Category Archives: Short stories

Audience of One

Audience of One

It’s the best day of my life; it’s the worst day of my life.

I haven’t decided which yet. Its fate would eventually be determined by the seventy-nine year old man sitting beyond this window right now. Sir Hugh Wright.

There he sits, his brows knotted in a frown, his hands resting on his cane, leaning towards to the big screen before him.

It’s always been my dream to meet my favorite author. I grew up loving Wright’s stories, following every new novel he wrote, purchasing each new one as soon as it came out. His sci-fi and space adventures were the in-thing back when we were kids in the Star Wars/Star Trek generation, with an added bit of quirky humor and deep values. I became a filmmaker so that I could make stories like his. Forty years of my life have been invested in this journey, working for the big studios just to get a tiny place on previous space operas like this one. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Akpos in Space…

That last one, a comedic piece about an African ‘Mr. Bean-type’ character on a space adventure, had been a financial risk, but it had surprisingly done well at the box office, even garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Independent Picture. I had loved the script as soon as I read it, and had taken it to a couple of studios, but I was initially turned down. Some of my filmmaking friends and I put some money together to make this into the best of movies possible. My work on that last one finally gave me a voice in Hollywood, and it was then I heard about the studio that had purchased the rights to Wright’s novels.

Did I submit a script? You bet I did! My tenth submission was accepted, after some modifications by the studio. Some changes to the setting were necessary, especially in adapting a novel from the ‘70s for a 21st century audience.

It was a dream come true. The first of the best-selling Space Junkies series was finally headed for the big screen. And I would be producing it. No one could understand all that I was feeling in those moments. From the casting, through preproduction, filming, and post-production, my dream was taking shape.

It has all been headed toward this very moment, as Wright himself accepted our invitation for a special screening of the movie. There he is now, watching it alone. Per his preferences, the room is dark and the only lighting comes from off the screen. He’s got a glass of water beside him, and he just sits there with his fingers crossed under his chin. The movie has been over for minutes now, but he just sits there staring at the rolling credits.

I wonder what must be going through his mind.

What does he think about the changes we made?

Oh, man … he hates it. He really hates it.

He has not spoken to us in the last two hours. His eyes are fixed on the screen.

Behind me, the door opens. It’s Ryan, my intern. “You OK, Boss?”

I rub my eyes. “Well … you know how it is … Kid.” Actually, he doesn’t, but what can I say? Ryan is as close to me as any friend I’ve ever had, despite the generational gap between us. He never quits making me feel my age, and I never stop making him feel younger than his.

He pulls up a chair and seats beside me. “So, this must be like Christmas for you. You taken a selfie with him yet?”

I chuckle. “You kids and your selfies. I’ll never get what freaks you out about those.”

“Selfies are cool.”

“Yeah, and they’ll die a natural death with time, just like bell-bottoms, muttonchops and disco.”

“C’mon, think of the fans. You can even tweet it, they’ll love it. Lets ‘em know you got the author’s approval. They’ll accept the changes we made in the story better. Least, it’s not as if you pulled a Tauriel or anything.”

I stare out at the man. “Right now, the only approval I care for is the approval of that man over there.”

Ryan arcs a brow. “What’s he still doing in there? The movie’s long been over.”

“I knew he’d hate it.”

Ryan stares at me. “Dude, what’s your deal? You’re a star! Kids come to Comic-Con every year just to get your autograph. Those Akpos guys are still grateful ‘cause you brought their idea to the big-screen. And you’re here, fidgeting, expecting this guy to trash your work?”

I shake my head. “It’s different. I never gave a hoot what anyone cared about my work before. Now, it’s different. You won’t get it.”

I can see him smile in my peripheral vision. He pats my lap. “Hey, you’ll be fine. You put your best foot out there with this. He’s gotta appreciate that.”

“I hope so, kid.”

“I know so.” Ryan pats my shoulder and stares out at Wright past the window. “Sir Hugh Wright. Hey, If I get to meet him, I’d go, ‘Sir Hugh Wright, you write … right?’“

Ryan is not as funny as he thinks he is. “What he’d probably say to that is—“

“Samuel,” a gravelly voice comes in over the speakers. “Can I have a moment with you, please?”

It takes me a moment to gather my thoughts, savouring that old British accent. Hugh Wright has just called my name! “Ah, yes. Yes, of course. I’ll be there in a moment … Sir.”

Ryan gives me a fistbump. “Break a leg. Hey, Francis called. He’s waiting out back to take you both to lunch once you’re done. You tell him that when you get in there.”

“And you pick now to tell me that?” I put on my jacket and adjust my cufflinks. “How do I look?”

“Dude, I’m a guy! What, you expect me to say you look hot?”

I just stare at him. “You’re fired.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that a billion times already.” I keep a straight face as I open the door to the screening room. “Wait, you were joking, right? Sir?”

It’s like I’ve entered into another world in the second it takes me to enter and shut the door. The darkness reverberates with a still buzz that fills my ears. The stillness is eerie and foreboding, with the man still seated ahead, facing the screen.

He hates it, man.

With quivering steps, I approach his seat, never taking my eyes off the bald spot on his head. Now I get to speak with him. Not through a studio rep or anything, but to Hugh Wright himself!

He turns to stare at me, his eyes hidden in the shadow of his brows. “Please, take a seat.” There is only one couch and he is seated on one end. He expects me to sit beside him.

I am Frodo going to meet Gandalf. I am a Pevensie walking up to Aslan. I take a seat beside him.

I should ask him what he thinks. I should ask him if he’s comfortable. I should take control of the conversation. But when I open my mouth to speak, nothing comes out.

Proposing to my wife had not been this difficult.

He inhales loudly. “I take it you wrote the script?”

Does he expect me to respond? Oh, he does! “Yes. Yes I did, sir. Well, not really. Not the final product. It was actually a group effort. I mean, I laid the groundwork, and a couple of other screenwriters pitched in, the studio made some modifications—“

“But you wrote it?” Staring into those ancient eyeballs, I can be nothing but honest.

I nod.

He turns back to the screen for a second. And another second. The seconds that follow are driving me nuts.

He takes off his glasses, wiping his eyes. When he turns to me I finally see that they are moist. “Samuel … there is something I need to tell you.”

No conversation that starts that way could possibly end well.

“Have you ever wondered why it took decades before I finally sold the motion picture rights to my books?”

A thousand responses whizz by in my mind. Because of budgetary constraints? Insufficient CGI? Bizarre hairstyles? But he does not let me respond before he continues. I actually prefer it that way.

“When I started writing, all those years ago, I took my work from a place deep inside. My experiences, my childhood, my agonies, the questions I grew up with, and the future that I desired. My faith. My heart. There was just too much heart in there. They were all like a part of me. I hold my stories in such high esteem, like my own children.” He pauses. “Not that I love them more than my real children. Far from it. Though, on occasion, I did forget my late wife’s birthday.”

I chuckle at his attempt at … self-deprecating British humour? Is that what it’s called?

“I did not want that to be lost—the heart in the story, I mean. I know the procedures that occur in the journey from book to screen … and I just could not afford to let it … go. Apparently, not all books were meant for the cinematic world. I’m sure you would agree.”

I try to read between the lines. He is telling me that this sucked big time, isn’t he?

He expects an answer. “I … agree.”

“I could not afford to let my stories lose that heart in the cutting room. It would be tantamount to suicide.” He turns to the screen. “And I was right to fear.”

Adrenaline runs down my spine. I feel as if I’ve been doused with ice cold water. I have failed…

“Thank you for not letting that happen, Samuel.”

I’m confused. “Sir?”

“Past the special effects and necessary changes to the subject, I could see the hand of someone fighting, trying to save the elements of what made my story … my story.” He smiles, and no smile has ever been so reassuring. “That was you, wasn’t it? You knew what was important and you made sure it was apparent in the picture. And for this I am very grateful.”

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting this. Not at all. I nod, smiling. “We loved your story, sir. It had to be told.”

“You just had to comment and ruin the moment, didn’t you?”

“What? I’m so sorry, I—“

He laughs, patting my back. “You’re a good lad, Samuel.” I haven’t been called ‘lad’ in decades. “What do you say we go get that lunch we were promised?”

“I was just about to tell you, the driver’s here. He’s ready for us. Whenever you’re ready, that is. And it appears you are.”

“Come,” he stands, leaning on his cane. “I feel we’ll have much to discuss, Samuel. Much indeed.”

But, in this moment, I feel on top of the world. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He thinks it is awesome, and that’s what matters to me.

I could leap through the roof.

As soon as I open the door, I see that Ryan has been listening. He pretends to have been working on something over the phone. He stands awkwardly. “I … I wasn’t listening,” he says. “Scout’s honour.”

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or not.

But Wright saves the moment again. “You never were a boy scout, were you?”

 

Six months later…

“Of course, the movie was a total failure,” I say as I turn to Lisa. She lies beside me, staring at me with those magical eyes. “The studio called it a ‘hit-and-miss’ and refused to make sequels. My generation had mostly moved on from the series, and it just didn’t resonate with the new generation. You know how it went. But all that didn’t matter to me. Once Wright loved my take on his work, it was all that mattered to me.” I stare up at the ceiling. “I just wish the whole world saw it that way.”

“No, you don’t. You know that’s never going to happen.” That’s my Lisa. Always blunt to a fault. An adorable fault.

“I guess you’re right. But it would be nice if everyone saw it that way.”

“So he said he liked it all?”

“No, he said all that just to be nice. Over lunch he explained the changes he didn’t enjoy. But, in his own words, it’s not as if he was the one acting it out onscreen. Changes were bound to be a problem.”

For a moment all is quiet. I’m thankful she takes the time to listen to a story she knows already. Perhaps I just needed to talk about it again, because no matter how much I say about how it doesn’t matter, the truth is that it really does matter to me. I still feel hurt that the movie did not perform well out there. It was just one major blip in my career that was better left forgotten. Not to mention all that time and money wasted that was wasted.

“You know what this all makes me think of, though?”

I turn to her. “Hm?”

She inhales and stares at the ceiling as well. “It’s just like how the rest of our lives are. Everyone’s going to have their own opinion of what we do and how we do it. But they didn’t write the scripts we live by. God did. It’s His opinion that counts.”

I smirk at her metaphor. “God wrote our scripts?”

“Uh-huh. He made us, didn’t He? He knows how we should live. Just like Wright knew how the story should be.”

“Hm…”

“The Scriptures are like … well, God’s script for us. A guide to live by. We’re all actors on this stage, but there’s a standard. God’s script.”

“So we’re like movies acting out this script. But not so well, apparently…” I smile as the picture forms in my mind. “You know you’re quite right. You’re very right. I never saw it that way before.”

“Quite smart, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re Lisa.”

“What?!”

“And you know the best part? He doesn’t leave us to try to please Him on our own, or to try to figure out how to act His script well enough. He’s right here with us, in us through His Holy Spirit, helping us live lives that are pleasing to Him. Through Jesus, He’s given us a heart that wants to please Him, and that can actually please Him.”

“So when we do our best, and no one else is pleased…”

“It doesn’t matter, as long as God is pleased. That’s what really matters.”

“Exactly.”

I nod, knowing she really understands how I feel as she holds my hand. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll never forget. You are smart.”

“I thought I was ‘Lisa’.”

“You’re smart, and you’re Lisa. In fact, you’re the smartest wife I’ve ever had.”

“Right. I’m the only wife you’ve ever had.”

“I know.”

“I should write a book.”

I laugh. “I’d read it.”

“Would you make it into a movie?”

“Well … it depends. Let’s finish this next project with PureFlix, and we’ll see how it goes…”

 

END

 

 

Thanks for reading. Before you go, I’d like to share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Its themes are similar to those of the story above.

OPEN BOOK

In the evening, when I start to pray

I think about this day

Another page is turned forever

Another yesterday.

And as the story of my life unfolds

I know You’ve read it all.

Another line to be continued

Will I stand or fall?

