ANOTHER CHURCH WAS opened at my street today. Maybe not exactly today, but at least sometime this week. It would be the fourth church to be opened on my street. On our way out, my sister and I peeped in to survey the population as we always do.
It was just like the three others that had been erected in the last eight months. It was held by several wooden poles and a flimsy roof. A red tarpaulin covered the sides while the floor was uncemented but well swept. There was no pulpit but there was a simple stand, a place where the preacher could place his Bible while he gyrated in the spirit.
My sister and I threw a peek into the church and then we exchanged bemused glances. She smirked.
“He is the only one in the church,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied. “Maybe he isn’t married yet.”
The other church which was closer to our house had a pastor who was married with two daughters. The wife and the daughters were the sole members of the church, but that did not prevent the man from buying a massive sound system and two large speakers, one of which faced the road while the other faced our window. My father had complained several times to the Man of God but the racket continued.
My father is an imperious man, but even he was reluctant to take drastic action because he was conflicted between having a good night sleep every Friday and persecuting a man who may have been called by God himself. My sister and I had no such conflicts. In our mind, only a witch doesn’t allow other people to sleep in peace.
“He does look stupid, dancing like that all by himself,” said my sister.
“He’s just starting,” I told her.
“But he looks stupid. How is talking and shouting to yourself not a mental case?”
“Because he is talking to God.”
My sister scoffed and turned her face away from the screaming man who was now hitting a frenzy. He strongly reminded me of a documentary I had watched on schizophrenic patients. But I didn’t want to voice that out.
“He is mad,” said my sister.
“You said the same thing about the Apostolic Church that opened late last year.”
“That one was different. Apostolic is not a new church, it is an old establishment. It’s like a Redeemed or Salvation Ministries here. He was eventually going to get members. ”
“How about the white garment church that opened near the swamp.”
My sister suddenly cooled down.
Our street is one of the most disorganised streets in the region. It opens into a main road, then it meanders its way to a swamp where two old men go to tap and sell the freshest palm wine that you will ever taste. Along certain intervals, the road branches off into soft marshy outlets. It was on one of these sites that the white garment church had opened their ministry much to the amusement of every landlord in the street. Three months later, it was the church leader who was laughing as members flocked to his small rickety premises.
When the church started out, it had been built haphazardly out of wood, some biscuit cartons and tarpaulin sheets of various colours nailed to the wood. It occupied less than half a plot of land. Six months later, the man demolished his pitiful contraption and bought two more plots on which he built a storey building and several other bungalows. Jeeps and cars lined the vicinity and blocked traffic on the street. Like every other obsessed pastor in the state, he too had purchased a sound system and proceeded to fill the whole area with his cacophony. His church members could be heard droning from morning to evening. His rapid growth, while other churches in the street languished, was still a source of mystery and suspicion amongst his neighbours.
Normally, churches that opened in the street, especially the brand-less churches, suffered. The church business in the state was fiercely competitive. People attended churches the way women bought designer clothes or the way men drank beer. It didn’t matter if they taught God’s word well and who cared if all you did was sing and dance and pay tithes, who cared if you came back from church emptier than you were when you attended. The only thing you had to do was just make sure your brand was tight. If your church didn’t have a branch in Lagos or Abuja or in the heart of Port Harcourt, if the members in the congregation were not numbering in their thousands, the building was not as imposing as a sports stadium, then your brand was weak and you dared not wear a weak brand.
However, the churches which sprang up every few months on this street with alarming rapidness had a dream: they too wanted to become a brand name. They also wanted to have congregation of thousands and cart home their offerings in millions just as the brand pastors did. They wanted to collect seeds of houses and cars too. They too wanted to travel the country and indeed the world. They too wanted to preach in a mega structure, brimming with people and completely air-conditioned. And who were you to say they shouldn’t dream? Who were you to challenge if God called them or not? Don’t you have a dream, too? Who were you to say they shouldn’t dream of escaping a miserable life? Just like you, just like every struggling person in this godforsaken country.
But it was sad that they chose the wrong place. The brand names would continue to awe the people with their grandeur and their signs and their wonders. The brand-less names were too many, too shabby, and too desperate. It seemed hopeless; they had come at a bad time in a wrong place. What then would become of those dreams?
I shrugged and entered a cab with my sister. A brand church with air-conditioning was waiting for me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charles Kadib is an aspiring writer and teacher. He lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and has published works in the AWB anthology and The Road to Dukana. He is currently working on his short story collection, “ATTITUDE”.