Ibinabo gave her life to Christ because of Chemistry. Such a wretched subject. She had failed it seven times and since her pastor had made it known to the church that seven was a spiritually significant number (so emphasized that there were seven speakers in the church, seven seats in a row, seven ushers, seven microphone stands for backup singers, seven windows), the girl receded, conceded and decided to simply try this Jesus. Perhaps his good spirit would enter head and help her understand thermodynamics and equilibrium laws, all those useless equations shifting to the left and right due to gibberish scientific factors. Or more realistic, she felt the spirit would broaden the frames of her mind, that she would simply roll her large eyes over the fat disgusting textbooks and Glory – the exclamation of the saints – all the useless chemistry would enter her head and she would move from 39% to 99%. Or possibly, angels could mark scripts. Hadn’t the pastor said he once submitted a blank sheet during a difficult professional exam, eventually scoring 70%?
Ibinabo had not forgotten to kneel down while saying the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ This was not a joke – it involved God and Chemistry – two heavy mysterious identities. Although guilt had propelled her to spit the same prayer about ten times previously, Ibinabo walked down the aisle and gave her life to Christ, hoping it would be her last time, hoping she would last for two weeks.
Ibinabo filled her throat with the highest amount of godly sorrow she had ever summoned in her lifetime. Though she was not sure if it was guilt, the fear of hell or Chemistry pushing her to do it, she fell flat and wept. If she could not ask her father for torchlight or earrings without kneeling and politely pleading with the perfect recipe of words, was it now this Jesus she won’t do it for? This Jesus she had disturbed ten times for the same thing. As Ibinabo prayed, she ensured she felt tears pricking her ungodly eye and sweat trickling down her filthy back. Pastor, prayer warrior, was a Chemistry man. He often said that God was a powerful catalyst who did not affect human systems who faked equilibrium but altered the rate of any spiritual reaction. More interesting, he claimed God rewarded they who diligently produced fluids – sweat, tears and the likes – while in arduous prayers and service. You could not be a true worshipper without crying. You could not claim to be a prayer warrior without sweat. You dare not minister without oil.
Ah, his controversial ministry was one of oil. Pastor D had once breathed upon dozens of bottles of oil. He claimed it was a special oil that inhibited all form of demonic opposition. It was given to only those who paid tithes and offering regularly. The oil yielded all kinds of strange testimonies. Some students poured this oil on their textbooks or in bags of mean teachers and lecturers. They received a fresh string of A’s from heaven. In the month of March, a group of final year high school students jumped with glee on the stage. They testified of how they carried this oil to the CBT centre for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exams. When their computers unluckily went off, they sprinkled this oil and mimicked the pastor’s declarations and oh glory, they screeched, the computers came back on. Shap shap, as if it had been a mere blink. They did not mention how they scored below 200 out of 400.
Immediately after their testimony, Pastor D raised his shoulders haughtily and said God was oil, not love. He went further, reiterating that anyone who considered him a derailing minister going down the path of heresy was free to leave. How many of those churches that made lot of noise about proper doctrines had come as far as him?
A girl who owed church dues and the four offerings was denied her chance of sharing a testimony of how despite her lack of the special oil, she cried to God when her aunt had delivery complications and He answered. The ushers refused to let her climb the stage for there were rules, mostly influenced by the senior pastor’s twisted sense of chemistry. The senior pastor had produced a seven-page (yes, it had to be seven pages for it was too sacred) pamphlet on rules and guidelines for his controversial church, Glorious International Demonic Infestation Breaking Assembly (GIDIBA). One of the rules clearly stated how congregants who owed one of the four offerings were not to climb the stage and testify or sing. Yes, it was regarded as owing, as a debt. Dropping an offering envelope was a compulsory sacred contract to be signed by congregants. Names were to be included. Registered members were to write their names in the order in which they registered, offering number included. Despite several complains from the head of ushers, a woman who had a permanent disgusting pout on her face, always forgetting to brush on Sunday mornings; Pastor insisted the database for every member’s financial donations be meticulously updated.
