Adebola Deji-Kurunmi is the President of Deborah Initiative for Women and Immerse Academy, an online and email based life-coaching enterprise. She is a life coach, an inspiring writer, author of books and a social entrepreneur. Known for her passionate advocacy for the girl child and women, particularly in Africa, she has hosted several very successful programmes aimed at mentoring and empowering women. Virtue Digest is honoured to feature her as our Gem of the Month.
Please could you tell us about yourself?
I’m the second of three children. My father is a pastor and my mother has been such a strong support for him. My growing up was deeply rooted in the scriptures; Christian parents, Christian background and a very tight relationship with my other siblings. I grew up with a very strong personality, though, not given to a lot of social interaction. I have literally seen the work of the Holy Spirit over the years tempering my personality and making me into the woman I have become.
How was growing up like and what fond memories do you hold dear?
Growing up has been the most unforgettable part of my journey so far. I think the first 15 years of my life shaped everything that I have really become because my parents have a right mix of tenderness and discipline. In addition, my siblings happen to be the softer side of me, which meant that I got away with throwing tantrums and everyone would just say, ooo, ma binu, mabinu (meaning, don’t be offended). I have memories of a lot of fun outings with the entire family. I also have fond memories of my father speaking to me, shaping my thinking as a girl; I remember him clearly asking us to repeat after him the things he had said to us. We were literally making things like faith confessions as at then and we didn’t even know. He would say,“what is your holding centre?” We would say “my holding centre is my heart and I have a pure heart and the world isn’t going to take it from me”. I think these deeply shaped my desire for God and my spirituality.
Could you tell us critical decisions you took at various times in your life that have resulted in who you are today as a professional, as a wife, mother and other callings?
That is a tough one; it is not something one thinks about actively all the time. But clearly, the first and biggest would be saying ‘yes’ to Jesus. I think that has shaped everything about my life. I think that my experience with becoming born-again was not a religious thing, it was deeply spiritual, and it was real. I remember as early as 1993 when I got born-again I remember feeling a very strong burden to take the nations for Jesus and to do amazing things for the kingdom. From a very young age I had a strong sense of consecration; to live my life for God. Getting born again and pursuing a sense of purpose, submitting to mentorship has really shaped every other part of my life. Going on from there being very decisive about the kind of friendships that I got into, the kind of relationships that I got into-from secondary school to the university, post university has been a consistently impactful part of my journey. I’m consistently reassessing my relationships and asking myself what kind of influences people are bringing into my life.
The third big decision would be starting out in ministry in the university, my second year, feeling very called and having a message to young ladies and then commencing a very structured approach to providing leadership and mentorship to young persons around me.
The fourth would be choosing to make a detour from estate management which was my first degree into HR immediately after university. That was influenced by my mentor Bisola Longe, who is still a very strong part of my life. You know getting out of school and knowing that I had a capacity development drive and I want to impact people with the right skills at the work place. I started out in HR and I spent almost a decade transiting between HR then onto social development which is now culminating into what I want to spend the rest of my life doing.
Penultimately, it would be marrying my husband. I sort of had a lot of choices when I came to the point of making a decision about whom to marry. Honestly, he wasn’t the first or second or third on the list, yes. But I knew beyond a doubt that this is the kind of person I should spend the rest of my life with. He’s got a perfect heart; I mean that my husband’s heart is perfect; there is no gall in it at all. He’s got a very pristine heart, you can’t touch it, nothing can touch it, he is full of love, he is full of compassion and a strong sense of Godly justice. So listening to God and choosing that man has made all the difference in my life. He’s provided the kind of environment I need to soar and he has a firm grip on me that is balanced with patience. I don’t think that there is any man in the world who can have that because I thrive in being allowed to express myself, but I still need to be held in check because I’m an intense woman.
Finally, the decision to let God be at the centre of motherhood has also shaped me. I think I’m a very unique mother; I believe God has given me my child and those He would still bring to me as a caregiver, I did not bring them into the world on my own. It is a journey with Him, so I am completely fearless about how I’m raising my children, I trust Him with those decisions and I free myself to do the will of God without feeling held back by motherhood. So when I have to leave my child at home and go preach the Gospel, I don’t have any fear that anything would go wrong because she is God’s child. So God is at the centre of my motherhood and He is allowing me express other parts of my life without fear.
