Oh God, You know my foolishness.
For your sake I have borne reproach.
Shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers;
An alien to my mother’s children.
Because zeal for your house has consumed me,
I have fallen prey –
To false prophets.
It is a Tuesday. The church isn’t usually filled with people today. The days of activities of the church do not include Tuesdays. It is on Tuesdays that the Man of God rested his weary limbs. It is on such days that he tried to recoup some of the energy exerted in caring for the Lord’s flock. Nonetheless, he made provision for any of the sheep that may be heavy laden on a Tuesday to come to his office for counseling. But he was careful to limit it to counseling only. There were no strenuous casting and binding. The prayer sessions were reduced to minor mutterings punctuated with “In Jesus name” and “Bless you sister, or brother” as the case may be.
One has to be vigilant when doing the work of God. There were many shepherds trying to steal from the Lord’s flock. Did the elders not say that if one failed to lick his lip during the Harmattan, the Harmattan will lick it for him? So, the Man of God opened his shop on Tuesdays lest the heavily afflicted sheep stray to another shepherd because their man of God was resting.
This Tuesday he has a valuable member of the congregation before him. This one had been easy to prey on. Before she came to him, she already had a suspect in mind – her mother-in-law. After the carefully framed questions he threw at her, it wasn’t hard to reveal to her, as the mouthpiece of God, that her mother-in-law was trying to stop her from enjoying her marriage. It had been easy for him to do it. She was looking for someone to blame and he gave her a face to vent her frustrations on. It didn’t matter if he had lied to her. He got what he wanted. She had stayed and she brought her purse with her. And like a very skilled laundryman, he made sure that he seized every opportunity to squeeze out any penny she can afford.
Just last week, she had come to him to complain of some kind of illness characterised with fever and pains all over her body. At first, she had thought it would pass, but for two days it had persisted; only getting worse. “I have come to seek the face of God,” she told him.
At once, he had seized the opportunity.
“Ah! Sister! Sssss. Sherimamamama. Rabuskolototokitosha. Ah! Sister! Your enemies are at work again. They have caged you in the spirit realm. You need to do something fast. Very fast!”
Just like he expected, she had panicked, “But what can I do, man of God? What can I do? Please help me.”
He had swung into action immediately. Two bottles of his very own anointing oil; three copies of prayer booklets authored by him; a broom, also sold by him, to sweep the evil ones away. Then thirty thousand naira for intercessory prayers.
She had complied immediately to the glory of God, and that would have been the end of the matter had he not overheard the woman talking with sister Eliz during the Church’s vigil later that night.
He could hear snippets of their conversation. Sister Eliz was admonishing the woman to go to a hospital. “I have taken care of people with these symptoms at the hospital and it’s usually a sign of…” He wasn’t able to hear the name of the illness because a Brother had distracted him. However, he surmised, from their talk that it was fatal if left untreated. And there was no way he could have dismissed sister Eliz’s view on the matter. She is, after all, a practicing nurse at the Lagos State teaching hospital.
The pastor was faced with a dilemma after that night. He couldn’t tell the woman that the Lord had lied, it would destroy his credibility. He also couldn’t let such a valuable purse to go out of the service of the Lord, by allowing her to die. Last night he finally figured out how to tackle the situation. He had sent the woman a message, at once, telling her to meet him today.
He smiled now at the ingenuity of his plan as he waved the woman to a seat.
He began with a question. “Sister do you remember the story of Náaman?”
“Yes sir, I do.” The woman answered.
“Do you know that Elisha could easily have laid hands on him and his leprosy would have cleared?”
“Of course, sir, he is a man of God.” The woman replied.
“Yet, he did not. Instead he told him to bathe in the waters of Jordan.”
The woman was silent, looking at him. He knew he’d got her now. She was probably wondering where he was going with all of this. Well, he would tell her right away.
“After a series of prayers last night, I had a revelation from the Lord.” He paused to see if her reaction was favorable, then continued; “The Lord gave me a message not unlike what Elisha gave to Náaman. He said I was to tell you to go to a hospital. But,” he added quickly, as he noticed her confused expression, “it is not the medication that they’re going to give you that will cure you but your faith in God. And when the time is right, he’ll show you a sign.”
The woman didn’t argue with him.
Brother Jeremiah was having hard luck today. No one was sowing any worthwhile seeds. The man in the orthopedic ward had only given him fifty naira and the fat woman in the maternity ward had only said thank you, to him. So, he wasn’t very happy when he entered the general female ward.
However, he sucked it up and asked in his most cheerful voice, “How are you all feeling today?”
Amidst the various “fine, pastor” responses a nurse walked in and went to the woman on the bed nearest to where Jeremiah stood. As he watched, the nurse gave the woman what seemed like a receipt and she reached under her pillow and took out a prayer booklet, which he noted was bulging with high denomination naira notes and paid the nurse.
He went closer to the woman’s bedside almost immediately. “Sister,” he said with as much compassion as he could feign, “how are you? How is it doing you?”
The nurse excused herself.
Between the woman telling him her long tale about the devil and his evil works in her life and him impressing it on her that he is an anointed man of God, he was able to squeeze out three thousand naira worth of seeds.
Not bad. He smiled. The woman was quite gullible. He needed to try one more time.
“Sister,” he said, “I believe you have your Bible with you.”
