A Resilience of Faith

The Sunday before last, our family worshipped at COCIN Jos-Jarawa, Isuwa’s home church. He was born here, baptized here, called to ministry and sent out from here. We were also wed here. The very sight of this place of worship opened up a flood of memories, both sweet and bitter.

This church happens to be one of a number of churches in Jos-North that are hot-spots of the religious crises that has plagued our city for many years now. Many members were killed and their homes burned down, forcing their remaining family members to relocate. Isuwa’s father was killed in one of such crisis in 2001. It has been a sheer miracle that the church building itself has escaped the same fate, but at the cost of the lives of many people who came out to protect it.

Behind the church building and towards the right is a fast growing Muslim community; a very sad reality. The community kept encroaching further up towards the church as they take over places abandoned by fleeing Christians in those areas. The church is now the threshold that demarcates between the Muslim community to the south and the Christian community to the north. A very dangerous spot. For how long will it remain standing was a question I couldn’t shake off.

What astonished me as I entered the church this particular morning is how people have kept coming to this place of worship over the years, never abandoning the place from fear for their lives. Why? Is not life and safety more important than a mere place of worship?

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:21-23). Why should anyone protect a physical place of worship to the point of shedding their blood or losing their lives?

This matter, unfortunately, is more complicated than that. It is as much a social and ethno-religious problem as it is spiritual. Yes, these people are Christians, but they are also part of a social and ethnic group that lays claim to this land. Would becoming a Christian mean people should allow themselves to be invaded and chased away from their lands in the name of not resisting their persecutor?

But consider also if Christians were to keep running away to save their lives at every threat, abandoning their physical location of worship (what the Muslims are hoping will happen), what spiritual significance would that have—in the long run if not immediately? What has physical location to do with spiritual faithfulness?

One needs only to look back in history and consider what happened to the church in Asia minor (present-day Turkey; North Africa and the Middle East), when Islamic jihadists took over the places. This gives a clear example of the significance of a physical location to spiritual realities. How separate are our spiritual lives from our physical realities?

In my years in the US, I’ve heard very cruel criticism propagated by some missionaries who lived in Northern Nigeria about the church in this region. They say Christians in Northern Nigeria do not show love to their Muslim neighbors simply because these Christians fight back to protect themselves and their communities.

These missionaries believe that the only Christian response to persecution is martyrdom; to allow ourselves be wiped out by our persecutors because Jesus says we should not resist an evil person but to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). Well, the Muslims themselves believe this very interpretation and that is why they attack Christians; they expect no resistance.

It is easy to theologize from a position of advantage, comfort and safety. These same missionaries have never bothered to demonstrate this love they talk about; the moment there is crisis anywhere, the US government evacuates its citizens immediately, leaving the people of the place to their fate.

Avoiding the old argument about what Jesus means in that passage of Scripture and how it relates to the persecuted church, all I can say is that I do not believe that self-defense is tantamount to retaliation, or that to love someone is not to resist him when he comes to kill you and wipe out your family. The devil uses Scriptures to justify his strategies…    

I believe instead that those who died protecting this physical location died for the sake of the Kingdom, and those who risk their lives daily and weekly to protect this territory by using it still instead of abandoning it in self-preservation are in the same vein risking their lives for the kingdom. If they ever get overpowered, at least they’ve done their best to resist an encroachment that will not only displace them but wipe out their spiritual legacy perhaps forever.

I was deeply inspired by the resilience of this community of faith. My tendency to choose what is convenient as a way of practicing my faith over what demands a greater sacrifice came to haunt me. What crowned the experience for me was the hymn that was sang that morning. The chorus goes:

            I love Him far better than in days of yore,

            I’ll serve Him more truly than ever before,

            I’ll do as He bids me whatever the cost,

            I’ll be a good soldier; I’ll die at my post.   

One challenge of the Christian faith is that we don’t choose our battles, our roles, or our location (“post”); the commander of the Lord’s armies chooses that for us. Our faithfulness or lack thereof is determine not only by general obedience to the moral law of God but also by our willingness to work within God’s plans for us.

We don’t choose our involvement based on what is convenient in our estimation or even a personal choice towards self-sacrifice that is not demanded of us. It is by discovering our specific assignment in a given season of our lives and obeying that; herein lies the determiner for whether we’ve been faithful servants or not.  

