The Assistant General Overseer Personnel and Administration of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Pastor Johnson Odesola clocks 60 on Wednesday. He spoke with journalists on his life, humble beginning, marriage, and insatiable quest for knowledge in Lagos. Adeola Ogunlade was there. Excerpts:
At 60, how do you feel?
I don’t think there is any major feeling other than the fact that age is catching on. Now, at 60, I need to get myself ready and rethink how to go about the rest of my life.
For the church, I have about 10 years effectively to retire and if I want, I can do a volunteer retirement subject to agreement of the church’s leadership. There are things I need to rethink, something I would have dared at 40 now that I am 60.
Did you ever look forward to 60 years especially when life expectancy of an average Nigerian is less than 50?
Well, I don’t look forward to any age. I never prayed to live long. I only pray to fulfil the purpose of my existence. Even now, I don’t pray for long life but to fulfil God’s purpose for my life.
When people pray that I want to be 70 or 80, I don’t join them to pray and I don’t say amen when people say you will be 80 years. I leave it in the hand of God. One thing I want to and I desire so much is to fulfil God’s purpose for my life.
If I finish God’s purpose for my life today, so be it and if it is tomorrow, so be it. I have discovered that life is not by duration but by donation. I don’t just want to be long for the sake of longevity; I want to be sure that I have something to impact.
Jesus lived for 33 years and two thousand years after, we are still talking about him while Methuselah lived a little less than 1,000 years but nobody says anything about him except to refer to him on the basis of age with no achievement.
Yes, I thank God that I am 60. I know it is a privilege and that means that I still have something to do for God. So, even now, people have asked me to pray to be 80 years, I said no. Do you pray to be 70 years? I say I leave it to the hands of God.
If I have not finished what He configured with my destiny and life then He should take me through those ages and if it is by Him then I will not become invalid. He will have to supply the good health- all the tools, food, raiment just to go with it. I feel elated I am 60 years and I am thankful to God. I just hand over to Him the rest of my days.
Which is your happiest day in life?
The day I got married because before I got married I was stigmatized that I was impotent. When I got married and I saw my first daughter, I have been proved to be potent.
You started the ministry in the 1980s despite nursing the dream of becoming a reputable engineer. How come you ended up being a minister of God?
I am a very shy person. I have said that my father did not wish that I go to school. From where I came from, we were all saw millers. I hail from Igbajo in Osun state and my mum is Ilesa-Ekiti. Actually, my great grandfather was from Ekiti.
There was a Akiriji war centuries ago and the Igbajo came to Efon Alaye in Ekiti to seek support of charm so that they can the war and in the process of negotiation, the Efon Alaye people then ask for what will they get in return if they win, they were promised landed property and the Igbajos won and some of the people from Efon Aalaye had to settle in Igbajo.
When I was growing up as young man, my father had a different plan for all his male children. He had eight installations around Ibadan and its environs. He will go to Ondo to get wood, process it and he has lots of wood processing centres.
He had a plan that none of his male children will go to school because he had three wives who were always fighting among the male kids. Although he sponsored female children to school, he did not want anyone to kill his Opomulero.
In 1968, I was in Primary 3 and 4. One of the people my father supported through school came home from Italy. He was the son of his senior brother. He came home from Italy and was trained as an Engineer. When he was coming to our house, he wore a suit called Sileto with baggy and my father house was a wooden stair and decking and when he was coming, his shoes was shouting and I was fascinated by the sound of the shoe that I ran to my father in his sitting home and I told him one uncle is here. He then reasoned that it was uncle Folly, who he sponsored to Italy.
Later, I went to meet my father, what is Uncle Folly doing and he said that he was an Engineer and I told him that I will like to study Engineering and my father dismissed the idea. He told me he had a plan and I ran to my mummy who pampered me who said that I should not worry.
After I finished my primary school in 1969-1970, he asked me what I wanted to do and he told me I will go to Ibadan and start the process of handing over his factory to me. But when it was time to pick me, I was not at home and by the time I surfaced, he asked where I was when he called me and I reinstated my stand that I wanted to do what Uncle Folly did.
He called me all manner of names but I was not moved. In the morning, I will eat and go and play football and when he realised that I will be a liability to him, he made a call through to Uncle Folly in P and T who was then in Kano. Uncle folly was the major contractor of NDA in Kano.
He them put me in the rail to Kano and my Uncle asked me what qualification did I have and he was shocked and he had to called my father. He then put me with some craft man where I learnt plastering of wall and everything around building works.
After four years, he gave me a well design certificate and I came back to Ibadan.
