By Julie Lyons
Dr. Manita Fadele loved medicine and she loved children. But God had another call on her life: pastor’s wife.
It was here that Manita, a soft-spoken woman who prized solitude, began her education as a “first lady.” It wasn’t an easy path. As the church grew, Manita discovered that people had all kinds of expectations, as if there were a sacred code for first ladies. People took issue with the way she dressed, what she did and didn’t do in church, and even that she wasn’t a singer. Manita stayed close to God and her husband and found a way through.
Manita’s unusual upbringing—her mother is African-American, her father Nigerian, both academics and devout believers—had brought her to different locales in the United States and Africa to live. Her experiences with many groups of people and far-flung churches helped her to navigate the challenges of being a pastor’s wife in a mostly African denomination. She stepped into a new challenge when her husband was appointed chairman of the Board of Coordinators of the Redeemed Christian Church of God North America (RCCGNA). In 2006, Manita gave up her pediatric practice, and the Fadeles—now a family of five, with three daughters–moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which the RCCG had chosen for its North American headquarters. Redeemed now counts more than 600 congregations in the United States.
Manita has taken the lessons she learned and launched a Pastors’ Wives Forum, hoping to connect with women who’ve experienced similar struggles in ministry alongside their husbands. MannaEXPRESS sat down to talk with Pastor Manita Fadele a few days before her first-ever conference for pastors’ wives. She spoke about her “awesome” marriage and offered wisdom for first ladies everywhere.
Why do you have a burden for pastors’ wives?
The burden came out of my experience starting a church with my husband and not having any kind of mentors or role models to show me how to perform in that role. There were a lot of challenges along the way. And not really having any other person to go to when you are lonely—there’s my husband, but there’s really no one else out there who I can really talk to, hold hands with, share with and pray with.
You grew up in the United States, Zambia, Nigeria…tell us about your upbringing.
I would just say I am very grateful, because I had a lot of exposure to different people and cultures. We always knew that people were important. The world is about people other than ourselves, and about encouraging and loving other people for who they are.
How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband in college—at WesternMichiganUniversity in Kalamazoo. A friend of my dad’s had come to the house and brought James with him. And then my dad—just trying to be nice—said my daughter might need help with math, and James was a math major. “Do you think you can help her?” my dad asked.
And did you avail yourself of his tutoring?
I sure did. [Laughs.] Being pre-med, you have to take all these pre-calculus classes and physics, and as an engineering student, he had all the experience you could ever want. [Laughs.] He helped me quite a bit, and I did quite well in my courses. But then also, we were involved in church together.
Was he already moving in the direction of becoming a pastor?
No. But that’s a part of the story he hadn’t told me—when he left Nigeria, he had actually been really involved in ministry with Pastor Adeboye, who at that time was just coming up, and he [Adeboye] was rallying a lot of the youth. So it wasn’t like he had entirely left ministry behind, but he knew that God wanted him to pursue his education.
What attracted you to him?
A number of things. First of all, strong Christian—that was the key thing. My parents always raised us to let us know that whoever it is we decided to marry, they must be somebody who had a strong love for God. Number two, somebody who was driven—he knew what he wanted out of life. Almost all of his courses he aced. His professors loved him. He was focused, disciplined. He persevered. Then I guess personality was the other thing—he’s very humble. He’s not gonna sit back and not tell you how he feels, but he will tell you what he thinks in a way that is very encouraging.
How did he court you?
Actually, it wasn’t very hard. [Laughs.] Those three things really got me! But basically through phone calls, encouraging me in my schoolwork. We’d pray over the phone many times.
How did you end up in ministry?
Pastor Adeboye came to visit us after we got married. He knew there was something bigger for my husband. He asked James to think seriously about starting a church. We both prayed about that—we didn’t know where it was going. It was a step of faith, believing that was what God wanted him to do. Keep in mind that my husband was working at Ford as an engineer while we were doing the church thing. It was a process. It wasn’t like we jumped into a big church. God made it happen.
Did you ever envision being a pastor’s wife?
All my years growing up, I didn’t really think of the pastor’s wife. I knew she was there, but I didn’t know there was any particular function. I didn’t know there were things she was coping with, challenges she had…
Did you have a rude awakening?
I think the rude awakening came when we had the church building—then it really hit me. And then the General Overseer [Adeboye] was promoting him—it kind of hit me at that point. I had no idea I have to do this, I have to do that…
How did you mark out a role for yourself?
The first thing I had to understand was that, by virtue of being married to my husband, I have a call on my life. Once I could identify with that, it was actually a little easier for me to say, OK, Lord, I’m in this position, I’m called with my husband, what is it that you want me to do? God was revealing to me what areas in the church I needed to focus my attention on: children, hospitality. I wasn’t gung-ho on women at that time. [Laughs.] I’m very in tune with children and the needs of children. It’s easy for me to relate to them. They’ve very accepting, they’re very willing to hear what you have to say, they’re not as complicated. As a pediatrician, it was an easy flow for me. Women was not an easy flow…It was just a little bit more of a challenge.
How did you cope with all the expectations of a pastor’s wife?
It didn’t happen overnight. The thing that really helped me tremendously was knowing that as a woman and as a wife, my priority, and what God expected me to do, was to take care of my family, my husband, and my children. Once I was able to handle that, then all of the other things came.
What were some of the tough things you faced?
Isolation. Who can you confide in? Remember, it was the very first Redeemed church in North America, and I felt like I was there by myself. Another thing was not really knowing what I was supposed to do in church. People would make comments–“Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s doing.” “Was she supposed to say that?” “Look at what she’s wearing.” “Shouldn’t she be doing this?” “She should be able to pray better than that.” [Laughs.] “Oh, you don’t sing?” That was hard.
How did your husband handle that?
Of course you go to God in prayer. But what really helped is my husband being who he is. He would correct things as they happened. When people made snide comments, he would actually get in the pulpit and say, “My wife is part of me. Whatever you say to her, you say to me.” That would stop it right there.
As you reach out to pastors’ wives, what do you find are the biggest burdens on their hearts?
The greatest burden is people understanding that they are people too, that they need to be heard, and they need to feel like they are loved. They’re people who have passions, people who have things they want to share and talk about.
It sounds like you have a great marriage.
It’s an awesome marriage, and I would say it’s evolved with time. We don’t hold grudges. We talk about everything—communication is key. And anything we can’t resolve, we take it to God. Pray about it; if we have to fast about it, we will.
What are five things you have to say to pastors’ wives?
1. Your marriage to your husband is not a mistake. Trust God for your life—He will take care of you.
2. Be yourself—please. The fact that you’re in ministry together says there’s something about you that God likes that He wants you to be able to impart to other women. And you can’t do that if you’re being somebody else.
3. Take care of yourself. Body, mind, and spirit. Exercise. If it’s a question of pampering yourself, do that. If it’s eating well, do that. These are key things that help you to function in your role as the pastor’s wife.
4. Be sure you maintain a quiet time with God every day, especially if you have young children. You can’t hear the voice of God even for that day—even if it’s just for your children—if you neglect that. It’s happened to me!
5. Love and respect your husband. Spend time with him. Communicate. Do things together—things that you love.
Julie Lyons is a journalist, author, and editor. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son.