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

When the cover of this book is closed

The final chapter read

I hope You find it worth the reading

I hope ‘well done’ is said

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

Cover to cover, Lord, You know me

And what I want to be.

As You read the pages of my life

Please tell me what You see.

(By Petra; Album: On Fire! [1988]; Words and Music by Bob Hartman)

If I Had to Die for Someone

if2

With one final gasp of the acrid air, Martin hurried into the burning building to the screams of the onlookers below. The window gave in to his weight as he stumbled into the smoldering room. In the smoky interior he winced as his eyes watered, his nostrils stinging, heat searing his skin. It was hell.

Help!” The scream came from downstairs. “Somebody! Please! I don’t want to die!” There was more, but it was swallowed up by the roar of the fire and the crackling of burnt wood.

Abigail!

The staircase was gone. Getting down there would be close to impossible. The fire was everywhere, and that breath that still lingered in his lungs would soon give out. Never before had he missed fresh air so.

But Abigail could not die. Not now. Not ever.

Dear God … what do I do now? His shirt stuck to his back, his face matted with sweat. He coughed, desperate for more air. With nothing to hold, he sank to his knees.

“Abigail!” he called. “Where are you?”

“I’m here!” The faint cry reached him. Now that he thought about, maybe she really wasn’t downstairs. What if…?

He bounded towards the toilet, stopping short at the door. It had the profile of a girl on it.

Really, Marvin? Still wondering if it’s OK to enter a girl’s bathroom at a time like this?

He pushed the door in and it shriveled into bits under the heat. There, in the ceramic-walled –and hot— bathroom, curled in a corner, was the most beautiful person he knew. Wide-eyed. Scared.

Abigail. Even with soot on her face, she still looked amazing.

Marvin thrust his hand out. “Come with me if you want to live!”

She just stared at him for a moment, heaving in shock. “Seriously? Like, are you … a firefighter?”

“What … me? No, I’m … Marvin. Marvin Bishop. We’re in the same class. Same school—“

“I don’t know you.” She looked genuinely wary.

“Look, that’s the thing. I figured you wouldn’t remember me. So I came here, to rescue you so you can know me … and I can finally show you how I … how I feel about y—“

“Look, I’m sorry, I’d really love to hear what you’ve got to say, but it’d probably be more interesting if there wasn’t a BURNING ROOM BEHIND YOU! We’re gonna DIE!”

Marvin squinted. “Th-that’s what I said. I came to rescue you and get you out of that window over there, risking life and limb, ‘cause I lov—

“Through that fire? How’ll we get there? I’ll get burnt!”

“Y-you don’t have to. See, I’ll carry you. I’ll protect you—”

“This all just sounds like a really bad script.”

Marvin was stunned. “Do you want to get rescued or not?”

He never got to hear her answer because a burning log dropped from the ceiling and knocked him out.

At least that’s what his friend, Bob’s knock on his head felt like as he woke up from his latest daydream.

“What?” he yelled at Bob, back in their classroom. “What was that for?”

“You daydreaming about rescuing Abigail from a burning building again?” Bob asked, a smirk on his face.

“No!” Marvin turned to stare at her across the classroom. As usual, Abigail was laughing with her friends, oblivious to his very presence. He sighed. “Yeah.”

“Dude … that’s just —“

“Don’t say ‘romantic’,” Marvin interrupted. “The word makes me sick.”

“I was going to say ‘disturbing’.” Marvin shot him a double-take. “Seriously? It’s sick! You want to set a building on fire and put some girl in it just so you can tell her that you … like her?”

“I wouldn’t set a building on fire. That’s crazy.”

“What, you think burning buildings grow on trees?”

Marvin waved him off. “Let’s just forget about this, OK? And I never said I was thinking about that. You did.” He picked a book to start reading. “And I wouldn’t put her in a burning building. I’d rescue her from one. Thats the point.”

“I thought you wanted to forget about this.”

“Right, right, yeah … let’s … forget about it.” He returned to pretending to read. “Never happened.”

 

———-

PRIVATE KEN YOUNG stared at the landscape around as their Humvee bounded across the Northern Afghanistan landscape. The howling winds around them kept reminding him that winter was approaching. It wouldn’t be too soon for his platoon. There was little to look forward to here.

Vasquez nudged him in the side and showed him a picture. “That’s my li’l Whitney.” The joy in his voice only barely masked the choke behind it. “She’s already crawlin’. Should be walkin’ by Christmas, I reckon.”

Ken smiled. It was probably the twentieth time that Vasquez had shown him the picture of his newborn baby girl, a daughter he had not seen since his tour in Afghanistan had begun. Ken could only imagine the pain the man was going through in their separation, so he allowed him his bragging rights.

“It’s awesome, man,” Ken said.

“Should be ropin’ cattle by the time I get back. Just like her Pa.”

Ken smirked. Yeah, right. “You sending her anything for Christmas?”

The man nodded. “Making an Afghan with her name on it.”

Ken nodded. It’d been six months since he’d left the States. He was already missing home, his friends, the life he had been used to. He wondered if he’d ever stop missing it all. Or if he’d ever get back at all.

“You know,” Vasquez added. “She probably doesn’t know me. Has never set eyes on me. Sally put to bed just days after I reported in.” He smiled despite himself. “Gonna take a while for her to accept me as her dad.”

“You’re gonna be a great father, Vasquez.”

He arched a brow. “I think I already am a father.”

“I meant … you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, just foolin’ with you, kid.”

Vasquez chuckled, and then he sobered after a while. He tapped the photograph. “This here … it’s what makes it all make sense.” Ken was going to ask, but he knew it was best to listen when this guy needed an ear. “When this crapfest gets in my head and I wonder why I’m here, why 9/11 brought us to Afghanistan of all places … I think of her. Whitney, Sally … everyone I care about. They deserve to live without fear. And these Arabs do too. And if my toting a peashooter around till kingdom come is going to make that happen … then I sure as heck will tote my peashooter the best I can.”

Ken smiled weakly with a shrug. He’d never seen a purpose to this. He’d always wished he did. Perhaps it’d make it all make sense. Maybe if he was here for someone … somehow it’d all make more sense. “Keeps everything in focus.”

“Thanks for the rousing speech, Vasquez,” Kirk said from the opposite row. “Should get you an Oscar.”

“Oscars are for movies, doofus,” Vasquez said.

“Yeah, whatever, man.” Kirk said. “But you’re wrong. We’re not here because of some honourable piece of—“

“Easy there,” another private said.

“No, he’s gotta hear this. We’re gonna die out here ‘cause we’re messing with something that wants to be left alone.”

“We’re trying to help them—“

“What if they don’t wanna be helped? Al Qaeda is just the beginning, man. It’s not going to end anytime soon. You just wait and see. Soon the body bags would be lined up on the ground, and BOOM! It’s all over. Hastalavista, baby.”

“Well, aren’t you full of goodwill today,” Ken said.

“Wait,” Vasquez cocked his head. “What do you know?”

Kirk stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and spread out his hands in front of him the way he did anytime he wanted to share something. “ ‘Kay, there’s this guy that supplies the base with merch and stuff. Ali? We’ve been talking lately. Told me there’s this group of crazies, a deviant sect, developing within Al Qaeda, destined to take over if Bin Laden dies.”

“How does he know that?”

“Rumors travel fast out here.”

“Bin Laden dead? Yeah, like that’ll ever happen,” another officer added.

“Let’s just say it will. These guys are more brutal, and they’ve got it in their thick skulls that they can model the world after their own brutal image. They’ve already got a name. It’s weird, I know, but I hear they call themselves ‘ISIS‘. “

“ISIS?”

He never got a response to that because, in a second, it was all over. The Humvee hit a mine, and the resulting explosion reverberated for miles. No one survived. Not Ken, not Vasquez, not Kirk – no one.

It was another statistic in the casualties of war on the news that year.

 

———-

I’m sorry that story ended quite abruptly. I hope it’s not too dark for you. If it is, then this part is for you; a light little intermission before the final story, where I explain what all this is about.

The thing is we know we’re not going to be on this planet forever. We know that the only way we’re leaving is either by dying, or in the Rapture, or perhaps on a trip on a rocket from NASA (OK, that one would be temporary, but still…). Death has been a sure part of the human cycle since Eden. It’s like a game that resets over and over again, with new players at each reset: Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…

Over and over again.

But we don’t want to just … die. We know we’re leaving here soon, yes. But if we’re leaving at all, some of us want to leave with a bang! To make a real difference. And it seems the only way to leave with a bang is to die for a cause. For someone or something.

When people die for reasons beyond themselves, they are remembered as heroes. It doesn’t matter how much their lives may have sucked. As long as they had a selfless heroic death, they are hailed for generations.

In stories, sometimes a man may risk his life to rescue the typical ‘damsel-in-distress’. In some tragic stories, this heroic character dies (and I wonder why such stories ever bothered being written, except in some cases where it contributes the story or its central theme). We leave that story remembering them this way.

But what about the girl, the damsel that’s left to go through life tormented by traumatic images of the man that loved her and that died instead of her? The therapeutic sessions she’d have to go through? The resistance she’d have to other men because of her perceived devotion to the dead guy?

OK, I almost digressed there. But, at least Shakespeare had the decency to not allow even Romeo and Juliet to end that way…

 

Soldiers risk their lives for a cause they believe in. A country, a home, an ideal … or, admittedly, the paycheck they’d get (though I doubt that last one is a factor for most). They are trained for the worst, to be the ones to bridge the gap where others never could, to do what’s necessary to secure the country to which they are loyal. And many die in this effort; some forgotten by all except their families and those that loved them.

 

When I think about these scenarios, I wonder if I’d ever do that. Would I willingly give my life – as in, die – for a person, or a cause? Is it worth it? Sure, there’d be lots of honour and stuff, but I’d never get to enjoy it. My family would miss me. Sure, we’ll meet again in the future, but then they’ll have to endure unnecessary hurt.

Is it worth it?

But, in a sense, it seems exciting. Not to just die and go back into the earth, but to actually die for a reason. It comes with this surge of adrenaline, dying for something bigger and something better.

What would I die for?

I hope I’ve jolted some questions in your mind. What would you die for?

Would you die for anything?

Here’s the last story … and then … I’ll be back (hey, anyone else notice the Terminator references so far?).

 

———-

Winter’s cold winds washed against the man’s coat as he trudged through the snow that night, a sack lugged over his shoulder. His breath came out in heaves, trailed by short steamy wafts.

Katya’s old bike still stood in the lawn, draped in snow and ice. He decided to carry it in later. It would be good to finally meet his family after so long.

He sneaked a peek behind him. The neighbourhood was quiet. He turned and knocked. He could have tried the secret knock, but he wanted this to be a surprise. Who knew what they could expect in times like these?

After a tad suspicious thirty seconds, he heard a strong female voice call out. “Who’s out there?”

He could not hold it back any longer. “I’m home, my darling.”

It took a moment, and then she hurriedly unbolted the door. She was in a scarf and her characteristic brown blouse, a hand on her chest. The shock and beauty in her face warmed him to his heart as he dropped the bag and held out his arms for an embrace.

“You … didn’t use the secret knock,” she struggled to mutter.

“I wanted this to be a surprise. I’m sorry—”

“Pyotr…” She hurried into his embrace. “You’re back!”

“I love you, Corrie,” he whispered. What was that? He should be hurrying inside in this cold. But that was the only thing left to say in his melted heart after the sight of his beloved. “The Lord has kept me. I’m home.” They kissed.

Man, I’ve missed home!

She pulled back and held his face in her hands. “You’re home…” Her eyes were moist, her smile curving into those beautiful cheeks. “Oh, thank the Lord. Quick, come in, come in! It’s cold out here!”

Pyotr picked the bag. “Really? Cold? Somebody should’ve told me.”

“And don’t think I’m kissing you again until you brush those teeth.”

“I’ve missed you too, Corrie…“

“Pyotr?” It was Ivan, his brother, peeking from a doorway. “It’s you! You’re back! Thank the Lord!”

