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"Modest but excellent": Christian Concern co-founder Ade Omooba awarded MBE

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“Modest But Excellent” is how Pastor Ade Omooba describes what his MBE stands for. It depicts him perfectly.

The co-founder of Christian Concern has this year been included in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, being awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for voluntary service. As well as his work for Christian Concern, Ade has been involved in social action projects across the UK and Africa for over 30 years, including co-founding the Christian Victory Group – ‘I Care’ Projects, through which he has helped set up over 100 social action projects in the last 27 years.

“I strive daily in life to be a personification of ‘Modest But Excellent’ (MBE),” he says, “and that's what it means to me. The Queen honouring me with this award simply humbles me and encourages me to remain relentless in my pursuit of Modesty But Excellence.”

When asked if he knew it was coming, he conceded that he “had a hint of it” about 10 or 11 months ago when a National Forum in Liaison with representation from the Department for Communities and Local Government approached him for a citation. Having written a page-long document detailing the history of his ministry, they came back asking him to be more specific. For the first time in 30 years, he says, “somebody was taking me through my journey.”

They wanted to know numbers: how many homeless people had he helped? How many young people had he helped put in education? How many people had he reached?

“We began to calculate that it was into the tens and tens of thousands. And I realised, my goodness – you just get on with this, you don’t really see the statistics when you do it!”

It was over the Christmas period that he received a letter in the post asking him if he would accept the honour for all the work he has done. “I’m always encouraging people to give honour to the ones to whom it is due, so how can I not now lead by that example?” he asks.

“Honour begets honour,” he explains, “respect begets respect.” It is the biblical model. Jesus Christ gave all honour to the Father throughout his life and ministry on earth, and the Father chose to give him the name above all other names. At his baptism, God announced: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) So it was with Mordecai: he honoured the King of Persia, so the king chose to honour him (Esther 6).

Yet despite seeing this award as a fulfilment of scriptural teaching, Pastor Ade says he was still amazed by what he went through to receive the MBE: “It is incredible the process that they have to take you through to get the honour: the delegations, the considerations, the presentations, the recommendations, the nominations. And before you get to the actual honour itself, the acceptance. I say to myself, if we as human beings feel that it’s so important to go through such a diligent process before we bestow such credible honour on people, how much more God?”

With over 30 years working in full-time ministry and social action, the honour is well-deserved. But the work hasn’t always been easy. It began back in the 1980s, volunteering at his church for several years. Back then, he says, he saw plenty of churches in the communities, but not many communities getting into the churches. The challenge was to break through the cultural mindsets that separate church from the rest of life, that make Sundays about worship and reading the Bible, but little else.

“I have learnt in my own experience that church can be very insular,” he says. And yet if Jesus is the ultimate example of how churches should be behaving, most of Jesus’ work and ministry was done outside the temple. So we are called to be not only ‘hearers’, but also ‘doers’: “I believe that 20-30% of our time as Bible-believing Christians should be in the ‘temple’, whereby we are well fed, well equipped; 70-80% should be us going out there and now being salt and light practically, being the Christ that people see.”

After stepping out in faith, Ade began working with his church to reach the community and bring community into church. This branched out to helping the homeless and rough sleepers in the area, and kept growing so that, as of today, he has helped to coordinate over 100 social action projects across the UK and Africa, from helping young people into education, to assisting with the creation of rehab centres for addicts, to housing the homeless, to assisting to build a whole Christian village in Ghana.

But despite all his work building social action projects, it is his most recent work with Christian Concern that is the most prevalent: in the citation asked of him, his work for Christian Concern is mentioned in the first two lines.

“I believe it is actually befitting that Christian Concern stands there in the first paragraph of the citation alongside having been a social entrepreneur for almost 30 years now.” In fact, it is his work in public policy with Christian Concern that has helped make his ongoing efforts in social action so holistic: “I look at all we have done and accomplished, and then suddenly you find out how it could easily all be, as it were, demeaned, destroyed, pulled down, unappreciated because of public policy.” He thus sees Christian Concern as a means, amongst others, to preserve and protect all the previous work he has done.

Having asked if there were any highlights from his work over the past 30 years, it seemed impossible to pick just one. Upon reflection, he says that receiving the MBE, and what it typifies for him as Modest But Excellent, has further helped to crystallise the bigger picture of how God has been using him to bring him to this point – everything seems to have come together: “in all those years, God was leading me somewhere,” he says. Getting a fuller picture of God’s plan and purpose, he says, has been the best highlight.

So, what happens now? Ade says he is currently still waiting to find out the date of the investiture, although he is looking forward to finding out who will give it to him – having met Prince Charles once before, he says he’d quite like to meet him again!

This isn’t the first time Ade has interacted with the Queen, either. As part of her 90th birthday celebrations, a joint project between The Bible Society, the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and HOPE (for which Ade serves on the leadership team) saw the creation of a booklet all about the Queen’s faith: The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. Alongside others, Ade was very key in encouraging and insisting the Queen’s seal on it.

“I said, ‘there’s no way we can write a book about her faith and she hasn’t got her seal on it.’ I didn’t realise that it could be such a tough task! But, praise God, she was miraculously approached and she was so glad to put her seal on the foreword.” In fact, the Queen did more than just write the foreword, she also contributed some of her personal experiences of Christ to the writing.

Since the booklet was published in 2016, over 2 million copies have been distributed worldwide.

For Ade, it therefore feels God-given that he should now be receiving this great honour from the Queen herself. “As they say,” he concludes, “what you sow, you reap.”