Grace Adeoye: Dialogue with a university lecturer and researcher from Nigeria

A devoted mother. A committed evangelist. A college lecturer in tropical diseases. That’s just an introduction to the life and ministry of Grace Adeoye, a Seventh-day Adventist in Nigeria.

Brought up in an Adventist home, Grace knew the frontiers of law and the embrace of grace, and saw no dichotomy between the two. As a child, she saw in her mother the strict discipline of Adventism. But along with discipline, she also experienced the love and tenderness of a mother whose life was to influence her own career as a mother, a church member, and a professional.

While a teenager, attending secondary school, Grace had a dream of Jesus asking her to go and tell the world that He was coming soon. A woman becoming a preacher? In Africa? That was unthinkable, and so the dream was dismissed as unrealistic. But its urgency never left Grace. And then in 1986, married and already a professional, Grace conducted her first evangelistic campaign—the first time an Adventist woman had done so in Nigeria. And the crusade was a success. “Glory and thanks to God,” says Grace, and she kept doing this ever since.

Grace Adeoye has a Ph.D. in parasitology from the University of London and teaches zoology in the department of biological sciences at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. She is married and has five children, ages 12 to 20. She serves on the Adventist Church’s World Commission on Human Sexuality. She came to the church’s world headquarters in 1997 to attend the first meeting of the commission, at which time she spoke about her life and faith.

How were you named to the Commission on Human Sexuality?

Perhaps the Nigerian Union had something to do with it. They were familiar with my activities, both in the church and in the community. I have been involved with women’s ministry in my local congregation for many years. Several years ago, with the help of some church members, we started a church-based exercise program for women. The idea spread to other churches in Lagos. Today the program is carried out in many churches.

I was also involved on my own in an AIDS control program in Nigeria. Soon I was serving as a coordinator of the government committee for the control of AIDS and HIV. We sponsored some workshops at the state level. We introduced the program to the Adventist Church. As an Adventist, my goal was to reach every church in Nigeria with education on human sexuality. We had to do this to battle the HIV plague that was spreading throughout the country.

When the Africa-Indian Ocean Division nominated me to serve on this commission, I considered it a great honor.

Does your work for the church conflict with your profession?

No. On the contrary, they complement each other. As a Christian committed to my faith, I am able to bring to my profession all the values and the responsibilities my faith demands of me.

Would you say something about your profession?

I am a lecturer in the zoology unit of the department of biological sciences at the University of Lagos. I teach courses such as parasitology and protozoology on the undergraduate and graduate level. I also supervise seminars and projects on various parasitic-related topics. I have students who are involved in projects for their master’s and doctoral degrees. In addition, I am involved in my own research, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, the university, and various government organizations.

How did you become interested in parasitology?

My first degree was in education and zoology. While I was working on my master’s degree, I became interested in things that affect human beings. Parasitic diseases affecting people are rather common, and I wanted to study the life cycles of certain parasites. I thought there must be a way to break these cycles so people can be free of these diseases. So I got involved in this study and research both at master’s and Ph.D. level.

Being a family person, was it difficult to pursue your education?

Fortunately, I have an understanding husband and wonderful children. In fact four of my children were part of my study program, in that they were born while I was in school. My first child arrived two days after I had a major exam. While I was doing national youth service corps work, my second son came along. My two daughters were born while I was doing my master’s degree. I was already employed as a teacher then, and so I had to care of four children while working full-time. It took me four years to complete the master’s program instead of the normal two.

When my fifth child was one year old, I left him and the other children with my husband and went to England to begin my Ph.D. program.

Wasn’t that a bit too rushed?

I suppose it was, but I really had no alternative in view of the circumstances. Of the 2000 or so applicants from Nigeria for the commonwealth scholarship for graduate studies in England, I was one of 29 who were selected. I had to make a difficult decision, To proceed with graduate studies or to stay with family? I prayed a lot. I knew God would show the way. Even before I could make a decision, my husband encouraged me to go ahead. I might never get such an opportunity again. So I went to London and was separated from my family for about three years.

What was your specialty in doctoral studies?

I wanted to choose an area that would be of practical value to my people in Nigeria. The country is affected by two major health problems: malaria and schistosomiasis. I chose the second, which is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through snails or their larva in water. When people go to wash or to fetch water, the larva penetrate their skin and travel to the spleen and liver. The disease causes blood in the urine and the feces, and often is fatal. So I chose the study of this parasite, and I think I have been able to help the community.

As a young person, who influenced you the most?

Without hesitation, my mother. She was a godly person, very much committed to Adventist faith and life. She was always involved in church work, and got us involved, too, as soon as we were old enough. She wanted me to be a witness to my faith. Next to my mother, my brother influenced me the most. He was a role model, both in education and in church work. He holds a doctoral degree, but what I admire him the most for is his commitment to witnessing to his faith. He is a lay pastor.

Is that how you got involved in evangelism?

In a way, yes. But that dream I had as a teenager never really left me. God helped me with the courage that was needed to hold a series of evangelistic meetings. Remember that was in the ’80s. No woman had ever held a public meeting in Nigeria. But the Dorcas Society provided a good front for me to open my first series of meetings. The women came to my help. Although the local church felt we should work within the church and not go preaching outside it, we felt called to do so. The first series in 1986 was quite successful and we were able to reach many people. On the opening night, when my translator and I finished the sermon, it started quite an excitement. The women didn’t let us get off the platform: they literally carried us out. Later, the church elders saw what could be accomplished through women.

How is the situation now?

Opinions have changed, both within the church and in the community. It is not uncommon for women to preach in the church and also hold evangelistic meetings.

Do you have opportunities to share your Christian experience among your colleagues?

Christianity is something I share every day. If they are having some kind of difficulty, a family problem perhaps, they know I am open to listen to them. I have also conducted Revelation Seminars with some of them. Some have joined me for worship in our church. All of my university colleagues know about my faith and my Sabbath observance, and they respect my convictions. This is also true with my students.

How do you nurture your spiritual life?

I pray and meditate a lot. I read the Bible and as I do so, I let God speak to me. I also love to read other books on different aspects of spiritual life. I do a lot of public speaking, and as I prepare my talks, I grow along with my hearers.

What would you like to say to Adventist students and young professionals?

Always put God first; He enables and empowers. Second, don’t let anyone or anything take away your faith. Third, wherever you are, share your faith.

Interview by Mark Driskill. Mark Driskill is director of development for Adventist World Radio. He can be reached at <mdris@compuserve.com> Dr. Adeoye’s address: Zoology Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria. E-mail: <matdeplg@infoweb.abs.net>