What are the major obstacles you overcame in the process of becoming the woman you are today?
I think that the first major obstacle that confronted me and still continues to confront me in different ways is always the question of identity. The identity that is rooted in destiny and God’s call over your life; because our journey is always progressively elaborated so it is always a question of right definitions; definitions for life, ministry, career and answering the question of what would God have me do in the midst of all these opportunities before me. At the very start of my journey, particularly from my first year in university, I felt consistently confronted with the question “who am I and what is the purpose of my life?” What would God have me do with the gifts that I’ve got?” I think that one of the obstacles that a woman would be confronted with in the journey to becoming who God would have you be is to answer the question about your life, about who you are and what God would have you do. So that was the first big challenge.
The second is of course, society and family, trying to forcefully impose on you who they want you to be and resisting that and rebelling against the status quo. That’s something I have learnt, I love rebelling against the status quo do God’s will.
Finally, is the balance between submission and strength and I don’t even mean it in the sense of marriage alone. I mean it in terms of life and interactions where you trade off your strength sometimes and you pick up weakness so that the others can shine. That is a tough place to be, but it is what results in the most powerful collaborations in the world. Where sometimes you feel smarter than this person but you’ve got to let them have their way in that instance and that case so that there is a middle ground of success. Of course, that happens in marriage, and even in ministry, sometimes you are pastoring a people you want to knock them on the head, but you just calm down. So that is the balance between submission and strength.
What brings you fulfilment as a woman or as a person?
Now without trying to sound spiritual it is extremely important to me to do God’s will, infact that is the definition of success for me; to continue on a progressive journey of unveiling God’s now word and doing it. It is big deal to me, it is what my life is about; it is the only parameter by which I judge my success. I find fulfilment in hearing God; I feel lost anytime I don’t know what God is saying. That is actually a part of our journey, there is a silent part of our journey, and God actually wants us to be at rest and to trust Him even when we can’t hear Him. It is big deal for me to hear what God is saying to me and to do it and do it excellently. Immediately I have a picture and a clear-cut way of what God would have me do I would go all out. And I am going to expend every resource on the earth to make God proud. So that’s big deal for me that is at the very heart of my fulfilment.
The second big deal for me is being a wow! woman for my husband. I live for those expressions when I’ve blown his mind and so I’m always sharpening my cutting edge, what I cook, how I dress, how I do ministry, how I have sex, how I raise my child. I take delight in knowing that he is just blown away and he is saying, “I couldn’t have gotten a better deal”, that is important to me and I plan to do it for however long I live.
What are your personal values and how have they impacted on your marriage, your career and general way of doing things?
At the very centre of my life is God and spirituality is about my highest value. Not religion please, and I must have spent the last decade learning to see the difference between religion and faith. I think what is handed to us when we start our journey is religion. So the first big liberation in your Christian walk is to commence a new journey that says goodbye to religion and yes to faith. So, spirituality is a deeply rooted value at the very core of my life and it cuts across everything. And of course at the very heart of spirituality is love, living beyond yourself and staying on bended knees to see the world saved. That is very important to me
Vision is also very important to me infact it is the criteria for me in terms of organisations that I join, friendships that I keep, what I invest my money and my time in. so I’m driven by a very compelling sense of vision and a sense of purpose in a world. Something that is also very important to me is a successful sense of roundedness. I don’t know how to put it, but I like to have it all, I believe that God’s people can have it all, I believe that a woman can have it all. You can have it all, I believe that, it is at the centre of my life, I am consistently unravelling the wisdom of God for having it all.
Finally, a value system that is deep for me is community and collaboration. I think that I have accomplished the kind of success that I have in my life because I’m not fooled by the idea that I have all the answers or that I am self-sufficient. I feel blessed because I have a lot of people around me who love me who want to be part of my life, and I leverage on relationships without using people. So I believe in community, I believe that you do get a lot more done when we work together.
How have the books you’ve read and relationships you’ve kept shaped your thinking and changed your outlook in life?
