By Lekan Bilesanmi
A taboo! That was what venturing into full-time ministry was in the late 1980s when John Osa-Oni became a pastor. But the man, who today is the Bishop of Vineyard Christian Ministries International, Lagos, was undaunted.
Before then, he had faced huge challenges on account of his faith. In one particular instance, his acceptance of Christianity triggered a family crisis in the course of which his father asked him to choose between the family and the God of the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, whose Church of God Mission he (Osa-Oni) was attending.
In another instance, he was a victim of a charm planted by a teacher in his school, a situation that saw him partially dead, and coming back to life almost at the point of burial.
In this interview, Osa-Oni speaks on the challenges of life, his journey in the ministry and his close relationship with Idahosa, the man who popularised tele-evangelism in the 1970s. He speaks ahead of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Vineyard Ministries and 20 years of his consecration as a bishop. On this occasion, scheduled for between April 3 and 7, Osa-Oni is being elevated to the position of archbishop. Excerpts of interview:
It has been a journey of 25 years. How did it start?
My journey started from the campus in University of Lagos when the Lord ministered to me to set out into ministry. I was reading accounting in the school at that time. And in those days, it was like a taboo to venture into full-time ministry, I had to take up a secular job,worked with UTC Motors and Egunjobi Sulaimon and later for my brother and friend, Dr. Tunde Joda, the Senior Pastor of Christ Chapel,as an associate pastor. I left my secular job completely in December 1985 and started full-time pastoral work in January 1986. Since then, the journey has been fantastic.
It is common with pastors to face challenges. Can you share with us those that came your way?
I have been taught to always look forward especially when challenges come. So the various challenges, for me, are stepping stones for greater heights. When you look back at challenges, you get distracted. Of course challenges did come but I never saw them as one and that is why I don’t have any in the last 25 years of the ministry.
It has been 25 years of testimonies for Christians in the country and individuals all over the world on what Vineyard, one of the front line churches, has impacted. When you are focused, you are naturally going to see less distractions. Vineyard has been very focused in the last 25 years.
Taboo to be a pastor
You cannot quantify the number of lives you are touching. Thousands of lives have been affected. We have raised and trained both Christians and Muslims to university level across the country. We have rendered medical care to various communities in the country. It was a taboo to be a pastor about 29 years ago when I started full-time ministry; when you stepped out to ministry, your parents were never happy with it especially having gone through university and you now returned home to say, ‘dad, I am going into pastoring’, they would scream.
Before then, mind you, I had been in the ministry evangelizing for about 40 something years, that is, since 1972. Those days, we had a lot of attacks, such that some of our friends had their Bibles burnt by their parents. In the 70s, occultism was very rampant, it was the most predominant thing then.
Everybody exhibited his strength through occultism and, so, most of us who came out from paganism, and suddenly found ourselves in church, it was tough being a Christian then.
It was tough coming out to say you are now a pastor, serving Jesus; the first question they would ask you in Yoruba is,’Who is your parent in this community?’ Who would you say you fashion your new found religion after? Certainly not your parents they all knew. Some of us stood our grounds and, today, we are grateful for it.
Can you recollect a particular moment of your tribulation because of your belief?
That should be 1974, I was chased out of the house by my parents around 12 midnight. They called a meeting and asked me to make a choice between the family, that is the Oni family, Archbishop Idahosa and Jesus Christ. I chose Jesus Christ even though they didn’t allow me to mention the name of the second person before I was given a dirty slap on my face and they said, ‘Pack your things from this house’.
They locked the door against me in middle of the night. I had to sleep in one of the kiosks in the market. But I have no regret because I still went to school the next day; it was only after I left school that it dawned on me that I didn’t have a home to return to. But I heard a voice: ‘The day your father and mother forsake you, that day I will take you up’. And since 1974, God has never let me down because He raised up brethren in the church who took care of me to the the best of their ability.
How were you converted to Christianity?
There was a time I went to stay with my uncle in a place called Egbefa, I was about 15 years old, I was in school. Two teachers were fighting and they set charms for themselves. Unfortunately I was the first person to pass through the trap; from that moment, I took ill. I fainted seven times.
On the 7th time, I heard a voice, by this time, I was already brought back home to my father, they had already dug my grave because, according to them, it was more than fours that I had been in coma, you know they don’t bury young children generally within the community, it had to be done in the forest because it was seen as a bad omen.
As the grave was being dug, I regained consciousness and ran out of the house to the backyard where we planted cocoyam, I plucked a leaf and took a black snail with it and started shouting, ‘ I have seen it’. And people were astonished and began asking,’ who did you see’? And what I saw was a man with a rod who drove me back from heaven,saying,’ go back, go back and serve me’.
But my father’s interpretation was that it was my grandfather that drove me back to come and serve the gods. But it was a teacher in school who later told me that it was Jesus that spoke to me and not the ancestors as my father made me to believe. So when I got to Benin, I got hold of this Gideon pocket Bible and knelt down by the bed and made a confession that was in the Bible for those who wanted to give their lives to Christ.
That was how I gave my life to Christ, not under or through anybody. From that moment, my life changed such that I was attending church programmes regularly until 1974 when my zeal for God became very strong that there was a family meeting because of me.
Of course I packed my things and left Benin when the situation became unbearable. I came to Lagos in 1975 to stay with an aunt. It took me two days before I could locate her. In between those two days looking for my aunt’s house, I was sleeping at the park, that is Midwest Line Park, Jibowu, Yaba. Later, I went back to school, Archbishop Aggey M
emorial Secondary School, for my WASCE .
Your surname was Oni. Why the change of name?
I changed my name from Oni by adding three letters to make Osa-Oni. I really wanted to separate my name from the Oni family. And, today, Osa-Oni has overshadowed the original Oni name such that most of my siblings have changed to Osa -Oni. Many of them now bear Osa-Oni.
What kind of person was Idahosa,your mentor?
He was a man of faith. He was the Abraham I knew. The Abraham of the Bible, I only read about him, but he(Idahosa), I touched him. He was the one that told me that small men were not ideal, but you can be bigger than you think. He was the one that pushed me forward in the ministry. For example, Vineyard Ministries was only five years plus when he came with my friend, Bishop Oyedepo, and the late Bishop Illuputaife, to consecrate me as bishop because he saw something I could not see then.
He is a man I cherished
so much such that his
photographs are everywhere in my office,. He was a man that pushed me to destiny, that is why I can never forget him. He was a man that didn’t eat alone. He never ate alone and I copied that from him. I don’t eat alone too. He never kept malice with people. If he had misunderstanding with you, that is where it stops, it does not go beyond that, that is what I do too. Today is today. Tomorrow is another day.
Did you envisage you will come this far when you started the church?
I think it is about destiny .I discovered that whatever little thing that I may want to do usually gets out of hands to become something big. That is why we call the first week of April, here in Vineyard, Destiny because that was when it was founded. Whatever brought us to where we are today is mainly destiny.
How did you meet madam?
She came to visit my friend at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos; that was when I first saw her. Then when her senior sister was to wed in 1983, we all left campus for the place. We went to her house for the engagement and, before you knew it in 1985, I finally met her in her church, Christ Chapel, where I proposed to her and she said no way because she never dreamt in her life that she would marry a pastor because, at this time, I was a full-time pastor to serve God; unlike now that everybody wants to marry pastors, it was not so some 28 years back.
How did you convince her then?
I didn’t convince her, I was just praying about it. Even though there were other ladies too who wanted me, I was convinced in my heart that she was the one for me. In those days, we prayed before anything could be done unlike now. Now, people just look at the physical appearance, that is all.