Beggars Aren’t Choosers? A Sad Reflection

Yesterday (Oct. 23, 2017), I attended a coat drive for the international students’ community at my school, hosted by a church in the area. During the event, the church brings so many winter apparels (coats, big jackets, snow boots, gloves or mittens, scarves, etc) to help needy students and their families get prepared for the upcoming cold season.

For several years now, this church has been doing this amazing work for our needy community. Since my family’s arrival at Trinity International University about four years ago, we have benefited almost every year from their generous donation. The beautiful leather jacket I wore yesterday to the event was among the many blessings my family got from one of these past events.

But this year the church decided to do things differently. They wanted to take videos of those students who came to the event and also interview some who didn’t mind. Well, I did mind. And I left.

Now, those who saw me leaving might interpret my action as prideful or even arrogant. But no, far from it. I just thought that it is time I stopped encouraging what I know in my spirit to be wrong, and to speak up against it, not in the pages of some fanciful book that would be stored away in some library where only a few—and usually not the people who need to know—get to read. Even now, it is a wild assumption that anyone would care to read this blog.

I could walk away from that coat event last evening because I was not naked or even cold. I had the option of using my old coats to keep warm this winter. Or go to our blessed Trinity Clothes Horse and take my pick of gently used winter coats for free while blessing from my heart the anonymous donors who are asking for nothing in return (even if they opt to take a tax break for it).

It is possible that most of those who stayed back yesterday and complied to having their pictures/videos taken had at least one of my options or even better options than mine. But they didn’t care. And there are naked and hungry people around the world who depend on such generous gifts for sheer survival, and they don’t care either if you take their pictures or whatever you do with it. All they care about is getting help. But the fact that they don’t care doesn’t make it right.

If you are having trouble understanding what it is that I am saying, imagine with me for a moment. Imagine that your family is needy and someone comes to help you, but they want to take photos of your family so they can show what they have done to help you. How would you feel? If you still don’t get it, ask yourself why it is that schools in America have to get your permission before they use your child’s photo on anything? Americans cherish their privacy, and it baffles me how we don’t give a moment’s thought about that of the less privileged.

I am not blogging about this simply to address that particular church, or any given church or group of persons, or individuals, for that matter. This practice is so pervasive in today’s culture that it is really getting on my “spiritual” nerves. It is so contrary to the Spirit of Christ who did acts of kindness because he was moved by compassion for those whom he helped, and not to showcase the amazing things he was doing. That was precisely what the Pharisees were doing.

Jesus did not ignore the matter either; he specifically warned against it: “Be careful… when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be praised by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:1-4).

I was brought up believing that this counter-cultural prescription of Jesus is the Christian thing to do. As such, it has never ceased to shock me how churches and missionaries display pictures of people in desperate situations, showcasing the amazing work they are doing to help those needy people. Usually, this is done for purposes of raising support, without caring a wit about the basic human dignity of these helpless people. The end does not justify the means.

Perhaps, it is based on the popular saying, “Beggars aren’t choosers” or “beggars have no choice.” But if members of any church cannot give unless they see dehumanizing pictures of people in their misery, then they do not deserve to partake in the ministry of Jesus Christ. They should give their donations to those humanitarian societies who are experts in publicizing their great achievements for the applause and awards that come with it.

Every Christmas, I watch with deep anguish the pictures of poor, dirty, and tattered children from some remote village in Africa being displayed on the screens of churches in America. This is done in order to collect “tooth brushes and toys” (forgive my sarcasm here) for kids in poor countries of the world who would otherwise not get gifts at Christmas.

For me, the first thing wrong with this is the assumption that Christmas is about gifts, and that those who don’t get gifts at Christmas are less fortunate and should be pitied. The second wrong notion here is that “tooth brushes and toys” are such a huge need worth spending the amount of money spent each year to ship them to these impoverished places. The third is the idea that giving such gifts is a powerful tool to share the gospel. Perhaps it is. But if the World Health Organization is giving more valuable gifts for free with no religion attached, why should our gifts given as bait to speak about Jesus mean anything special?

