Pastor Thomas Olaide looked over his sermon one last time as the worship team was on the penultimate song. He never did this, he believed in preachers fully engaged during all aspects of worship but today was different. He wasn’t prepared, neither was he ready to preach but he had to. It had been a busy fortnight for the man of God.
Last weekend, he was somewhere on the tiny island of Seychelles preaching for a dear friend. It was beautiful but tiring with 2 sermons each day for a five-day conference. Then there was another conference where he spoke for two days in South Africa; while in Durban, he got an invite to attend the grand opening of a new auditorium from a colleague who had planted a church in Accra, he travelled to celebrate God’s goodness and stayed an extra three days to rest and finish the final chapters of a book that was four months late. Pastor Thomas was back in Lagos Saturday morning and was still tired, only grateful to be reunited with his wife and four children. He did not want to do a Sunday sermon.
“C’mon Pastor, you have to finish the ‘Love your Neighbour’ series. It’s been great for the audience even outside of church, massive podcast downloads and great TV ratings. This last sermon would be great content.” One of his associates counseled. His publicist thought the same. A Christian television network executive in the US sent the church office an email after he had seen a sermon from the series and wanted to find out if Destiny Encounter, his television programme could feature on their network, the ‘Love Your Neighbour’ series would be the flagship.
Pastor Thomas agreed to preach the final sermon of the series that Sunday. Glory Tabernacle was one of Lagos’ rising churches with a network of church plants in growing suburbs and a main sanctuary in Idimu, one of the outskirts of the city, which technically made the popularity of the church both divine and dramatic at the same time.
Pastor Olaide chose to preach at the first service of Glory Tabernacle Lekki , the latest church plant of the ministry. He knew that even though this particular church recorded two thousand in the main service, less than a thousand people usually showed up for the 7am service. He would use the service to ‘warm up’ then preach at the main service, the version which would be suitable for TV and online streaming.
The church, although just a tent, was very beautiful to behold. With at least 20 years of ministry experience, the Lekki church plant was very carefully planned. Everyone knew that the Lekki church was the future headquarters of the church even though the leadership had not announced such plans. They did not quench the rumours either.
The worship leader reeled song after song, and the work force was well dressed. A protocol officer led Pastor Laide from his vehicle which had stopped right in front of the auditorium.
“Eagle is entering the auditorium now, do we have a clear for the pulpit? 7 minutes…? No way….tell the worship team it’s a wrap…Thank you….over and out….” The tall protocol officer spoke into a microphone attached to an ear-piece, he was damn serious. Pastor Olaide was pleased, he loved the excellent and dutiful approach with which these ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ approached serving at Glory Tabernacle.
They arrived inside the auditorium from the side to settle in the reserved seating area for ministers . The interior was well decorated with state-of-the-art sitting and lighting. The video screens across the auditorium and the top-notch worship band looked sweet with their well-laundered suits and ties. They wrapped up singing way-maker with the congregation and once the the song was over, everyone applauded. In a split second, a man went to the pulpit.
“It’s so great to have pastor worshipping with us in this service. Ladies and Gentlemen, Please put your hands together and give a ‘Glory Tabernacle Lekki church’ welcome to our father in The Lord, Pastor Thomas Olaide…” Minister Malvin Okon’s baritone voice jolted Pastor Laide to reality, as he quickly grabbed his tablet and walked to the pulpit.
He silently looked over the crowd of four-hundred once there and another thunderous round of applause followed. Many stood to their feet to give a standing ovation.
“Isn’t Jesus good?” He loved that as an ice-breaker especially when he said it with that signature smile of his that had graced programme flyers, newspapers and social media pages.
“Let us pray….Father we come to a moment of your word….” Gbam! Gbam!! There was a loud noise and a few murmurs, they appeared to be coming from outside. “….we pray that you open this word………..” the noise was louder this time. There was an explosion and screams filled the air.
In less than 30 seconds, there was pandemonium in the auditorium. A protocol tried to shield Pastor Laide but a gunshot hit the man in the chest and he fell lifeless right at the pastor’s feet.
The pastor could not believe what was happening. “What’s going on?” He shouted looking in the direction of Minister Okon, and as Okon tried to respond he was hit. Now the screams were deafening as a stampede was now in the auditorium, ushers ran alongside the congregation, and for the first time the small size of the doors were a problem as everyone fought for the door. Others aimed for the windows, chairs were being broken and people were stepping on each other.
He could hardly believe his eyes. Fear gripped him as he managed to begin speaking in tongues. Should he run? Lanre his Personal Assistant of five years was coming in his direction. Pastor Olaide shouted: “Lanre stay where you are…..Don’t come just stay…………”
Lanre couldn’t understand the gestures from Pastor Olaide. As he got closer, he was hit in the neck. And he fell writhing in pain.
