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20 FREELY 2 – ARRIVAL

Mr. Obi followed Pastor Kentoroabasi Etim back to Lagos, and so did I. It had been a month since the bombshell. My dad meant what he said when he asked if Mum would like to live in Uyo. We could start a church and make it the headquarters, and in Pastor Annie’s words, leave the resort to the wolves.

The month at Uyo was judiciously spent. Oh, when the Bible says, “Money is a defence,” it couldn’t be righter! I remember days when we would struggle to pay church rent, but now we buy a building and within one month, tear it down and begin to rebuild. All Kent’s trusted men who had wept when he left the region, rallied round.

It reminded me of Nehemiah and his strong men, who worked for no pay. An architect, a builder, and artisans Kent had impacted and raised. Many lived in Uyo, and Aba and surrounding towns. Revive the World Uyo Christian Centre would be inaugurated in another three months but in the meantime, Dad also bought a nice but simple four-bedroom bungalow for the church, where we would live. It wasn’t the mansion we left in the Rev the World resort, nor was it the ramshackle we lived in Aba. Dad was making a strong statement about knowing to “abase and abound.”

To tell the truth, even I thought it was obscene to stash money in protected and confidential accounts while the mission fields suffered. Not if my father had anything to do with it. He signed out cheques till his fingers became cold and stiff. All his former missionaries got support. One would think Dad was on a roll to pull down the ministry he just took over.

Many calls came through. Some who seemed to think they had a level of influence with Kent spoke softly, and convincingly.

“Stop this,” they said. “Do you think this is what archbishop wants? When he was alive, he could have done this but he didn’t.”

Others like Favour threatened.

“We knew all this was a bad idea. Leadership should not have gone to search for you.”

They bullied, and some called him names, precisely the two sons of the late archbishop. Their churches had been handed over to their assistants, which meant they had to either sit in the congregation, or submit to serve the new church under their former junior pastors, or return to the resort and demand “something be done.”

And the silence of one woman was weightier than the voices of all who spoke combined. Nothing came from the quarters of Mama Jumi Nelson. For all we knew, she might have left the country and abandoned the resort for us. Her sons and others, including Favour, made it clear they spoke for themselves and not for her.

Some shouted, “Wait till Mama comes back.”

No such luck.

My father had no intention of ruffling any feathers. He had fifty churches in eight countries left, and decided to lead these by himself, since their pastors had lost their positions.  I didn’t want to return to the resort either, although I was as curious as a wool-luring kitten. I wanted to know what happened for myself. Would there be a confrontation?

Edidiong followed to help Dad with packing and moving. We were on our way out, school was resuming in a week, and we had to get back to enrol on time since we were all new to the school. It was a nice one though.

When Kent entered his office on the fateful Thursday afternoon we arrived back at the resort, there was a pile of petitions. He picked one, read it, laughed, and dropped it back.

“Obi, you have to reply all these. Take them with you when we go back to Uyo.”

Mr. Obi nodded.

Like the proverbial tortoise, all eyes were on Obi now. He had been Dad’s good friend, and an occasional attendant in our services. His law practise had not done too well, though he was a brilliant lawyer. Who else would Dad have called in the heat of the moment when his eyes opened to what he had to do with the massive lump dumped on his laps by his late father.

Dad waved at the pile. “I am not spending more than three days here. I am ready to work day and night, if anything needs my direct attention.”

Kent had not known how long he would stay and had not told me, or any of us who travelled with him.

Three days was so short. I had to get in touch with Juwon before we returned. Our secret love affair was about to be terminated, and I wanted us both to witness it.

 

The End.

 

Watch out for FREELY 3! Yes, it gets hotter in the life and ministry of Pastor Kent. What he thought he’d left behind has grown wings and followed him.

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ready-vicar-church-religion-faith-1153149/

19 FREELY 2 – CONTROVERSIAL

Business meeting was business-unusual.

Pastor Kent sat at a table facing a hall full of weak-from-the-fast, shocked-from-the-announcement pastors. My journalist ears were ringing louder than a church bell on a Sunday morning. I wished I could take pictures, as some of the new-general-overseers burst into tears. Not a single face had a smile.

