Century Hotel. Boardroom.
Dolapo walked into the boardroom in a blue gown and six inch high heels shoes. She waved at Deji, the graphics designer who was laughing at whatever the chief editor was saying. Her eyes shifted to the other side of the boardroom. The web developer, Mary sat in front of a dell laptop, pointing at the laptop screen and explaining something to the digital marketing executive, Priscilla. Dolapo hurried over to them.
‘Where’s Franca?’ Priscilla asked as soon as Dolapo settled into one of the black leather high chairs beside the ladies.
‘She should be here any moment from now.’ Dolapo responded.
Mary smiled and allowed her eyes fall on Dolapo’s shoes. ‘How do you wear shoes this high? The day I’ll wear heels has not yet come. In fact it may never come.’
Dolapo threw her head back laughing. ‘Mary you are really weird. High heels are the real deal girl. You crop your hair short. You never wear skirt or gown. You are always on sneakers. Are you sure you want to marry like this?’
Mary rolled her eyes. ‘I have a man in my life.’
Dolapo’s eyes widened. ‘You do? What do you wear when you go out on a date with him?’
Mary was about responding when Franca walked in. Everyone sat straight, pulling their chairs forward and fixing their gaze on their boss as she settled at the head of the long table. Dolapo quickly grabbed her folder and hurried to a seat beside Franca.
‘Welcome ma’am.’ Dolapo said. She pulled out a pen and her notepad.
Franca kept her gaze on Dolapo. ‘I don’t even understand this my P.A. Are you not supposed to be following me around?’
Dolapo was puzzled. She placed her hands on the table. ‘I thought you said…’
Franca interrupted her. ‘Have you sorted out my itinerary for the trip?’
‘Yes ma’am. Everything is set. Hotel reservation, the driver to pick you up at the airport in Abuja and-‘
‘We’ll talk about that later.’ Franca said and turned her attention to the other staff. ‘Good job guys! Our magazine is doing really great. The stories are changing lives and giving hope to many hearts. I just want to say well-done. So, I have been invited to Abuja for a meeting with the owner of Rick Pictures, a faith based movie production and we are hoping to have some good collaborations as far as our stories are concerned.’
‘That’s good.’ Deji said, beaming with smile.
Franca looked from one face to another. ‘I have a bonus package for you guys when I get back.’
The staff shouted in excitement and clapped their hands.
Franca stood up. ‘I have to leave now so I don’t miss my flight. You know how Lagos traffic can be. I’ll see you again when I get back.’
The Chief Editor levelled up with Franca as she descended the stairs that led to the exit door. ‘We’ve sorted out the stories for the next edition and I have sent five stories to the story collection box mail.’
‘That’s good. Weldone Damola.’
‘Thank you ma’am.’
The traffic was heavy. Franca looked at her time. 1.15pm. Her flight wasn’t until 7p.m. There was enough time before boarding the plane. She looked out the window to see a man with wrinkled face hawking power banks in different colours. There were phone chargers handing on his left arm. Drips of sweat poured down his tired face and for one minute, he leaned on a concrete slab at the side of the road, tired and lost in thoughts. Franca’s heart went out to him.
She rolled down the tinted glass window and called out to him. He sprang to his feet and rushed towards the black lexus with the agility of a young boy.
Franca pointed to a pink power bank. ‘How much is that?’
He pulled it out quickly and pushed it towards her. ‘One thousand five hundred naira. How much you won pay?’
Franca took the power bank and pulled out two thousand naira notes from her bag.
‘Make I quick go find change come. Hol the power bank. I’m coming.
‘Don’t worry about the change. Keep it.’
There were tears in the man’s eyes. ‘Madam, thank you. God bless you. Everything you touch go prosper.’
Franca smiled and rolled up the window. She relaxed against the back seat enjoying the cool breeze from the air-conditioner. She turned on her Mac notebook and tapped the first mail in the story collection box that had the title, ‘My secret has been exposed.
Let me give you a quick profile of my life. I believe it will help you get the gist of my story.