The screams were loud and the pandemonium became a stampede. Fear gripped the heart of many including Pastor Olaide’s as men dressed in black tee-shirts over combat trousers and boots entered the auditorium from different entrances. They used their guns to hit the congregants who were trying to escape and many ran back into the auditorium. They hushed the people by shooting sporadically into the air to command attention, then a man who appeared to be the leader ordered everyone to lie down on the floor.
A bigger man with an AK-47 strapped to his chest and shades across his eyes emerged. The room was now quiet except for a few sobs which were quite audible.
“Pastor Thomas Laide…..it’s good to see you…in the flesh!!! You look shorter than on television!” The man laughed at his own joke. His domineering figure was intimidating, as he moved, Pastor Laide saw a knife in his waist and his blood went cold.
The pastor cringed and then gathered all the courage left in him. “What do you want?”
“I came to worship. Surely the house of God is open to everyone. Sinners and saints….Isn’t that what you guys preach?”
“Not after you’ve shot and killed people, scared others and disturbed the peace and sanity of this church.”
The big man sat on a chair on the first row, and was quiet for a moment. “Well Jesus is the prince of peace…isn’t he? And surely he has all the power…so how could we hijack the peace? Yes we hijacked the liturgy but not the peace. C’mon Pastor….let’s have church….preach your sermon…Don’t be shy.” The dry laugh was annoying.
All across the auditorium were men with guns at different places, and Pastor Laide had not been this terrified in a very long time. God what’s going on? Surely the one who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps?
His eyes met with that of a heavily pregnant woman in a corner sobbing uncontrollably. There was a little child close to the pregnant woman holding his mother tight. Immediately he was heartbroken even further. “I’ll preach…but you’ve got to let the people go….”
“Let the people go?! Am I Pharaoh? Well it won’t be church anymore if all the people left. Aren’t you a mega-church pastor? You speak to at least 25,000 each week…..so why do you want an empty church?”
“Well where there are two or three gathered in God’s name, he is there…” Pastor Thomas Laide replied. Where was the courage coming from?
“Oh fair enough I will let some people go halfway through your sermon.”
Pastor Thomas Laide knew that if he was going to make it alive he had no option but to play along. His shirt was soaked with sweat from fear-laden perspiration. What would he preach? He wondered. Once finally on the stage he put his hand on the pulpit he had begun to preach from about forty minutes ago.
He opened his notebook and wondered what he would say or what was most appropriate for the ‘occasion’.
“Look man of God we haven’t got all day….Preach something.” The big man jeered.
Pastor Thomas closed his eyes for a second and opened them. And he knew that he was about to preach the hardest sermon in his twenty-something years in ministry.
“Lord give your servant utterance and open this word to us in these moments in Jesus’ name.”
A loud “amen” rang from the front row and from other parts from the auditorium, there were a few chuckles too from the men-in-black.
“Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! People of God, this won’t be a long sermon but an appealing one: you must be born again! Every man, woman, boy, girl…everyone born of Adam is a sinner! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that all born of Adam will die, but all in Christ will be made alive. Judgment is coming upon this world, everything in this world will pass away one day but only one thing can save – salvation in Jesus Christ. Acts chapter number four and verse twelve tells us that salvation is found in no one else and there is no name given to us under heaven by which we must be saved apart from the name of Jesus….”
“STOP!!!!!!” the big man shouted! The auditorium went immediately silent! “Bravo! That’s impressive…” He now applauded sarcastically as he rose up from his seat and now paced back and forth in the space between the altar and the first row. “I wish you preach these kind of sermons more often….but you don’t….you’ll never try this.” The big man’s voice was now quieter and softer as though he were making an appeal.
“……Thank you but can we at least finish the sermon?….You asked me to preach because you want to hear God’s word, don’t you?……..” The pastor said hoping to be obliged.
“Finish so that what will happen? So you give an altar call and the message will so touch us that my men and me will come before this altar kneel and cry and say the prayer? Then right after we will surrender our guns and the police will take us away?” The big man laughed aloud….his men joined. “Not today…that’s not going to happen. Save this one for your crusades…if you ever do them cos pastors like you are too ‘cool’ to do such things. There’s no money there so you don’t do that.”
“God calls us to go everywhere with the gospel.” The pastor shot back.
“Well you have churches in Lagos and South Africa, there’s a Port Harcourt church and a growing congregation in Abuja….you have presence in four places….is that how far the gospel goes?”
“I serve where I have been graciously planted.”
“Oh is that right? It seems to me that your church is located in very economically viable places positioned to meet a certain class of people who can sustain your idea of church both sociologically and financially.”
The sobs from the congregation left was now thinning out as the two men faced each other. Pastor Thomas wondered what this was about, it was the farthest thing from a robbery, neither was it an assassination. The leader seemed in no hurry to rob, kill or maim, it was as though the conversation they were now having was important.
“Well Mister…..you are entitled to your opinion.”
“My opinion….is correct and you know it pastor. Just look at you and your prosperity messages, the prophetic declarations you offer in a cozy atmosphere…..the words of wisdom and motivation which your members cling on to for their dear lives…..is there any life in these things?”
