CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Rev. Joseph Kusimo has been many things over the course of his life. He's been an athlete, a student and an engineer. Currently, he's a proud husband and father, a humanitarian and the leader of a South Hills congregation.
But Kusimo prefers to think of himself simply as "the messenger."
As the senior pastor at Christ Life Fellowship Church on Smith Road, Kusimo has worked with a dedicated group of parishioners and local volunteers to organize and implement programs aimed at improving life in his native Nigeria.
For the past two years, the church has sponsored trips to Kusimo's hometown of Ilaro in Ogun State, where teams of volunteers do medical, community, humanitarian and ministerial outreach work in the township and surrounding areas.
During a five-day trip in December 2011, the group attended to more than 500 patients at various sites, treating wounds, administering health screenings, making house calls and educating about hygiene and fitness.
When the team returned in January 2013, it saw more than 900 patients and spoke with more than 1,600 students and teachers. Following each trip, leftover supplies and medicines where donated to local hospitals.
The group is currently preparing for the next trip, scheduled for this December. This time around, the group expects to see even more patients and expand its efforts toward improving literacy and education in the region.
"We are meeting people who have never been to the doctor. We are meeting people who are dying of diseases that could easily be cured," Kusimo said. "We are meeting people who just need to be told, informed about wellness and education."
Growing up in Nigeria, Kusimo was an avid soccer player who eventually represented his country at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. He said the team did not place, but he was honored just to have participated.
"The mantra of the Olympics is really not to win, but to be part of the team," he said.
He then came to the United States to attend college, receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before moving to Texas to pursue his Ph.D. in engineering. While working on his doctorate at Texas A&M, he met his future wife, Patricia, who was working on a doctoral degree in educational administration. The couple moved to Charleston in 1980 when Kusimo was offered a job at Dow Chemical.
The couple has two adult children, Olubunmi and Olufem.
Olubunmi is a Charleston attorney, currently employed by the firm DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons. Prior to joining the firm, she served as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson and Kanawha counties. Olufem works in the financial sector as an analyst for Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, Utah. As an undergraduate at Washington and Lee University, Olufem distinguished himself on the basketball court where he set multiple school records.
Although he was a full-time engineer and father, Kusimo also worked part-time as an associate pastor, having been ordained years earlier.
After retiring from Dow, Kusimo said he decided he needed to be doing more to help others and decided to devote himself to ministry full time.
"All along, I have regarded all of these opportunities, as an engineer or as someone who is very keen on sports, as part of my preparation to do greater things for the Lord," he said. "I know that there is a calling in my life to be of service.
"After I retired, I realized that I really needed to be out there, contributing and making a difference in the world. Not just by spreading the Gospel, but by making an impact in people's lives."
Within a year of becoming the senior pastor at Christ Life, Kusimo, 61, organized the first mission trip to Nigeria. He said he took his family to see where he grew up in Ilaro and quickly had an unpleasant epiphany.