The congregation was stone-cold and grave-sober. Each man, woman and child whose ears had been impinged by the reflective sermon that Sunday morning was lost in deep thought, and for the two straight hours it lasted, each thought and weighed his or her options of making it. Most of them didn’t even hear when the pastor, in a voice laden with emotion, made an altar call, inviting anyone who needed grace to run the all-important race.
‘The minute the man of sin takes over the Vatican, the Bride of Christ should start thinking of going up to meet the Lord in the air, and I am sorry for whoever will miss that rapture. For the Bible says there will be such a trouble as there has never been on the earth, and of course never shall be. No man will be able to eat or drink unless he has that mark pledging his allegiance to the anti Christ system, orchestrated by the Pope of Rome. Nobody should be deceived into believing that it is going to be a physical mark on the hand or forehead; it is the symbolic language of the Bible.
‘For the truth is that the mark on your forehead means that you gave your approving nod to any doctrine that is unbiblical, and the mark on your hand means you participated in any activity that negates the Word of God. The anti Christ is not a person, but a system. Any form of worship, education, commerce, and every aspect of life and living will be fully in the firm grips of the Vatican, and God help anyone who refuses or goes contrary to the dictates of the system…he will surely be killed.
‘Remember that God is not a polygamist, and as the husband of the church that he is, he cannot have two living wives at the same time. As such he blinded the Jews in part, so He could minister to we the Gentiles. When the end of the Gentile dispensation comes, which will be marked by a sudden disappearance of every Christian that has lived true to the Word of God, the Lord Jesus will turn His attention to the Jews once more. By the instrumentality of two prophets of Revelation 11, He will show his true Self once more to His beloved. They will cry and weep, and repent, and it will culminate in the salvation of the 144,000 of Revelation 7. He who has ears, let him hear……
Every single individual rushed to the altar, as if on cue. Most of them had misty eyes.
Some fifteen minutes later, prayers over, Pastor Nick was preparing to make the final announcements, when there came some aggressive and deep noise coming from the outside. An Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) had torn into the compound, and had braked sharply, showing one nearby Mercedes 230E the mercy of sparing his rear bumper. The two elastic six-foot antennae on the front and rear were still oscillating from the sudden stop, when at least ten menacing soldiers jumped out, wielding sophisticated weapons. In the far corner, one soldier had just kicked the security guard in the butt, to propel him to obey his immediate orders to begin a five-metre frog jump. His offence was opening the gate five seconds late.
Major Amu tapped on the auditorium door alright, but didn’t have the patience for any usher. He kicked the door open, nearly shattering the hinges and locks, and advanced towards the altar. He snatched the microphone from Brother Emmanuel who was asking a question relating to the service.
‘Who is in charge of this place?’
Pastor Nick stepped forward, fearlessly. There was the bark of a Russian assault rifle somewhere deep in the compound, twice and short.
‘Can I see your license of operation and incorporation from the Christian Association of Nigeria?’
‘We do not belong to such associations, Major’, Pastor Nick replied coolly, assessing correctly his rank from his decorations. ‘Besides, I am not aware they have started issuing licenses of operation….’his voice trailed off, distributing a knowing look round to his congregation, as the import of that question dawned on all of them. Home going time!
‘May I ask why?’
‘We do not believe that what we are seeing as the church body today is a body of Christians, in the first place. We cannot afford to be in league with churches who conspire to push God out of His place by errantly disobeying His Word. For example, the Bible forbids a woman to teach in the church of the saints. Can you give me a church that is a member of that association that does not flout this commandment? Most of the churches that gather there are masquerading occultisms with Christianity. We are a different breed here, Major. We take God for His Word.’
Despite himself, the Major could not help listening raptly as the pastor dished out a near sermon to him, but in between, he came to and cut the man of God short. ‘We have authorization to shut down any church that does not show us the proof we need! Every body down!’ he boomed, and a flurry of activity marked the people’s hurriedness to comply. The pastor was the last to obey, going down on his belly, but not until the American bazooka in the hands of the soldier communicated how serious he was. The bullets ate up a large chunk of the ceiling, and indeed the roof.