“I beg your pardon, I preach the gospel! The gospel is my message…..” It was now the pastor’s turn to raise his voice!
“What gospel? The gospel of increase without compassion, financial gain over integrity, the ‘blessing’ over unrighteous living….motivation and false hope…….? Sir your gospel is a fraud. This is a very diluted version of Christianity….”
One of the gunmen rushed quickly to tell the big man something in his ears. He nodded and responded quietly with a whisper. Pastor Olaide wondered what the man’s problem was. However, for the first time in a long time, something in his heart resonated with the attacker’s perspective. Had he been wrong all along?
“As we were saying pastor….”
“Jesus is my message. What I preach is all in here.” Pastor Thomas lifted a copy of The Bible for emphasis.
“…If you say so pastor….if you say so…But I am here because I am hurting….” He paused weighing his next words carefully. “………….You had an opportunity to change my life and all this dead and injured people would have been unharmed, but you did not….I wish you did…” his voice began to break, yet it was emphatic, anger-laden, and loud.
“How so?” Pastor Thomas’ mouth suddenly went dry and a cold sweat appeared on his forehead.
The big man walked close to the altar and rested his palms on the platform once he got very close.
“I was in prison for five years. Agodi prisons in Ibadan for two then transferred to Kuje for another two and then Onitsha to serve for a year. Pastor, I saw Christians….men and women with transformed lives. I knew some of them before they had become Christians and I know they truly changed. One of them would tell me often in my local dialect “Jesus touched my life, I am brand new and now I want nothing else than to tell everyone how good this Jesus is because he can touch you too.” I heard those words every day for two years in Agodi. These men had no fine church buildings or smooth talking preachers, they had The Bible and each other and their faith was authentic. They were not perfect but their growing faith was evident…..”
The pastor nodded. “That’s good…that’s commendable. That’s the power of the gospel”
“Let. Me. Finish…….See, here’s my confusion….if those guys had the gospel and it did what it did in them and I and other inmates could see changes, how come your gospel did not bring any changes to your people so close to me?” The attacker banged his strong hands on the wooden platform but the impact was absorbed by the beautiful rug covering the wood.
“What do you mean?”
The big man laughed sarcastically and suddenly stopped. He silently swore, dropped his eyes for a second, and then lifted them, his hands gesticulating in sync to emphasize his words:
“The man who supplied me guns for my operations before I went to prison was a minister in your church. He sold guns to me and my men and he knew everything about what we did with the guns. If I remember correctly this man even gave us a tip-off on potential people and places to attack and we shared the spoils with him. Yes pastor, one of your spiritual sons…close to you!!! I’m not done. Then there was Trish my girlfriend who was faithful to your church, served as an usher in your headquarters for as long as ever. I loved Trish….for 6 months Trish lived with me. From my house, she went to your church and served your ‘God’, had your books, tapes, devotionals, stickers, paid her tithe, sowed her seeds, put money in the offering….she knew what I did yet she never confronted me, neither did she chastise me. She never shared the gospel with me….She said nothing…..If she did I would have listened, if her life was attractive I could have left it all…how does the same ‘gospel’ transform one group yet leave the other even worse off.. Trish instead was satisfied with making outrageous financial demands and reassuring me that the works of my hands were blessed because she was in my life!”
“I’m sorry for….my heart goes out to you but even when the children of God gathered to present themselves before The LORD, Satan was among them… I cannot be held responsible….”
“Oh you can pastor, you f…king can!!! You are the shepherd. You should care for the flock. People like you make me angry…you know why? Cos the gospel has a bad name with too many of your lot….”
“Shadow, make we dey go abeg….” Said the guy who had come to the big man before. Sirens could be heard faintly from a distance. The gunmen began to emerge from their various positions as each headed for the closest exit.
The big man cocked the rifle in his hand and began to shoot non-stop shooting at anything and everything in his sight as he made for a side door to his right. Screams and sights of blood did not deter him; not even Pastor Thomas’ shouts of plea could make him do otherwise.
Once he reached the door, he looked back at Pastor Thomas who was on his knees with tears in his eyes and his clothing stained with blood. The big man pointed the gun in the pastor’s direction and fired three shots, two reduced the pulpit into clutters of wood and the last hit Pastor Laide’s arm.
The gunmen disappeared.
Pastor Thomas Olaide fell to the floor in acute pain. He screamed again and again with his eyes shut. He felt sick in his stomach. He opened his eyes to look at his wounded arm….NO BLOOD….NO WOUND…NOTHING! He wondered why his arm wasn’t hurting or bleeding….!
He looked at his surroundings and noticed he was in his undergarments lying on the floor of his bedroom, the digital clock above him read 5:38. The television was semi-loud with a news bulletin being read on Channels Television. Pastor Thomas Laide sat up confused…he was so sure about what had happened a few moments before. His tears were real though and his heart was still heart broken.
He was glad it was a dream, yet he couldn’t stop sobbing!
*The above is purely a product of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, organizations or circumstances is only a coincidence and highly unintentional.