FREELY

1 FREELY – Shocking! (March 5, 2017 post)

The things I will relate in this story are quite shocking, revealing, a tell-tale, and a story that needs telling because the original owners would never let it out.

Who am I? A by-passer. A sidon-look-turned-observer-turned-reporter. I am you.

Call me Joe the tailor, because my true identity may bias your impression of my ability to relate this must-tell story objectively.

It all began on a rainy day in June of 2016. Pastor Kentoroabasi, fondly called Pastor Kent, came back home to his beautiful wife, Anietieabasi, Pastor Annie, drenched. His 2000 Nissan Sunny had broken down again. Increasingly the car became a curse on their family of seven. After being in ministry for close to twenty-five years, the dear man of God could boast of this metal scrap, and a rented three-bedroom apartment. His five-hundred-strong church in the outskirts of Aba, Abia State, Nigeria, had more petty traders and beggars than tithe-payers.

The Nissan Sunny had been a gift to Pastor Kent when he left his last parish five years earlier to again begin a new “work” in this outback. Five years of toiling and sweating, and the church grew from his family of seven to five hundred heaven-bound believers. The members loved him, but could do little more than give him a few tubers of yam, and bunches of plantain from their farms.

Pastor Kent never complained.

Pastor Annie however, never stopped.

“We are more than this, God. We are far more than this!” She screeched, when he stood at the doorway, his wet frame formed a pool of water on the rubber carpet that covered the cement floor of their large living room.

Pastor Kent always laughed at how easy it would have been to use the room as a parish. That was him. He cared about church and ministry and related everything to it.

He laughed now. “The car is now a push-me-I-push-you, dear.”

She smirked. “Broken down again?”

“As sure as day and night.” He walked to their bedroom. She followed him. “This time right in front of a car lot. The owner asked me to exchange.”

“Exchange! With school fees still unpaid, and headquarters complaining about the economy. No one is paying tithe. Offering has dropped. Rent will be due end of the month…”

“The landlord is kind.” He changed into dry clothes. “We must always thank God.”

She sighed. “Did you meet the people you went to see?”

“They were very kind. They have told me to take my time.” He picked a large umbrella behind the door and walked out.

She followed. “Thank God. So we can use the small money to repay the loan for Eno’s WAEC registration.”

At the door, he tapped her temple. “You worry your pretty head too much.”

“I try not to.”

“I’ll drop the car with Chinedu and pick the kids from school with a taxi.”

She nodded. “Go well.”

“I love you.” He opened the umbrella, and held it close before he stepped out into the heavy rain. He never waited for her response.

She rolled her eyes. Chinedu the mechanic was such a cheat. In this outback, the people were so dishonest, it was shocking. Everything amazed her, even till now. Five years on. She closed the door, and hugged herself. Over the years, she had learnt to do everything to support the family, from hairdressing to dressmaking. She learnt to make soap for the house to save costs, and earn a little extra, and she could cater and bake.

Pastor Annie may complain all the time, but her support beside her husband never wavered.

She mumbled, “I love you too,” but knew he couldn’t hear her.

At least the love in their marriage remained. They had been married for almost thirty years but their first child, Eno, only just about finished secondary school. Childbearing issues had taken the first ten years of their marriage, and then five kids came at two-year intervals. Pastor Annie would always boast she never controlled it. Despite all the prayers, and medical care, the children came when God willed it.

She took a rag and mopped the water Pastor Kent dripped on the floor, and resumed her chores. She didn’t start off as a housewife. She was a trained teacher, and nurse, but after working for some months without being paid, she’d resigned to face her petty trading. People owed, but she always managed.

A sleek, black car drove to the front of the bungalow, and nearly parked on the doorstep. Annie murmured her displeasure, “members,” but quickly dismissed this. None of their members had any cars, and definitely nothing so nice. The rich ones stop coming after a while. She put the rag away in time to answer the door.

Two unknown men stood at her entrance.

They glared at her. Both wore well-tailored suits and leather shoes. They seemed displeased at the rain. Their raised noses and pressed lips disclosed more than displeasure about the weather though.

“Pastor Bassey here?” It came from the slimmer of the two, though both looked endowed, and comfortable. “My name is Pastor Favour. I am from Revive the World Ministries. Lagos headquarters.” He did not introduce his partner.

Rev the world, as members liked to call their church, had churches all over the world, but none in Aba. Annie didn’t know what their business was about. She suspected these people. They looked nothing like pastors with their haughty look, and twitching jaws.

“There is no Pastor Bassey here,” Annie said.

The second man snickered. “We have been all over this town in this rain. And someone finally told us to come here!”

Annie heard the unspoken swear word he muttered afterward. “I’m sorry. Is he from your church?”

They exchanged a look. Number one answered, “No.”

Number two pulled out an envelope from his suit pocket. “Pastor Ken-oto-toro-a-bassey.” He sighed. “What a name.”

“Oh.” Her spirit did not release her to tell them this was his house. “I know him. He’s down the road. There is a mechanic workshop at the junction. Ask for him. Or Chinedu.”

Number one pastor hissed. “If he’s not there, then I’m going back to Portharcourt. I have tried.” He turned and marched back to the car.

The other man shoved the envelope into his pocket, gave her a brisk nod, and followed his partner.

Annie couldn’t believe the attitude from professed people of God. But that was what she had come to realise. Humility among the people of God seemed to be a thing of the past. She hadn’t been so welcoming either, but their countenance had put her off. They could be anything but with the sleek car they drove, and their expensive clothes, what could they possibly want with her husband?

She soon forgot about them. She prepared lunch, and worked on a dress she started for a customer. Three hours later, Pastor Kent returned with the five children, in a taxi.

The kids chattered and quarrelled and fought for Annie’s attention. Her husband however pulled her into their bedroom, and closed the door.

“What happened?” She had other questions about the car, but—

“Arch Bishop Nelson died. He named me his successor.” His voice grave. “We need to go to Lagos. Today.”

2 FREELY – Amazing! (March 9, 2017 post)

Lagos.

Pastor Annie thought it was a joke. She looked around her bedroom, which had no bed, just a worn out mattress thrown on a plastic carpet-covered cement floor. They’d had to cover the windows with old wrappers, and kept some of their clothes in suitcases for lack of wardrobe space. She had never complained about their sparse living because there had never been much of a choice.

“Lagos?” She blinked. “To do what?”

Pastor Kent pulled out a suitcase stacked on top of the small built-in wardrobe and opened it.

“Didn’t you hear what I said? Those two men who came here, Pastor Favour and the other…”

“I heard you. Why? What’s our own with Arch Bishop Nelson?” Her mouth sagged.

“I wish I knew, Anietie.” He called her by her name when he was extremely stressed.

She got into wife-mode. “How many days should I pack?”

He shrugged.

She opened the wardrobe and pulled out her suitcase. She kept her best clothes there. Within a few minutes, she was done. She walked to the living room, where the two suave pastors paced around the room. She wanted to order them out of her way, but side-stepped and went into the kitchen.

Her five children sat around and chatted.

“Eno, we’re going to Lagos.”

All five chorused. “Lagos!”

Annie opened cupboards. “Yes. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone. I’ll ask Sister Chioma to come and stay with you.”

Eno, who stirred soup on the old gas cooker stopped and faced her mother. “What are you going to do in Lagos?”

“I don’t know yet. But your dad said a bishop died and they need his attention.”

Freke, the youngest ran to hug her mother. Eno folded her arms. “When are you coming back?”

Annie shrugged. “I don’t know. You know where I keep money. Give some to Chioma to go to the market.”

Her first son, Edidiong sneered. “Aunty Chioma is a cow.”

Eno rolled her eyes. “Mummy tell him to behave himself.”

Annie ignored the siblings who proceeded to exchange words. She checked for what needed to be bought from the market, and walked back to her room. Her husband was ready. She pulled out a piece of paper from her bag and scribbled a market list.

Pastor Kent carried his travelling bag, and her suitcase and left the room. She changed into a nice African wax skirt and blouse, and snatched her handbag.

The men moved to the door when Annie entered the living room. All the children waited there. They were used to the couple travelling at a short notice and for long periods. Chioma, a committed member of the church, and a hairdresser who lived and worked a few houses away had slept in with them on several occasions.

Annie hugged each of the kids tight, and kissed their temples. “God be with you,” she said. “I’ll call when we get to Lagos.”

Eno nodded. “Okay, Mummy.”

“We’ll stop at Chioma’s shop and tell her to come over.” Annie hurried to the door. “I’ve drawn a market list for her.”

“Buy something when you’re coming back,” Freke said.

Annie smiled and shut the door behind her.

It continued to rain all the way to Porthacourt airport. The men were all silent through the journey, and she minded her business as well. It was unlike Kent to be so quiet with strangers but the circumstances surrounding this trip seemed to dictate the environment.

The couple had never been in an airplane, and this first time was in the first class. Annie followed her husband, who followed Favour, closely. The men from Lagos seemed used to the airport and how it operated.

The second pastor, who was still not introduced, did not get on the plane. Annie followed him with her gaze, till they checked in and went into the executive departure lounge.

“Are you hungry?” Pastor Kent looked at her just before a waitress came to take their order.

She giggled. “I was about to tell you.”

They ordered rice and stew and soft drinks. Pastor Favour passed.

“We will soon leave,” he said curtly.

As it turned out, the food had still not been served when boarding was called. Favour walked briskly to the gate and the couple followed. Kent knew how to be a good learner, and to the very moment the flight landed in Lagos, he made no mistakes, his wife with him.

A small group received them at the airport. Pastor Kent tensed at the sight of nothing less than ten cars, waiting to take them to the glorious headquarters of Rev the World. It was so late, after ten. Annie was hungry and tired. The flight had been smooth, though there was nothing to compare it to. Since Favour declined food on the plane, they did too.

Favour led the couple to a tinted glass jeep in the middle of a convoy. The ride to the HQ took another hour from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. The couple remained mute after exchanging a greeting with the driver.

Pastors Kent and Annie were taken to a magnificent, tall building they realized was a hotel, and treated to a short welcome in a conference room. At least fifty people clapped and cheered when they walked in.

Pastor Favour, who had ridden in another car, led them with protocol officers who looked like trained SSS officers, to the front of the room and raised a worship song. Everyone took it up. He then said a short word of prayer.

“Pastor and Pastor Mrs Bassey are here,” he said.

A loud cheer went up. He continued. “But as we can all see, it is late. They will check in now, and rest.” His gaze glazed over them to others in the room. “We will all assembly in the international conference hall at ten in the morning.” He clapped. “Thank you all for being here.”

He did not wait another minute. He summoned them out of the room with him and the protocol officers, as a middle-aged woman took over in front, and led the group in prayers for Pastor and Mrs. “Bassey.”

Finally, they were alone in the room.

