Saturday, January 6, 2018
PRISONERS OF HOPE, Ch. 1, 2
by Fortune Nwaiwu
I was mercilessly beaten, whipped severely with my belt stripped from my waist as I set out to preach the word of God for the recent cross-over night at Rumuozoche.
Everything I had was forcefully taken, except my Big Bible that revealed my identity to them, and yet there was no fear of God in them. I was left marooned in a lonely road, and then I whimpered like a forsaken bird in an uninhabited place.
My soul unconsciously groaned, “Where are you, Lord?”
Then I was reassured that God was with me, and that was why I was not shot dead.
My mind returned to the gun they pointed on me, disorganizing me, making me to moan, “You can take whatever thing I have, please, but spare my life.”
Thereafter, I was left with bruises, and I writhed in pain with no one to help.
“Well, such is life,” my soul yelled, and then what Paul said in the scripture, “If I tell you what I passed through in Antioch” resonated in my mind.
I stood up from where I was lying down. I walked towards my station with many thoughts in my mind, making me forget I had reached my station.
“Grief can distort a man's reasoning,” I uttered when I regained myself.
As I entered in the Church, I saw many members, both old and new faces, who had sat waiting for me to begin the cross-over service. I saw a pail of water, and then used it to wash myself.
“Today, I have washed away my sorrow and grief. I shall no longer be a victim of robbery again,” I prayed.
I came into the church, feeling nothing had happened to me, but one thing which I guessed might disturb my members was that I wore no belt and my blue shirt that was a bit dirty. My coat was battered with dust and sand when I was rolling on the ground as I was being beaten.
I maintained myself quietly. I did not want what happened to me to affect the
program. After the program, I told my members what happened to me as I was coming. They wanted me to call down fire from above to consume the armed robbers. It was then I knew that these were radical Christians who would not cherish any illusion. Even as they wanted me to pray for those men to die, I told them we Christians were set apart from the others, that our prime duty was to pray for the good of our enemies.
After this, something I had never seen during five years of my ministerial function in Rumuozoche began to be made manifest. Mr. Opurum Alili gave me some money to buy fuel, while my church secretary brought me one liter of fuel to put in my motorcycle, since I had not come by my car. The members were all giving God thanks not only that my motorcycle Mate 90 was not snatched from me but also that my life was spared.
I reminded them about my dream I had shared with them in the Sunday morning service before the cross-over night. In the dream, I drove a bus owned by someone else, and I had no driving license. I saw a police officer, and he asked to see my driving license, which I did not have. Since I was unable to provide the driving license, the police officer then flogged me with a small cane he held in his right hand.
As he flogged me, some persons who were begging the police officer to allow them to go, then asked the policeman, “Don't you know that he is a man of God?”
The policeman was very sorry for what he did. He pleaded with me to flog him seven strokes with the same small cane, which I did not. I forgave him.
As the dream was recounted, the members were able to recall the sermon, “Remember Your Identity as Christians,” which I preached to them in the morning service. My biblical reference was taken from 1 Peter 2:10, and 1 Corinthians 1:2.
“Today, it was as if I knew what was going to happen,” I said.
I waited for my brother to return from where he went to with my Kinco motorcycle. I was aware that he went to Umunka Igbodo to play music for them. Umunka villagers were celebrating the cross-over night.
As I waited, and he was not forthcoming, I decided to use the Mate 90 to go for the cross-over night program. When I reached Umuihe, my motorcycle quaked. It sounded like there was no fuel either in the carburetor or in the tank
“Aha, what a problem!” I groaned.
I applied my brake, and the motorcycle stopped rolling. I put on the light of a big torch I borrowed from my little cousin. I discovered that there was no fuel. I placed my mouth firmly on the little opening of the tank, and then released some air that flooded the remaining fuel inside the carburetor.
