[dropcap]R[/dropcap]aphael Adebayo was shaking with anger. He was so incensed, he almost slapped the American woman who dared to call the prophet Muhammad a “fake.”
In the end he just turned and walked away.
Adebayo went to his car, still trembling. He pounded the steering wheel. “Fake? Fake? Mohammed fake?” He kept repeating the word.
This woman had seriously spoiled his day. In Nigeria, she wouldn’t have got off scot-free. He would have struck her. But he couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said.
Raphael Adebayo had come to the United States to make a better life for himself, but nothing was going right. All the power he possessed to make wealth in his native Nigeria—power obtained in cooperation with practitioners of the occult—didn’t seem to work here. He’d lost interest in his studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. The women he liked didn’t like him. And now this African-American college student responded to his forceful defense of Islam by boldly dismissing the founder of the faith as a “fake prophet.”
All kinds of thoughts bombarded him. He couldn’t focus on anything else. Fake. Fake. Is that why my father married two wives? Is that why Muslims are slaughtering Muslims in Somalia? Is that why we do the opposite of the good things we know we should do?
“From that day,” Adebayo says, “I began to have a critical view of Islam. The moment she said the word ‘fake,’ she messed up my world. This was the foundation of my life. This is what I believed.”
Adebayo would sink into depression, unable to concentrate on his studies. When he heard the shocking news from Nigeria that Chief M.K.O. Abiola–a prominent Muslim politician and businessman who he and many others looked up to–had died under suspicious circumstances, he began to have further doubts about his faith.
He packed up his prayer mat and stopped going to the mosque.
But that day, he says, his heart was free. Then, through a series of remarkable coincidences, he would encounter men and women who introduced him to the love of Jesus Christ.
Radical for Christ
Today he is Pastor Raphael Adebayo, founder of The Winners Assembly RCCG (Redeemed Christian Church of God) on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the forlorn thoroughfare of inner-city South Dallas. In a bizarre turn of the story that only God could script, Adebayo, the Nigerian former Muslim, is shepherding a congregation that consists mostly of homeless people, former homeless people, and a few dedicated helpers who caught on to his vision.
The key helper is his wife Elizabeth, who endured lean times in the early days as well as the occasional disdain of others in ministry who didn’t understand why the Adebayos were pouring their lives into an impoverished population that couldn’t advance their profile in the church world or give back in any material way.
As a young woman, Elizabeth never envisioned being a pastor’s wife. Now she is not only that, but a pastor’s wife to the homeless—a stunning outcome, considering that in her early days in the United States, she didn’t even know that homeless people existed. “In America we have these kinds of people?” she asked her husband. It seemed inconceivable: Even in the poorest shantytowns of her homeland, everyone had some place they belonged.
Over time, Elizabeth says, God changed her heart. He gave her the strength to endure the cultural differences, the frequent misunderstandings, and the times when the demands and strains of her husband’s pastoral calling found her and her children buying their clothes in thrift shops. “My heart is just for the people,” she says. “I fell in love with the people.”
Every Tuesday night, Winners Assembly serves up chicken to more than 100 homeless people, and their last Thanksgiving consisted of a “banquet for the homeless,” complete with table service, sparkling grape juice, and gift bags for every guest.
Despite its small congregation, Winners Assembly has purchased and remodeled three houses for the homeless in South Dallas, where men and women trying to get off the street can live rent-free while looking for work and rebuilding their lives. Adebayo, who works as an engineer in addition to his church work, recently donated a home of his own. He’s known for digging deep into his own pockets to help those making an effort to live new lives.
Once a radical for the Islamic faith, Adebayo lives with even greater fervor for Christ—minus the moral compromises that characterized his life as a Muslim.
Adebayo built Winners Assembly around a simple premise. “The Bible says in Psalm 41 that those who look on the side of the poor, they are blessed,” he says. “If anybody can find any Scripture in the Bible and you follow it without any shift, you’re going to be blessed.”
Winners Assembly provides help to the poor “without asking too many questions,” Adebayo says. “If you’re poor, you are poor. When you begin to put the roof over them and they’re exposed to the Word of God, you will see changes. When we ask too many questions, the enemy takes advantage of us and makes our heart to harden.”
From the kingdom of darkness to light
Raphael Adebayo recalls having a desire to serve people from an early age. Problem is, his entire family served Allah—as well as some of the idols of the Yoruba people. In his youth, in a small village with no electricity or plumbing called Ilawo, he suffered many life-threatening demonic attacks that caused his mother to seek the help of sorcerers. At the university he attended, one such attack left him blind for four months, and he recovered only with the intervention of a witch doctor. He strongly believes that the hand of God preserved his life.
Adebayo was bright and industrious and became the first in his family to obtain a university degree, in chemical engineering. When his attempts to get a full-time job failed, he set up a tutorial college—which prepares students for the exam needed to get into university—in a poor area in Lagos State, near the largest city in Nigeria. Adebayo couldn’t find regular employment, but he was a great success teaching mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and the school took off. Adebayo marveled at his ability to make wealth via regular visits to mediums and psychics.
Then in 1994, Adebayo managed to win a lottery for permanent residency in the United States. He came to the Dallas area in 1995, joining a mosque in Arlington. “I was very kind; I gave to people,” Adebayo says. “I was a very good person, but I was a Muslim. I smoked cigarettes. I drank beer. Muslims believe you cannot drink beer, but every Muslim does. I was very faithful, and I went to mosque and practiced Islam.” Yet his life quickly unraveled here. He didn’t understand why his spiritual backing in Nigeria wasn’t working in the United States.