It couldn’t be described as a room. It was a palatial apartment. Two rooms opened to a large sitting area, with each room en-suite. The furniture looked expensive and classy, presidential. Their suitcases had been taken into the bigger of the two rooms. Food and drinks enough to feed a hundred people were arranged on a dining table that could sit ten.

Pastor Kent gaped. “Ah, Kentoro. What is this?”

Annie heaved. “That man has refused to know your name,” she whispered.

They stood in the middle of the massive bedroom and held hands. “What are we doing here, Anietie?”

“This is not happening. Did you see the bathroom?” Then she laughed. “We’re finished.”

“Are you still hungry? There is enough food.”

“Eno will faint!” Annie blinked back tears. “Let’s go home. We don’t belong here.”

3 FREELY – Plotting! (March 12, 2017 post)

Pastor Favour left the couple as soon as they were let into the penthouse of the Revive Towers, and drove his 2015 Nissan Armada to Archbishop’s house. Mama Nelson and a few others waited for him. She had insisted they had a meeting tonight no matter what time it was.

He let himself into the private room Mama entertained her guests in. He wasn’t a stranger in this home, as much as he wasn’t family. His wife, Lara, sat on the brown Italian leather couch, while Mama swayed gently in her antique cane rocking chair. She wore a white lace robe, the only outfit kind she’d worn since Archbishop died a week earlier.

Two men sat on single couches in the room. One of them was the Nelsons’ first son, 32-year old Adeola Jnr. The other was Mama’s private lawyer, Barr. Victor.

“Mama.” Favour bent slightly and took the space beside his wife. “They are at the towers.”

Mama sighed. “Thank you.” She looked at Victor. “Over to you.”

“How do they look?” Adeola said.

Favour shrugged. “Shocking.”

Lara frowned. “What do you mean?”

“First, I found them at some outback in Aba. They live in a part-mud, part-cement house.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what Archbishop was thinking.”

Lara gasped. “They must be so laid back.”

“To say the least. He’s young, though. May be in his early forties.”

Mama hissed. Victor sat forward. “We don’t have any problem then. If he is laid back as you say, he will definitely take a settlement.” Victor waved a bejewelled hand. “A house anywhere in the country and a couple of a hundred thousand in any currency.”

Lara lowered her voice. “Do you think they will take it?”

“I don’t know, Lara. If they were eager about this, I would have said, yes, sure. They gave nothing away. They were not suspicious or excited. He didn’t seem surprised, or confused.”

Mama pressed her lips together. “You mean you just told them to come, and they did? No questions?”

“Basically.” He snickered. “The wife though. She’s something.” He scratched his head and chuckled.

Adeola arched an eyebrow. “Something. How do you mean?”

“She pretended or should I say, lied to us about the house. She sent us off to some place and didn’t disclose she was his wife.”

Lara blinked. “Why would she do that?”

“I have no idea.” Favour chuckled again. “She doesn’t fit him at all. She strikes you as someone who wants to do something, say something but she’s constrained.”

Mama rolled her eyes. “All pastors’ wives are constrained.”

Adeola clapped. “So what’s the game plan? What next?”

“Since he’s here, we will make the offer to him. With what I know now, it’s better to talk to him when his wife is there.” Victor rubbed his hands together. “A woman like that is hungry.”

Adeola growled. “Probably greedy too.”

“Every man or woman has a price. No matter how greedy, we can match their demand,” Victor said.

“Do you think we should let them meet the church before we make the offer?” Mama said. “If they see the crowd, won’t they want to stay?”

“I think what we should be more concerned about is Daddy’s clauses in that wretched will of his,” Adeola said. “What options he left for the—man.”

All eyes turned on Victor. He sniffed. “What Archbishop said won’t matter when this man accepts what we have for him.”

Adeola shook his head. “There were several clauses. I won’t overlook them at all.”

“Yes, there are clauses but if we didn’t find the man, or he refused to come over, then the clauses are mere alphabets,” Victor said.

“So if he rejects the offer, we can just make him disappear.”

Mama’s words held a deeper meaning but everyone acted like it didn’t.

“We can listen for now, and have an idea of what they’re up to.” Favour stood, and flipped on a projector at a corner of the room.

The plain white wall space above a 60” TV lit up and Pastor Kent and Annie came into view. The screen split into four to show other parts of the penthouse. The audience watched mutedly the man named in the Archbishop Nelson’s will to take over a multi-million dollar evangelistic ministry.

Each viewer had a different thought.

4 FREELY – Thickening! (March 16, 2017 post)

One would expect Pastor Kent and Annie to have a feast of the abundance laid out for them. Instead the couple stood listless in the middle of their penthouse bedroom, with a sour taste in their mouths.

Perhaps a better knowledge of who they were would help understand the lack of enthusiasm. Pastor Kent grew up in his home town of Etinan in Akwa Ibom state. Annie was a house maid in Uyo for years and was blessed to have been sent to school by her boss.

The couple had met in church where Kent served as a minister. He had a university degree and after marriage, despite their sparse resources, had gotten her into school as well. Both went into full time ministry after she graduated.

“Are you still hungry?”

Annie gasped at her husband’s question. “Ah, food? How?” She tested the king-size mattress. “If we sleep on this one, will we wake up in the morning?” She giggled. Then sobbed. “How did these people know you?”

“I don’t know.” Kent sat on the edge of the bed. “Pastor Favour said you directed them to Chinedu’s shop.”

“What would I have done?” She clasped her hand over her mouth. “I don’t know what to think.”

“We just have to wait till morning and see what will happen.” Kent took a deep breath. “So much wealth…”

Annie sat beside him. “But tell me, they just came and told you to come with them? And you followed?”

Kent shrugged. “I had no reason not to. They showed me a letter.”

“Letter? What did it say?”

“The board of the church asked me to come here with my wife. They said Archbishop died and named me as his successor.”

“But that can be a fake letter.” Annie heaved a heavy sigh. “I hope we are not in trouble.”

Kent pulled out a letter from his pocket. “Trouble? How?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He stretched the letter to her. Instead of taking it, she took his wrist, and placed his hand on her chest. Her heart thudded.

“These people are different from us. They don’t think like us. Look at the clothes they wear. See the number of cars at the airport.” She moaned. “Even look at the pastors who came for us.”

Kent drew his hand away and stood. “What are you trying to say, Anietie? Did we make a mistake to come here?”

“Yes,” she said forcefully. “We should never have come.”

He threw his hands in the air. “Is that not a little late?”

“We can leave on our own in the morning.”

Kent growled. “Do you have transport money back?”

“I do.” She snapped. “Let’s go back to our church and our children. These people mean no good for us. How can that Archbishop pick you among all the many pastors he has all over the world?” She stood before him and raised her voice. “What are you not telling me, Kentoroabasi Etim?”

Kent raised his voice to match hers. “What am I supposed to tell you? Why didn’t you ask all these questions when they came to the house!” He bent at the waist. “God sees my heart, I don’t know what is going on here. And if you want us to return in the morning, we will.”

“Yes, yes let us return. We don’t belong here,” she said.

He fell on his knees, and then on his side. The carpet on the floor was nearly as thick and soft as the bed. Kent could sleep on it all night and feel no pain.

Annie stood over him for a while and then returned to sit on the bed.

“You know, Anietie,” Kent said softly. “I had the dream again. Where I am being chased by an invisible spirit, and when I reach the edge of the cliff, it stops chasing me and tells me to jump into the mighty ocean below.”

“This is just the edge of that cliff, my husband.” She closed her eyes. “If we stay, you’re jumping into the great ocean.”

Somewhere else on the one-thousand-hectare Rev the World campground, three men and two women watched the couple, and listened to their conversation.

5 FREELY – Sickening! (March 19, 2017 post)

Continuous hard-knocking woke Pastors Kent and Annie the following morning. They had overslept!

She jumped and checked the time on her phone. 9a.m! She had even forgotten to send a message to Eno the previous night, and she saw her daughter had sent a text. As Kent jumped too, and got into his clothing, she replied Eno.

He went to get the door, and let Pastor Favour and another man into the formal room. Two ladies followed with large baskets of food, and Kent’s stomach growled. He remembered he hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous day.

“Good morning, Pastor,” Kent said.

Pastor Favour smirked. “Good morning, Pastor Bassey. I see you had a good night.”

He smiled. “The air-conditioning feels like winter.”

The ladies cleared the table and reset it. After which they quietly left.

“Indeed.” Favour looked at the man with him. “Victor, this is Pastor Bassey.”

“Huh, the name is Kentoroabasi Etim. You can just call me Pastor Kent.” He nodded at Victor. “Good morning, sir.”

“Where is your wife?”

Kent narrowed his eyes. The Victor could have at least muttered a greeting. His arrogant stance put Kent off. He wore jewellery like they were on an advertorial on him, neck chain, bracelets, an ear stud, and at least five rings. His hair was cut in a subtle Mohawk. He couldn’t be more than thirty years old.

“My wife. She’s in the room.”

Favour arched an eyebrow. “Maybe you should ask her to join us briefly.”

“I can’t actually. She’s getting ready.” Kent looked at both men. “After breakfast we plan to return to Aba. We’ll be back with our children next week.”

Pastor Favour cackled. “That’s not how things will work out, Pastor Kent.” He looked at Victor. “Do you want to tell him?”

Victor snickered. “Sure—”

“We need return tickets for this morning, Pastor Favour. Whatever Victor plans to discuss can be done when we return.” He stood. “Now I need to get ready as well.” He walked toward the bedroom door. “Come back at 10. Thanks.” He entered the bedroom and closed the door.

Annie had gone into the bathroom. Kent took several deep breaths. Probably that was someone else. He felt sick to his stomach. What had come over him? Why would he make such a plan? Annie would be mad. What was he going to tell her he did?

He took out a simple kaftan from his overnight bag and laid it on the bed.

“Honey!” Annie shouted. “Are you there?”

Kent straightened. “Yes.” He walked into the bathroom and found his wife neck-deep in a bubble bath. “What is going on here?”

The bathroom was all white marble, four times the size of any Kent had seen before. A large Jacuzzi was at one side, while a shower cubicle was at another. What looked like a steamer was in the cubicle. The bidet and toilet bowl were to another side. On both sides of the entrance were mirrors, cupboards, and drawers.

“This is heaven, man of God.” Annie giggled. “Come and join me.”

He laughed and entered the warm bubble. “Ah, life is good.”

“Are you sure we will leave this place?”

“Woman of God! Beware of the cares of this world.” He groaned. “This feels good, oh.”

After the sweet experience, they sat at the table set for them. It was another feast of local and continental dishes.

“If I continue to eat like this, I won’t be able to pray,” Annie said.

“God will help us.”

“Help us how? This time tomorrow, we’ll be back from dream land.” She giggled. “Eno will nearly die when I tell her what we saw.”

Kent swallowed. He needed to let Annie know what he had done. But how?

He cleared his throat. “Pastor Favour came this morning.”

