• ‘I was stigmatised that I was impotent’
By Olayinka Latona
Assistant General Overseer in charge of Personnel and Administration of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Pastor Johnson Funsho Odesola, just celebrated his 60th birthday. To mark the occasion, Odesola spoke to Sunday Vanguard on his humble beginning, marital life, calling and quest for knowledge. Excerpts:
Pastor Funsho Odesola
Can you reflect on your 60 years, especially with life expectancy in Nigeria put at 55.2?
I have always prayed to God to let me fulfil the purpose of my earthly existence. Even now, I don’t pray for long life but to fulfil God’s purpose for my life. When people pray that they want to be 70 or 80, I don’t join them to say ‘amen’. I leave it in the hands of God. One thing I want and 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 impart into fellow beings. Jesus lived for 33 years, and 2, 000 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 recorded achievement. Yes, I thank God that I am 60. I know it is a privilege and that means I still have something to do for God. So, even now, people have asked me to pray to be 80 years, I said no. I say ‘I leave it in the hands of God’. If I have not finished what He configured for my destiny and life, then He should take me through those years 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 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.
What is the happiest day of your life?
Before I got married, I was stigmatized that I was impotent. When I got married and I saw my first daughter, I proved to them I am potent.
You started your ministry in the 1980s despite nursing the dream of becoming an 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 Ekiti. Actually, my great grandfather was from Ekiti. When I was growing up as a young man, my father had a different plan for all his male children. He had eight installations around Ibadan and environs. He will go to Ondo to get wood, process it because he had 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 over male kids. Although he sponsored female children to school, he did not want anyone to kill his male children. In 1968, I was in Primary 3. One of the people my father supported to go to school came home from Italy. He was the son of his senior brother. He came home from Italy where he trained as an engineer. He wore a pair of shoes called Stilleto with baggy and my father’s house had wooden stairs and decking and when he was coming, his shoes were making loud sound on the stairs and I was fascinated by the sound 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 different plan and I ran to my mummy, who was so fond of me and pampered me. She said I should not worry. After I finished primary school in 1969-1970, my father told me I will have to go to Ibadan, where he will start the process of handling over his factory to me. But when it was time to pick me up, I was not at home and, by the time I arrived, he asked where I was and I restated my decision 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 was determined, so that I will not become a liability to him, he put a call through to Uncle Folly in P & T, Kano, where Uncle Folly was the major contractor of NDA in Kano.
When I arrived in Kano, my uncle asked me what qualification I had and he was shocked over my lack of education. He then linked me up with some craftsmen where I became an apprentice, learning plastering of wall and everything around building works. After four years, he gave me a well-designed certificate and I came back to Ibadan. I thus started writing applications as engineer. I remember I applied to a company in Bodija, Ibadan and the man looked at me and asked what my academic qualifications were. I said I was an engineer and the man, after seeing my certificate said “you are not an engineer but a bricklayer.” The certificate didn’t describe me as a bricklayer, but a mason. Angrily, I tore the certificate and went back home and began to ask around what it takes to be an engineer and people told me that I had to write GCE and WASCE. I went back to the man who called me a bricklayer with my equipment and begged him that I wanted to work, do two or three days in a week and, for the rest of the week, prepare for my GCE. I passed two subjects as an external candidate.
This I took to Ilesa and I was admitted into Form Five in one of the schools there. I spent one year and I made my papers.
What did you do next?
The question of what to do afterwards was an issue because my subjects’ combination did not allow me to do what I wanted to do. I was offered preliminary medicine in University of Maiduguri, which I turned down, but I got admission to Ibadan Poly to study technical and building engineering. While I was doing the ND programme, I was sitting for professional courses that will qualify me as a building engineer, which I eventually passed. When I finished my ND and I was working, somehow the father of a roommate had a project and they had a challenge doing the project and my roommate mistakenly brought the project plan to my room. They had contacted United Kingdom and some people flew in from Italy. While I sighted it, I told my friend I could help, even after they had hired experts from Italy. I got to the project site and 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 me a job after school, which he eventually did. Meanwhile, in my final year, God had 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 work, I had a snake bite and, in agony, I cried out to God why and I heard a voice telling me that I had been operating in disobedience.
I said no and God told me that he took me through the journey I went through so that I could 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 she was told 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, my wife told me that she did not want to be a widow. She was one of the major instruments God used for me to come into the ministry. When I came to Pastor Adeboye that I wanted to serve God, I did not tell him it was going to be a full time work. But I knew what I was supposed to do in the youth ministry, so, I told him that the Lord wanted me to serve Him in the campus fellowship already launched. Daddy Adeboye looked at me and said I should meet Pastor Odeyemi, who is also an Assistant General Overseer but his assistant then. He told me to take the title of Travel Secretary to campuses.
By the time I did one year, RCCG churches in the North was one, and located in Kaduna, which controlled 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 put the pieces left by the pastor together, so that the church will not scatter. It was while I was there that the call of God became clearer and the entire North was put 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 ministry?
Because my wife was instrumental to my 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 my children either wanted to marry a pastor or they wanted 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 have six PhD degrees, four master’s degrees and four first degrees. Why the insatiable quest for knowledge?
I don’t think I know anything. What is stirring 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 dead through me. But I have seen our Daddy in the Lord, Pastor Adeboye, raise the dead. It is not fiction. What stirs my reading is the fact that I don’t know. The youths of my parish and my family have held meetings over me saying that I am over-challenging them and I said ‘no, I am only challenging myself because I don’t know anything’. I have just finished my 6th PhD but I am doing two studies now. It is this insatiable and restlessness that I don’t know anything that is pushing me. I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Christian Education, Theology, Musicology, and Master’s in Communication, Christian Education, Cultural Anthropology Study and Law. I have Doctoral Degrees in Theology, Christian Education, Business Administration, Law, and Cultural Anthropology with 40 different fellowships. 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.