Click to read Episode 12
7.20a.m. Sunday morning.
Femi drove down a narrow dusty road that led to Garden Assembly. Harmattan was in full gear and the crust from the dry untarred road left tiny patches on his Toyota Camry, a car he had taken time to wash early that morning. Bukola sat beside him in silence and stared out of the window.
When Femi drove into the church’s compound, he sighted a man carrying a stack of offering baskets out of the usher’s room. The man was followed by a lady holding a long broom. Their faces were not familiar. Femi wondered if there were still old members in the church. How many years since he stepped into Garden Assembly?
He parked close to the fence and turned off the engine. He glanced briefly at his sister.
The previous night, Pastor Akintola had called Femi. He wanted to see him and his sister before service kicked off on Sunday.
Femi wondered what the Pastor had to say. Would he apologize? Would he admit he’d been wrong for not carrying out a proper investigation before excommunicating his mother from the church? Definitely, he’d be sober now. Pastor Akintola was a hard man who always wanted his own way. But the evidence was clear. His mother had been falsely accused. If for anything, this error would teach him a lesson on how handle his flock better.
Femi opened the door. He noticed Bukola didn’t make any attempt to climb out of the car.
‘You’re not coming down?’
Bukola kept a straight face. ‘I don’t want to see him. I’ll go into the church when the service starts.’
Femi tried to persuade her to go with him. Bukola refused. He shut the door and walked alone to the secretariat located behind the church auditorium. As he walked down the corridor of the auditorium, someone shouted his name.
He turned and saw a lady dressed in a black shirt over a black skirt with a green beret placed firmly on her head. The lady flew into his hands and started crying.
Femi laughed as he pulled away enough to peer at her face.
Cynthia. The epileptic teenage girl who fell into a seizure at the hangout organized by the Garden Assembly youth group some years ago. Most of the members had fled from the scene that day. Femi along with some of the executive members had stayed by her side, clearing away bottles and sharp objects. They prayed quietly, watching her muscles stiffen and her arms and legs jerk uncontrollably. Nurse Deborah had gently placed Cynthia on her side in an attempt to keep her airway clear.
Femi remembered that as he prayed, he had seen in a flash, a young man dressed in white. The man had touched the side of Cynthia’s head. The vibration stopped. She’d jumped to her feet, her eyes full of wonder and amazement. Femi opened his eyes as the vision cleared from his memory. Cynthia was still on the ground. Quietly, he drew close and touched the side of her head. Cynthia became calm immediately. It was the last time she had any seizure.
‘Good to see you Cynthia.’
She wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘Why did you leave? We missed you. Please tell me you are back.’
Before Femi would reply, a lady popped out of the auditorium. She stared at him in surprise and disappeared into the church. She returned with more people. They rushed at Femi. All of them were talking at once. Femi noticed some unfamiliar faces standing aside, looking at him with curious glances
‘Listen, I’m going to have enough time with you later. Right now, I have to see the Pastor.’ Femi said and pulled away from the small crowd.
‘Where is Sister Bukola?’ A teenage girl asked.
‘She is in the car.’
The girl rushed to the car park followed by two other girls. Femi continued to the Pastor’s office.
The Pastor’s P.A smiled when Femi walked into the office. He was led through another door that had the words, ‘Pastor’s office’ inscribed on it. Pastor Akintola sat behind a large mahogany table, a deep frown planted on his face. Femi sensed the meeting would not go well.
‘Sit down.’ The Pastor ordered.
Femi obeyed and waited. The Pastor leaned forward.
‘I must confess, your family has caused this church so much trouble.’
Femi stared at the Pastor, shocked to hear him say those words. He felt anger building in his heart and quietly pushed it down.
‘I do not regret my decision. I would still have excommunicated your mother from this church anyway. She was already a thorn in our flesh. Sis Folake might be sincere in her desire to tell the truth, but you must understand that I had every right to believe her story of your mother’s involvement in the abortion. Your mother had already laid a bad foundation here. You should know that I am not a Pastor who isn’t sensitive to God. I don’t do things anyhow. I have pastored this church for more than thirty years. I am not a baby in the things of the Spirit.’
