Chidi Peters, 28, took a deep breath as he did a quick countdown from ten to one. The room was buzzing with the sound of the air conditioner working at optimal level but he could still feel the heat of indignation rising in him. He hated this.
“Look Chidi. Let me explain this again,” Pastor Soleye was saying, leaning over the oak desk in his plush office, stopping only when his belly hit the edge. “This church operates mostly on the gifts and offerings of its members as you well know. Whatever money or expenses that goes out therefore has to be for the benefit of the church. If it is not helping the church grow, then putting our money in it is inexpedient. I understand that you want to help these people but does this help the church in any way? Do you get?” he finished, gesturing with his hands.
“It depends on what your definition of ‘the church’ is sir,” Chidi muttered. He already had his ears full with this kind of talk. Why couldn’t they see beyond these concrete walls? What was wrong with these people? He had spent almost an hour in Pastor Soleye’s office trying to convince him to approve an outreach in Aje.
Since he and his youths had gone to that place the day before, he couldn’t shake off the compassion and sorrow in his heart. The place was reeking with so much hopelessness that went beyond their poverty. The sickness was in every man with bloodshot eyes and told a tale from every young girl they met. He and Victoria had met not less than ten girls who had either dropped out of school, was pregnant, bore bruises from male violence or had all three problems. And after exchanging a few sentences with them, he saw that it was a norm.
Throughout the journey back to the church, every one of the youths had been silent, losing the initial gaiety they had when they came. No one made jokes or sang. No one smiled or said anything beyond what was necessary. It was like the despondence of the place had hit them all. And after discussing with some of the youths before they dispersed to go home, he saw that his and Victoria’s findings were the same with theirs and every single one of them rooted for an outreach, a response from their church.
Every single one except the pastorate. Or at least Pastor Soleye.
Chidi wanted them to have more than an evangelistic outreach that brought eternal light to this darkness but something that met their immediate needs; a social response – sex education, adult education, financial assistance for unmarried mothers, jobs for both men and women and the likes. He hadn’t quite figured it out completely but had been excited about it when the idea sprung up in his mind as he went to bed that night. He had been bustling so much with the prospect that he had made sketches on his writing pad and after praying about it, he had gotten a go-ahead from God.
But now, with Pastor Soleye, the pastor in charge of administration, staring down at him from beneath thick gold-rimmed glasses, he was beginning to wonder if he was not being ‘overzealous’ as some called him. It had also been like this in convincing him to allow Chidi re-structure the youth group and had taken the intervention of the pastor-in-charge, Pastor Adegbite, before Soleye grudgingly agreed.
“The church I am referring to here is Word of Faith,” the pastor was saying, patiently enunciating each word like he would to a three-year old.
“Sir, the task of sharing the gospel was given to us for the whole world. Not just for the church. Besides, the church I am referring to is the very one that Christ purchased with his blood. His bride. Not this denomination. If we are not looking for how to advance that church but our denomination alone, I wonder who we are working for,” Chidi said, looking the pastor square in the eye. No one could accuse him of being timid, especially in expressing his mind.
Soleye twisted his mouth in a disapproving smirk. “The scripture said we should respect all authority, Chidi. What are you teaching those children?”
He said nothing. So the pastor continued. “We have so many projects that we are currently working on. The church building is there and the council is breathing down my neck for an expansion. The youth conference is four months from now and it is the same you that will come to ask me for money. That does not include the other capital projects; our new branch at Iyana-Ipaja undergoing construction and recurring church expenses including pastors’ salaries. And now, you want me to sign an approval for you to spend the church’s money on some charity work? Haba! What next will you ask for ehn? Eradicating hunger in Sudan?” by now, Soleye’s voice had gone several octaves higher.
Chidi sighed. He understood what the pastor was saying but he knew what he knew. This was a severe case of misplaced priorities. What was the point of erecting grander buildings when those on the outside had shallow foundations and shaky lives? What was the point of placing fancy lights in the building when those outside sat in darkness?
He understood now why Jesus had been so opposed to the Pharisees. Not that his pastor was a Pharisee, far from it. He had a passion, a burning desire that he expected to find mirrored in the pastorate. But he wasn’t seeing it and that was what made him so angry and discouraged and not the refusal. If it was just that, he would have taken it with a pinch of salt but this…this he couldn’t handle. Yes, they couldn’t solve everybody’s problem, but wasn’t the whole point of being the light of the world not about brightening their corners where they were? Could they turn their backs on those who so clearly needed help and still claim to love their neighbours as Jesus commanded?
His head was pounding and all of a sudden, all he wanted was to go home. This was going nowhere.
“Sir, I’m sorry if this has offended you. I understand what you are saying, it’s just that I cannot turn my back on these ones, refuse to feed these lost sheep and still claim to love. I pray you understand.” And with that he got up, discouraged by the very ones who should encourage him. “Thank you sir. Please greet Mummy for me.”
“It’s okay. Have a good week ahead.”
He nodded and turned to walk out of the office not bothering to look at the pastor’s face. As he walked through the massive cathedral, he saw and waved at some of the youths talking in groups, the church still alive with the after-service fervour. He greeted Victoria and her parents as he entered his Camry and drove off.
Chidi groaned as he remembered a report he needed to turn in the next morning at the office. He had been so caught up in the outreach he had forgotten. He needed to get home and on it before he proved to his boss that Christians were incompetent.
Maybe he should just face his job and leave church work alone.
* * * *
“Anjola now! Why are you so stingy? Na wa o!” Bose was craning her neck and trying to wrestle the paper out of her hands.
They were in class and their Mathematics teacher, Mr. Alao had given them a Monday morning ‘tea’ as he called his impromptu tests. After he had pulled his rotund frame into their class and they had given their customary greetings, he had scribbled, “TEST” across the fading blackboard and declared, “Tear a sheet of paper, write your name and class. Number one!”