“Oh, when?”

“The knocking. He came with the ladies who brought breakfast.”

Annie heaved. “Well, so he knows we’re leaving this morning?”

Kent knew his wife. She could blow hot and cold in one breath. He calculated his words carefully, and explained the meeting with Favour and Victor. She was done with her breakfast, and for a moment, simply stared.

He understood the feeling. This royal treatment was tempting. They had never eaten food so good, or slept in a bed so comforting. If this was a dream, they didn’t want to wake up from it. But there was a reality. Kent felt the hostility from Favour and knew what it meant. These people were just fulfilling all righteousness by bringing them here. They were not wanted.

Annie heaved a heavy sigh. “Well, I guess you have done well,” she said. “We just won’t have to come back here. It’s even better.” She shrugged. “They will expect us to come back, but we won’t.”

“What if they come again to fetch us?”

“These people? They won’t.” Annie snickered. “You think they will not have people who want to take over from the Archbishop? See this other church the bishop died and his wife quickly took over. Hmm.” She threw her hands up. “With this kind of wealth? Does he not have a wife, and children?”

“In fact, I thought of it. When we get back to Aba, I will go to the cybercafé, and search him out on the internet.”

6 FREELY – Embracing! (March 23, 2017 post)

The Etims had to pick an airport taxi from the Port Harcourt (PH) airport to a place where they could get public transportation back home.

At ten o’clock, a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Bro. Julius, an usher, had picked them up from the hotel and taken them to the Lagos airport. He handed Pastor Kent a thick envelope, and explained their tickets were enclosed. Inside were two economy tickets, and ten-thousand-naira cash. Thankfully, it was enough to get them home.

Inside the rickety bus from PH to Aba, Annie raised the matter. Just the day before they had been treated like royalty. Why would the shabby treatment follow?

“We will discuss it when we get home, Annie.” Kent moaned. “I’ve been thinking about it too.”

The children were excited to see them. Annie chatted continuously for almost an hour, describing everything she saw and tasted.

Edidiong frowned. “So why did you come back?”

“Hmm, my dear. They don’t want us. As soon as we said we couldn’t stay, all the special treatment ended.”

The teenager threw up his hands. “Ah, these my parents like to suffer.”

Chioma prepared “gari” and set the meal before them with vegetable soup. Annie thanked her.

Chioma curtseyed. “Mummy, I’m going to my shop. Since you’re here.”

Edidiong growled. “Thank God.”

Chioma slapped the back of his head and everyone laughed. The boy, who towered over the young woman, stood and gestured a return slap.

Annie shouted. “Come on sit down. Don’t you have respect?”

“He’s a goat.” Eno rolled her eyes. “Goat.”

“Don’t mind him, Mummy. One day I will beat him up.” Chioma laughed. She picked her bag. “Bye ma. Bye sir.”

The family cheered after her.

“So, Mum.” Eno sat forward. “Why did you leave?”

Pastor Kent knew the children were more averted to their mother, but this was the time to explain things the way he saw it.

“Our foundation in Christ is different. We realized this was not what God wanted for us at this time.”

Ima, the middle Etim girl, shrugged. “So why did you go at all?”

Annie sighed. “Well, those two men who came yesterday showed us a letter that your daddy had been named the…”

Kent raised his hand. “They expected us to come and take a particular position they believed we would be interested in. But as I said, we were not trained like that. Their ways are different from ours. We thank God for where we are now.”

His tone left no room for questions. The children looked at their mother who nodded. She knew they would bombard her to complete the statement she started, but that couldn’t happen with their father seated.

He stood though. “I need to get to the cybercafé.”

Annie gasped. “You’ve hardly touched your food.”

“I will eat when I return.”

He left unceremoniously and the children rained their mother with questions.

She started her response with: “Don’t let your father know I said anything.” The dam flowed unheeded afterward.

Pastor Annie and her children, from their own understanding, analyzed the situation, but none ever guessed there could be a conspiracy anywhere.

When Kent returned from the café several hours later, he had a healthy meal, spent time with his family, and retired.

Annie turned in after making sure the children had all done their nightly chores and the house was secured. She couldn’t wait to hear Kent’s findings.

“What did you see on the internet?”

“Of course, the whole Google was filled with news about the archbishop.” Kent heaved a heavy sigh. “I spent all of two hours reading about him. The church is much bigger than I thought. They are in every continent of the world.”

Annie clapped. “Such a big church.”

“Yes. And they are very rich. They purchased a private jet for the archbishop a week before he died. To be delivered in two months’ time.” Kent looked at his wife. “I keep wondering why he named me. How did he know me?”

“What about the wife? And the children?”

“I saw her too. She looks old, though. I thought they were much younger.”

“Old? Like how old? That means they must have big children.”

“Two boys and a girl. All are married. There was a picture with all of them, and their spouses.”

Annie gasped. “Those two boys will just kill you. Where are you coming from?”

“The older one is a pastor in Europe. The younger is a pastor in Lagos. Even the daughter’s husband is a pastor in Abuja.” Kent closed his eyes. “I can’t get past this. It’s like a dream.”

“What killed the man?”

“Slept and didn’t wake up. I didn’t see any autopsy report.”

Annie slid under the thin cover of a flat mattress. “Well, maybe God just wanted to open our eyes to what is happening that side of His kingdom. I wish them luck. Senior pastor of Rev no be our portion.”

Kent nodded. “Me too.” He shifted closer to his beautiful wife. “For now, come and minister to the senior pastor of your soul.” He pressed her.

She slapped his hand and laughed. “You were on a very big bed yesterday, you didn’t remember that.”

“Ah, that bed was battlefront oh my dear.” He pulled her into his arms, and kissed her. “This is home.”

7 FREELY – Discovering! (March 26, 2017 post)

Several weeks went by. The Etims settled back to normalcy – car in and out of Chinedu’s, a couple of trips into interior villages for evangelism, school runs, and meeting sundry needs of a hungry congregation.

On national television, during the ten o’clock evening news Kent religiously listened to, one day, an item caught his attention. The Revive the World headquarters was in the news. Everyone had gone to sleep as usual, and he sat forward, listening in disbelief to a gory tale of, as the reporter put it, “battle for the throne.”

Archbishop Nelson apparently did not leave a tidy house behind. His wife, Bishop Jumi Nelson wanted the younger son in Lagos to take over the affairs of the church, while Pastor Adeola Nelson Jnr believed he was the rightful heir.

“It is assumed the first son of Archbishop Nelson was sent off to England to head the churches in Europe so he would not be in a position to take over after his father.” The reporter faced her camera with a clear view of the 200,000-seater magnificent church auditorium behind her. “I spoke to an usher who is close to the family, and he states categorically that the Archbishop did indeed name a successor, but the family has succeeded in getting rid of the humble man of God. How, he refused to say, and pleaded anonymity.”

Kent breathed. “Brother Julius?”

“No one in the offices of the Archbishop or the church agreed to grant an interview, or speak to me. But this story is developing. From the world headquarters of Revive the World Ministries, I am…”

Kent slumped back. His heart thudded. To be sincere, he had not had any peace about this matter. One question remained – why was he named as the successor? Unlike him, he had not discussed anything with any of his friends in ministry. He felt ashamed somewhat. He was an “old school” preacher. Many of the strategies of the ministry these days confused him. As a missionary, the souls in the villages were the only ones he knew about. Women in trousers continued to complicate his philosophy though his children told him all the time he was no longer relevant if he continued to think that way.

So why would God choose him, an educated illiterate, laid back to say the least? What lesson was God trying to teach him. He recalled the story in Acts about Peter being asked to eat unclean animals in a trance. Was God trying to break his rigid philosophies? He went to bed with a heavy heart, and after several minutes of praying, slept. It seemed the right thing not to tell Annie about the news item.

The following day, he came home from the church office to find Annie with a visitor, the wife of a pastor-friend. Mrs. Okere talked with a high-strung voice laced with anxiety. Kent ignored the women after exchanging pleasantries. But shortly afterward, Annie joined him in their bedroom.

“She’s gone.”

It wasn’t in his habit to ask what Annie discussed with her visitors, but this seemed a bit weird. Mrs. Okere hardly ever visited.

“What was she so excited about?”

“They saw us on the news.” Annie sighed. “And then she accused me I didn’t tell her what was going on. Then she asked why we haven’t gone to take up the position.”

“Ah.”

Annie clasped her hands over her heart. “My fear is that our names were mentioned. The usher who took us to the airport granted an interview to one private investigator. It is all over the news. I’m surprised no one called you.”

Kent couldn’t confess he saw a similar story on the news. “Some people called me.” He looked at his wife. “I told them we were praying about it, God forgive me.”

“Heh! What is this?” She stamped her feet. “Do you know the brothers have threatened to kill each other? The mother wants the younger one. What kind of mother?”

“We cannot judge her, Anietie!”

“Hmm.” She scratched her head. “The church will scatter if we don’t go. Soon too.”

Kent gasped. “Go back?”

“Or what can we do? Will we leave them to kill each other and the church of God to scatter?”

“The news is all over.”

“Those reporters will soon find us. That is what Mrs. Okere said. She is so sure.”

Kent sat down. “We have to go back then. This is not the publicity I want in my life, but it seems this matter will just not go away quietly.”

“Do you have enough money for flight?”

The widening of his eyes shut her up.

8 FREELY – Inspiring! (March 30, 2017 post)

Like a Noah and the Ark, the Etims packed up, and left Aba. They sold whatever they could and gave out the rest to church members. The news had made it a bit easier. The senior pastor over their mission called to encourage the family, and prayed for them. He didn’t understand it either but believed God was able to do anything for anyone.

There was no need to receive send-forth gifts because where the family was going was grand. Annie reminded the children to get rid of all their shabby clothes. Congregants moved in and out of the house the day before the family left, barely a week after the news broke.

Because their sold goods were worth near nothing, Kent borrowed money from several friends to hire a bus to move their personal effects to Lagos, promising to pay back as soon as a week’s time. It was an emotional farewell.

Kent’s assistant, Pastor Ekwu wept like a child. “I must visit you in Lagos, Pastor Kent.”

He patted his back. “Of course, you will, Pastor Ekwu. I don’t know what the policies of the church are, but I will incorporate heavy donations to missions. Especially ours.”

His words triggered something new in Pastor Kent. Indeed, the lifestyle of the missionaries was beyond deplorable. While these pastors in big cities wore expensive clothes, and lived like kings, people like Ekwu would borrow money almost every term to pay school fees for his two children.

Kent could recall several nights when his family would soak “garri” with salt for dinner. There simply wasn’t enough money to do anything. His leader suffered near as much as he did, so who could he blame?

A light burst free at the back of his head, and one reason for going to Lagos became clear – to help fund the mission field. God rejected the Nelson boys, and traveled all the way east of Nigeria to find him. It was for a purpose. This revelation inspired him more than anything else.

