Superior Evangelist Olaniyi Oguntimeyin is the Shepherd of the newly dedicated Green Pasture Parish of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), Ikorodu. An amiable and affable clergyman in the vineyard of the Lord had an enchanting chat with The View Magazine on his life and pastoral calling. He has also dedicated his life to the service of humanity as a career through a special foundation with passion to give and never look back. Excerpts:
Can we meet you?
I am Superior Evangelist Olaniyi Oguntimeyin, a shepherd in the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) in the United States of America (USA) and also here in Nigeria. God used me to build this church for Him and we named it Green Pasture Parish which means ‘Papa Oko Tutu’ in Yoruba Language. It was given to us in Psalm 23 which says: “Lie down in green pastures,” wherein God has promised to make His followers comfortable and give them joy; to reduce their labour and give them happiness. We used all those words in Psalm 23 in building this church and that’s what we are doing. It’s not a church for making money but to bless the poor and help the worshippers; to see how we can reduce their sufferings; alleviate them and make them comfortable. That’s what we do in the US and Nigeria.
There are some other churches with equal mission, what set your church apart from others?
It depends on individual’s calling. You must have seen a lot in this life, I was born into the poorest family in this country; a family that could not feed nor clothe it’s children and send them to school but by God’s grace having gone through all that, I see the sufferings of human beings from my own personal experiment, I have seen it all, I have labored. I started working at the age of 11 after primary school, I worked for five years, I worked with bricklayers, carpenters, I fetched firewood, worked on farm lands and at the end of five years, I went back to secondary school and enrolled as a day student so I can work and pay my school fees for another five years. By God’s grace, I moved from one level to another, I did it by myself, so I knew what suffering is all about, but there is one thing that is very important in life, God has promises for everybody regardless of your family background. I experienced God’s grace, favor and blessing.
After my secondary school, by God’s favor I got a job in the bank with the help of someone. While I was a clerk in the bank, I enrolled for professional banking, I became a professional banker in two years which often take people about six years then. My AGM told me, “You are very brilliant, I want you to have a degree.” He gave me a letter and I was enrolled as an Accounting student at the University of Lagos and while I was in school , the bank was still paying me salary for four years and after that I went back for MBA and the bank was still paying me; the bank got me a guest house as accommodation but I didn’t stay there, I was living with three boys in a room at Marere Hall because I wanted to see the life students were living and I stayed among the students for that four years for my MBA. I was coming from home and my lectures were during the weekends and in the evenings during week-days, so it was easy for me without paying a kobo. So, if a child from a poor family could get the best freely in that manner, I will call it the grace of God. The grace has called me and the grace lifted me. Travelling out of this country is also by His grace, all I have achieved is by His grace. I took three children from this country to United States.
My first son is a medical doctor, my daughter is a chartered accountant and my youngest son is a manager. So, I can say God has lifted me and the grace was extended to my children, so whatever we do in life, we have to be patient and wait for God’s time; it’s not about age, some can have theirs at the early stage and some, later in the evening or night so with that I told myself I will start something for God and help people who are experiencing what I went through in my early days, that’s what brought about this church.
Were you born into the Celestial Church?
Thanks very much, it’s a good and interesting question. I was born into an Anglican church in our village. There is always one Reverend in one church, not like today where you have so many positions and back then my Dad was a leader but after my primary school, I left for the Celestial Church and there was only one Celestial Church in Ondo town back then. Every week days, I was in the church and a woman asked me, ‘Why did you like this church? And I told her I just love the church, no one brought me here and she bought me my first white garment (Sutana). My father was annoyed and he did all he could to stop me but he could not stop me, that was in 1970. Two years after, my father died and my Mum couldn’t stop me either, so they left me alone. I wasn’t staying with them anymore and I left home and focused on the church. No one approached nor invited me, my spirit was just drawn to that church; I loved it and that is the greatest thing God has ever done for me.
There are lots of misconceptions about white garment churches. What is your take on this?
That’s true! There are lots but one thing in life is, it’s not about the church, it’s about individuals. Whatever you want to do in life, do it well. To be a Christian, you must be honest to serve God, you must have faith. If you are worshipping God and you don’t have these, it’s in vain. So you must be focused and your mind and heart will work directly with God. You don’t look at anybody or what people are saying.
A lot of people have been part of the destruction in the Celestial Church, both home and abroad especially the Shepherds because of their own personal interest. If you are doing anything with your personal interest, you cannot serve God. I have spent a lot of money for this church and it’s not my own money, it is God that provided it, so it is spending God’s money for God because whatever I have, it’s through His grace. I return it to Him and He owns the glory. I don’t do anything to enrich myself. Whatever money I have, I will think of how to use for God and I will become a happy person. I am the happiest person on earth so the moment I use the money to benefit people, I will be happy.
