Rev John Okesiji, 92, a retired Baptist clergyman, and his wife of 65 years, Sarah Adegbenjo, an 85-year-old retired school teacher, tell WALE OYEWALE about their experience in marriage
Did you set out to become a cleric?
Pa John: I started as a teacher; I taught for three years at First Baptist Church Day School, Oke-Iho where I passed out in 1949. I taught for one year there. Then I taught at Baptist Church School at Eluwa for two years before I went to the Baptist seminary. I was at the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Oyo State for three years. After graduating, I worked at First Baptist Church, Aguoye, near Ola, Ejigbo and then at Union Baptist Church, Iware in Oyo town. Then, I worked at Alaafia Oluwa Baptist Church, Fiditi and Ori Oke Baptist Church, Ogbomoso before I was ordained. I worked at First Baptist Church, Oyo and Oke-Iho First Baptist Church before I was called to work at First Baptist Church, Oke-Elerin, where I worked for 31 years before I retired in December 1998.
How would you describe your experience as a cleric, especially at Oke-Elerin where you served for 31years?
Pa John: Anywhere I worked, I knew I was really called to be there. At Oke-Elerin, my work was successful. I occupied so many positions. There, I was appointed to government boards twice. First, it was Oyo State Schools Board between 1972 and 1974 and then, Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, 1994 to 1996. I was Secretary, Oyo East Baptist Conference for eight years, as well as Chairman for eight years. Or 15 years, I was also a member, Board of Governors for the seminary where I graduated. In 1984, I was in the United States of America for Baptist Convention. That same year, I went to Harare, Zimbabwe for the same purpose, all because of my activities in the Baptist Convention.
You said you had the conviction that you were meant to be a cleric; was there a time you got tired or regretted ever going into seminary?
Pa John: There was no such time that I got tired of working as a clergy. I love doing it.
What would you describe as the most challenging moments in life?
Pa John: Shortly after I got to Agurodo community where I first worked as a cleric at the Baptist church there, something that got me shattered happened. One day, I saw a lorry that was packed somewhere by the roadside. I asked why the lorry was there and the church members told me one woman was sick, so they arranged for the lorry to take her to the hospital. On the second day, I saw the lorry at the same spot. When I asked why it was still there, they said the woman had died. It was then that they disclosed to me that she was a member of my church. I felt so sad about it.
But that is not where I am going. We were to arrange her burial and on getting to her house, I discovered that members of the ‘Oro’ cult had gathered for her burial. I insisted that the cult group would not bury my church member. It was tough but we were able to bury her. The next day, I heard that a school boy who happened to be a member of my church was struck by lightning and killed instantly in the village. I rushed to the scene and again, I saw the ‘Oro’ cult group dancing around him. They insisted that I could not bury the young boy. We argued. Just then, I got information that the seminary where I got trained had decided to send me to school for secondary education. I had standard six school leaving certificate when I went to seminary. That was how my wife and I left the community. It was the most trying period in my career life but God moved me out of the community by grace.
How did you meet your wife?
Pa John: We are from the same town and the same quarter in the town. We belonged to the same church, attended the same school and our houses were adjacent to each other.
What attracted you to her at that time?
Pa John: I must confess, I don’t actually know. I was attracted to her the first time I saw her. She was a very young girl and she was very delicate. I just felt she was somebody I should have as my wife. That was how it started.
What made you know she was the one for you?
Pa John: We grew up together and it appeared we had the same interests. She loved singing, I loved singing. She was a sportsperson and I was also a sportsperson. She was religious and I was religious too.
How did you feel when your husband proposed to you about 65 years ago?
Madam Sarah: I first objected. I didn’t like it because my father said I should finish my education before thinking of a relationship. Then, I told him my father must not hear of that. I said I was not ready and would not marry.
At what point did you accept his proposal?
Madam Sarah: He went to the seminary in 1952 and graduated in 1954. He resumed work as a pastor at Aguodo. As a pastor, he must get married, so I agreed to follow him. We got married on February 4, 1955.
What attracted you to him when he proposed to you?
Madam Sarah: We went to the same school, though he was my senior. He is older than me. We were in the same place, attended the same church and went for choir practice together. There has never been a time when we are not together, though not on talking when I was still too young. After he finished standard six education, I was still in school. We have always been together.
When you have a disagreement, how do you handle it?
Madam Sarah: It is the Lord’s doing.
How was your childhood?
Madam Sarah: I had standard six school leaving certificate in 1952. I trained as a stenographer in 1959. Then I went to Baptist Missionary School in 1963 before I later attended Provincial Teachers’ Training College, Osogbo in 1976. Later, I attended the University of Ilorin where I had BA English in 1989. I worked as a stenographer in Ghana. Later, in Nigeria, I became a Baptist Convention field worker for many years. From 1976 to 2000, I was a primary school teacher. I retired from service at Ebenezer Baptist School, Ogbomoso.
What can you say about your children?
Pa John: We are blessed with four children. You can see the last one with us. He is John Adegoke. We thank God for all of them; they are doing well.
Did any of your children follow in your footsteps by also becoming a cleric?
Pa John: Unfortunately, none of them is interested in it. I don’t know why. I would have been very happy to have one of them in that line because of my library and other things that I have, but none of them is interested.
Could it be because of the difficulties you faced?