He hated to be judgmental but for two brothers to threaten to kill each other over something meant to be a life of sacrifice and service? Those boys did not see anything called ministry. They saw a private jet, and enough money to live anyway they wished. If the ministry would progress, those boys couldn’t be in charge. They reminded him of Eli’s sons.

“No, Pastor Ekwu, you are never going to be abandoned.”

The suitcases, newly bought, loaded in the 18-seater bus in the early hours of the day, the family boarded amidst tears and excitement. The children’s friends told them to visit again. Some pastors including Okere paced to and fro, twisting their faces as they spoke a prayer language no one understood, grunting and groaning intermittently. The whole street was awake, and cheering the great but simple man who had lived in their midst for five blissful years.

“Driver, we will stop at the salon, please.” Annie called out as the driver pulled into the bastardized road off the house.

Kent looked at her. “What for?”

His wife avoided his gaze. “Chioma.”

He arched an eyebrow. “That’s true. She didn’t even come to the house to help with last minute packing.”

Annie busied herself on her phone. “She’s coming with us.”

Six people chorused. “To where?”

Annie gasped. “To Lagos. You people think I will move into some big house without someone to—to—”

“To gossip with!” Edidiong shook his head. “No, Mum. She’s not coming. God forbid.”

Kent lowered his voice. “You didn’t tell me about this.”

“Of course, I did. You were too busy to listen to anything I said.”

The driver pressed his horn. “Is it this salon?”

Annie looked outside. “Yes.”

Chioma stood by the entrance of the small salon with two big bags, and a raffia one. Edidiong groaned and muttered.

Eno snapped. “Edidiong, behave yourself.”

“What is she coming for? Mum just likes to complicate things for everyone.” He hissed. “I don’t like her, simple.”

Chioma rolled her eyes at him. “I know how to get you.”

The driver piled her bags on the rest, and within minutes, they were back on the road.

Kent said softly. “Eno, please pray for us.”

After the prayers for safety and security throughout the journey, Chioma removed a bag she’d brought into the vehicle with her, with packaged food and drinks, and handed out a meal to each occupant.

They gave thanks individually and dug into the food. No one made any chatter. It was as much a time for bonding, as well as sober reflections.

This wasn’t the first time the family would pack up and leave a town or village. It was however, the first time they would be moving to something extremely different from the life they had ever lived.

It was a long trip from Aba to Lagos by road. The 600-kilometre distance took double the time due to some bad patches along the way. But the family kept themselves busy. Chioma, a fantastic cook, had prepared an assortment and several times handed out packs to the passengers from the breakfast meal of yam and egg sauce to a proper lunch, and puff-puff, fried meat and chin-chin in between.

Edidiong grudgingly agreed taking her along wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Kent also broke his silence and cold attitude toward his wife. The rebuke for not informing him she had such plans would wait till another time.

As soon as they saw the sign post, “Goodbye from Ogun state,” Annie broke into songs of praise. The family took it up.

The Revive the World international headquarters was about a kilometre on the outskirts of Lagos. It had gotten dark, and if not for the street lights, and well-illuminated buildings, the beauty of the edifices on the premises would have been lost. The children sat up and glared.

Kent directed the driver to the hotel. This was it. They were here. He told the children to wait in the car with Annie, and walked into the grand hotel. After what seemed like forever, and he didn’t return, his wife went inside too.

She found him leaning against the marble reception desk. No one was in sight.

“What is happening?”

Kent frowned. “They said there is no booking.”

“Aha? No booking? Didn’t you speak with Pastor Favour?”

“He wasn’t picking my calls, so I sent him a message we’re coming.” He took his phone and walked toward the entrance, dialing.

Annie gasped. “This man has finished us.”

9 FREELY – Decoding! (April 2, 2017 post)

This was recipe for disaster. Pastor Kent just made a habitual blunder. Despite her many erratic attitudes, Annie always took precautions. She would never have ventured out on such a journey without confirmation.

Knowing her strengths and weaknesses, she walked back to the bus, and calmly broke the news.

“Daddy did not tell anyone we were coming.”

She got back into her seat, and clasped her hands over her heart. Eno spoke first after the initial one-minute shock-wave.

“So, what does that mean?”

Annie shrugged. “We don’t have a booking in the hotel.”

The children chorused. “No booking?”

“None. He’s making some calls, though.” She closed her eyes. “Let’s pray he gets through to someone.”

The prayer wasn’t answered fast enough. After another hour, the driver got impatient.

“You know I need to find somewhere to sleep this night. I must get to the park early tomorrow morning, so I can load…”

Annie pursed her lips. “He will soon come around. I’m sure he will get through to someone.”

When time seemed to stretch without limit, and the driver broke into rants in his local Igbo dialect, Annie got off the bus.

“Let me look for him.”

Pastor Kent was still on his phone, and pacing. He sounded irritated with the person on the other side of his call. Annie knew he would elongate the call once he saw her, but she didn’t care. Whenever he finished, he had her to face.

When he was done, he walked back to the counter as though she wasn’t there. Two ladies looked busy on their computers. It would be rude to confront Pastor Kent in their presence, and it took all of Annie’s training to comport herself. He spoke to the ladies again, and walked out of the lobby.

Annie half-ran after him. “What’s the issue?”

“I don’t know, Anietie.” He snapped. “Please, not now.”

Her husband in his element. Why did men do this? She could rant and rave but she remembered where they were. She got to the bus almost the same time he did.

“Are we sleeping inside the bus?”

He entered the vehicle. “They have a morning programme tomorrow, and we just have to wait to attend. We will see Pastor Favour there.”

“Pastor, I have to be at the park before 4am so I can register my bus for the day’s trip. You have to offload and let me go.”

Annie looked at the aesthetics of the clean and classy environment. She was sure the security guards would never let them offload here. Besides, would they sleep on their luggage?

Chioma cleared her throat. “Can we follow you to the park? And sleep in the bus?”

The driver shrugged. “Anything you decide.”

Eno shook her head. “How will we come back with all our bags?”

Annie and Kent sat in the bus, still as night. What to do? Annie fought the anger at her husband’s negligence, and itched for a good fight. Kent calculated how he would get out of this embarrassing situation.

“I have a solution.” Edidiong stood. He jumped out of the bus. “We get off here.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Ima snickered. “You just say stupid things at the wrong time.”

“You are stupid. You are the one who’s very—”

Eno blocked her ears. “Stop it both of you. Don’t you see this is not the time to joke?”

Edidiong snapped. “Who’s joking? Are we going to sit in the bus and do nothing?” He looked at the driver. “Oga! Please come and open the boot.”

The driver followed suit. While Kent continued to stare into thin air, Edidiong and the driver took down the luggage. Chioma joined them.

Miffed, Eno tapped Annie. “Mummy, what are we doing?”

Annie moaned. “I don’t know.”

The teenage came off the bus and the younger ones followed her. With everyone outside, Annie turned to her husband.

“Are you just going to sit there like, like—”

Kent stepped out of the bus. No one wanted a confrontation. Not here. Not now. He coordinated the activities, and thanked the driver. The bags were neatly stacked at a corner of the vast parking lot, under an almond fruit tree.

The driver got back into his bus, and drove off.

Kent watched him leave. “Well, dear Lord, what are we doing here?” he turned to his family and cackled. “What are we doing here?”

Edidiong joined in the laughter, and the others except Eno and Annie laughed along.

Kent looked up. “I pray the security men will not come and remove us from here.”

He’d hardly finished the statement when one of the uniformed guards walked up to them.

“What’s going on here?”

Kent stepped up to him. “My name is Pastor Kentoroabasi Etim from Aba. I’m here with my family.”

The guard flung a glance in their general direction. “This is the Rev Hotel, for booked guests only.”

Kent nodded. “Yes, I discovered.”

“The driver who brought you is gone?” He looked toward the entrance of the hotel. “You need to move to the main auditorium. Other pastors from out of town should be there.”

“Oh really. Ah, how do we get there with all these bags?”

The man stared at Kent. “You should have made your findings.”

“Is there a way you can help us?”

He smirked. “The auditorium is at least five minutes’ drive if there is no traffic. You need to go there. I can’t let you stay the night here.”

Annie stepped toward them. “Please, we’ve been on the road all day, with these children. Can’t we just—”

“Do what? Can’t you do what, madam?” The guard raised his voice. “Do you see anything like you people around here? This is the international hotel.”

Kent heaved. “Please sir, don’t talk to my wife like that.”

“Mr. Man, please leave this place or we will have you and your wife removed.”

Annie gasped. “Are we not supposed to be Christians? Is this how—”

“Don’t say anything,” Kent said. “Let’s start moving our stuffs.”

Annie shouted. “To where?”

“Outside the gate at least.”

The security guard stood arms akimbo and watched the family carry what they could. Some bags remained.

Pastor Kent looked at him. “We’ll soon the back for the rest.”

He followed behind like a patrol officer. The walk to the gate nearly broke all their backs but determined, they walked a little distance from view of the security gate. Annie puffed and huffed. But her husband turned to Edidiong and Chioma.

“Let’s go back, and get the remaining bags. Eno, come too. Ima, Idara, and Freke, stay with your mum.”

Annie mumbled under her breath as half of the family departed.

As soon as they were out of earshot, she hissed. “This is what I am always saying but your father will never listen. How can we come all the way here without a concrete plan? This man will not kill all of us one day.”

There were just four bags left, and each person carried one. They passed through the gate, and Pastor Kent mumbled, “Goodnight.” He got no response.

Shortly after they were with the rest of the family, all seated on their suitcases there by the roadside, munching on leftover puff-puff, a young man in security uniform walked over to them.

“Good evening, sir.”

Kent looked up at him, and made to retort, “Can’t we stay here too?” but thought otherwise. Sarcasm helped no one, especially when you’re at the mercy of the other person. He had made a big blunder and lashed out at Annie. All he’d been thinking of was how to apologize to her.

He remained seated on his suitcase. “Yes sir?”

“I’m so sorry about your situation,” he said softly. “I will call someone who can help.” He looked nervously over his shoulder. “I’m new here at the job. I’m not sure my senior colleagues will be happy with me that I came out to you.”

Kent stood. “Thanks for your thoughtfulness.” A Christian in the midst.

“My uncle, who got me this job. I will call him. But I have to get back now.” He bowed and turned.

Kent took a step toward him. “What’s your name?”

“Juwon, sir.”

He rushed off.

Annie stood and looked at the receding figure. “A man with a spirit of discernment. Hmm.”

10 FREELY – Degrading! (April 6, 2017 post)

Juwon’s uncle happened to be Julius, the usher who dropped the couple off at the airport the previous time. He arrived almost two hours later.

Annie had removed wrappers from their suitcases, and gotten everyone as warm as possible but it was near-futile. Freke shivered uncontrollably, and the boys jogged for a bit to keep warm after which they sat back on their bags and mumbled complaints. The other girls cuddled together.

