Pastor Joshua Odeyemi oversees a Christian ministry called Reconciliation House based in Ondo State. The ministry has several Discipleship Centres and its aggressive in Planting churches where non-existed. The ministry is also involved deeply in reviving broken Marital relationships. In this interview with Gbenga Osinaike at a conference in Kwara State last year, Odeyemi who has been in ministry for close to three decades shares his experience and the journey so far. Below are excerpts:
Can we have a peep into your background sir?
I lived with my grandfather. He was pagan and never went to church. So I grew up in a pagan environment. At the age of nine I was initiated into occult practices. I also never wanted to go to church. The only thing that made me go to church when I had become a teen was when I wanted to woo girls. But in actual fact I hated Christianity.
My grandfather had a lot of influence on my life. He saw that I was very brilliant so he spent his time teaching me occult practices. He was getting old and was keen about passing his occult knowledge to me.
So what about your own parents?
My father was a teacher. He was always being transferred from one place to the other so it was difficult for him to keep a stable home. It was also a tradition in the family to donate all the male grandchildren to help grandfather in the farm. So that was part of the reason I had to stay with my grandfather.
But to what extent were you involved in occult practices at that age?
At age of nine, I had become so adept in chanting incantations and I knew all the ritual rules. It got to a point that I was the one reminding my grandfather of the lines of incantations whenever he forgot. I threatened women and I had such power that could make people do what I wanted them to do. But all that is now history.
With your experience now and being a child of God how will you describe the kingdom of darkness?
The kingdom of satan is built on deceit. But again the devil manipulates in order to accomplish his purpose. The greatest weapon the devil uses to hold people is deceit alongside with ignorance.
Was it that somebody preached to you to have you converted?
It was a taboo for anybody to preach to me. As a matter of fact I warned people never to preach to me though I was still a teenager because I could make them do things they never wanted to do. I could make people urinate on their body through occult power.
So how did you meet Christ?
This particular day I went to Church for Christmas carol. I was not interested in the carol. I purposely went there to tie up with a girl in the church. I sat at the back of the church hall and was making jest of everybody in the hall while waiting for them to finish the programme so I go for the girl I wanted.
As the service was going on a young man came out and was playing the guitar. He was talking while playing the guitar. This happened in 1978. As he was talking I was making jest of him. I said if you want to sing, sing now, what is all this talking and playing the guitar”. He did not hear me because I was muttering to myself at the back of the hall.
He continued talking and said some of you are here and you have not given your life to Christ, God is calling you today. As he made that statement, something struck me where I was sitting. The power of God came upon me and I fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and began to cry. It was strange for me to cry because I had never cried before that time. Nothing ever made me to cry. I was born into a warrior family. And we were trained never to cry. My great grandparents were warriors. It was a taboo for us to cry no matter how we were beaten. I remember my father once gave me 50 strokes of the cane and I asked him if he was tired because I did not shed a drop of tears. He was annoyed and he hit me in the eye. I still have the mark till today.
So as the man playing the guitar was singing I felt an impartation. I discovered that I had become a new man. When I saw the difference Christ made in me, I had to surrender fully to him. I never wanted to live a double life. I knew the implication of living a double life because of my earlier involvement in the occult power.
So how did your grandfather react to your conversion?
My grandfather did not take my conversion lightly. He called me a traitor and warned that I was going to end badly. He was highly disappointed because he had thought he would hand over all the occult powers he had to me. But the way I met Christ was too dramatic for me to go back. After my salvation experience I brought out all the occult paraphernalia and burnt them in my grandfather’s presence. That did not go down well with him. Nobody preached to me to burn those things but my encounter with Christ was so strong that I could not continue to have anything to do with the power of darkness.
What is it about your encounter with Christ?
As an unbeliever I knew what it meant to be one. So when I met Christ I saw the difference and the way my life changed. Christ was too real to me that I never wanted anything to stand between him and me. I had tasted power before and coming to Christ for me was like drawing the line and I had to just be serious with Him. I saw that I could not play a double game. The power of God is incomparable to the deception of the enemy. That power has a pillar which is righteousness. I saw that if you want to enjoy God’s peace, God’s favour and God’s love, you will have no option but to love what he loves and hate what he hates. I had to do away with all my girlfriends to start with and then all the occult powers.
So what happened thereafter, I mean after your conversion?
