In your journey to self-discovery: be sure purpose (not possessions) is what drives your life choices.
Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner interviews the multi-faceted, multi-talented Olufunmilola Ronke A. Babalola — a “synergist, a wife, a mother, a businesswoman, a Princess of God and man, a watchman, and an intercessor.” www.Nreport.tv
Sarah: Welcome to our session together, Ronke. By the way, are you known as Ronke primarily or as Funmilola?
Ronke: Most people who know me from my childhood call me Ronke Oshin. The full version of my first name, as given to me by my dad, is Ibironke, which I prefer because I was told my dad arrived at it after much deliberation. He wanted my name to reflect how precious I was to him as his first daughter.
Sarah: Ah, fathers, they really can be special, can’t they? When they are fathers in the complete sense of the word, of course.
Ronke: Yes, they can, Sarah; mine certainly was.
Back to the clarification concerning my name, when I went to work with my husband about 14 years ago, I combined two of my middle names: Funmilola and Ayodele and became known as Funmilola Ayodele. I did that because I did not want my business identity to be subsumed by my married name, as it is easy to be dismissed as the wife of Mr Babalola while working with him in his company, Creative Workforce Group. As Director of External Relations and later COO (Chief Operating Officer) of one of the companies (Door to Door Ltd), and more recently as VP, Acquisitions and Co-Productions at Blackhouse Animation Studios, I wanted to be seen as a professional who adds value, rather than just as Oga’s Wife. So most people in my community of influence and business today call me Lola or Funmilola. If my answer comes across as being a bit long-winded, Sarah, I apologise.
Sarah: Not at all, Ronke. As I always say, everyone should be known as who they really are, not who we presumed them to be. Anyway, so Ibironke, we shall refer to you henceforth as a special tribute to your dad. I am assuming he is late from the way you speak of him?
Ibironke: Thank you, Sarah, I appreciate that. I love being called Ibironke. Yes, he is. My late father, Alaiyeluwa Oba A. B. Oshin — Omiyomade 1, the Elemure of Emure Ekiti, went to be with the Lord on 27 December 2006. I was 39.
Sarah: My deepest condolences, Ibironke; I know he’s been gone a long time, but we can never truly get used to losing someone we love. Okay, so now that we have clarity re: your name, let’s get into the real heart of why we are here. As you know, my interviews are about my guests’ life journey, the lessons they’ve learnt and how they used those lessons to become the best version of themselves, firstly; and secondly, to make the world around them a better place — especially for those still struggling to find their footings in the journey to self-discovery. With that said, tell us, please — who is Ibironke?
Ibironke: I am a repairer of the breach and a restorer of paths to dwell in, Princess of God and man, a helpmeet and mother, daughter, sister and fiercely loyal friend.
Sarah: Okay, hold there a minute, please. “Princess of God” I can understand, “Princess of man”? Kindly explain that one to my readers and me.
Ibironke: I am a child of the King of Kings, so I am a Princess of God. My earthly father was a monarch, so I am also an earthly princess. Therefore a Princess of man (smile).
Sarah: What experiences shaped you growing up?
Ibironke: As a child, I had a superlatively curious mind. My older brother used to call me “Why Dad, Why” after a cartoon character of a child who drove his parents mad with his curiosity. I loved asking questions and would ask my parents questions. Their answers would elicit more questions. I had so many questions, but the ones that preoccupied my mind the most by the time I hit puberty were not questions that my parents could answer. By age thirteen, I was spending hours thinking about questions such as “Who/What is God? Where does God come from, or how did He come to be? Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my reason for being? Not many children of that age were asking those kinds of questions, and, indeed, not many were preoccupied with the same kind of thoughts. I realised I was different but didn’t know why.
One day, preoccupied with the usual questions about the meaning of life, I started to daydream about reuniting with my long lost twin, someone who knew me instinctively and completely. While I was thinking this, a voice inside me interrupted and said, You know you don’t have a twin, but I will show you a more excellent way. Really? I also responded inwardly, something better than having a twin…what could that be? Marriage, the voice responded. And I came back with, How would I know who to marry? The answer was swift. Look out for a man like Boaz. I had no idea who Boaz was, but I knew he was a character in the Bible, so I went to do my research.
Ibironke: Right? Another experience happened that same year. While daydreaming, I started meditating on Nigeria one day and started to cry. Try as I could, I was unable to stop. I had no idea what exactly was making me cry. This was in 1980.
Sarah: Wait a minute! You were meditating upon and crying about Nigeria in 1980?
Ibironke: I told you I was an unusual child, remember? Nigeria actually had issues even back then, but nothing like we have today, so I am not sure what there was to cry about. Many years later, I would understand what that was about, as it marked the moment that I started my ministry as an intercessor and a Watchman.