I then started the motorcycle. Once it reached the middle of my journey, it broke down again, and I did not know what to do again. Time was not on my side. I bent down to see if I could do what I did before that did get it started.
Nothing happened. The motorcycle did not make a sound. There was no fuel.
I looked up to heaven. “Lord, have You brought me out to suffer in the middle of the journey, where no one could be found for help?” I groaned.
I did not know that God was planning for me.
As I looked to my front, I saw a light, and I heard a sound of a Qualink motorcycle roaming towards where I was.
It was then that I knew that I was in a dangerous place.
“You, come here,” they commanded. “Bring everything you have, or I fuck you up with gun."
My body began to shake, and soon I found myself rolling in the sand, being beaten. By then, all that I had possessed been taken away from me, including the big torch I borrowed from my little cousin.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!' I moaned.
The armed robbers left me with my fuel-less motorcycle. I remained unconscious for some minutes. There was no one to rescue me.
When I told this terrible story to my members, they were all sad. I then remembered when I met a man with his rifle during the 2014- 2016 crisis in the land, when there were Dey Well and Dey Gbam. It was at that place I was beaten that I met this man as he hissed out from the bush like a python chased by a hunter.
I melted with fear, but the man saw me as a man of God and he allowed me to go. This happened on a Sunday morning when I was going to church. As I drove, I noticed that the road was lonely, and there was no way I could not go to church. I began to sing a hymn,
"Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand."
Two weeks later I heard that the man had been shot dead by his rivals. I wept for him. He did not harm me, and, I believed, God had intervened, as I made my plea through the hymn.
I declared that a priestly office was not what every man should desire because it was an office reserved for those who God called upon to function. “If you are called, no matter how little you may appear before kings and princes, you are exalted before them, by His grace,” I said.
After the cross-over night, I endured the pains and conducted the New Year Service before leaving for treatment. My message was, “Put off Your Old Sinful Nature.” I backed it up from Ephesians 4:22-25. My major emphasis was on the members shunning lies, stealing, sexual immorality, hatred, and all forms of ungodly manners, and instead embracing Christ as their personal Savior.
After my sermon, Mildred, a daughter of Levi, an elder in the church came to me privately, and was reduced to tears.
“Man of God," she moaned, 'how will I avoid sexual sin? As an unmarried girl, many men would come wanting me as their wife, and before they would pay the bride price, my back must have seen many winters.”
As a literary scholar, I knew what she meant by “seen many winters.” Her visit to me gave me another opportunity to deal with such a sexual sin.
What Paul said in Romans 12:1-2 came to me, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
As I was speaking with her, her responses indicated that she was receiving the Word of God, and I believed that was the time she denounced her sins. She began to study her Bible, and many changes happened in her life. Thereafter, I asked her about her parents and her brother Febian, because I did not see them in the church service.
Mildred then told me that her dad had been taken to a hospital. Though I knew that Levi was a lung cancer patient and had been taken to various clinical centers, no one had told me that his sickness had escalated. I took Mildred to the sanctuary, where we prayed together for her father's health. As I was praying, Mildred felt the anointing; I opened my eyes a little and saw where Mildred was rolling to and fro consecutively. It was then that Mildred received deliverance. I concluded the prayer, asking that God extend His gracious healing power to Levi, and his entire household.
As I entered the hospital, I saw Levi lying in his sick bed, writhing in pain. To him and everyone in the hospital, it was crystal clear that he would soon join his ancestors. He had been into several hospitals, and yet, there was no improvement.
I met him in the General Teaching Hospital. I discovered from my observations that Levi was afraid to be in the hospital, as he saw many patients dying like fowls suffering from a bird flu.
Seeing that most of the sick persons around him had died, he pleaded that his children should take him home, “I can't continue to hear the crying of heart-broken fellows who have lost their loved ones day-after-day,” Levi groaned in pain. “It will be better for me to breathe my last in my home than in any other place.”
I wept heartily as I saw Levi in such a condition. I groaned, “Levi, may the Lord be with you.”