Out of the over five hundred pastors in “Rev”, only three hundred and twenty had showed up. I wondered what Kent planned to do with the remaining churches who didn’t present anyone.

“You can go ahead and open your envelopes,” Kent said when the uproar calmed. “I will entertain questions in ten minutes’ time.” He stood and left the hall.

I knew the content of the envelopes would again numb the pastors. Kentoroabasi had been fair, and generous. Pastors would own everything under their roofs, including the building itself, and there were parting gifts, fat amounts to help the church start off on its own.

Kent had near-depleted the heavy “Rev the World” accounts he met. Many would question this action, and I saw it already. Some people liked the “bigness” of the church, being a part of a vast thing, the fame, the reputation, having an archbishop as their head, all the “feferity” as Dad would say. There was also a disclaimer, an offer-rejection, which must be submitted not earlier than one month from date.

When Pastor Kent returned from his ten-minute break, Mr. Obi, who had come earlier in the week was with him.

He pointed at one of three seats separating his and mine, and Obi took it.

He raised his voice so he would get everyone’s attention. “This is my attorney, Segun Obi. If you have any questions about your documents, he will answer them.”

Many of the pastors were still overwhelmed by the announcement and had not opened their envelopes. In slow motion, one by one mouths closed and fingers moved over the sealed envelopes. I had a heap in front of me, the remaining two-hundred-plus belonging to no-show pastors.

A pastor raised his hand, and Dad motioned to him to speak. “I have three churches under me, sir.” His voice broke, and for a few seconds he swallowed convulsively to prevent tears. “Only one of my pastors is here—”

The pastor he referred to stood. “I can’t be on my own.” Tears streamed from his eyes.

“Then, you can continue to be under your senior pastor,” Obi said. “What are the names of the other two churches under you, sir. I will hand them over to you as well.”

The pastor mentioned the names and I found the envelopes and gave him.

Gradually, the envelopes depleted, some went with four, some five, others one and two. The meeting closed. Most of the pastors were weak from the fast, and developments. Some wanted desperately to talk with Kent, but he told them to meet him at the headquarters in a month’s time.

We returned to the hotel, and was I grateful to my maker for luxury. We all needed a good bath, and good food. Many of the pastors had opted to fly back to Lagos, or book the hotel for the night. They could afford it. Our churches had more than enough.

Mum told me all she just wanted to do was soak her weary body in the Jacuzzi, eat a healthy portion of vegetable soup with plenty of fish and meat, and sleep for twelve hours. I totally agreed with her.

We were halfway through our indulgence when Dad got a call from Pastor Favour. The man didn’t have a church he led as a senior administrative pastor in the church, so it made more sense to stay out of what just happened. But we were about to hear what none of us ever imagined could come out of the man’s mouth.

First of all, he had full information of what had transpired, which was not a surprise. In a church like ours, nothing could be secret except the serious scandals, which were no secret anyway. Secondly, we all knew people had allegiances. Some came only to keep tab so they could report back.

When Pastor Kent hung up, he sighed. “Favour just threatened to wipe out my family. He said he is contesting the will archbishop left, and will fight me to death if he had to.”

Mum shuddered. “Call Obi.”

“I know. I have the call recorded. I’ll just send the recording to him. I am not afraid of course.” Kent rubbed his hands together. “On other matters, how will you like to live in Uyo?”

Mum arched an eyebrow. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. I’m not going back to that densely populated controversial property. Rev the World is still my church. I am its leader. But now I choose where my headquarters is.”

“Not if Pastor Favour and his pack of wolves have anything to do with it.”

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ready-vicar-church-religion-faith-1153149/

18 FREELY 2 – CONFRONTATIONAL

So I learnt a new meaning for confronting issues when my father sent a message to Pastor Funke, his secretary.

“I want all the pastors to have a prayer retreat in Uyo. I am here already. Anyone who can’t make it must write to take excuse or give reason for not being there.”