When did you receive your altar call?
That was in 2001
How did it happen?
That was in the Desert and I was there for 21 days. I was going to Libya and there was no water; it was full of hot sand and wind; no tree; nothing grows in the Desert; you can even become blind in the Desert if you don’t wear thick glasses and cover your head and body very well to avoid your hair and body changing colour. When I was in the Desert, it got to a point, I was afraid and I couldn’t go back or move forward.
I was to go to Europe but I couldn’t raise enough money to go and I had six months French visa and it got expired. Somebody told me I could go to Libya since I’m educated and I could get a teaching job because Libya was having problem with the Americans then so they seized all Americans operations but they were not educated enough to run the institutions, so they needed people with western education to take over the institutions and the only closest countries with that was Nigeria and Ghana. There was a connection in Kaduna for such opportunity by travelling through Niger.…. but it was with the Hausas and I joined them and I saw different stuffs but I was always praying. I brought a cross with me then and I was doing my service, even when I got to Libya, I continued the service in my room. That was how I got started, after two years I left Libya because there was problem, I later went to Gambia then to London and then America.
Were you not scared of moving from these various countries?
Initially, I was afraid but God took away the spirit of fear away from my mind in the Desert. I don’t have any fear in my mind, there is nothing I cannot do, and there is no place I cannot go, be it night or day. I can get up here by 12 midnight and walk to Ketu with confidence. The spirit of fear disappeared completely in my mind. The Bible says, “Fear not in the arms of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
How did you come about building this church?
I bought this land almost 20 years ago when I came back from Gambia and I was connected to this place through someone. I bought it and the whole environment was full of bush.
I have tried so many times to build house on the land but failed, I spent a lot of money but in 2016 during my harvest, I was given a message that the land is not for me to build house for myself, it’s for the house of God. I came back home in 2019 when my Mum died. After the burial, I called a shepherd and I told him it’s time to start building the church of God here and I started sending money. But Corona Virus came and even the shepherd later fell sick and told him to call one Dare to continue from where he stopped. We built the church to the roofing stage and everything suddenly came down. I told him not to worry and that he should call a company to clear the rubbles we paid them.
We started the foundation again in October, 2020 during End SARS period, we were being disturbed; that was when we met The View publisher, Peter Ajayi who helped us and within six months, the building got completed. On 29th of May 2021, the building was commissioned
Can you elaborate on how the building came down?
Life is full of challenges, even if you are working for God or for yourself, there is hardly anything you do without problems. There will be difficulties, there will be obstacles but when you stand firmly with God, you will succeed. I am a kind of person that whatever I put my head, I will always forge ahead. I will find way, no matter how difficult it is and that is why we didn’t give up even when he (Dare) thought it is over, I told him my name is Abraham which means ‘Faith’. Abraham was very faithful such that God called him His friend. God called him at his early age and his blessings were for this generations and that’s what the Israelites are enjoying till today. Life is like that, it may not be easy in the morning and it will turn around in the afternoon. Don’t give up and as long as you are still breathing, there is hope.
How do you go about mobilizing for your congregation?
There was congregation while we were building this place because the Holy Spirit was coming in. One day, I was sleeping and God was telling me when the Angels come, there are no seats for them to sit and that I should buy seats and I told Dare to start buying seats and kept them inside the building while it is still being constructed. Everything work in the spirit, if you are going to be blessed, you must first be blessed in the spirit before people can see it physically. So, this place was built first in spirit and people were coming and the moment we complete it, the people are there already. This is just the beginning, we have more to do and we are just getting started.
How are you able to acclimatize yourself with the culture and norms of other celestial churches in Nigeria especially in Lagos considering the fact that you lived abroad?
Celestial Church has a doctrine, either home or abroad and it is the same. Our doctrine, our mode of service is the same but in one way or the other, some people might bring some hymn that is not part of it. That is why some see Celestials as ritualists, there are some certain things they do that is not part of our doctrine and that is what we are trying to remove. What they are doing in Benin Republic is different from what they are doing in Lagos. Also, what we are doing in America is different from what we do here. In America, government control churches and every church has a standard and you have to do it according to the law; you can’t do anything against the law. People bring their own background into the Celestial Church which is not part of the doctrine. Celestial is a pure, clean and spiritual church.
What is responsible for the seeming leadership crisis within the Celestial Church?
