By Lola Opatayo
He struts in front of us, clutching his bible under one arm and beating the air with his other hand.
He tells us not to be weary, that in due season we will reap the rewards of our faith. Amid the gathering, three people pump their fists in the air. Yes, lord! Tell them, sir! Charged by the iradulation, he spins once and declares us all blessed. The grounds trembles with our amen. It is the first day of the revival tagged Give Me My Blessing Now!!!
I notice the bush of hair on his chest, the sea of sweat that has encircled his armpit, and his tangled afro. For a second, our eyes meet, and I wonder if he can hear my thoughts: Why is the man of God so unkempt?
“Do not harden your hearts,” he says, “Do not harden your hearts that you may see our lord.”
Yes, we have come to see our lord on this mountain. Under this tarpaulin canopy on the edge of the mountain, I have come to see Jesus—I and about twenty others. Pastor Goodness has told us that the land is too dark for our lord, he will only meet us at the top of the mountain where evil has not ascended.
He calls on the choir mistress, a buxom woman with a tambourine, Sister Gloria. She starts a song about the lord tearing heaven apart to bless us. We sing and dance, lift our hands and stomp our feet. The drummer, Brother Josiah, slaps the drum mercilessly, and she starts another song about war and enemies.
“March am, march am!”
Pastor Goodness stops her and tells us it is a very powerful song she is singing, and we must sing it with due importance.
“As you march the ground, you march your enemies—the enemy of lack, sickness, barrenness, failure, poverty. Everything you march today, you will see no more.”
So, we begin to stomp the ground with gusto because who wants sickness or poverty? After an hour of stomping, dancing, and yelling, I am tired. But Pastor says we must now begin warfare prayers. I want to ask why we need to pray warfare prayers when we have spent the last hour stomping on our generational enemies, but I know this is not the kind of question you ask at a revival. It is a revival; you go with the flow.
Occasionally my eyes stray to the foot of the mountain and the road that leads to school, the University of Ondo, where my parents think I am, studying nursing. My three elder brothers are doctors, so they thought I should study nursing. I once asked why I couldn’t study medicine, but my dad said we ought to see how well I would do with nursing first. Well, it turns out that they were right because I am barely hanging on to my place in nursing school. This is why I am at the revival: I want Jesus to heal my brain and remove the spirit of failure.
Around me, people are praying, losing and binding evil spirits, colleagues, and family members. I try to match their passion, but my efforts are futile. I am appalled by my own unseriousness.
Hours pass and the sun sets. Still, Jesus hasn’t shown up. Pastor Goodness tells us he usually comes in the night so that we can see his glory undoubtedly. I think it makes sense that we do not confuse the sun with the glory of our lord. As darkness descends upon us, accompanied by the whispering wind, he announces that it is time for us to begin the encounter. What is the encounter?
Sister Gloria starts an ominous song. Her tambourine has been discarded, and Brother Josiah beats the drum cautiously, as if he is slowly trying to conjure something. Now we sway; no one is stomping. The worshippers on either side of me grab my hands—the woman beside me is trembling slightly. The man on my other side begins to squeeze my hand and shake his head like he wants to throw it away.
“Yes, lord,” he says over and over again.
Pastor Goodness weaves through the congregation, escorted by his two assistants, spurting oil on the people. In the dimming daylight, I can see something in his eyes. It is powerful and strange. He stops in front of a man with his hands upraised and places his hand on him.
“Brother, it is time for you to be free. There is a shameful secret you carry about with you, like a sack over your shoulder. No one can know it…”
“Yes, sir!” the man cries out.
Pastor tells him not to cry anymore. “We must tell everyone what it is so that when your freedom comes, it will be clear to all.” He steps away from him and raises his head triumphantly.
“Brothers and sisters in the lord, my brother here is a bed-wetter!” The brother slumps to his feet and covers his face in shame. “He has been carrying this shame for a long time, but the lord told me that today is his day. Somebody, tell your neighbour it is time!”
Pastor orders the man to rise and raise his hands, but he remains on the ground, languishing in his humiliation, so Pastor signals his assistants, who bundle him up from the floor. Then he anoints his head with some of the oil and begins to string curious syllables together. Holding his head in both hands, he pushes it back and forth as one would a ragdoll. Suddenly, he lets go of the man and shouts, “Be free!”