Sarah: Intercessor, Watchman? Please explain.
Ibironke: A Watchman is an intercessor who has an assignment to pray and keep watch over specific things until God’s will comes to pass.
Sarah: Right. You said it would be many years before you understood why you were crying over Nigeria. Explain the understanding you arrived at, please.
Ibironke: That moment at the age of 13 was the first of many times that I have wept over Nigeria in prayer, but I did not understand why until seven years later. When I turned 20 years old, the burden to pray and the call to intercession became marked by a specific wake up call every night at the same time for the next 25 years. As I obeyed and grew in that calling, I started to understand what I had experienced that first day when I cried.
Sarah: So, if I understand correctly, you are saying your cry was God’s way of making you feel empathy for others so you could intercede for them?
IIbironke: That’s right. The third moment fed into the first. While travelling with my Father one day, I asked him about a friend of his, and he told me about his friend’s distress over his daughter’s choice of a spouse. He then turned to look at me and said: “When the time comes, I expect you to marry a man who is, at the very least, your intellectual equal.”
Sarah: Tell us a bit about your father here. I come from Nigeria too, so I know it’s unusual for fathers to have heart-to-heart with their daughters concerning their future potential spouse — especially fathers with lots on their mind. And going by the fact that he was a monarch, your father most certainly must have had a lot on his mind.
Ibironke: My father, Alaiyeluwa Oba A. B. Oshin — Omiyomade 1, the Elemure of Emure Ekiti, was a man of purpose and destiny. He was a Chartered Accountant by training, studied and qualified in England, and then worked in a multinational for many years before becoming an Agro-entrepreneur. He was a reluctant monarch, but he was a man of destiny. Let me illustrate that with a story. One time before he became the monarch, after returning from his Town Union meeting, he told us in a very amused but slightly irritated voice that he had asked them to stop addressing him as Prince. However, when they read the minutes of the meeting where he had raised that objection, the minutes read: “And Prince Oshin requested that he should henceforth no longer be addressed as Prince”. We all had a good laugh at their incorrigibility. When he refused the invitation to become the monarch for the third time, it was revealed that there was a prophecy that said his family had sinned against God, for which reason they had been cut off from the throne of their fathers for one hundred years. It was further revealed that “for the purpose of restoring his family line to the throne was he created”, and if he would be the type of monarch God wanted, it would be another 100 years before there would be another monarch like him. When my Dad understood his purpose with the help of that prophecy and other revelations, he eventually aligned himself with God’s will for his life, thus fulfilling his destiny as a restorer of paths for his family. My Dad was a very intelligent man with a great sense of humour. He was also a very prudent man. His stern face was the facade for his generous and protective heart. He was a champion of the poor, the downtrodden, a protector of widows, orphans and strangers. It is one of the greatest blessings of my life to be his first daughter.
Sarah: I can imagine. It sounds like he was a one-of-a-kind man as well as a father.
Ibironke: That he was, Sarah. Back to the three incidents I talked about, as a result of them, I had a map for the two most important decisions I would ever make in my life: apprehending my purpose and identifying my husband. And so, to conclude the answer to your question on the Princess of Man? I would say I was marvellously helped by both my earthly and heavenly Fathers. I am God’s Princess as well as my father’s.
Sarah: It is sometimes said that the most iconic events in our life began around one pivotal moment; what would you say that moment was for you?
Ibironke: I can’t pick one pivotal moment. My journey to self-discovery has been a process. For instance, if you had asked me 20 years ago who I was, as you did a few minutes ago, the answer would have been entirely different. The truth is, there was a time when I defined myself by my paychecks, my job titles, my career track records, my physical appearance and my earthly antecedents only. But, if I were to mention specific moments that shaped the course of my life, it would have to be the three moments I just shared with you. Those moments have helped me retain my focus whenever I have reached the crossroads of life. At a point, I decided to try to fit in and be a “ normal teenager”. Uninterested in clothes (I hated wearing things that were in vogue) or boys (I had been molested by a teenage neighbour when I was about eight years old so as a teenager….
Sarah: Wait a minute! Sorry to interrupt, but I can’t let that slide by. First of all, I am sorry genuinely sorry that happened to you. Now, did you ever share the experience with anyone…did you tell anyone about what had happened to you? If yes, what was their response? And if no, why didn’t you tell anyone?
Ibironke: Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate your empathy. No, I never told a soul until I got married and shared it with my husband, who encouraged me to tell my mum. By the time I did so, my father had passed away. Interestingly enough, just a couple of weeks ago, my mother told me she could not imagine how I kept that to myself for all those years. She also said by not telling; I had unknowingly facilitated my Father’s destiny. I asked what she meant, and she said that the devil had sought to derail not just my destiny but my father’s through that incident because if my father had known, he would most probably have killed the perpetrator and gone to jail for it. I believe her.
