaries were sent to look for a suitable place.
Sometime late in 1997 while David Oyedepo was in a convoy on his way to the property that had been sighted, he got visibly upset, questioning the sense in going that far. However he did not turn back so as not to send a wrong signal to the convoy. As the group came together to give thanks, David Oyedepo said he heard God say clearly “This is the Place”. By May 1998, the Church bought the first 530 acres of landed property for N200 million at kilometre 10, Idiroko Road, Ota.
In order to commence this project, a number of construction majors in Nigeria, about 3 in number were called. Based on their analysis, it would take a minimum of 3 years at best to finish this project and the idea of building such gargantuan structure without a visible pillar was to them simply impossible. The more time on a construction project means more money for the construction company. One year was simply too fast. The companies declined.
Putting this in clearer perspective, in November 1998, Julius Berger commenced renovation of the 10,000 capacity Eagle Square, Abuja, an open air grandstand which lasted 6 months and completed it in April 1999. Budget provision in 1999 was N687,353.000 ($1.2million in today’s equivalent) and total renovation cost was N2,000,000,000 (about $4.2 million)
Winners’ Chapel therefore invited Julius Berger among others to bid for the construction of the 50,000 capacity Faith Tabernacle within 12 months and Julius Berger insisted that the time frame was impossible and unrealistic as three years was a more realistic time frame.
Eventually , church pastors and members of Winners’ Chapel who were professionals commenced Direct Labour construction of the Faith Tabernacle, Ota and completed it at the total cost of N900,000,000 ($2 million in today’s equivalent)
Thus, Eagle Square which has much less facilities and complications in renovation turned out to be much more expensive (N2 Billion or about $5 Million today) than and twice the cost of the Faith Tabernacle construction from the scratch, showing how wonderfully well resources were managed by the Church.
The need for builders, quantity surveyors, architects, civil engineers and all others required for the work were announced in Raji Oba. Hundreds waited behind after service. The number was too large to work with, just like the biblical story of Gideon. Those with less than 10 years experience were blessed and asked to leave. Next, all ordained full time pastors of the Church all over the mission stations in Africa were recalled home and deployed to the project. They were to apply their Skills acquired through academic training but much more, they were to apply their FAITH
On August 29, 1998, exactly 22 years ago today, the Foundation laying event was carried out with Bishop Oyedepo revealing the different facilities and institutions that were going to be constructed. They were all going to be part of a 12 year plan. The secondary school, Faith Academy was to be known as ‘Moriah’ while the Faith Tabernacle was to be built on about 66 acres of land named ‘Shiloh’. The Pastors’ quarters was to be built at ‘Ramoth-Gilead’ shortened as ‘Ramoth’ while the University was to be built at ‘Hebron’-The birthplace of Kings and Queens.
During the thanksgiving service held in September 1998, Bishop Oyedepo announced the construction which was to be completed in a year. There was palpable shock and gasps and then claps, shouts and praises rent the air. The next day, measurement started at the site. Amount reserved for the project was N120 million at inception. By December 3, the Church held her first service on the construction site after the foundation had been laid. During the construction, Bishop Oyedepo gave clear instructions; there won’t be prayers for provisions but thanksgiving for progress every Sunday. Also, the speed of construction was always announced. It was one week ahead, then two weeks ahead, then four weeks ahead and five weeks ahead….all was going on fine and then the building trusses fell at the centre of the auditorium where the 83 metre cone was to be located.
All those who fell with the trusses were unhurt and as one of the near victims left the scene to cool off, he said humorously at the drinking joint that they could not have been harmed because they fell on the altar. During construction carried out by architects and engineers who were members of the Church, some of whom offered voluntary services, a trailer was said to have made a smooth U-turn inside the central area of the hall without having to engage the reverse gear.
The project slowed down and people began to get worried as they visited the site. Bishop Oyedepo had in his usual manner made so many statements that members of the congregation began to pity him. Reports from the grapevine flowed freely, the Church was now 5 weeks behind in construction. Members felt the dedication date could be shifted forward slightly and all would be fine. Pastors suggested that Faith Academy project growing concurrently at Moriah should be suspended so that all efforts could be focussed on the Tabernacle. Instead the Bishop insisted:
September 18 is a Practical Reality.
Again he said
“It took God 7 days to create the world, it won’t take him more than 1 year to build an ordinary structure…TWO MONTHS, TOO MUCH’.
‘If this building is not completed in 1 year, I am not called by God’.
Construction continued even till September 11, a week to the dedication when painting began while windows were still being fixed on the 17th, a day to dedication.
Bishop Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) and then the president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) ministered on September 18, the dedication day to a crowd of 97,800 people. The Tabernacle had been completed in exactly 12 months as had been prophesied and recorded funds spent cost a total of about N900 million (about $11 million back then). Pastor Adeboye was represented by Pastor Ojo, his deputy. He however sent a word; Soon , no building will be able to contain the crowd in this place.
Faith Tabernacle commenced with one service with Bishop Oyedepo closing down Capernaum and declaring ‘The Tabernacle has been built, the Tabernacle must be filled’. After almost 10 years, 2nd service began; it soon increased to 3 and 4 services.
In January 2008, Guiness Book of World Records after 9 years of doubts, declared that she was indeed the largest church auditorium in the world. By June 2015, the 5th service began with massive overflow tents accommodating another 52,000 people and attendance increasing to 400,000. In November 2016, the Tabernacle was fitted with air conditioners.
Faith Tabernacle is a masterpiece of architectural brilliance, a testament of vision becoming reality. Simply described, it resembles looking down from above-the three blades of a ceiling fan, each arm representing ‘God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. With a red roof and a cream underbelly.
The wings are 6 in number namely Faith, Hope, Love, Honour (Elders and Pastors Wing), Glory (Choir Wing) and Grace. The construction engineer was also awarded the engineer of the year award in 1999 by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE).
Gigantic as it is, it was achieved by an all-Nigerian think tank without a single visible pillar standing, one feat the congregation and Presiding Bishop, himself a qualified architect revel in. The massive size, high, open roof structure and highly reflective walls and floor caused acoustical problems that plagued the congregation for years. Eventually, in December 2006, that was fixed with the purchase of a new sound system costing about N100 million, as at then the largest single investment of the Church.
Faith Tabernacle may no longer be the world’s largest church auditorium as many churches are beginning to show; The Phillipine Arena came up in 2014 while some sons of Oyedepo himself, Paul Enenche of Dunamis and David Ibiyeomie of Salvation ministries have put up and are putting up structures twice or more the size of Faith Tabernacle.
However, the Tabernacle is also preparing to give way to a larger facility as it has become a city without walls; placing time vis a vis size however, this most utilized auditorium is the fastest mega church auditorium ever constructed. It will always be remembered as the Tabernacle that Faith built in the City that God established.
Source: Church gist