Some of these impoverished Christians around the world are exceedingly generous. The “widow’s mite” experience is almost a daily reality for many. People give their very last dimes for the Kingdom work without a moment’s thought about what they will eat the next day. In addition, they do not usually care how the money is spent; the burden lies with those who spend it, whether they spend it on what they promised they would or not. These people believe that those who are collecting the money will give an account to God of how they used it. They go away satisfied and happy that they partook in the ministry of Jesus.

Now, this is not an attempt to make one culture or church practice look better than another. This is about Kingdom culture. That such an attitude is a violation of the very heartbeat of compassion taught by Jesus Christ. Thus, Christians everywhere must “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:15)—making a show of our help efforts (Pharisaic) or doing it for some personal goal/ambition (Herodic).

On Busola Dakolo’s Story: A Belated Response

This past week has been as disturbing as it has been busy for me. I have followed the “rape allegation” saga against Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo with curiosity, growing anxiety and heartache. Some comments on social media intensified my misery. I shall return to these comments later.

 The reaction of some people to this allegation—especially some men from my own Christian tradition—has revealed a lot and it is to these that I am responding. Better late than never. Are these men trying to intimidate other women from coming out?

I had hoped that our understanding of such matters as people of faith has progressed over the years, but I was sorely mistaken. How could anyone with a good conscience listen to Busola’s testimony and still have the audacity to insult her, even if they doubt that she’s telling the truth? She’s not the first person to accuse the same man nor is she the last—as it turned out!

When we call for “evidence” over what commonsense and intuition should make clear, we become untruthful and victimizers. I am sure those who rediculed the story and called for “proof” to know whether it happened or not will not think it necessary were the victim to be their daughter or sister or mother.

My own experience of 22 years ago came back and I felt the bashings that this woman was receiving as though they were personally aimed at me. I do not pretend to know exactly what Busola is feeling since I was fortunate to escape physically unscarred, but I know that my pain at this revelation is intense.

I must make clear from the outset that my speaking now on this matter is not intended as a me-too moment but a response and a lament. I will give a sketch of my story just so I can press my point.

The first time something like this happened to me (of course it happened more than once) was with a “man of God” whom my father respects very much and had shared with him some concerns about me. I wanted to become a missionary instead of studying law as my father had wished. This “man of God” convinced my father not to “stand in God’s way,”—for which I am still thankful—but also said he would like to speak with me.

My father dropped me off one morning at the house the man was staying and left for some errands before picking me up later. First, the man pulled me close and told me—his face to mine—that the Lord had revealed to him I was to be his wife and asked what I thought of that. He did not allow me enough time to recollect myself and respond before he started out on me… 

I know today as I knew then that the physical strength I had to fight him was not my own. The Lord was there to help me. Again, I had neither physical nor emotional attraction for him—not even spiritual admiration as I hardly knew him—which must have helped as well. I cannot imagine what would’ve happened if he was a man I had come to trust as a father.

I returned home and for several days tried to process what had happened that day. Later I told my mother that I wanted to talk to her but could not bring myself to tell her what actually happened. I finally told her that the “man of God” said he wanted to marry me but I did not trust his intentions and would like to have nothing to do with him again. She was shocked that I wasn’t elated by such an honorable offer. What mother will not be thrilled by the prospect of a daughter marrying at 20, and to a pastor at that?

Because I couldn’t tell my parents what had happened, they entrusted me to this man to see to my theological education. Thankfully, he was too ashamed to look at me in the eyes henceforth let alone make any further advances.

Would my mother have believed me if I had told her the whole truth? Of course! And my father would have wanted to kill this “man of God” had he known the truth. But why did I not tell them? All I can say is that I believed it was my Christian duty to forgive and forget; after all, he did not succeed.

Again, I must have thought that even if my parents believed me, who else would? It would’ve been my parents and I against the world. 

after my experience, several young women came out to confess worse stories about the same man, but as far as I know, nothing was done to him. Instead, the women were called “Delilahs” who were trying to destroy his ministry. He continued with his “amazing” ministry. I wish I know where he is now and what’s going on with him.

It happened to me again a second time, and then a third time, with two different “men of God”—yes, it was always “men of God.” I concluded then that I was the problem; that I was under a curse to be a stumbling block to men of God, even though I wasn’t a bad girl by any standard.

I do not recall sharing the full story with another soul except my husband, even though I have been bold enough to share more embarrassing stories about me. My parents would have been hearing this for the first time were they to read this post.

