Archive | December 3, 2014

African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 10)

“Lara, will you marry me?”
My heart first seemed to stop and then began to beat harder and faster in my chest. I was not expecting a marriage proposal from this man, I had never really thought about the two of us as man and wife. Yes, I thought we flowed well when we ministered together but marriage was a different ball game. He was a great man no doubt and God had used him mightily and I knew it was only the beginning and had we met under better circumstances I would have been pleased to say yes, after all, he was currently one of the most eligible bachelors as far as Christendom in Nigeria was concerned; any girl would be pleased to be his wife but that occurrence eight years ago wouldn’t let me say yes. And what was worse, as I began to replay the incidence in my head, my temper rose. I had never confronted him about the issue and perhaps that was why he thought it was okay to enter my house, put his hands in his pocket and ask me to marry him.
“You have a nerve!” I exploded in anger. “So you can come here, to my house, to ask me to marry you after what you did to me?” As I spoke I could see confusion plastered all over his face, I had completely lost him; he had no clue what I was on about. “How typical,” I thought, with a shake of the head. “Oh I see, you do not remember, that doesn’t surprise me at all. However, I, Lara, the object of your ridicule, will never forget.” I finished, stressing every word in my last statement.
He quickly recovered from the initial shock of my unexpected outburst. “What are you talking about, Lara? What ridicule? Have I ever ridiculed you?”
“Yes!” I snapped angrily, and went on to tell him my entire story. He had met my sisters, I had told him about our family reunion but it was time to tell him everything and how he added to my pain by sending me away from the church on the one night I had decided to seek help from the brethren. When I finished speaking, he suddenly looked so exhausted I feared he would pass out. He didn’t but he did drop into the nearest chair and bury his head in his hands.
For the next minute or two, he didn’t speak to me, he just kept muttering under his breath, “Oh, my God.” He said it, over and over and over.
Almost as quickly as he dropped into the chair, he pulled himself together and rose to his feet, hands in his pockets; now he looked composed and more like the man I had come to know the last six months. “Lara, I am not going to justify what I did to you by saying I was young, immature and inexperienced as far as pastoral care goes. What I did was wrong and I am sorry, I hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive me. I haven’t forgotten it, because the Lord dealt with me for a long time afterwards and if it is any consolation to you, He used that experience to make me a better man. For years, I felt I was ready for marriage but the Lord said I wasn’t because of that incidence and He continued to drive me and stretch me to become better. As soon as I set eyes on you in Port Harcourt, He told me you were my wife and explained that He had kept us away from each other until I changed. What He didn’t tell me though is that you were the same woman I had asked to be taken out from the church service all those years ago.” He moved closer and took my hand in his, as his eyes held mine. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you, Lara? I will give anything to have done things differently but I can’t. I can only assure you that I am a better man and I love you and I will do everything humanly possible to make you happy.”
I had to look away because his eyes said it all. I was torn between two options. A part of me wanted to say yes, because I liked him, the only snag was the horrid incidence. I liked him, I didn’t know if I loved him but I liked him. Moreover, I felt good that an eligible bachelor was interested in me. But another part of me wanted to say no because I realised it would hurt him and I wanted to hurt him. I pulled my hand away and turned my back towards him. I didn’t need anyone to tell me my action hurt him but I chose not to care. I resolved not give him an answer, I knew I should say yes but I didn’t because I wanted to see him hurt. I wanted him to go on his knees and beg. Surprisingly however, he did not.
“Lara, God speaks to me.” He said after what seemed like an eternity of total silence. “He told me that you are my wife. I can understand that given the circumstances under which we met you find it hard to accept my proposal of marriage. I will give you time to consider and when you decide you want to do God’s will, you know where to find me.”
Before I could open my mouth to speak, he was gone and my Monday was ruined. I couldn’t go to the office, so I called in and cancelled all appointments and then went to bed to have a good cry. I thought it was so unfair that God would prosper him and then want to give me to him as a wife after the way he humiliated me. I was acting foolishly and childishly so God let me alone and did not speak to me that day. Then, later that afternoon, something amazing happened. Nike woke up and got out of bed without any assistance and was able to take a bath and come downstairs to eat. It was really a miracle and I said as much. I remembered reverend’s 48 hour miracle prayer. It was 48 hours since he prayed that prayer and Nike was already doing things she couldn’t do before. She was really excited and as we had a late lunch prior to the departure of Tola and her husband, Nike went on and on about how marvellous Reverend Femi was and how she had felt the power of God surge through her when he laid hands on her earlier that day. No mention was made of the prayer I had said and what effect it had. She went on to say she thought it would be a good idea if she went to reverend’s church in Lagos to see him and share her testimony of healing. I got up abruptly as I had heard enough, and I excused myself. I did not show my face again until the taxi I had booked to take Tola and her husband to Lagos, arrived.