The brother staggers back over the other worshippers, screams as if his body is on fire, and rolls on the earth like a barrel. Pastor Goodness is happy. He tells us that the demon of bedwetting is tearing itself out of him. He produces a whip from nowhere and proceeds to lash the man’s body with it. Brother Bed-wetter swears he will wet the bed no more.
“Big man like you, bed-wetting like a little boy! Will you do it again? I say will you do it again?” He punctuates his words with lashes. Brother Bed-wetter, exhausted from shouting and humiliation, lies still, whimpering.
Just then, a strong wind begins to blow. Strong enough to blow the church banner out of the ground and into the bush. Pastor begins to laugh and spin.
“He is coming. The lord is coming!”
Around me, people are shrieking, falling to the ground and going still. Fear creeps inside of me as Pastor’s eyes zero in on me. He comes towards me with determination, whip in hand. I want to bolt, but what am I really afraid of? Why would a God of love incite terror in me?
Finally in front of me, he takes my hands—his feel clammy. “Beloved, glorious sister.
Today is your day. Do not be afraid. Why have you come to the mountain of the lord?”
Around us, people are groaning and singing songs of thanksgiving, but Pastor talks to me as if we are all alone.
“I want Jesus to touch my brain and save me from failure.”
“He is here. Do you believe he is here?”
I want to say yes, but there is no illumination or the peace that I think ought to accompany such an arrival.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
“I believe he is here.”
“Good. Now raise your hands.” He lifts my arms, his hands sliding up to mine. He stares at me with that powerful intensity and smiles wanly. “It is time to be free. Close your eyes.”
Just as I do so, a piercing scream terrifies us all that even Pastor falls back. A sister runs around the gathering, spreading her arms wide as though she is ready to fly.
“A storm is coming. It is coming for all of us.” She stops by a tree, slumps to her knees, holds her hands together, and says in an earnest voice, “It will sweep some of you away, and some of you will not make it.” She opens her mouth wide and yells, “Let everyone be prepared! A storm is coming. I say a storm is coming!”
Pastor Goodness has been staring wide-eyed at her this whole time. Slowly, he walks toward her and beckons at his assistants. They grab her and hold her down like a goat ready to be slaughtered.
“Come out, you evil spirit!”
I think the spirit within her is a really big one because now she bellows her prophecy, spittle spraying all over her mouth and the face of our good pastor. She screams once and then becomes still. Pastor looks relieved. I look around; the people seem horrified at this manifestation. The assistants take her to the side of the crusade ground and lay her on the bare floor. Her skirt has caught up to the middle of her thighs. An elderly woman discreetly covers her legs.
It is night now, and the atmosphere is tense with everyone wondering about the prophecy.
Pastor Goodness closes the meeting without taking up an offering and returns to the sister with his assistants.
The rest of us retire to the camp roughly constructed with untreated wood and tarpaulin.
Several mats are spread on the ground. I see Brother Bed-wetter from the corner of my right eye.
He’s lying alone on a mat, and I think it is a shame that people have no faith.
The elderly woman who covered up the prophesying sister is by my side. She is muttering prayers under her breath, and I think that she will definitely get her miracle. I am tired of praying for the day. She does the sign of the cross and lies down.
“Good evening, sister.”
“Good evening, ma.”
I thank her for covering the lady up.
“May God answer our prayers.”
I ask what she is here for.
“I want my son to get a visa to go to London. He has been rejected ten times now.”
I want to tell her that he really ought to forget about it if he has been rejected that much, but she says, “I know it is only a test, so I will keep believing.”
I ask why her son isn’t here instead.
“He doesn’t really have much faith. Besides, this is the only thing I can do for him, so I am here.”
I ask if she’s been out of the country before.
She laughs. “No! My children will go there first and invite me. Then I will return and give a testimony in the church, like the other mothers. What about you? What are you here for?”
She falls asleep not too long afterward. I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because I realize that I will be here in thirty years if Jesus doesn’t heal my brain, praying for my children to travel out of the country so that I can go too.
I get up and leave the shed, taking care not to step on a twig and wake anyone. The camp is illuminated by two gas lamps on either side of the rest shed. The only sound is that of the crickets, frogs, and snoring worshippers. It seems the right time to have a personal prayer time, so I walk up the hill, but I hear a snap a few yards up the mountain, just before the tarpaulin shed. It is Brother Bed-wetter; I catch him just as he is emerging from the bushes.