Pa John: Yes. The difficulties are many. You don’t have time to yourself if you are committed. I told you, criticisms are rife in the ministry. Whatever you do, some people would rise against it. I told you some people envied me because of the positions I held. These are some of the difficulties. Then, you must be committed to God; you must always pray and fast.
What is the difference between marriage at your own time and what it is now?
Pa John: Marriage at any point in time in life is usually successful when you marry someone who you love and you are convinced the person loves you. That is the basic thing in marriage that cannot change anytime, either then or now. I love my wife and there is nothing she does that I can’t bear. We never fought. In fact, she appeared too delicate to be manhandled or handled roughly. I felt that way when I first met her, and even now, I still see her as being very delicate.
What are the factors that you think are responsible for broken homes?
Pa John: Before anything, we must ask God to direct us. And, before you get married to anybody, you ought to know them very well. The two families that are involved should know each other too. Everything is from God. They should go into it with God’s backing. If they do this, things should be well with them.
For me, infidelity is one of the factors that are responsible for broken homes. When you are not being truthful with each other, there will be problems. Once you notice dishonesty in your partner, you can no longer trust them again. We usually tell those who have yet to marry to live a moderate life. You cannot always agree; that is allowed. When you disagree, you sit down, talk it over and reconcile.
Sex and money have also been identified as common factors responsible for destabilising homes; has there been any time any of these created problem in your home?
Pa John: Fortunately for me, there was no time such happened. The fact is that when I was preparing myself for the ministry, I made sure I prepared my wife also. She was a teacher; I made her to go to college. I sponsored her education. She went to the University of Ilorin. She had enough, likewise me. Even in retirement, she earns more than me.
What are some of the things that keep your relationship growing?
Pa John: We have always been together. When I used to ride a bicycle, she also learnt how to ride a bicycle and we used to ride together. When I took a bicycle, she would also get on another one and we would ride together to wherever we wanted to go. That is one of the things we did together.
When I was teaching and posted to a village about eight miles away from our town, she used to ride a bicycle to visit me there and when I came to the seminary in Ogbomoso, the village where I was posted to which was the first place where I was a pastor, she was interested in knowing the place so we rode bicycles there together.
What are the biggest things that have made your marriage successful for this long?
Pa John: There are many things; when I was teaching, I was teaching with old standard six certificate. I went to the seminary with that certificate but after three years, I was given a scholarship to have secondary education. When I finished, I was posted to a church. She finished her standard six too and we got married. When I received a letter that I was given a scholarship, there was no way we could be together so she decided to go for secretarial training in a commercial college. She had an interest in education and I had an interest in education also. When I finished secondary education, I went back to the seminary for a degree and she also came to the seminary to get a three-year training certificate.
If she were a man, she would be a pastor also but she’s a pastor’s wife. After that, I came to Ibadan and she was nursing our baby. When I finished, she was appointed as a teacher. Before that, she went to Osogbo to be trained as a teacher for three years and after that, she went to the University of Ilorin for further education, so all those things kept us together. We had the same interests.
Mama, what advice do you have for today’s couple and those intending to marry soon?
Madam Sarah: My advice is that they should know themselves well and be united. Cooperation is very essential. Before they do anything, they should consult God. The lady should be submissive and should not always antagonise her husband.
What is the secret of long life?
Pa John: From my experience, one is satisfaction. That is, being satisfied with whatever God gives you – your children and income. Live a moderate life. Don’t engage in habits that can destroy your life like drinking, fornicating and picking quarrels with people. When I was in school, I was a sportsman and I kept it up throughout life. Every day, I exercise. Now, I can’t go out again, I am 92, but I do it in the compound.
You held many positions in education, church and government; in what ways did your experience shape your attitude?
Pa John: In my life, I like helping people that come my way. Even in my town, I touched the lives of people.
Can you give specific examples of areas where you touched the lives of people in your town?
Pa John: There used to be no post office in my hometown but I facilitated it for them. There is a road in my town which is about two miles, whose rehabilitation I facilitated. When a governor of the state was a member of my church, I made him to pave the road for us. The road connects Lafihan area to Rest House area of the town. Many years ago, we planned to build the king’s palace in my hometown. I met with the state governor and he made a huge donation towards the project; I don’t want to mention the name of the governor.
You are friends with some prominent personalities in the society and some people would expect you to be rich through getting of contracts…
Pa John: As a pastor, I didn’t have time for such things. I was committed to my ministry and that was what I was doing. Having so much money is not my desire. I prefer to engage in what will be beneficial to all like all those things that I facilitated in Oke Iho, my town.
Are you happy with the way Christianity is being practised nowadays compared to the 70s and 80s?
Pa John: That is one headache that I have now. I am not happy at all, even with the way things are in Baptist church, my denomination. You cannot go to a Baptist church and say this is a Baptist church, either because of our dealings with the Christian Association of Nigeria or Bible Society. Even in the recruitment of pastors, you notice a difference. Those that are not called by God find their way in. They do whatever they want to make money. They make a lot of noise. It is all about money; no real message.
I agree perfectly with CAN’s allegation that Christians are being killed. In Nigeria, there is freedom of religion. Everybody has the liberty to practise any religion. But it appears that our political leaders want us all to belong to one religion and that is not possible. I am not happy and my mind is not at rest too because it can lead to unrest.
Unfortunately, from the beginning, Christians felt politics was bad; hence they were not involved in politics. It has got into the hands of people who want to dominate. That is the problem; I don’t know the way out.