The next three weeks that followed were the worst ones of my life. Nike began to flourish but I began to dry up. I became unnecessarily short tempered and began to snap at everyone. My quiet time in God’s presence was reduced to a mere religious ritual and I no longer felt God’s presence so I declined a few invitations to minister. I was a complete mess. Finally, the Lord had mercy on me and began to deal with me on my inability to forgive, malice, bitterness, anger and pride; He opened my eyes to see a few sin issues in my life that I had been blind to. He told me I had behaved just like Nike. After mum died Nike wanted me to suffer, she refused to forgive and the Lord said that had caused the cancer in her body. He warned that if I did not learn to forgive offences, I would soon end up like Nike had when I saw her that Sunday evening after the healing service. Then He asked me what I did to deserve the kindness aunty Bose had shown me, and the position He had now given me in my family. I was the rejected stone but had become the head stone and everyone did as I said. Although I was the last born, by virtue of God’s good hand I had moved into position of the first born. While the Lord was done speaking, I broke down and wept like a baby. I cried long and hard as I repented of each sin especially that of trying to take His place as righteous judge in the lives of others; instead of dealing with my own sin issues. When I had repented, He made it very clear that I would have to go to Lagos to see Reverend Femi to ask his forgiveness and give him an answer to his proposal. He concluded by saying, “If you will not marry my servant, do not waste his time any further. Let him know and I will replace you with another who is better than you.”
That made me fly into action and I called my PA and asked her to arrange a taxi to take me to Lagos and bring me back to Ibadan. Nike insisted on coming with me to see reverend and thank him for his prayers. I did not feel comfortable with that but the Lord said, “let her go with you”, so I let her. I tried not to let her distract me from my purpose for going to see Reverend Femi but I did notice that she made an effort to look good. As we journeyed I tried very hard to be in the spirit but it was tough with her sitting next to me in the backseat and going on and on about how she was looking forward to showing herself to the reverend following her healing. I couldn’t be silent again so I turned to her and said. “Nike, the reverend did not heal you, God did. He was only an instrument used by God.” And I relapsed into silence. Thankfully, she did too.
As we entered his ministry’s headquarters in Ikeja, I started to feel slightly uncomfortable as I did not know how he would react when he saw me and I had not called him to let him know I was coming but my PA had spoken to his PA and I was assured he was in town and would be in the office at the time I planned to arrive. As I got out of the cab the PA was on hand to receive me and the reception I got put me at ease. If he didn’t want to see me surely the PA would have turned me back. Nike and I were taken to his private guest lounge that adjoined his office and offered refreshments but we both declined and possibly for different reasons. I don’t know what her reason was as I didn’t ask her.
Fortunately, we did not have to wait long before reverend entered the room. I am not sure if it was the presence of God that entered with him or the fact that we were both nervous and for different reasons, but I do know that we both jumped to our feet. I couldn’t look him in the eye so I looked everywhere but at him.
“Hello Lara, I am pleased to see you again. How have you been?” he shook hands with me quickly and before I could answer he was turning to Nike who was now grinning ear to ear. “Hello my sister.” He greeted Nike; obviously he had forgotten her name, which was good. “How are you?” He enquired.
That was all he needed to say; Nike opened her mouth and out of it came a catalogue of testimonies of how God had healed her since he came to Ibadan to pray for her and how she knew the cancer was completely gone because according to the doctor’s report she should be dead now but she was alive and getting stronger each day, more so, the cancer symptoms were disappearing. I looked on as he listened to her with great interest and patience, all the time his hands were on his waist and he was nodding his head and smiling. When she was done, he stretched one hand to touch her forehead and said. “It is permanent in Jesus name.” That was it; she was slain in the Holy Ghost and fell to the floor. I expected him to pick her up but instead he turned to me and said, “Come, let’s talk.” As he whisked me into his office through the adjoining door, I looked over my shoulder to where Nike lay on the soft carpet, fast asleep. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. Let her sleep.”