In SS2, I was appointed President of my school fellowship and I held that role till I graduated from secondary school. In my second year in the university, I was made the Bible study coordinator and doubled as the President of my departmental fellowship. By 300 level, I was the President of one of the largest campus fellowships in my school.
You’d think that would be all. Franca, when I stand before God’s people to minister, miracles always happen. Deliverances, prophetic declarations, expressions of the gifts of the Spirit always attended such meetings.
I remember in 300 level, I was invited by the executive of the Joint Campus Fellowship to handle a teaching weekend. My God! The auditorium was packed full. Four hours of teaching God’s word felt like a few minutes. Even though it was a teaching meeting, there was such amazing release of the supernatural. I left that meeting in awe of God. Could all these be happening because I had responded to the constant nudges that led to several hours of praying and studying the word the year I graduated from secondary school?
One experience particularly stayed on my heart. I had just been made the Bible study co-ordinator and the President had called for a meeting of the executives at the fellowship secretariat. There were two sisters in the executive who were under the influence of the devil. One of them was possessed. Fine beautiful sister with lots of ‘holy’ swagger. She was also very intelligent and at that time was on a first class CGPA. She didn’t know what it means to be saved even though she could quote the scriptures very well.
The other was an oppressed believer, who rarely socialized. It was at the first meeting we held that the truth was revealed.
I was sitting beside the president that day when I suddenly felt a thick darkness cover the room. The sister who was possessed started to say some funny things that made the executives laugh but I didn’t because I sensed it was a distraction from the important deliberations we were having. It was a critical discussion and we were making headway and drawing in on some divine strategies.
Vexed in my spirit, I stood up and rebuked the demonic spirit. She fell to the floor and started to act violently. They were all shocked. She got up to attack me but when she came close, she screamed and landed on the floor again. The second sister rushed towards me and held on to my arms so tight as if an unseen force was pulling at her legs. They both got delivered. The president just kept staring at me with his mouth and eyes widened like he was seeing an angel physically for the first time.
My life seemed perfect right? That’s what everyone thought, at least from my estimation. But I was battling something that almost ruined my life. Talk about walking on hot coals and carrying fire in your bosom.
I met Simi in 300 level second semester. She came in through direct entry and joined our fellowship. There was something about her that struck me. It was that tranquillity on her face, that organized thought process whenever she spoke, that beautiful face and gap tooth… Every part of her being intrigued me.
We got off on a great start and became buddies. The more time we spent together, the more I wanted to be with her.
Remi, my closest friend and the campus pastor of a fellowship he birthed in his 100 level days called me aside one day and said, ‘Wole, this Simi girl, what’s up? Are you dating her?’
‘Not yet.’ I responded.
‘But you have plans?’ He asked.
I smiled. ‘I hope to. You have an objection?’
‘Well, I just think you should reduce communications with her for a while and pray about her. Already, you are emotionally attached and praying about this while you guys roll together will not work because you’ll hear what you want to hear.’
‘I feel led.’
Remi laughed. ‘Man of God, you know better now. How will you not be led when you are already spending a lot of your time with her? The truth is, I feel your mind is clouded. This girl doesn’t have the energy that matches yours. The few times I’ve talked to her, she looked like danger waiting for the right time to strike.’
‘Remi! Yeah, I know you have a go-getter fiancée who is a prayer machine gun and a word mama but not every good woman starts out like that. Simi just needs a little push. What does the word teach about patience?”
Remi raised his hands. ‘Okay. I’ve heard you. I just want you to pray about her. If a woman will make you miss our prayer stretch meetings three times, that is enough reason to be concerned.’
Simi and I talked every night. We started reading together at night but I had to stop when some of my fellowship excos frowned at it. Reports were getting to them that I was seen in the dark talking with a lady and that it was unbecoming of a respected fellowship president. I didn’t understand why people wouldn’t mind their business.
