- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

The Rev. Bankole Akinbinu said he was called to minister when he was 15. His elders were skeptical about his ability to preach at such a young age, but now, at 24, he is leading revival services.

“Oftentimes, because of the terminology ‘call’ and the contrived cinematography of Hollywood, in religious-oriented movies, people believe it is an audible voice from a God obscured by the clouds,” Mr. Akinbinu said.

“I believe, based on my own experience, that God will deposit something that you cannot shake in your spirit,” he said. ” ‘Bankole, preach the Gospel,’ was something I could not shake and it did not matter where I was or what I was doing.”

Interviewed during a recent revival at Community Bible Baptist Church in Lanham, Mr. Akinbinu shared his journey from improbable preacher to a conservative collegiate to a religious scholar at a liberal institution. He is the first in his family to attend graduate school.

Mr. Akinbinu received a bachelor of arts degree in biblical theology at Washington Bible College and is pursuing a master’s divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA.

As a teenager, he made an impression on the Rev. Clevester O. Wimbish, senior pastor for Community Bible Baptist Church.

“I remember seeing this young man always sitting in the front and leaning forward to hear every word of the sermon,” Mr. Wimbish said.

Mr. Akinbinu preached his first trial sermon at age 16 at Community Bible Baptist and cast away any doubts among the congregation and church leaders about his ability to minister.

When he was growing up in Bowie, his mother, Glenda Akinbinu, encouraged him to follow a Christian example and work ethic. He said his father was absent, so he found refuge in God, “a father of the fatherless.”

During his years at Bowie High School, he was uncertain about moving forward with his religious calling.

“I began to bargain with God. I still wanted to continue in the plans that I had for my life. I said, ‘I’ll preach, but give me until 25 years old.’ This would give me time to accomplish my plans and then be about the business of God,” Mr. Akinbinu said.

He ultimately preached for several years at churches across the D.C. region, but faced a crossroads when it came to higher education.

He earned his undergraduate degree at the conservative Washington Bible College, “where theological opinion was basically homogeneous,” and then was accepted to Princeton Seminary, which is considered liberal.

“I went to a conservative school, and in theological circles there can sometimes be a very acrimonious relationship between liberal and conservative scholars,” Mr. Akinbinu said.

Some of Mr. Akinbinu’s close associates disapproved of his application to Princeton Seminary, but, he said, “I believe it is important to diversify your academic training because the church is extremely diverse.”

He was exposed to a different side of scholarship at Princeton Seminary that challenged some views presented as incontrovertible at Washington Bible College.

“You never truly understand how much diversity really exists until you get out of the box. I would compare this to a culture shock when relocating from the North to the South,” Mr. Akinbinu said.

“I still believe I am more conservative than liberal, but I have been afforded the opportunity to sit at lunch and dialogue with someone who totally disagrees with me theologically,” he said.

Mr. Akinbinu is now an intern at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Plainsboro, N.J., furthering his ministerial training under the supervision of the Rev. William Watley.

He said he hopes to be an inspiration to youths in an age when church leaders have “fallen from grace.”

“Young lives that are being impacted through my ministry and the personal integrity helps mitigate the prevailing cynicism of some individuals,” said Mr. Akinbinu, who has been married for three years to Angel Akinbinu.

“I believe that many ministers and pastors are public successes and private failures. Hopefully, I would be known as both a great husband and preacher, but if it was an option between the two, I would rather be known as a great husband than a great preacher,” he said.

Odell B. Ruffin is a freelance writer and photographer living in Prince George’s County.

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