“Praise da lord somebody”, Pastor Tutu’s effervescent voice wafted from the speakers, travelled through the congregation and landed on sleepy ears.
The following hallelujah was cold and drab.
The Super Eagles will play in an hour; they will not win, but we will do our bit as patriotic citizens by watching even as their performance breaks our hearts.
“I say praise da lord ooooooo”, she crooned again.
This time the hallelujah was louder but still bereft of the enthusiasm that is usually so palpable in our Sunday morning services.
I was – and I guess my fellow worshippers were too – tired and angry that Pastor John, her husband and CEO of our church had made us stand longer than necessary during his sermon. I mean, we had gotten used to the usual “tell your neighbor this is my week of unmerited favors”, and “I am going to my high places” or “I am touching my millions this week”; only last week, we drove imaginary cars, and the week before that, we fired our enemies to hell with holy ghost AK- 47s.
But this particular one – making us stand, hands in the air punching intermittently – under the guise of ‘finishing our enemies’ was utterly surprising even to first time worshippers. Those who attempted to sit through the exercise saw pastor’s red eye.
“Get up!” he yelled at Brother Freedom whose incredulous testimony much earlier in the service had seen him – and many of us too – dance like a lottery winner. “Who asked you to sit? The devourer, your enemy doesn’t sleep or rest and you’re sitting down when you should be fighting him. The bible says we’re wrestling against principality and powers, you think this is a joke?”
Pastor John hadn’t had to say more. His message was so clear and pointed that it ruptured Brother Freedom’s swag, and awash with shame, the brother had stood in one spot, face downwards until the end of the sermon.
As Pastor Tutu said “Offering time”, she had a dubious smile that can only come from a pastor’s wife as pretty and suave like her. She knew she had a hold on this congregation. Like an artist, she knew she had the power to draw and erase our moods however she wanted. She also knew her soothing voice was capable of righting all the wrongs her husband had done this Sunday morning.
“Package those offerings,” she cooed, “package the tithes, kingdom investments, transportation seed, church growth seed, project offering and every other substance you have brought and let’s honor the lord with it. The bible says while the earth remains, seed time and harvest shall not cease. And please always remember that they that sow in tears shall reap bountifully with Joy”.
If her smile was her charm, it was potent. The congregation responded like a flock of sheep following the direction of a diligent shepherd. The anger on the faces of the people faded and was replaced by quiet smiles. Hands were digging into bags and pockets and emerging with white envelopes and Naira notes of various denomination.
I thought people were angry that pastor John had pushed us too far. I thought they would vent their dissatisfaction by withholding their seeds, just as I have made up my mind to do. But the envelopes and hands that went up when she said “raise those seeds to the lord” made it clear that na only me waka come. I was a general without an army – the only worshipper who would not part with his offering on this Sunday morning.
Soon we were dancing, singing and clapping for the lord. The ushers were emptying the baskets of offerings into the large buckets under the watchful eyes of the strongest members of the “Jesus Mopol squad” from their vantage points close to the pastor’s seat.
Done with the collection, the hefty men grabbed the buckets firmly and breezed through the aisles. Our money – sorry God’s money – was going away.
I touched my back pocket to be sure my offering was still where I kept it, and I smiled contently as I felt its crisp edge. My N200 was right there the way I brought it. Naked. No envelope. No packaging.
We shared the grace and began to file out so the second service worshippers could come in. Some of them were already rushing to get seats in front. I looked at them and shook my head. If only they knew how Pastor John had made us stand, they would keep their offerings and join us as we filed out like prisoners.
On the road I flagged down a cab. The driver stopped and I hopped in. I didn’t notice the woman at the back until she spoke. “Oga driver, abeg no vex,” she stuttered, “my money don lost”
Oga driver was in no mood for super stories this Sunday morning. “Madam, that one nor concern me oooo! Why you no talk before you enter, you think say you wise abi? Na when we don dey reach your bus-stop you know say your money dey miss. Na so una dey do. Mscheww! You must pay me my money ooooo!”
Was madam a trickster? Did she make up this cock and bull story because she knew I didn’t pay my offering in church? The argument was becoming too loud for my ears so I shut it all up. And went with my heart – I decided to be a gentleman.
“Oga how much be her money”, I asked with the cockiness of a banker.
“From where I carry am, her money na 150”, came his reply.
“How much be my own?”
“Your own na 100 naira sah”, he said.
I smiled wryly, dug my hand into my pocket and brought out the N200 note – the offering box escapee. From my wallet I brought out another N100 and handed both notes over to the driver.
“You can keep the change sir”, I said as I alighted.
I walked home feeling good, like a Good Samaritan and a gentleman. I helped the needy with my offering. I gave my offering to a taxi driver.
By Vincent Nzemeke (@vincentnzemeke on twitter)