Perhaps because of my father’s emotional excesses, I knew it was best to save him the trouble. Again, it was a very dishonorable thing to talk about and I felt there wasn’t any need. After all, with God’s help, I was able to take care of myself in a world of “men of God,” which I happened to occupy because of my own calling, a calling no one respects because I am a woman.

So, why would a woman choose to tell such a story “20” years later? Because (1) she is much older and fully understand the evil that was done against her. (2) Because she now knows that it was not her fault; it is not a curse to be a woman who happened to be “attractive” by some men’s standard, even if they were “men of God.” (3) Because she feels a sense of responsibility to the church to say what this man truly is. (4) Because she finally feels a sense of responsibility to protect other girls/women from his harassment. And yes, (5) because she has watched him progress seemingly successfully in ministry under false pretenses after his cruelty to her, and IT HURTS!!! It hurts to see him in a pedestal he does not deserve to occupy. 

My experience almost made a “feminist” of me. I went to the seminary fueled by anger and the desire to prove a point. I toyed with dangerous ideas and hated the writings of Paul the apostle because I believed they were against women. I wanted to chat a new course or follow in the path of people who were redefining theology and giving a voice to women.

It was studying the way Jesus treated women in the Bible that sobered me. Suddenly here is a man – not just any man but God incarnate – befriending and defending women, even sinful women who “deserved” the rejection and wrath of a society that viewed them as properties to be owned and used than humans. He put his own integrity on the line to give women a life and a voice. 

All the years that I have lived in the church as a pastor’s wife, I have watched and listened to how one woman after another was mocked and bashed for confessing that a “man of God” slept or attempted to sleep with her. Even when the man confesses that it is true, the woman still gets the bashing. What I have not been able to understand is how some women also join in such bashings.

I respect and honor my husband for his personal integrity and I am willing to support him in every way, but he knows that one thing I could never do for him is to defend him against any such allegations. If he ever gets himself into a situation with a woman such that she can confidently accuse him, let his integrity and innocence stand for him, not me.

I have wept many silent tears over this and many other abuses of women in the church. It partly informed my writing the novel “Silent Wail.” As churches of Jesus Christ in Africa, do we even have an understanding of what an abuse is? We have a theology on divorce but not a theology on abuse. Culture appears to be our yardstick when it comes to how we treat men versus women.

There were some nasty comments about this issue, but I will respond to those I consider as coming from a seemingly Christian perspective. There were those who were equating Busola’s story with Potiphar’s wife’s, an eisegesis to support a cultural misrepresentation of women as seductresses. This wholly misses the fact that the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife is more a story of advantage and power that seeks to get whatever it wants than anything else.

Ironically, Potiphar’s wife represents people like this rapist man of God, who believes that his position and anointing gives him immunity and invincibility to do whatever he pleases and then punish his victims at will.

There are those whose concern is the way the saga is casting the church in a bad light, as though containing the story would protect the reputation of the church. It appears like a legitimate concern except the Church has no “reputation” to protect but tender souls of men and women—sheep and lambs—to protect from wolves in sheep clothing.

The Church’s integrity is not dependent on covering for sin but in exposing it. I confess that I have often wondered why the God of the church would not protect his church from wolves in sheet clothing.

There are those who insist that Fatoyinbo is “innocent until proven guilty.” Have we all become lawyers now, seeking truth from practical evidence? Are we saying that as Christians we have no moral wisdom to discern truth from falsehood (1 Cor. 6:1-6)? The fact that Fatoyinbo could threaten to take the matter to court shows clearly his attempt to distract from the moral and spiritual weight of his assault by turning to the legal aspect which he knew would be hard to prove.

 How can a rape of twenty years ago, carried out against an unsuspecting minor be proven in court? Would the testimony of her brother and sisters be accepted by a court as free of bias, or is it the pastors who were concern about how the news would affect the church that will now testify, implicating themselves for covering an assault against a minor? Should Christians be concerned with the legality of this matter or the moral and spiritual dimension? Or do we not know the difference? Do we who live by faith not know the limitations of empirical evidence when it comes to proving truth? I will rather that we say to leave matters in God’s hands than to call for legal proof.