As we entered his office, I became nervous again as I realised I did not know how to begin to say what I had to say. As I open my mouth no words came out so I closed it again. Then I tried to speak a second time but stuttered. He noticed the difficulty I was having, so he walked to me and took my hands in his. “Have you come to say yes?” He asked, looking me in the eye. I was very shy so I looked away but nodded my head. He shouted and leaped for joy at the same time and then picked me up and spun me round while I shrieked. Just then the door opened and it was his PA. He put me down instantly and we looked first at the PA who appeared confused and then at each other and burst into laughter.
Four months later, Femi and I were married and have now been married five years. God has blessed us with a set of twin boys and has increased us on every side. I gave up my ministry to work full time with him, travelling around the world with him and ministering at his side. I am still an evangelist to the nations but in my husband’s ministry, supporting him in planting churches. God has done mighty things through us, individually and together. However, I noticed that although I desired to operate at the same level of anointing as Femi, it never happened. When I first ministered with him during the church planting crusades and prior to our getting married, some of his anointing had rubbed off on me because of proximity but it didn’t last and when I married him I noticed the same thing. Every now and then some of his anointing would rub off on me because of proximity but it didn’t last and I didn’t know why. We had similar gifts but he was obviously ahead and I never seemed to be able to catch up. One night, a member of the church was brought to our house dead. She was being rushed to the hospital following a brief illness but had given up the ghost in the car and was brought to our home instead. I knew that God used my husband to raise the dead but that night I witnessed it for the first time and I was in awe. Much later, as I joined him in bed I demanded to know why God didn’t use me the same way.
“Why can’t I do the things you do, sweetheart?” I asked. “You need to explain to me because God tells you a lot of things so perhaps He’s told you this as well.”
Then for the next minute or two, I went on and on about my desire to be used in the same dimension and how it just wasn’t happening and he listened patiently, although he looked slightly amused. “Why can’t I catch up with you, honey? Why can’t I be like you?” I queried.
By now he had gone from looking amused to looking mischievous. “Do you really want to know?” He asked.
“Yes.” I answered, eyeing him a little warily as I wondered what he was going to say or do next.
Then without warning he pulled me closer and whispered in my ear. “That’s because there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. For one star differeth from another star in glory.” He quoted a verse from the Bible and then playfully bit my ear.

African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 9)

As I got off the phone, I remembered the Lord had instructed me to ask Reverend Femi to place a seal on Nike’s healing. I looked at the time; it was about 12:30am and I winced, what would he think of me calling him at this time? Then I quickly shrugged it off. What did I care? I dialled his number and like aunty Bose he answered immediately.
“I have been waiting for your call Lara. How are you?” his voice sounded deeper and huskier than I remembered. However, I didn’t care for that I was more concerned with his manners. Why did he not say hello first? This was no way to answer the phone, I thought. And why for goodness sake did he always have to be such a know it all? He asked to know how I was; well I would tell him how I was.
Irritated at your lack of manners and your know it all, that’s how I am. I said in my head and then asked for mercy when the Lord rebuked me the same instant. I may not like him, but he was God’s servant.
“What do you mean, you were waiting for my call?” I asked, just a tiny little bit curious.
“What I mean is the Lord told me you would call. And I have been waiting.” He explained. “I was going to start praying but I decided to wait until I hear from you.”
I was really amazed and I wondered when I would get to the level where God told me everything.
“He seems to tell you everything.” I said, feeling slightly jealous.
“Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” He quoted scriptures.
“Amos chapter three verse seven.” I said quickly without thinking.
“Show off.” He responded.
That caught me off guard and really cracked me up so I laughed and he joined in. “Hey that is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.” I protested still laughing and he seemed to agree because his laughter intensified. It was the first time we had shared a joke and laughed together. I enjoyed the moment, more than I thought possible. Perhaps if I didn’t have that initial bad experience with him, we would have been good friends. We both seemed to share a lot of things in common and during the six months I ministered with him in his crusades, I was sometimes in awe how we worked together, like a perfect team. But because I had a bad experience I couldn’t shake off, I kept him at a distance.
I finally stopped laughing and told him why I called. I shouldn’t have bothered though, because he already knew and planned to be in Ibadan very early in the morning and then return to Lagos to face his tasks for the day. I appreciated it and told him as much. Just before he hung up, he said. “When I come over in the morning, I would like to have a word with you privately. Please create the time and place for this, as it is important.” And he was gone.
