The late Reverend Ayodeji Kolade Cole and his wife, Reverend Ngozi Oreoluwa Cole were, before they died in the ill-fated Dana Air crash last Sunday, senior pastors of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) and presided over a branch of the church called, Vision House, located in Utako, Abuja.
The duo was superlative in their pastoral assignment on the same day that death came knocking. At the church service, the presiding pastor, the Rev. Ayodele Cole, prayed thus:
"Let this be an anchor, that as we dedicate these children, you will dedicate yours".
He did the prayer as he dedicated a set of triplets born to a couple who had been without a child of theirs for 15 years. Reverend Cole danced as he had never done before; the excitement was visible, as he jumped around in his grey-colour pastoral cassock. This, unfortunately, was his last assignment on earth!
The man called Papa on the pulpit was different from the man off the pulpit. He was a reserved gentleman with a stoic mien, but talk to him and you would discover a loving and caring personality beneath the tough looking exterior.
His passion for church members is unequalled with an open door policy; you could visit his home at any time or call him at anytime.
He loved his wife, who he renamed Oreoluwa, to a fault and had no apologies about it. He always described her as a complement to him. It is impossible not to love mama; she greets you like she has always known you, and is never too busy to spare a minute.
My relationship with the Coles goes beyond spiritual. One, I have never been close to any Pastor, what with my Baptist upbringing that could not comprehend why Pentecostals seemingly idolize their pastors. But somehow in 2006, I started attending The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Vision House, because the services are brought to a close early, compared to others. I enrolled in the discipleship class, and what normally took two months or less to complete dragged into almost six months for me. I then joined the greeters group.
My first sit-down encounter with Mama was when I got a Chinese government scholarship for a master's degree in international relations and my group leader took me to see her. She embraced me in happiness, even though I am sure she has almost never noticed me. Then four days to my journey, she sent for me and told me she wanted me to organise a broadcast team for media department of the church. I told her I do not have broadcast experience and I was about to travel anyway, but she said, "Aunty Dammie, you can do it" in her usual smiling manner. How we pulled that off is another story.
While I was away, she always called me and cheered me on. Then I came home for holidays, she insisted I visit her home a couple of times, and that was how our relationship changed; I started to feel like I was a personal project of hers given the special interest she had shown in my progress. She would call me just to gist or to know what was going on in my life. Later I discovered she had so many other daughters and sons who were then personal projects to her.
Gradually the Coles became my Abuja parents. There was a time the family travelled abroad for holidays and she bought me a Burberry designer handbag which I would never have bought myself.
Those were the Coles, they were givers. When you visit them, and you refuse to take whatever refreshment they offered you, Mama would simply repackage it for you. These two are sponsors to some students and families in and outside the church.
On the day THISDAY Abuja office was bombed, I called Mama about 4 pm because I presumed she must have been trying to reach me. As she picked up the phone, the relief in her voice was palpable, she told me Papa had already sent someone to go and look for me when my lines were not going through. The person was turned back by security agents who had already cordoned-off the scene of the blast. That Sunday, she insisted I testify in front of the congregation.
My last personal encounter was Saturday morning after the Mountain-Must-Move prayer (this is held on the first Saturday of the month). I went to greet her after the service and one could see her excitement as she touched and hugged my baby and asked me: "Aunty Dammie, hope there is no problem with the documentary" (I had written a script on the testimony of the triplets) and I assured her we were good to go.
After Sunday's service, which also involved a reception for the dedication of the triplets, they rushed to the airport to catch their 2.15 flight. One of Papa's assistants had already gone to the airport to check in their luggage so that they would not delay. They were going to Lagos for the 60th birthday ceremony of Bishop Peace Okonkwo, wife of the Presiding Bishop of TREM, Mike Okonkwo
These two are survived by three biological children who are still in primary school, aged parents, siblings and a church that cannot believe what has befallen them. TREM is in mourning. We are like a flock whose shepherd disappeared without an inkling; poof. As for me, I pray someone would wake me up from this bad dream.