by Ayodele Oshunremi of Inspiration Youth Call, a mentoring service for young people across the borough of Thurrock
Part of a True Life Story from Hopelessness to An Inspirational Mentor
I was born in Britain in 1965 of Nigerian parentage. In 1969 I went to Nigeria and lived there with my father for 19 years before returning to the UK. During this time I experienced all the adverse effects of initially having plenty, then living in poverty. Moreover, the bitter separation of my parents turned me into an angry, frustrated young man. Some of my worst experiences included being homeless; on several occasions I was kicked out of my home as punishment for misbehaving and had to sleep rough on the streets. I found myself moving from friend’s house to friend’s house, or hanging around the families that never wanted to be associated with me in the first place.
These distressing social situations helped to shape my destiny, and gave me a passion to care for those from lower social-class backgrounds and those with complex learning difficulties.
Early and Secondary School Education
I used to be called a “dullard” at school because I did not thrive academically, despite my best efforts. I now realise that I suffered from dyslexia, which meant I struggled throughout my primary and secondary school education, and received very poor results.
I Gave my Life to Christ
When I returned to Britain in 1988, I soon found myself in the midst of friends who led very carefree lifestyles. Even though I professed to be a Christian, I found nothing wrong with drinking, partying and clubbing. On one occasion in 1996, I went to see my brother, who was visiting from the USA, at his hotel where we indulged in serious drinking. We left the hotel and went to a local club where we resumed our drinking. I was well over the limit and I knew I should not drive, but on this fateful night, I had promised to drop my brother at a girlfriend’s place. While I was driving, the police flashed my car to stop, but instead of slowing down I pressed even harder on the accelerator. The police caught up with me in no time, breathalysed me, and found that I was well over the limit. The case subsequently went to court and I was fined and disqualified from driving for a year. At the time the judge offered me a word of advice, suggesting that I should sort myself out before it was too late, as I was heading for disaster. The judge told me if I do not address my problems soon, my wife and children are likely to walk out of my life. Hearing this was of course worrying because I do not want what happened to me as a child to be repeated with my children.
In 1991 I got married, and from then on in our marriage my wife would often ask me to come to church with her and the children. However, I could not see the point of going after a night of raving and waking up with a thumping headache. Besides, attending church seemed pointless to me, as I felt more secure with the friends I associated with at that time, and the lifestyles we were leading.
I also had another hobby, playing football, which I organised every Sunday evening. At this point, I was just pleased to be channelling my energies in a more positive way. On a particular Sunday in 1998 I met a Nigerian man while playing football. During the break, we got talking about life in Nigeria, as he was on a visit from that country. He asked about my wife and children and was surprised that the rest of my family were in a Christian environment while I was out playing football. He shared his own experience of how he became a Christian; it was a moving account and we decided to follow it up after the match. That evening I invited him round to our house and there and then I knelt down and finally gave my life to Christ. A little later my wife and children arrived home from their house fellowship and we all prayed together. I have never looked back since. I am not suggesting that I have been perfect, as I have slipped on a few occasions. But take my word – there is no doubt in my mind that:
Jesus Christ died for me and He will forever remain my Lord and Redeemer. The only salvation I have is in Christ Jesus. The times when I have fallen, I often feel His hands upon me and my family. The hand of almighty God on my life is stronger than any stronghold put together.
My Christian walk was at a very slow pace but I kept on the path. Some of my friends told me, I was just going through a phase which would not last long, but this has not been the case.
I often tell people I come into contact with that the world must know about our existence since we exist for a specific purpose. The Lord made it happen by creating us for such a time like this. There is little doubt that you were celebrated the day you entered into this world by people around you although this was oblivious to you at the time. Even, if they did not celebrate your birth, be assured, heaven celebrated your entrance into this world. Remember the saying from the Holy Bible that ‘in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy’ – you are part of that abundance of joy.
People will talk about us either positively or negatively, the day people stop talking about us, we automatically have no relevance. This is why I have come to the conclusion that ‘my name is Ayodele Adetokunbo Oshunremi made in heaven by the special hands of the almighty God, assembled in the United Kingdom and exported to the world to make manifest the glory of God through His special gift to mankind our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – bringing love and salvation to a chosen people’.
