By NBF News
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Pastor Faith Bankole got the shock of his life when his wife tested positive to HIV some years back.

Although he had no doubt about her faithfulness to their marriage vows, his worst fears were confirmed when he also tested positive to the virus after his wife's death.

The vibrant man of God faced intense humiliation and reproach from family members, friends and even fellow pastors as they all gave up on him and left him to die. Bankole is an architect who turned artist, and ran the St. Fabank Gallery in the 90s at Ikeja. He is now a missionary. But as people watched out to hear the news of his death, he bounced back to life and has been waxing stronger in his mission as a preacher.

In addition, his life blossoms today once again after he remarried and has a child. The HIV status is turned around and he is so full of life.

He relived his most embarrassing experience as former HIV positive patient to Saturday Sun, and what kept him going at such dismal moment of his life. He also revealed that his greatest passion today is to reach out to lost souls especially HIV/AIDS patients.

Before now, I pastured the Turning Point Chapel, Idimu Road, Lagos but I am now into outreach ministry. I do more of reaching out to people who really need God's word. I travel a lot to preach and I am privileged to have ministered in many churches during the course of my outreach. I left pasturing because I have more to do on the field than having to stay pin a place managing a local church. I found out that when I go out to minister, people are blessed more because there are more demands outside a local church than in the church itself. It gives me an opportunity of reaching out to a larger audience. I enjoy outreach ministrations than having to deal with the same faces every Sunday.

I discovered that one of the best ways to reach out to the entire world is through the internet. The Bible says that the gospel would be preached in the uttermost parts of the earth. I have pondered a lot on how the gospel will be preached in the uttermost parts of the earth, how many countries will you travel to as a pastor?

With the advent of the internet, that scripture has been fulfilled because a lot of people are always on the internet especially the youths. I am a member of over 40 internet forums with friends to commune with on a daily basis. I have joint heirs forum on Facebook as an avenue to reach out to people no matter where they are. I have over 2,000 members and I communicate with them on a regular basis. I counsel them, encourage them and pray for them, it also gives me fulfillment.

My HIV story
It is a very touchy story. My wife tested HIV positive and she passed on at the University College Hospital, Ibadan on May 20, 2003. After she died, everybody wanted to know my HIV status; my friends, my relations and my in-laws were the most concerned. Before then, I was of the opinion that I can never be HIV positive. I married a young, dynamic lady who graduated from the University of Ife at the age 21 and we got married the following year at Ibadan. Our union was blessed with three children – two boys and a girl who are grown up with the first two in the university. When she passed on, it was like a mystery. After her death and the incessant clamour by those close to me to go for HIV test, fear took hold of me.

I eventually went for the test at the Lagoon Hospital, Ikeja where I tested positive to HIV 1 &11. It was not a funny experience because I always tell people never to allow the devil see them cry, but that day, as hard as I tried not to cry, I wept like a baby. I asked God, why me? I know people who are living recklessly, yet they are not HIV positive, how come I have to suffer this fate, I queried Him? As a pastor, I asked myself what the reaction of my church members would be if they found out I was HIV positive. Initially, I tried to keep it to myself, later I shared my problem with close friends and before I knew what was happening, the news was all over the place.

Reaction of church members
Almost all of them knew about it, but since I did not announce it on the altar, it was like an open secret. I don't know whether some of them left the church because of me, since people will move in and out of churches anytime they deem it fit.

Embarrassing experiences
A pastor who I invited to preach in my church after hearing my story got to the pulpit and started cursing the spirit of HIV. He asked anybody with HIV to come forward and be healed. It was a huge embarrassment for me because I didn't expect that treatment I got from him. I came up after him and tried to salvage whatever was left of my image and to douse the tension his statement created by saying that the anointing of God is greater than HIV and it will not thrive in our church.

I suffered a lot of persecution from friends, family members and fellow pastors. Some people refused to shake my hands then for fear of being infested. I stopped shaking people even till now. One night, I went to visit a close friend and his wife was asking him what I was looking for in their home over a speaker phone and my friend had to quickly remove the phone from the speaker so that I won't hear the rest of her outburst, but I got the message. I felt so bad and dejected that I left his house immediately.

