As a young man, Dele Osunmakinde pioneered the vision of Vessels of Honour Foundation (VHF), a Christian campus fellowship in Nigeria’s premier University of Ibadan. Twenty-five years after, it has taken the audacity of faith to keep the vision alive, writes Ohimai Amaize.
Sometime in 1994, in the city of Abeokuta in Nigeria’s southwest Ogun state, a group of young men had just concluded their senior secondary school education. They started gathering to pray. They had encountered a spiritual revival during their secondary school days, and to keep the fire burning, they set up a weekly prayer meeting called “Young School Leavers Fellowship”. Every Monday, they would come together to study the Bible and pray. It was during one of these meetings that a young Dele Osunmakinde had an encounter that would set his life on a journey with destiny. “The word came that God had an assignment for me at the university. It was so clear,” he told me in an interview.
But Osunmakinde would have another encounter with God in a vision, and this time, with more clarity about the call to start a campus fellowship. “I had an encounter with the Lord and I just kept on seeing those three letters VHF VHF, and I was like what is VHF? Then the Lord told me to take my pen,” he said. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Osunmakinde began to write. He wrote down the three letters, “VHF” and their corresponding meaning, “Vessels of Honour Foundation”. A vision was born. “The mandate was: go to the campus and raise me an army. And I think in 25 years, looking back, that is what we have done significantly.”
Ohi Ayeni was one of the soldiers of that army on campus. In 2002, eight years into the founding of VHF at the University of Ibadan, he arrived at the institution to study Medicine. In his first year, he joined the Prelim Science Students Family (PSSF), a fellowship for 100 level science students, and became the coordinator. “As soon as handing over was done in PSSF, I came straight to VHF,” he told me in an interview. As a young undergraduate, Ayeni said he was already very familiar with VHF and Chigozie Okonkwo-Ejeh, the founding pastor of David Generation Club (DGC), the 100-level fellowship of VHF, was one of his best friends on campus. “We were roommates. We prayed. We had spent hours and weeks praying into 200 level for the 100-level set coming to 100 level after us, just seeking God, principally, because he was going to be handing over to somebody in 100 level to continue DGC and I was looking for the person to hand over to as the coordinator of PSSF.”
Among many things, Ayeni said, VHF’s emphasis on God’s pure and unadulterated Word was outstanding, and made it clear that the ministry was divinely graced in this regard. “You sit down under Pastor Dele, you hear something, then if you listen to Pastor Daniel Ufaruna, you’re like, here comes the word. Then Pastor Sola, Pastor Olumide Fatoki, Pastor Gabriel Ogunyemi, even Pastor Toyin… Pastor Morin Osunmakinde exhorting for five minutes, you will hear what you can be meditating on for the whole week,” he said. At VHF, Ayeni rose through the ranks and became a director. He went through other stages of leadership, from associate pastor to president of the foundation for two years.
But he is not alone in that experience of VHF’s transformative influence that cuts across the spiritual and secular. For many other VHF alumni, the foundation served as a platform for not only spiritual growth but also leadership capacity development. “One of my mentors is always going on about my leadership abilities. She’s always going on about it. Like, why are you so different? Is it because of your education? Is it because you’re a doctor, because you deal with emergencies? You’re just very solution oriented,” Ayo Aboluwarin, a former vice-president of VHF told me in an interview. Now a consultant paediatrician in London, she credits VHF for providing a platform that helped develop her leadership potential. “VHF was a good training ground spiritually in terms of building capacity and especially my leadership potential as well. VHF was one of the early places where people recognized that I had something.”
Current VHF president Goodness Olaoluwa acknowledged how the foundation has consistently built men and women by institutionalizing a culture and structure of leadership that remains functional and effective in the absence of the visionary Dele Osunmakinde. “What kept me in the house is the structure of the house. How it is structured to build men and women—strong and dependable men or women,” he said.
“I had an encounter with the Lord and I just kept on seeing those three letters VHF VHF, and I was like what is VHF? Then the Lord told me to take my pen.” Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Osunmakinde began to write. He wrote down the three letters, “VHF” and their corresponding meaning, “Vessels of Honour Foundation”. A vision was born. “The mandate was: go to the campus and raise me an army. And I think in 25 years, looking back, that is what we have done significantly,” he said.
In 2003, when I was admitted to study English and French at the University of Ibadan, I was a young man with a strong Christian background, having been born and raised in Deeper Life Bible Church. I immediately joined the Deeper Life Campus Fellowship and was a member until my second year when I became roommates with a “VHFite” as we called members of VHF on campus. He was cool, spoke in tongues, danced for Jesus and had a collection of the latest songs by gospel artists I never knew existed. On campus, VHFites were probably the coolest Christians. They had swag, and I initially mistook some of them for hip Christians who were just trying to have fun. Talk about branding and publicity, VHF had some of the most captivating campaigns on campus – these were the early days of Facebook, before Twitter and Instagram became a thing. One day, I decided to attend a VHF meeting at the U.I. Conference Center to see what “the hype” was all about. My encounter with the Word that night was life-changing. I was hungry for more, and I eventually joined VHF. (I would later become a member of The Baptizing Church (TBC) in Abuja, founded by Osunmakinde.) But it all began with this one roommate, Anetor Irete, who at that time in U.I. was the coordinator of Factor 1493, the dance ministry of VHF.