Liberated at Last
Sometime later, in 1998 I was diagnosed as severely dyslexic with other learning difficulties and in need of professional and educational support. The reasons for, and complexity of my learning difficulties, were traced to the traumatic nature of my birth in 1965. I was a “breech birth”, my father told me that my mother and I nearly died. Sadly I was physically damaged at birth – something which my parents were reluctant to tell me.
My undiagnosed dyslexia led to tensions with my parents. My father used to beat me regularly for performing below educational standards. He would often call the head teacher and order him or her to gather students to the school assembly and beat me in front of everyone. On arriving home the beatings would continue. This went on for the best part of my stay in Nigeria. During the beating, my father would be praying, and I quote;
“You will become somebody relevant in life; you will make it in life whether you like it or not; you will one day be the head and not the tail; you will be my pride and joy. I may not be around to witness your progress but you will always remember me for all the right reasons. The beating you are receiving today is to prepare you for your tomorrow.”
At that time I found the prayers very odd to comprehend, because I thought I would never be able to live up to my father’s expectations. The unnecessary suffering I endured for over 19 years was largely due to my parents’ bitter separation in 1969, for which I became the obvious victim.
As a result of being diagnosed as dyslexic, a clinical psychologist told me that I was not a waste of space, or stupid; this was liberating. I stopped feeling sorry for myself, ceased blaming my background, parents and society for my misfortunes, and surrounded myself with positive people who are inspiring and good role models.
Growing up, I experienced real frustration, sadness, and personal hatred for myself especially when I saw my peers achieving those things I could not due to my undiagnosed dyslexia. However, coming to grip with my learning difficult and going to the University of East London and attending regular counselling sessions helped to transform my life. Less than a month into the counselling, I woke up to the reality that life is what you make it. I am mindful that there are still a lot of challenges ahead but I am best prepared to weather any storm because I have got something inside so strong I know that I can make it.
The reasons for some people’s insecurity is often due to their constant desire to win people’s favour and meet their expectations; when you do this you end up being manipulated. Allowing people to control you gives them the freedom to put you in their box and this will turn you into who you are really not.
Insecurity can also be traced to one’s upbringing, as every child and young person requires an environment of assurance, love, security, and encouragement. I am certainly not the only person who has been through trials of life; there are many more who have probably been through worse. I can only speak of my pains, experiences, and gradual fight back. Like me, I want to encourage you to give yourself a winning chance. You cannot afford to lose – that is what your adversaries want.
My advice to every young person out there is that you must ensure that you take advantage of all the educational opportunities that may be thrown at you. No one has the right to place limitations on you except those you place on yourself. Yes, your start in life may have been filled with misfortunes and mysteries, most of which may have not been your own making. On the other hand, you may have all the privileges the best start anyone could ever dream of whatever the case, this should not give you the right to settle for less, but instead strive for ultimate success. Do not undermine your ability to achieve great things in life. Your life experiences are your lessons to fulfil a greater future. Welcome challenges when they come and do not give up, but strive and focus on the end result. What separates a winner or a champion from the rest is not just their fighting spirit and determination, but their self-belief, vision and integrity.
Do not allow the fear of people to hold you back – some of your friends, family members, relations, are likely to walk away at some point in your life, but God will always be there. He has promised never to leave or forsake you. While growing up certain people were absent from my life. However, God never left my side. As time went on it became clear that God allowed this to happen in order for me to keep relying on Him.
For fathers, mothers, pastors, teachers, social workers, government officials, politicians, law enforcement agencies, appropriate adults and those who may have turn a blind eye to the plight of vulnerable children and young people to note that; It is important that children, young people and families do not reach a point where they believe they have nothing to lose, since such people become very dangerous at this juncture. Torment, suffering, and hopelessness can often lead to frustration, and this gives birth to taking extreme measures. This is why in today’s world there are many young men engaging in criminal activities in search for quick money and success. Many of such people have experienced hopelessness, prejudices, and extreme poverty without hope and their decision to take the dangerous path has led to imprisonment and some become totally dependence on the welfare state whist some are used as weapon of mass disruption.