The class had erupted into an uproar even though this was not the first time he was doing such, in fact he did this almost every Monday.
And after he had written the questions on the board, he walked out of the class, leaving the students to finish the test. Of course, they did what was expected the minute his whistle was out of earshot. Some picked up their books, while others copied off each other or asked questions.
Anjola had refused to show Bose her work because the last time she did, the girl had scored higher than her. She was always top of her class and could not risk losing the baton to Bose who was always at her heels in second place. She would not be outsmarted again.
“Bose, leave me alone jor. That’s how you will score higher than me. I’m not showing you.”
“Oya, sorry now! I will not score higher, I promise. Please, please…before he comes back!”
Anjola sighed and eased on her paper, allowing her friend copy off her work and pushing away the guilt that gnawed at her. The truth was that, asides Bose outsmarting her, Anjola’s conscience had also kept her from allowing her friend cheat. She couldn’t explain it but since that Victoria girl had left her mother’s bar that day, things she did and saw as normal began to look…bad. It made no sense.
But there was no way she was going to succumb to what that girl spoke of. If God cared about her so much, why was her life so miserable? She knew that the only way she could surrender her life to Jesus was if she was certain that he could offer her a life better than the one she had. She snorted at that thought. Of course any life was better than this one she had. Well, okay. Maybe if she did this, Jesus could help her get into Harvard or –
“Pens up!” Mr. Alao bellowed from outside the class. “Pass your papers to the front,” he said without a hint as to whether he saw them cheating or not.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. After classes and a brief rendezvous with her friends, Bose and Chioma, Anjola headed home. She met Timothy and Remi watching T.V when she walked in.
“Where is Segun?” she asked by way of greeting immediately she entered the one-room apartment, dropping her bag by the door.
“He go and play ball,” Remi answered without so much as a glance her way, her eyes riveted on the screen. She and Timothy were still in their school uniforms. Anjola picked the T.V’s remote and turned the thing off. That got their attention.
“Ahn, ahn! Aunty Jola now!” they whined simultaneaously.
“Both of you, take off your uniforms and don’t you have homework to do?” she took off her shirt and left her tank top and school skirt on. She carried a pot, stove and bucket to the kitchen all the tenants shared.
When she got back, she met the T.V on and her siblings back on the floor, facing the screen. Anjola put it off again, ignoring their protests.
“What will you eat?” she asked them.
Timothy brightened, “Beans!”
“Iyama!” Remi said with disgust. “Rice jor!”
Anjola rolled her eyes. This was always the problem with cooking for her family. There was never a consensus as to what they would eat.
“I’m making rice and beans,” she declared as she picked a sack that contained the food stuff and headed back to the kitchen.
And this time, she took the remote with her.
* * * *
When Toke got back from the factory later that afternoon, she was full of stories as usual.
“When I pass Debo shop today, come and see the way he is looking me! Shebi I tell you that he like me? Ah, but that boy is fine o! And he is living in flat, opposite Mama Chemist shop. You know that house now? Ehen…”
Debo was Toke’s long time crush and the heartthrob of most girls in Aje. He was an electrician who sometimes drank at their bar, although not more than two bottles. Anjola had given up trying to convince Toke that he was no good. But a girl just did not listen with her head in the clouds. She just hoped her cousin was wise enough not to get pregnant.
“Imagine, he call my name! He even answer when I greet him,” and she went on to narrate her entire meeting with Debo which Anjola suspected was really not more than a polite encounter. And this was not even close to the blantant signals Toke threw at him anytime he came to the bar.
After a while, she moved on to another topic.
“Funmi have born. I go to see her in the hospital when I finish my shift. The baby resemble Bayo no be small o! The naming is next week. I buy bag I will wear and go with that my blue shoes.” To which Anjola responded with a noncommittal grunt as she finished her History assignment that was due the next day.
A handbag fell on her notebook and she looked up to see Toke’s familiar smug smile.
Anjola sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood to play this game, she never was.
“Toke, you need to stop wasting your money on these cheap things. Look at that shoe you bought for two hundred naira last week, it got spoilt the very day you wore it and you have spent no less than hundred naira repairing it. It is not wise,” she said, handing the blue bag back to her cousin.
“What’s doing this one? Vin-tage, you better be sharp and let me teach you how to buy correct something. And you will be doing like butter. Iranu!” Toke huffed. She hated being corrected and by her cousin who was four years her junior, no less.
Anjola was grateful for the brief quiet as Toke prepared to go to the bar. Monday evenings were not usually as busy as the weekends but Anjola knew if she did not go to the shop, her mother would give her hell for it. She closed her book and was about to place it in her pink backpack when she saw a small, blue book beneath it, lying on the rug with the other books and CDs that belonged to Adio.
Curious, she raised the bag and saw it was a small Bible. She wondered about it and remembered that she had received one of those Bibles they usually gave out at schools for free. And as though Anjola had never seen it before in her life, she gently picked it up.
She had read all the books she had and the ones her friends borrowed her. Halimat had promised to give her a novel she asked for after Ife was done with it and since Anjola was not reading anything besides her school books at the moment, she decided to read the Bible.
She tucked it in her purse as she headed out with Toke and her siblings to the bar that evening.
* * * *
– Was Chidi wrong in the way he approached the pastor? What should he have done?
– Do you think Chidi was being overzealous? Was the pastor right in saying he couldn’t help everybody?
Iranu – Nonsense.
I know I promised to post episode four yesterday, I’m sorry. I can explain.
Okay, thing is, I live in Nigeria where the electricity is unpredictable.
But really, I’m sorry. No excuses. And to make it up to you, I’ll post episode five on Tuesday.
I’m forgiven ba? That’s why I love you :*
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