My mind gently whispered to me; immediately Levi wrinkled his face, and scratched his wretched skins with his right hand, seeming to ask me that if God is with him, why must he suffer all this terrible sickness?
This I thought, but I did not know if it was really what Levi was having in mind but could not say it out.
Levi's excruciating pain and grief made me to forget about taking my treatment for the beating I received from those irresponsible armed robbers. I then began to pray for the sick ones in the hospital. I wept as I saw many of them with no hope of survival.
“The harvest is great, but laborers are few,” I commented.
There were some of them who were given food through their nostrils, and those breathing through oxygen tubes or masks. As I was praying, I was also preaching to them for repentance.
There was one lady who did not allow me to pray for her. She said her church did not allow a non-member to pray for them. This lady was on oxygen until her friends visited her. As her friends were consoling her, one of them did not know that he placed his legs on the pipe that had been supplying her air. Even though the lady wrote a desperate note to the young man to remove his legs from the pipe, he did not read it, and the lady gradually ebbed away.
Straightaway, a loud cry was heard. This loud cry could melt and break weary hearts. I looked at Adanta, Levi's wife, and then realized that her mind had flown to a far distance.
We were there when Dr. Smart and his nurses carried the poor lady away.
“When death is beginning to take away one's neighbor, one should get ready to die, because he must be the next to die,” Adanta moaned as she looked at Levi's face.
When I thought about the young lady who had just died, I thought about the fate of so-called Christians with different beliefs that could not let them come into oneness, togetherness, and loving one another.
“How can a Christian abhor a fellow Christian and claim that he is perfect? It goes against our religion,” I said.
Levi had remained in the hospital for three months, but there was no money to give to Dr. Smart to buy drugs needed to sustain Levi's life. Before Levi fell sick, he had helped his cousin, Dominic, whose parents died when he was two years old leaving him orphan, to obtain a visa to travel to America. This help had made Levi bankrupt, hoping that Dominic would repay all the expenses Levi made when Dominic got settled in America.
Adanta had left with no money to care for her husband. She had gone to many places to borrow money despite the little amount the church was able to provide for her. No one could lend her money.
“If you are broke, and all the loved ones fail to help you out from your terrible situation, hell fire is close to your destination', Adanta moaned.
I thought about what she said. She was right, because some problems were like hell fire, from which only God could come to the rescue.
“If difficult situations receive no solutions, they are capable of drowning a soul into the pit of hell,” I said.
Adanta, hoping to receive help from her husband's kinsman, Rodwell, who worked in a Shell, was disappointed.
“Unless you allow me to uncover your feet, I can't release my hard-earned money to help your disgusting husband,” Rodwell yelled. “How do you expect me to act like an uncircumcised Christian?”
“Help me and your brother. He is dying in the hospital,” Adanta pleaded.
This atrocity, having Adanta give her body to Rodwell, was as evil as one sleeping with a dog. Instead of begging people again for help, Adanta then resorted to selling some of her husband's property in order to get one million naira to deposit for the treatment of her husband. She sold three pieces of flat Samsung plasma televisions, two refrigerators, a generator, and a car – a Nissan Almera SE. All her sales did not amount to one million naira, and yet she needed more, #500,000.00.
Thereafter, Adanta returned to the hospital, and she saw that her husband's health was rapidly deteriorating. She wept bitterly. Many thoughts came into her mind to ensure that her husband was revived.
“I need to do something for my husband to live,” she declared, “whatever it may cost me. I’d rather risk my life than to stay idle while my husband ebbs away.”
Adanta's mind roamed in solitude because her husband's illness had gotten worse. It devastated her. She then went to ask Rodwell for a favour. Adanta met him in his sitting room, where he was watching a television.
She stooped down in tears to beg Mr. Rodwell for favor, “Please help me and your brother who has been battered by illness. You know that lung cancer is an acute disease that causes death, and the treatment requires a lot of money which I cannot afford to provide."