It was his brother. Faithful Ivan. Pyotr smiled and came over to embrace him, as Corrie hurried in to tell the others.

“You didn’t use the secret knock,” Ivan whispered.

“I know, I’m sorry, but you were all faster this time. I could have been the police. Can’t be too careful, these days.”

“How’d you get past the border?”

“Not now, brother. I just want to have a nice dinner with my family.”

“We’re being followed more and more these days. We have to be careful.”

Pyotr placed the bag by the doorpost and stretched in the warmth.

“Is that it?” Ivan gestured towards the bag.

Pyotr nodded. The stash of Bibles and Christian literature was the result of the contributions of believers in the West, so that Pyotr’s people could have the words of God to live by. In the radical Communist stronghold on their region, uninstitutionalized religious activity was rapidly becoming more illegal in definition. Believers were sequestered to hidden secret gatherings when possible. Without these books, much doctrine was subject to the whim of those that taught it. But it was Pyotr’s dream and the dream of thousands more, to get these into the hands of those that needed it the most.

Ivan palmed through the sack, poring through one book.

“Papa!” Katya bounded out of the dining room and into her father’s arms.

“My, how you’ve grown!” Pyotr exclaimed.

She giggled. “I missed you, Papa!”

“I missed you too, my angel. Let me look at you. My, you’re beautiful as ever.”

“You didn’t use the secret knock, Papa. We were all scared getting everything out of the way—“

“I know, I know. And I’ve been rightly chewed out for that. I’m sorry.” He stole a glance at Ivan as he ruffled her hair. “Dear God, I’ve missed you.”

“Papa, why are you … smelly?”

He tried to stifle a laugh. “Papa’s been on the road for days, dear.” He leaned in and whispered. “I haven’t had a bath in—“

She pulled away and covered her nose, laughing. Pyotr chased her around, laughing. It was good to be home, with the people he cared about. “I’ll take that bath, don’t worry.”

“Did you bring a present for me?”

“Now, Katya,” Corrie was back. “Let your father have his space. He needs to meet everyone.”

“I actually brought one especially for you, Kat,” he said as he followed them in, Katya on his arm. It was a colouring book of Bible stories. “I’ll give you in a moment. You just wait.”

“Brother Pyotr!” One, and then another, called from the dining room. It was like heaven to him. There was Old Mark, Vlad the baker from Leningrad, the Stefanovichs together, the Groznyys … and many others he did not know, all families united by one faith in one God through Christ.

All he had been through on his trip suddenly felt worthwhile.

It is worthwhile, Pyotr.

After greetings all round, they then settled to pray, thanking God for Pyotr’s safe delivery through the tight security at the borders, for the sake of the Gospel. Never before had he felt so close to heaven.

It couldn’t get any better than this…

As footsteps bounded down the stairs, Pyotr realized that all was not well. They were faster and more resolute as they approached. He opened his eyes and his gaze fell on Katya, her eyes still shut. Corrie was staring at him, worry etched on her features. She knew.

“Run,” he mouthed.

But it was too late. Patric, their lookout stationed in the attic, stumbled in. “They’re coming!”

The next moment, just one moment, that passed among them all dragged for a few seconds. In that time, the enormity of the situation dawned on them all. Pyotr’s eyes were still on Corrie’s. Lord, save us. He realized that he should have been suspicious when he noticed the deserted streets. Who knew how long they had been watched? But now… dear God …

And then the scurry began as everyone tried to hurry to the basement. This was no drill. But that was when the front door burst open with the police officer at the door preceded by an icy cold wintry draft.

“Hold it right there!” the officer yelled. “If anyone moves we will fire!”

To shrieks and screams, more policemen bounded in, weapons trained on them. Pyotr tried to take a headcount. Everyone was still here … right?

The captain walked in, and the other officers surrounded them. Pyotr recognized him from border patrol. Had they followed him since then? Their eyes met. The captain snarled.

“Get him!”

Pyotr stood tall. “This is my house. What’s going on here?”

Two officers grabbed him by the arms, to Corrie’s screams. When the Captain raised his hand to slap her Pyotr edged closer but was summarily stomped to the ground by a boot. Corrie covered her mouth, tears trickling down her face.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

The captain walked around Pyotr, staring him down. He finally stooped and placed his baton under his chin, nudging his face up. “The sack. Where is it?”

Pyotr would not reply. I will fear no evil … for You are with me…

After a moment, the Captain struck him with the baton, cracking his jaw. “Search the house!”

The officers smashed all the windows, flipping furniture over, all in an effort to trash the place. Books toppled to the floor, leaving the room a cluttered mess.

“I know you carried a sack in. If there’s anything incriminating in there, I swear you all –all of you, including that little girl – will never see the light of day ever again.”

Pyotr stared up at his daughter. She looked scared. It had all happened so fast. No child should have had to see this. It’s going to be OK, my dear.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…

He sneaked a peak at the doorpost where the bag was supposed to have been. It was gone.

The captain followed his gaze and headed for that area.

“Here,” an officer said, holding up the sack. “Found it.”

The only problem was that the sack was empty. How did—? Pyotr turned and his eyes fell on Ivan’s knowing gaze. He had emptied the bag before the soldiers came in. Good one, brother. But where had he taken the Bibles? Had someone escaped with them? Who wasn’t here? That Patric kid, where was he? Had he taken them?

The captain squeezed the sack in his hands, fuming.

You have prepared a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

The officers flung the dishes of food against the wall, breaking the table in two.

You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows…

The captain was visibly furious. He wanted to break something … or someone. And Pyotr was unfortunate to be the subject of his anger.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

“I know you’re all spreading sectarian doctrine, poisoning the minds of our good citizens. You’re a cancer, I swear! I’m of a mind to arrest you right now. But let this be a statement.” He pointed at them all, staring at Pyotr. Then, with pent-up rage released, he kicked his head in, smashing his cranium in.

Katya, I’m sorry you had to see this…

The captain waited a couple of seconds more, and then pulled out a pistol. Carrie was barely containing herself now, weeping with all she had.

He trained the gun on Pyotr’s head. Adrenaline washed over his body. “Tell me, Pyotr Konor, are you a follower of the Christian doctrine or are you a citizen in good standing with the community? If you are a good citizen … then renounce this Jesus. Right now.”

They all stared. This was it. The moment of truth.

Pyotr’s eyes could not leave Katya’s. She was scared, her gaze panicky. What’s going on, Papa? She would probably have wanted to ask. Why is this happening to us?

He knew that his choice right then, what she saw, would have its effect on her. Probably for the rest of her life. Lord, keep her…

And Corrie… Dear God, Corrie… How could I have been so blessed to meet a woman like you?

I love you. I really do.

I know you understand.

“You’re trying my patience.” The captain said, his anger grating through his words.

…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord … forever.

The Bibles were out of reach of these men, and that was a good thing. Many would get their hands on those books, and the church would grow. If for that reason alone, Pyotr hoped it was all worth it.

And with that, he leaned forward, eyes shut, and placed his forehead on the nozzle of the pistol.

Amen.

 

———-

 

I grew up reading and listening to stories like that last one. I always wondered what I’d do if I was asked to renounce Jesus or die. Would I give in?

I’d like to say that I’d never give in. I’ve always believed that I would never give in. But, until that day comes, if it comes, I guess I may never know the answer to that.

Or do I?

We’ve come a long way from just ‘leaving with a bang’ now, huh?

Some famous guy once said that something to die for is definitely something worth living for. (You probably need to read that again and think about it. And, while we’re on the subject, I don’t remember the famous guy that said it first. But he said it, and I said it now, so I guess that makes it TWO great guys that have said it now … OK, I was kidding there. But, seriously, you probably need to read that sentence again. Have you?)

So I could go with a bang for something, yes, but would I live for it? If it is worth dying for, then it is probably worth living for too, right?

But living for something is much harder than dying for it, in my opinion. Don’t think so?

Think about this: If I died for something, everyone would know when it happened. I would not need to do anything more, because my statement has been made in my death. It’s done once, and that’s it.

But if I were to LIVE for such a thing, now, no one may know at first. It would show in my lifestyle. I may not get the rewards or any public acclamation immediately … or ever. I would give my every word, my every waking moment, thinking about what more I could for the person or the cause for which I’m alive.

I would lose my identity for that thing. It’s like a living death in itself.

And I would ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

That’s what love is. You love your wife or husband, so you live for them for the rest of your life.

It’s what being a parent is like. You love your children, so you stick with them and raise them. You’re not bothered if they do not appreciate you or not, or if they’re naughty or not. You hang in there, diligent make them better because you love them. Even when it’s not convenient, you hang in there.

It’s what life in the military is. You lose your right to a unique identity for the discipline and uniformity needed to operate as a unit, for a common goal.

It’s what living for Christ is like.

Love is the defining factor in all these examples. Paul knew what he was saying when he wrote that “…if I have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) We could offer our bodies to be burnt instead of someone else that deserves it, or give all we have away, or win all awards we can, but if it’s not done in love, then all we’ve been doing is making noise. Anything outside this is not life.

We may not all have to decide who we’ll die for at gunpoint, but we can choose who we live for. We may not all have to ‘die’ because we serve God, but we’re all called to live for Him.

In Romans 12:1, we’re encouraged to “…offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy (separated) and acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service.” It’s the only reasonable way to live. Every waking moment: our eating, sleeping, breathing, surfing the Net, watching movies, gisting … give it to Him. Let Him define them for you.

Like I like to say, it’s sacrifice, but that’s the only way we’ll ever find true freedom.

And it’s awesome! The good thing is that, He doesn’t leave us to figure out how to please Him. When we believe in Him, He lives through us, working through us to make us want to do what pleases Him, and to actually do what pleases Him. We can decide to get with the programme and allow Him to use us and make us all He wants us to be, ‘cause that’s the best we can ever be … and it’s a bazillion times better than the best we think we could ever be!

Soon, you’ll realize that there’s no better way to live; that there’s no other way to live.

Than to live for Him.

The point has never been who you die for.

It’s who or what you live for.

The Stuff Friends are Made Of

The Stuff Friends are Made of 3

Old Peter Macready was a really old man

With skillful hands and a very sharp eye

He was an inventor. A creative one indeed

For he made everything he could ever desire.

From the chandeliers to furniture to cutlery

To the finishing. His creativity knew no end.

There was nothing in his house that wasn’t made by him.

Except the fact that, in all this time … he’d made no friends.

 

In his eighty years on earth he’d met many people

Men and women, boys and girls, since he was born.

But none were the kind he’d want for a friend.

And none ever asked if he wanted one.

 

“I don’t need ‘em”, he said. “I don’t need ‘em at all.

“If I ever needed something, I never had to search

I just made it instead.

Piece of cake! I’ll just make!

Making a friend of my own shouldn’t cost me much.

 

He tried to make his own little wooden marionette

Like the one that sang the classic, “I’ve got no strings.”

But it could do nothing else. It had no brain.

And to this day, that’s the only song it ever sings.

 

So he made an android robot that could do much more.

It was sentient, intelligent, and good with chores.

But it kept trying to terminate him and take over the world

So he had to turn it off, after losing a few doors.

 

He tried to use a Professor’s famous solvent: Chemical X

To make daughters of his own, like the cartoon’s story went.

But with nothing nice to add to the Sugar and Spice

The resulting volatile mixture simply destroyed his basement.

 

After months of explosions and whole room implosions

He found that a new friend was nowhere near.

With a sigh of disappointment, he gave up on his desire

To have friends. After all, he’d been fine for many a year.

 

After all…

 

(sigh…)

———-

KNOCK-KNOCK

(Silence)

KNOCK-KNO—

(A creak as the door slides open)

A boy in a uniform stands at the door, a brown package in his hand. Actually, he is too old to be called a boy, but too young to be called anything else. He probably isn’t even 18 yet.

I should say something … but I don’t know what to say. I frown instead.

He raises a hand to wave, even though I’m right in front of him. “Hi … sir. I’m Justin. Is this Mr. Macready’s house?”