People are now in because of their own personal gain. In most cases, we don’t look at the spiritual side; we are looking at what we can benefit and how we can benefit. We look more into benefit, most of our Shepherds are more interested in benefits; they don’t care whether the members are in pain; they don’t care either members can feed or have roof over their heads, but rather it’s what they have to bring. Some members believe in what the shepherds or pastors say and when he says, bring, they bring and the shepherds doesn’t care from where they are bringing it. This is what is affecting us today. It’s all about benefitting.
Are you planning to settle down finally here in Nigeria?
Not now, I will still be here, I will spend one month here and two months there. This is my fourth time of coming to Nigeria this year.
In the next 10 years, where do you see this church?
That was why I said we are just getting started; we have a long way to go and by His grace, we will be there.
So far, how has it been?
It’s been so wonderful, everybody in this environment is happy and that is the purpose; it’s our name and it sounds better in Yoruba “Papa Oko Tutu, Nibi Ti Oluwa Ti Ntu Awon Eniyan Lara.’ It is what this place is known for.
Don’t you think some people come to church because of what they will benefit from the Church?
They will come here to worship God and be comfortable, we are not asking them for money to build the church, no one is doing that here, God is taking care of that. The purpose of people being here is to worship God. One of my missions is to reduce member’s burden and to see how they can benefit; how they can benefit; how things can be easier for them.
Do you replicate all these in America too?
A lot of people come from Africa and they don’t have anywhere to stay, we house them. The most difficult and expensive thing in America is housing and we try as much as possible to provide that. We also provide them food and other basic needs until such a time they can fend for themselves.
What other business do you do?
I run a personal business which I have handed over to my children and the business is booming even while I’m here, they are still calling me. The business is about helping people with disabilities; I registered as a Care-giver, helping the less-privileged and the government pay a lot of money to me from America, it’s the government responsibility to take care of the people but in Nigeria, they don’t really care about the less-privileged. People who can’t talk, or walk properly needs help and we provide that help for them one way or the other.
People’s quest for seeking divine favours from God through churches and mosques are quite alarming. Yet Nigeria as a country seems to be in the wood, what do you think is responsible for this?
Our major problem here is leadership. The government has failed and if there is no government, there is no country. Government is the backbone of every country, government regulate every system in the economy, they take care of things people cannot do and if government can’t do it, what will individuals do, so our country has become a lawless country because the government has failed. There is no security, I sometimes sleep in the army barrack because I’m afraid, I don’t know what will happen on the streets, I don’t know what people are planning but over there, the security there is first class. The Army let me use their guest house because I have top military officers as friends, so I always have opportunity to lodge with top military men. This is because the government cannot provide security but in USA, it’s government’s priority; I can sleep and leave my door opened in the USA but even here in my own of country, I don’t even trust my own siblings.
Speaking of doctrine, you made mentioned of USA regulating the churches, is that not affecting your mode of operation over there?
No! It doesn’t affect us because our doctrine is God’s way. We are not doing what is bad or not supposed to do, like going to bush to perform rituals, but that is not our doctrine and you can’t do that in America. The way we operate, worship, pray and sing is the same and the Americans love it.
What about the Deliverance Service?
People turn Deliverance Service to magic where people would be falling down but no, it is when the prophet and prophetess are in the spirit to give message, then people follow what they say and do. If the message is of God and is actually sent, whatever they say will be the same. Doing deliverance and casting out demons is not of celestial but we believe in prophets and prophetesses, if we are conducting service, the spirit will descend and use somebody to give message. For example, someone who is about to die can be told to stay in church and pray for three days and the person will be delivered, not that the person will fall and start rolling on the ground, we don’t do that here.
What is your message for people doing that?
If God sent them and that’s the doctrine, let them do whatever they think is of God, I will not condemn what anyone is doing. I will only do what I believe in.
With your passion to alleviate people’s suffering, do you have or run an NGO?
My business is non-profit organization. This church is registered in USA as an NGO and all churches come under NGO. We have opportunity to receive things in the church’s name and distribute it to the people that seriously need it.
What about people that use this opportunity to register as an NGO and divert it into other personal use?
That’s certain to happen but in the USA, everything government is doing, they monitor it; if they give you anything under Non-Profit Organization, they want to know how you manage it. If one cannot show it the first and second year, it will be cancelled. You must render returns; it is a country where people respect the law and you do everything according to the law and there are bodies that regulate and monitor Non-Profit Organizations.
What part of Celestial leadership do you belong to?
By His grace, I am a member of’ ‘The Diocese.’That’s the body that controls the entire body, we are under Ketu, that’s the source and we pay allegiance to whoever is there because it is headquarter.
How can you replicate Imeko over there in America?