Surely, you’ve mentioned two of the most important things that can change anybody’s life; the books we are interacting with and the relationships we are keeping. Like I said earlier I’m very deliberate about my relationships. I can say right now without fear or favour that I do not have a person in my life who dampens my spirit, who draws me back, who kills my energy or criticises my vision. I don’t have such person and the reason is because immediately you throw negative energy, I adjust how much access you have into my life. You just have to show me that you are capable of stealing my joy and I would shut you out.
I talked about growing up I was very moody, I was significantly melancholy and I had a generous amount of anger, like seven people’s anger, so when I’m angry I can upturn an entire city and my parents were walking on eggshells. What saved me? I read Mike Murdock’s books. We had an 11-month break at some point in school and it was during that time I read the books and they changed everything. It wasn’t even about focus on the anger, it was about deploying my energy and my potentials for something that was of a higher good and it just changed everything. I truly believe that books help you interact with the wisdom of others and it impacts on your thinking, it impacts on your mental atmosphere and it helps you make better decisions.
Relationships that have significantly changed my life and I think that everybody must have those kind of relationships: spiritual parents. My spiritual parents are Pastors Segun and Funke Obadje who are the Senior Pastors of God’s Love Tabernacle International Church (GLT). It has been over a decade of following them, of submitting to their leadership and being imparted by spiritual graces from their lives. I think that everybody must at some point submit to true spiritual leaders who have demonstrated that they are following God and to that extent you can follow them.
I also have mentors for different areas of my life, people that I look up to in career, marriage, finances etc. but even when I’m making decisions about something seemingly secular, I am completely led by the Holy Spirit about those relationships.
I also think that my marriage is a fundamentally impactful relationship because it provides the balance that I need. I’m a lot more energetic and intense; my husband is a strategic, calm wise person. So when I’m burning with this big idea, he calms me down. By the time he’s asked me some questions, I have to go back to the drawing board.
I’m completely unemotional about my friendships, I meet people every day who want to be friends with me who even put me as their tightest friends on BB, my boo, but I’m not their boo. So my relationships don’t happen to me, it’s not an emotional decision, even when I feel an emotional connection, I must find reasons that are higher than emotions to stay in a friendship with you.
How do you unwind and recharge your battery and what are your favourite holiday spots?
I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh, I have a very funny daughter. I just enjoy, in the midst of the so much that I’m doing, I do not feel strained. First, because I’m focused on what God has asked me to do so there is grace for what I’m doing but also because I refuse to be cluttered or clogged with bitterness, negative thoughts and energy. There is a lot of humour going on in my life. I laugh at myself, my husband, people- not in a caustic derogatory manner, but I just find happiness in all simple things of life. On a more deliberate note, I know that solitude is one of the most powerful ways I recharge my battery, I need to be alone as much as I’m playful and enjoy company, when I start to feel overwhelmed, my answer is to really spend time alone with God and myself and it’s not always like a spiritual retreat. Sometimes I’m going with movies and Oprah Winfrey’s magazines at a hotel where I don’t have to bother about washing bed sheets and washing plates after the meals are done and cooking. I’m just alone and my husband sometimes doesn’t get it. He says, why would you go without me? I say, because I’m an individual. So my work makes me travel and I cherish it, ministry also makes me travel and I love it absolutely. Solitude is powerful for me and I take family vacations very seriously. We haven’t travelled so much, but we have visited a number of countries and I hope that we can do a lot more of that but I have travelled personally. So I think that there are a number of countries calling for me, Paris is calling for me very seriously, Dubai is always a winner, times that I’ve been there. It invigorates you with new energy, new visions, it inspires, and then it also helps you rest, sight-seeing is great. I think that the Banjul in Gambia is close not too expensive so it is an exotic city to visit, so I think that vacations are powerful.
What led to the birth of Immerse Academy, Deborah Initiative and other similar initiatives that you operate?
First, I want to talk about Deborah Initiative for Women; of course if you do not want to get into trouble in life, you had better be called before you get into ministry. I don’t know if anyone dares set up a self-fabricated vision and put the stamp of God on it. Well, if there are who do it, they must have a lot of guts because when a ministry should provide pragmatic solutions, answer real questions and produce the testimony of changed lives and there is no other mechanism on the earth except the kingdom working through the Spirit that can convert a person from a way of doing thinking and doing things to an entirely different one. A ministry should birth testimony ended addictions and those things are stronghold in the mind, stronghold in the spirit that indeed it takes the working of the power of God to produce those kinds of changes. DIW is completely a harvest of God’s calling beyond every doubt and even though it started in Lagos in 2010, I sort of think that it is a continuation because our journey of faith as we pass one level of faith, we open ourselves to a new level of service.