Adanta sighed, “Whatever he might have done to you, I appeal to you for forgiveness. Please, I don't want to be a widow now, for I have no one to look after me.”
Mr. Rodwell allowed Adanta to express all her woes, and then asked her, “Madam, can you recall what I told you last?” Rodwell queried, “If it is not by the reason of what we discussed few days ago that you came here, you better leave my house. Have you made up of your mind?”
Adanta in tears nodded her head for approval, and Mr. Rodwell opened his chamber and took Adanta in. Later, Adanta came out with the sum of #500,000.00. Though she could be happy that she had completely gotten the amount the doctor asked her to provide, such happiness was sullied by the guilt about what she had done to get the money. She had betrayed her marriage vow.
One day as I walked through one street, I noticed that many people especially strangers lived in that area. I came to one shop owned by a Calabar woman. I saw Rodwell, though I did not know it to be he, as I was newly posted to the place. I overheard him talking to the Calabar woman and few people around there that he had in the matter of an amorous deed eaten deeply to the fabric of Adanta's ass. This statement wounded my soul, and I knew that it had tarnished the reputation of Adanta as a lay reader in the church.
I confronted him, “Brother, do you know that that woman you mentioned as she passed by is a man's wife? Why must you make a mockery of her?”
“Gentleman or man of God,” Rodwell called me, “I don't know what to call you, but it seems that you are a man of God: that woman betrayed her marriage vow, which every church preaches against.”
I understood what he meant, but I also asked him to ask for forgiveness. As I walked away, I remembered that if the church heard about this, Adanta would be suspended. How will this be when no one caught them red-handed apart from Rodwell, who committed the crime with her? I asked myself.
Either Rodwell was assassinating Adanta's character or he was saying the truth in a disdainful manner. All these thoughts weighed me down emotionally. I discarded the thought, pending when someone else would report officially that Adanta had sold her marriage right.
I then returned to the hospital to see how Levi was faring. I saw Adanta sitting beside her husband in the sick bed, tears rolled down her cheeks; many patients in the hospital who saw her thought that she was grieved because of her husband's sickness. That thought wasn't the case. Adanta's mind soared like an eagle in the sky reminiscing what she did with her body before she was able to deposit the money the doctor requested for Levi's treatment. Looking at Adanta, it was clear that her body and soul had been disengaged. She felt alone, like no one was around watching all that was happening to her. She did not even notice my presence in the hospital.
I realized Adanta's agony of mind was not only caused by the husband's sickness, but also by the betrayal of her wedding vows. The guilt of sin was tormenting her. Though without telling anyone what she did, I knew that she was pleading to God for forgiveness.
At this time, I remembered what a non-Christian said about why he chose not to be a Christian. He said he did not like the attitude of so-called Christians towards dying persons. He gave as his example that a Christian would undergo plastic surgery and the transplanting of kidney to a dying man even if it was God's will for the person to die. I also reasoned with him to some extent. But I told him that God's will must always be done, even if after all assistance rendered and the patient still died, that was God's will.
“God's will means doing good even if the good turns to negative consequences,” I maintained.
As soon as I remembered what Adanta did, the thought of that atheist flashed in mind. "Really, a strong Christian is known at hard times, when a tempest strikes, trials come and troubles rise like a raging sea,” I stated.
I then turned to Adanta and yelled, “Adanta, may the Lord of peace see you through.”
Adanta turned her face, and said, “Amen,” as she saw me.
She later bent her face to the floor, in tears, and groaned, “Please, remember me in your prayers.”
“Take heart. I always do,” I responded.
After some minutes, Levi suddenly woke up from sleep. He coughed out phlegm and blood, breathing faster than before. Adanta raised a sad voice, calling the doctor. The doctor rushed like surging water, along with his nurses. He saw Levi writhing in pain and persistently coughing.