Simi made me rent a self-contained apartment outside school. Remi and Chukwuemeka kicked against it. I didn’t listen to them. Since I got on campus I had stayed in the fellowship secretariat except for 100 level first semester where I resided in the school hostel. I needed space to think. I needed a place to study and to reflect on my life.
‘But you have a room to yourself in the secretariat.’ Chukwuemeka said. He had handed over to me as the President of my fellowship and didn’t understand why I was bent on renting an apartment.
He continued. ‘Even when you were a bible study co-ordinator and you shared the room with some other brothers, you still found a way to study and to produce those powerful bible study outlines.’
‘Wole, I don’t want to hear that Simi visits your place. The day I come to your room and find her there is the day I’ll pack your things and drag you back to your secretariat.’ Remi said. ‘If she is the one championing this, her plans will not work.’
Chukwuemeka looked from me to Remi. ‘Are we still on this Simi girl? I’ve been carried away with project work and didn’t remember to ask about her. Get that sister out of your life, she’s a distraction!’
I didn’t. I loved her so much. I’d never been in a relationship before and for me she was the real deal. She was going to be my first and my last. I would cherish and love her forever. I believed my friends would come around. They’d apologize and wished they’d had little faith in her. Yeah, she was not very passionate about spiritual things which bothered me sometimes, but then, we got along very well in other areas.
When I noticed that some guys were already making moves towards her, I quickly hooked her down. Without even thinking so much about it, I asked her out. She agreed and we started dating.
Franca, that was how my journey into sex chatting began. It seemed weird at first when she started sending me pictures of herself in lingeries, and asking me questions like,
‘What are you wearing?’
She pleaded that I send her pictures of me bare-chested. Then she started using words that turned my brain loose. I remember telling her to stop but by then, my mind was already filled with images that constantly flash through my mind when praying or studying the word. The day after I told her we needed to take a break, we got back again and it was more intense.
After our phone sex, I’d cry and ask God for forgiveness but the following day I’d be back on the phone with her. She said she wanted to stop too, but I don’t believe her because she wasn’t making any effort.
The only thing we never had together was physical sex. She taught me the words to say, opened my ears to words I’d never heard in my life, sent me links to porn sites and asked that I masturbate in a video call while she does same. I again cried and made promises but it never worked. First semester of my final year, I made same resolutions but it only got worse.
I cried many times Franca. I was ashamed to talk to my friends about my struggle. Who else could help me? Everyone looked up to me for all answers. Many of the campus fellowship leaders rarely made critical decisions without contacting me first. I always knew the right words to say. But here I was unable to help myself.
I felt dirty. I reminded God how much of a failure I was. I was sold to this habit that had become a drug. I couldn’t remember the number of times I promised myself that I’d stop talking to Simi at night but somehow the urge would come and I’d be the one pleading with her to phone sex with me.
Guilt filled my heart. I started rejecting invitations to minister. Every time I preached, I found myself in a battle with my conscience. Then I employed a formula. I’d go on my knees before every service and for thirty minutes beg God to forgive me and also promise to stay away from my phone for a month. I’d feel better afterwards but when I got off the pulpit, the feeling of condemnation would return.
Franca, something devastating happened one evening. I had preached so powerfully at an evening service and immediately I got back home, a strange urge to masturbate descended on me. By the time I was done, I was weak and crying in my room. I cried all night. I kept saying, ‘Holy Spirit, help me! I’m frustrated! Jesus!’
I made a decision the following morning. I was breaking up with Simi. I’d block her number and stay far away from her. I felt that would be my first step to freedom. I decided that after that happened, I’d call my friends and share my struggles with them. I needed help badly.
Simi flared up. ‘Don’t try it! You cannot break up with me.’
I was puzzled. I had explained that we needed to stop and that the first step was to stay completely away from each other.
‘No way! We can handle this ourselves. We’ll keep trying. Don’t leave me please.’ And then she started crying.
