Fulfillment in life shouldn’t be about longevity, but service to humanity, says Odesola
Assistant General Overseer (Administration and Personnel) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Johnson Funso Odesola, who turned 60 recently, is distinguished as a resilient cleric of many parts holding four doctorate degrees (PhDs in Theology, Cultural Anthropological Study, Christian Education and Business Administration). A Fellow of 50 associations and author of about 150 books on different subjects shared his life experience on the pastoral, academic and home fronts with ISAAC TAIWO.
At 60, Pastor Johnson Funso Odesola said he hardly feels it, except the fact that age is catching in on him and he has to get ready to think how to go about the remaining days of his life. In the service of God, he has about 10 years left to retire, though he could decide to bow out at 60, “subject to the church authority.” At 60, he cannot try those things he would dare at 40.
The truth is, he has never prayed for long life, but rather for God to help him fulfill the purpose for his existence. He stated: “My attitude to life is, if I finish today, I believe I am fulfilled, and if it is tomorrow, I give glory to God, because I have discovered that life is not about duration, but by donation. I do not just want to be long for the sake of longevity; I want to be sure that I live a life of impacting something tangible and unforgettable to the coming generation.
“Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, lived for 30 years and over 2,000 years after he had gone, we are still celebrating Him. Methuselah lived for about 1,000 years, but today, what he is only being remembered for is the number of years he lived without any particular achievement.
“I thank God that I am 60 and again, I regard this as a privilege, however, I believe I still have something to do for Him and this is the reason for my still being alive. If I have not finished with His plan for my destiny, of course, He has the absolute right to take me through long life.
“My concern is just that I do not want to become invalid or a liability while here. I have no iota of doubt that if it is His perfect will for me to live long, He would definitely supply the good health, food, raiment and everything I need to cope with longevity without stress. However, I feel elated to be 60 and I am grateful to Him. I handover to Him the rest days of my life.”
Talking about Nigeria of those days when he was young, the cleric reminisced: “It was Nigeria of orderliness, where at home, we were taught moral lessons. My mother told me when I was young that as a boy, if I should shake a lady, the lady would get pregnant. I believe her warning was to deter me from immorality, so I could not shake a lady until I was 22. Anytime a lady was greeting me, I would keep my two hands at the back. It was only recently I was able to get out of that mentality.
‘It was a Nigeria where the parents were teachers to their children and would inculcate into them, the moral values they needed to imbibe. It was a Nigeria where parents were role models. It was a Nigeria that when you finished your school certificate, work was waiting for you if you did not want to go for further studies. Graduates were in a blissful world and immediately after graduation, they had job and other perks of office waiting for them.
“Civility was the order of the day, where no one engaged in corruption and went away with it. It was a Nigeria where people were considerate of one another and there was harmony.
“Sometimes, whenever I was coming from the airport, I would be wondering how we, as a nation, got to this level. I remember our teacher taught us in primary school that whenever we saw a piece of paper on the ground, we should pick it and threw it into the next available waste disposal bin. Our roads were very good and government facilities were intact.
“I went to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, the other day and I felt like crying, because of what I saw. University of Ibadan in those days, which was fourth in ranking in the entire commonwealth, had intakes from abroad, in those days, because of our exemplary educational standard and curriculum. I am only hoping and praying that God can restore the lost glory of our country.”
How did he end up in the clergy? Odesola’s narrative was refreshingly fascinating: “The main pre-occupation of Igbajo people, where I came from, is sawmill operation, and my father was one of the leading operators and he had no interest in getting me educated as a boy. My father settled at Igbajo after the Kiriji war.
“When I was growing up, my father had about eight installations of sawmill with processing machines within Ibadan environs. He had the notion that none of his male children, to whom he intended handing over his sawmills, would go to school. He had three wives and I was number three or four of the men.
“Specifically in 1968, I was in primary three or four when one day, one of my cousins my father sponsored to Italy, who was trained as an engineer, came home. He wore a suit called Seleto at that time, with baggie trousers. The flooring of our house was made of wood and I was attracted by the sound of his shoes on the wooden floor, which made me to run to my father to announce his arrival.
“I asked my father his occupation and he told me he was an engineer. I enthusiastically told him immediately that I would also like to become an engineer, but to my dismay, my passionate desire was met with a sharp rebuke in Latin, because he understood and spoke the language. I was sad and ran to my mummy, who comforted me and told me I should not worry.”
When he finished primary school, his father asked him to go to Ibadan, so that he would start the process of handing over to him, a part of the factory, but the young Odesola just told his father he had heard. But when it was time to take him to Ibadan, the young boy refused to follow the old man, reiterating his desire to become an engineer.
This again attracted rebuke and abuse, but all that never changed his mind. Instead of following his father, he resolved to go play football in the neighbourhood. After some months, realising that his son did not truly want to toe the line he had in mind, and fearing that the young boy might at the end become a liability, his father went to the then P & T to call an uncle, who gingered his interest to be an engineer and told him his lad too had decided to become an engineer.
“He put me in a train at Ibadan bound for Kano. My uncle, however, only taught me to be a bricklayer and after sometime, gave me a certificate, which was well designed.” He came back home thinking he was an engineer and started applying for jobs as an engineer.