Congregants who did not drop offering thrice in a row were added to the debtors list and had a special section of the church where they sat, somewhere close to the seventh window. Ushers were careful never to make mistakes. There were three thousand members and three kinds of offering, each with different envelopes. There was Salt Offering, Water Offering and Fire Offering also known as Sulphur Offering. Each too sacred not to capitalize, each name influenced by the chemically inclined pastor Ibinabo respected. According to the rule book of the GIDIBA, Water Offering signified percolation, greatness and global recognition for water was a universal solvent and such offering made one universal. There was a minimum amount to be dropped into this special envelope: ten thousand naira. Anyone who dared to pick the envelope and drop below that amount was bound to drown in life, the rulebook claimed.
The Salt Offering was the only kind of offering whose envelopes were full of dirty small denominations. Salt Offering was the basic offering required according to the rulebook. According to Pastor D, fondly called The Sent, it was named salt offering because all members of the GIDIBA were the salt of the world. Regarded as foundational and general, the envelope for it was white. It was comfortable for members who were not so financially buoyant; any amount could be dropped in it. The Fire Offering, like the Water Offering, was for those who wanted something very special from God: anointing and the supernatural. There was a minimum amount to be dropped in the amber-colored envelope: five thousand naira.
With time, loyal members who normally dropped Salt Offering began to feel dejected and low-ranked each time they raised their envelopes in the air for blessing (this was compulsory according to the rule book). As they watched their friends drop the ultimate offering, the Water Offering, the most beautiful, colored ocean-blue; these people challenged themselves to step up, dropping the minimum amount of ten thousand into the blue envelope and raising it in the air with pride.
Of course, the GIDIBA lost members and gained ground on news and gossip blogs because of these. Pastor D’s reaction remained the same however: my church is a special church, special churches are the most criticized and it is not by force to come. Strangely, The Sent, despite his controversial doctrines and administration, continued to attract thousands of people. Though uncomfortable with some of his stupid beliefs and utterances, the crowd, including some professors who had gone to Harvard and Yale, stuck to him because he was a man of miraculous solutions. Nobody cared to know he had been a laid off Chemistry teacher who approached a financially buoyant man to set up a church as business. This advisor earned so much interest within ten years that he quit his job at an oil company. Nobody cared to know if The Sent was truly sent, majority of the crowd did not read the Bible until Sundays when The Sent read verses twisted to his foolish opinions.
Politicians knelt before him whenever elections were close, dropping fat cheques into the Water and Sulphur Offering envelopes. Business moguls considered him more reliable than critical stockbrokers and financial advisors. Market women sold their wares to him and received instant increase in sales. Students visited him and began to miraculously know answers to questions they had never seen or heard of. Unemployed people received strange alerts and offers after shaking hands with him. Those who were not lucky enough to enjoy contact with him were feverish believers in his oil. They drank it, cooked with it, prayed with it, creamed themselves with it. Ibinabo was one of them.
As a wise businessman, Pastor D ensured members who gave the Water Offering or paid tithes were given free food after service. Large, sumptuous plates. The most consistent could request for interest-free loans, a greater number were privileged to enjoy free holy oil and skip the counseling queue. On the day Ibinabo gave her life to Christ, her mother had reviewed all the rules of the GIDIBA and a sudden rage twisted her insides. She promised herself she would leave the stupid Pastor D and his slaves.
A few months after, Ibinabo cried when her mother revealed they were changing churches. She had noticed that since the most recent time she gave her life to Christ and secretly bought the holy oil with which she anointed her Chemistry textbooks, she had been slowly improving in Chemistry. She did acknowledge the new private tutor she had was awesome but preferred to believe it was the oil responsible.
“Keep pouring oil on your Chemistry textbook. Rubbish girl!”
Ibinabo’s mother located the sacred bottle and flung it in the air, anger crisscrossing her small frame.
“Mummy why are you throwing God away?”
“I will throw you away o,” the middle-aged woman hissed, “Eh you think God is in this oil? Watch me pour it. Watch me! Brainwashed girl!”
Ibinabo began to cry for her leaking God, her screeching blending into the night’s music. She fasted for two weeks, grief eating her.
to be continued next week.
© Ife Olatona