My mind was made up. I knew deep down in my spirit, it was what the Holy Spirit wanted me to do. I was ready to get back on my feet. I’ve lost count of the times I’d be in church and when I see her, images would fill my mind right in the middle of the service! I’ve had to rush to the restroom to relieve the tension when I couldn’t stand it. It was embarrassing.
Simi threatened me. ‘I still have some of your chats and pictures. If you try it, I’ll put it up on the fellowship’s WhatsApp page. I’ll tell everybody that you’ve been sending your nudes to me and I’ve been warning you to stop.’
I was shocked and angry. Why would she keep those pictures? We agreed to delete all of them at the end of our conversation. I kept my own part of the bargain. Why hadn’t she done same?
I called her words bluff. I told her she couldn’t do it. She was not that wicked. She laughed and said I didn’t know her.
I thought she was just angry. She loved me too much to disgrace me in that manner.
Simi did it. She posted two pictures of me naked but she used a sticker to cover my private part. It was horrific. The admin couldn’t pull down the pictures and had to remove everyone on the group just to find a way to get rid of them. I was devastated and ashamed.
Remi sat with me in my room as I stared into space like I’d lost a loved one. I couldn’t sleep all through the night.
None of the encouraging words from my friend reached my heart. I just wanted to be alone. I stopped attending lectures and also didn’t want to go for my first semester exam but Remi wouldn’t hear it.
I remember the day I walked into the exam hall, I felt piercing eyes directed at me. I ignored them and sat in the front row. On my way home after my last paper, as I walked through a lonely bush path, two sisters jumped in front of me. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by my some of my fellowship members. Tears filled my eyes.
‘We just want to say we love you and we want you to know that you are an overcomer’, a lady said.
A guy said, ‘When I was battling with suicidal thoughts, it was your sermon on the love of the father that snapped me out of it. We love you Pastor Wole. We are praying for you.’
‘I respect God’s Grace upon your life. The devil thinks he has won but he failed.’
None of their words meant anything to me. I thanked them and walked away. I refused invitations for panel meetings with the fellowship patron. When they visited my place and spoke of how highly disappointed they were with me, I just sat there staring and said nothing.
You won’t believe what happened few days into my final semester. Simi showed up at my door.
‘I just want to say I’m sorry for everything and-‘
I didn’t let her finish. I shut the door in her face.
Finally I returned home to Kastina after my clearance. I’d not been home since 200level. My father, a man I loved dearly, received me with so much warmth even after I told him what had happened. Dad called me to his room for a meeting.
He sat with my mum and they began to talk to me. Dad made a long list of affirmations drawn from the epistles of Paul and I was to make the affirmations every morning.
‘Son, these confessions are important. I’m not concerned about what you have done wrong because what has happened has happened. My concern is what steps you are taking to get back on track. As long as your mind is not tuned to receive instructions from your spirit man, it’ll keep autocorrecting every attempt you make to stand in the face of those urges.’
That was how the journey to restoration began. For the four months I stayed at home before NYSC, dad made me sit with a template on ‘Understanding the love of the Father’. We had daily one-hour session at our penthouse where he reminded me of the sacrifice of Christ and the victory that was already accrued to me. I wondered when dad learnt some of the truths that were new to me. A lot had changed since I last left home.
Dad made me read at least a chapter of the epistles daily. I can’t count the number of times I recited Ephesians 1. It became my new drug. I was also placed on strict prayer schedules. Part of my prayer schedules involved saying words that negated the addictive lifestyle my mind was accustomed to.
You have power to redirect your mind to think right. You must tell your mind what to do, My dad would say.
Even at that time, I still had bouts of slipping back into watching porn videos and when I seem frustrated, dad would look at me and say, ‘Keep your eyes on the goal, Wole. The goal is Jesus! Keep it fixed there.’ and then we’d continue with confessions and prayers. It was back to back.
Soon my heart bubbled with inexplicable joy. This was not just because I was experiencing victories, but I was once again enjoying communion with God. There was this peace, this overwhelming love that filled my heart. The fact that I was loved dearly by my heavenly Father, the revelation that the struggles with my flesh were covered in the sacrifice of Christ and the understanding that the Holy Spirit was always with me even in my mess showing me how to enjoy the freedom I had in Christ was the big break that sucked out my struggles.