Femi sighed. He could sense pride oozing out of the Pastor’s words. What would it take for him to admit that he hadn’t properly investigated before making such a decision.
Femi exhaled. He was grateful Bukola had stayed back in the car. ‘It’s alright sir.’
The Pastor looked down at the bible in front of him. ‘That will be all for now.’
When Femi got out of the office, for a moment, he couldn’t get a grip on himself. He went behind the secretariat and leaned on the wall. He had trained himself not to fly off the handle but this was overwhelming. He closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. He didn’t want to talk to God. He could tell what response he’d get.
Love. Do not repay evil with good. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. You do not belong to this realm. You can’t act like the world. You are different. Live out your very own nature. You are a man in Christ. Forgive as I have forgiven you.
It wasn’t easy. His flesh was screaming for revenge. He wanted to drive out of the church and never look back. But he knew accepting the responses of the flesh would drive him closer to the self-life. He understood that standing firm in the face of temptation was a deeper call towards the life of the Spirit. He would win this time.
Femi smiled, even though the hurt still pierced deep at his heart. He returned to the auditorium. The crowd that met him at the entrance threw the pain farther away. There were men, women, teenagers, all of them excited to see him.
Tayo, the youth co-ordinator pulled him aside. ‘I know you are upset with us for not standing by you when your mother died. I hope you find a place in your heart to forgive us. When we heard about her death, I gathered the members together. We made plans to pay you a visit that week and to see how we could be of help. But the Pastor gave a clear order that none of us must contact you or attend the burial ceremony. I didn’t know what to do. I’m so sorry.’
‘I knew it! I knew that man had a hand in it.’ Bukola said from behind them. The two men turned to see Bukola fuming with anger. Tayo reached for her hand. She jerked free.
‘I’m sorry.’ Tayo said.
Bukola glared at him. ‘You of all people. Tayo, I thought we were friends. But now-’ She shook her head. ‘I just want to get over with this service.’
Tayo reached for her hand again. ‘Bukola, please forgive me. I tried your number several times until I got your text message. You didn’t want me to contact you again.’
When Bukola pulled her hand away, Tayo held it tight and drew her close. He hugged her. Bukola wept in his arms. Femi looked around and saw some women rolling their eyes at them and murmuring as they walked into the church.
Tomi hurried to where Femi was standing. ‘Hello.’
Femi gave her a warm side hug and together they walked into the church. Tomi joined Peju and some of her friends at the middle row while Femi got a seat close to the front row, flanked by his sister and Segun.
The service went well. The Pastor concentrated on his sermon, ‘A call to holiness.’ without chipping in words pointed at Bimbo’s excommunication. When he finished, he announced that Folake had something to say.
The hall went silent as Folake walked to the front of the church in a long gown and blue hat. Her eyes scanned the crowd and stopped at Femi. Femi smiled. She smiled back. Her eyes stayed on Bukola who was looking at her intently.
‘Almost four years ago, Sis Bimbo was excommunicated from this church for her involvement in an abortion she had no part in. I was the one who set her up.’
Sighs and mutterings went round the hall.
‘I was angry at her for what she did with my husband. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted her to feel the excruciating pain I was going through. I loved my husband very much and at that time we were not in good terms and so the news of the affair drove me crazy. I suggested excommunication to the Pastor’s wife and convinced the elders that Bimbo was a trouble to the church of God. That was a selfish and wicked thing to do.’
Folake stopped and dabbed a white handkerchief at her teary eyes. ‘I wish she was seated here so I can ask for her forgiveness. But she is gone. I’m happy her children showed up today.’ She turned in Femi’s direction. ‘I want to say I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused your family. Please forgive me. I’m begging you in the name of God.’
