Sunday Adelaja (Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian: Сандей Аделаджа) is the founder and senior pastor of the Embassy of God, an evangelical-charismatic megachurch in Kiev, Ukraine. He immigrated to the USSR and Belarus as a scholarship student from Nigeria in 1986 to study journalism. After graduation and the breakdown of the USSR, he started several churches that he later handed over to other pastors before he moved from Belarus to Ukraine in December 1993.
Adelaja has faced criticism from local groups, other Ukrainian Evangelical churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church and from foreign-based Christian countercult organisations as well as accusations of involvement in fraud.
Adelaja’s movement is also present in Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the United States and Uzbekistan.
Sunday Sunkanmi Adelaja was born in the village of Idomila Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria. He was raised by his grandmother and became Christian in March 1986 just before graduating from high school. After graduation Adelaja left Nigeria because he received a scholarship to study journalism at the Belarusian State University in Minsk, Byelorussian SSR. He claims he was threatened there by authorities for having a picture of Jesus in his house, but nevertheless, he began Christian activities in Belarus during his studies. He married and took a job in Kiev, where he eventually founded and became pastor of the Embassy of God church, initially with only a handful of fellow African students.Today he plays an active role in the political and social life of Ukraine and was an influencing factor the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. Sunday speaks, preaches and teaches fluently in Russian.
By age 33, he had built the largest charismatic church in Europe, having started with only a few followers in a small apartment in downtown Kiev in 1994. Since then his church has grown to more than 700 churches in over 45 countries and has been instrumental in starting over 300 rehab centers for drug addicts and alcoholics, situated all over Ukraine and Russia.
Pastor Sunday was honored to be on a first page article of the Wall Street Journal in July 21, 2006.
Pastor Sunday was honored to open the U.S. Senate in prayer April 23, 2007.
Pastor Sunday was honored to speak twice at the United Nations in August 23, 2007.
Adelaja’s church, the Embassy of God, claims to have 25,000 members in Kiev alone. Adelaja’s church is also expanding abroad. 1,000 to 2,000 people are fed daily at the church’s “Stephania” soup kitchens in Kiev. The church also has a program helping homeless people acquiring skills, thus helping them back to a normal life and work. According to the church 2,000 children have been helped off the street, and have been returned to their families. Furthermore the church runs a 24 hour hot-line, named “Trust line”, for people to call in need. The church also works with addicted people and has a program helping addicted people to be set free from various addictions. The main organization is called “Love Rehabilitation Center”.According to the church, more than 5000 drug and alcohol addicted people have been set free from their addiction through their work.
The New York Times made the following statement about Adelaja: “Could there be a more unlikely success story in the former Soviet Union than the Rev. Sunday Adelaja, an immigrant from Nigeria who has developed an ardent — and enormous — following across Ukraine?”
There are many educational institutions connected to the church, and among them the following are more known: the Joshua Missionary Bible Institute in Ukraine,the Center of Restoration of Personality and Transformation of the Society in Ukraine, the History Makers Bible School in the USA, the UK, Germany,France,and the Institute for National Transformation in Nigeria.
Role in Orange Revolution
The church has been credited with playing an active role in the popular gatherings than eventually led to the Orange Revolution. Sunday Adelaja has, however, denounced in Ukrainian media his implied initiation of the Orange Revolution. The mayor of Kiev, Leonid Chernovetsky, is a member of the Embassy of God, but he is in opposition to the principal actors of the Orange Revolution, including Premier Yulia Tymoshenko.President Viktor Yushchenko has provided Adelaja with a certificate of thankfulness for his support in the Orange Revolution.During the protests, the church erected a tent chapel on Independence Square and offered shelter to thousands of people who came to Kiev.
Awards and honors
In October 2010, Sunday Adelaja was one of the foreigners in Ukraine who were awarded The Most Influential Expats 2010 by the Kyiv Post newspaper.