Pastor Kent was only grateful to God it wasn’t raining, or what would they have done?

“Pastor Kent, this is so wrong.” Julius glared at the helpless heap before him. “No.” He took out his iPhone and took some pictures.

Kent waved at him. “Please don’t take pictures. Please.”

Julius shook his head. “I have to. This is most unacceptable and degrading. Why will they do this, even to you, sir?”

Annie stepped forward. “Let’s just get to the main auditorium. We’ll be fine.”

Julius put his phone away. “Main auditorium? No way. I’ll take you back to the hotel.” He stole a glance at his Honda CR-V. “We will go in batches.” He picked a suitcase. “The ladies first.”

Kent grabbed his hand. “Please sir, if you want to help us, take us to the auditorium. The hotel staff said there’s no free room. And we have no booking.”

Julius considered this for a moment and shrugged. “But I won’t take you to the auditorium.” He scratched his head. “I don’t have space in my house, but—”

“You don’t need to bother yourself, sir. For coming here at this ungodly hour is more than enough.”

Annie tapped her husband and whispered, “Let him do what he wants to do.”

Kent shook his head. “We only need cover for tonight. We’ll be fine by tomorrow after the morning meeting.”

Julius took the suitcase to his vehicle. “Let’s put what we can. Let me call someone.”

After another two hours, a woman Annie recognized as the one who took over prayers from Pastor Favour at their first arrival, drove up in a Toyota Fortuner. It was close to 2a.m. Julius introduced her as Pastor Sade, the property manager of the resort.

The family loaded up in the two jeeps, and Sade led the way to a housing section on the premises. Most of the houses, duplexes and bungalows, had security lights on, but a few showed indication that no one was inside.

She stopped in front of a duplex, switched off her ignition, and walked over to Julius’ jeep where Pastor Kent, Annie, and the two younger children were.

“This one is empty. But I’m not sure it is clean.”

Kent bowed. “We will manage. Thank you, Pastor Sade. God bless you.”

It became windy as Sade opened the front door and the family moved in. The house was fully furnished to Kent and Annie’s delight. As Sade earlier suggested, it needed a good dose of cleaning.

She looked around. “I suggest you use just two rooms, though there are four. Because of the dust.”

“Yes ma,” Annie said. “Thank you so much.”

The master bedroom was spacious, and they opted for the ladies to use it. Pastor Kent and his two boys took a smaller room. The beds were not made, but Annie’s wrappers sufficed. She got to work, and cleaned the surfaces she could with an Ankara scarf Chioma donated as a duster, while the girls made the beds.

Kent saw Julius and Pastor Sade down the stairs to the parlour. He clasped Julius’ hands, and shook them. “God will honour you.”

“I have to go,” Sade said. “I’ll spend the night at the hotel because I can’t drive home. The morning meeting starts at six.”

Kent nodded. “We’ll see you there, Pastor. Thank you.”

When she was gone, Julius turned to Pastor Kent. “She’s going to Mama Jumi’s house. She’ll let them know you’re here.”

“Now?”

“You don’t know these people.” He gripped Kent’s hand in return. “I will probably be suspended tomorrow but I don’t care. You’re here, and God sent you.”

He walked to the door, and Kent followed him.

“Why would she come and open this place if she doesn’t agree with—”

“I don’t know, Pastor Kent. I will see you later.” He hurried off.

Kent stood in the middle of the parlour for several minutes till Annie came downstairs to join him.

“They have gone. Thank God for the security boy.”

“Hmm. Thank God.”

“We have made the beds. The children are all settled in,” she said. “You should come up too.”

“I want to pray, Anietie.” He sighed. “We are in the battle front. I can’t sleep tonight.”

She fought fatigue, and the mixed emotions of leaving all she knew, and reaching here only to be tossed out, practically. How long would they have this accommodation? Would they have to go back to Aba? To what?

She sat on a plush leather couch. “Then let’s pray together, my dear husband.”

But Annie slept off before Kent finished sharing the first prayer point.

11 FREELY – Redeeming! (April 9, 2017 post)

Everyone overslept, and woke up to loud banging on the door. Pastor Kent pulled on his clothes and rushed downstairs.

Juwon, the security boy from the night before, stood at the entrance, with a basket in his hand. Kent welcomed him.

“Good morning, Pastor.” He placed the basket on the dining table at the end of the parlour toward the kitchen. “My uncle said I must bring some food for you. I’m not working till evening.”

“Good morning, brother. Thank you very much.” Kent exclaimed. “Wow, we all slept off. We wanted to be at the morning programme today.”

“It’s close to noon, sir. We just finished from the meeting.”

“Ah, I checked the time. What of Brother Julius?”

“He’s still in the auditorium, sir. I think he will come and check on you later.”

Kent nodded. “Thank you so much. If not for you, only God knows what would have happened.”

Juwon bowed. “Don’t mention, sir.” He stepped back. “I’ll like to leave now.”

“Thank you so much.” Kent walked him out. “Will we see you too later?”

“Huh, unless they send me here, sir. I work most evenings so maybe tomorrow morning.”

“Okay. Let me have your number.”

They exchanged numbers and Kent returned inside. The rousing children were assembled in the master bedroom, and the family had a time of prayer and devotion. Afterward, Annie inspected the food Juwon brought. There were four loaves of bread and a dish full of egg sauce. Sachets of powdered milk, sugar and beverage were put in as well.

“Water. Hmm. No water,” she mumbled.

Water ran from the tap but no one could trust it enough to drink. Once everyone had a bath, the wait began. Annie advised no one ate so there won’t be need for water but the children’s stomachs growled. Still, no one touched the food.

Pastor Kent sent a message to Julius for water and the latter promised to bring some after apologizing for the omission. To while away time, the children played cards they’d brought with them.

Minutes turned to hours and there was still no sign of Julius or anyone else.

Annie, trying not to worry, finally asked close to 3pm. “Did you call Pastor Favour again?”

“He didn’t pick up so I sent him a message.” Kent sighed. “Two actually.”

“He can’t say he didn’t get the messages.”

“I really don’t understand, Annie. We can’t just be here like this.”

Annie shook her head. “The children have to eat. Maybe you can call the boy, Juwon.”

“He’s just a messenger, I doubt he can come without being told. Besides, he works in the evenings, to come here now…” He pressed his lips together.

Annie clasped her hands. “Let me walk around the neighbourhood. I might get lucky.”

“I don’t think so. Let me go instead.” He turned to the door.

Annie held his arm. “I feel better if you call Juwon first.”

Reluctantly, he did. As expected, the boy said he was somewhere in Lagos, at least two hours away, and would resume work at six.

“I can rush down with water for you, sir. Before I report at work.”

“No, Brother Juwon. Don’t worry yourself. We will be fine.”

Kent hung up and gave Annie the update. “Let me walk around. Though this place looks purely residential, I may find a store or something.”

Annie shrugged. “I pray so.”

He stepped out of the house and got a good feel of his environment. House upon beautiful house stretched the length of the street. He walked all the way down about a quarter of a mile, met a junction and followed the road right. After almost twenty minutes of roaming, he turned back.

Back inside the duplex, the children put pressure on Annie to allow them to eat.

“We’ll drink the tap water. And if we die, we die,” Edidiong said.

Annie hissed. “Why do you always say negative things?”

Before she could prevail, the children descended on the “now cold” food, but no one noticed. Just as they finished up, Kent returned with a bag full of bottled water and soft drinks.

Everyone cheered. The drinks were cold to add to the celebration.

“Ah, I would have asked you to buy snacks too. Because we can’t cook, and these our people may not show up today again,” Annie said.

“Hmm, I didn’t see any shop. I walked the length and breadth of the street. On my way back, I just decided to enter one house with two cars parked in front.” Kent chuckled. “I introduced myself, and begged them for water.”

Annie shouted. “Heh! People you don’t know?”

Kent shrugged. “Well, I know them now.” He scratched his head. “I didn’t ask for their name though. But they said they will check on us later.”

“Hmm,” Annie grunted. “Talk is cheap with these Lagos people.”

Kent raised his hands to the heavens. “Well, for now, we have water, and bread. What else did God feed the Israelites with in the wilderness?”

12 FREELY – Disturbing! (April 13, 2017 post)

When evening approached and no one came around, Pastor Kent decided to take a walk. He found the main auditorium after almost an hour walking, and following sign posts. A service was on, and he slid into a seat at the back row.

It was his first sight of the Revive the World experience.

The auditorium was full to the brim. Kent marveled at the numbers, three thousand? Or five thousand? He couldn’t decide. A minister preached with passion and steam, but Kent couldn’t quite enjoy the message. His words were monotonous and he asked the congregants to repeat after him too many times. The multi-media displayed his name as Pastor Itunu Odunayo. Hmm. It wasn’t a name Kent would remember unless it came up again.

Seated on the altar behind a massive pulpit were two royal gold-plaited leather seats, and smaller but grand chairs lined up on either side to fill the huge space. All the seats were occupied except one of the two royal ones. The other was taken by a woman Kent assumed would the Mama Jumi Nelson. In a humorous flash, he imagined Annie on that seat and laughed to himself. Impossible.

After the message, offering was taken amid a rousing fast musin taken by a vibrant band. Kent danced till he sweat. Then the service closed and people dispersed, just like that. There wasn’t much interaction.

Kent remained on his seat, unwilling to start the walk back. Hoping to have a feel of the hall, the atmosphere, the church. To take attention off himself as the room cleared, and ushers went around, tidying up, he walked out and watched most people leave in their cars, with mixed feelings.

All the agitation about taking over the church overwhelmed him. The style of worship was utterly different. He enjoyed jumping and screaming and clapping but not to this extent. What was the late Archbishop thinking when he wrote his name in his will?

“Pastor Kentoroabasi. What a surprise?”

Kent turned and came face to face with Pastor Favour, and Victor, the young man who had escorted him to the hotel the day they left on the previous visit.

“Pastor Favour. Good evening.”

“When I saw you from the altar, I was quite surprised. I didn’t know you were around.”

Kent nodded at Victor in greeting but the younger man didn’t respond. “All the way from the altar? I would have been like an ant from your view.” Someone must have told Favour he was there.

Favour chuckled. “I understand you’re not familiar with such a mammoth crowd.”

“Indeed.”

“What brings you back?” Victor cut in. “To worship with us?”

His rude tone set Kent aback, but he answered quietly. “Yes, I came to worship with you.”

Victor smirked. “Good. That’s good.”

“I came over because I wanted to talk with you too, about what happened last time.” Pastor Favour walked toward the exit of the complex, and reluctantly, Kent followed. “We showed you a letter our archbishop left with his will. Saying a Kentoroabasi Etim was his successor.”

Pastor Kent stopped walking, and forced the two men to do likewise. He wanted to hear what this was about properly.