The doctor became annoyed; he had warned Levi before to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, and snorting snuff. No one knew that Levi came to the hospital with some packets of cigarettes and a big box full of snuff. No one would know that he smoked or snuffed. I was not aware; he had never worshiped with me during the three months since I came to this place.
I had heard from members that Levi wasn't a serious church member. When they said he was not, I did not believe them because some churches are fond of saying that each time a member was not healthy and needed their assistance. They even wanted to persuade me that if Levi died, it was none of the church’s business to bury him. All of them deserted him.
I became a lonely voice consoling Levi and his family. The little money I gave to him in the name of the church for his treatment was from my pocket. So, I did everything that would make him know that the church and God loved him. For me to hear from the doctor warning Levi to stop smoking and from others confirming that Levi was not a repented soul, I was determined that I must try my best to preach for him, and God would help to win his soul to Christ.
Whenever Levi wanted to defecate, he would stay long in the toilet, and lighted up his cigarette, and smoke, and then snorted his snuff in his nostrils. He did it secretly, and Adanta thought that this sickness would make her husband stop smoking and drinking.
Now the sickness had badly affected his lungs. “Levi, why must you harm yourself by being addicted to smoking?” The doctor queried, “Don't you know that snuff contains chemical elements that cause cancers? Intake of snuff can result to several forms of cancers including esophageal cancers, oral cancers and pancreatic cancers, and would in fact cause a high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. You have been diagnosed of lung cancer, and you refuse to quit from smoking and snorting of snuff. Have you seen what you have caused yourself now? It was what you did few hours now that resulted to this cough, and now dark thick blood is flooding from your nostrils,” Dr. Smart said and grimaced.
Levi was speechless, as the nurses used a small white towel soaked with warmth water to clean his nose and body.
Adanta pleaded with the doctor to help save her husband. "Sir, do whatever you can to save his life, for his life is entrusted to you. Since we have known most of the causes of his ailment, we can strive to make out a solution to his problems," Adanta moaned.
"Madam," Dr. Smart called, "Your husband is suffering from drug addiction which has resulted to lung cancer, and now it has ruined most of his delicate parts of his body system. You can see the phlegm of blood he coughed out," the doctor said, and he saw that Adanta had been reduced to tears.
Dr. Smart then brought a stethoscope to measure the respiratory movements of Levi's chest and abdomen. After a careful scrutiny, he shook his head, believing that Levi would not live long. Yet this was what he must keep Adanta from knowing, it being not medically advisable for doctors to tell patients with appalling and deteriorating health that they would die. Doctors are enjoined to say a few words that would assure them that they would be well again.
When we saw the doctor shaking his head, we knew that Levi would not survive the sickness. Tears streamed down our cheeks, and we wailed. Mildred and Fabian, who just arrived in the hospital to see their dad, from a little distance sighted us wailing, and then they began to weep as well, thinking that Levi had finally died.
This was what other nearby patients thought about as they heard our wailing voices, and so, they began to say farewell to Levi. "No one prays for death to come, but now it is quite obvious that we are the next to die," said the patients, "every day we hear people crying and weeping for the loss of their loved ones. At times, we begin to ask ourselves whether our sickness is incurable, or doctors are not able to save lives. Now the poor man has died, and gone to where there is no sorrow nor pains. Adieu, and we shall soon meet again if the medicine and vaccine of the doctors fail to revive us. We have determined to die, but death is not forthcoming; that is why we are still living, and so we are prisoners of hope. We hope for death or life. The news that people await to hear from us is we come out from this place either alive or dead. We are the prisoners of hope, abandoned by the living, but not forsaken by God, rejected by the living, but chosen by God to preach the gospel of grief to those who have never known pain nor sorrow.”
While Fabian sat in intense grief at the right side of his father, his younger sister, Mildred, sat by the left with her eyes heavily saddened. The grief in their hearts could not allow them to utter a word. Apparently, they believed that their dad would not survive the sickness, even as they gazed steadily at him.
