February 2004 it was when I had temporarily relocated to Port Harcourt for my 6 month IT. Not only was I ecstatic about going 2 live with my late aunt Chioma; bless her soul, but also because of the “exciting gists” I had always heard about the city life, and of course the much talked about “PH girls”. Anyway, to give you a brief insight to d family I had pledged to live with for the next six months; this was a staunch Cherubim and Seraphim house/family and my late aunt Chioma’s husband was the head of a “Cele” church that was literally steps away from the house. Now, even though I wasn’t the most ardent of church goers, and being that I was going to live in a very peiteous environment for the next six months, I decided to form good boy small and behave myself.
It was on a Saturday that I had arrived and I thought it only right to attend church the next day, Sunday. But you see there was a bit of a problem here as to which church to attend. So being that I’m a born Anglican, plus a JJC in the area, I decided to ask my aunt if she knew of any nearby Anglican Church in the area that I could attend. I had barely finished enquiring when I was quickly reprimanded by my often temperamental uncle, who I didn’t notice was sitting close by. “Why would you want to attend some other church when I have one?” He asked. “You will attend my church. You are in my house ….when you are in Rome you behave like Romans”. After some hesitation, I had to take the difficult decision to oblige him as I really didn’t want 2 disappoint/upset him, and hadn’t yet found an Anglican Church to worship at. So I said “Ok o! What d hell sef? After all church na church…. is it not d same God we’re all serving”?
Come Sunday morning, everyone started getting ready for church. Now I noticed that whiIe I was preparing a shirt and a trouser, everybody else was ironing some white garment or the other. Well, what did I expect? It was a white garment church, and I was all too glad when I was told that I could dress in mufti as I was a visitor and a first timer. I put on my fancy clothes, and started feeling pleased with myself. What came next was something that I hadn’t prepared for. So I step out of the house, making my way towards the church building, and my little cousin Michael notices me and says “Bros we no dey wear shoe go church oh”. I said “Correct! Me? As I brrrooosss reach, I go go church, I no go wear shoe?” Being the city boy that was, I wasn’t about to embarrass myself going out bare footed for any reason. But before long, other house members joined Michael in support saying “Bros na true o! We no dey wear shoe go church. In fact uncle no go happy with u o! I was given the impression that it was indeed a wholesome atrocity to wear shoes into their church. It was not until my aunt came out and almost pleadingly, cajoled me into taking off my shoes that i decided to “gree”. You can imagine my sudden awkwardness after all the gra gra. I still comot the shoes sha. Did I have an option? And deciding to stay back was not acceptable either. “You must go to church” my uncle said.
Wetin bros go do now? I come go the church like that o! looking more ridiculous than smart. I had hardly settled into my seat when what seemed like 3 cups of water landed on me in quick succession, so much so that I had to acknowledge the obvious talent of whoever did it. It was right on target; my face. I looked around in a bid to know where the “assault” had come from, to find some elderly man standing right in front of me, with a giggly smile in his face. There was the culprit. Now how such an elderly man could aim cups of water at my face without missing, and from a distance for that matter, still beats me till today. Anyway, the man walks up to me and says “you are welcome in the name of the Lord”. Chai!! I thought to myself; “Did you have to drench me in order to welcome me? Couldn’t you have just said welcome and left the water out of the matter?” I was later made to believe that it was a ritual in white garment churches to “spray” visitors/new members with “holy water”. So I’m sitting there, half drenched, half vexed, and very uncomfortable, not knowing what to make of the whole scenario. What made it even worse was that people started to stare. Little did I know that that was the first of many “embarrassments/blessings” to come. Anyway, midway into the service, they start a chorus to welcome new members/visitors, and I could only guess what was coming next; and did I guess right. I noticed a better half of d congregation looking in my direction, some of them pointing, while others beckoned on someone I thought was behind me to come forward. You should have seen the expression on my face when I realized the person in question was indeed me. For some reason, I turned out to be the only visitor that day. Now from my childhood to my school days, up till that day, I had always been the shy, introverted type who loathed attention of any fashion. And here I was getting one from a congregation of some 50 odd people. So I get up, and make my way towards the altar. What d hell? They were only welcoming me init? But I was even shocked by what followed next.
I was summoned to a spot just a few feet from the altar, and asked to kneel. Na so I kneel down o! and then some “spiritual leaders”, as they proclaimed they were, started making their way towards me one after the other, forming a circle round me in some military style order. In my mind I said “Correct! Here we go again. This is part two”. I had no clue what they were about to do. I started talking 2 myself. “Aham calm down, they won’t eat you”. One of them started to speak, saying that they were going to pray for me, imploring the congregation to join in, and stretching their hands towards me. However, unknown to me, these “spiritual leaders” surrounding me all had wooden and iron staffs which looked to me like one of them Harry potter magic wands. They draw their staffs/wands, again in another coordinated military style and point them at my head. I didn’t know if to be frightened or to laugh. It was at this point that I uncontrollably let out an audible chuckle, to which one of them asked “what’s amusing you?”. Anyway, some 20 minutes later, I’m stilling kneeling, with the prayer gaining momentum by the minute. A passerby would have thought that a funeral service was going on with the frightening squeals that came from the building, especially the women. After a really long while, I noticed that I had being obedient enough to shut my eyes during the prayer. So I decided “ah! Lemme see what’s going on around me sef. Abi this prayer no dey finish?” I opened my eyes in the midst of all the saliva that was being rained on me and looked around to see if the commotion was only about me or something else that I didn’t know about, and what I saw was one to behold. I could have sworn that I was right in the middle of a theatre arts class. One man was sprinting the length of the hall from one end to another in prayer (madness); women were rolling on the floor screaming, while some others appeared to be in some competition for who shouted the loudest. The hall was in utter pandemonium. While they were praying whatever they were praying about, I was simply praying to God to bring the prayer to an end. Thankfully, the prayer ended and I was asked to return to my seat to which I gave Baba God all the glory.
Well, in due time, after what seemed the longest and most gruesome service I had ever attended, the service came to a close. I was all too relieved, but also annoyed and all that was on my mind was to get out of there as hastily as I could, as i couldn’t stand another second in that building. It was just as I made for the door that another clown came with his own wahala o! “Brother! Brother!” the bros yelled, and I turned to see who it was. It wasn’t until he came close that I recognized him from one of the “spiritual leaders” that surrounded me earlier in prayer. He said “Brother I been dey try communicate with you during prayer but e be like say u no hear me”. As far I as I could remember, I didn’t hear him or anyone in particular, trying to talk to me then as it got really loud with the screaming and all, and I told him so. He said “Nooooo bros you no understand wetin I dey talk”. So I became confused, as I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and proceeded to ask him. “abeg no vex oh! But in what manner exactly were you trying to establish this communication”? What came out of his mouth next frightened me. “I been dey try talk to your spirit” he said; and he was dead serious. I just did not know where to start with this one, because at that point I was morally drained and just did not have the mental energy for that conversation and so I quickly made up excuses about my spirit not being ready, etcetera, etcetera, to which he agreed “Ooooookkkkkk. Chai! Sorry eh”. Maybe next time eh! Just prepare your spirit. God go help you make you hear me well well.” I said “Thank you”, exchanged pleasantries and walked away. I just couldn’t hold my laughter any longer, and in my mind I said “God help you too o! In fact make e help you well well”.
I narrated the story to my mum and she almost rolled on the floor in laughter. All she could say was “Who sent you?”.