I nod slowly, wary of troublemakers like him. “I’m Macready.”

He nods. “I’m a mailman. Well, obviously, ‘cause I’m clearly not female …” He pauses. He must expect me to say something, but I know not what. He keeps oscillating about his feet like a pendulum bob. “OK, most people get that joke the first time, so this is a little embarrassing—“

“I’m not expecting any mail,” I interrupt. “There’s nothing here for you, boy.”

“It’s Justin. And, yes … I mean, no! No, you’ve got no mail. Actually, you never get any mail, I think. But I couldn’t help but notice that there’s always smoke coming out of at least one of your windows. No one on your street seems to know what’s going on with you, sir, so I was …” he rolls up a sleeve and scratches his forearm. “I just wanted to make sure you were OK. You know.” He nods, pursing his lips, his gaze not shifting from mine. “That’s it.”

He doesn’t seem to be up to any trouble. I nod once more. “I’m fine.”

“OK…” he turns to stare back at his bike parked by the curb, and turns to look at me. His gaze strays behind me. “I guess that’s – WHOA!!! What IS that thing?!”

I turn abruptly to see what’s got him all startled. It’s my old android, resting in the kitchen doorway in the last pose it’d taken before I shut it down. It’s been too heavy to lift, so I just left it there. Now this boy has seen it. “It’s nothing—“

“Nothing? That’s a robot!” He’s a little overexcited. “WHOA!” He’s still staring around at everything he can see through the doorway. My portraits, my carpentry and –

BAM! I shut the door and stand in front of him, my arms folded. He’s seen enough. “Is that all?”

“You’ve got some crazy stuff going on here, dude.” He says. “I mean ‘sir’.

Crazy? Dude?

“I mean, it’s crazy, but only ‘cause it’s good. As in, it’s so good that it’s crazy. Like, crazy good. I mean,” he tries to find another word. He gives up. “I’ve said too much already, right? Like, I should probably just shut up and get going.”

“That would be preferable, yes.”

“OK, I know when my eVite’s expired.” He walks away. “You’re alright, sir. Been good meeting you.”

But now he’s leaving. This … ‘dude’ had cared enough to ask how I was. And I felt … good about it. It was bizarre, but good. I hoped he would return someday.

“Thank you.” I manage. He stops and turns. “Thanks for coming over … boy.”

He smiles. “Actually, it’s Justin. But I guess we could go with that.”

 

———-

 

And that wasn’t that last they saw of each other.

Justin became Mr. Macready’s new friend.

As soon as he entered the inventor’s house the next time

His exuberant excitement seemed to know no end.

 

Mr. Macready learnt a lot about friendship from Justin.

For he observed that the boy had taken the first step.

Perhaps that’s the way to make new friends.

Not to wait for them to come. But to reach out a hand.

To help.

 

He learnt that you can’t make them out of what you see.

Friends aren’t made from things. They just happen to … be.

At the end of the day, Mr. Macready could say,

“The best ingredient for friendship is me!”

 

———-

“Hey,” Justin says after taking a bite from the cookies he brought over this time. “Where’s that creepy song about strings coming from?”

My Statue of Liberty

 

My Statue of Liberty_final2

We sailed for weeks; spent months at sea
With nothing but ocean and sky to see.
Hoping we’d reach our destiny
The land of Hope. Home of the Free.

They say its citizens are live truly free
In that place, life needs no remedy.
It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.
I hope that there’d still be a place for me.

I was below deck when my mate called out to me
“Come out!” he yelled. “Come out ‘n see!
I can feel it beckoning on me?
Is that the monument they call Liberty?”

I reach the deck in a hurry
And see the sign that takes away all my worry
I’m home at last. It’s all been worth the fuss.
For this Statue of Liberty is a Great Big Cross.

My Statue of Liberty_thecross2

FATHER OF CHIBOK

Father of Chibok

…must … make it…

Can’t stop … can’t turn back…

I must…

… must …

… SIMBI …

With every step, Adamu ibn Gafar’s heart pummeled harder into his chest. His breath had turned to intermittent gasps. His strength was giving way. But he could not stop. Would not stop. His rifle weighed heavy on his neck by the strap.

A dry wind caressed his bearded face as he crested a knoll, leaving a gritty taste in his mouth. The valley before him, dotted with trees and sparse undergrowth, was laid out bare like an unfurled scroll of green and brown. The Sambisa forest. It would have been the perfect landscape were it not for the dark secrets hidden in there.

How many nights had it been now? Seven? Eight? Yes, eight nights since he’d left the village.

Three since he last ate.

Two since he last drank water. Dirty water, at that.

His head was already feeling dizzier with each new hour. He could feel every bone in his body. He knew he should have turned back a long time ago, but he had to keep his attention on something more important. His sole purpose for being here. His only purpose for living now.

Simbi … Simbi … must make it… It had become his mantra.

He did not even know where he was going. Everyone knew that the terrorists sometimes set up camp in this forest, but they were also constantly on the move. Only God knew exactly where they were. Gafar knew that he would most definitely die out here. His next step could plunge him to his grave…

Something about that thought must have been taken seriously, because the next thing he knew was that the horizon was rising unnaturally. The sandy ground was rising to his eye level … and growing darker. His scraggly beard bit into his skin as it touched down on sand.

Am I … falling?

BAM! His world faded to black.

 

———-

A crackle played at the back of his mind as he slowly regained consciousness. It could’ve been gunfire in the distance. A salty tang filled the air, assaulting his stomach. Oh, that churning curling feeling. How hungry he felt. Slowly, one of his eyes peeled. There was a fire, alright, but it wasn’t gunfire. More like a camp fire. It was in sharp contrast to the dark night around.

Wait a minute. Camp fire meant camp…

…and camp meant…

People!

He hurried to his haunches, scurrying away, but stopped at the sight before him. Only one man was seated in the sand facing the fire, his back to Gafar. He had seen no other human being in days. He noted that his rifle still sat beside him. Desperate not to make a sound, he slowly grabbed it from the grass at his knees.

Could it be? Had he finally reached their camp? Is he one of them?

Struggling to his feet, he sauntered slowly toward the stranger, reminded of the pain in his bones with every step he managed. The man was humming to himself, poking the fire with a stick. He was roasting some fish in the fire, hence the salty tang. Food! But Gafar would not kill a man for food … unless he was a no-good kidnapping insurgent—

But, still… FOOD!

“You’ve been out for hours.”

Gafar stopped. Who said that? He had been certain they were alone. Gafar had not seen another human in over a week. Had this man just spoken? Gafar knew he had been found out. He raised the rifle to the man’s head. He should have said something, but nothing came to mind.

The man turned slightly. “I thought you’d like some food.”

Gafar gulped, his throat dry more from hunger than from fear. “You have five seconds to tell me what you’re doing here.”

The man paused. “Clearly, I’m roasting fish—“

“Are you one of them?” Gafar snapped. “The Haram?”

The man turned and seemed to notice the rifle for the first time, his gaze falling to its barrel. But he didn’t flinch. “Why would I tell you that?”

“Answer me!”

The screeching of crickets in the distance gave an ambience to the scene. “What if I told you I was and you weren’t one of them? Or if I said I wasn’t, but you were one of them? Either way, one of us is dead already.” Gafar froze. The man smiled. “Consider me a friend, mallam.

“I have no friends on this path.”

“Then consider this an invitation. In a land such as this, we could all do with a companion.” The stranger patted the ground beside him. “Come. Eat.” A bowl of already roasted fish sat beside the man. “I also got some bread.” He extended his bag towards Gafar.

Gafar was torn. He should be pulling the trigger, but his hunger was too strong. He snatched the bag out of his hand and reached in for a loaf. Sure enough, he felt the soft loaves of bread in his hands. The aroma was too hard to resist. And he took a bite.

His gastric juices and salivary glands went to work. Goodness, he had not realized how hungry he really was until now. Whoever this stranger was, he had brought some good food. This was like a miracle … if you believed in such.

“You’re welcome,” the stranger muttered, returning to his roasting. “There’s a creek over there. The water’s cleaner than most.”

Gafar sat, taking more of the bread and fish. Out of habit he muttered his thanks. The man looked nothing like anyone else he had seen before in these parts. He knelt at the creek and gulped down a good helping of water. Sure enough it was clean water.

“God must be looking out for you,” the man said. “Few survive days in this forest on their own.”

Gafar did not respond. He preferred not to give much thought to God. He needed not to. For one thing, those perverted terrorists claimed to be fighting in His name. Why would God allow those men to take his daughter away? Either someone or something was wrong in that equation, or there really was no God. It just didn’t make sense. Without answers he chose to remain neutral on the subject.

“There’s a nomadic clan about a day away where we can trade that gun of yours for supplies,” he said. “But they’re always on the move.” Gafar arched a brow at the man, who shrugged. “I’ve lived in the Sambisa for a good while now. I know my way around here.”

Gafar studied the man as he returned to the fire. He wore a woolen jacket over his brown caftan. The white goatee framing his chin gave him a patriarchal look. Had he really lived here for long? He was in no mood for a conversation, but clearly this man was. “I thank you for the sustenance, sir. But one must wonder what would make a man like you to stay in this godforsaken forest.”

The man stared pointedly at him.“I could ask you the same question.”

“My path is no business of yours.”

“I see all kinds of men making their way through this forest every now and then,” he said. “Most with ill-intentions. You don’t strike me as their type.” He cocked his head, ostensibly studying Gafar. “But I can tell you that the enemies you seek will not be taken down with just one rifle.”

Gafar turned to him. So this man had deduced his vendetta. “You’ve … seen them?”

“Everyone knows when they camp, the Haram. Most families left the forest as soon as they started … ‘camping’ here.”

“Yet you remain.”

The man shrugged. “I’ve got greater concerns than my own safety,” he said. “As do you, I presume.”

“I’m grateful for the food, sir, but like I said, my path is of no concern to you.”

“One rifle cannot take down an entire camp of—“

“Sir, I would rather not talk about this.”

“Some would call that denial. “

“Sir, I really don’t like—“

“But you want to talk about it—“

Gafar shot to his feet. “Look! Your attempts to drive me out of my mind can’t go beyond how out of control I already am. I … ha … I … I don’t even know why I’m even trying to talk to you. I should have killed you and made off with your food when I had the chance.”

The man was smiling and it was annoying. “But you won’t, my friend.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

“You may be mad, but you’re not ax-crazy.”

“Yes! Yes! You got me there, old man! I am mad! I’m absolutely crazy! What was I thinking, coming in here with a borrowed gun? And you know something else, old man? I’m dead already. I’m a dead man! This is a dead man talking to you, right here! What have I got to lose?”

“A mad man and a dead man. That’s a very lethal combination…”

Gafar clenched his fists. “Tell that to those perverts.”

“…for you,” the man finished, his eyes glistening in the fire’s hue. “It’s lethal for you. And you know why? I can tell because I know who you are.”

“You don’t know the first thing about me.” The man just stared at him, with what looked like sympathy in his eyes. As far as Gafar was concerned, he was mocking his resolve.

“I know … that you’re a dangerous weapon to anyone that crosses your path now. And that’s because of who you are.” Gafar waited for the punch line. But when it did come it took the wind out of his sails. “You’re a father.”

Gafar froze, at a loss for words.

“They must have taken something most precious to you to bring you in here,” the man continued, his eyes on Gafar. “However insane this is. And I can think of nothing as precious as … as a child. A daughter.” He paused. “Your daughter.”

Gafar just stared at him. Exposed and vulnerable in that moment. Now, when he needed a smart comeback, nothing came. He just stood there and stared. “Well … well, it’s better than just sitting down and doing nothing.” He tried to avoid his gaze. “Like everyone else is doing.”

“How old was she?” the man’s voice was gentle.

Gafar stared into the fire. The thought that had been playing in the depths of his heart boiled to the surface. Simbi’s lost, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

For the first time in days, he let the teardrop trickle down his face. His resistance fell away. The heave in his chest was back. He could feel his pulse thumping in his forehead. He slowly sank to his seat.