The spirit of God is not stationed or tied to a particular place. The place was built for a particular purpose but the spirit moves. As a man of God, you can be called to move from here to another place and do something for them there and when you get there, you do exactly what you have been doing here. They do the anointing service in Imeko for those in Nigeria and we also do anoint in USA for all our members in USA but it still the same pastor that do the anointing here that will go to US to do the anointing.
Who are the people that populate your church over there in US?
Mainly, African community, like 80 % Africans, then 10 % from others that got married or are friends to Americans. Then 10 % from those that got married or have friends that are connected with America. We have people from different backgrounds worshipping in the Celestial but generally, it’s dominated by Africans. Nigerians might be like 60 %, then other African countries like 30%. Nigeria dominates the Celestial folds outside the country. For example, you will find English speaking people in America because it’s an English-speaking country and if you go to France, you will see the Cameroonians, the Beninois and other French speaking countries. It’s all about the language
Tell us more about yourself and your background
I am from Ondo town in Ondo State and both my father and mother are from there.
I was born into an Anglican family and my father and mother who are now late were Anglicans too. I was born into a family of five, I have an elder brother and an elder sister and a younger brother and a younger sister.
How do your siblings see you?
They see me as their father, I said I worked for five years before going to school, while I was in the bank, I sponsored my elder brother to secondary school, secondary school was five years straight in the 1970s, and there was no junior nor senior secondary school so I told him to go. Immediately he finished secondary school, he impregnated a lady, this was the period of Ebute port construction in September 1975 and that was when he got his first job. The whole plan was after he completed secondary school, he would get a job and I will be able to go back to school. But that same year he got the job, he impregnated his girlfriend and this became a problem. The lady’s family said he has to marry her; it was difficult for him because he was earning less than N200 per month as a clerk and he needed to take care of his wife, the incoming child and also rent a room. But that didn’t stop me from going and I went to secondary school in that same 1975.
After school and every weekend, I go to work so I can raise money to pay my school fees as a day student. My family see me as somebody God has used for the whole family. My elder sister went to Modern School and back then after modern school, you can teach but she didn’t teach, she also got married so I gave her my first loan from the bank to start trading. While working in the bank, I sent money to my two younger siblings for their school education. I was living here in Ikorodu and the four of them were comfortable before I left for abroad.
You’ve been running selfless service, is that why it’s no big deal for you even when you became a shepherd?
That’s what I have been doing since I was 11 but if it was US, they won’t allow me because I was a small boy. Back then, I fetched water, carry blocks, mop floors, farming, anything to make money, I will do it
When you see artisans working in the church, does it take your mind back to your humble beginning?
I used to tell them this is what I did in the past and it’s not new to me. I’m making more money now but the money I was getting then was really valuable.
What inspire you?
My background, my sufferings. What I have passed through in life pushed me to where I am today but my mission is to be successful.
Who are your role-models?
There are two Americans I read a lot about, their background and how they also suffered in life and they became successful human beings. Whatever you are doing or want to do in life, don’t give up and with God on your side, you will be successful. No one can pull you down but when you are successful, enemies will rise either spiritual or physical but with God, all things are possible.
Was there any time you thought of giving up?
No! Never, even when the church collapsed and Dare called me, I asked him if he has faith because if your faith is not strong, you cannot work with me so he geared up. I think my spirit motivated him and everything became easy.
How have you been able to impact positively on your church members considering the fact that people nowadays are not after salvation?
It’s telling them from the scripture, everything that we have done and we have gone through is in the scripture. So, there is nothing new, most of the purpose of a church is for people to have faith. If you don’t have faith in God, you are wasting your time; when you pray, you must have faith that you will get what you want, faith is what you believe in and you cannot see, you must also be hardworking.
Considering that you have travelled outside the country so many times, why didn’t you settle down in highbrow areas such as Lekki or Ajah, why did you choose Ikorodu?
There are no poor people in Lekki, a lot of people do that but I can’t because you have to live in the midst of people who are going through what you have experienced in life. We are all equal before God, it’s not about our position or who we are and everyone was created in God’s image, which means we are all equal. I don’t see myself different because I have lived in America. We are still equal, we can pray, eat and sleep together. That is love. The love of God
We heard you have an upcoming event; do you mind telling us about it?
Yes, that’s on the 10th of September and that will mark 100 days of this church’s existence.
The aim is to give more people courage, God’s spirit and if you are working with God, you must be in light and when you walk in the light, there won’t be darkness in your life.