Levi coughed again, and Adanta brought an empty bucket so Levi could spit the phlegm into. It was not quite long before she threw out what Levi coughed.
I then called Fabian's attention for my revelation for him. I told him that despite the health challenges of his father, he should get a woman for his father to bless his wedlock; if not, his life would be miserable. Adanta glued her gaze on me, and then remembered the earlier prophecy spoken on Fabian by a priest about what I just said. The priest had ministered in the church for many years before I came. And now the same prophecy had re-occurred.
At this time, Fabian's curiosity was set ablaze, and he had an internal crisis within his mind.
Levi looked at him and saw that Fabian was no longer at ease. He mustered his strength, and then began to talk to his children. I was listening, too, and his children thought that he was making his last speech. "You know that I am the only child of my parents, and God has blessed me by giving you to me," said Levi, "if I join my ancestors, let peace continue to reign in my family. Mildred, my daughter, I warn you for the last time to disengage yourself from that sociopath -- that young man with personality disorder, who drinks, and smokes, who lacks the sense of moral responsibility and who has asked your hand in marriage. Though he may be rich, driving cars, and might have built many mansions, they are not what it takes to be a good husband. A smoker does not make a good husband. Those who produced cigarettes say, ‘smokers are liable to die young.’ I was surprised to see one medical doctor here smoking, but they keep telling people that smoking of marijuana, India hemp or intake of hard drugs is harmful to the body. Since I came in to this hospital, I have been smoking with him, but I'm the only person dying of it. Now, O, you Mildred, I wouldn't be happy to see you marry that man, because I don't want you to be a widow in your early age. Fabian, do what you can to untangle the man's love from your sister."
Levi coughed, and dark, thick blood flowed out of his throat, which he spat into the bucket kept beside him. Dr. Smart gave Fabian a sign, and Fabian followed him to his office. He told Fabian about the apparent condition of his father, and then with deep sorrow in the heart, he said they would not continue to keep Levi in the hospital; the cancer had eaten up his lungs.
"Young man, your father has but ten days to live," said Dr. Smart. "As a family friend, I've tried my best to ensure your father is revived, but to my greatest surprise, the sickness has gone beyond medical remedy. My advice for you is to carry back your father home, and take him to his local church for the church to pray for him after confessing his sins.”
"Sir, is there no other thing to do to save his life?" Fabian cried.
"What I told you is the best thing your father can do to regain his life in heaven. Let him confess his sins and repent. God will restore his life. Sickness reminds man the impending doom of death, and draws man closer to his Creator. It is a preparatory stage to cross to another realm of life. He who fails to repent in his sick bed has failed to secure a place in heaven," Dr. Smart advised.
We waited until Fabian came back. I looked at him, and got a bit of the details about how Levi would be discharged. I then asked Fabian to hire a taxi to carry his dad.
Fabian and Mildred hired a taxi to convey their father back home. When the taxi driver saw Levi lying down, he retorted that his car was not an ambulance that carried dead bodies. To him Levi was already dead, and he was about to leave before Adanta knelt down, pleading to him that her husband was not yet dead. She cried for mercy until the taxi driver agreed to carry Levi.
Before leaving the hospital, Levi lamented, "I know it will be like this. When a sick man leaves from a hospital uncured, it means he should go home and die in peace. All hope is not lost, for my spirit whispers to me that I will not die by this sickness. Even if I die, I have the hope of seeing my God though the journey bear me too far, and I will cross the gate to see He Who judges fairly".
I held Levi by the hands, with the help of Fabian. We walked a route where other patients would not see us, though they would feel our absence when they heard no more of our voices and weeping. Levi entered the taxi, and the car zoomed off.
Dr. Smart wept bitterly for his friend, Levi. He began to put Levi's odds and ends into his shoes, then shook his head.