I frowned and wondered what he wanted to talk about this time; was it another church planting crusade? I shrugged and finally got out of the car. It was now time to go and face my family. I walked to the front door and rang the bell as I couldn’t be asked to start searching my bag for my keys. My house maid would be up as she usually waited for me to get home before she went to bed. No matter how late I returned I was always sure the gate man would be there to open the gate and my maid would be there to open the front door. True to form, she was there and opened the door in record time.
“Welcome, ma.” She greeted, taking my hand bag from me as she stepped aside to let me enter the brightly lit living room. As I expected, everyone was waiting for me; my father, Tola, the strange man and Nike. Nike was now sitting up in a chair propped by some cushions. She looked a lot better than she looked when I saw her a few hours before. As I stood before them I wasn’t sure what to say. My sisters looked at me then at each other and bowed their heads. My father, however, stood to his feet, and walked towards me with his hands stretched out wide. I closed the gap between us and embraced him. We held onto each other for what seemed like an eternity, neither of us speaking and then he drew back and held me at arm’s length so he could look at me properly.
“Is this really you, Omolara, my daughter?” he asked.
I smiled and nodded. “Yes, daddy, it is me.” And he embraced me again. This second embrace was longer, and then held me once again at arm’s length.
“You are now a big woman, my daughter. I thank God for your life. Your mother would have been very happy to see you working for the Lord.”
As he mentioned my mum, the tears came to my eyes and as soon as he noticed it he drew me into his arms once again and held me as I wept silently.
“I am sorry, Lara, for everything that you have gone through, which I could have prevented but didn’t. I am sorry. I should have stayed here and been a father to you. I am sorry that I went away, please forgive me.”
I didn’t speak but I nodded my head to indicate all was forgiven. Then my sisters summoned courage to approach me. My head was still buried in dad’s shoulder so I did not know when they came closer but Nike reached out to place a hand on my head and I looked up and saw them. Tola had an arm around Nike’s waist to support her but I was really pleased to see Nike on her feet. The Lord had said the symptoms would disappear and I believed Him. They did not speak but as I looked at them, I saw there was no more hate; all that remained was sorrow and regret. I pulled away from dad and put my arms around both of them and then dad put his arms around all three of us and for the first time in my life I heard my father weep.
It was a long night, and there was a lot of catching up to do as so much had happened in the last eight years. After I left home, Tola and Nike had plenty of financial problems as they had not heard from dad, who unknown to them had run into problems in the United Kingdom and had been arrested and jailed. Nike finished her degree programme in the University of Lagos and gradually went into prostitution as she was unable to secure a job. She also moved from home leaving Tola alone to fend for herself. Tola remained at home and began to sell the furniture in the house in a bid to raise money to cater for her needs. When she left the university and there was no job in sight, she married a young man she had met while in her final year, as he had a job and would be able to provide for her. He was the man who had accompanied them and whom I did not recognise. They had been married for six years and still had no child, as she had never become pregnant, not even once. Nike soon became ill and unable to continue with her work as a prostitute. She was taken to the hospital where she was discovered to have leukaemia. This was three years ago and since then she had been in and out of hospital. Tola and her husband supported her with the little money they could spare and so did her friends. Dad was released from jail only the year before and immediately returned to Nigeria only to find the house deserted. With the help of neighbours he was able to trace Tola to her husband’s house where he learnt of Nike’s illness and my disappearance. He had returned empty handed and needed money so he sold the house in Lagos and was able to offset Nike’s hospital bills. But he now had no home so Tola and her husband accommodated him in their home. They said they tried to look for me but I seemed to have disappeared without trace and no family member or friend could say anything about my where about. Then when Nike was sent home from hospital to die they were advised to take her to church for healing and they began to visit every crusade they heard about until they came to Ibadan because someone said evangelist Lara was mightily used of God and if she prayed, Nike would be healed. As they journeyed from Lagos, they had no idea that the Evangelist Lara they were going to see was the same Lara who had walked away from home eight years before.
