THIS PASTOR USES YORUBA LANGUAGE TO PREACH IN HIS CHURCH IN US, HE EXPLAINS HOW IT STARTED

The President, Harvest Point Ministries Inc, Pastor Henry Odeneye, preaches in his Yoruba language in the United States.  Odeneye,   marketer and corporate consultant, shares the story of his ministry and how the Yoruba ministry is thriving in the U.S with Adeola Ogunlade. Excerpts.

I’m aware that you use Yoruba language to preach in the U.S. How did you start it?

I remember travelling to Brazil while in Nigeria some years ago. I was working with Afro Technical Services Nigeria Limited as the General Sales Manager. We had some products from Brazil and I was asked to go to the factory in that country to get some information on the product. On getting to Rio, one of the immigration officers saw my passport and wondered if I was a Yoruba man. I said yes. He told me he was learning the Yoruba language. He also told me he was an Ifa worshiper.

When I got to my hotel room, the Holy Spirit spoke to me on what the Yoruba language was being used for. He reminded me that the Arabic Language is synonymous with Islam, the  Hebrew Language with Judaism and the Yoruba Language with  Ifa  worship.

That got me thinking. The Lord then made me realise that the Christian faith played a critical role in the evolution of the Yoruba Language. He reminded me of the enormous work done by the late Bishop Ajayi Crowther, who gave the language the alphabets, in the first place.

All these happened in1997. That was when the Lord began to tell me of the need to employ the language on a global scale and make it one that would be used for the propagation of the gospel. Then I had been an Elder in The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN). I was invited to minister at a programme in the church in 1999. While in the hotel room during the programme, the Lord gave me a clear vision of my ministry.

He told me my ministry would be in the U.S. I remember then that Akeem Olajuwon was in Houston, Texas. I began to have a picture of being in that part of the world. The district pastor of my church then confirmed that my ministry would be abroad. As God would have it, the opportunity came for me and my family in 2000 to travel to the U.S. and it happened that we are in Houston. So, it became clear that I had work on my hands.

So, what was the first hurdle you crossed in your ministry using the Yoruba language in a land where English is the official language and where the Yoruba population is insignificant?

Let me confess that those I met in the U.S. who were servants of God gave me the needed support. But I remember a pastor who warned me that he had tried it and failed but that he wished I would succeed. But the fact that I got the official approval of my church, The Apostolic  Church Nigeria (TACN), was just what I needed. That gave me the needed energy to express my calling. Some of the pastors said they had used English in their ministries and had not succeeded; wondering how I would succeed.

The greatest challenge I would have had then was that I was more fluent in Hausa than Yoruba. I was born in the North and then my father moved to Ghana. When the Lord was preparing me for this ministry, I did not know. I lived in Ghana for eight years. I speak Fanti and Twi very well.

When I came back to Nigeria, I served in Maiduguri, Kaduna and then Lagos. I used to preach in English, but when I got to Lagos, I was ordained an Elder and I was asked to preach in Yoruba. It became a big challenge. I managed to pass Yoruba in my school certificate exams. When I was told I had to preach in Yoruba, I had to start learning Yoruba from the scratches.

My wife took me through the basics. I also attended a Bible school in Ota, Ogun State and was fortunate to have a lecturer who was a former  babalawo (diviner doctor). He told us many things about  Ifa and he exposed us to the depth of the Yoruba language. There are many sayings in the Yoruba language that look like incantations but are not really incantations but deep  wisdom expressions. I was learning all that and I did not know God was  preparing me for the U.S. Yoruba language ministry.

Some people deploy incantations unknowingly while praying in Yoruba. How do we draw the line?

We have to be careful. There are people who capitalise on the Yoruba  language to do evil on the pulpit. But that does not mean the language itself is the problem.

Someone told me  jowo,  which is a plea from whatever angle, has an occult connotation. But because there was no  Christianity when the language was evolving, the  Ifa worshipers used the word for incantation.  Edabo  and  Edakun are occultic words. But that should not stop us from using it in daily conversations and even  during our worship because it is part of the Yoruba language.

But, then, if you want to use the language to preach, you have to be careful you don’t resort to the incantation. Using idiomatic  expressions and deep Yoruba wisdom is different from an incantation.  There is a thin line though.

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