“Well, we found the man. It’s not you, Pastor Etim.” Favour rubbed his hands. “The media houses helped a great deal with all the fake news about the sons of our leader fighting. Someone leaked the news about you, and the real person came forward.”

Kent’s head went light and he thought for a moment he might faint. Of course, he knew he could always go back to his old church. The mission field always had need. But how would he tell his wife, and children? The kids especially had said goodbyes to all their friends. They were eager to be here. Whether he liked to accept it or not, he was work-weary being a missionary, and yearned for the luxury he saw here.

Had he been tested by God, and covetousness found in him? He could weep.

“There is another Kentoroabasi Etim, a missionary from the East?”

Victor laughed. “Hard to believe but yes. He sat on the altar tonight.”

Kent smiled. “Then we thank God. His name alone must be praised.”

Favour frowned. “I understand you came here with your family. And took accommodation in the housing estate.”

“Yes, that’s where we are.”

“The church cannot afford to keep you. Those residences are not free,” Favour said.

Kent swallowed. “Of course.”

“We expect you to leave in 24 hours.” Favour turned. “If you need money, let me know. You have my number.” He walked away. Victor sauntered after him.

13 FREELY – Discerning! (April 16, 2017 post)

Pastor Kentoroabasi Etim stood in the dark so long his knees buckled. Pastor Favour’s words reverberated in his mind till he thought he was hallucinating. Could this be? Truly the love of money was the root of all evil. Had he become so covetous he couldn’t discern? Go back to what?

Resources were so scarce his house had been reallocated before he packed out of it. His church was reassigned. If he had to go anywhere now, it was to Uyo, to sit in the congregation till there was a vacancy. The future of his children’s education thrown into uncertainty.

He found the flashy pastor’s words unbelievable but how could he know? His name may be unusual but how could he ascertain he was the only pastor on earth with it?

“Holy Spirit, help me.”

He made the walk back to the house, his heart heavy. He had never been thrown into such a controversy. He had suffered lack, and pain for the gospel’s sake. He knew how to abase but nothing like this had ever been thrown at him. To be so convinced of an abundance only to discover emptiness. Would his children ever understand?

Fifteen-year old Edidiong was so sarcastic about everything, would the boy be able to handle this complexity? Eno had sworn never to marry a pastor so many times, it had become a curse in his ears. How would he tell her he missed this? Due to moving around so many times, his children had attended more than their share of schools. Constantly being the new kid on the block was their plague.

He arrived at the entrance of the house and his heart thudded. They should all be asleep, it was close to midnight. The easiest thing to do was not to take any responsibility. Tell them exactly what happened, and the need to go back to where they came from.

He opened the door, and was surprised to see Annie seated in the parlour, her arms folded across her chest combat style.

She flew to her feet. “Aha, Kentoro? Where have you been?”

He opened his mouth to reply but a sob escaped. Annie ran to him, fluttered. He may have been emotional in her presence before but then, they would have both been in a situation obviously terrifying.

She gripped his face and looked into his eyes. “What happened?”

He drew in a shuddering breath, and told her everything.

“It’s a lie. It’s not possible.” Annie stepped back. “What’s wrong with these carnal people?”

Kent lowered himself into the couch where she recently vacated. “We have to tell the children in the morning and make arrangements to leave.”

“Leave and go where? Will you call your senior missionary and tell him we’re coming back? After all that happened?”

He could barely hear his own voice. “What else can we do?”

Annie paced. “We’re not leaving. Tell them we want to see proof you’re not the one.”

“The real person is here. He sat on the altar tonight.”

“That’s what they said. And it’s not true.” Annie screeched. “We’re not going anywhere. They should come and throw us out. After all we suffered to come back?”

Kent covered his face. Annie proceeded to vent. She talked rapidly and stomped about the room. Her husband did not say a word.

“I’m just tired,” she said. “What kind of life is this?” She heaved. “How can we miss it so flatly?”

“That is my biggest question too. How did someone not just discern? Am I truly called, if this can happen to me?”

Annie sobbed. “What are we going to do? The children will be so upset.”

“I don’t even have any money. And we owe on the transport down here.”

Annie’s shoulders shook with defeat as she cried.

They turned at the sound of footsteps, and saw Chioma at the foot of the stairs.

“I’m sorry, ma. And daddy. I couldn’t help but hear your conversation.”

“It is well, Chioma.” Kent stood. “Go to bed. We will sort this out tomorrow morning. I’m sure we can get a vehicle.” He looked at his broken wife. “I will let Pastor Favour know we can’t leave tomorrow but will go the day after.” He climbed the stairs though he heard his wife’s sobs.

Chioma hugged Annie as soon Kent left. “Mummy, light can never be conquered by darkness.”

Annie sniffed. “Ah! What are we going to tell these children? And what about you. You left your salon just to follow us.”

“We are all awake. We heard everything Daddy said. Everyone understands we are in battle. And we can only win through prayers.”

Annie covered her face. What had prayer done for them so far?

14 FREELY – Defeating! (April 20, 2017 post)

The family had an impromptu night vigil and slept in the early hours of the morning. Those who could, at least.

At about eight, Kent woke. It was clear news had reached their “friends” they had the wrong successor because no one showed up.

He tapped Annie awake. “I have to get to town and find a driver willing to come and pick us from here.”

She grunted. “Okay.”

When he was gone, and everyone finally woke up, they packed their bags, and waited for the outcome of Pastor Kent’s search. The sauce from the day before was finished but a loaf of bread remained. Annie and the kids shared it, and finished the water and drinks from the left over.

Meanwhile, Annie suggested they praised God in anticipation of a favourable result. The session went on for almost four hours. Pastor Kent met them and joined in briefly, and then rounded up with a prayer.

Everyone was eager.

“We got a bus. There’s good news and there’s bad.”

Annie heaved a heavy sigh. “Hmm.”

“The bad news first. We have to sleep in the bus tonight.” Every groaned. “The good news is, at least we got a bus, and a driver willing to come here to pick us. He will be here in another two hours.” Kent clapped as though to round them all up. “We will not face the embarrassment of being thrown out.”

Annie breathed in. “What if he doesn’t come?”

“He will.” He looked at the children. “Come on, go and pack up.” No one moved.

Annie clasped her hands across her chest. “We were trusting God they would come and tell us otherwise, that it was—a prank.”

“A prank? Annie, please.” He clapped again. “Go and pack.”

The children all moved together.

“I pray he will come. All this embarrassment.” Annie sighed. “What about payment? And are we going to Aba or Uyo?”

“The driver agreed to take half of the fares. We will pay the rest when we arrive.” Kent moaned. “Uyo. Nothing is left in Aba.”

“Did you call Senior Evangelist about it?”

“I will call him when we are well on the way tomorrow afternoon.” Kent moved toward the staircase. Annie’s voice stopped him.

“Ah, Kent. Don’t you think you should call now? What if we get to Uyo and there’s no accommodation anywhere for us? Where will we go, all of us?!”

Kent snapped an exclamation but controlled it. After all, she was right. If he’d gotten to hear from Pastor Favour before packing up and leaving Aba, none of this stress would have happened.

“No.” He closed his eyes. “I will call tomorrow afternoon. Uyo is home for us. We can never be stranded like this.”

He went up the stairs and his wife followed him. Grim, they packed and waited downstairs. The food had digested and stomachs churned. There was no energy left to pray or worship. Everyone sat in resignation.

Four hours on, the J5 van arrived. Annie exclaimed. They had to sleep in this? J5 vans didn’t have good seats. They’d have to squeeze in. She thought of the more than twelve-hour journey ahead.

“Lord, have mercy,” she breathed.

No one complained. They were first and foremost grateful the driver showed up. Barely five minutes after his arrival, a red GMC Yukon drove up and Pastor Favour came out of the flashy jeep with Victor in tow.

Kent and the bus driver were stacking the first of the suitcases into the J5. Pastor Favour walked past without answering any of the greetings, and went into the house. Annie, and the children greeted and he waved his hand at them. Victor shoved on dark glasses and didn’t say a word.

The two men walked up the stairs, and after a while, returned downstairs. He walked into the kitchen, and back outside, where he stood by his jeep till the family left.

“It is not easy to be a Christian,” Annie blew steam out of her mouth.

Eno asked. “Who is he?”

Edidiong snapped. “He’s the pastor who came to take Daddy and Mummy last time. Don’t you remember?”

Eno hissed. “If I remember will I be asking?”

Everyone went quiet afterwards.

Annie giggled. “When we get to the park, we will find something to eat. Everyone is hungry and a hungry man is an angry man.”

No one found her statement funny.

The driver approached the entrance of the camp, and nearly ran a woman down. She stepped in front of the van, close enough, and moved aside just in time. The skilled driver shouted. He looked at the mirror, cursing her. But when Kent turned, he realized she was waving frantically.

“Maybe she needs a ride.”

The driver sneered. “That’s why she wanted me to kill her?”

Kent shook his head. “Please stop. She’s still waving at us.”

Amidst grumbling, the driver stopped in the middle of the road, and only pulled over to the shoulder when Kent insisted.

The woman did not seem in a hurry as she approached the van. She walked over to Kent’s side in the front seat.

He arched an eyebrow. “You need a ride to Lagos?”

She blinked. Her face was wrapped in a shawl almost like a hijab, only the scarf nearly covered her eyes. She raised her hand and produced a business card.

“Go to the address. Ask for the name on the card. They will give you accommodation and food.” She stepped back. “Please. Sir.”

She crossed the road, and stupefied, Kent followed her with his gaze. She half-ran to a small car parked several feet away, and drove off.

15 FREELY – Depending! (April 23, 2017 post)

Accommodation at the place on the card was on Banana Island! The family had never heard of it but the driver exclaimed and talked about it till they arrived at a huge fenced compound with two detached duplexes.

“Ah, una no no Banana Island? Pastor, ah. Na the richest people in the world live here o.” He went on. “So you get person wey fit lodge you for here? Banana Island? You sabi how much rent dey cost here?” He didn’t say though.

The name on the card was Ajua. Pastor Kent found her behind a reception island, and explained why he’d come.

Ajua had a flat face, and despite being neatly made-up, lacked beauty or enthusiasm. At least she didn’t put up an air.

She batted artificial eyelashes. “Welcome. Where’s your luggage?”

Pastor Kent told her and she instructed him to bring it in. With the J5 driver, the family took the suitcases and bags to a first-floor apartment. Ajua gave Kent a set of keys, and excused herself.

The driver slapped his head. “Kai! I don enter house for Banana Island.”

“This house is ny-ceee.” Edidiong looked around. “Wow.”

“Huh, thank you so much.” Kent looked at the driver.

With the new development, he couldn’t send the man away empty. He rolled the bills he’d originally thought he’d give for the trip to Uyo, and handed them to him. The man paused his amazement at the beautiful parlour, and gasped.