“Please, don’t tell anyone. God bless you.”
I don’t understand what he’s saying, but as he walks past me, I smell the urine on the bundle in his arms. As I stand there, shocked at Brother Bed-wetter’s situation and slowly realizing the ruination of my own faith, it starts to rain. Above the din, I hear the prophesying sister shrieking.
I want to go and discover what manner of deliverance is going on up there, but it is a muddy ascent up the mountain. I return to the shed.
It rains all night and thunders so much that everyone awakes. Rain drips through the holes in the rusted iron sheets, and the wind sweeps the tarpaulin in from the sides, slapping some more water into the camp. We gather at the centre of the shed and watch the rain and mud streaming down the mountain. The ground we’re standing on becomes wet. The whole structure sways this way and that, and I fear that it will collapse on our heads.
At first, it starts as a murmur, then it grows into an open discussion about the prophesying woman. It seems she was right, and a storm is coming. Someone notices she is not among us, and I wonder if she is still shrieking up the mountain. A few people, such as the brother and sister by my side during the revival, say we must have faith and not be moved by what we see. This is only a test, they say. Brother Bed-wetter is quiet. It continues to rain until late in the morning of the next day.
At a quarter to twelve, Pastor Goodness comes into our camp. It has stopped raining now, and some people are packing their bags, getting ready to leave. He is wearing the same shirt as the night before, and his hair is dripping with water. His shoes are coated with mud. He tells us he has been praying at the top of the hill, then he sees the fleeing congregants, and his face darkens.
“If you faint in the day of adversity, then your strength is small.”
He tells us that if Abraham and the others had given up because of a little inconvenience, there would be no bible.
“Oh, faithless generation, how long shall I bear with you? That is what our lord said. Shall the son of man find faith on the earth? That is what our lord also said. I heard that some of you want to leave because of that demon-possessed sister. But I ask you, was there a storm? Brothers
and sisters, let us check ourselves.”
No one leaves after that.
It is the second day of the revival. We begin another crusade with a thanksgiving offering later that afternoon. Pastor reminds us that we did not get the chance to show our appreciation to the lord the day before, and now we have more reasons to be grateful. It rained but we were not swept away (as some predicted). When the offering basket reaches me, there are only about seven notes in it.
I pass it on.
Pastor starts to preach a sermon on the parable of the talents.
“The one he gave five talents returned with ten, the one he gave two returned with four, and the one he gave one returned with one. What an ungrateful servant! That is why the lord gave him one. He knew he would be ungrateful. Brothers and sisters, let us be like the servant with five talents who returned with ten. When God blesses us, we must show our gratitude by giving back to the lord’s work. Hallelujah!” He stops to wipe his sweaty face and toss his grey towel over his shoulder.
From a distance, we hear screaming. It is the voice of the prophesying woman. She repeats her prophecy while the assistant pastors are casting out her demons. Pastor tells Sister Gloria to lead us in praise songs. As I sing, I listen for her voice. We finish the session; the mountain is
My mother calls me. I find my way down the mountain as quickly as I can.
“I had a bad dream about you. I hope you are in school?”
“Yes, ma. I am.”
“How is school?”
She is quiet, and I am too. My heart beats at my betrayal, and I wish I could tell her the truth, but I think she will understand when I get my healing and become a nurse.
“I dreamt that you fell off a mountain with a white cloth over your head.”
My heart races so fast that I start to feel lightheaded. Should I come down from this mountain?
“Just be careful, please. And face your studies. Remember your brothers are doctors. The least you can be is a nurse.”
Tucking my mother’s misgivings aside, I join the other women at the cooking area near the rest shed. On a revival such as this, we fast, but Pastor Goodness has decided that we can break our fast this evening. Most of us are happy. After huddling under the rain for hours, food is a welcome distraction. I join three women in picking ewedu leaves, and they talk about Pastor Goodness’ kindness in providing money for the foodstuff and cooking.
One of the women, Sister Felicia, says she won’t eat.
“What is doing me is more than food.”
I ask her what it is; I joined this church one month ago, so I don’t know much about my fellow congregants. I think she realizes this, and that is why she manages to say, “I am here for my better half.”
Maybe I gave her a look. I don’t know, but she adds, “You will soon understand.”