Bukola sat there, stony faced, tears spilling down her face. Folake bowed her head, heaving sobs tearing from her throat. Femi stood up and walked to the front. When he hugged Folake, the congregation stood up, clapping thunderously. Across the hall, handkerchiefs were dabbed across tear smeared faces. When the clapping died down, Femi took the microphone from her.
‘These were my mother’s last words before she died. She said, ‘I have hurt a couple of people in Garden assembly. I hope they forgive me. For those who hurt me deliberately or not, I forgive them all. I’m going to heaven to rest. The church of God is marching on. The gate of hell will never prevail.’
‘Amen!’ The congregation chorused.
More women came out. They confessed the times they had falsely spoken against Femi’s mother. Each pleaded for forgiveness. Bukola couldn’t listen to them anymore and the tears wouldn’t let up. She roused from her seat and hurried out of the auditorium. Tayo and two ladies from the youth executive unit followed her out.
At the end of the confessions, Pastor Akintola climbed the podium, annoyed. He grabbed the microphone from the usher who had run up the steps of the altar to give it to him.
‘Can we have the child dedication now.’ He turned to the praise team. ‘Give us a song while the family and well-wishers get ready for the dedication service.’
As a song was raised and the congregation danced to the ‘Oluwa e tobi’ song, Segun moved close to Femi.
‘Pastor Akintola can never change. I have never met a more insensitive and arrogant Pastor in my life.’
Femi smiled sadly and returned his gaze to the Pastor. This was the last time he’d step his feet into Garden Assembly.
‘Selfie time.’ Peju announced.
The three ladies, Becky, Peju and Tomi, stood in front of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, grinning broadly into Peju’s phone camera. It was the morning of Becky’s departure to Canada. After she checked in her boxes, she came out to say farewell to her friends.
Becky’s father held out his phone to Peju. ‘Our turn.’
Tomi moved aside while Becky stood, flanked by her parents. Peju took several shots with the phone.
‘Thank you.’ Becky’s father said, taking his phone from Peju.
Becky hugged her friends. ‘I’ll miss you so much. We have to keep in touch.’
The ladies hugged their friend and promised to keep her abreast of the latest happenings in their lives.
‘We’ll be out in a couple of minutes.’ Becky’s father said to Tomi and Peju as he walked back into the airport with his daughter. Becky waved and blew kisses at her friends before disappearing through the glass door.
Tomi wrapped her hand around Peju’s shoulders and watched the travelers at the entrance roll their boxes into the opening of a cabinet x-ray machine before stepping through the glass door manned by security officers.
‘I can’t believe Becky won’t be spending Christmas with us.’ Peju said, leaning into her friend. She straightened and faced Tomi. ‘Have you fixed a date for your wedding?’
‘Yes. Next year. March 6th.’
‘Lucky you. I wish God can speak very clearly to me like he did to you.’
Tomi smiled. ‘God leads, Peju. You told me specifically when you wanted to take that bank job that you were restless. God kept prompting your heart towards working for an NGO. Look how you are flourishing in your purpose. God will not speak to you in a strange way. Just follow the pattern he has been leading you.’
‘Segun has been coming to my mind.’ Peju said.
Tomi’s eyes widened. Her mouth opened. She quickly shut it. Peju frowned, wondering what was wrong.
‘Why are you looking at me like that? I didn’t say God is leading me to him. It could as well just be my emotions.’
Tomi caught Becky’s parents coming out of the entrance. She glanced briefly at Peju.
‘Pray more. Be sure you are not led by your emotions.’
Peju sighed. ‘Yeah. Right.’
Segun stood in front of the mirror and combed his hair.
‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.’ He said, smiling. ‘I have been set free from sin. Glory! Sin shall not have dominion over me. I am not under the law. I am under grace.’
Someone knocked on his door. Segun dropped the comb on the table and hurried out of the room. When he opened the door, Femi was standing, his hand thrust in the pockets of his blue jean. He winked at Segun from under a black face cap.