Her reaction was expected. “This is too sudden, sir. People work.”

“I know. But I must also follow instructions as I hear it. It’s a worldwide retreat. Get the logistics unit to set the plan in motion.”

He fixed the date so everyone had only ten days.

I don’t know what my father was thinking. It was near-impossible. We had churches in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and other parts of Africa. All pastors must come for a retreat or they cease to be pastors? It was the most ludicrous thing we had ever heard.

Mum and I sat down and discussed at length.

“I’m not sure Daddy is doing the right thing,” I said. “Mum, you have to talk to him. The notice is too short. I worked on the computer with him. There are more than five hundred pastors.”

Mum didn’t say a word for a long time. “I don’t understand it myself,” she finally said. “He didn’t even discuss with me. I only heard him talk about it on the phone when he was telling his secretary.”

“He’s been treating you like eggshells since yesterday when you got delivered.”

And I was right. I didn’t imagine Pastor Kentoroabasi Etim would be so careful around his wife. They had been through so much together though this experience was a first. Still, he repeated several times he didn’t want her to get hurt “after all she had been through because of him.” It seemed he wasn’t being rational as it were.

In the evening of the second night, he announced we all move to Uyo and he was starting an eight-day fast at his mentor’s church. He told us we would stay in the five-star hotel, and I’d have to do some work for him.

Mama was not happy to see us leave, but like every time we visited, she rolled a small amount of money and pushed into our hands. Dad gave her ten times more, which was ironic, but my grandmother never failed to give us those parting gifts.

We checked into our rooms at the hotel, and Dad left ahead of the general retreat. I looked at the work he wanted me to do. It was enormous. So much, two brothers from our Port Harcourt church travelled over to assist. There were mounts of paperwork, and spreadsheets. Each morning we would use a small conference room in the hotel to create files and folders. One of the men, Mr. Obi, who came to assist me bought a printer on Dad’s instruction.

We printed loads of contracts and agreements, MOUs, and letters. Dad wanted to have the nomenclature and demographies of each church properly defined: the name of the pastor, ministers, leaders and elders, account facts, number of members broken down to men, women, and children, attendance, tithe-payers and so on. It was a back-breaking job.

At the end though, we felt proud. Revive the World International Ministries had five hundred and sixty-two churches in eighty countries. Income ran into multi-millions in naira every month, and hundreds of thousands in foreign currencies. The asset of the church seemed incredible, it left me thinking, is this church into evangelism or investment. They owned business in virtually every industry but the most lucrative was real estate.

I couldn’t wait to show Daddy what we had accomplished. The men returned to Port Harcourt after a week, and as instructed, we put the documents for each church in a large envelope.

To my understanding, Dad wanted the pastors to have them, and also follow the example of the way he had organized the records. Back in our former mission, Dad always talked about being ready for the auditors. Unfortunately, none ever came.

The pastors’ and ministers’ retreat in Uyo lasted three days with the participants fasting throughout. Only water and glucose was provided at the venue, Pastor Kent’s former pastor’s church. All the comfort many of these pastors knew were not provided.

A few who seemed to know how to talk walked up to Pastor Annie, and made “proposals” on how to run the retreat next time. A couple suggested the retreat was moved to a hotel where it would be easier and more conducive to pray.

It was a most awkward kind of meeting. On the first day, Pastor Kent announced that any pastor absent would lose their churches to the assistant pastor, and if both were absent, a pastor would be sent to replace them. Unlike other retreats and meetings, no guest ministers attended except for the man Kent had always seen as his father in ministry. To everyone’s surprise, the old man led prayer and worship throughout all the sessions. He didn’t preach a word.

If anyone wanted to grow in spiritual stamina, this was the meeting for it. Men and women lay in the open church hall on mattresses Kent had rented from a boarding school in town. Some of these pastors had not fasted in one year, and now had to stretch it.

On the third day, a caterer prepared pap and moi-moi. The pastors prayed and broke their fast, and thence began the final session of the retreat, rollcall and business meeting.