The women have decided to make amala and ewedu soup with goat meat. Again, I am surprised by the generosity of our pastor. The men have killed, skinned, and roasted the goat, and now we are frying and stewing it. There is laughing and singing and whistling, and all I can think of is that this is the best moment of this revival. It makes me feel guilty that I am enjoying the preparation of food more than anything else I have done here. My phone pings; there’s a test in two days. I ignore it because this is more important; somehow, I still believe I will receive my healing here.
I take Pastor’s food to him in his shed because I am the youngest in the camp. His bible is on his laps, and he is staring at the wall. There is a desk and a chair, a narrow bed, and bottles of olive oil used for anointing. He is sitting on the bed.
“Beloved, glorious sister!” He seems relieved to see me.
“Good evening, Pastor. I have been told to bring your dinner.”
“I am fasting, but you can leave it on the table. I will give it to one of the pastors.” I turn to leave. “Sister, what is your name?”
“My name is…”
“Sit down, please.”
I don’t want to, but I sit on the chair and fold my hands. “My name is Tinu.”
“You said you wanted the lord to heal your brain, isn’t it?”
I nod. He nods too. “Have you given the lord your best?”
I don’t understand his question.
“Have you given the lord your best?” he asks again. “Is there something the lord is telling you to release that you are holding on to?” He leans forward, his eyes shiny. “Sometimes, the lord is telling us to let go of something, but we hold on because we are afraid of what others will say.
We are afraid that they will laugh at us, tell us that they told us so, and we will be disgraced…”
His voice takes on a softness that soothes me, even though his eyes are on the floor. “We try our best, but the lord is telling us to let go.” He looks up at me. “Do you understand?”
I shake my head, nod, and shake it again because I really do not understand the man. He laughs.
“You young ladies…” he stares at me so intensely that I look away.
“You remind me of my mother. She was quiet like you, earnest like you. Seeking the face of the lord for a miracle.”
“Did she get her miracle?”
“No, she did not have faith.” A snarl establishes itself on his face. “She was one of those people who mix their faith in God with other things.”
“What did she mix it with?”
He laughs. “You are but a child.” His long fingers venture into his bushy beard, unlocking curly hairs. I think he is teasing himself to another place because his eyes leave the room to a different time. “You couldn’t talk to her, reason with her…”
I am quite sure he is speaking of his mother, and I’m embarrassed to be trapped in his thoughts. Still, I manage to say, “That reminds me of my mother.”
He laughs, still stroking his beard. “My mother was a crazy woman. A crazy, solemn woman. You couldn’t know she was powerful. She would hold you so gently and then spit in your face like a cobra.”
I want to ask what power she had, but laughter from outside tumbles into the room, and his eyes return. “What are you studying?”
“Hmm, you are a servant at heart. Keep doing the lord’s work. Do you have any questions?”
I actually do. “What about that sister, the one who was prophesying?”
His smile fades. “She is… seeking the face of the lord. Don’t worry about her. Go and join the others.”
Half an hour later, I am sent to deliver some food to the tabernacle, where the prophesying sister is. The tabernacle is about three hundred metres from the meeting place—a tall shack enclosed with the same untreated wood and a narrow, rusting door. One of the assistant pastors is guarding the door. He asks if there is some food left as he leaves. I see her sitting on the floor. A stale odour wafts in and out of the enclosure.
Her eyes are on me as I set down the tray, but she does not speak until I am at the door again.
“I see things I don’t want to see. My sister, leave this mountain.”
“If you believe it, why don’t you leave?”
She whispers. “I’m in love with him. He said he would marry me, but now he hates me
because I only see bad things. He only wants me to see good things.”
“Will you come to the revival tonight?”
“He will not let me leave this place, but I will try.”
I move toward her to show some empathy, but she says, “I can see bad things about you
I leave her then.
It is evening, and Pastor is talking about the blessing of the lord. We spread out our hands, and he decrees blessing upon blessing on us.
“I want you to be encouraged, brothers and sisters. When it is dark, rejoice, because dawn is coming. Rejoice! Somebody rejoice! Dawn is coming, rejoice!”
We shout rejoice, dance, and clap our hands. Sister Gloria and her one-man band lead us in another time of celebration/warfare/thanksgiving. I give the lord my best, clapping my hands energetically and twisting my waist as far as it would go. It is a happy moment, and none can deny the newfound energy that is the result of our meal.