As a young boy, I started writing to apply as Engineer and I remembered I apply to a company in Bodija and the man looked at me and asked me who I was. I said I was an engineer and the man said ‘you are not an engineer but a bricklayer’.
In the certificate, bricklayer was not written there but masonry. So, I took the certificate and tore it. I went back home and began to ask what it takes to be an engineer and people told me that I had to write GCE and WAEC. I went back to the man who called me a bricklayer with my equipment.
I said I will work, do two or three days in a week and prepare for my GCE. I passed two subjects as an external candidate. Then I took that to Ilesa and started from form five in one of the schools in Ilesa . I spent one year and I made my papers.
The question of what to do afterwards was an issue because my subject combination did not allow me to do what I wanted to do. I was given preliminary Medicine in Maduguri. I turned it down but I got admission to Ibadan Poly to study Technical and Building Engineering.
While I was doing the ND programme, I was doing professional courses that will qualify as a building engineer, which I eventually passed.
When I finished my ND and I was working, somehow a roommate of mine’s father had a project and they had a challenge doing the project and he mistakenly bought the project plan to my room. They had contacted United Kingdom and some people flew in from Italy.
While I sighted it and remembered what I learnt in school as a final year student, I told him that I can help even when they had hired experts from Italy. I got to the project site. I told them what to do and the problem was solved. My friend’s father was so excited that he paid for my graduation and he also promised to give me a job after school, which he eventually did.
Meanwhile, in my final year, God has been talking to me about working for him. As I joined the company, they made me the project manager for their plants and housing estate in Ibadan.
One day after my work, I got to the sites on plain ground earlier in the morning from nowhere. I had a snake bite and I queried God why and I had a voice telling me that I am operating in disobedience. I said no and God told that he took me through journey I went through so I can serve Him.
I responded I was already His servant and he said no. I then asked God whether He will heal me. I told people around to take me home so I can bid farewell to my wife. My wife was pregnant and they told her her husband had been bitten by snake.
She went straight to the church. It was the day of Bible study. People came and prayed over it and that was the end. From that time on, my wife told me that she did not want to be a widow. She was one of the major instruments for me to come into the ministry.
When I came to meet Pastor Adeboye that I wanted to serve God, I did not tell him it is going to be a full time work. But I knew what I am supposed to do in the youth ministry. I told him that the Lord wanted me to serve Him in the campus fellowship already launched.
Daddy Adeboye looked at me and said it is okay I should meet with Pastor Odeyemi, who is also an Assistant General Overseer who was his assistant then. He told me to take the title of our travel secretary to all our campuses.
By the time I did one year, RCCG churches in the north was one in Kaduna, which controls Kano and Jos. The man who was there left the church and changed the name. But Pastor Adeboye instructed me to go to the north and bring peace and the pieces left by the pastor that left so that the church will not scatter.
It was while I was there the call of God became clearer and I controlled the entire north, which was under my supervision. I moved from the North to Zambia and then the rest of the world. From Zambia, we planted churches in Kenya and South Africa.
How do you balance marriage with family?
Because my wife was instrumental to me accepting the call of God upon my life, I always reminded her that I don’t want to do this but you encouraged me. That gave me ample opportunity for me to do God’s work. She did well with my children because all my children wanted to marry pastor or they want to be a pastor.
My concern in life was not really about me but my children; how they will not hate the God I serve. But I thank God that all of them are doing well for the Lord.
You bagged 6 PhDs, four Masters and four degrees. Why the insatiable quest for knowledge?
I don’t think I know anything. What is steering up my interest in academics is just that the level that I did not know nothing. To be frank with you, I thank God I have not done anything I have not seen God raise the death through me. I have seen our Daddy in the Lord, Pastor Adeboye raise the dead. It is not fiction. I have not seen that in my ministry.
What steers my reading is the fact that I don’t know. The youths of this parish and my family has held meetings on me saying that I am over challenging them and I said no. I am only challenging myself because I don’t know anything. I just finished my 6th PhD but I am doing two studies now.
It is this insatiable and restlessness that I don’t know nothing. I have Bachelors’ Degree in Christian education, theology, musicology, Master in communication, Christian education, cultural anthropology study, law. I also have Doctoral Degrees in Theology, Christian Education, Business Administration, Law, and Cultural Anthropology and others with 40 different fellowships and I have authored 150 books
The place of knowledge for ministers of God cannot be over-emphasised. Everyone that knows will control those that don’t know. If you are not informed, you will be deformed.
What are some challenges you have faced in ministry?
It takes time and extra sacrifice. As I key into God, He often times help me. God is the first in my life and my family second and the ministry third. If anything clashes with my family and the ministry, I choose my family first. The challenge of managing my family and training my children is my major concern. I started with N127 per month.