“Show your neighbor your offering,” I heard the pastor yell from the podium. Okay so this must be a joke, I thought. But no, it wasn’t. At this point everyone had their envelopes opened to the person sitting next to them. My body language said clearly: “There is no way in Heaven I am going to do this.”
I agree with my dad on a lot of things: like how it isn’t right to start a quarrel or be the last to end it. We agree that it’s somehow irresponsible to eat meat before finishing rice, or, in his wise words, eat without putting in the work. But there’s an exception, which is: “going to church is a waste of time.”
I remember nights arguing with him about this. He has never moved his ground. “Ukadinobi,” he would always say. Church is in the heart. As a child, this didn’t sit too well with me but as an adult it has served as a pillow where I lay my head and think.
I went to church as a little kid, but going was not complete until dad gave me offering to put in the church basket. Emphasis on basket, because, recently, that has been dropped for envelopes. I get the idea of adopting the use of envelopes for privacy. Or I thought I did.
After riffling through the five shirts and two pants I own, it dawned on me that going to church was going to take a lot of convincing, because I needed new clothes. I was tired of wearing my “Kadomanya” (recognize me clothes) to church every Sunday and weekday service. After so much thought, I decided to just wear what I had. I mean who was so jobless as to take note of what I wear to church. (Kemi the usher, Tayo the protocol officer who comes with the bus to pick us up and a whole lot of others.)
I was half way out of the door when I realized I didn’t have money for offering, I rushed back in and searched through my shirt and pant pocket looking for change. My search was fruitful. I was able to raise Fifty Naira. Yay!
I missed the bus to church, so I had to walk. “It’s not far, I can trek it,” said the poor bastard in me. Who was I kidding? Ten minutes into the walk, I decided to settle for an anonymous church by the roadside.
Their praise and worship was lit—my favorite part of going to church. As I walked into the church, the usher at the door welcomed me with a smile and a hidden frown. You could tell her high heels were killing her. “Is this your first time here?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied as she led the way, directing me to sit in front. She lost me midway as I sat comfortably in an empty chair in the middle of the congregation. There was no way I was going to sit in front, not with those two giant split unit air conditioners mounted behind the altar. I wasn’t shy. I just didn’t like the idea of sitting in front. Going to pee would be too difficult. Plus, it is always freezing in front, but in the middle you can always keep warm. These are church tactics no pastor would teach you in their sermons. I sat with my head bowed evading the usher’s confused search for me.
Soon, it was time to give our offerings, I stood up with my hands in my pocket, my fifty Naira gently squeezed into a small ball. “Can we all come forward with our tithes, let me say a special prayer for you,” the pastor called out. Now I knew I was screwed. I had no tithe. How do I sit back down now without anyone noticing? With a fake smile on my face, I looked around for a close exit. I locked eyes briefly with the lady who ushered me in, and she kept a straight face as she motioned to me to go forward. I knew that was a bad idea. At this time, more than half of the people who stood up with their tithe were out already. Slowly I sat down.
“It is not yet our turn,” the brother sitting beside me with the red bow tie whispered to me while looking straight ahead. From his look, you could tell he wasn’t happy with the ongoing segregation but he had long accepted his place: a place where I now belonged.
You could tell when it became our turn, because the whole church was up and cheerful. Everyone was holding a white envelope except me. I didn’t have the chance to collect mine from the usher who directed me to sit in the front. Now ,she was standing in front of me with a white envelope in hand, her frown very visible. “Thank you,” I said quietly as I straightened my fifty Naira note, hand still in my pocket. With the speed of light, the fifty Naira was well hidden in my envelop.
“Show your neighbor your offering,” I heard the pastor yell from the podium. Okay, so this must be a joke, I thought. But no, it wasn’t. At this point everyone had their envelopes opened to the person sitting next to them. My body language said clearly: “There is no way in Heaven I am going to do this.”
“If you cannot show your neighbor your offering then it means it is too small to give God.” The pastor’s remark singled me out of the crowd. At this point I was way past angry. “He can’t say that,” I said, turning to the man with the red bow tie sitting beside me. He replied by opening his envelop and showing it to me with a smile on his face. In it sat a neat one thousand Naira note. His smile told me all I needed to know: “At least i am better than this one.” With a straight face I looked forward as the ushers passed the offering bag around. I dropped my envelope in it and made my way to the exit, angry.
As I walked back home I couldn’t hold my anger. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. how do I say this to someone without indirectly condemning the house of God? My dad was right all along. This was one of those bitter facts that couldn’t be swallowed without water. I stopped at a shop, fished out my rumpled fifty Naira note from my pocket, and paid the shop attendant for a cold bottle of water. You are damn right I dropped an empty envelope. My offering was obviously too small to give God in that big Redeemed Christian Church of God parish by the road side.