In May 2009, Sunday Adelaja became The Face of Kiev 2009. The annual competition was conducted by the magazine Afisha and Adelaja took the first place with more than 1/3 of the votes, beating to the second position, the most popular actor in Ukraine, Bohdan Stupka; to the third place, the Heavy weight boxer Vitali Klitschko; to the fourth place, one of the richest Entrepreneurs in Ukraine, Viktor Pinchuk; and to the fifth place the Mayor of Kiev, Leonid Chernovetskyi.
At the Azusa Street Revival Festival on Saturday April 25, 2009, Sunday Adelaja received the first International William J. Seymour Award. This award is given to ministers who exhibit the characteristics of William J. Seymour. A statement from the award committee said: “This year we will award an international and national recipient: The international recipient will be Pastor Sunday Adelaja who is a Nigerian-born leader with an apostolic gift for the 21st century. In his mid-thirties Pastor Sunday has already proven to be one of the world’s most dynamic communicators and church planters and is regarded as the most successful pastor in Europe with over 25,000 members as well as daughter and satellite churches in over 35 countries worldwide”.
In March 2008 the Archbishop Benson Idahosa Prize for Missionary Exploits was presented to Rev. Sunday Adelaja in recognition of his missionary exploits and social engagement in Kiev, Ukraine and around the world.
In March 2007 Sunday Adelaja became an Honorable Member of the Euroasian International Chamber of Commerce.
In May 2004 The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Holland Mission gave a Special Appreciation to Pastor Sunday Adelaja for being part of what God is using His church to do in reaching out to the people of the Netherlands.
Accusations of fraud
Adelaja was accused in November 2008 of being involved in the dealings of King’s Capital, a financial group led by a former member of his congregation. The company promises as much as 60 percent returns on investments and drew many of its investors from the church. Later several former church members went to the authorities saying they were unable to recover the money they invested, which left many of them bankrupt. Police later arrested one of King’s Capital leaders, Aleksandr Bandurchenko, on suspicion of fraud.
On February 5, 2009 a criminal case against Sunday Adelaja was filed on suspicion of fraud. Investigators say they have testimony indicating that Adelaja was involved in the financial machinations allegedly committed by the King’s Capital financial group. Kiev’s Mayor Chernovetsky, himself a church member, had earlier said that Adelaja was not involved in the financial scheme at King’s Capital.
In September 2009, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine admitted that they have exhausted their possibilities in the criminal case against Sunday Adelaja. Since the Ministry of Internal Affairs has still delayed and refused to take the case to the court the Embassy of God church and Sunday Adelaja has initiated a lawsuit against the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Police of Ukraine for unlawful accusation and libel. The judge has asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to show their evidence for their accusation of fraud, but after five court hearings they have still not provided any evidence to support their accusation.
On October 12, 2009 Kiev investigators questioned Adelaja in connection with the fraud accusation. During a press conference On October 14, 2009 the Minister of Internal Affairs Yuriy Lutsenko said that the pre-trial proceedings had found out that from October 2006 to May 2008, Adelaja and others embezzled property of people most of whom were the believers of the Embassy of God church. The total amount of the damage due to these actions is over UAH 1.5 million in accordance with evidence provided by several witnesses, according to the Minister.
Adelaja considers the police’s decision to investigate him for involvement in the financial group’s machinations as implementation of a political order. And has said that the cause of the financial problems at the King’s Capital financial group was the economic crisis rather than a deliberate fraud.
As of April 2011 the case has not been taken to court.
Criticism from evangelical church leaders
On 28 December 2008, nine leaders of evangelical churches in Ukraine signed a statement in which they, among other things, dissociate themselves from Sunday Adelaja and his activity. They accuse him of trying to create a cult of personality, and accuse him of using methods and activity based on self-advertisement, exaggeration of personal merits, teaching the doctrine of prosperity and the sin of love of money, and his practice of cursing the church members and parishioners who disagree with his opinion.
Besides Embassy of God Church there are two other megachurches in Ukraine; Victory Church and Hillsong Church, and their pastors, Henry Madava and Evgenij Kasevich have not signed the statement.