Poverty has a strange way of locating, resting and abiding with people. Vulnerability can turn people into who they are not supposed to be.
The most delicate part of person’s make-up is the ‘mind’. Once a tender and young mind has been penetrated by negativity such a mind becomes unstable. I grew up with a mindset that family life and life itself had to be chaotic, mixed with unsolvable challenges and pains. I saw and experienced pains and unimaginable challenges from age four into my adulthood. I came to a point in my life where I was willing to put a stop to this terrible situation. My decision to do something about the way my life was heading could have simply gone one way or another. I thought about a life filled with crime.
One way or the other, the inadequacy I faced during these years had to be confronted from the age of 29 to the present day. I soon realised that taking positive steps to address what went wrong and making the necessary corrections gave birth to self-belief, and a determination to succeed, no matter what. From one year to the next, I began to realise that my deepest fear was not that I was inadequate. The inability to read, write and construct simple sentence without help made me insecure and fearful. One of my favourite quotes suggests that:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are child of God! Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlighten about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us – it’s in everyone and as we let our own light shire, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.
When I informed my father that I was studying for my BA honours in education and community studies at university he was over the moon and constantly prayed for me. (Dad did not believe me at first; it took the intervention of the faculty head to convince him.) As I was preparing for my graduation, the university invited my father to attend the ceremony. Dad was quite excited because he would also get an opportunity to meet his grandchildren for the first time. Sadly, my father died without seeing me graduate or meeting any of my children born in the UK.
I always remember my father’s prayers during the years of his beatings. This goes to show that we have to watch what we say, especially towards children. My prayer is that I will definitely live to see the progress and joy of all my children, and every child and young person with whom I come into contact.
The best place to start with the rebuilding process is with yourself. I sincerely miss my father, despite what I went through growing up under his care. At least whatever he did to me he meant it for good. Dad and I were able to build bridges over the unnecessary pains of the past. I have nothing to hold against him. I realised that I cannot change the past but I can draw strength from it in order to transform my today in preparation for a greater future. I take solace from the following 5 points:
- That life is unfair, but God is always good;
- Staying close to God and trusting Him to heal my wounds;
- Understand that He understands;
- Trusting that God will bring good out of my pains;
- Suffering will end one day for those who trust in God.
You have to believe in yourself especially when people say that you are nothing. The worse thing to do is to give up and the best thing is to believe in your ability and know you have something inside so strong. This is why I refused to be derailed regardless of the challenges in front of me. I believe that I can fly and touch the sky. But you have to see it yourself to believe it. President Obama saw the reality and possibility of becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. He claimed to become the 1st black American president before he actually became the president. President Obama exhibited the ‘I can do it attitude’ throughout his campaign with the slogan “Yes you can”. He saw the possibility and worked towards the reality and the rest is history. If the son of a foreigner in a foreign land which eventually become his home – made it to the sit of power in a country with a past history of hostility and oppression against the black race “Yes you can”. Despite all the odds, Joseph, a slave boy made it to the top of the government in a foreign land.
God often work through mysterious and what seem impossible situations to man in order to prove Himself. The history of my life could have turned out differently if not for God. I could have become a complete drop out from school, druggy, alcoholic, criminal, you name it, but God choose to see the best in me.
I want to express my sincere heartfelt gratitude for your ultimate care and provision for my life. Lord, You saw the best in me when everyone else around could only see the worse in me. When people wrote me off, the Lord could only see the best in me. The Lord is mine and I am His so he took the ultimate decision for my life, he allowed me to go through hard times, experienced rejections, for such a time like this. My Father in heaven – thank you for seeing me for who I am.
Father, some people unfortunately do not understand the extent of your love and mercies for me. It doesn’t matter what they think, I am fully yours.
You saw the best in me, when people wrote me off and said I will not amount to anything, they said I will never end up anywhere but persistently You saw the best in me. When a particular section of my family said I will never be anything, as I recall vividly when one of my aunties said I am not to be reckoned with in society. I couldn’t even understand myself at the time, I never realised You had something in mind for me, when the absence of a parent was strongly felt but out of reach for me, you saw the best in me.
