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Joseph Olanrewaju Obembe, a cardinal, archbishop and founder of El-Shaddai Bible Church, Lagos, recently passed on to glory, aged 63. The former Chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Lagos Chapter, is being missed by a retinue of followers and members of his family. In this interview with SEYI JOHN SALAU, Olanrewaju Obembe, the eldest son of the late cleric, spoke about the life and times of his father, Obembe. Excerpts:
How does it feel losing such a special person in your life?
I don’t know how best to properly answer that question because loss is a very weird thing. No matter how you might think about it or try to prepare about it; when it actually comes around it’s never the same. Like you said, to lose somebody who you’ve seen all your life just shows you the brevity of life, and how we are just working under grace basically. So, how do I feel? I really cannot put it into words but we trust in God to take every day as it comes. A lot of people are quick to pray and say – forgive and forget, but it doesn’t work that way because you are not necessarily going to be praying for amnesia but we can only pray for grace to remember less. The bible has told us how God is the Father to the fatherless; we can only lean on him more to help through this trying times. It goes without saying that the lost is enormous and these are going to be some really big shoes to fill-in because when you have people like my dad who have had a special connection with God, it goes a long way; all you can do is just lean on Him.
Would you say he saw it coming?
I will answer that question by saying nothing comes to God by surprise because this is one of the things I have found in my faith– the fact that there is no accident with God and if you look a bit about physics, there are lots of variables that come to play every day for us to have whatever outcome; and if there are variables in play, then it is not a coincidence that somebody has to be orchestrating with all these things. The fact that you are here means that you have to leave your house at a particular time; a car has to move at a particular speed. I have to do a lot of what I have to do and we have to communicate at this time; so you are living your life on one side, I am living mine, but we have to come here together; so I wouldn’t say that it came as a surprise to God because he is the author and finisher of our faith– he controls everything; but it’s we who don’t see the end from the beginning that it might come as a surprise to, and I think that is why we have words like accident because they are not planned.
What are you going to miss the most about your dad?
Everything. I mean we could be here from now till tomorrow and it still wouldn’t be enough. He can talk about how he searched for lack of better words; quote and unquote ‘a crazy dreamer’ we have seen that even with technology you have to push. He had a dream; he has a purpose and it has become my life’s work or one of my own purpose to see as much of his dreams I can push; am not going to be the only one to spear-head it but one of the things I found out about him is that he had a dream, and for every dream he had, he has somebody God connected him with. One of the major things I will miss is the fact that we don’t have that direct guardian anymore and basically I have to put on my ‘big boy’ cap and move because he has done his own due diligence, he has done the hard work; he has connected with God; so now, we have to start and there is no intermediary as it were: so, I will miss the fact that we can no longer share those moments of encouragement, and a lot of personal things I would not be able to share.
Is that a way of saying he has passed the baton to you, and are you ready to take up that challenge?
Can people be really ready for challenges? I think that it is a challenge because you really can’t do it and if I could do it; it wouldn’t be a challenge and I don’t think anybody is ready for challenges. But, like I said – when it comes you put on your ‘big boy’ cap and pray for guidance; and you do it. You will make your mistakes; you will fail, failure is part of the process: I have never been afraid to fail because one of the things I have learnt from him is that failure is actually part of the process and you cannot escape it because one of the things he always says is ‘success has many fathers and failure doesn’t – failure is an orphan’. We only celebrate those who have made achievement; we can point to a lot of things that he has done but a lot of people don’t know a lot he couldn’t accomplished; it is a natural way – by faith maybe, but we can’t do it alone and like I said, we will take things as they come. It is like a daily bread; every day as it comes we lean on God and see how far we can go.
Do you think the church will pursue his dream of owning a private university?
My dad is a lot of things – he is definitely a dreamer and that is why nobody can dispute the fact that a lot of the dreams he had a couple of years/decades ago; some could argue and say he is a mad man because people who don’t get the dream don’t say it until it comes to past. There is a quote that says it’s only crazy or impossible until it’s done. So, God pays for whatever he orders, that’s why he has the provision – so, for vision there is a provision. If God gives him the dream, it is safe to say that it will come to past; it doesn’t matter how long, it may tarry but it will come to past. I am not going to speculate on who or what because that is not our job – our job is to trust and work, and it will get done. It’s in human nature to want to streamline and over think things and want to know who would: David wanted to build God a temple in the bible and he did everything, and God still said no; and it was the son that ended up building it. At the end of the day, did he get the temple he wanted to build; he did. As long as it is a God-given dream, God will make provision and pay for it. He did not ask us to do anything; so far whatever we have been able to accomplish on the institution did not come from anything that we could say we can boast about because through-out the process we have seen God’s hands at work. So, it’s not far-fetched to say that it would be done because it’s God’s dream.