Karim was in high spirits. “Now, THIS is church”, he thought to himself. He had grown bored of his home church and had begun to resent the manipulative eschatology offered there. His irritation always started when Sister Nkechi Ariri took the microphone to lead the praise and worship session. She was almost always the one who did.
“If you’re not dancing, it means you’re telling the Lord He hasn’t done anything in your life”, she would say and then proceed to name and shame. Karim, who had never been a fan of dancing, was always on her list of offenders. He wasn’t church shy; he just couldn’t dance.
“Mr. Karim, you’re not dancing!” Oh, how he hated her high pitched voice and its shrill judgment! Karim was surely appreciative of the Lord. He had many things to be thankful for. Returning from two tours in Chibok unhurt was most definitely one of his biggest reasons. Who was she to tell him how he felt about God?
Then, there was the prayer session that followed where he could not pray in tongues for fear of condemning eyes. It was as if there was an unwritten rule that only the pastors could pray in tongues. Karim had attended his church since he became born again. So many of these practices were part of his faith walk in the beginning, but his intense desire to know God had drawn him into a place of constant study and prayer. His exposure to Christian literature had soon changed his perspective on these habits, and he craved something different.
Now, here he was on a bright Sunday morning, attending another church for the first time. A senior colleague at work had invited him after he complained bitterly to him at closing hours on Friday.
A vibrant punk-haired pianist was playing, tapping lightly at the keys before him. This had to be the sound of heaven. It sounded nothing like the usual woro and highlife chords he was used to. With the tapping of each key, and every strum of the accompanying guitar, Karim felt lifted. He was sure this had to be what heaven sounded like.
The voice of the lady on the microphone left him entranced. The way she sang… The way she sang in tongues… It was very unlike shrill Sister Nkechi. As she sang, he was also moved to begin speaking in tongues.
Every other part of the service was spectacular. The delivery of the sermon was beautiful. He wouldn’t have cared if the service lasted all day. Two and a half hours flew by and the service began to draw to an end. The last item on the agenda was the dedication of the newest member of the flock – a baby girl. In front of the pulpit, the proud parents stood beside the pastor and faced the rest of the congregation. They were joined by the body of elders, one of whom was Karim’s boss who had invited him. A few words were said about the importance of new life, innocence and some other things Karim didn’t understand, but none of it mattered. It all felt like it made sense, thanks to the pastor’s smooth delivery and the congregation’s awestruck reaction.
Suddenly, everything changed. Euphoria disappeared and was instantly replaced by panic. The pastor had raised the baby up. The snarl on his face suggested that his intention was sinister. Karim leapt forward from the front row seat he had been ushered to earlier in the service. His training had kicked in. He snatched the baby just before the drop.
“Karim! Karim! Stop this! Bring the baby back here!”
His boss shouted as Karim continued to back away towards the exit. He heard a slam behind him and turned to find two hefty men standing before him. They had shut the door and stood firmly in his way to ensure it remained so. The rest of the congregation closed in.
“Mr. Karim, just hand over the baby and you’re free to go wherever you want. This doesn’t have to get ugly.”
As the pastor warned Karim, another elder chipped in.
“There are things you don’t understand, Mr. Karim.”
Karim struggled to make sense of what was happening. Why would a church want to harm a newborn baby? Why would the parents consent to it? Why would his boss invite him to such a horrific ceremony?
Then, something occurred to Karim. As the congregation closed in on him, he realised he had been the only first-timer. The baby wasn’t the only new member of the congregation. And she wasn’t the only one in danger.