Unfortunately, the couple relocated to South Africa and the woman died of cancer. Ironically I conducted her burial service. I believe that God proved that if someone is down today, it is not the end of his life. The last time I saw my family members was when I broke the news of my HIV status to them until I had my healing. I recall my first cousin who consoled me thus: 'With God, all things are possible'. Since then, I have not set my eyes on him; he avoided me like a plague. I thank God for healing me and using me to heal other people.

At tethers end
At different times, suicidal thoughts went through my mind. I knew what my late wife suffered and how I helped her with everything before she eventually died. My dilemma then was who is willing to assist me the same way I did for my late wife. I was at no time afraid of dying, but I was afraid of being a by-word among family members and friends before death comes eventually. I was praying that God should allow me die in my sleep instead of going through shame and reproach. My fear was my fate if I have to die like my late wife, as I was no longer ashamed of my HIV status.

Wife's HIV news
I have not had any cause to doubt her faithfulness because I married her a virgin. I don't know what was on her mind when she refused to tell me she tested positive to HIV. She must have done that out of fear of my reaction and probably because people very close to her influenced her. When her health condition was severe, her sister requested she be moved to UCH, Ibadan. It was there her elder brother informed me of her status.

I was not surprised because it was a confirmation of my fears that she was hiding something from me. This is because she had earlier called my elder sister requesting that she prays for her because she was suffering from a blood related disease. How she contacted it, I don't know because she was a good Christian. It was a difficult thing to imagine and that is why I say that her death was shrouded in mystery. Since HIV can be contracted through other means, I comfort myself with that. Also, she had blood transfusion giving birth to two of our children. I think she contracted it through that means.

The healing
God will never do a thing without first speaking. It came through prophecy and it was later fulfilled. I received a word of prophecy while listening to a pastor on a radio programme. He shared God's word from Isaiah 43 vs. 19, which says God will do a new thing, it shall spring forth and shall you not know it? I received revelations from that scripture that strengthened my faith and trust in the ability of God to do all things even heal HIV. Another word came to me concerning my healing when I was travelling to my hometown, Ondo State.

I listened to message in my car, which further gave me hope as the pastor said that an anointed man could never be stranded. I parked my car by the roadside and started dancing. Most times, this joy doesn't last because when depression sets in again, you begin to ask yourself if you are anointed in the first place. I also discovered the revelation of sacrifice, knowing how the hand of God is moved if you offer the right sacrifice.

Revelations kept coming and I kept my faith, going about preaching God's word to people. My messages turned to messages of hope as my predicament opened my eyes to challenges every human being had to grapple with. I didn't know when God healed me, but I went for an antigen test at the Eko Hospital, Ikeja, and Lagos to know the level of my immunity at the insistence of my younger sister. The result of my HIV test was HIV 1&11 negative. It was like a dream, I didn't believe it at first. Even one of my mentors who organized prayer sessions for me advised me to be very careful of what I hear because once one is HIV positive, it remains so. That was another major challenge. I did confirmation tests in different hospitals including General Hospital, Ikeja and all of them came out negative. Eventually when I wanted to remarry in 2008, my in-laws insisted I do another test in their hospital, which I did and it came out negative too. Today, I have a child from my second marriage.

Healing other HIV patients
It is an insult on the integrity of God to say that HIV is incurable. HIV is just like any other ailment people suffer. I know too many people who have been healed of the virus on a daily basis. They don't want to share it for fear of being stigmatized. In fact, there are worst diseases than HIV, but the fear about HIV is the stigma that comes with it. It kills faster than the virus itself, as it is a battle of the heart. People die when they are tested positive of the HIV virus. When the spirit of a man is down, no man can help him. When people are told they have HIV, it is like issuing them a death sentence. With God all things are possible.

The turning point
If there were a better adjective to describe it, I would use it. It is more than a turning point in my life. Before my healing, I had given up the hope of living. Life lost its meaning to me. I see it as a new beginning and I also know that God will never use a man without giving him an experience first. I see myself as a man of experience and it has made me very passionate about people's problems. I have over 50 friends who are HIV positive in Nigeria and oversees. I have been a source of encouragement to them.