There is a common perception in this part of the world that the white people in their countries hardly go to church or seek miracles as we do in Africa. The impression is that their developed societies function in such a way that everything needed for the good life is provided by the government. Food, water, housing, clothing, electricity, good roads, healthcare, transportation, jobs, education and leisure are said to be there for the taking. So, people ask: what else is the white man looking for in a church that the government has not provided already? Now, juxtaposing that common perception about the white man’s world with the different reality in Nigeria would easily evoke a sense of contrasting anger and disgust.
The reason is obvious. Ours is a society where things do not work. People want quick solutions to their existential problems and this can only happen by miracles. Churches are places where miracles are promised. Today, there are many pastors claiming to perform miracles. But are the miracles really from God? Are the pastors who they claim to be? What do they actually do to get powers to perform miracles? How far do they go to acquire miracle powers? That is the Pandora box that Your Church My Shrine novel by Law Ikay Ezeh Jr. uncovers in a gripping storytelling unlike any other on modern-day Christian religious hypocrisy and massive deception.
Reading through Your Church My Shrine makes an eye-opening tale that leaves one with heart thumping and mouth agape at the shenanigans that abound in modern-day Christianity. It is a 424-page thriller novel newly published in 2017 by the Ibadan-based Kraft Books Limited. As a first published fiction work by the author, Your Church My Shrine is as intriguing from its thought-provoking cover title and design as it is from its riveting story.
The exciting story in Your Church My Shrine is set in a dual world of a barbarian land called Mbabama and a modern country called Nigara with its capital city known as Sogal. Now, the protagonist of Your Church My Shrine is Pastor Jeremiah Isaac, a charismatic pastor who makes waves in Sogal city. He was actually formerly one Muobundu Odoukpa, a young illiterate priest of a heathen deity called Odoukpa, before he got fed up with idolatry-ridden village life, went to the city, got educated and converted to Christianity.
Pastor Jeremiah was an assistant pastor somewhere before agitations started over materialism and privileges. “How come Pastor John owns four cars and you don’t even have a bicycle?” asks Deborah, Pastor Jeremiah’s wife. That is the beginning of Pastor Jeremiah’s epochal odyssey in Your Church My Shrine as he would later break away to form his own church named Miracle Maker’s Church of God in Sogal city. Life became good for Pastor Jeremiah and his wife. But miracles which people were looking for were not happening. And worshippers began to stay away from Miracle Maker’s Church. Again, it is Deborah, his wife, who pressured Pastor Jeremiah into finding the secrets of acquiring powers to perform miracles by all means.
That is how Pastor Jeremiah finds himself in far-away Mbabama forest, claiming to go to America on missionary training, leaving his wife, church and everything behind in Nigara to seek magical powers to perform miracles. But the journey to Mbabama is not easy as the natives are not friendly to strangers. They are even cannibals. Would Pastor Jeremiah survive in this land of the barbarians?
He arrives in Mbabama as a Christian missionary but his real mission is to meet Ngabamu, a dreaded powerful native doctor. Pastor Jeremiah slowly endears himself to the natives of Mbabama, learning to speak their language, organizing a church fellowship and teaching them the Bible while plotting how to get to see native doctor Ngabamu somewhere in a deep, secluded forest. In the course of grafting himself into Mbabama community, Jeremiah also engages in sexual affairs with Biwaki and Tumaki, two alluring native women, all through his stay.
Eventually, Pastor Jeremiah gets to see the legendary Ngabamu in his fearsome dark enclave called zaza. This is where the pastor encounters the most outlandish experiences of his life in his quest to acquire powers to perform miracles. As part of the rituals, he butchers a new born baby, lies on a decayed corpse, gouges out the eyes of a blind child, destroys the legs of a lame and drinks blood. His empowerment demands the he must sacrifice a human being every year to renew his new powers and must call certain names of gods during services in church for miracles to happen. Pastor Jeremiah discovers that the names of the various gods he must call on to perform miracles sound like the language of ‘speaking in tongues’ routinely performed by Pentecostal pastors. His own version goes like this: ‘Agazzama-grabba-matta-patta-aramako-sakama-magama’. He wonders if names of dark powers are what some pastors use as ‘speaking in tongues’ back in Sogal city to bewitch people.
By the time the newly empowered Pastor Jeremiah eventually leaves Mbabama, he has impregnated Biwaki, the native woman and he is taking her back to Nigara. How would he explain to his wife Deborah, church leaders and other people in Sogal who know him as a popular pastor? The fact that his marriage to Deborah has been childless does not help matters. Meanwhile, back in Sogal, Deborah too has been sleeping with Pastor Satin, an assistant to her husband. When Pastor Jeremiah lands in Nigara, he performs his first miracle of healing a paralyzed woman at the airport and the news spread like wild fire!
The miracle-hungry people of Nigara rush back to Miracle Maker’s Church of God as Pastor Jeremiah resumes church services with diverse miracles happening. With the explosion of miracles comes a torrential flow of fortunes in offerings, tithes and gifts. Pastor Jeremiah turns a billionaire pastor, living large with his wife Deborah who is not initially happy with Biwaki, a strange woman that her husband brings back. What happens to Biwaki and her pregnancy? What happens to Deborah eventually? How does Pastor Jeremiah handle his marital complications and keeping the covenant with Ngabamu for the powers he is using to perform miracles? What eventually happens to Jeremiah himself in the story? It is a long, gripping story indeed, full of suspense and drama.
With his debut published novel, the author, Law Ezeh Jr., has brilliantly shined the light on the blatant hypocrisy, sexual immorality, brazen monetisation, ritualisation and bastardisation of Christianity in contemporary Nigeria. Your Church My Shrine also indicts a people so desperate for miracles that they take every ‘miracle’ as genuine, thus lending themselves to the manipulations of every charlatan and quack calling himself a “man of God”. But if we have a good government in place that provides the good life for citizens, will people become as gullible as to fall for fake miracles in fake churches? As a work of fiction, Your Church My Shrine is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, full of twists and turns in the plots, well written in flowing easy prose and garnished with elements of humour too.
* Onwumere is a cultural activist, book enthusiast and brand management consultant based in Lagos