Also there are those who believe that grace should be extended to “the man of God” because everyone makes mistakes… then there are those who actually think that Fatoyinbo’s more recent “press release” has taken care of the problem. Few people are concern about the woman herself and how she’s doing, especially after such a bold confession!

To see this assault as merely a “mistake” or an act of weakness from a man of God exposes a terrible ecclesiology and a lack of understanding of clerical responsibility by the people of God. This ignorance is being exploited by peddlers of the gospel who see that they can get away with anything under the pretext of “weakness.”

Any understanding of grace that views it as a license to a malicious indulgence of the old nature (often resulting in injuring another Christian) insults the blood of the Son of God that was poured out to purchase it in order that we may have a new nature; the nature of the one who was tempted in every way yet without sin. Do Christians sin? Yes, they do, but they are not supposed to be indulgent and they have the dignity to repent and seek forgiveness.

I have felt the temptation to pray a wicked prayer: that those who miss the evil that has been revealed this past weekend should have their own unsuspecting daughters or sisters raped—and by a “man of God” to whom they have entrusted their safety—in order to feel the full measure of this evil and injustice.

The most ridiculous comment I saw was equating clear cases of Islamic persecution of Christians with an alleged rape by a man of God, wondering why Christians did not have the same reaction. How can these two be equated? Yes, persecution is a grievous evil and painful, but we expect it as an attack against our faith. But the church is supposedly a place of safety and security, a place where we lay off our guards because we are home and we are loved. We expect to receive comfort and grace and courage to do life. When we are attacked and harass in such a place, we become hopeless with nowhere to run to.

We cannot imagine a doctor raping his patient let alone make a comparison between that action and other abuses as one and the same. When a man of God, whom one trusts for guidance betrays our trust and inflicts a grievous wound on us, the pain of such a betrayal cannot be quantified. Usually the anger turns towards God who is seen as sacrificing the weakest of his children to the strong and invincible; to his “favorites.”

What is most painful in all these stories of abuse by men of God is how it is almost always the innocent and vulnerable girls who love the Lord and seek to serve him that become targets. Why? 

Let Biodun go to court and let the court declare him “innocent” and let his supporters rejoice. But I believe that the true Judge who judges not by human standards, and who alone can defend/protect his church, will pass his judgement in due time. And God does not need to prove anything to anyone. When his time comes, he will judge and his judgement will be true!

Oh Lord, How long?? 

Welcome to My New Reflection Blog

A Distant Call…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

About Me

I am Esther (eiatsen) and the first thing about me I think you should know is, I am literally a thinker. Not quick-witted perhaps, but a ruminator. Why should you read me? Because you might find that I have stolen your thoughts and have spent a lot of time on it.

I love to engage with ideas and I am not afraid to debate with others when I have reason to disagree with them. Conversely, I am cool with others disagreeing with me. Ideological debates thrill me.

I am sure you’ll agree that there is too much in our everyday life that we take for granted or leave to the “experts.” Experts tell us how to do everything these days, including how to breath, how to watch tv, who to love and who to hate.

I believe it ought not to be so. What if there are alternative perspectives about our ways of being in the world that nobody is telling us, but which our gut feeling – if only we’ll take some thinking time to listen – can lead us to?

Another thing you should know about me is that I love to write. I have authored a novel titled Silent Wail in which I attempted to say something about the human soul and its quest for love and intimacy (a peculiar aspect of our being human).

I am a student as well, near-completing my doctoral program in Educational studies at Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois. I think that teachers are the coolest people because they have the power to change society by changing the way people think.

I am also a wife and a mother of four. Perhaps this is what describes me the most. Life is crazy busy for me in a good way; it keeps me from getting into a lot of trouble with ideas.

For me, life is perspectival; even when we ascribe to the same “objective truth,” we all reach our conclusions subjectively. Personal perspective then is crucial; it is our window to truth. We create our perceptions of reality based on how we think (influenced by what we believe and how we feel).

What I do in this blogging site is raise questions and reflect on existential realities. I love to put my thoughts in words; it is the way that I process things generally. I also love creating in others the same curiosity so as to make them think of alternatives; of possible worlds.

I love to read and write especially stories and philosophical thoughts. I hope that you’ll find my writings thoughtful and helpful for understanding our collective existence as human beings.

Stay blessed and live positive!