“Yes,” she replied, “I do have it.” And she fumbled in her bag for it.
“Good. I want you to open it to the book of Mathew, Chapter seventeen verse twenty… Are you there? Good. Read it.”
The woman read: “And Jesus said unto them, because of your unbelief…”
“Unbelief. I want you to note that word.” Jeremiah closed his eyes and muttered some incomprehensible words. “I believe that God is trying to tell you something today, sister. Go on, keep reading.”
“…For verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as little as a grain of mustard seed…”
“Hold on there for a moment.” Jeremiah interrupted her again. “Are you grasping something here? God is asking you to have faith in him. He is not even demanding that you have a faith as humongous as that of Abraham. The faintest hint of faith is enough for him. Finish the verse Sister.” He urged.
“…Ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; And nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
Jeremiah kept quiet for a moment. Then in his most solemn voice he asked her, “Sister, do you believe that nothing is impossible with God?”
“Yes, Man of God, I do. With all my heart.”
Jeremiah smiled. He has got her groveling. Time to make his kill.
“I had a message from the Lord just now.” He began, after the prayers. ” He directed me to tell you to leave this hospital and go to your residence to claim your healing.
“But Man of God? The doctor… ” the woman began to protest.
“Faith, sister, Faith.” He said gently.
She nodded. Then he dropped the bomb. “However, you need to make the Lord a sacrifice. Fifteen thousand naira will be reasonable enough.”
He looked her directly in the eye. He could detect a hint of suspicion. He’ll dispel that in a minute.
Open your Bible again to the book of Malachi…chapter three, verse ten.” He said.
Dusk was preparing to invade the earth. All that remained of the harsh January sun was a blurry orb of gold and crimson. The air has cooled enough to enable you actually enjoy the breeze if not for the dust that forced itself up the nose and mouth. The birds were concluding their hunt and the shadows were beginning to lengthen.
Two weeks ago, his wife had died. And two weeks before that, she had paid a visit to a certain man of God. The man known as Dioma sat under the Jackfruit tree beside his house. He sat motionless peering into space. The smoke from the cigarette dangling from his fingers crawled lazily towards the dying sun. Occasionally, the wind brought down a leaf to join the others scattered around the tree. He sat there motionless, lost in thought.
Nwanyike had not always been like this. There was a time when they were close. Granted, she had always felt threatened by his mother from the beginning, accusing him of remaining attached to his mother’s apron strings. But despite that, they had been close. They were still man and wife and she had respected and loved him. Then she joined that cursed church. That was when she began to see the devil in him. How can one’s wife be so far apart from him?
It all happened so suddenly that he didn’t see it. One day she was his wife and the next day she was married to God. Spending frightful amount of time in that church and wasting the better part of her salary on meaningless sowing of seeds. When he tried to reason with her, she called him the devil for trying to spoil the work of God. He still wondered how that stupid man was able to brainwash her so.
Even during the time she was sick, she wouldn’t allow him to take her to the hospital until she inquired from the pastor, insisting it was a spiritual problem. When she finally decided to go to the hospital she had asked the pastor to take her. Maybe she was afraid he was one of her enemies.
He shook his head. His own wife!
She saw everyone as her enemy. Always binding and casting, not even trusting her own shadow. She rejected her family, rejected the clan and embraced deceit. And it had killed her. He never did understand why she left the hospital. The doctor warned him that she wasn’t ready to be discharged, yet Nwanyike had come home. He wondered if the sickness did not touch her head.
He thought of Nwanne. Her death has devastated the boy. Not really much of a talker, he talked even less these days. His poor son. He had seen her dead body. It wasn’t a sight for a child.
He thought again of Nwanyike. After she died he had gone to see the pastor for the burial arrangements. The pastor, quick to make the most of his golden goose, drew up a long list of things to be paid for before the church will bury her.
“Church tradition,” he had said as he scratched his bearded chin. Dioma liked the man even less. He didn’t have to give in to the crook’s demand. He wasn’t a member of the man’s church, but he knew it would make his wife happy, so he obliged the crook. Didn’t the elders caution that one should not displease the dead?
His clan’s people gathered to send off their departed sister. They forgot all about her years of being a daughter of light while they wallowed in darkness. After all, as Mgbokwu Odogwu would say “the anger of a brother towards another brother does not reach the marrow.” Even though Nwanyike rejected them when she was alive, they forgave and accepted her when she died.
He stood up. The cigarette had nearly burned to ashes. He tossed away the stump. Next eke, she will be buried.
“To speak at her graveside, I call on…” the MC peered at the paper. “Reverend disciple apostle, pastor John.”
The man of God stood up from under the canopy with the tag Believers. He walked with an air of self-importance to the MC. Took the mic from him, adjusted his tie, cleared his throat and proclaimed in a solemn voice: “Brethren praise the Lord.”
“I say praise the Lord!”
He spoke for thirty minutes. He talked of sister Nwanyike’s tenacity in the Lord. How she continually sowed in the Lord’s vineyard. How the people gathered here today should learn a thing or two from her life. How she will be sorely missed by the congregation.
Then he invited anyone who possessed a Bible to turn to the book of Ecclesiastes. He said that nothing ever happens without the knowledge of God. If sister Nwanyike is no longer with us today, then, no one is to blame, rather it is the will of God and there is nothing anyone can do about it, he said.
Image: Dun.can via Flickr