The first thing Victoria noticed was the smell. It was something indefinable; like the stench of rotten garbage mixed with stagnant waters, alcohol and a dose of hopelessness. After a lot of bump and jiggles from the bad roads, their bus came to a halt in front of the community secondary school.
The school was surrounded on all sides by buildings that looked like they had seen better days. The houses stood lopsided and cluttered together in a way that made each of them seem like an afterthought, with no proper planning into their layout or structure. The cracked walls housed other inhabitants of their own, gutters were clogged with waste where water should flow freely, and rusted aluminium roofing sagged and creaked noisily in the lazy afternoon breeze. There were bungalows and storey buildings and most of them had a makeshift store in front of them but Victoria could see none with a gate or a proper fence. The houses either faced each other or faced the streets, with numerous windows that made it obvious they were multi-tenanted or ‘face-me-I-face-you’.
Victoria picked her handbag and took a deep breath as she joined the others by the side of their bus labelled with bold fonts; “Word of Faith Church”. There were fourteen of them, including Uncle Chidi, since the other youths had all given reasons why they could not go for evangelism on a Saturday which made her wonder why she had come anyways.
She stood at the entrance of the door, creating as much space as possible from Samuel who had deliberately planted himself beside her. He had never said anything suggestive to her but Victoria was not too dumb to notice how he always had an excuse to be with her. She chuckled as she remembered the look of irritation and disappointment on his face when Uncle Chidi had claimed the seat beside her as they got on the bus, beating him to it.
“Are you nervous?” Samuel leaned closer to her and whispered as Uncle Chidi began to address them; his strong scent wafting to her nose and effectively blocking out the stench.
“Me neither. I’m so excited about doing the Lord’s work.” Victoria resisted the strong urge to roll her eyes. This was what she could not stand – this pretend ‘spirituality’ – especially since she guessed he would probably not have come if she hadn’t signed up. She preferred when people were real with her and she saw just how terrible they were than for them to put up a front. The youths of her church reeked of that. They dressed, talked and acted in the way the church required but at home and outside, they led entirely different lives.
“Well, I’m glad,” Victoria said, focusing on Uncle Chidi and hoping he got the message.
“But this place….so dirty and smelly,” he continued.
Victoria looked up at him for the first time. He loomed several feet above her, his face contorted in disgust. Samuel had boyish good looks and he knew it but she could care less. What he just said was who he was – proud and spoiled – and Victoria picked on it.
“Really, Samuel? That is soo condescending. The fact that you were born in a rich family, live in a luxurious home and happen to be a Christian is not a right. These people are God’s creation too. Doing the Lord’s work indeed,” she snorted and almost regretted it when she saw how his face fell.
“But that was not what I meant. I was just giving an honest observation,” he whined and she bit her lip. Who was she to judge anyone? After all, hadn’t the same thought crossed her mind when they got there?
“I’m sorry.” The last thing she wanted right now was an agitation.
“It’s okay. I just – “
“Sam and Vick, both of you will soon come here and tell us what you are talking about,” Uncle Chidi said, cutting him off. Several pairs of eyes turned to look at them and Lola – her friend – gave her a knowing wink.
“Sorry sir,” they both chorused and Victoria quickly extracted herself from his side to stand by Lola, all the while dreading what she would say. But thankfully, her friend said nothing.
Victoria took a deep breath and tried to restore the calm she had felt when she prayed in the bus. She allowed the scripture in Jeremiah one-verse-nine that had jumped at her on their way, flow through her tensed heart; “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” It was like God was speaking to her, assuring and strengthening her. While she prayed, she had finally admitted to God her fears and reservations, she had confessed just how people-conscious she was rather than being God conscious and it was as though as she did that and asked Him for grace, He answered her. And she believed He did. She knew she wasn’t perfect and still needed a lot of work but she was willing to take one step in front of another and trust God for grace.
“…so we will split into groups of two. Everyone must make sure they have a partner,” Uncle Chidi was saying. “Also, remember what we talked about in church. Don’t go anywhere without your partner, stay away from large groups and dark corners, leave the minute you are not welcomed but try also to compel them…” he continued, reiterating what they had said at the orientation.