The man just stared at him.

“Nineteen,” he whispered. “She was … only … nineteen.”

The crackle of the fire and the distant caw of hawks filled the silence that followed. His heart was breaking again. And, again, he was helpless.

“We hoped this would be the last WAEC that would get her into university. I didn’t think it was necessary. I only wanted her to get married and start a life as soon as possible. Her mother wanted our daughter to have a dream. A future. She made me promise —right there, as her life slipped away— to get our daughter through school. She would become a great woman. A princess that royalty would die for. But you know what? I never really realized how beautiful my daughter was already. A treasure…” he gulped. Now she was gone. Kidnapped. And who knew what else had become of her.

“What I would give for one more moment to hold her … to tell my daughter that I love her. I never told her that. I never … thought I needed to. I thought she always knew. But I would give anything! Even to the last of my cattle and my land, I would give it all. I just want my daughter to be safe…”

He was breaking down in front of a stranger, he realized. He had spent a week away from humans and he had already lost all his pride. “It’s been so long now. I saw that video, you know. They showed the girls, all in black. But I didn’t see my Simbi. They say they’ve been sold as slaves. Others say they’re dead. But I can’t believe that. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

The man had just been listening, now there was nothing but sobbing and the crackle of the fire between them.

“You want to negotiate with them?” the man asked at last. “You mentioned giving your cattle.”

“What choice do I have?”

For a moment they simply stared into the fire. “You really do love your daughter,” the man said. Gafar wiped his eyes. “I know how you feel … friend.”

Don’t say that. You can’t possibly know how I feel.

He placed a hand on Gafar’s shoulder “You will see your daughter again. It’s the hope we fathers have to hold on to.” Gafar turned to him. “The enemy may take our daughters, but we’ll do everything to bring them back. Even to lay down our very lives. Because it’s everything we have to give.

“After all … that’s why I’m here as well,” the man said, turning back to the fire.

Gafar sniffed and turned to him. “They took your daughter too?”

The man stared into the fire for a moment. When he did reply his voice was nothing but a whisper. “Daughters.”

That stopped him. Gafar was shaken. Really?

This gave a whole new perspective to this man. His daughters had been taken as well, and he was here to rescue them. There were things he wanted to ask, but he couldn’t. It was just … surreal. And sad. Very sad. So he does know how I feel. “I’m … I’m sorry.”

How, if there is any justice in the universe, these things could go unpunished troubled Gafar. How could these people continue their evil crusade – and no one else wonders why?! God, are you even there?

“You asked me why I’m here, in this …as you called it, ‘godforsaken’ forest,” the man said, a slight quiver playing at the edge of his lips. “Now you know. I have to be close to my children, somehow. I’ve been here for ages, searching, ready to bring my daughters home.” He smiled, in spite of himself. “I couldn’t live with myself any other way, knowing they’re in the hands of such evil men. I couldn’t afford to.” He shook his head, staring into the distance, lost in thought. “This ‘fatherhood’ thing, it’s … it’s an occupational hazard.”

Gafar sighed deeply, looking up at the stars. “You know, sometimes I think that if I ever brought her back safe, I would take her out of this place. Out of this country. I’d sell everything I have to take us to somewhere safe. I would throw the biggest party ever for her and her friends. I would … I would let the whole world know that she’s the most beautiful girl of all. The most precious jewel to me. I would never yell at her again … ever…”

The man nodded silently. “The Father’s heart.”

For a moment they did not talk. Gafar absentmindedly took some more helpings of the bread with fish. These short silent moments that punctuated their conversation seemed, to Gafar, to bond them somehow. A sort of camaraderie between fathers desperate to bring their loved ones home. Through long and dark nights in the cold, the bites of parasites and the certainty of death, the thought of their daughters home and safe again could be the only thing keeping them going.

The man turned and stared into his eyes again. “You can be sure that I’ll let your daughter know how much you love her so.”

Gafar smiled, as the chilling realization that he would die overtook him. But he nodded. “I’d do the same if I saw yours.”

“Listen to me—“

“—But frankly I just might outlive you, old man—“

“No, wait, you’re not listening to me. I will let your daughter know you love her because I am with her.” Gafar squinted at him. “Right now.”

Gafar tried to make sense of the man’s sudden cryptic shift in gears. “What’re you saying?”

“You know full well what it is I am saying.”

“Who … who are you?”

That enigmatic smile was playing at his lips again. “Don’t you remember me? Adam?”

Gafar was taken aback. He didn’t recall telling this man his name, let alone his first name. “Are you … no … it can’t be…”

He nodded. “I am.”

And he smiled one more time.

 

———-

Incessant chirping played at the back of his mind as he slowly regained consciousness. It could’ve been the sound of angels greeting each other. Perhaps he was dead already. For real, this time. He felt full on the inside. Oh, the blessing of good food. Especially bread and fish … talk about a meal! Slowly, one of his eyes peeled open. There was chirping, alright, but there were no angels. More like birds—

Wait a minute!

As he hurried to his haunches, he was engulfed by the daylight around him. He was still in the forest, birds chirping in the trees. It was another day searching for his daughter. One thing that piqued his attention was that there was no evidence of a camp fire around him. No ashes. He turned and confirmed his last expectation – no creek either. Had it been a dream?

But if it had all been a dream, why did he feel as if he had eaten?

He inhaled deeply, staring up into the bright sky. It was a new day, with new dangers ahead. But never before had he felt so much resolve.

Miracles do happen, he mused.

Picking his rifle again, refreshed and filled on the inside he hurried on into a forest that, perhaps, wasn’t so godforsaken after all. To death. To life.

To his daughter.

For Simbi.

———-

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing

nothing living or dead,

angelic or demonic,

today or tomorrow,

high or low,

thinkable or unthinkable—

ABSOLUTELY

NOTHING

can get between us and God’s love

because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Romans 8:38 and 39 (The Message)

 

———-

FATHER OF CHIBOK

Father of Chibok; Father of all.

I know You hear us when we call.

Thank You because You’re always near.

And, as You’re here, You’re also there.

You’re with our sisters and daughters in captivity.

Keep them, protect them … set them free.

I know You can

‘Cause You’re more than a man.

You loved them even before this all began.

Heal their hearts; heal their minds

Keep them from the fear that binds.

Our hearts go out to them too.

If anyone can bring them home, it’s You.

And Father,

This part is so hard that it barely even rhymes.

Help us … somehow … to pray for and love the men

Possessed by the spirit of terror.

For they terrorize and wish our nation ill

But unbeknownst to them, they are the captives, still.

Heal their hearts, heal their minds.

Free them from the bondage that binds.

Let them know that even in the darkest of forest

There’s a Father that loves them, and in seeking them, You don’t rest.

If anyone loves them, it’s definitely You.

Help us to love them like You do.

O Father of All; Father of Chibok

Thank You ‘cause You answer when we knock.

In the end, we know that Evil’s time is done.

In the End, evil is overcome.

Let Your Kingdom come and make this all right.

The world will be so much better with Your Light.

If anyone can do this, it’s going to be You.

What can we do?

Can You use us too?

Help us to lighten up this world

With your light as we do as we are called.

Reflecting your love to every fellow

That they may know that You love them so.

If You can use anyone, dear Jesus…

…thank You because it can be us.

GANGSTUH WEDDING

NOTE: Hi there! I’ve always wondered how a wedding with a different theme (Rock or Rap, for example) would turn out. So with the idea, I got to work on this, and this amazing story resulted. Hope you like it!

Gangstuh Wedding_final

PASTOR:

Ladies ‘n gentlemen, brothers and sisters

We’re gathered here today to celebrate a new vista

In the life of our homey and his soon-to-be wife

In holy matrimony, they gon’ be together for life

The GROOM stands up front, his face spread out in a smile

As He watches his BRIDE walking up the aisle.

It’s all he can do to keep his joy on the down low

He can’t help it no more; so away he goes:

 

GROOM:

From the day I first saw you, girl, my heart went pom-pom.

I just gotta tell you, baby, that you’re the bomb!

They got the models ‘n divas

They got the stars on TV,

But none of them come close

To your amazing beauty.

You are a precious jewel,

You’re the one I love.

You’re a gorgeous gift sent down from up above

It just blows my mind that you said “Yes” to me

Now I can hold you close to me for all eternity.

BRIDE:            

I used to think that love was something I knew

But that all changed from the very day that you came through

You show me what it means to live

You make me feel so free

That’s why I give myself to you for all…

For all eternity.

“Aw,” the congregation coos

In amazement at the PDA between these two.

The Pastor smiles, taking the time to don his specs

As he studies the programme for what comes up next.

 

PASTOR:

Now we get to the part, according to custom

Where anyone against this marriage gets the chance to bust ‘em

So if you got a good reason, it’s time to holler

Speak now on this matter, or just forget it forever.

 

Heads turn, and all over, there are nervous chuckles

Of course no one’s that silly to take on the debacle

Of ruining this wedding. So, with a sigh of relief

The Pastor shrugs, since there clearly is no beef.

PASTOR:

 Well then—

 

Suddenly the door slams open with a BANG!

In the doorway stands a big man with his gang.

Everyone knows this guy; he’s the kingpin

Of the ghetto’s underworld; he’s got the run on things.

Drug market, pimp hustles, they run on his list.

Gang boss, like a Mafioso … you get the gist.

So with a sinister grin, and a confident strut

He walks up the aisle slowly, and begins to taunt.

 

MAN:

Anymore lovey-dovey, you guys’ll make me puke!

Getting married to this junkie? Man, this wedding’s a fluke!

Get a reality check, Mister! Have you got no clue

‘Bout the whore –yeah, I said it— gettin’ married to you?

 

GROOM:

 What gives you the audacity to call my woman a whore?

In my presence? What’s your deal, man? Who do you think you are?

 

MAN(tips hat):

Donnie de V to the I to the L-L-E

That’s my name. Don’t wear it out. I’m that kind of G.

I’ve had a lot of time to get to know this piece o’ garbage

GROOM:

If you knew what’s good for you, you’d be watchin’ your language.

DE VILLE:

She’s a hack, a sick junkie. Was a part of my ring

Till she lost it, got busted, ended up in cling-cling.

And when she got out, I took her up. Made her clean.

Made her beautiful, I tell you. Made her up like a queen.

All the guys in the hood thought she was a looker.

So we cashed in on it. She became a hooker.

But she pulled a fast one

Held me up with a gun

Took my money, slipped town. She’s been on the run.

I reported to the cops, put out an APB

She’s been wanted by the po-po in every major city.

Got no idea where you found her, but you don’t know her like me.

Ask her if I’ve said the truth, and she just has to agree.

So you see, Mr. Goody, this girl ain’t your type.

She’s a fraud. She doesn’t deserve all this mushy hype.

Go get a proper college chic; from Harvard or Andover

‘Cause with this ghetto-trash, you’re history. Your reputation’s over!

Everyone stares at the BRIDE, and they see it’s true.

From her veiled head to the tips of her Gucci shoes

She’s trembling all over, eyes streaming with tears

Donnie de Ville has pulled the cork on all of her fears.

Did she really think that she would get away with this?

But the GROOM takes the floor. He’s not done with his.

GROOM:

 I know ‘bout all this stuff. It’s not news to me.

But there’s something more I want y’all to come and see.

And before the congregation, he removes his wristbands

To show –(GASP!) We can see ‘em! He’s got holes in his hands!

GROOM:

This was the price that I had to pay.

To get my girl a clean slate. To take her crimes away.

Your thugs did a number on me. Left me for dead.

But that wasn’t the end. Through God, I resurrected.

Every price that she ever owed has been paid for

You’ve got no argument now, Mister. Not anymore.

If you wanna get to her, you’d have to go through me.

‘Cause you got nothin’ on her. Now she’s truly free.

For a moment, it appears De Ville is shocked.

But he shakes his head, clearly refusing to be knocked.

DE VILLE:

She may be out of my hands, but you’ve still got more.

‘Cause your girl knows that she’s still runnin’ from the law.

