Emmanuel, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Emmanuel Oganla. I graduated last summer from The University of Manchester and oversee a campus fellowship called Abide. I’m a Spoken Word artist, and now also an author, by the grace of God.
What did you study at uni and what it was like?
I studied Management, Leadership and Leisure, which was really good because it was broad so I was able to pick up different transferable skills. Uni itself was an interesting experience for me because I came into my first year without knowing who God was and, consequently, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know my identity in God and so I tried to fit in. I tried to be accepted. Going to the clubs, smoking weed, getting drunk and all of that stuff – those were the things that were popular amongst my peers. I did all of that stuff, but I think it stemmed from not knowing who I actually was.
Uni itself was an interesting experience for me because I came into my first year without knowing who God was and, consequently, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know my identity in God and so I tried to fit in.
Not long into my first year, I came to a revelation of who God was. He saved me. He transformed my life. Then, by the grace of God, I came to understand who I was and those old habits just started to break off.
Tell us a bit more about the Emmanuel who started uni. What kind of person were you?
I was someone who always wanted to be liked. I always wanted to be accepted. I always wanted to be loved, and that’s natural, but, at the same time, that reveals an insecurity because you want to find your worth from other people. So I was not very confident in who I was as a person, I was just trying to belong, really. But I was a nice guy, you would have got on with me! I’m a pastor’s son as well, and if you were to tell my parents the things I was getting up to, they would have been so shocked. Other than that, I was also so unsure in terms of purpose. I didn’t understand why I was here and so had a lack of vision and direction.
I came into a relationship with God! I met a guy at a social event. He invited me to his church, and then we got to talking and I started to see Christianity and faith in God in a whole different light. We’d go to his house, cook some food and just read the Bible and talk. Growing up, I’d understood things in a legalistic way, where I had to try my hardest to obey God in order to please him. But through those conversations, my perspective on God began to change and my heart began to open up to who God is. It’s amazing how discipleship really goes a long way. Naturally, the things I was getting involved in when I first got to university, I just didn’t want to do them anymore. Then the hunger and the thirst started to erupt in my heart to know who God is on a more intimate level.
It’s amazing how discipleship really goes a long way. Naturally, the things I was getting involved in when I first got to university, I just didn’t want to do them anymore.
How did your understanding of God grow?
I remember when I came to understand God as Father for the first time. Tears just dropped out of my eyes and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, God is my dad.” It just became so much more real, and during a time of prayer and fasting, every time I would go to sleep, I would get dreams of myself praying for the sick and the sick being healed. The Emmanuel who first came to university would have been scared to approach strangers with the gospel, but now that I knew my identity it all changed.
What did that look like?
I remember when I was first at uni, a girl was sitting in front of me on a train and I just felt like telling her that God loves her, but I was petrified and my heart was thumping. I shouldn’t have been that scared, but I mustered up the courage, and when it turned out she was a Christian I felt so relieved because I didn’t have to say any more! But then, fast forward to after I got the revelation of my identity, and I can tell you countless testimonies of just proclaiming the gospel in McDonald’s and people being healed, people being saved, people’s legs growing out when they had one leg shorter than the other… just so many different miracles and testimonies that I’ve experienced. And it’s all down to intimacy with God.
I love how that understanding of your identity then started flowing out onto the streets, but how did that actually start? What was the process for you in it becoming part of your normal lifestyle?
It’s different for everyone. For example, I’ve listened to someone like Todd White and felt inspired and encouraged, while I have friends who have listened to him and just felt discouraged and condemned because they’re not doing it. But there are some keys. The first thing is to know that stepping out on the streets and preaching the gospel or praying for the sick is not God’s stamp of approval over you. He’s not grading your activity, so take the pressure off. Next is to recognise that God’s power is available to everybody, not just “special Christians”. The third thing is that you need to cultivate intimacy with God. You need to cultivate a life spent alone with him. So as you go about your day, or before you go to bed, just worshipping Jesus, praying, actually asking him to give you the desire to spread the gospel… because we can only manifest what God has first given to us. Then, moving on from there, boldness 100% grows with practice. I can pray every single day for God to make me bold, but if I don’t actually take the risk out there in the open, then I will just keep praying and there will be no fruit to it.
First, God doesn’t grade our spiritual activity, next recognise that God’s power is available to everybody, not just “special Christians”, and third, cultivate intimacy with God.
So where could someone reading this start?
Anywhere! For me, as I would walk past people I would just say, “Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you.” It started there, and then it just began to grow into me actually approaching people, stopping them on the street – people with crutches and praying for them, people in wheelchairs and praying for them, and things like that. You just have to start somewhere, and when you’ve done something small and you see that, “Oh my gosh, the world didn’t come crumbling down,” then you can do it again. You can also share your testimony. Everybody has a way they came to Christ, so testimonies are powerful. Then, as you develop deeper intimacy with God, the gifts of the Spirit begin to open up as well. God will begin to give you words of knowledge and start to tell you about what’s going on in people’s lives because you’ve cultivated that time with Him. That makes it easier, because now you have a word. But even if you don’t have a word, you can always share your testimony.
Obviously identity has been at the centre of your journey, but why do you think it’s so important for students generally to get their identity from God?
It’s vital. I can speak from experience. When you first come to uni, you’re just like a newborn baby, where you’re just starting to understand the world away from the shelter (and rules) of your parents. You’re in the real world now, by yourself, and there are so many new things to try because we’re so curious as human beings. And everything is fighting to give you your sense of identity, you know? From what’s popular with peers, pop culture trends, TV, movies… everything will try to tell you, “This is who you are, and this is why you’re here.” But God is the manufacturer, and you can’t know a product better than the person who manufactured it. So we need to make sure that He is the one we listen to about who we really are.
As students, we are just getting to know the real world, and often we don’t really know what we want to do with the rest of our lives while we’re here. So it’s very important to know who God is, and to find our identity and our purpose in Him, because unless we do, we will just be lost. Rather than having self worth and self esteem, we will be insecure; rather than being affirmed by God, we’ll be looking for affirmation and continue to bend and conform in order to find it. That’s no way for anyone to live!
Last question: You’re sat down with a student and they’re just about to start university. You’ve got one minute to talk to them. What do you tell them?
Wow. I think the first thing is to be very, very, very selective of your environment. Be very, very selective of what you’re allowing around you, and where you put yourself. That could either make or break you. Then find a good church. Surround yourself with positive people, who will bring you closer to God. Develop hunger for the Word of God. Develop hunger for prayer, and spend much time alone with God. Allow Him to influence your entire life: your academic life, the things that you do in your spare time, when you’re in front of people and when you’re alone.
Amazing, thanks so much man.
It was my pleasure.
You can keep up with all of Emmanuel’s adventures on Instagram @manny_sog