Because of the molestation, I was wary of boys. Instead of focusing on boys, I started to absorb the patterns of other teenagers around me. I discovered ambition and started to imagine a future as an adult. By the time I graduated from Uni at the age of 20, I had my ambition well defined to excel at whatever I chose to do. I felt that school had not brought out the best in me, so I was determined to win in the real world. That ambition ruled my life for the next 20-odd years, and everything came second to that ambition.
Sarah: Including marriage?
Ibironke: Oh, I got married at the age of 31, but my career still came first for a long time until God started to show me the imbalance in my priorities. Then in 2005, I made the decision to live for something other than myself and what I thought were my priorities; with that decision, I had an identity crisis.
Sarah: Obviously! When one focuses on one thing most of their life and suddenly find themselves letting go of that thing, there’s bound to be some identity crisis.
Ibironke: And so it was with me. Suddenly, I could no longer define myself by those external qualities by which I had formerly entirely framed my existence. In fact, it was more than an identity crisis. It was an existential crisis. I was no longer sure that I had value because those things that had been the most valuable aspects of my life had been stripped away, and not by force. I had made this decision myself to lay them down. So I could not understand why it felt out of my hands, nor why I was struggling to find myself. The realisation slowly came through many torturous months and years of prayer and introspection that the things on the outside were not who I really was. As great as my family antecedent was, it was hardly all that mattered; neither did it account for the thought patterns that I had, the privileges, the opportunities, or the struggles I had.
Sarah: A truly existential crisis, indeed!
Ibironke: Indeed it was. It dawned on me then that there was a person underneath all those layers of self-styled titles that were shaping my choices, my tendencies and my personality. Although that person was not entirely untouched by the successes and challenges I had been through in life, it became clear that there was a core part of me. Although hidden, that part was still pulsating through and influencing the rest of me. That person was the real me, and the only one who knew that person was God. So I needed Him to reveal that person to me.
Sarah: God. He sometimes has a way of waiting patiently on the sideline until we figure out what truly matters, doesn’t He?
Ibironke: Oh, yes! Two books helped me in that self-discovery journey: “The Purpose Driven Life” — by Rick Warren and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
Sarah: Yes, I have read them. Excellent, life-changing books; they are true.
Ibironke: I believe God put those two books in my path to help me find the snippets of knowledge that had been given to me along the way and helped me put the pieces together to discover my identity and purpose.
Sarah: I know we have played around with those in your previous answer, but could you give us what that identity and purpose are in one unambiguous, clear sentence?
Ibironke: To be a repairer of the breach and a restorer of paths to dwell in.
Sarah: What are the values that matter most to you?
Ibironke: Love, Integrity and Compassion.
Sarah: You said earlier that you used to be defined by your paychecks, job titles, etcetera, etcetera; what changed the trajectory of your journey? What later made all those things you mentioned become secondary?
Ibironke: Discovery of my true identity.
Sarah: Let’s digress a little — who is (or was) your role model, and why?
Ibironke: For many decades, my role model was Abraham.
Sarah: Abraham? Holy Bible Abraham? Yes, God, I will sacrifice my son Isaac at your command. That Abraham?
Sarah: Rather austere, and dare I say, out there…as in, remote. Why him?
Ibironke: Why? I admired the fact that he was totally sold out to God. He was so sold out that, as you rightly noted, he was willing to sacrifice his son of promise at a command from God. I admired the fact that there was nothing too precious for him to lay down in his pursuit of God.
Sarah: Mmmm, still.
Ibironke: Yeah, it’s hard for many people to understand, I know. But I also loved the fact that before Christ came, this man was described by God as His “friend.” To me, Abraham exemplified what I needed to be: totally, completely, all-in for God. Interestingly, a few years into this admiration party, God told me to lay my career down, that it had become an idol. I did not find it funny and started to reason with God why that was not a good idea.
Sarah: I want to laugh, Ibironke, but I know this is a serious matter; still, I can’t help giggling; please forgive me. The promises we make to God when we believe we are unshakable — poor, puny humans that we are. Please, go on.
Ibironke: I know, right? So I proceeded to attempt reasoning with God about my job. When my attempt to reason did not work, I resorted to tears. Imagine trying to blackmail God emotionally?
Sarah: I am trying to, and the mental picture I see is so funny I think I just might start giggling again.