I got converted when I was still in secondary school and from there proceeded to do my HSC and then got to the Ahmadu Bello University where I studied Public Administration. I got called to ministry at the age of 17. God told me that going to school was part of my training for ministry work. I was in leadership position while in school. I was in charge of over 30 fellowships on campuses through the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Then NIFES was quite active. I was the president of the presidents of all the campuses and I was combining that with my academics. Immediately after my youth service I began ministry. As a matter of fact many of my friends would have been too shocked if I did not go into ministry.
You were not bothered about what to eat? I thought perhaps you should have looked for some employment?
You are right because at that time we had job opportunities. By the time God called me to ministry there were few men of God that one could actually look up to. Many of the people who were in ministry were doing something already alongside ministry work. The Christians in those days knew themselves. We were quite close to one another across campuses. We used to meet and had fellowship together. We were a community.
But that is not possible now maybe because there are so many fellowships. Or what do you think?
I think beyond that we missed it along the way. Many of the church leaders we have today were quite close in those days. I went to the same secondary school with some of them and got born again in the same fellowship with them. Many of the Christians in our generation are now into ministry because there was a revival at that time and it was a genuine revival. Pa Sydney Elton the white missionary who lived and died in Nigeria was like our father. He actually commissioned me into ministry. Many of us were called and commissioned into ministry even when we knew nothing or little about ministry.
Even before then, Pa Elton told us that revival would break out in our country and many of us would be at the vanguard of the revival. In those days when we had inkling that God was calling us we would go to Pa Elton. He would counsel us and tell us more about our calling. He had that gift of discernment. He would tell you if you were pursuing a wrong call. He was like our father.
Apart from him was there no Nigerian that was like a mentor in those days?
The next to him was Apostle Mike Oye. He was most senior among us. God used him to disciple many of the top church leaders that we have now. He was very primary to the rising of many ministries but he never floated a church. The Christian body in Nigeria was one because we all came out of a burning flame. We came out of persecution. Some of us were thrown out of existing churches because of the revival that consumed us.
But where did we miss it?
We missed it when the gospel of prosperity was introduced into our country by the Americans. Pa Elton warned us. During that move of God there were few teachers of the word of God. We had the gift and the power but few teachers of the word. In those days so many of us looked up to America for teaching and instructions. The books of Kenneth Hagin and TL Osborn and Co flooded Nigeria. At that time, America was also going through some spiritual awakening but there were some errors flowing from that part of the world to Nigeria. There was this error of Freeman, there was Babylon error and there was the error of prosperity. There was a falling away after these errors. The Babylonia error is about a group of believer who did not believe in church. They were among us. They were brilliant brothers who knew the scripture. They taught that people should “come out from among them”. They had fellowship groups but with time God began to deal with them and they are now realizing their error. But the group still exists.
God dealt with them the way He is dealing with the gospel of prosperity now. In a couple of years those who preach prosperity without proper scriptural perspective will face desolation. God will judge them because the church must be prepared for rapture and he has to deal with those things. Many of our bishops and pastors who now preach strange gospels had genuine experience of salvation. We know ourselves and when we see them we still greet and interact with them. But a time came in life when we had to define the border line but that does not mean we are at loggerheads with them. But we just would not give in to their error. Pa Elton had warned us about the problem we are currently experiencing in the church. So when the problem came we quickly identified them. The man warned us not to go to America for teaching. In those days it was easy to travel to America. He warned us not to take doctrine from America. He died shortly before the prosperity message came.
But in what way did the prosperity message derail the church?
Money and fame were the greatest temptation the church fell into in the 80s. People wanted more church members because of the money it would bring and because of the popularity attached to it. Even when their consecration had not got to the point of attracting God’s favour and power, people looked for extra means of getting those things. The younger generation who cannot discern will think what they have is still original.
For the young believer how does one know the fake and the genuine?
Any pastor that involves in show and ostentation may not be genuine. In those days, Pa Elton advised us to stay away from show and ostentation. The church fathers that attracted God’s favour and grace upon their lives were very simple. They detested publicity. They detested showmanship. In those days you dare not put camera and broadcast a scene where you are casting out demon and make a show of it. It was even strange to see brothers putting their pictures on signboards. We never wanted to be seen. If God was using us to do anything we never wanted anybody to know. Some of us would minister in a place and when the power of God broke out, we would run away before we were being idolized.
But there were times Jesus admonished those who experienced miracle healing to broadcast it. What do you make of that?