There’s nothing you can do to end this case.

So the deal with the nails was just a total waste.

GROOM:

 But I’ve already done it all.

For every fine she’s gotta pay, I went and took the fall.

DE VILLE:

But … but, that’s not fair!

 

GROOM:

It’s not your call.

DE VILLE:

She deserves to rot in jail!

GROOM:

Her crime slate is null.

DE VILLE (flustered):

Well, I … I … you can’t do that

She’s mine! She’s a goner! She’s just a…

…a … a… You just can’t do that!

(Audience boos in the background)

GROOM:

You know that didn’t even flow.

You’ve overstayed your welcome here.

Looks like it’s time to go.

Now if you know what’s good for you

You’d be hittin’ the door.

Or I’d just call Security

To sweep you off the floor.

De Ville stares long and hard in hatred at the BRIDE

Who keeps her head down in shame; she won’t dare meet his eyes.

And with a final glance at the GROOM

He snaps his fingers at his gang, and bounces out the room

The congregation cheers in joy, now that De Ville is gone

Looks like the worst part of this wedding is finally done.

But the BRIDE is still shaking, whimpering, and crying

‘Cause they all know about her past now. She wishes she was dying.

 

GROOM:

Don’t cry, my dear. Don’t let ‘im get to you.

BRIDE:

I can’t do this—

GROOM:

Why?

BRIDE:

All that he said was true.

I can’t get married to you.

I’m just not good for you.

My past is filled with crime and scandal and more bad stuff, too.

If you got married to me, my past would ruin you.

And I don’t even know what De Ville’s gonna do to you.

 

GROOM:

I love you, my queen.

I died to make you free.

I live to give you a new life

I’ve paid your every fee.

Your past is over now

As if it never happened.

Don’t let it hold you back from me

My love can never be dampened.

Don’t worry ‘bout the Accuser

De Ville knows he’s a loser.

His day of judgment’s on the way

He’s got Hell’s primo visa.

He wants to keep you from believin’

That my love is real.

But all he’s good at is decievin’

Till he’s had his fill.

But Babe, I truly choose to love you,

No matter what I see.

Your past can’t keep me away from you

It’s just history.

You’re the one for me.

You’re the one I see.

Come, marry me and be with me for all eternity.

The BRIDE’s eyes are filled with tears, but now she can smile

And she just stares into his eyes for … well, a great big while.

There’s not a single dry eye in the building this day.

The Pastor clears his throat. It’s time to get this out of the way.

 

PASTOR:

Do you mind if we continue?

 

GROOM (to BRIDE):

I love you.

BRIDE (to GROOM):

Me too.

PASTOR:

Uh … ‘scuse me. Can we … um … move on.

GROOM:

Please do.

BRIDE (same time):

Please do.

They blush.

PASTOR:

Do you, my brother, choose to marry this woman?

And do you, my sister, choose to marry this man?

To have and to hold, to love and to cherish

Forever and ever … you know the rest of the gist.

GROOM:                                 I do.

BRIDE:                                     I do.

PASTOR:                                 Wotcha say?

GROOM AND BRIDE:              I DO!

PASTOR:                                 You do?

GROOM AND BRIDE:              We do?

PASTOR:                                 What they say?

CONGREGATION:                   THEY DO!

PASTOR:                                 They do?

GROOM:

Sir, please … this has been a long day.

PASTOR:

Oh, I’m sorry. I got a little carried away … excuse me.

(Clears his throat)

By the power that is vested in me

I declare you Man and Wife in holy matrimony.

So you may now, kiss your bride, yada yada yada.

You know the rest. That’s the end. See you at the after-dinner.

 

‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners. Christ died for us.

ROMANS 5:8 (NKJV)

A Christmas Chicken … as told by Dude

A Christmas Chicken_astoldbyDude

 

As told by Dude…

It was the night before Christmas, when I spotted the weirdest sight. I was totally minding my own business, you know; just enjoying the moonlight during my occasional evening stroll. Suddenly the silent night was broken by this weird cackle. As I walked on, the cackles like … grew louder. It was just … weird, you know.

I was curious, so I followed the sound. I came upon an abandoned alley and what I saw there just totally blew my mind. Not literally, of course, ‘cause if it did I would not be writing this… Anyway, before me were these chickens – possibly hundreds. Everywhere! I paused when I realized that I hadn’t been noticed, thankfully. What struck me then was their intelligence, ‘cause they were all like facing this stage (but it was really an upside-down bucket). They kept on cackling as if they were waiting for something. And as I listened, it was almost as if I could hear what they were saying. It totally felt like something out of a Disney/Pixar flick.

I gave them names based on how they looked. So, here goes.

Poulson walked over to the makeshift stage. He was a big brown broiler, tall and stocky, who carried himself with authority. Clanging his foot on the stage he yelled over the noise, “Attention, everyone! Attention!” He couldn’t get them to settle down. “KOW-KA-DOODLE-DOO!

The noise reduced, punctuated by some yells. “Hey, keep it down Mister! You’re gonna wake up the humans.”

“Thank you,” Poulson said. “Thank you, one and all. Now, I would first like to thank you all for coming to this special Poultry Convention. It truly is grand to see all of you. Truly birds of a feather … well, multiple feathers. The point being, we are all chickens, and we regard our kin with honour and dignity.”

From the front, Madam Henson squawked, “Get on with it!”

Poulson nodded. “Of course, we all know that tomorrow is Christmas Day –“

“Christmas Day?” Someone screeched.

“Christmas Day?!” As one the crowd became restless, with screams and cries.  Apparently, they dreaded that holiday.

Poulson was frustrated. “Oh, come on! Don’t tell me you didn’t know this was coming!”

“I thought Christmas was last year?!” someone yelled.

“Well, that’s the funny thing about Christmas: it’s kind of an ‘annual’ sort of thing? Why do you think they fed us so much all year?”

“We thought they loved us so much,” Miss Featherly said, gasping like she would faint.

“What do we do?”

Poulson tried to quiet the crowd. “Fellas, fellas! Hold your gizzards! We need to prepare!”

McCluckster leaped forward. “I know what we gotta do, lads!” He bellowed in his Scottish accent. “I says we attack those humans first, before they can attack us, ya!”

“Yeah!” the cry rang out. “Finish them off!”

“Who gave them the right to eat us chickens, anyway?”

“What, they think they’re better than us?!”

Poulson was losing his crowd. “Fellas! We can’t do that! It’s too risky!

“What are ya? Chicken?” McCluckster retorted.

Poulson arched a brow. “As a matter of fact, I am … chicken. But hear me out, this was why I brought us here, to listen to—“

“What?” yelled Otis, a young cockerel that sounded like a black American, as he leaped to the front. “Our last sermon before we are busted into the fryin’ pan? Look, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. I can’t afford to die.”

“And you most likely won’t!” Poulson said. “You lack the meat the humans want. You’re still young.”

“Oh,” Otis said introspectively. “Lucky for me, then. I get to live! Sorry ol’ chaps … uh … ahem … ‘scuse me.” The others just stared at him.

McCluckster shook his head and stamped his feet, his feathers on end. “Well I’ve go’ a family. My young’uns are still just hatchlings, and I can’t afford to lose their mother … or meself either.”

Poulson waved his feathers. “Elder Hancock wanted to share a few words with us.”

“Oldman Hancock?”

From the way the crowd responded, I knew that whoever Hancock was he must’ve been highly respected. It was then that I noticed him. He was this white cock with saggy eyes and a faded red crest. He was not as big as McCluckster, no, but he looked like he could have been a superhero in his younger days. The chickens moved out of the way as he stepped up to the bucket and faced the crowd.

His voice was deep and gave evidence to his age. “One of our own, Marty Clucker Cling, told of his dream. He dreamt that, one day white chickens and black chickens would cross the road together, and no humans would ask why.”

The chickens all nodded in agreement. “True that.”

Hancock continued, “But nothing brings chickens together like the dread of the looming human holiday – Christmas. For years, I’ve watched many of our own fall at the hand of the human blade at Christmas. I also used to dread Christmas, until I met my friend, Hamster. Hamster was a pig—“

“Hamster?” someone called out.

Hancock paused, clearly not expecting the interruption. “Yes, Hamster.”

“Thought you said he was a pig!”

“Yes. Like I said, Hamster was a pig—”

“Make up your mind, old bird! Was he a pig or a hamster?”

By now the others were raising their voices to silence the critic. I was almost sure I saw Oldman Hancock roll his eyes.

“Anyway,” he continued. “Hamster was a pig, and we both lived on a farm up in Abeokuta. One day, he came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘that orphanage down the road needs food for their Christmas party. Why don’t we contribute some eggs and ham?’

“I loved his idea, and I told him that. He added, ‘For you, it’s just a contribution. But for me, it’s going to be sacrifice.’

“I didn’t get it until Christmas Day. We got some of the hens in our barn to donate their eggs, and they gladly gave them to the orphanage. They also got ham, so everyone was glad. I didn’t realize it until I noticed Hamster was missing. You see, he had given himself so that they could have ham.”

Hancock bowed his head to hide a tear. “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

For a moment the place was silent. Then McCluckster broke the silence. “That just proves it, then! Those humans killed your friend!” The crowd was riled up. “They’re evil, all of them!”

Poulson tried to calm the crowd, but it didn’t work. Hancock raised a wing, and everyone fell silent. “You missed the point. You see, Christmas is about the Maker giving Himself.”

Someone in the front asked. “Are you talking about … the Maker maker? As in the Maker?”

Hancock exhaled and nodded. “Yes, the Maker. The One that made us all. He saw that the humans were held captive by evil itself, and they had become its evil minions. It made them become evil, and doomed. He wanted to pay for all their wrongs and give them a new life. The only way for Him to do that was for Him to become human, so that He could pay for their wrongs by dying. Just like Hamster did for those orphans. He sacrificed himself. Though our Maker rose again.”

McCluckster cocked his head. “I still don’t get it.”

This time Hancock did roll his eyes. “Humans celebrate the day He came, as a little baby, on Christmas.”

Poulson raised a wing. “So it’s not all about killing chickens, is it?”

“Well, we all have different paths. Humans, chickens. The Maker gave the humans the license to eat any animal they’re given as food, with thanksgiving. Including us.”

For a moment, the alley was all silent. I guess you could have heard a pin drop in that moment.

“Oh, that’s just fantastic!” McCluckster broke the silence. ”So the Maker wants a bunch of two-legged meat-eaters to gulp us down their throats, and thank Him?”

“You’re missing the point…”

And the crowd was riled up again. McCluckster were definite about his plot to deal with the humans, and he was not shutting up about it. Poulson was trying to calm the crowd down, and Hancock was simply shaking his head. It was a madhouse out there.

Until one of the chickens turned and yelled. “HUMAN!!!”

As one, the entire convention turned to me, a gasp visible on their faces. Dun-dun-DUUUUNNN! Bummer.

Words fail me to describe the jitters I felt. I grinned sheepishly and waved a little. “Hi?”

McCluckster was the first to scream … in fear. “A human!!! Run for ya lives! It’s everrry chicken ferrr ‘imself! AAAAAHHHH!!!”  He jumped on the spot, shrieking as he ran in circles. He was totally freaking out, you know, and the whole crowd was riled up again. You know, with feathers flying everywhere, and stuff.

The last thing I saw before I ran off was Poulson staring at McCluckster, a smirk on his face. “Chicken,” he said.

 

To this day, I haven’t seen another chicken talking. But, when I’m not there, I’m almost certain they are. It’s totally freakish, you know.

 

Oh, and Merry Christmas in advance to you guys. And, remember, it’s not about the stuff you eat. It’s all about the Son of God, and how He came to earth in the form of a human. I think that was totally cool, you know? Like an undercover mission? God as a man?

Anyway, He snuck behind enemy lines so He could rescue us from sin and death. That’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas.

Thank you for reading, y’all. God bless ya!