Ibironke: Believe me, Sarah, I get it. This went on for a couple of months. Then, one day I could have sworn I heard God laughing at me, saying, “Look at the one who wants to be like Abraham”. I realised what a ludicrous picture I must have been to God, and I apologised and asked Him for the grace to obey Him. Consequently, I walked away from my career. I received the grace to offer it as the most precious possession cheerfully I had at that time (I was unmarried and had no children then) and told God it was my equivalent of Isaac on Mount Moriah, my own version of Solomon’s thousands of offerings. Instead of being in pain at the thought of the price of the offering, I told Him it was a privilege to have something to give Him — a gift that cost me all that I had.
Sarah: Wow! I still find the situation hilarious, but I am humbled to hear the sacrifice you made. But tell us, please, now that you are done with Father Abraham, who is your more down-to-earth role model?
Ibironke: These days, honestly? My role model is the version of me that is in My Father’s heart. That is who I strive to be: to discover and grow into the fullness of the stature of who God created me to be, in Christ Jesus.
Sarah: Great answer. But, in light of the “Princess of God and man” discourse earlier, which father are we talking about this time, the earthly or the heavenly?
Ibironke: My heavenly Father. Incidentally, my earthly father made no demands on me to be one thing or the other. He released me to be who my heavenly Father made me to be.
Sarah: What is your current career path? What do you do?
Ibironke: Although I started my career in strategic communications, I call myself a Synergist today.
Sarah: What does a Synergist do, and what inspired you to pick up this particular career?
Ibironke: To be more specific, I started my career in advertising, then went on to broadcasting and broadcast management, then brand management, all in the private sector, before God took me to development communications in the United Nations (after I had sown my career as I knew it up to that point). I chose Stratcomms (even though it was unknown by that term at that time) because I needed a career that fed both the creative side as well as the analytical side of me. After two and a half decades of practising Strategic communications, I began to see a pattern. I realised that the core skill, which has helped me succeed, is identifying and negotiating strategic synergies across all spheres of life, where others cannot. So that is why I call myself a synergist these days.
Sarah: If you were not in this career, what other professions would you have engaged in and why?
Ibironke: I would have probably been a researcher because it would have allowed me to follow my instincts down uncharted paths — still a combination of creativity and analysis, as you can note. That, or a Psychotherapist, because I love helping people figure out the whys of life and the patterns of human behaviour.
Sarah: Any regrets about what you do now instead of those other professions with which you started out?
Ibironke: None whatsoever. I was guided to the profession I chose, and I still use those skills today. Incidentally, I believe that I have been graced with many abilities, and my personal vow to God is to be able to present his dividends for every gift He has invested in me, no matter how small. So, I continue to strive and work on giving a good account of my gifts. Some days, the dots connect more clearly than others, but I am always aware of and intentional about the fact that purpose is what drives my choices.
Sarah: What are the things that matter deeply to you?
Ibironke: 1)The personal discovery of purpose by all. 2) Renaissance of the family as the custodian of God’s creation. 3) The emergence of a New Nigeria fashioned after the pattern of heaven (on earth as it is in heaven) and 4) The actualisation of the true divine identity of the African race.
Sarah: What is the correlation between what you do for a living and the things that matter deeply to you?
Ibironke: Everything I do in my home, career, business, and community contributes to the fulfilment of my purpose.
Sarah: If your house were burning down and you had but a few seconds to take out three things, what would those be?
Ibironke: If my house were (God forbid) burning down, I would make sure my family is safe. If I have time, I might go back for my late Grandfather’s old prayer bell, which is about a hundred years old. It is my most precious earthly possession.
Sarah: And the third?
That’s it. Nothing else.
Sarah: Ibironke, we are almost done here. Before we conclude, give us a final self-discovery or self-knowing tip, please.
Ibironke: Walk with God with an open heart and an unveiled face. In other words, be real with your Maker and open your heart to His thoughts and plans for you. We can only truly discover ourselves in and through the One who lovingly formed and fashioned us for His own purpose. That’s my humble recipe for true success in life.
Sarah: One final thing, this one is a bit tricky, Ibironke, so, please bear with me. Like I said earlier, I am a Nigerian myself, so I know how uncomfortable talking about death in any form or shape makes us but, because of all I have learned about you today, I can’t help but ask this question. When your time on earth is through, what would you like written as an epitaph on your tombstone?
Ibironke: To be entirely honest, I don’t care. My concern is what my heavenly Father says to me when I stand before Him face to face. I want to hear Him tell me, “Well done, Daughter.”
Sarah: Ibironke: It’s been a pleasure having you with me today, indeed. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your heart with my readers and me.
Ibironke: Thank you very much for the opportunity to share this part of me with you and your readers, Sarah.
For more on Ibironke Oluwafunmilola A. Babalola visit: www.Nreport.tv