‘Throw your Bibles on the altar!’ he cried, like he was barking to some young recruits in training. Obedience was immediate, and his colleagues gathered them.
‘The offering box…where is it?’ an officer who looked younger asked Pastor Nick, and was told what he needed to hear, but when he looked up to Major Amu for approval, the menacing glare he got was all he needed to check himself. They quietly gathered the Bibles, and they ended up in the boot of the jeep.
‘The new directive is that no religious building has the right to operate without permission. I do not want to hurt God’s people. You had better confer with the Christian organization to get yours, or I wont have this conversation with you any more, when I return and you don’t produce it. That is if you are alive to tell the story.’
He barged out.
The minute the last soldier closed the oak door of the church, over one hundred and fifty members of Spoken Truth Assembly, including the pastor, vanished thinly into oblivion, seamlessly, soundlessly and immediately. Other personal effects were left behind. The remaining thirty lifted their voices, and wept bitterly.
When they prepared to drive out, two hours later, after growing bored of weeping, there was a pool of blood near the gate, and the body to which it belonged was nowhere to be found. Beside the pool stood a pair of old Cortina sandals.
More weeping and wailing.
The disappearance of people all over Omi town took residents by surprise, though the ‘victims’ were so insignificant an infinitesimally small. At most police stations, scores of pictures were pasted, while relatives and associates besieged the stations by the day, inquiring after their loved ones.
Brother Damien sat staring into space that morning, knowing it was all over for him. He knew exactly what to expect within the next few months, even days. With this new directive, he knew everything would fall in place quickly and perfectly, and he knew life would be a living hell for him and his five-strong family. He was due to resume at the Federal Ministry of Works the following week, and he had nearly run out of supplies. O God gracious! All the while he had been progressing in fatal assumption, believing he had a spiritual claim to the Rapture. He was a minister in Spoken Truth Assembly, and had performed countless miracles that had drawn no fewer than fifty converts to the church. As he sat tear-eyed, the Technicolor image of his journey into Christianity played before him, and he was sorrowed most deeply by the part wherein his father publicly disowned him before the elders of his town, for seceding from Catholicism, his traditional family faith. The fact that he was now in the same condition with his herbalist father heightened his grief, and he felt like ending it all.
There came two sharp beeps on his HTC Desire mobile phone.
Jolted, he picked the phone see who was texting him this early. Jasmine.
‘I know your wife is out; I have changed venue to your usual home away from home. I am waiting, you will like what you will see…..Muah’, the small lettering communicated the lewd message to him.
If only this kind of message had come just a few weeks earlier………..
He got up, and stared out the window. Life was still carrying on like nothing had happened. The early morning street buzzed and blared, cars in the usual routine of beating traffic to get to their destinations on time.
In the far corner of the street, he suddenly saw that soldiers were jumping down from a huge truck. One who looked like the leader had a sheet of paper, and was moving from house to house, and doing what looked like some checking. A few people were hurled from their stores and homes, and he was surprised they were neither shot nor manhandled.
He had been hearing this over and on, and he could not forgive himself. Full control was in the hands of the state now, and anything could happen from now on. He dashed to the radio, and the governor was just concluding his speech.
‘The only recognised form of Christianity is the Roman Catholic church, Islam the Ansar Ud-deen, but there is no restriction on any other form of religion. They will be in full control and determine every form of our national life, from employment, to movement, to travelling, commerce, and everything. I will call on every resident of this state to register with them for permits…….’
Damien fixed the chair, and fastened the twine to the ceiling fan. Next, he mixed the rat poison and bleaching cream in boiling water, and filled it into an Aquadana bottle. He dropped the bottle, and climbed the chair. He inserted his neck in the noose, and dangled.
Ten minutes, and though the grip was choking, it looked like his wind pipe was insulated from the pain. This was going to be useless, as he knew and expected. He disengaged, and gulped the mixture.
The effect was two belches, and one long and hard fart that woke his three year old son.
‘Daddy, I’m hungry!’