Pastor Kent’s opening statement after taking attendance, and handing over the envelopes as he did was, “Men and Women of God, if you have an envelope in your hand, it means your church is now yours, and no longer under Revive the World International Ministries.”

The audience went wild.

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ready-vicar-church-religion-faith-1153149/

17 FREELY 2 – SUICIDAL

After Pastor Annie’s dramatic restoration, nothing could convince Pastor Kent he wasn’t in the middle of a bunch of diabolic believers. He struggled with whether to allow his family return to the Revive the World International Ministries Headquarters. Indeed, he wondered if it was the best thing to do for him to return as well.

But following the excessive wealth of opportunities and luxury his family had enjoyed, he doubted he could return to the life he once knew. A life of lack and penury. Ministry wasn’t meant to be on that extreme end. Neither should it relax on the other.

He sat with his wife in the small village house he built for his mother and pondered on his options. Coupled with the scandal surrounding his birth, he wanted to know who knew what. How come his secretary had the information of his paternity in her purse? What sort of man was Archbishop Nelson?

Judging by his mother’s account, she must have been sixteen or seventeen at the time of his birth, and his father would have been ten years older than her. Would he have followed through and married her if her mother hadn’t done the abominable disappearing act? Why didn’t he come back after many years?

Annie wrapped her arms around her mid-riff. “He did, obviously Kent. Just not for her. Secretly for you.”

Kent scratched his head. “Because he had a family already or what?”

She shrugged. “Look at the woman he married. You think it would have been safe to bring you to his home? Or acknowledge you, even from afar?”

“But why didn’t he show up for Mama? He could have visited her, brought gifts for me, reveal himself.”

“And how would that have looked? A pastor of a church coming to this village to visit his former lover and illegitimate child.” She shook her head. “I won’t advise it either.”

Kent tapped his foot on the cement floor as he did when in deep deliberation. “I guess you are right. He may have dreaded the confrontation or procrastinated it.”

Annie lowered her voice. “His wife. The woman. If you look in her eyes, you’re finished.” She shuddered. “I have never felt like that before. To see everything, hear everything.” She clasped her hand over her chest. “It was as if I was locked inside my body.”

Kent shut his eyes. In all his years of ministry, he had never experienced such too. He had conducted deliverance for people possessed, even people who claimed they were put under a spell by another person.

“I don’t think it is safe to return to that place. Next time it could be any of the children.” Kent opened his eyes. “And it may be worse.”

“She cannot kill all of us. She can’t harm us.” Annie could be stubborn in her faith. “And running will give her the audacity. We must take the battle to her. Back to her house.”

“Are trying to kill yourself or what?” Kent flew to his feet. “I can’t decide if you are to return with me. We could get a house here in Uyo. They don’t have a church here. We start one, and you live here with the children. You said so before that you hate the huge house on the—”

In a ridiculous turn of events, the man of God was now the one running, and his “jazzed” wife pulling him back and forcing him to be strong. It was purely suicidal. Right in the room, with my parents, cuddled beside my little sister, I pondered on their conversation. They assumed we children were all asleep but I hadn’t been able to. The same questions bothered me.

It would be easy and straight forward, to leave the massive camp, and the church in it for the late archbishop’s wife and her sons. But was this the will of God?

What would Jesus do?

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ready-vicar-church-religion-faith-1153149/

16 FREELY 2 – PATERNAL

Pastor Kentoroabasi’s mother had lived in the village all her life. No one ever knew her age, because she didn’t know it either. She was unschooled, but knew how to make palm oil, learnt from her mother. She also was a great business woman, and in all her seventy or so years of being alive because she looked in that age bracket, made a great living with her trade. Kent was her only child.

Mma Mmanyana was a favourite in the village, but we simply called her Mama. In previous years, she loved to see us, and would take us to her backyard where she made her palm oil from scratch, taught us what to do, and made us do it. Dad had somehow converted her thatched hut to a small brick house with two bedrooms.

My dad, being the only child, had a strong bond with his mum, as expected. After a sumptuous dinner meal of pounded yam Mama made herself with afang soup, Dad called her into the room, with me and Mum, and demanded to know who his father was.