“Pastor! Thank you.” He grinned. “Let me come and go.” He pushed the money into his pocket and went off humming.

“That man got his reward right away,” Annie said. She sighed heavily. “What now?”

Her question got everyone’s attention. Kent looked at each person before he spoke. “We’ll sleep tonight, and pray. Let’s see if the woman who sent us here will show. If she doesn’t, I’ll call the driver to pick us the day after tomorrow.” He shrugged. “We’ll have to go back to original plan.”

Eno burst into tears, shocking all. Annie glared at her. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m tired.” She stomped her feet. “I’m just tired.”

Chioma dropped into a soft leather seat and moaned. “At least we have beds for one more night, thank you God.”

“As in.” Ima chuckled. “I was just thinking of how I will sleep inside that horrible bus.”

Edidiong clapped. “Well, let’s find the beds.”

He walked toward a door, and disappeared inside. The other children followed. Chioma took Eno’s shoulder and patted it as they trailed the younger ones.

Their parents heard a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” but couldn’t rejoice. Annie looked around the perfect finish of the décor, the beautiful marble walls and floor. Asian rug, and marching blinds. The leather upholstery which matched the glass dining set at one side of the room.

“I think they are playing with us. The man says go, the wife says don’t go.”

Kent scratched his neck. “You don’t know if that woman is the wife.”

Freke ran into the parlour. “Mummy, come. Come. This house is very nice. They have water bed.” She pulled Annie’s hand. “There are four rooms and all are very big.”

Edidiong strolled in. “I’m taking a room to myself.”

Freke gasped. “What of Idara?”

Edidiong laughed. “I don’t know. He’ll sleep with you girls.”

“Take the bags inside,” Kent said. “Freke, call the others.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Annie shuddered. “Let me find the kitchen. Hopefully they have a kettle or something.”

She opened a door close to the dining, and indeed it was the kitchen. For a moment, she stood rooted to the floor, stupefied by how big and modern it was. She walked slowly to a 2-door French-door refrigerator, and opened it. There was water, soft drinks, and some fruits, butter, and jam.

“Lord Jesus!”

She clasped her hand over her mouth to curb her vocal explosion, and inspected the cabinets, and a small pantry she discovered by the corner.

When she returned to the parlour, no one was there. On legs as weak as cooked noodles, she found her family in one of the big rooms, chattering excitedly.

“There is plenty of food and water.” The children shouted. Tears gathered in her eyes. “I’m—oh thank you God.”

Kent waved. “Go and eat. Chioma, coordinate them.” He walked to his wife, and pulled her into a hug.

“Why are you crying? Everything will be alright.”

Annie gripped his shirt front. “Ah Kentoro, what are we doing here? What have we gotten ourselves into?” She shook him. “Let’s go back while we still can.”

He cupped her face. “God is a great storyteller, and I think he’s telling one great story right now.” He kissed her nose. “I won’t want to leave the scene when the suspense is so high.”

“This suspense is too much. Who was that woman? And why would she send us here?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. Tonight, I want to enjoy my wife.”

She shoved him. “Enjoy under high tension like this.”

“Food is served,” Eno said and left before her parents could turn to her.

Annie pushed out of Kent’s embrace. “I’m hungry, please. The food I saw looks too good.”

She left the room, and Kent smiled. “After you eat, then what?” He followed her out.

16 FREELY – Exciting! (April 27, 2017 post)

Ajua called the apartment phone to ask how the night was. Eno picked the call because everyone else was still asleep.

“If you need anything, you can call me on 100.” Ajua sniffed noisily. “Anything at all.”

“Yes, ma. Thank you.”

“Don’t use ma for me. Ajua will do.”

Eno coughed. “Okay. Thanks.”

“Bye.”

Ajua hung up from the other end. Eno shook her head and walked into the kitchen. The cooked food they found the night before was all gone, but there was enough raw food to last days. She took a big tuber of yam and peeled it. She’d just put the yam on the fire to cook when Chioma walked in, yawning.

“Eno, good morning.”

She turned. “Good morning, Aunty. How was your night?”

“Ah, fantastic. I’ve never sleep on soft bed like that in my life.”

“Shey.” Eno laughed. “It was as if the mattress was massaging my body.”

“Ehn! You too felt so.”

The two young ladies laughed. Eno sighed. “I hope this will be the end of the confusion.”

“I hope so too. Mummy is so unhappy, and Daddy is just disorganized.”

Freke ran into the kitchen with Ima behind her. “We saw the swimming pool.”

“Good morning to you too,” Eno said.

“Sorry. Good morning. We saw the swimming pool. And it has this massaging waves,” Freke shrieked. “It’s sooo nice!”

Eno snickered. “You better not let Mummy hear you went downstairs.”

“It’s not downstairs.” Ima leaned against the marble-topped island. “We opened a door we thought was to the bathroom, and saw the swimming pool!”

“What? Swimming pool in an upstairs?” Chioma gasped. “Come and show me.”

All the children rushed out to the poolside where Edidiong and Idara played in the water, throwing catcher with a soccer ball.

Chioma’s jaws dropped. “Wonders shall never cease.”

The pool was shallow and didn’t have a deep end but it sufficed.

Eno screamed. “I’m going to get my towel.”

Chioma laughed. “What about the yam you’re cooking?”

Eno called over her shoulder. “Aunty Chioma please check it for me. Please.”

Chioma shook her head and left the children. She returned to the kitchen, and prepared egg sauce while the yam cooked. Then she went for her towel as well and joined the others to catch the kind of fun she had never experienced in her life.

For over an hour, they enjoyed their lives. They laughed over the ordeal of the last two days and how from potentially sleeping on the stiff benches of a J5 van they moved to this.

They later checked on their parents, and on discovering they were still asleep, went on to have breakfast without them.

Nothing could have prepared the children for such a world of luxury. They made jokes about refusing to leave if anyone came over to try and evict them. The house reminded them of tales of the hotel their parents stayed on the first visit.

After breakfast, Edidiong stood and threw his hands in the air. “This is the ly-feee.”

Eno exclaimed. “Will you stop shouting? Daddy and Mummy are still asleep!”

Ima laughed. “You fear sleep?”

Idara moaned. “Maybe we will have to leave this place today again.”

Edidiong growled. “Kill joy. Is that what you should say?”

“Because you were snoring like a pig.”

Edidiong closed in on his little brother. “Are you talking to me?”

Eno hissed. “Edidiong leave him alone. Are you stupid. Leave him!”

Edidiong slapped Idara on the side of his head, and the boy shouted.

Chioma pulled him behind her, and stood between the two boys. “Edidiong, go.”

Edidiong clucked his tongue. “And if I don’t?”

“Don’t be rude, Edidiong.”

Freke cried. “Don’t be rude!”

The children shouted at one another back and forth. At some point, they would think their parents will waken and scatter their rough chatter. It was close to noon.

Pastor Kentoro and his beautiful wife continued to enjoy the bliss and comfort the strange woman of the night before offered.

17 FREELY – Appalling! (April 30, 2017 post)

“We should plan to leave tomorrow morning. I am not comfortable again, honestly.” Pastor Anietie Etim clasped her hands over her chest. “Something bad will happen!”

Freke gasped. “Ah, Mummy don’t say that.”

Edidiong snickered. “From your mouth to God’s ears.”

Eno hissed. “Why do you always like to say terrible things?”

“Look at it, now. The woman we saw that night has still not showed up.” Annie took her husband’s hand. “No communication at all.”

It had been a week, and the family seemed to be on a vacation. Annie had cause to be concerned.

“Schools will soon re-open. Won’t these children go back to school?”

Kent cleared his throat. “There are schools on the premises of the mission camp. I saw a primary, and a secondary.”

“You assume we will go and live there!” Annie exclaimed. “Our lives have no direction.”

She looked at the children. Everyone had somehow pretended living in this house with a full pantry, and a doting receptionist was normal. With the family relaxed after dinner, she had summoned the courage to address the mighty “white elephant” seated in their midst.

“What do you suggest we do?” Kent frowned. “I don’t have the woman’s name or contact.”

“Then let’s make a plan and leave. Go back to Uyo as we planned earlier.”

Chioma sat forward. “Huh, Daddy, please, can we call that receptionist lady and tell her we want to see the owner of this place?”

Annie clapped. “Good idea. At least, let us know what is going on.”

It was easier than they envisaged. Ajua provided a number and Pastor Kent called it.

“Hello.” He avoided the anxious gazes of his family members. “This is Pastor Kent.”

He waited while the person on the other end spoke. “Yes.” Whatever the person said seemed prolonged and was important. “Okay. That’s fine.” Kent hung up and stared at his phone.

The anticipation in the air could melt the north pole.

“That was Pastor Favour.” Kent scoffed. “How the journey ends for us at last. He has given us till tomorrow morning to leave his house.”

The shock of the revelation subdued everyone for at least a minute.

“I think I want to swim one more time before we check out,” Edidiong said, and got a chorus of rebuke.

Eno cried. “Why can’t you just be serious for once in your life!”

Kent broke into a potential brawl. “Let’s pack up. I will call the J5 driver. I hope he will be available.”

“I thank God for the few days of peace.” Annie waved her hands above her head. “At least, we have direction.”

It wasn’t the news they wanted to hear and everyone walked quietly into their rooms.

Annie and Kent moved about the master bedroom for a few minutes and then he chuckled.

Annie arched an eyebrow. “Share the joke.”

“The first thing he said when I introduced myself was, who gave you the keys to my house? My wife?”

Annie breathed in. “Hmm.”

“How did you know she was his wife?”

She shook her head. “I don’t.”

He sat on the edge of the bed. “You said something when we arrived. That husband said go, and wife said stay.”

She shrugged. “I can’t remember.”

“That’s interesting.” He sighed. “We won’t leave tomorrow. He can come here to throw us out.”

Annie opened her mouth to protest, but instead a soft plea escaped. “Remember your children, darling. They have suffered enough.”

The following morning, the family was packed. They waited in the parlour as early as five o’clock, for the arrival of the driver. Chioma and Annie had woken much earlier and prepared two meals for breakfast and lunch ahead of the journey. If nothing else, Ajua had kept the fridge and pantry well-stocked and Annie had her to thank.

There was a soft knock on the door, and it opened. Before anyone saw the visitor, Annie gasped. Ajua was supposed to alert them of the arrival of the driver. Or perhaps she hadn’t yet resumed. But in the past week, she’d been there day and night.

Pastor Favour walked in.

“Good morning, Pastor Favour.” Kent stood. “We’re ready to leave. Just waiting for our driver to arrive.”

A woman veil barged in before Favour could respond.

“They are not going anywhere.” She stood up to him with eyes as wild as that of a bush rat. “Are you not tired of all this mess and your hypocrisy?”

No one saw it coming. Not even the woman. Favour raised his hand and dealt her a heavy blow to her face. She fell flat on her back. Kent and Annie jumped in between the couple simultaneously. The children screamed and moved back.