Sister Gloria tells us to turn around because all things are, and I see her, the prophesying sister, shrouded in the darkness of the rear seats where the glow of the gas lamps barely reach. Her hands barely touch in a clap. Still, I think it is good that she is back in the fold, the demons have been chased away. I thank the lord for her.
Our praise leads to prayers and the encounter. Pastor Goodness walks the length and breadth of our little canopy, throwing his hands up and down like a hyperactive child, muttering undiscernible words. All around me, people are falling under his anointing when he grabs their heads and breathes on them. They’re yelling for miracles and blessings and vengeance on their enemies, rolling on the muddy ground like pigs and groaning. I do not want to fall under his anointing.
I have a test in two days, and I have not read a thing. There’s no point really, because I always forget what I read. So, I pray for healing, Jesus please heal my brain, let me be a nurse. I see myself in the white gown, taking temperatures and telling patients all will be well. Is this a vision?
That shrill breaks through the din of the revival. She moves through the crowd with superhuman speed, holding out her hands and streaming the same words about a storm and some who won’t make it.
“A storm is coming, leave this mountain!”
As usual, her manifestations are so unreal that we are first shocked into immobility. Then, as if jolted by electricity, the assistant pastors grab her and bundle her away again. She has doused our fire, and Pastor Goodness tries in vain to restore our zeal with spiritual warfare songs. Only a few people show any kind of enthusiasm.
By the morning of the third day, some people have left, including Brother Bed-wetter and Brother Josiah, our drummer. The fact that they stole away in the middle of the night doesn’t help matters.
Much is heard in the silence of their departure. To make matters worse, everyone is wondering why the prophesying sister has been cast away from us again. Honestly, it gives the whole thing a darker feel.
The sun flaunts herself as though she is trying to stew last night’s rain. Soon our clothes are clinging to our bodies like leeches. Pastor Goodness preaches that morning with a seriousness that is akin to frustration. We hear him, but we are not listening. One can’t help but wonder, really: Is this a mountain of doom? While Pastor Goodness’s eyes are closed in prayer, a few people sneak away.
“Brethren, the devil tried to interfere with our revival, but I have been in prayers all night.
The evil is now gone, and the evil messenger has left us. Now, we will go into the encounter and round up the service with our thanksgiving offering. Those who have left us will see their problems abound.”
Some say amen, excited to hear this revelation and moan over their problems once more.
We all know the evil messenger, and it seems odd that the prophesying sister left while we were asleep. My mother calls again, and I’m tempted to let it ring through, but she will only keep calling.
The wet mud makes it difficult to walk down the mountain, but I find a quiet enough place to receive her call.
“I have had that dream again. How is school?”
“I hope it is. Mrs. Adeleye’s daughter is graduating from your department this weekend, and they are having a party at their house. I hope it will be your turn in the next three years.
Professor Agunbiade said you must work really hard this semester, otherwise he won’t be able to help.”
I roll my eyes. “Yes, ma.” Professor Agunbiade, who is a nursing faculty member and our family friend, has been advocating for me in the department and updating my parents on my academic struggles.
“Tinu, I hope this bad dream I had is not you being advised to withdraw from school?”
“Mummy, please. I am doing my best.”
It is after our call ends that I am fully aware of the cave beside me. A hint of colour draws me closer to it. It is a yellow sandal. I see feet, a bible, a scarf, and a handbag. It is the prophesying sister, eyes wide open, head bashed in like a fruit. I leave then. I leave everything behind—save the purse around my waist. I run, fall, get back up, run, and keep running. It rains throughout that night, but I am sweating all over. I cannot forget her face.
My eyes catch the headlines the next morning. Muddy Revival: Pastor and Congregation Slide to Death. I grab the newspaper and read the story. It says four have died, and others are critically injured after a mud slide that happened in the middle of the night. That is when I start to cry. For the elderly woman who will surely now never see London, for Sister Gloria, for the prophesying sister who warned us all (whose body might never be discovered), and for me because I could have died.
So, I withdraw from the school of nursing and apply to the Department of African Studies (My mother will forgive me someday.). It is everything I never imagined I could be, and now I think that perhaps, on that mountain, I encountered Jesus. E
Lola Opatayo is a recipient of the inaugural Equity Fellowship from Editors Canada and the 2020 Gerald Freund Fellowship. Her work has been endowed with awards from the Iceland Writers Retreat and MacDowell.