By Sam Eyoboka and Olayinka Latona
THIS is the concluding part of the interview with Dr. Tai Ikomi who lost her husband and her only three children to a drunk driver 24 years ago in the US. The first part was published in Saturday Vanguard of October 16.
Her intriguing story continues: “…Is this the end? Are you really there? Are we never again to be together on this earth? I went to my feet and we started singing our favourite family song Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; Redeemed through His infinite mercy, His child and forever I am.
And as we were singing, I suddenly found myself in another realm. It was as if all creation were praising God, including all inanimate objects in a loud voice and as we continue praising God, the atmosphere was getting brighter and brighter and suddenly it was as if someone close to me—I don’t know whether it was the Lord or an angel—dropped something that I can call a live coal fire in my heart. My heart began to burn, praising God and my hands lifted up. People around me were wondering they were expecting me to be melancholic, morose or crying; but the Lord was doing a good work in me. Instead of a sad day it became a victorious day.
And was the young man who caused the accident sentenced?
Yes he was! At first, I told the judge to be lenient with him although he was found guilty of involun-tary manslaughter and he was given four years sentence but eventually he only served three or four months. The journ-alist in that area was very angry with that, telling me that an outsider killed a resident woman while he was drunk and driv-ing.
Her family wanted the law to be tough on him and he received a lengthy sentence. But in my own case, he killed four people and he served only four months. Eight months later, this same guy got drunk again and I told my lawyer that the law should be tough on him now, because he was now a hazard to the society because a drunken man is as good as an insane man.
Did you in any way sense any form of racial prejudice?
I will say yes! Because the sentence was supposed to be more than four years which was a bit too light and on top of all, he did not complete his sentence. Also, his father who was a minister did not even bother calling me. Maybe, they were afraid; they didn’t want me to know them, but you know in US you cannot hide. I know their number and where they live; but I don’t want to contact them since they didn’t deem it fit to call me. I allowed sleeping dog to lie.
I read how you battled with the issue of forgiveness for the young man. Did you eventually forgive him?
Yes I did. I eventually forgave him. When I was in Oral Roberts Univer-sity, I was discussing with a friend, Beverly Jones, that I wanted to go back to my country, Nigeria after my studies and she said; ‘Tai, you are not going back. You need to take unforgiveness out of your system.’ She counseled me for free in her apartment because counseling in America could be $150 per hour. And one of the first questions she asked me was if I had forgiven this young man and I replied ‘Beverly, I don’t want to talk about it, he had done the havoc, I have for-given him and please I don’t want to talk about it. Just face him out of this equation.’
Immediately, she knew that is the sign of unforgiveness and she eventually convinced me that I have not forgiven the young man. I then asked her what to do and she asked me to go up and down and begin to confess aloud and say ‘James, I forgive you. I forgive you for killing my husband! I forgive you, I release you and let you go.’ She also wanted me to repeat the same thing for my children. At the beginning, I was angry with him and I didn’t mean it but later I was listening and obeying her instructions and after a while I sensed freedom, I knew I have forgiven him. As a matter of fact, it was as if someone has removed a brick off my shoulder and I felt free like a bird and I wanted to hug James.
It was as if he should be around, hug and asked him how I could help him. And that is forgiveness; one of the definitions of forgiveness is restitution when you justify some-one, not their actions but their persons and that is what happened to us as Christians when we are justified through the blood of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness from God means God taking our sins away and we are made righteous or just before God and that is where the word justifica-tion came from. The word righteous and justifica-tion came from the same Greek word.
The same thing is applied to the ideal of forgiveness with your fellow man. When you forgive someone you have made that person righteous before you, because you have taken away their sins from them and you have forgiven them. And that is what happened between me and James that day. He became a righteous person to me; someone I am willing to help.
Eight months earlier, I have forgiven him but when I read in a daily newspaper that the young man’s blood alcohol level has exceeded the legal limit, I was enraged and furious; that how could a man with drinking problem kill my family. And there I said; no I won’t forgive him any longer because that was not an accident, but murder. I say murder and that is unforgiveness and unforgiveness exagge-rates what happened. What happened is not murder, but because I was fuming with rage and anger, I called it murder.
But immediately I felt the presence of God in my heart and the exact word to me was you must forgive; it was like God telling me to swallow a house because the pain was so much: four people in one single day. What made me to forgive was because I had had series of encounters with God and I thought that if I didn’t forgive this young man, who would touch my heart like God, reach my heart and remove the pain? I knew I couldn’t play with God’s presence in my heart and I said Lord, I forgive and I thought I forgave but actually I did not.
What role did forgive-ness play in your healing process?
Forgiveness is paramount not just walking with God on earth, but it can alter one’s heaven. It is only forgiven sinners that would enter heaven. It is not when we die that we talk of forgiveness; after death is judgment. People usually say ‘I will not forgive this person till we meet in other side’… my mission right now in Nigeria, is to go to as many churches as possible to speak on forgiveness and God has given me an insight. I have been preaching on forgiveness for the past 20 years. But for the last two years, God gave me an unusual insight about forgiveness that I should go to His people and speak on forgiveness. I felt that before I could establish this particular ministry in the US I must come to Nigeria first and establish it while work is going on in the US.
Forgiveness will change one’s life when we learn to forgive one another. Many people are in hell now because they refused to forgive. Jesus Christ said; forgive those who hurt you then your father who is in heaven will forgive you your trespasses and He goes further that if you don’t forgive, then the conse-quence is that your father in heaven will not forgive you. That you forgive does not mean that heaven has forgiven the person. One of the reasons people are unwilling to forgive, is because they think when they forgive, then the person will get away with the crime. That is not true. The Bible says when your enemy is hungry, feed him when naked, clothe him. By doing this you are heaping coal of fire on them. God will take care and deal with them, but you just do what is right. If anybody hurt someone else such person is answerable to his maker.
God turned my story around. I wrote a book, His Beauty for My Ashes and it has not just become a bestseller, but a book that those who have lost their loved ones read and they are healed. Some-times when I get testi-monies about this book I shed tears of joy because my story has lots of positive impact on people. If I have the opportunity of coming back to this world, I will still continue on this ministry of forgive-ness and somehow help people from going to hell. God has helped me, I am a fulfilled person, joyful.
If on the day of accident, you were conscious enough, would you have shot James for killing your entire family?
No! I will never do that. It is not in my temper-ament. Even when I was angry with him, I didn’t want the law to be too harsh on him. Maybe because it is the tempera-ment issue or because I gave my life to Christ in my teenage years. People always asked me if I was angry with God? There was a particular man of God that also asked me this same question; but I wasn’t angry with Him and the reason was I have known God to be good.
All I needed from God was an explanation. On my way from the hospital after the accident, I looked around and asked; ‘we were five that embarked on the journey and I was the only one returning; why Lord why?’ But on the other hand, was this horror of losing a husband and three children. I knew that nobody can give me a sufficient answer, because they have not lived, nor gone through it. I knew it is only God that could speak to me.
Do you feel a void in your heart?
I am so busy with the things of God. Yet I would consider that when it comes to children I don’t desire children.
Do you have any now?
No! I don’t have any, but I thank God that I don’t desire them because if I do, it will be a problem. Although people say I am going to need them in my old age, for them to be around me but I am not there yet. When I get there, there are some children that I have raised in a way and if not, God will bring my own children that I will need at that time.
What was the reaction of your in-laws to the news of the tragic incidence?
They were touched that their brother died over there in the US and he had been away for some-times only for them to hear of his death and that of his children. It was very painful for them.
I could not ask for better in-laws. They are very supportive, kind and good. I am still in contact with them. No pointing of accusing fingers.