He encountered the student who called his prophet a “fake” in 1998. Haunted by her words, Adebayo stopped going to the mosque and eventually abandoned Islam. But he still looked to the Yoruba gods of his ancestors and traveled back to Nigeria with a plan to consult his spiritual mentors and obtain more power to carry out his American dream.
Before he left, though, desperate for spiritual help, he stopped in at the Christ Apostolic Church Vineyard of Comfort in Arlington. Seven people were there, praying in the night. They prayed for Adebayo, and to his astonishment, they expected nothing in return.
“What kind of people are these?” Adebayo asked himself. “I’m not used to free prayers. That kind of love caught my heart.”
On the plane to Nigeria not long afterward, Adebayo had reason to be astonished again. He was sitting right next to the London coordinator of that same fellowship of churches. Somewhere between London and Lagos, Pastor Adeniyi prayed with him to receive Jesus Christ.
“Today you are a Christian,” Adeniyi declared. “You are born again.”
Called to the hurting and hungry
Adebayo’s sudden conversion shocked his family and spiritual contacts in Nigeria. He threw out all of the charms and objects of divination that didn’t line up with his new faith and began reading the Bible from cover to cover. It was during this time that he got the revelation that being like Christ meant reaching out to the hurting and needy. And almost immediately after his conversion, he met Elizabeth, a strong believer who would become his wife.
They made a home in Dallas, joining Elizabeth’s church since childhood, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a large and fast-growing Nigerian Pentecostal denomination with its North American headquarters in the Dallas area. One day, Adebayo asked a friend of his where he could find homeless people. He pointed him to the Austin Street shelter, and Adebayo drove there with clothing to give away. As soon as he parked, men swarmed his car, saying, “What do you have for us?” Adebayo pulled out the clothes, but first he asked the men to pray.
“What I want you to do is say ‘Jesus’ seven times,” Adebayo directed.
“That’s easy,” the men replied.
They shouted as one—Jesus, Jesus, Jesus… In the middle of the racket, Adebayo says he heard a voice: “If you come here and give them my name, I will give you a ministry.”
Like everything about his new faith, Adebayo applied these words simply. A few months later, in December 2003, he asked his wife if he could celebrate his birthday on Christmas Day by serving the homeless in South Dallas. “I knew there were homeless that were hungry,” he says. “They would not care about your clothes or your accent if you have food.
“As they eat, I do ministry.”
So Adebayo, his wife, their infant daughter and a handful of others from their RCCG parish in Grapevine stood on the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and MLK to hand out food and clothes at the same site where Nation of Islam members frequently peddled newspapers. It was the start of his ministry to the homeless in South Dallas.
Those early days found the Adebayos working out of a community center and then a funeral home, which didn’t go over so well with his Nigerian supporters, especially on the day when the directors left a body awaiting cremation in the area where they worshiped. Adebayo distributed chicken, which he purchased with $65 cobbled together from his pay as an $8-an-hour security guard, and ministered to the down and out the best he knew how.
“Our members came and stayed through the service because we had hot chicken,” Adebayo says. “I didn’t care. I’m not speaking to their flesh; I’m speaking to their spirit. So the spirit understands what I’m saying.”
A nucleus of disciples formed, and they followed him across the street to an upstairs space in a building that housed a thriving nightclub. Adebayo leased the space by God’s direction, not knowing where the money would come from. Then a Nigerian member of the church got a job as a truck driver. “He came and said the Lord spoke to me to pay the rent of the church,” Adebayo says. The man paid the rent for 12 months—and reaped blessings. He prospered in all of his endeavors and met and married a Nigerian woman who enabled him to get legal status in the United States, Adebayo says.
Another gift of provision followed when the Nigerian owner of a Golden Chick franchise offered to provide chicken for free to distribute to the homeless. After the agreed two months, Adebayo came back to the owner to purchase more chicken. He refused any payment.
“I gave you two months,” the owner said, “because after two months, I thought you’d stop. Maybe because of you God has given me this business. Just come and collect chicken and give me the amount you need every week as long as you can do something.”
The owner’s franchise is one of the most successful in the country today, Adebayo says, and he has provided chicken non-stop for Winners Assembly for eight years.
Church that never quits
Adebayo eventually made a decision to buy his building on MLK if the opportunity came up, because the nightclub would be blaring music and spilling mayhem late into the night, prayer service or no. If he owned the building, he figured, he could shut down the club. But God intervened again: One day the club packed up and left.
“Where there is a vision, there is provision,” Adebayo says today. He sees this continually in his ministry, because of unquestioning obedience to the Word of God concerning the poor. “The favor of God is on anyone who just keeps on and doesn’t fear anything,” he says.
Winners Assembly has purchased land to build a two-story outreach center on MLK that will house a 24-hour church, a commercial kitchen, and a home for pregnant young women, offering shelter, food, and spiritual nourishment.
When homeless men and women make a commitment to Christ, Adebayo offers them living space in one of the church’s homes. Several people who became part of the ministry this way are now working and living productive lives on their own, Adebayo says.
Others drift back to the streets, but it doesn’t faze Adebayo. “Homelessness comes from many things,” he says. “Sometimes it’s mental. A lot of things come with it. But the church should stand up to the challenge of taking care of people like that.
“We know with God, all things are possible.”
Julie Lyons is a journalist and author.
To for more information or to support this ministry, please visit http://rccgwinners.org/page/our-contact-info.