Kent pushed Favour. “Are you out of your mind?” He looked at the children. “Go into your rooms. Take the suitcases.” They obeyed like zombies.

Favour shouted. “This is my house!”

“And you have no right to hit your wife. This is her house too.” Kent took calming breaths. “Now, I will advise you to leave now. If you must go and wait at the reception, I don’t care.”

Favour smirked. “In my house. Who are you to command me?”

“He is your general overseer, you fool.” His wife sobbed. She had sat up, the left side of her fair and smooth face swollen and turning red. “You think all those Archbishop’s family care about you?”

“Shut up, idiot.” He bellowed. “How do you imagine your plan will ever work?”

“I don’t care what you say. You hit me, Favour, you hit me because of Archbishop!”

Favour’s voice softened but not his words. “And I will do it again if you don’t stop your stupid plans.”

She tried to rise and Annie assisted her. “My stupid plans will save your sorry — though you will never appreciate it.” She left the room.

Favour pointed his index finger at Kent. “Don’t think you won.” He stomped after his wife.

Annie slouched on her calves. “Ah dear Jehovah. Have mercy. Thank God for plan B. This driver should come quick, let’s just leave this place.”

Kent lowered himself to her and held her face. “I never called him to come.”

18 FREELY – Demanding! (May 4, 2017 post)

If she didn’t show up soon, Pastor Kent would have gone after her. The woman Pastor Favour treated as his wife. The woman he suspected directed him to Banana Island.

She came to the house the following day. “I’m sorry we disgraced ourselves like that.”

Pastor Kent and Annie sat with her in the parlour. They had many questions for her, and she seemed willing to answer them.

The first on Kent’s lips was, “Why?”

“I have a conscience. And though there have been many grey lines between right and wrong, I know what I’m doing now is right.”

Annie sat forward. “Please can you explain exactly what you’re doing?”

They later found out her name was Lara. She took a deep breath. “There is no other Pastor Kentoro anywhere. You are the one Archbishop named in his last testament. We did a thorough search before we found you.”

Kent frowned. “So what…why change? Why lie?”

Lara snickered. “You have no idea the immense wealth, and influence of the office they dumped on you.” She sighed. “The sons are fighting. Even the wife wanted it.” She held Kent’s gaze. “I’m not proud to say this but my husband as well. He hoped somehow, he will be given the post.”

Kent breathed. “By denying me, there hasn’t been any peace.”

“But at least you are no longer a contender.” She falls on her knees. “You need to fight them. Fight this evil. The archbishop chose you.”

“I’m confused, Pastor Lara.” Kent grimaced. “I don’t know where to start from. I don’t know who to lean on.”

“God. Trust God, and make a demand. You have my husband’s number, call him to order.” She looked at Annie. “Are you not a man of God? Call on fire. Show power.”

Annie giggled. “At show power. This is a demanding request. How do we show power?”

Lara pressed her lips together. “Then if you are not ready to throw your weight around, bully, and show power, you may as well want to return to your home. Because around here, might is right.”

She promised her support, and assured Kent the family could stay on in the house for as long as they wished.

“I will continue to stock the house with food. It’s not a problem for me at all.”

She left her direct number too, and asked Annie to feel free to be in touch in case they needed anything.

“If you want to go to the market or anywhere else, just call, and I will send a car and driver.”

They thanked her. At the door, Kent succumbed to his curiosity. “Do you and your husband own the whole complex here?”

Lara smiled. “This whole street is owned by our church and members. Archbishop and his family, some pastors and members. This complex has eight apartments like this. We own two. Other people own the rest.”

“Okay. Thanks for the information.”

She gripped his hand. “Daddy, please. Don’t give up on us.” She left after that.

Kent and Annie sat dumbfounded for several minutes after she was gone.

“What sort of a mess is this, Kentoro? What have we gotten ourselves into?” She exclaimed. “Show power? Just like that?”

“Well, we should thank God at least we have an idea of the people we are dealing with.” He stood. “God, will show power. For now, I need to start a retreat.”

She stood as well. “I will join you with a fast. This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting.”

“Exactly. I noticed a study in the house. I will use it. Till I hear from God, I’m going to be locked in there.”

Annie pulled him into a hug. “I won’t lock myself up but be sure I’m with you in spirit.”

19 FREELY – Displaying! (May 7, 2017 post)

The following Sunday, Pastor Lara sent her driver to take the family to church. The driver probably knew what was going on because he drove to the back of the altar, and carried Kent’s Bible in.

The building was massive to say the least. A huge waiting area, furnished with leather visitor chairs was surrounded by offices. The family sat for a moment.

Kent spoke softly. “The service should start soon. If no one comes out, we will join the congregation.”

“Daddy,” Edidiong said. “I think we should go. I mean, we won’t sit on the altar with you before.”

Kent agreed and the children went out the door with Chioma. They missed all the action, and Annie had to later recant.

A few people milled about, and some took other seats in the waiting area. Lara walked in from the entrance and went straight to kneel before Kent.

“Daddy, good morning. Please bless me.”

Kent had never been accorded such respect. He would pray for anyone who came to him, and sometimes he’d be the one to ask them to kneel.

After a short prayer, Lara, still on her knees, clasped his hands. “They want to send me away. They want Favour to divorce me.”

Kent exclaimed. “No such thing will happen in Jesus’ name!”

“My husband hasn’t slept in the house since Wednesday you saw him. He reported me to Mama Jumi…”

Annie cut in before she could stop herself. “The Archbishop’s wife?”

“Yes. She’s like his biological mother besides me being one of her personal assistants.” Lara sobbed and her mascara seemed to run. “He does everything she says, and she doesn’t mind telling him to send me away.”

“You have no proof, Pastor Lara.” Kent cleared his throat. “And we must believe the best.”

Lara’s eyes widened. “In this church, you don’t believe the best. You watch your back.”

Kent sighed. “Okay, please stand, and go in to the service. We’ll be right behind you.” Kent pulled her up.

Lara lowered her voice. “They said if you come near the altar, they will disgrace you.” She shook her head. “No. Let me wait with you.”

“We’ll be fine…” Kent started to protest but one of the doors opened, and about eight men wearing dark suits, fast-walked out.

Lara straightened and the Etims knew why when Mama Jumi exited the room at a much slower pace, flanked by her eldest son and Favour. The trio stared at their trio but continued to walk toward what Kent believed to be the door to the main church.

“Let’s follow them,” Lara whispered.

Kent thought all of this was juvenile and Annie cringed but they stepped behind the train.

At the suspected door, Mama Jumi turned. Everyone stopped and did likewise.

“We will announce the new leader of the church today.” She fixed her gaze on Lara. “So you can stop all your drama, and behave like someone led of the Spirit of God, hmm? Lara, are you okay with that?”

She curtseyed. “Yes, Mummy.”

The former first lady’s eyes rested on Annie. “All those itching to take over what they believe is a gold mine can then step in and start to enjoy the treasures in the secret places.” She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. Favour and her son chuckled. And a few of the men around her snickered.

Kent noticed more people had fallen into step behind them. Several ladies moved with the group, carrying her handbag and shawl and items of clothing accessories.

“And my dear son can be a normal one again.” She continued. “And church headache will no longer be his problem.” She smiled at him. “You can now sleep well, and let someone else take your headache.”

Kent hoped the sarcastic speech will end. It didn’t.

“Can the new leader preach, and will he be able to take a message today? Or he needs to be given ample notice?”

Mama Jumi directed the question at Favour, who shrugged. “I have no idea, Mama. We found him in a village in the East.”

Kent shifted his weight from one foot to another. After four days locked in the study, he had no doubt, God will move on his behalf if he is allowed to minister to the people. Especially now, if these were the people he was going to preside over, he understood why Lara insisted he “show power.”

These were lions, and their mouths needed to be shut.

“Your treacherous wife hid him, right?” Mama Jumi squinted at Lara. “You.”

The culprit fell on her knees and to the surprise of the Etims, burst into tears.

“I’m sorry, Mama. I don’t know what came over me. Please, Mama. Why? Me of all people. After all you had done for me. Please forgive me.”

For a moment, Annie thought she joked but real tears poured down her cheeks. Her husband hissed and some of the other people in the group too. Kent wished he had the chance to say something but he feared his words at this moment would only heat up an already tense atmosphere.

He looked at the most powerful woman in the church. There was no hint of love or compassion in the hard eyes he saw. The woman had also refused to make eye contact with him.

“What does one do with a useless child before?” She turned to Favour. “Worship has started.”

Unceremoniously, someone opened the door, and they walked on to the large, and beautifully furnished and decorated altar area.

20 FREELY – Spiritual! (May 14, 2017 post)

When they stepped on to the altar though, no one could have suspected the tension amongst the ministers.

After the praise and worship session, Pastor Favour stood at the podium and gave a moving story about how he met Pastor Kent. He formed something about the plans of the enemy to disturb the will of God, but God’s mighty power prevailed. He gave a glowing appraisal of the person of Pastor Kentoroabasi Etim, and his lovely family. He then spoke at length about the Archibishop Nelson, and his beautiful wife, and invited Mama Jumi Nelson to bring the new overseer to the pulpit.

Mama Jumi spoke with a clean foreign accent, and had the love and attention of the congregation. She praised her deceased husband for always being in the spirit, and doing only whatever God asked of him. On that note, she welcomed the man from a small village on the outskirts of Aba, and invited him to the stand previously mounted by some of the biggest and most influential televangelists in the world.

The first song Kent took was one they sang on their crusade preparation prayer where he came from, and one his family laughed over for years. But he insisted nothing else came to his mind.

It was clearly a set-up. The 10,000-seater auditorium was packed full, Kent had never addressed more than a hundred people in his life. The hall was dead still, all waited for their new leader. They wanted to hear his voice, feel his words, his spirit.

Kent raised his hands and his voice, and sang. “I want to be, I want to be, your servant Lord. I want to be, I want to be your servant, Lord. I don’t want to, I don’t want to be unfaithful, I don’t want to, I don’t want to be unfaithful.

No one sang with him. Probably no one knew the song, or couldn’t believe that would come out.

Annie walked to a back-up microphone, and sang along.

I will obey, I will obey you my dear Lord…

And so, the couple sang for almost ten minutes. Songs many in their congregation did not know. But who cared, before they knew it, some people got caught in the spirit of the song and the meeting ended up being an impartation service. People wept with revival power.

An hour afterward, some finally could sit. Many lay at the altar, slain in the spirit.

Kent’s first words to his new church would forever be remembered. “God will do a new thing.”

***

My name is Eno Etim. Not Joe the tailor. Though I maintain I am you. I collected every piece of the drama that unfolded in my life from the year I turned seventeen.

I know more than my mother knows. That’s why the second part of our story is even more dramatic.

Thanks for staying tuned.

The end.

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

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