Bishop Oscar Ossai, Presiding Bishop of City of Refuge Ministry Int’l is full of joy and gratitude to God as he reflects on his stride in life on the commemoration of his 60th birthday on October 16, 2020. In the interview below with Christian Benefits’ Wole Olarinde and Peace James he shares his eventful odyssey in life at 60. Excerpts.
Sir congratulations on your 60th birthday. Please can we meet you?
I’m Bishop Oscar Ossai, Presiding Bishop of City of Refuge Ministry Int’l
How does it feel clocking 60 years on earth?
While growing up when I heard people are 60 years old I used to feel they are about to die. It sounded very far-fetched to be 60 years. Now that I am 60 I feel differently. I feel normal. I thank God for my 60 years of living on earth. I’m grateful to God for keeping me to clock 60 in life. This can only be God. I had no plans, was merely taking each day as they came
What are you most grateful to God for at 60?
The greatest thing the Lord has given to me is my family. I’m blessed with a lovely family. I have one wife and five children and they are all doing very well.
What has life taught you at 60th?
At 60, life has taught me a lot. I’m beginning to realize that nobody will take care of you other hand than yourself. Don’t outsource the management of your life to anybody. Manage your life by yourself. Take responsibility for your life. Don’t leave it for people. That is one good lesson I’ve learnt. If you are not careful you will outsource the critical decision-making in your life, your vision, ambition, aspirations and happiness etc to the wrong people to decide or manage for you. You need to sit back and think what exactly is in this thing that I want to achieve. Life is all about taking responsibility for your life.
Let’s have a look at your upbringing, including your educational attainment.
I come from a large family of 11 children; four boys and seven girls, same parents. We were a closely knitted family of one father and one mother. No matter how rough life was outside we always had to go home at the end of the day. We had enough food to eat. We had people who asked you where you have been. There was a sense of accountability and responsibility to the family. My mother would be worried about my whereabouts. My mother would be worried about what I do. I grew up reading lots of novels by James Hardly Chase, Nick Carter, adventures of Sherlock Holmes among others. I loved reading more publications by corgi publishers than those from Panther publishers. I read all of corgi publications and not less than ten novels by Panther, publishers of James Hardly Chase. This was when I was young until I got committed to Christ after my conversion in 1975 while in form two in the secondary school. I started my Christian life from the Scripture Union (S.U).
Share with us some of your childhood fond memories, particularly the pranks and some other naughty things you played as a kid?
As a young boy I attended St Joseph Catholic Church. The church had a big entrance door that was open for service every Sunday from 6a.m-7a.m. As kids we used to play a naughty game at that wide door every Sunday morning. We went to church every Sunday to play this funny game. We would jump into the crowd; lift up our legs squeezed in the crowd and got floating in the crowd entering into the church through the wide door. The crowd would push us inside the church with our legs in the air. As the crowd enters the church the pressure reduces and we would just land on the ground. This naughty game I did at the wide door every Sunday was the only reason I attended church. I didn’t attend for the sermon. I never listened to the preaching, but religiously went to church every Sunday to catch this fun. Second, I had a girl friend. I was a privileged child in the sense that my family was well known because my father was a comfortable civil servant; not in the sense that he had lots of money. My family was the most educated family in our village. So, it was a plus for anyone in the village relating with us. So, I had my fair share of young girls attracted to me. I grew up from this kind of background. One problem I had after I gave my life to Christ was how to break from my past. I was born again in the school but still worldly at home. Gradually with the help of God I began to fast and pray at home. In 1974 when I gave my life to Christ to be a Christian was not easy. I was the first born again Christian possibly the only one in my local government. The principal called me and said he heard that I had joined the church that claps hands because my village in Enugu state was predominantly Catholic. I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. My confirmation name is Elvis while my baptismal name is Elias the Catholic version of Elijah in the Bible.
How will you describe the kind of training your parents gave to you?
