Pastor Osas Obarisiagbon recently left office as the head of the youth arm of the Church of God Mission with headquarters in Benin, Edo State, after serving for 10 years. In this interview with BANJI ALUKO, he speaks about how he was able to combine banking with his religious responsibilities and the practice of Christianity in Nigeria. Excerpts:
When did you give your life to Christ?
I had a conservative Christian background as my mother was a born-again as at the time we were growing up. So, going to church was natural to us. I, however, had to take a decision for myself because there was a time I had a revolution in my mind. I questioned everything. Then I wouldn’t say ‘Jesus is Lord.’ I actually questioned everything and I found out the truth for myself. The truth is that there is God and that same God loves humanity. God loves humanity and He sent someone called Jesus, not as a religious figure, but as a son of His. How did I arrive at these conclusions? Jesus performed miracles to tell the world how much he cares. He gave the world a commandment to love our fellow human beings. That is the most important commandment.
What is your view about the way religion is practised in Nigeria?
The whole essence of religion as espoused by Jesus is that God gave Jesus one message, which is, to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is the most important commandment that every human being should follow. The second message is the freedom to become whatever one can be in life. Jesus’s position was freedom for human souls. He confirmed his authenticity through the miracles he performed. The miracles were not to make him look like God, but to underline the fact that he came from God. The way people practise religion today is totally against the ultimate religion. What is the ultimate religion? The love of fellow human beings.
Does that mean that meeting in church is not the most important thing?
They say that iron sharpens iron. The idea of congregating is good because we congregate to learn. In ancient times, they had central learning places. That was how universities evolved. We congregate to learn about God, humanity and survival. It is part of the human experience. Emphasis, however, should be on love for humanity. That is what Jesus said.
What was the experience like as the head of the youth arm of the Church of God Mission International?
I was the head for 10 years. My coming in was full of drama because I was never interested in the position. I was already a banker then. When the archbishop called me to say that I was the one, I gave all the excuses in this world, but she refused.
Why were you uninterested in the position?
So many reasons. I felt that I naturally didn’t have the energy for arguments and intrigues. I just wanted to do my job and not get involved in issues with people. There could be many issues such as respect, money matters and so on that I didn’t want to be involved in. I was also not in the mainstream of youth activities at that time. She (Archbishop Idahosa) insisted and I took the challenge. I remember the day I was announced, some people got angry and walked out. They called it imposition. As of that time, the youth ministry was fraught with what I will call local revolution.
Then you will hear that a branch locked up the church saying they didn’t like the pastor or a new pastor was brought in and they didn’t like him. God, however, helped us and we applied wisdom. I observed that majority of the youths in the Church of God Mission then wanted to become pastors. This was largely due to the influence of Archbishop Benson Idahosa. He was such a powerful influence. If you were under him, though he encouraged us to explore the world and all that, you would feel that you had a calling to become a pastor. The perspective we brought was that one can become a pastor and still be a professor, judge, banker or anything. You must not relinquish your social responsibilities for the church. That was the value we brought. So, there is a level of change in the youth ministry from the core clerics at the helm of affairs to the career people. That doused the tension. You know that there is a way career pastors think that would be quite different from a full time pastor.
But some churches prefer full-time pastors so that they can fully concentrate on the task at hand. Which do you prefer?
I would prefer a situation whereby a pastor is allowed to be himself and allowed to serve God freely. One can do pastoral work and when the demand becomes overbearing, one can now choose to go into it full-time, provided pastoral work can pay the bills. For me, I don’t want pastoral work to pay my bills. That is why I did not go into full-time pastoral work. I don’t want to be dependent on the ministry; that is very limiting.
Do you subscribe to the involvement of clerics in politics?
A pastor is a Nigerian and he has the right to participate. Watch the people who dominate international news, are they not politicians? They are the people deciding our world and regulating our lives. That shows you how important politics is. If you think you can change the world and affect lives through political participation, go in there irrespective of the fact that you are imam or a bishop.