Father please, grant others in similar or worse situation the grace and opportunity to see you in their life. I pray to grow in You and never to depart from Your presence, in Jesus name Amen.
Yours Faithfully Son,
Ayodele Adetokunbo Oshunremi
Promote God and His wonders in your life
Do not stop promoting God and talking about what He has done in your life. Do not allow the voices of the ungodly to silence you. Learn to talk highly of the almighty hand of Jesus on your life, family and work place, no matter how difficult that may be. People may say that you think too highly of yourself and they may say you are a ‘nobody’. This kind of attitude is meant to keep you in a “box” and also to denigrate you before those you may not necessarily know. Do not give in to their negative and manipulating ways. Continue to see your relevance (no matter how tough things may be), and focus on the strength the Lord has given you and leave your weaknesses to Him. You may be going through the trial of your life right now, but be assured that you will overcome. It is a fact that an ordinary tree in the forest goes through trials, but eventually it will flourish. You are much more valuable than a tree; you are God’s valuable treasure.
According to Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, in his Open Heaven book 2011, he stated that “Failing God makes others take advantage of you”. He went on, “however, it is possible not to fail God. Cry to God for grace never to fail Him, in times of trial and tribulations”.
After I began attending church I decided to work in the community using my life experiences to reach others. I used those same football skills as a vehicle to link up with others who like me, love playing football in their leisure time. The Church backed me spiritually and financially to do this, and there are now people who have given their life to Christ through this scheme. There are some, who have yet to, but they have made certain changes to their lives, and I know that the seed already sown will eventually germinate.
In 2001 I was on my way to work when I heard God speak to me to set up a mentorship programme. He told me to call it Inspiration Youth Call (IYC). To this day, I still remember God’s specific instructions to me concerning this organisation. He assured me that everything would work out for good, but if I failed to follow His instructions, He would raise up someone else to carry on this work. God told me that challenges would come especially from within the organisation, but I should not fear for He is always in control. Whenever I get worried or confused about the direction to take IYC, God always reminds me of Joseph’s story, especially the role his brothers played in his life.
The Lord said I will build INSPIRATION YOUTH CALL and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I also work with families as part of a young people’s mentorship programme because I believe that a home setting is vital to young people’s lives. Even in situations where a particular young person is in care or with foster carers, Inspiration Youth Call will involve those guardians in being part of the solution.
Failure not an option
My experiences, challenges and exposure to British education have prepared me to support children, young people and families to overcome various barriers. So failure is surely not an option, especially in an enabling environment.
Sadness from one generation to the next – breaking the cycle.
I have heard many stories about parents who have hurt their children so much; planting many seeds of sadness in them. I believe that some of these parents did not mean to plant those seeds. They did not intend to make their children suffer; perhaps they received the same kind of seeds from their parents. However, there are a tiny minority who deliberately inflict suffering and pain on their children and there is a continuation in the transmission of seeds from one generation to the next. Most of us (like me) are victims of a kind of living that has not been mindful, since the practice of “mindful living” (of meditation), can stop these kinds of sufferings and end the transmission of such sorrow to future generations. We can break the cycle by not allowing these kinds of seeds of suffering to be transmitted to our children, friends, or anyone else.
I would implore any parent who has experienced this sort of relationship with their child to set it right while they can. If you claim to have seen the light and you are a parent, admit your wrong doings or failings to your offspring and seek to build a new relationship. You must also be aware that the process of rebuilding a broken relationship could be long and painful at times. Do not expect a full and complete relationship; take one step at a time. For some the healing process may be spontaneous and quick, while for others it could be prolonged and painstaking. Try giving each other the space, and ask questions for clarification where and when necessary. It is very important for a proper healing and a genuine reconciliation to take place, and that all parties are able to express the hurts they feel, the pains they bear and the disappointments they faced, no matter how long ago. As long as the main aim is to reach a peaceful end, things will work out a lot better no matter how difficult the process.