My parents showed me much love, particularly my mother. My mother played a very critical role in my life. There are things I do today not because I’m a Christian but as a result of the training that my mother gave to me. My mother often told me a wise saying in Igbo language, “Oje ngwa ngwa na ana ngwa ngwa, “meanings don’t be too hasty in life as it ends in unpleasant ways. This means I should never be in a hurry to do or achieve anything in life. She counseled me to be calm and take my time in doing things. When I began to show interest in politics she asked me if I had joined a secret society. I told her I’m a pastor. She begged me not to join any secret society. Till now my mother influences me a lot. If there is any child the family had reason to worry about that should be me because as a child I had the tendency of going wild. All eyes were on me. When I got angry she would come to my room and talk sense into me. A typical influence of her impact upon my life was when I traveled abroad and wanted to buy a pair of shoe worth $200 . I said if I convert that amount to naira that would be N80,000. What came to my mind was that if my mother hears that I bought a pair of shoes for N80,000 what would she say to me? The first time I prayed and demons manifested in two ladies and saliva was pouring out from their mouths, I stood and was in shock wondering what mama; my mother would think seeing this scene. She would be wondering what happens if those women bite me. She would naturally tell me that this kind of Christianity you now practice is dangerous. I always asked myself, what will mama say if she sees me doing this kind of ministration? I’m exactly like my father. My father is not bothered about anything. He is more interested in global issues. Everyone in the village knew him as a straight forward civil servant. He was not an extremist. He was the conscience of the village so to say. Whenever he returned home from work the whole family celebrated him. My father was not a person whose discipline or influence would bother us.
Share with us your born again experience, by which you became a believer?
As I earlier said I got born again in March 1974 at the Scripture Union when I was in form two in the secondary school. That year the Scripture Union held a crusade which my immediate elder sister attended. When she returned home from that crusade and told me that some people were healing the sick by laying hands on them, I said Amaka, (his sister) you are mad! When are you going to be serious? I asked her how a person can lay hand on the sick and they get healed? And you believed it to the extent that you are telling me that. This my sister and I always argued with each other but we understood each other very well. One thing about me is if I argue a matter I will secretly go find out the truth about the matter. So the next day I secretly crawled to the crusade ground. I had malaria incidentally same period. The brethren there prayed for me and I was healed. This was way out of this world plus experiencing a heavenly bliss. It was an experience I could not let go off. From there I started attending Scripture Union fellowship. I was the youngest boy in the fellowship. I ran errand for the senior brethren in the fellowship and was getting integrated every day. When I returned home from school, I would drop my bag and go to the house of Bro. Sam Iyege who was then the President of the fellowship. I began to see a Christian life. I adopted that life and learning and understanding the scripture. My mother would say to me you have read all manner of novels what is there in the Bible that you have not read that you sit down a whole day to read. Besides the Bible as a younger convert I read the books of Jimmy Swagger, Kenneth Hagins, and T.L Osborn, Tim lahaye among other books by other Christian authors. In fact it is those books that I read as a young convert that are keeping me in the faith till now.
How will you describe your walk with Jesus Christ since 1974 till now?