One more thing: I must not forget this part. A big shout-out to Emmanuel Presents (weird, right? I mean, who has a last name like ‘Presents’?!) for putting this up on his blog. Thanks, mate.

The Lion ROARS!!!

“Alright, kids,” I announced dramatically as we took another turn along the winding path. “Fasten your safety belts, ’cause now we’re in for the Big One.”
Dan, one of the kids with me, raised a hand, “But Uncle, we’re not in a car. We don’t have safety belts.”
I blinked. “It’s, uh…just a, uh… a figure of speech,” I muttered, hoping none of the kids noticed my failed trial at a dramatic intro. But Tolu, the older brother at fourteen, looked up from his iPhone and smirked. Nothing gets past that kid. Hopefully he’d get something out of today’s fieldtrip. Getting him to talk was always quite a chore.
The day at the zoo had been my idea of a fun time with my sister’s kids during the holidays. It would be another opportunity to show them some of the amazing creatures God had made, answer questions, and provide good conversation starters.
“Are we gonna see the Lion now?” Grace, Dan’s twin, asked.
“Uh-huh,” I nodded.
They cheered. Well, all except Tolu. Hmm…
But I was not moved. We were in for the main attraction, the piéce de resistance — the Lion! Which kid would not like to see a lion?
We were now just beside its cage. With the excitement built up in me, I turned to them. “Who’s the King of the Jungle?”
“The Lion!”
“Yes, though they actually don’t live in ‘jungles’, you know.”
“Yeah,” Dan added. “They live in the Savanna!”
I was impressed. “Where’d you learn that?”
He shrugged. “Lion King.”
Grace put in. “I love how lions have those cool manes around their heads.”
I winced. “Those would be male lions.”
“Like Mufasa?” Dan asked.
I exhaled. How many movies did these kids watch? “Yes, like Mufasa. And Simba too, as a grown-up.”
“Simba!”
“And Sc–” I stopped. Scar wasn’t exactly fan-friendly material for these kids.
So I continued my exposition, to the delight of the twins. I noticed that Tolu was now paying attention. “Lions live in groups called prides. When they go hunting –well, only the females hunt (“The ones without manes?” Grace asked, and I nodded)–, all the antelope and wildebeest have to SCRAM! for their lives, or the lions would eat them up.”
I launched into an account of a shot I’d seen on Animal Planet of a stand-off between lions and a team of rhinos over a waterhole. Perhaps I was a little carried away, but the wide-eyed wonder-filled gazes of the twins kept me going. It took Tolu’s deliberately loud sigh to get my attention.
“Is there something you want, Tolu?” I asked, annoyed at his interruption.
“When do we actually get to SEE the lion, Uncle?”
In spite of myself, I knew the boy was right. Man, I HATE it when he does that! But I needed it, too. I patted his shoulder and smiled. “You’re right, Benny. Let’s go see the Lion.”
Dan and Grace gripped my hands as we approached the cage in silence.
And then we saw it. Through the mesh of the netting, in the darkness beyond, we saw the huge mound of beige flesh reclining. Perhaps it heard our footsteps approaching, for we were suddenly jolted by two tiny glistening orbs that suddenly appeared. It’s eyes. They shone with the reflection of daylight from outside as it stared at us.
A sense of awe and wonder gripped me, making me recall scenes from Narnia when the Pevensies stood before Aslan.
And then it sat up with a grunt echoing in its concrete cell, and took two pounding steps toward the netting.
I could hear Dan whining beside me, “Mummy…mummy…mummy…”
Grace’s grip on my hand tightened.
“It can’t come near us, don’t worry,” I said reassuringly.
I stole a glance at Tolu and he turned to me. I gave him a ‘how-cool-is-this’ look, arching a brow.
He simply shrugged. The ‘I’ve-seen-better’ shrug.
Now I was frustrated. “Oh, COME ON! You–” What would get this kids attention? A spitting contest down the Grand Canyon?!
But I was suddenly cut off by the most ear-splitting sound I had ever heard. It ran down my spine, taking over my being. The kids screamed in its wake.
The Lion was roaring.
We hurried away from the cage, but Tolu remained, frozen at the spot. That KID! I was torn between calming the twins and pulling Tolu away from the cage.
Other visitors to the zoo hurried over to see what was going on.
The roar subsided as the crowd gathered. I grabbed Tolu and yelled in his face, “Are you OK?!”
He had a blank stare for a moment, still shaken. And then he said, “That…was…AWESOME!”
And he meant it too.
That made my day.

Sometimes, we get carried away with how much we know about God. But what we need, what our friends and family need, what this world needs, is to know the Savior Himself, for themselves. It will change them.

There is nothing like standing in the Lion’s roar.
To feel His breath
As it shakes you to the core.
To bask in His Love and His awesome touch
As He soothingly tells you, “I love you very much.”

There’s nothing like knowing God for yourself.
Let them know Him.
He’s the One they need.
😀The Lion and the Lamb

UNCHURCH

(Photo Credits: www.inimagine.com)
(Photo Credits: http://www.inimagine.com)

From Tobi’s Journal

I didn’t like going to Church.
OK, I know that must sound like a backslider’s swansong as he sinks slowly back into the dark and sinful world. But here, in my journal where no one can judge me, I can be honest. To me, Church was just … boring. This comes from growing up in a church family. But don’t worry, this story gets better along the way. Just stay with me.
My most dreaded day of the week was Sunday, ‘cause that’s when we’d all have to wake up by 6 am so we can leave the house and be in church by 7 am (I mean, who wakes up that early … on a weekend?). It didn’t matter that we hurried to church because we’d still be a few minutes late for the Workers’ Meeting so we’d all remain standing ‘till morning service began at 8 am. In all this time, we hadn’t eaten. It all felt rushed to me, and quite unsettling. Why couldn’t I just sleep in or play games or watch movies all morning, like other folks did? I wasn’t even a ‘worker’ in church, my parents were!
Anyway, we’d then start the Morning Service (and that’s another thing, I wondered why they called it ‘service’. It’s a ‘programme’, not a delivery service or anything) with Praise and Worship. I can recite the entire church programme by heart; any church kid can. Praise and Worship a system of slow songs, then fast jumpy songs, and then more slow songs, with or without the raising of hands. One of the deacons would then come up to take the Opening Prayer (the older the deacon, the longer the prayer, just saying), followed by the Testimonies (people telling us what God’s done for them) and/or a Hymn (really old songs in old books written by old people long gone before our grandpas were born). The choir would then take what they called the ‘Choir Ministration’, a special song they figured we’d either not heard before or that they thought we’d like. Pastor Dan would then come on stage and give a long teaching from the Bible called a Sermon. And don’t you dare take a nap or the ushers would tap you, exposing you and ruining your chances with anyone you secretly admire. Too bad if you haven’t got a wristwatch either, because they deliberately keep the big clock on the wall at the back facing the front, so that only the pastor can know how long he’s spending, and can choose to keep you seated for as long as he wants. After the Sermon, you know it is almost time to get home, so you listen through the Announcements and wait for the Closing Prayer and Benediction (‘May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…’). Another Church Service is over. That is, unless there’s another meeting after.
Maybe I was a little too hard back there. It wasn’t so bad, you know. Perhaps it was just my perspective that needed changing. Either way, here’s what happened one Sunday.
The first warning signs I should have noticed was my father’s constant snicker anytime he talked about the coming Sunday’s service. “Don’t forget to invite your friends,” he said. Yeah right, like I’d bring my friends over to my church. As in my church?
“They’re already going to theirs,” I said.
“It’s just one Sunday. They can tell their parents that I’ll pick them up. It’s going to be special, trust me.” My father and mother teach in Bible Study classes.
I smiled sheepishly. My Mom suddenly put in. “What about the family across the road? The Oluwoles?”
Uh-oh. “Haven’t they got a boy your age?” Dad added. “I think his name’s Tosin?”
I nodded slowly, thinking of why this would not work. Tosin was not what you’d call ‘church’-material. He was one of the ‘big boys’ in school, who always seemed to have a lot of stuff, and hung out with other guys who did. His father worked in an oil company in the South-South. Girls like those kinds of guys; you learn that pretty quickly. Other guys like me just knew we were out of his league. Why would he come to my church? “Yyyyeeeeesss, but I don’t think he’ll wanna come.”
“It’s worth a try,” Mom said. “I’ve seen his mother in our church once. Besides it’s not far from this neighbourhood.”
“I think I’ll talk to his father,” Dad said. “He’s back from Port Harcourt.”
“Just try, Tobi,” Mom said. “Hmm?”
I didn’t. But this is not about how I did or did not tell him, because in the end he turned up in church with his mother, father, and his little baby sister. I did not go up to meet them, no way. How could I let him see me in my church clothes: tucked in t-shirt and trousers? He looked cool in his Lakers jersey and jeans. Man, I felt jealous that morning. Gotta work on myself. But, moving on.
The choir came on stage to lead us in Praise and Worship, all dressed in their ceremonial gowns. Another Sunday service about to begin. The handsome choir leader who many of the girls had a crush on (if my sister’s comments are anything to go by) came up in front and took the microphone. “Let’s lift our hands as we sing,” he said. Hands went up all around the sanctuary. I wondered what someone like Tosin was thinking about all this.
And he blew us away.
With just the right instruments, the guitars and drums blared in an awesome blend as the tenors sang,

We are the Champions, my friends!
And we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end
We are the Champions
We are the Champions
No time for losers
For we are the Champions
Of the World!

My jaw fell open. What in the world was going on? That was not a gospel song … was it? I could not hear the rest because it was drowned out by the screams of the young people in the auditorium. For the sake of the older ones, the lyrics were displayed on the projector screens. I knew the choir surely had something up their sleeves. But that was not the end of it.
And as the refrain ended, the fast beats came. As one the choir jumped with the rhythm. And they just kept it going. It was not over.

I will never say never (I will fight)
I will fight till forever
Whenever you knock me down
I will not stay on the ground…

I was surprised these songs were being sung in church. In my church. I was more surprised to hear the screams and to see many of the ‘church kids’ singing along enthusiastically. So girls in my church also listened to Bieber, hmm. It was clear that they felt nervous at first, but then they just shrugged it off. Hey, if they were singing it in church it must be alright, right?
Some of the songs, I did not really recognize. They were mainly mainstream songs that many people knew. I even saw my Mom singing along to ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, a Diana Ross hit from the ‘70s. The congregation was ecstatic that morning. It was all weird, but fun. And then the final blast came, and we all cheered. The instrumentals were amazing; I had to give it to them. I wondered how long they had been preparing for this.
“Now, time for the slow songs,” the leader said. I blinked. No, he didn’t just say that…

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me…

Oh no, what was going on here? This was funny, but it just felt weird around here.

