It was on a Saturday morning. My mum had just woken me up from a well-deserved sleep just to share the news from our church with me.
The night before was spent at the church vigil where we had prayed all night against some demons trying to afflict the members and bring the church down.
I clearly recall how pastor had mounted the pulpit the Sunday before the vigil with a holy aggressive expression about him. You’ll think he was battling some unseen forces right in front of him. Anyway, he mounted the pulpit – a wooden elevated platform that there was no need for, now that I think of it. Yea, there was just a sprinkling of congregation in a space that barely accommodated us. The size of the entire building couldn’t have been longer than that of 3 shops at Tejuoso market put together. There was barely any room for an aisle. We were closely packed together and were just a couple of yards away from where the pulpit was. A simple lectern would have done the job. But what do I care? Pastor Esupofo wanted it that way and so it was.
Like I was saying, pastor Esupofo mounted the pulpit. He was on a threadbare white coat that he only wore on special occasions. Referring to what he wore as suit is to smear the essence of that particular outfit. He took a dramatic pause of about 30 seconds and blurted the devil is a liar! he exclaimed in Yoruba. Beeni (yes) the congregation responded in unison, springing up from the wooden benches they sat on. You couldn’t call them pews as pews had provisions for backrest. I remember brother Tayo, in one of his dozing spree, once fell backward and landed on his trunk.
Well, the congregation was all on their feet at the pastor’s outburst. Riding on the excitement his utterance gained, pastor Esupofo went on to prove to us how that the devil was always parading himself as strong but indeed weak and defeated – devilnition 101. At this rate, he was no longer looking like himself: his eyes had turned red and bulgy. It was as though the sockets would fall off. His mouth had begun to foam at the corners. It seemed as though his waist wasn’t in tune with his present condition as he kept trying to adjust his belt and balance the baggy around his waist.
After railing on for a spate of 20 minutes on the crafty nature of Satan, he broke suddenly into a warfare song:
Ile lanu k’agbara esu wole (let the earth open up and swallow the power of the devil)
K’agbara Olorun duro o (let the power of God reign supreme)
You need to have grown up around the aladura circles for you to understand the spiritual efficacy of that song. Well, the congregation understood and spontaneously took the song from our pastor’s mouth. In the twinkling of an eye, it was holy commotion as the tempo broke into frenzy. Heads began to sway vigorously and headgears flew off in the process. The sounds produced by the clapping were like fireworks as most of the congregation were artisans hence skilful with their hands, the beats from our agbamole helped to accentuate/intensify the tempo and vigour with which we sang. You see, the agbamole was the single musical instrument the church had to her name and alagba Akani saw to it that it paid it dues. Soon enough, things began to happen as the church began to chant the last two lines of the song repeatedly. Folks began to fall under the anointing and as they did, the benches fell along with them, I was lucky not to have been hit by one of them as I retracted my left foot just when it was going to land on it. Glory dust raised by the stamping feet filled the room and one could barely see the person standing close-by. Well, most of the floor plastering had already been undone and it was almost bare earth.
At last, pastor Esupofo grabbed the bell and swung it as a cue to end the singing and bring the church to order. I heaved a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, while every other person seemed to have yielded to the prompting of the bell, mama ibeji appeared to be on rampage as she suddenly went into the Spirit. Now, this wasn’t an encouraging situation coz mama ibeji was known to stay in the Spirit for minutes unending while the congregation perfunctorily listened to what the Spirit had to tell the church. There was a particular day she got stuck in the Spirit for about 40 minutes. It wasn’t a happy day as hunger pangs did a number on my stomach in protest.
Anyway, mama ibeji had begun her spasmodic gyration. Her body had begun to shake vigorously and thereafter to sway. Two of the elderly women held each of her arms to steady her while another carefully untied the baby she strapped and held it in her arms. In a short while, she began to speak strange tongues. Well, she spoke in strange tongues for a while and punctuated it with her interpretation in Yoruba. As usual, it was a doomsday monologue – all fire and brimstone. After what seemed like ages, she appeared to be bidding the Spirit farewell as the pace of her utterance slackened. She finally got a hold of herself, sobered up and before taking her sit, wrapped up her utterance by saying eyi ni oro Olorun si ijo omo enia (this is the word of the Lord to congregation of the sons of men).