I’m a better Christian today than when I started my walk with Christ in 1974. We didn’t have as much knowledge in the faith then like today. I was already born again for almost 10 years before I started speaking in tongues. I attended all manner of crusades and meetings seeking for the baptism in the Ghost to speak in tongues. Today, I wonder how people will be chewing gum and speaking in tongues. It is funny! They don’t resemble born again Christians. The day I spoke in tongues I was praying in my room at the Enugu campus of the University of Nigeria Usukka (UNN) when the Holy Spirit took over me and my roommate , a Christian brother jumped out binding and casting demons thinking I had gone crazy. Today, knowledge in the Christian faith has increased so much but ends there as mere knowledge without practice. For instance, it amazes me how professed Christians today fall into adultery or fornication without remorse. One wonders how it could be possible for a genuine believer with all the scriptures in his head to remove his trousers to commit adultery or fornication. Back then in the 70s that was not easy. But these days you see lots of self-confessed believers drinking sin as if they are drinking water. This is not my background as a believer. Some people even think I’m legalistic. For instance there is a lady, a lawyer, in our local church that got very angry. She was shivering from her head to toes. I asked her what happened and she said someone provoked her to anger. And I said to her is that why you are this angry. She said yes. I asked her if she is born again. She said yes. I then asked her what she had repented from if she is born again and is still visibly angry. These are days that people said they have repented and given their lives to Christ but you can’t see any difference in their lives. They are still the same persons. I wrote something on face book that caused a controversy in the body of Christ and a lot of pastors called me on what I wrote. I wrote that it is not enough to confess Jesus, come and live in my life. Be my Lord and Savior, and instantly claim you are now born again. I said that kind of confession without conviction will not guarantee your place in heaven. There must be a conviction that I believe in my heart. This is more than mere mouthing. There must be evidence and assurance of salvation as it is called in those days. Back then, I remember the president of our fellowship said to me, Bro. Ossai, you don’t look like a Christian. I asked him, how do Christians look? Please show me how they look. As a young believer I was someone who wore very clean designer wears. I always dressed clean, neat and smart. But to my president I wasn’t looking the typical S.U dressing code. So, he told me that I don’t look like a born again Christian. I asked him to teach me that I want to look like a born again Christian; with tears begging God to make me look like a born again believer. I adapted and continued dressing like a born again Christian till I had the assurance. Most self-acclaimed believers of today don’t have the conviction and the assurance of their so-called confessed salvation in Christ Jesus.
Share with us how you eventually received the call of God into the ministry?
It’s an accident that I’m a pastor because I didn’t plan to be one. But I knew that I would serve God when I got to the point where the Lord made me submit to him. And that was in 1981 when I was alone with God; having a quiet time in my room in the university. In that course I had a dream in which I saw a very red hot iron plate placed at a door. And I heard a voice said those of you that said you are born again come out of your room and walk through the hot iron plate bare footed. I said I won’t do that because I reasoned the hot iron would burn my legs if I walked through it. And they said so I was not born again. I started thinking am I born again or not? I made up my mind to walk through the red hot iron in order to prove that I’m born again. As I started moving towards it the hot iron lifted up. That was the day I made a covenant with God that I would serve him. When I began my journey with Jesus Christ in the secondary school in March 1974 I was crawling until I was in the university in 1979/80 when I had this encounter of walking through a hot iron plate.
Did this encounter come to you as a pointer that you will become a pastor?
No! I felt let me finish school and live my life. I wanted to be a successful business man. I wanted to have white rug in my house. I wanted to live a clean life. But if at all I would be in church work I would put all my life and energy into it to serve God. After I finished school, I became a businessman, got married and then served at the Late Archbishop Benson Idahosa’s Church of God Mission before I came into full time ministry under the ministry of Bishop Duncan Williams of Ghana.
How did your path cross with Bishop Duncan Williams of Ghana, and please share your working experience with him while you were under his ministry?
I met Bishop Duncan Williams when he came to Nigeria to preach. He later sent for me and told me to pastor his church in Nigeria. I thought about it and accepted to serve in his ministry. People say all manners of things about Bishop Duncan Williams, but when you get close to him you would know that he is a coach and a good man. He knows how to encourage people. When we got working together I was driving a Mercedes Benz V-Boot then and that was serious that time. Whenever we went out in the car he would sit at the owner’s corner while I drove the car as his driver. He was never in a hurry anytime I drove him to functions. He could stay at a place for 2 hours while I waited for him. I never knew he was studying me. Imagine using my own car and fuel as a businessman in the city driving a bishop who was never in a hurry. I pastored his church for 4 years until I heard God’s voice that I should move on. I informed him that God said I should move and he released me. That was how I eventually started my own ministry, City of Refuge Ministry Int’l (Continues next edition).