I also shared my story, and as I did, it occurred to me just how far God had brought me. I had walked out of my house with only the dress I had on, my bathroom slippers and mum’s Bible because Nike would not let me take anything else with me. Today, I lived in a four bedroom duplex house complete with a two bedroom boy’s quarter, and it was mine, bought and paid for. Although, I still drove the minivan aunty Bose and uncle Dapo gave me, I could afford to drive any car I wanted. I had paid office staff and paid domestic staff. God had been good to me, and they all agreed that this was true. Then my father asked me to pray for the family as I happened to be the only one who had made progress after mum’s death. He felt certain that the rest of them were suffering as a result of the way they had treated me. He said if they had known I was a big woman of God they would have dealt with me better. I prayed for them, from the depth of my heart; I asked for a release of God’s blessings upon all their lives, a release of their finances, a release of children, and a release of spouses for Nike and my dad. Mum had been dead twelve years, it was time dad re-married. He needed a woman to take care of him. After the prayers, I thanked the stranger, who I now knew was Tola’s husband, but informed him that my father and Nike would not be returning to his house. They would remain in Ibadan with me while I arranged to buy dad another house in Lagos to replace the one he had sold. Then I mentioned that Reverend Femi was coming to put a seal on Nike’s healing as God had instructed. As I did, I looked at my wristwatch and noticed it was already 6.00am. I brought the conversation to an abrupt end and went upstairs to take a bath and change my clothes. Reverend Femi would arrive any minute and I did not want him to meet me looking unkempt. I was right, because just as I finished doing my make-up, the maid knocked on the door and informed me that reverend was downstairs.
As I entered the living room, I noticed it was empty, apparently as soon I left my family members also retired to the bedrooms to get some sleep. Reverend Femi was standing in the middle of the room with both hands buried deep inside his trouser pockets. He looked very handsome in the navy blue three piece suit, I had to admit. As I entered, he turned to look at me, and for some reason I was slightly nervous and self-conscious.
“Good morning, reverend.” I greeted as I reached out to shake hands with him. “Do you get any sleep at all?” I asked for want of something to say really, because I already knew the answer to that question. After observing him for six months, I knew the man probably slept no more than four hours, if he slept at all.
He smiled and shrugged. “I try.” He responded. “You look like you didn’t sleep at all.”
“I didn’t” I admitted and as I saw his brow raised, I explained briefly about my family reunion without giving too much detail.
“Your sister is the one I am here to pray for.” It was a statement not a question but I nodded my head all the same.
“So where is she?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure myself but my maid told me which room she’d assigned to Nike and Tola so I led reverend there. He hung back for a few minutes while I went in and advised them to make themselves decent. Then I opened the door and ushered reverend in. The man never ceased to amaze me. I thought he would pray a long prayer but it was over in less than one minute. If I didn’t know how God used him I would have had my doubts but because I knew and had witnessed things happen when we ministered together, I knew it was done. Nike was on her way to a full recovery. Then as reverend got up from the edge of the bed, Nike stretched out a hand to him possibly in appreciation but as he took it and held it in both his hands, my brows met in a frown between my eyes. I instantly called myself to order though; it was an innocent gesture although for a moment it looked like the reverend might be interested in Nike and I didn’t like that. I wasn’t interested in the reverend myself because I still could not get over what he had done to me eight years ago therefore I couldn’t understand why it bothered me that he would like Nike, or that she would like him. Their ages were close; reverend was probably only a year older than Nike, and besides I had just prayed for God to give Nike a husband, but for whatever reason I did not want that husband to be Reverend Femi. He smiled at her, patted her hand and got off the bed. As he turned to me and took me by the elbow, I smiled, like the cat that ate the canary.
“You and I need to talk, now.” He whispered in my ear as we walked out of the room. My sisters were watching me; I could feel their eyes literally boring holes in my back. No doubt they envied me, and why not? I had the attention of a handsome, rich, and heavily anointed man of God. What could be better? Apart from going to heaven when one died?
“Oh, yes, you did mention that on the phone. How could I forget?” I tried to sound excited for the benefit of my sisters.
As we walked downstairs to the living room, I felt very pleased with myself. But I did not understand why. Surely, there was no competition between Nike and I and certainly not one over Reverend Femi. As we stepped in to the room, he shut the door behind him and I noticed that he was suddenly uncomfortable. The man I knew was always composed and very sure of himself. But not right now, he was far from composed. He buried his hands deep inside his pocket and as he turned to face me I noticed he was chewing his bottom lip. Now, I was really concerned and would have opened my mouth to ask if he was okay but then, he spoke up and threw me off balance.