Perhaps you are that parent, child or friend. God wants to free you from the pains you have shouldered over the years. Act now and you will have done what is required of you. The first step is obviously to pray and place everything before the Lord like Nehemiah did. Through Nehemiah’s positive steps, hope was restored to the Hebrews and the city of Jerusalem.
I consider it a crime not to give back to society some of what I have received over the last 15 years. A solid foundation is the bedrock of most successful children and young people in our society. I want to ensure that children and young people enjoy their lives and grow into active citizens. Their physical or social environments should not make them failures. Instead, we should provide them with relevant support and positive role models. ‘It is worth considering that for every child that fails to make the grade: Families, communities and schools should also ask themselves: Where have we failed?’
I will always be grateful to the British educational system and the care accorded me at the time of my desperate need. I am partly what I am today due to this nation. I consider myself privileged to be born in this part of the world. Only God knows what would have become of someone like me if I had not been born in the UK. The United Kingdom remains a land where people are given an opportunity, and with determination they can flourish.
This is part of my story! I hope that we can work together to continue reaching out to children, young people and their families. Thank you for taking the time to read a part of my journey, which has taken me from the wilderness into the Promise Land. God bless you, amen.
It is worth you considering the following, as it will help to shape you, and help you to achieve something worthy in line with your calling.
- Try not to live your life for the approval of others:
- Unfortunately too many people tend to get their worth and value out of what other people think about them.
- You must know that there is real freedom:
- When you realise you don’t need other people’s approval because you already have almighty God’s approval. Please do not spend your life trying to keep everyone around you happy; the fact is some people do not want to be happy. You have to be secure enough to let them know that you love them, but you are not going to let them control you.
- Some family members, friends, or work colleagues may not give you their blessings:
- That’s OK. You already have God’s blessings on your life. You may worry that if you take such stands people around you may not be happy, maybe it is time for them not to be happy instead of you not being happy.
- You have to take full control of your own destiny:
- If you allow people to manipulate and pressure you into something you are really not, the consequence will be crucial for you. You cannot put the blame on anyone’s doorstep; it is your own fault.
- You should be nice and respectful to people:
- However, your niceness should not give room for people to manipulate you. You must learn to put your foot down and stop allowing people to make you feel guilty because you do not meet all their demands.
- Look to God for direction, and where necessary he will bring the right people your way:
- You have to be aware that in some cases the people you rely on may be a stumbling block in your life; be encouraged when this is happening because there is a bigger harvest on the way.
- You will be strengthened through adversity:
- Your eyes must be kept on the ultimate prize that will demonstrate your true calling.
- You have to sometimes run the risk of falling out of the good grace of some people:
- Follow your heart wherever that may take you. It is better to have God’s approval than to have human approval.
- When you are honest:
- When you share what’s in your heart, you will receive some opposition, especially in situations where they feel they are better than you.
- You have to be mature in your walk with God because you will from time to time have to deal with people who will use you or turn people against you:
- These kinds of people will not do this directly. You have to be strong and determined not to go with the wind. Ensure that your integrity stands the test of time, especially during the stormy times. After the stormy period is over, you will definitely be one of the last ones standing. Do not settle for short-term gains because the same people that may have gotten you in the mess in the first place will definitely not be around to rescue you.
- Keep trying your very best and your time of victory will come:
- Unfortunately some of those who are stumbling blocks may call themselves Christians; take courage since the word of God for your life is true and will be fulfilled to the last letter.
- Start spending your time and energy on your God given talent:
- Do not keep on trying to win the approval of others. Be secure in who God has created you to be. God will always give you a direction for your life more than anyone else.
- The Holy Spirit lives inside of you, He leads you, He guides you, and He is your comforter:
- Yes, it is good to be open. Listen to your parents, mentors, work colleagues, friends, and your spiritual head, but do not forget that the Holy Spirit who is inside you is the voice of God.
To find out more about the work of Inspiration Youth Call and how we can work together to improve the life & education of your young people, please contact me on: t: 01375 240950, m: 07968 890634, e: firstname.lastname@example.org, w: www.inspirationyouthcall.co.uk, Alternatively, write to Inspiration Youth Call, C/O St. Clere’s School, Butts Lane, Stanford-le-Hope, Thurrock, SS17 0NW