In one of the places he applied, his supposed employer looked at his certificate and saluted his courage, but bluntly told him he was not an engineer, but a bricklayer. That was when it dawned on him the kind of “beautiful for nothing type of certificate” he was carrying about. Right there and then, he looked at the certificate again and tore it and went back home.
Still determined to pursue his dream, Odesola decided to start all over again by writing the General Certificate of Education (GCE). In-between, he bought bricklayer tools to help him raise money for his education, wrote GCE at Ordinary Level and passed a few papers, took the result to Obokun in Ilesha and enrolled into a secondary school and was admitted into Form 4. After one year, he wrote examination again and made six papers.
He later did his Advanced Level in Mathematics and Economics and was successful in Economics, enrolled for the National Certificate of Education (NCE) and professional courses that qualified him as an engineer.
“I was still in school when one day, my room-mate inadvertently brought a building plan to the room. I looked at it, not knowing that it was the plan of his father’s building, which had been giving them some problems and for which engineers from abroad, including Italy, had been invited to come and solve the problem.
“I could remember some of those things we were taught and looking at the plan, I was addressing the problem, to the amazement of my room-mate. I was in my final year at the polytechnic. He retorted that his father had been looking for solutions to the problem of the building and he did not know why he brought the plan to the school.
“He eventually took me to his father, who took me to the building where the Italians were brainstorming on the problem. I looked at the building and God helped me to identity the problems and the Italians gave a nod that I got it. This made my roommate’s father to pay for my graduation and promised to employ me when I finished my course of study.
“However, in my final year, God told me that I would not need the certificate, but that I would end up being a pastor. I felt it was the devil talking within me. After leaving the school, I went to resume at my room-mate’s daddy’s place of work and I was made the Project Manager, where I had to manage a housing estate, the contract my employer got.”
However, one day after his marriage, a snake bit him as he was working. “I held my leg and asked God why He wanted me to die, as my wife was pregnant. The Lord told me that I was being disobedient. I asked God if he would heal me and he told me that if I were ready to obey, I would not die. I was prayed for and that was the end of the pain.
“My wife encouraged me to answer God’s call, warning me that she would not like to be a widow. I eventually obeyed and met the General Overseer (GO) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG, worldwide), Pastor Adejare Adeboye, and told him I wanted to start the campus outreach. He said but the Lord has called me, I said no, and that I simply wanted to work with students. He asked me to meet Pastor Obayomi to guide me.
“There was a problem in the North and I was mandated to bring sanity to the problem, where the call became clearer. We were able to start the church in Maiduguri, Yola and Jalingo that time. The entire North was under my supervision.
“From there, I moved to Kwara and Kogi as a coordinator, from there to Ogun, which was divided into three, and later Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius. It was from Zambia that I was called back home to be Special Assistant (SA) to the general overseer.”
Asked how he was able to cope with his family, he said no serious challenges were encountered as it was his wife that encouraged him to go into the work of the Lord, so she could not complain.
On combining academics with pastoral work, Odesola recounted: “What motivated me, academically, was that I never felt I knew anything. I cannot really pinpoint that thing giving me the impetus. My family keeps wondering. The youth came up with the notion that I was over-challenging them, but I told them I was only challenging myself.
“I always believe I do not know enough and must know. Right now, I am engaged in two studies. Why I am just insatiable and where the restlessness is coming from, I do not know.”
“The place of knowledge cannot be over-emphasised. Everyone that knows will control those who do not know. We are in the era of knowledge and if anyone is not informed, he would be deformed. If anyone is not in the know, he cannot be in the flow.
“Now that we have the Internet at our disposal, people should seek knowledge. The era of lazy people coming into the Christendom has gone. Anyone who wants to work in this church today must be high spiritually, without prejudice to academic attainment. If one is spiritual and cannot pass an examination or be engaged in one profession, such Christianity is questionable.
‘Where one is disadvantaged, not having the privilege to attend school to learn the basics, there is still opportunity for improvement. So, if the determination is there, there is nothing holding back anyone who desires to be educated.”
Asked to comment on the ministers of old and the ministers of today, the clergyman said: “Some ministers today are encumbered with the desire for materialism. There is difference between those who want to work for God and those looking for means of livelihood in the name of being ‘ministers.’
“Many who profess to be called today are actually looking for means of livelihood. They eye ministers riding in exotic cars and want to be like them without consideration to the price those ministers have paid. There is no glory without a story.
“Many are looking at the glamour of the office, not considering the price to pay, as well as the sacrifice to make. Even as an Assistant General Overseer (AGO), there are things that should be given priority; it is not just the title. If I should go to church without having anything to offer, that amounts to title without entitlement.
“As a genuine minister, one should study the Bible, know some facts, not only about the church, but also about the environment. A minister should know a little bit of this and that within the locality he operates.
“Many of the young ministers today do not take into consideration all these, but just want to be great one day. Someone looked at a minister’s car and said he claimed it without thinking of the price he needs to pay before getting there.
“Two of our Lord Jesus Christ’s disciples went to Jesus with their mother to ask for positions on the left and right hand sides of Jesus in heaven, but the Lord told them those positions were for those for who invariably must have paid the price. There are prices to pay for every exalted office, both on earth and in heaven.”