Ronald, a good friend of mine passed away last month and I continue to hold on to the note he gave me a few weeks before he passed. I recall walking into the members’ common room and in my little section was a folded note that touches my heart each time I look at it. For once, I shed no tears because Ron gave me more strength than I could ever have mustered out of my emotional sadness knowing that he was going to pass away. His note gives me courage and reinforces my belief, spiritual and cultural posture, and drive to continue. The message reminds me to slow down and embrace the little I have with the utmost joy and satisfaction. It teaches me a lot more than I could have learnt if I relied solely on my abilities. I first met Ron when I was invited to give a speech to a community of Christian children at a Gospel Church in Long Beach, California. The session was simply titled “Kingdom Kids” and among the attendees were both parents and grandparents.
Ron sat among the children while most parents and grandparents sat in the back of the room. Ron maintained a smile that was both appealing and melodiously abstract. He looked as if he was singing an internal song though his lips didn’t move. He was encouraging as indicated by the way he nodded his head in approval of my words. He gazed at me with an unsentimental focus. His focus only made me wonder what kind of person he was, seating among the children and invariably acting like one at times. I avoided his eyes and stole occasional glances when I thought he wasn’t looking. At the end of my speech, I retracted to the backroom and Ron walked in. His first sets of words to me were exactly the same words he left in my section of the room in his later days. His commitment, courage and faith is what crossed my mind when I read about the conflicts currently going on among most Nigerians church ministers that have embraced the Christian faith as a business industry rather than a spiritual home. Why some of the ministers are truly God sent, some have chosen ministry as a career path to unquestionable wealth. In this era of super-sophistication, greed for wealth and a desperate passion for unearned success, whatever the intent of the growing church ministers are, it is best for us to abstain from judging and allow the almighty to make the call. There was the Okotie, Oyakhilome, Joshua episode and lately, the Winners’ chapel saga. It is worrisome that in a country of many suffering masses, these churches amass so much wealth and yet fail to pass that on to the masses through special programs such as:
A. Effectively managed orphanage homes for the millions of children that have lost their parents to several illnesses especially AIDS.
B. Shelter homes for millions who have nowhere to live.
C. School improvements recognizing the dilapidated states of most missionary schools that still serves as classrooms to our children.
D. Scholarship programs for the gifted that will never see the four walls of an institution for financial reasons.
The actions of these so-called ministers shows that they are not any different from our political leaders that have no operational values of knowing how to give back to the community. I sometimes wish these folks could temporarily experience what Ron went through. That may perhaps humble them and teach them to develop a balance of getting and giving. In my brief conversation with Ron in the backroom, he intentionally chose not to tell me he was suffering from a terminal illness. He chose not to tell me he was going to die in a few months. He chose not to tell me the sorrow and sadness he had endured. He did however tell me about the gift of life. He told me of the importance of not mortgaging our lives for any reason. He told me the importance of passionate living. He told me of the importance of maintaining (a) a shield of faith, (b) the belt of righteousness, (c) a conscience of honesty, (d) a proclivity of spirituality, (e) an armor of biblical satires regardless if we are Christians or not. Over the months, Ron proceeded to tell me about the loneliness of the heart and the opportunity the experience creates for us to question our beliefs. He defined loneliness as a temporary disappointment because of our reliability on men. Unlike some of these Christian ministers who fail to reference the Bible during conflicts, Ron referred to the Bible as the only prophetic book in the world that has over the past 1500 years held its message consistently despite going through 40 different authors. Ron told me how his terminal illness led him to understand that bad things do happen to good people but yet, recommended that we must not falter in those circumstances and must not waver or compromise our believes like we see displayed by some church leaders we have come to trust so much. The proliferation of churches may not be a bad thing if the benefits are shared with the masses spiritually, emotionally and financially. Ron, a strong believer of the Bible, would have humbly criticized the actions of some of these ministry leaders. He would have questioned the sincerity of some pastors who have built the inert believe that they should be recognized as Christ rather than messengers of Christ, and as such should be served by others. Ron was 72 and died of cancer. His wisdom was like a lightening rod and an empowerment instrument when he used it. The weaknesses of these leaders who start churches and attain strong follower-ship only to forget their mission, purpose and goals, and those who sacrifice their all to support their mission, are indications of the intents behind their actions. I hope Nigerians and Christians alike all over the world realize that the only person being served is God and not humans. Pastors, Bishops, etc, are all instruments of the ultimate mission and we must not let our disappointment in some of these men or women, because of their inappropriate actions, change our faith and derail our journey. Ron, your note is still with me and I will always as you recommended remember to first ask “God to grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.”