Spending my years in the university, reaching out to ladies and leading them to pray I think sort of prepared me for the next level, post-graduation to bring women together to pray and when we started out in 2010, it was just a desire to see friends come together and pray and grow their spirituality. As at then God had not said anything to me about starting a ministry, I’m sure if he did I would not follow it. But you know God now, He just leads you one step after another and you just come to a point. I remember that in 2011 it dawned on me that God wanted us to perpetuate His work on the earth among women. The first hesitation I had was that there are many women ministry what are we doing again? But God started to show me that women are very critical to His purpose, critical to the end time and critical because of parenting, being life-givers to what He is doing trans-generationally. Also that even if there were hundreds of women ministries springing up everyday, the harvest is still so wide in the world. It is so wide, the labourers are few. That was very convincing I sort of leaped out in complete confidence. One of the strongest models God said to me was that it would be a ministry of inward and outward expression. Primarily, and I think that is the bigger focus for me, we run a partnership model where women sign up to be partners with the ministry and so they become a part of an internal family. So they drive the execution of outreaches, missions, ministry efforts, but they also must be fed; they must find a sense of belonging and we are building a very rigorous system of learning the Word, living for God, connecting with one another internally. That is what I consistently want to pay attention to, so there is an internal part of it. We started with maybe four women who said I want to do this with you. As at today we are almost 150 women who are partners and we now sort of reach out to communities that we find ourselves, with various outreaches. We have about 5 outreaches covering different areas of life; we are in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, US and UK and we just trust God with what He would continue to do. That is DIW. As we go along, I would not be surprised if God now appoints a sitting president, so that I can travel the world and do apostolic things. So it is not a one-man business, it is the Father’s business and I lay no claim to it and I am just willing to go by God’s style and do anything He wants.
For Immerse Academy, IA is an e-mail based coaching experience for women over a 30-day period where I’m generally just posing questions that they answer, connect with other women and be part of an on-line or an e-book, an e-documentary that I’m putting together for young men in Africa. So why IA? It’s just an experiment really, I’m trying to see if I can scale up my impact using the same methodology that I use on one woman across many more women. I just want to do more in one lifetime. So with IA I find women are typically asking the same questions in different ways, different ages, a lot of people come to me asking questions from everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, physical meetings, church, my neighbourhood, me wanting to be counselled and I find at the end of the day we are seeking the same things. So what I do at my coaching I never proffer solutions because I don’t have them. Coaching is to lead you into a journey through introspective questioning that helps you to find your own answers because they are within you. That is what I’m just trying with IA, can I bring more women together in the same space of time and provide answers by themselves through questioning. I’m thinking again that can technology help me reach 1,000 women at the same time; I just want to do a lot more for the Father’s kingdom basically.
Have there been challenges and other unforeseen developments in the course of running these initiatives and how did you handle them?
For ministry I think that the biggest challenge is usually internal because God’s vision is progressive and is getting bigger we also need to arise and be the people that are able to carry that vision so is always an internal journey of growth so that we can build capacity to do what God is saying we should do and that is tough because if it was just about you, you can arise and get your armour well-sorted and then go out there for battle, but you have women that are working with you, whose hearts are right but who have many issues in their lives that they consider pressing. So it’s always a matter of helping them align priorities, helping them see the picture again, so it’s a leadership question, that is the biggest challenge in ministry; helping people stand up to the vision and be groomed so that they can be part of what God is doing.
There is also the question of resources. You feel very limited when you have very big ambitions in God, but you just don’t know where the resources would come from. However, I think that is a very good challenge because it keeps you on a faith trajectory where you trust Him permanently, knowing that if God doesn’t provide the resources you won’t be done, but He does always come through.