“I became the head of Factor 1493 in my 300 level and I had the likes of Oreoluwa Ettu, I had Segun Oshodi, we had Morenikeji, we had Motunde Oke. Clement Kponu was a part at one point because he was our DJ. He was helping us with all the mixes, the beats and the sequences that we were dancing to,” Anetor told me in an interview. Derived from Psalm 149:3, Anetor said everything the dance group did was anchored on this scripture. “And the good thing that that helped us to know was that we weren’t doing it for fun. We were doing it to actually minister and worship God with our dance,” he said. But how did VHF manage to utilize dance—a medium of pop culture—without compromising its core essence as a Christian ministry? Pop culture, Anetor said, may have influenced the way dance is viewed, but it remains a means of expression created by God. “Understanding that dance itself is a form of worship and knowing that we are ministers always guided the way we went about with the kind of dance we were putting out there.”
In the diverse manifestations of the vision of VHF, from the Word to worship, dance, and drama, Osunmakinde pioneered a Christian ministry that allowed women to develop and express their spiritual gifts and anointing. Women have been a core component of the ministry and played key leadership roles. His better half, Pastor Morin Osunmakinde acknowledged this as a unique characteristic of the ministry. Right from the inception of VHF, she said, there were female pastors who were not just relegated to the background but were on the frontline. “I still remember the Soul Sisters, how he met them. Adebola Kester, Nike Laoye, and Abayowa – met them just singing casually in their hostel, and before you knew what was happening, brought them to fellowship and boom, we had the Soul Sisters all over U.I. And today, Nike Laoye, we all know her, Nikky P, she’s one of the foremost gospel singers. All of them are doing amazing things, but PD actually provided that platform in terms of launching them out,” she said.
Ayo Aboluwarin was barely two years into her journey as a born again Christian before she joined VHF. She remembers her encounter at Ablaze, a popular program organized by VHF for newly admitted undergraduates: “I really felt at home. You know, I felt it was excellently done.” That excellent approach to organizing, Pastor Dele Osunmakinde told me, is ingrained in the fabric of the ministry and was provided by God from the inception. “I remember the Word the Lord gave was that anything we do must be the King Size. So, it was the concept of King Size. That means only the best is good enough for the King. And of course, the King here is the Lord himself,” he said.
Twenty-five years after the founding, the story of VHF would be incomplete without acknowledging the early days when, as Osunmakinde recalls, “It didn’t look like it.” At that time, he said, paying for the most expensive venue on campus, the U.I. Conference Center was a challenge. “We didn’t have much money. But we continued. Then I remember we didn’t have equipment and we went to Agbowo to buy local drums. I remember Pastor Tunde Okunbote used to be the one beating those drums,” he said. But fixated on the vision, he kept moving. Today, VHF parades alumni of young men and women who are blazing the trail in various fields of endeavor. Some of them have gone on to establish Christian ministries. Lagos-based Household of David, founded by Dele Osunmakinde’s younger brother Sola Osunmakinde is one of such ministries. It was in this church that Anetor met his wife. “If I had not had that connection with VHF, I don’t think I would have had this experience of meeting my partner right now,” he told me.
As VHF marks its silver jubilee, Ayeni said it is an occasion to remember the ancient landmarks. While he saluted the tenacity of Osunmakinde and those who joined hands with him from the beginning, he noted that the vision is beyond a man. “If anybody who has been in VHF will just be honest and careful, they will see the finger of God literally beating a path from wherever they were to VHF for a reason,” he said. For former vice-president Aboluwarin, it is time to give back to the house and support the current leaders with “things that we struggled with then as students – raising money for this, for instruments, raising money for that.”
I asked Osunmakinde what he thought the next twenty-five years of VHF would look like. He said it was time to take the vision beyond the campus. In July, when VHF marked its 25-year anniversary in U.I., a “VHF House” project was inaugurated. Situated in the city of Ibadan, the VHF House will serve as a hub, a resort, a tech office, a guest house and a meeting place for programs and retreats. “We thought that the best way to keep this hope and this vision alive in the next twenty-five years would be to put a physical infrastructure that is a representation of the vision of the house as a blessing to the city of Ibadan and the body of Christ,” he said.
Follow us on Twitter at @thesignalng
Copyright 2022 SIGNAL. Permission to use portions of this article is granted provided appropriate credits are given to www.signalng.com and other relevant sources.