He grouped them in pairs; a male and a female. Victoria caught a movement from the corner of her eye and looked to see Samuel inching his way towards them. She frowned. It was obvious he wanted them to be partners and she really didn’t need that. What was the most ‘Christ-like’ way to respond to this guy? She thought. Dear God, please.
“Ehen. Samuel,” Uncle Chidi called in the middle of addressing Tara who did not want to be paired with Ubong because he was stubborn. “You and Lola are partners.”
Victoria suddenly felt very scared for Uncle Chidi, because if looks could kill, he would have dropped dead right then, tumbling to the littered ground below like a rag doll, with the way Samuel looked at him. Now she understood why Jesus classified anger as murder.
She and Lola giggled discreetly as Sam stomped to his new partner’s side, fuming with all he was worth.
“And Victoria, you and I would go together.”
She snuck a look at Samuel as he opened his mouth and shut it again, anger written all over his smooth, light skinned face.
* * * *
After they were handed tracts and prayed, they dispersed in various directions. She waited for Uncle Chidi while he gave instructions to the driver and followed his lead as they both went past the school, through a yard that separated two houses facing each other, dodging hung clothes swaying this way and that, goats, chickens and half naked kids playing in the sun. The smell got stronger, this time mixed with the stench of sweat and spilled grease as they passed a big mechanic’s workshop.
They walked in silence, handing out tracts as they went; some were accepted and some were rejected. The kids enthusiastically stretched their hands to take the tracts, while some of them followed them and shouted, “Aunty, my own nko?” Victoria smiled, knowing they could not read it but giving them anyways.
They got to a bar and Uncle Chidi motioned for them to go there. It stood alone without an attachment to a house, with a sign above labelled; “Mama Tee Bar.” Tables and chairs were arranged outside and inside the shop but there were only few men seated there, cradling a beer bottle. The smell of alcohol and fish greeted them. Uncle Chidi approached one of the men and motioned for her to go inside. She nodded.
The curtain made of strung beads hanging like a waterfall, rattled as she stepped into the shop. She looked around but it was empty.
“Hello, is anyone here?”
A head peeked above the counter and Victoria smiled. The girl, however, did not look amused.
“What do you want?” her voice was soft but unfriendly.
“I..urrm..we came to…share something with you,” the face that stared at her from behind the counter with a quizzical look was a beautiful one. Her viasage was round and fresh and her eyes were wide and innocent and looked like they had no place in a bar. The girl looked about her age, around sixteen or so.
“What’s that?” she sounded impatient.
Victoria moved closer and handed her a tract. “Can we talk?”
She took the tract, scanned it and raised a sleek brow, a smile playing on her lips for the first time.
“So you walked in here, took one look at the bar and me and decided I need Jesus,” she was mocking her and Victoria knew she had to be careful. This girl who spoke surprisingly good English was obviously smart.
“We all need Jesus. My name is Victoria,” she extended a hand but she did not take it.
“Oh, great. Can I call you Jola?”
“Alright Anjola. Do you think we can sit and talk?” Victoria waited, almost expecting her to say no. But she nodded, rounded the counter and led her to a nearby seat. Victoria noticed for the first time that she was quite tall, at least taller than her. Well, everyone was taller than her.
“Thank you,” she said when they settled down. Anjola was dressed in a pink blouse and tight fitting jeans.
“Please, make it fast. I have an assignment to finish.”
“Oh. What class are you?”
“Cool. So, you’re preparing for WAEC right?”
“What’s your favorite subject?”
Anjola sighed. “Look…errm…Victoria, right? I don’t mean to be rude but I’m sure you did not come all the way from wherever to find out my favourite subject. Get to the point.”
Victoria took a deep breath and nodded. “Sure, sure. I just thought we should be friends first.” Lord, a little help here, please.
Anjola leaned close to her. “You said the other time that we all need Jesus. Why do you say that?” she was taken aback by her question and mentally gave God a high-five for that little progress.
“Yes, we all need Jesus. You see, we are all sinners. Every single one of us. The Bible tells us that we have all fallen short of God’s glorious standard. Sin has been engraved in our hearts, there is absolutely nothing good in us….”