Those were few occasions when the miracle would lead to the change of lives of others. They called Jesus father he said don’t call me father that one is your father who is in heaven. They called him good master he said no I am not good that only God is good. Even though he is the apostle and bishop of our soul we call him Jesus and He is not annoyed with us. So where did we get all the titles? Till death he is still Jesus. Can you call some men of God by their names today? Pride entered, materialism entered. We want money not for the gospel but for self. The church fathers who led us to Christ bought cars but not for themselves. Prof. Duro Adegboye who was dean of Faculty of Science of ABU before he retired to face ministry work fully, for instance never had a car in those days. He only bought bus which he used for evangelism on weekends. In those days church leaders did not live for themselves. Their money was used to train brethren. It is not bad to have money but we have to be careful of self and run away from idolizing money.
You have been in ministry for 27 years in Ondo State. What are the challenges?
The first challenge I had was the challenge of focusing on my call. I was getting pressure from colleagues who branched out to other things. And they were making money and name and I was just there. For the first 10 years of my ministry God did not allow me to go to Lagos to preach. When they invite me and I pray about it, God will say no. I did not know why. After 10 years of trying to come to Lagos, God gave me the release and said I could come. The first time I preached in Lagos, the pastor of the church where I preached was annoyed after the service. I began to wonder why he was annoyed. I thought perhaps my message offended him. I asked him and he said to me that the offering that day was so small. I asked how much was the offering he said N50, 000. I said so you had such huge amount? I said we never had such amount in a year in my church in Ondo.
Then he said to me, “what are you doing in Akure if there is no money there”. After that encounter I began to appreciate why God never wanted me to come to Lagos. I remember after I had preached at a programme somebody was so touched that he gave me a house to start ministry in Lagos but God warned and said to me, “I must not see you there” Somebody gave me car worth millions of naira in Lagos. The person was a multi-millionaire but God warned me not to collect it. The person ran after me to Akure. She told me that for the first time in her life she met a man of God who rejected her gift. And that gave her a lot of respect for our ministry. It also gave us the opportunity to address a lot of issues in her life through the help of the Holy Spirit.
How did you get to the level of hearing from God to the point of rejecting gifts?
The first thing that must happen to somebody is deliverance from self and money. You know money is a spirit. We use money but we don’t allow money to master us. Money is a servant it must not become our master. One of the powers of money is the power of control. You have heard them say whoever pays the piper dictates the tune. Once money has a hold on a man of God, it affects his message, it affects where he preaches and it affects the way he lives. You stop looking up to God for divine instruction. In fact what determines if you will honour an invitation will be predicated on the money you will get. That is what is happening today. Preachers now dictate the honorarium and the kind of hotel they will sleep. So it’s no longer the Lord. I have slept in best hotels and have also slept in the worst of places. There are times the Lord will specifically warn me not to collect honorarium.
I am sure you will have challenges with your family in the area of rejecting gifts?
The first thing I did in life which has been very helpful was that my wife was my first disciple. In the early years of our marriage, the Lord enabled me to disciple her. In fact my wife is more fanatical about my principles of life than I do. If a woman believes in something she could be more ardent. There were times she would tell me, “honey you are beginning to deviate.” Even when I am trying to explain to her she would say, NO! So she has been the check and balance of my life. When I married her, I had no house. I was living with somebody. I did not have a rented place for ministry.
My wife was working and we were using her money to keep the family and she never insulted me. She never said I was irresponsible and she never made unpleasant remarks on me. There was a day I was asking her what she saw in me and kept on with me even the face of lack. She said, she just saw a man who loved God. Now the Lord has blessed us even though we deliberately choose not to flaunt wealth. There was a time I told her that one day we would get all that the world is pursuing as we keep following the Lord. But the difference is that we will not look for it. Now we can afford to travel to anywhere in the world for holidays. But that is not our priority.
When you keep on labouring in ministry and you are faithful the time comes when you will overcome financial hurdle and the problem will be how to manage the finance. It is just to be faithful to the work. If God has not conquered you money will control you. I must confess that God has been faithful right from the beginning of my walk with him. The first day my children entered school the proprietor of the school gave an instruction that they should not pay school fees throughout their stay in that school.
You said earlier that God is going to judge the prosperity gospel. What do you mean?
A revival is coming that will return us to the old time religion. The prosperity gospel does not satisfy the yearnings of the people. People are having money but they are not satisfied. They are breaking through but also breaking down. People are seeing the scandal in the lives of the prosperity messengers and they are saying this could not be God. As a matter of fact several people in those churches are already returning to the orthodox churches because they feel they are being hoodwinked. If you see a man of God with several cars in his car park and his members are impoverished, you know there is a problem. There is deception in the church. I am optimistic that there will be a new movement that will bring sanity in the church.