Mama stared at Kent’s wife for a long moment, and sighed. “I had a vision.” She turned her gaze to Kent. “Your father came to me. Looking very young, just like he did in those days. I was only a young woman. Very beautiful. All the men in the village wanted me.”

Kent nodded. “You said so.” He always interrupted when he wanted you to get on with your tale.

“This young man came here. There were three of them. All from a far city. Two men and a woman. Your father was one of the men.”

“Hmm, Mama. So you lied to me. You told me my father sold palm fruits to your mother, and he died from a snake bite.”

“I lied.”

I could have laughed if not for the tension in the room. Mama had the biggest sense of humour I have ever known, and could be as blunt as a fist.

“Ah, Mma Mmanyana! How could you?” Dad stood. “Why would you lie to me?”

Mama squinted. “He appeared to me in my dream. In the vision. It was so strange because I have not seen him since that day I told him I was pregnant.”

“Tell me the full story. Do you have a picture of him?”

Mama bared small teeth set in neat rows on pink gum. I wondered how young she was when my grandfather met her.

“I had just become a real woman at the time. Maybe three New Yam festivals. They came into the village. They were supposed to do research or so. Government sent them.” She closed her eyes. “He was very charming. Always helping me with palm fruits. My mother chased him away. Said he was no good. He wanted to marry me and take me to the city with him.” She opened her eyes. “He said I should pray for Anietie. What happened to her?”

Dad and I gasped. Mama’s switch from the past to the present was a bit confusing. Mum had not closed her eyes for two days. She didn’t eat or drink. Didn’t say a word, or show emotion. She had been frozen in time.

“She went to visit the wife of our late archbishop. We don’t know what happened to her. She returned like this.” Dad waved in her direction. His lips trembled. “Please, if you can pray for her to come back to normal.”

“I was asking your father, where have you been? Are you dead? How do you know Kentoroabasi? How do you know his wife?” She pressed her lips together. “I woke up. I closed my eyes again. I call his name. Nelson! Nelson!”

My hand shot to my mouth, and Dad bent over and cried. It was true. Archbishop Nelson was Dad’s dad. Mama did not realize what was going on.

“Your father wanted to marry me. My mother refused, and my father will do anything my mother said. So he said we should get me pregnant, whether they will agree. Mistake. The last time I saw Nelson was the day I told him I was pregnant.” She rubbed her stomach, and breathed through her mouth. “I vowed I will never marry another man. And I never did. Nothing my parents did to beg me. The only man I love was the father of my son.”

When she didn’t say anything more for several seconds, I blurted. “Mama, what happened to him? Did he run away?”

“Huh, not at all. We agreed we would go and tell my mother together. To our surprise, my mother was happy. She said he should buy wine and a he-goat, and bring for my father to announce to him the following day.” She shook her head. “That night, my mother carried me to her mother’s village eighty miles away. I never saw Nelson again.”

Dad was weeping so hard, I didn’t know what to do.

Mama reached out and pulled Mum’s hand. “I don’t know how Nelson knew you or even that Kentoroabasi is a man and not a woman. But he said I must pray for you.”

Mum’s eyes, now bloodshot remained as it was. Mama drew her into a hug and sang a worship song. Then she proceeded to prophesy. I knew my grandmother had at some time, through the ministry of my dad, given her life to Christ but I didn’t imagine she had such a prophetic gift.

Mama removed every curse from Mum’s head, and “returned to sender.” She prayed according to the instructions of my grandfather “wherever he is” and professed the blessing of God.

Mum was weeping by the time Mama’s prayers finished. I screamed and hugged my mum. Dad pulled in with Mama and we had a tight group hug. Anietie Etim asked for water, and food, and after she was satisfied, it was time for Dad to tell our side of the story.

Mama stared into space, unable to believe her ears. Archbishop Nelson indeed was Dad’s father. But if grandma had not seen or heard from him in almost fifty-two years, how did he know about his son?

 

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