“Look, I’m really not a bad person,” Anjola cut her short, sitting up. “If you look around this place, every girl my age either has a child, a boyfriend or both but I don’t. I mean, I’m not prefect or anything but I have morals. I don’t sleep around, I don’t steal or even cheat. So you see, you are barking up the wrong tree. If you need to preach to someone, I can give you a few names and even an address because I’m nice.”
Victoria shook her head. This girl screamed moralist. She said a brief prayer to find the right words and beyond that for God to convict her of sin. “Now I have put my words in your mouth,” whispered through her heart.
“Anjola, let me ask you a question. Do you believe God is holy, that he hates sin?”
She nodded. “But no one is perfect, so?”
“True. Since you’re so good, on a scale of one to ten, where do you think you fall as far as your goodness is concerned? Be honest.”
She said nothing for a while, thinking. “Well, I guess a five?”
“Good. What do you think God’s pass mark is?”
Anjola sighed, either out of understanding or frustration, Victoria couldn’t be sure. She was too overwhelmed by the sudden understanding that flooded her spirit.
“I guess a ten?” she finally admitted.
“True. And what do you think happens to a person who falls short of that?”
“They go to hell?” her voice was soft, sober.
“But no one is perfect. What is God going to do? Send us all to hell?” Anjola sounded perplexed.
“That’s where Jesus comes in. That’s the goodnews,” Victoria declared, smiling. “You see, God’s love for you is so real and intense that He sent His only Son to die for your sins. God created us by His will for His pleasure but we rebelled against our maker. But Jesus did everything to please God, he was without sin, he did no wrong yet he went to the cross to fulfill the righteous judgement of God on your behalf.”
“That makes no sense.”
“That’s why the reward of eternal life is given to those who can believe it. Anjola, He loves you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to be your Father.” Victoria knew she hit something with that last statement the way Anjola’s eyes flickered, so she repeated. “He wants to be your Father.”
Before she could reply, the curtain rattled revealing a man standing there. “Give me one plate of fish and Guiness,” his gruff voice said.
While she went to attend to him, Victoria looked outside for Uncle Chidi. He had left the man he was talking to before and was now addressing an elderly man whose head was bowed as he listened to him.
“Alright,” Anjola said as she returned to her seat.
“So, as I was saying. God wants to be a part of your life. He wants you to walk with Him. And He has promised that if you repent and turn to Him in belief, He would forgive and accept you.”
“That’s it. Believe and He will give you a new life, old things will pass away. Give Him your heart, your all and it will be the best decision you’ll ever make.”
There was a moment of silence as Anjola stared fixedly at a spot on the table which divided them, the only sounds coming from the men outside and a distant cock strangely crowing in the late afternoon.
“I don’t know,” Anjola’s voice trailed off. “I need time. I mean, I’ve heard some of these things before but this…”
“Anjola, God loves you. Please…”
“I’m not ready.”
Victoria wanted to plead with her, she wanted to explain some more but something restrained her.
“Alright. I’ll come back here next week if that’s fine?”
“Sure. But don’t bet on anything.”
“Can I get your number?”
“No,” she didn’t blink and Victoria didn’t know what to think.
“I don’t have a phone.”
“Really? It’s like the twenty first century!” Victoria said and wanted to kick herself for that. Stupid. She was after all just sixteen, in secondary school and not very rich.
But surprisingly, she laughed, the sound warming Victoria’s heart. “I know right? Long story.”
“Alright then. Thank you. I’ll see you next week.”
Just then, Uncle Chidi called her and they headed out.
As they continued to trawl for souls for the next two hours, preaching and handing out tracts, Victoria couldn’t get her mind off Anjola. And even after she led two people to Christ, amidst the euphoria of it, she continued to wonder about one sheep that was still lost in the dark.
* * * *
– Was Victoria wrong to have responded to Samuel the way she did? What was the best way to respond to such a situation?
– Do you think Victoria should have compelled Anjola more or was she right to leave when she did?
Don’t forget to share this and check back on Friday for episode four. I should post something before then though.