Iwe kiko (Yoruba translation: Education)
L’aisi oko (without the hoe)
Ati ada (and cutlass … just a Yoruba expression for ‘farming’)
Ko ipe o (is not enough)
Ko ipe o (is definitely not enough)

Soon he was done, and everyone cheered as they took their seats, wondering what would happen next. Clearly, this was all staged. Deacon Olasope came up on stage. “Welcome to another beautiful Sunday, everyone. I’m sure we’ve all had quite an interesting past week. We’ve had some good times, some not-so-good times, and some of the…” he winced. “So-sos.” That elicited giggles.
“So if anybody wants to tell us some of the good things that happened to them in the last week, please come up on stage.” In our church, people with testimonies to share registered with the pastor before the service. Today there were six up on stage. The first person announced that he did not get arrested for speeding beyond the speed limit. We laughed. The second was grateful that we’d had no earthquakes. The third announced that he’d got a new videogame. The other ‘testimonies’ were equally weird.
OK, by this point I was feeling totally weirded out. None of this made sense in any way. Thankfully, Pastor Dan came up to set things right again. As he stopped up on stage in his polo shirt and jeans, the moments that followed would be one of the most solemn moments I would ever remember in our church.
“We’ve had quite an interesting programme today, haven’t we?”There were murmurs of affirmation, but then it was clear that others felt the same way. If this all was an attempt to get people to enjoy church, it was lame. “I know everyone is wondering what’s been going on. Some unconventional things have happened here today. In the next few minutes, let’s talk about it together, shall we?”
There was an awkward moment of silence as the pastor stared at us all. I pitied him for the moment, because this was church. No one wants to talk in church, as far as I’m concerned. We were simply OK with him ending each sentence with ‘Praise the Lord’ or ‘Amen’, and us responding with ‘Halleluiah’. No one was going to—
But then someone in front raised a hand. “Yes,” Pastor’s face lit up as he pointed at her. “Tell us, Joana.”
Joana was one of the kids in our youth forum, who was never afraid to speak her mind. Thankfully she’s the one that got everyone talking that day. “We sang secular songs in church today.”
“Secular?” one of the elderly woman exclaimed. “Those were worldly songs! They don’t minister life!”
That got many people talking over each other, as each side wanted to prove that the songs were either totally bad or not that bad. Music was just one of those topics that many people even in my church did not fully agree on.
When Pastor Dan finally got us all to calm down, he said, “OK, now we all want to talk. But we’ve gotten that point down. ‘Un-Christian songs in church … that don’t minister life’, is that good with everyone? We deliberately selected songs with morally-acceptable content for this exercise. That’ll be the last time we’ll sing those songs from here, don’t worry. Wonderful. Any other thing we noticed?”
Some people still muttered about the music. I could not put my finger on it, but there was something more to this Sunday service that made me feel uneasy. He was expecting us to talk about the order of programmes, but no one wanted to state the obvious.
Suddenly a stranger raised his hand. He was Tosin’s dad, the one that worked in Port Harcourt. He was a huge man, and this was his first time in our church. Uh-oh, I thought, Pastor’s in big trouble today.
“Good morning everyone,” he said. “I’ll make it brief. Uh… this is my first time in this church. I don’t go to church normally, except for special occasions like Christmas or Easter, or December 31st or funerals and memorial services. It’s just how I live. I would not have come today, had uh…my neighbour not invited me.” He was talking about my Dad. I just wished he remembered his name.
“I understand that what we’ve had here today was simply an act, for a discussion, and I’m glad. I really am, because … I don’t have anything against the songs. It’s just that, this is church. The few times I come to church, I get the opportunity to think about someone else for a change. To experience God in a different way, apart from the busyness of the rest of my week. I don’t know if anyone here understands me—“ there were nods all around “—but I come to church to be with God. I did not have any of that here today, Pastor. It felt no different than a hang out with friends, and nothing more. I came for the ‘more’. And I hope I’ll still get some of that today. Thank you.”
As he sat, we all applauded his statement. What he said gave me the courage to stand. “Yes, Tobi,” Pastor Dan encouraged me to speak.
“It was not only the songs,” I said. “But everything else was missing something. I did not feel … safe. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just did not feel safe.”
“Thank you, Tobi.”
More people spoke along the same lines. Some did not feel safe, some did not feel encouraged, and some were annoyed at some of the bogus testimonies praising their human ingenuity and all. Some blatantly said that they did not feel God. It did not feel like Church to any of us.
Pastor Dan got all of this down. “Thank you everyone. Without God, all that we do here every Sunday is empty. Beyond the order of programmes and activities, there is Someone calling to us through it all. We dedicate our songs to him in here, we praise him for his wonderful work and we thank Him for what He’s done for us. He is our God, and also our Father who has saved us and called us to Himself. We pray to Him. This is who we are, and it’s what we do here, folks. Without Him, our Sunday mornings here are nothing more than a waste of time.
“In giving the first morning of the week to the Lord, we are setting a template for the week ahead. I’m not saying you must start your day at your workplace with fifteen minutes of praise and worship … or fast songs and slow songs.” That made us laugh again. “And while we’re on the subject, you do understand that ‘praise’ does not necessarily mean a fast song, and ‘worship’ does not necessarily mean a slow song either, right?” We agreed. “Uh … Media Team, please put up Romans 12:1, from The Message, please? Thank you. Songs of praise are songs of adoration and sometimes thanksgiving to God for what He’s done for us, for who He is. Songs of Worship are, uh … they are an expression of the heart in love and worship to God. You know what, I don’t have the best definitions here, but that leads me to my next point. Media are we … ready?” He sighed as he stared at the screen, waiting for the projection to adjust.
Our Media Team was pretty awesome, but sometimes they got quite clumsy. I was going to join them someday. But today they first put up Romans 11:1 before the projection changed to 12:1.
I think Pastor Dan likes reading from The Message Bible sometimes because of its conversational tone. “Very good. Romans 12:1 says, and here, Brother Paul is speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, ‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—‘ now everyone listen closely to this, ‘—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.’” He paused and stared back at us. “That’s Worship, friends. That’s what God expects from us every single day. Our offerings to Him are not a couple of notes and coins we place in the basket every Sunday, no. It’s our everyday lives, in the little things we do. Honouring Him, thanking Him for His faithfulness and goodness, and glorifying Him in all our ways. Living lives of integrity, of love. This is the most reasonable way to serve God.
“That’s what Worship means, people of God,” Pastor Dan said, slowly so that we all got it. “That’s what ‘Service’ means, to God. We’re serving Him by offering our lives to Him for His purpose. To be what He wants us to be, and to do what He wants us to do.” He stepped down from the podium and stood among the congregation. “Sunday is a platform; I could almost call it a ‘special excuse’, or an opportunity to pour out ourselves and our time as an offering to our Father. Surely, He will bless us as He has promised. But this is our part, to Worship. A book I read years ago defined ‘Worship’ as ‘Worth-ship’, giving the most worth to the One that deserves it the most. Not just in our songs, but specifically in our lives. What we do here is a product of that, unto God. That’s what makes us His house.”
In the moments that followed, we all let this sink in. He was right. It was not just the literal mentioning of ‘God’ in our programmes, but an outpouring of our hearts. That’s what made the programmes worthwhile, even if they were changed or re-ordered, or even if they remained monotonous. It’s the Lord we worship beyond all of this that makes it worthwhile.

“So now,” Pastor Dan said. “We’ve had quite a morning. Now let’s do some Service.” And Sister Sarah took her place at the grand piano. She is one of those elderly women who have been a blessing to our congregation for generations. I was told she started our choir when my Dad was still a boy, and that her children were successful pastors abroad. No one would have known that she was a doctor, for her musical skill was always a marvel and a blessing to us. Perhaps it was this new perspective I had just gotten that allowed me to see her and her gift as a gift from God that morning. For as we followed her in singing her song, we meant it with all we had.
All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all.
I surrender all.
All to Thee, my Blessed Savior
I surrender all.
We spent the rest of the morning worshipping God in prayer and song. What a service that was. While we’ve not had that kind of service again, I kinda enjoyed it. I wonder what comments Pastor Dan got after.

So, what do I think about Church now? I still don’t enjoy rushing every Sunday morning, and the monotonous order sometimes just gives me a good laugh. But I understand that God deserves my best, and Sunday services in Church are an opportunity to do that. From the songs, to the prayers, to the testimonies, the Sermon, and even the rare projections on screen, I get to see God at work in these people. He’s much bigger than the box I make for Him in my mind, and He’s just … amazing. I’m encouraged in my walk with God. I don’t have all the answers. But I know there’s a good reason children of God gather together to meet and worship Him this way. Iron sharpens iron…

The other day I showed this piece to my friend, Emmanuel. He’s a weird guy, that one. He suggested that he’d like to post this article on his blog. I think he was just teasing. I just hope he didn’t do it. If this goes on his blog, the things I’ll do to that guy … I’ll … I’ll … oh well, I’ll just have to forgive him. Eventually.
Until next time, journal.

P.S.: Emmanuel here. I gotta apologise to Tobi for posting this up, though I warned him. Hey, to you readers out there, do NOT read other people’s journals without their permission … even if they are fictitious characters!

For those of you that waited behind for more, here’s a little teaser for a Feature Presentation coming soon …

A Feature Presentation coming soon on Emmanuel Presents
A Feature Presentation coming soon on Emmanuel Presents

The Elevator

As they entered the lobby, the woman and her little boy were overwhelmed by the crowd. Here and there, men and women walked back and forth, most definitely with a purpose in mind. Everyone was here for the company’s Grand Dinner at the Top Floor. But this woman had an edge over them:
Her husband was the C.E.O., and he had given her a special invite.
The boy clutched her hand tight. “Mom?”
“It’s OK, dear,” she said reassuringly. She still held her husband’s note in her other hand. “We’ll be fine. Stay close.”
It appeared many were taking the stairs at the other end of the room. But the note in her hand had given specific instructions.
“We’re supposed to look for a man…” she muttered to herself.
Her boy beat her to it. “Could it be that man over there?” He pointed at a man in a suit across the room. He was, apparently, already staring at them.
She shrugged. “Ok, let’s go ask him.” So, making their way through the sea of humanity, they approached the tall fellow, who was beaming.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello, sir. I’m sorry, I’m looking for a, uh…” she checked the note in her hand. “Mr. J.C.?”
“That would be me,” he said. “And you must be Karen.”
“Why, yes,” she said, taking his hand. She ruffled her son’s hair. “Smart boy. How’d you know it was him?”
“He was the only one smiling,” he said. Karen smiled at that. Her boy was easily attracted to people that smiled.
The man bowed to his level. “And this must be Richie. Your father talks about you all the time. High five!” The boy smiled and gave him the high five.
“He said we should meet you,” Karen explained.
“Why yes,” J.C. said. “He wouldn’t want you to take the stairs. You would be much too tired before you got to the Top Floor. Here.” And with that, he tapped the wall behind him. It suddenly swung open to show what looked like a small room.
“An Elevator!” Richard said in wonder. “COOL!”
J.C. smiled. “You just type in the code in the panel on the right, and it’ll take you there.”
Karen nodded. “Thank you, sir. And the code…is…?”
“Faith,” he said. “F-A-I-T-H.”
Karen smirked as she tapped it out. “My husband has always got a knack for deep passcodes, hasn’t he?”
“Oh, you have no idea!” J.C. replied.
Richard was reading a word on the Elevator’s wall. “G-R-A-C-E? Mom, what’s ‘grace’?” He pronounced it as ‘grass-ay’.
She stared up at it. “It’s pronounced ‘grace’, dear.”
“Grace,” he repeated.
“That’s what we call the Elevator,” J.C. explained.
As Karen pressed ‘Enter’ the lights came on. “Thank you, Mr. J.C. I do hope we’ll meet again.”
“Oh, we will, Karen. You too, Richie.”
“Bye, Mr. J.C.,” Richard said, waving.
“Sir, I’m curious,” she said. “Why don’t the others just take the Elevator?”
Here J.C. looked visibly sad. “They don’t know it exists. But only I can tell them, and, frankly, they don’t want to come to me.”
“Can we tell them? To direct them to you? I can’t imagine leaving them to take the stairs.”
“That would be marvellous. I couldn’t ask for more. Now hurry along. Your husband’s waiting for you.”
So they waved as the Elevator lifted them and carried them towards the Top Floor. All through it all, Richie kept jumping in amazement. “We’re gonna meet Daddy!”
“Yes we are, dear. Yes we are.”

‘Through [our Lord Jesus Christ] … we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ Romans 5:2

The Glory of God is like the Top Floor. It’s where God is, and where He wants us to be. But because of our sins, we’ve been brought down to the ground (all have sinned and ‘fall short’ of THE GLORY OF GOD: Romans 3:23). But God still wants us to reach His glorious ideal.
The stairs are like the Law. While it was God that gave the Law, it can’t get us there. It’s based on our own efforts to do what’s right, and we just can’t measure up on our own. That’s what He gave the Law to us for, to show us that we really need God’s help. And He’s willing to give it!
And God sent His help, His Grace. It gets us there. But the only way to recieve His Grace is through faith in Jesus Christ. Then, in whatever situation, we can rejoice because we know that we are getting closer to that glorious ideal.
Not by our own strength, but by His own Strength at work in us.

His Grace.