Dad insisted I join a team in church. At first, I was alarmed at stepping out but finally, I decided to hide in the technical team. Nobody would really notice me there, I thought. It became my safe haven.
When it was time to proceed to Delta State for one year national youth service, dad called me to our usual spot.
‘Let me give you one secret. I hope you know all of these is happening in your mind. Your reborn spirit is one with the Holy Spirit and cannot sin. You can also see how much you have trained your mind to respond to your spirit-man. Now, sexual urges are not sinful in themselves. They are natural responses to your body makeup. Don’t expect them to go away however you have dominion and control over those urges. Don’t stop confessing what God’s word says about your body. Resist him with God’s word. Pray without season.’
‘My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.’ I muttered. Dad waited, listening. ‘Sexual sin has no dominion over me. I enjoy a deep revelation of the love of the Father. I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. I have the mind of Christ.’
I smiled, remembering how I’d said those words daily for four months. I had learnt to hold thoughts captive before they settled in my heart. It had been tough though. Tears burned my eyes as I looked at my father and my heart swelled in love for him. I wish I didn’t have to leave that week.
Franca, It’s been four years and my life is back on track! I’m at alert and sensitive more than I’ve ever been. I have also learnt to stand firm in my victory. I have become addicted to a life of prayer.
But then, there was still one issue. I fought the nudge to get back into ministry. During my one year NYSC, I joined the technical team in the church I attended and one day, the Pastor of the church asked me to become the President of the youth fellowship. I stopped attending that church.
The church I now attend, the Pastor once asked me to take a bible study class, I automatically fell ill and sent a text that I wouldn’t be around. It was as if I had locked up that part of my life with a padlock and thrown the key into the ocean. It was a lady in the church who found the key and brought it back to me.
She stood in front of me after one vigil. ‘The Lord sent me to you. He said, are you going to just sit down there feeling insecure about a past he does not even remember? What is wrong with you Wole? Do you now run your own life? Is Christ no longer your life? Why are you refusing to move into the things God is nudging your heart to? Guy, there is work to do! There are souls to be saved!’
I defended myself. ‘But I usually join the church on Fridays for evangelism. I even won a soul yesterday on my way to work.’
She shook her head. ‘Wole, you know exactly what the Lord is saying. Don’t give me that line.’
Of course I knew what she was talking about. Every word was like a nail hammered into my heart.
Why was I holding unto shadows? Didn’t I know enough of God’s love that the worst behaved of his sons was still loved and that the Father’s heart always desired to restore completely?
I repented that night. I stayed awake all through that night praying. It was as if I had taken that same key from her and unlocked the part of my life I wanted buried and forgotten.
My heart welled up with excitement as God spoke to me about the things I was going to do for him. The instructions I penned down that night was nothing compared with the exploits from my campus days.
Shortly before dawn, The Lord told me to open my hands. I did and I saw fire burning out of my hands so much that my hands were literally hot. I saw images of myself standing in front of a multitude declaring the gospel and flowing in the supernatural.
I cried with joy. My Father. The one who sent his Son to die for me, the one who called me his son, the one who stayed by me through the dark days. Oh I stand in awe of him.
This morning, my pastor called me. I was going to handle the Bible study for tomorrow evening. Before he would finish speaking, the Lord began to tell me what I’d say, the verses to study on. I stood there and saw flashes of how the service would go. I also saw a flash of a beautiful lady, a steward in the children’s church. My heart has been drawn to her for weeks now. Well, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship yet.
Franca, I’m ready to push aside my fears and step into my calling. I know for sure that God’s plan for my life is good always. I just hope my story stirs someone’s heart. I hope they see that our pasts do not define us. I hope they see the love of God and rise to fulfil their purpose in God. When we stand before God, no self-pitying speech will be entertained.
Franca, I have a good Father and I am loved by him.