City Lives – Denise McNamara meets Pastor Larry Ovie of the Faith Christian Fellowship Ministry
Pastor Larry Ovie has been at the forefront of a number of tragedies in the African community in recent years, visibly leading his flock in grief.
However locating the leader of the Faith Christian Fellowship Ministry proved quite an onerous task on a rainy, dark Wednesday evening.
Hidden among car dealerships, garages, window suppliers and fitters, lies the first African Pentecostal church to be set up in Galway.
The church is on the first floor of a warehouse in the Oldenway Business Park in Ballybrit, which also boasts an office, a community crèche and a studio where Pastor Larry videos his motivational messages.
In a modest room with around 40 chairs is the chapel and heartbeat of the church where the faithful gather for services every Sunday.
Just how Pastor Larry ended up leading a church born in the early days of the Eglinton Hotel in Salthill, and home to a generation of asylum seekers is a story as colourful as the metaphors he adopts in his four books.
Born into a family of 11, his father was in charge of road construction in the Delta State province of Nigeria. Following the Biafran War which saw one millions Nigerians die from famine and fighting, his father left the job and became a farmer.
At school Pastor Larry harboured ambitions of becoming a doctor but because he was the eldest son, he was under pressure to help provide for the family. He started a furniture manufacturing business and, later, a security company.
Pastor Larry and his wife Lizzie enjoyed the high life after both businesses took off. However she struggled to have children and suffered five miscarriages. Their first child, Ella, was born prematurely after his wife was confined to hospital for four months.
The couple were advised to go abroad for better medical treatment if they wanted to have a second child.
“We came to Ireland in 2001 when she was three months pregnant. We were originally in Tipperary and the doctors had to suture the womb. We were told to stay close to hospital so we moved to Galway. My son was born in Galway at six months, he was just 700g,” he recalls.
“Just imagine a man who prayed, ‘take away my money and give me my child’. That’s what happened. It’s the miracle story of Larry Junior. He was the size of a watch. He was in hospital for two years.
“Dr Michael wrote a sign over his bed: ‘I am Larry and I am here to stay.’ That sign went everywhere with him, when he had to have a bypass operation in Crumlin because of breathing difficulties.”
The family spent a year in the Eglinton Hotel, awaiting their Irish residency permit. Because Larry Junior was born in Ireland they were automatically granted visas – a situation which was subsequently changed when the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004 was passed.
“I started a prayer group. Pregnant women in the Eglinton Hotel had nobody to assist them, there were not many African men in Galway. They needed a man to bring them to appointments. I was hoping on the discharge of Larry Junior to go back to Nigeria. But he still had trouble breathing.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.