Having ended her utterance, pastor Esupofo took control of things again. He asked us to take our sits while he shared what led to his initial outburst and song with us. At this point in the service, the heat from the harsh sunny weather and the just heated-up atmosphere was becoming unbearable. Well, the roof over our head was made of rusty corrugated iron without any asbestos. Besides, the room was stuffy due to poor ventilation as there were only two small wooden windows through which air filtered in. It was in this pitiable condition that we patiently sat to hear what pastor Esupofo had to say.
He began to narrate what he described as the revelation he had the night before. In that revelation, he began, I saw us gathered here in the church to pray. While we were at it, Sister Felicia (pointing at a sister in the congregation) came in with a group of dangerously looking men. She, along with those men, began to beat us all up and drove us out of the church. They eventually focused on the building and tore it down. He then gave us the supposedly interpretation of the revelation: Sister Felicia was an enemy of the church and was trying to bring down the building along with her evil cohorts.
As he narrated his revelation of Sister Felicia’s plan, folks in the congregation began to turn their gaze at her in wonderment and then to exchange telling looks. Ko le jebe! (it can’t be), I whispered to my friend Dele who sat next to me. How can pastor Esuposfo see a whole Sister Felicia wreaking havoc in his revelation? I mused. He has to be mistaken.
Let me tell you a little about Sister Felicia so you can see reasons with me. You see, Sister Felicia was a good somebody – very generous and nice to us children. She was from Benin but had lived most of her life in Ibadan. One could almost argue that she is Yoruba from the way she spoke the language. Sister Felicia was a jack of all trade. She was a tailor but also sold other stuffs by the sides. Famous among her produce was her epa (roasted groundnut). The children in the neighbourhood were all beneficiaries of the goody as she always gave us a handful each from it when it’s done. Most of all, she was a dedicated caretaker of the church. Because she lived closest to it, she always ensured she went there regularly to clean it up and put things in order. Not that there was much to put in order though.
Now you know why our dear Sister Felicia couldn’t have appeared in such a manner in pastor Esupofo’s revelation. Something is fishy!
As I was busy trying to make sense of the bomb our pastor just dropped on us, his voice filtered into my thought again and brought me out of my reverie. I had him instruct us all to stand which we all did. He then told us all to turn to the spot where Sister Felicia sat (coz she remained on her sit) and fix our gaze on her. Slowly and reluctantly, we obeyed. There was utter silence in the church now and should a pin have dropped at that moment, she would have heard distinctly. We were all held in suspense of what was about to happen.
The next instruction from pastor Esupofo was unprecedented. You all should begin to rain curses on her, he directed. Holy Armageddon! Olopa ewoni t’epe. The look on all faces was a mixture of shock and confusion. It was as though all hell was let loose on the house. Didn’t the good Lord say bless your enemy (if you are able to establish who is though. How come our pastor is saying curse Sister Felicia, the enemy of the church?
Sensing our inclination to disobey his instruction, he went on to declare those who refuse to rain curses on her as her partner-in-crime and curse too. At this point, a large number of the congregation began to grudgingly mutter stuffs underneath their breaths – it was a whispering party. The idea was to make pastor Esupofo think they were obedient while they silently went about speaking whatever they wanted. It was at that point that Sister Felicia, who had been shock-stricken all along, stood up suddenly, picked her bag and marched out of the church. The rest of the service was a pity-party.
As though we hadn’t had enough stress to last us for a lifetime, our man of God decided to impose a Friday vigil on us. We’ll be praying to fortify ourselves and the church against every attack of the devil, he explained.
It was to this august vigil we went and it was from the sleep the vigil deprived me of that my mum woke me. Wake up, she persisted, tapping me on the back. You need to hear this, she continued. Reluctantly, I sat up and asked for the reason she aroused me. You won’t believe this, she responded. Believe what, I pursued. Well, Sister Tayo just informed me that our church building has been torn down. It took me a while to process the information. How can the church building we left a couple of hours ago be pulled down all of a sudden? As though she was reading my thought, she proceeded to explain it. It turned out that our church was erected on a government property and several warnings to move it from the spot had been ignored. The municipal authority decided it was time to take action. They came with a bulldozer in the early hours of the morning – not long after we finished the vigil – and pulled the illegal structure down.
There and then, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Sister Felicia wasn’t the enemy of the church after all. it was our pastor Esupofo and the government and they successfully pulled down the building just after we prayed against it. Indeed, esupofo. But perhaps our pastor did too.