For the world of business, my biggest challenge has been the knowledge gap, that it is the very honest reality; I consistently pay attention to closing that gap. I dabble into things that are bigger than me, as I do so, I realise that I had better immediately begin to learn the space. I think that the African market is the most complicated because it is an extremely inefficient system and there is not a lot of information to guide you through the trajectories and the socioeconomic realities of that emerging market so there isn’t a lot of information out there. Even if you go to Lagos Business School or you go to a school in Legon, or South Africa or the US, the models are not very consistent with the realities on ground. So you find the answers by yourself and that journey is torturous because you would have made some mistakes and sometimes money is involved.
What are the learning points?
I think that the biggest learning point for ministry is that you got to become the woman that you see your women becoming. I think that the most convincing prototype of a leader is that the leader lives out that reality; it’s just like you are on a permanent journey of reiteration, of getting better, of keeping ahead. For ministry, it is about becoming the woman that I want my women to become and it is a tall order that God has set and you’ve got to live by the Spirit to experience these realities.
My biggest learning point or lessons learnt for business would be to get mentors; maybe that is not the biggest learning point. The biggest learning point would be for the mentors to come out; I think that the gap is deliberately enormous, it’s so wide, they don’t want to talk to us they just think that you are a parasite. But if you’ve succeeded in any kind of enterprise, you have a responsibility and that is what we are saying to the African leaders that you’ve got to talk to us, if you’ve found a model that works for you, if you’ve gotten through this very inefficient market, and you’ve succeeded, you’ve got to talk to us. So I’m seeking the mentors but you can’t hound or stalk a mentor if they are unwilling to talk to you.
With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done better if you were to start life all over again?
With the benefit of hindsight I would have had holiday jobs after every break and I would have taken it very seriously. Yes, I would also have maximised a lot of opportunities. I got S/A scholarships with a UN environmental program; opportunities for internship to travel to other countries. My life has gone pretty well because I followed God. I wouldn’t have courted in the university, and it was a decision that I kept until my fourth year. I think that if you can help it in the university, just live sane; maximise the time in discovering yourself, don’t court anyone, have friends, see the world, have fun and just learn to uncover yourself.
What specific advice do you have for women?
For women generally, find yourself. From the moment you find yourself, you are going to find the world and everything is possible. Research shows that women do not like to spend time with themselves; so even when they are alone they block their ears with earphones, they put on the TV so loud just to avoid having a conversation with self. And so when they get into relationships they begin to seek identity from the men in their lives and that has been shown to be the third biggest reason for divorce and suicide in the US; women trying to find answers from men and approval and validation and they are not getting it. So find yourself and commence that journey of uncovering your giftings, what makes your unique and how you can rock your womanhood in a way that makes you produce results without esteeming sexuality and sensuality. Then maximise collaborations with other women. I think the most powerful connections happen between women who believe in one another who have strong visions and who are ready to take the world.
What counsel do you have for women who have given up on their dreams?
I think it is also about planting. I think that sometimes it’s not enough to say stand up again and find your dreams because you might have lost that internal zest so I think that if you can be planted again in a community of visionary believers. Sometimes that is all you need to change your life. There is a place where you are just rubbed off on, so I think what I would just say is ask God to lead you on a journey to a place where you can be planted because it is God who plants the solitary in families. You may not even have the personal zest to stand up and fulfil your dreams, you may not even feel like you found them but if you go on that journey with God into the midst of people who found their own hope in God, gradually you would rise up again. So it’s about being planted and the biggest most painful experience that have happened to women happen because they were wrongly planted; they were in relationships, families, communities that threw a negative energy at them consistently and that is an abuse of the heart. Ask God to plant you as a solitary man in a family and ask God to set you up in a community where there is hope, it would catch up with you.
What would you like to be remembered for after you’ve exited?
I would like to be remembered as a woman who used the grace of God as a resource for becoming everything that was possible in life. I want to live a very deep-seated assertion for women particularly in the world that you can be every single thing that you want to be. I want to live a memory of possibilities for women in God and for the world; I want to be an example of a person who lived beyond odds and limitations and societal pressures to become like a god in our generation, telling a story that outlives me trans-generationally. So I want to be remembered as one who was possible because of the resource of the grace of God.
Thank you so much Ma’am; you are an inspiration indeed!