‘Look who is back from Lagos.’ Segun said and gave Femi a quick hug. ‘You can’t imagine how much I look forward to our bible studies every weekend.’
Femi smiled. ‘Christmas is in a week. Thankfully, It’s on a Friday. I’ll be home till Tuesday morning.’
Segun yelled in excitement and opened the door wider. ‘Come in.’
Femi didn’t move. ‘You look ready for a prayer walk.’
Segun looked at him puzzled. ‘Prayer walk? What’s that?’
Femi turned his face towards the sky. ‘It’s a beautiful Saturday evening, isn’t it? Let’s take a walk to the university and move around the school praying in tongues.’
Segun stepped out of the house and locked the door. ‘This is going to be exciting.’
Femi touched his shoulder. ‘Let me teach you how to stretch in the place of praying in the spirit. We’ll start with four hours today.’
Segun’s eyes widened. ‘Four what? You mean we are going to be praying four hours in tongues. How can somebody survive that.’
Femi grinned. ‘Very soon, we’ll be talking about fifteen hours at a stretch. It’s not by might, nor by power, but by the spirit of God.’
Segun glanced at his mentor with admiration. Femi was a blessing to his life. He had watched his life transform to a completely different person. God had become very real to him. Every time he talked with Femi, there was a release of hunger and passion for God.
‘Watched porn videos in a while?’ Femi asked as they walked away from Segun’s flat.
‘It happened last week.’
‘Hmmm…What did you do when it happened?’
‘I felt really bad because it hadn’t happened in a while.’
‘It’s ok to feel remorseful as long as you don’t take the guilt trip.’ Femi responded. ‘So what happened next?’
‘I went straight to Ephesians 1 and reminded myself of the forgiveness of my sins made available in Christ. For an hour, I declared who I was in Christ because at that time, I was already losing a sense of God’s love and all kinds of depressing thoughts had attacked my mind. I continued to reassure myself of God’s love and the gift of no condemnation that I’d received until my mind became calm and joy welled up in my belly.’
Femi smiled. ‘You are learning very fast. I’m happy.’
They were outside Femi’s house. Femi reached for his wallet inside the car before locking the car again. They walked down the street that led to the express road.
Segun continued. ‘It was then the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see why it had happened. I’d met some young lecturers here who always liked to talk dirty. I sensed God restraining me from getting close to them but I’d been reluctant to tear myself away. The night it happened, one of the lecturers had shown me a sex clip. I got home and my mind was so triggered by what I’d seen. I watched more porn videos and masturbated. But I’ve learnt my lesson.’
Femi touched Segun’s shoulder. ‘I’m glad you are understanding this communication channel we have with the Holy Spirit. We walk in the spirit by the Spirit.’
Segun nodded. ‘That’s true.’
Femi kept talking. ‘You have no business with how sinful habits slip away from your life. It’s not your business to chase after it. Your part is to renew your mind with the Word, pray as if your life depends on it and listen to the Holy Spirit. Oh boy! That habit will completely break loose.’
Segun began to sing. ‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Sin has no power over me. I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, sin has no power over me. God has already accepted me, I’m his very own. Oh yes, God has already accepted me, I’m his very own.’
‘That’s the spirit!’ Femi said, laughing loudly. ‘Lest I forget, how far about relationship? Any babe nudging at your heart yet?’
Segun chuckled. ‘Relationship keh? I don’t even want to pray or think about it. Maybe in the next three or four years. What I want to do right now is dig into God’s word and eat until I’m full. I’m too messed up in my mind to get into a relationship right now. This is the healing phase for me. I know God is preparing her wherever she is. I also want to meet her prepared.’
Femi smiled. ‘That’s great. Can we pray now?’
The two men walked into the campus gate and began to pray. For hours, they moved from one department to another, lips muttering incoherent words. Segun got tired at a point and Femi held his hand. Suddenly he felt strength course through his body. Smiling, he regained momentum and joined Femi who was already declaring God’s promises.
Final Episode. Monday