In the course of this interview, you made mentioned of African leadership vacuum
It is still a problem because when you go outside Nigeria and you see what leaders have done, then you come back home and it’s like there is no leader. The difference is clear
in developed world, no one is above the law. For example, if you are driving, everyone maintains their lane and respect the traffic law even if you are the president. In Nigeria, everybody has a price tag, there is no price tag in the developed countries, so if anyone wants to get you, it is to get your price tag. That is why they cannot change the country even though the leaders have seen what’s going on in advance countries.
What do you think can be done to stop this?
It’s difficult, I don’t know, even if Jesus Christ comes to Nigeria, I don’t think he can correct it; I have not given up on Nigeria. The system is difficult to repair because it’s like an institution even when they want to get to power, they promise a lot of things and by the time they get there, they turn to what their predecessors have done.
Don’t you think religious leaders have a very big role to play?
Because they know the price of all these political leaders
Do you think religious leaders should join politics?
I don’t believe in it but even though they don’t go, they are in politics. Do you know that these most respectable leaders go to do in Abuja? If they are not in politics, what are they doing there, are they there to pray; they are all politicians. They will do something for them to be quiet even when they see the right thing, they will not say it.
In Nigeria’s culture, the system has gone beyond repair, it is very difficult for any Angel to sanitize Nigeria, I don’t think that angel will come to this place; the angel will prefer to stay in a white man’s country because the angel will be disturbed overnight. Any angel that is coming from God and says he wants to work in Nigeria, that angel will not last because the forces here are very terrible.
How do you unwind?
Whatever we do in life, once we have God, He is the only one that strengthen us. I don’t come here alone, travelling to some states in US is like going to another country, you can spend like eight hours on a journey, so I travel a lot even for this harvest, people have been calling me that I should come and give sermon all year round, it’s all about travelling.
How do you create time for your family considering you are busy and travelling around the world?
When the Lord blessed me, the blessings was extended to my family, they are not looking unto me because they are comfortable. They have the fear of God in them and they are successful. I have three children and they are in the US; they don’t want to come to Nigeria and they are always begging me not to come to Nigeria, telling me they don’t want me to die because they believe Nigeria is dangerous country but what God told me to do, I must do it even until my last day, I will do it, I have no fear.
Are your children members of the Celestial Church?
They are, even my last born is a prophet in the Celestial Church.
Harvest is a period of thanksgiving but many believe it’s a period of gathering money, what’s your take on this?
No! that’s what people say. The day I was invited to church, they wanted to lodge me in hotel but I would never accept it, anywhere I am going, I buy my own ticket, if I can’t sleep in the church, I sleep in my vehicle. I prefer giving people than people giving me. I extend hands to people, I don’t fold hands; folding hands from people is a sin, extending is giving and is good. Whatever you are doing, you are sowing and God will reward you. When we harvest, we rejoice together and do everything together, it’s not everything that is harvested for the pastor. It is all about giving back. Whatever we harvest, it is God that put it in the soil so you need to bring it back to God and to people so everyone can enjoy. It’s all about giving back. It’s not really about the food or drinks, it’s about thanking God and appreciating him, go to His presence and give testimony about your life in the congregation
What’s your take about people moving from white garment churches to Pentecostal churches?
I will never condemn whatever anyone is doing but whatever I’m doing, I will continue doing because judgement is not for man so if you say whether this is good or bad, you are judging and God said “thou shall not judge” and I will never judge.
You have cleared the air about what harvest ought to be but we have seen situations in churches especially white garment churches where people belonging to different associations within the church who are being taxed as part of the fund-raising drive of the church, what is your opinion on this?
Whatever they want to do, that money is not for church. During harvest, its normal to expect a large crowd and God said you should feed people and to feed a large number of people, it involves money so instead of one or two persons, let everyone be partaker, the church will cook for everyone, and everybody will have different food and drinks to take home. It’s not for the pastor to go buy car.
Some churches do not believe in tithe and some do, what do you have to say about that?
It is in the Bible so why should you condemn what the Bible says. The Bible said we should pay tithe which means bring this percentage out of your earnings to the church of God. It is not everyone that can pay tithe, a jobless person cannot pay tithe. You should not borrow money to pay tithe. It is those who are gainfully employed or those who are successful in business, so when you pay title, we can give out to those who don’t have that opportunity to pay tithe, that’s what the tithe is meant for. Somebody came here last week and said her spirit said she should give out to widows; tithe is meant for that.
What’s your message to the people in the vineyard, to the nation, and to the youths?
My message to everyone is that whatever you think you are doing, think of how who will be judged by God, not by men. Men will judge you about what they said about you, either right or wrong. Most of the judgment in the world, is not based on the truth or fact but the chief judge have record of everything we do, so I will not mind what people say but in my mind, I am concerned about God’s judgment. In everything I do, I will think first,
how will God judge me?