A Father¶s Pride

I was humming to myself as I enjoyed my midday bath when Hannah my youngest child screamed from the sitting room that my phone was ringing. The child thought every situation deserved to be treated as a crisis, like we ran an emergency ward. Since we did not see eye to eye and I was adamant about enjoying the sensation of warm water tickling every part of my skin for as long as it lasted, I simply shouted back that I had heard. Even when my second child, Julie revealed the identity of the caller I did not budge. It was Lazarus, my unofficial assistant from church. He was the adult version of my Hannah, pressing the panic button whenever he had the slightest opportunity, always saying the wrong thing. He was single-handedly responsible for more than half of all the false alarms ever raised in my church. And today presented ample opportunity for Lazarus to do his thing. My church, where I was the president of the local branch was organizing one of our yearly events. The occasion had been given extensive publicity; flyers, pamphlets, banners, awareness campaigns with large brass drums and trumpets, the works. The same occasion would be holding in each branch of my church all over the world, after sundown today. I had been involved in the preparation from morning until I felt I my sneaking away would cause no damage. The chairs, for the overflow and the main hall had been arranged, tents put up, the sound and lighting systems almost completed. Everything sparkled when I came back to deck out in one of my finest clothing. We were hosting the whole neighborhood and we had to do it right. Lazarus the worrywart was probably calling to inform me that one of the rented chairs had cobwebs underneath or that someone had spilled water somewhere. Or that a tent had a nick that could turn into a yawning hole if it rained. None of these qualify for my urgent attention so I told

Julie to ignore the phone unless it was Henry. My son Henry was one of those to whom I had delegated the sound system. He already had the characteristic adult ability to objectively rank matters so if anything serious came up, he would call me on his own phone. Henry eventually called as I was drying my hair and I knew something had come up. That meant the one hour I felt I would have to myself before going back to the hall was gone. Julie rushed the phone at me as I step into the living room. Leah my wife, having identified the caller from the ring tone came out of the kitchen where a good sum of money now existed in the form of soups, stews, lumps and several other edible, specials for today¶s occasion, to hear what was going to be the next disaster in my life and know which part she was going to play. That was the plus side of having a good wife, as I have discovered not long into our marriage. We shared every moment, good and bad. Henry too was beginning to feature in our team approach to problem solving too, having proven that he was not just a dumb head in the house. I tried to make sense out of Henry¶s message as I relayed it to my wife. I could hear the gears turning in her head already but I was ahead of her this time. I had to go there immediately, turning my back on what was going to come out of that kitchen. My presence had a somewhat calming effect around the church. The next hurdle was escaping from Hannah. I could see her tying up her shoe laces while I jumped into my trousers. Her latest fad was going everywhere with me, including the office. Just when it became fashionable for little girls to hang out with their dads escaped me. My wife disappeared into the kitchen and emerged almost immediately with a plate of whatever she had been cooking. I approached her with exaggerated anticipation and asked if the meal was for me.

³No, my dear. This delicious food is for my daughter.´ She turned to Hannah and said, with a smile too big for the occasion ³Hannah, come and eat this before it gets cold´ I winked to my wife as Hannah began to approach us with a smile. We had been through this before, episodes where I got away while she munched happily on her bait. Thank God children didn¶t ship with all the senses they needed for their lifetime. Or else there would be more trouble for us adults, like now. My wink dissolved into a frown when I felt Hannah¶s little hand wrap around my own. ³Mummy keep the food. I will eat when we get back.´ Oh, daddy¶s little girl had grown overnight! Good and bad news, depending on how you looked at it. I did not tell her to do so but Julie grabbed her sister and pinned her firmly to the rug. Taking my cue, I made a dash for the door, my wife in tow. Hannah¶s wailing almost drowned Leah¶s instructions as I picked the car keys. ³Honey, just take it easy, ok? Don¶t fight them! That¶s what they are out for!´ Sure, that was what they wanted. I hoped I remember that when I needed to. ³I¶ll bring your clothes for you, ok?´ Splendid! I was not expected back in the house until after the event. The prospect of changing clothes in a damp toilet did not appeal to me the slightest but that was how it was going to be. I wondered what little Hannah would look like when they came to the venue. The best I could wish for was swollen eyes and tumbled hair. But I had to smile when I thought of how her

troubles paled in comparison with the one I was driving to. This was no child tussle. I still did not have any plan yet one must come up within the remaining hour left to our event. When I arrived at the venue, I realized Henry¶s phone call had not prepared me for what I was seeing. A place I had left so calm had become like a pub on happy hour. I had to park out on the street and struggle inside to locate whoever could shed more light on what I was seeing. Obviously more people had arrived since Henry called. Yes, we wanted people, that was why we rented this big town hall from the local authority. But these were not the guests we were expecting. They were mostly casually dressed. I recognized some of the faces as belonging to my neighbours but nobody attempted to exchange pleasantries. My head did some quick calculations; first locate Henry and/or some other responsible men, then find the leader of this group and ask what he is up to. But Lord help me detain Lazarus somewhere our paths would not cross. He was not the best sidekick at this moment. Even my daughter that I had run away from would be of more help. I found a corner and called Henry to come to me and he did so right away, bringing along the head pastor who was already dressed and some other three men from our side and I thought that was great. I was briefed that a religious group that had never hidden its displeasure at the increase we were experiencing had organized a crusade in the same hall and at the same time we had booked. This was their latest prank, which really did not surprise anybody. Their president, popularly referred to as Senator was a gutter fighter who could not differentiate between holy and mundane squabbles. He was applying the dirty tricks he had picked up from politics in this rivalry.

We were a modest church, in fact, less than half the size of Senator¶s congregation. What worried the president however was our steady growth. But worshippers seemed to find our choir more interesting and our sermons more uplifting, which was not our fault. Our bands had shiny drums and booming keyboards. The days of fire and brimstone sermons were definitely over. What believers needed was inspiring worship sessions that assured them that their creator¶s preoccupation was ³everly´ drenching them with success in everything they did and that was what we provided. Senator cared majorly for the elderly of the community because he presided over the oldest church in town. Ours was a new generation institution that appealed to the young and upward mobile. Even our pastors where younger and more vibrant. Ours was not the only church stealing their parishioners but we came in for special attack because of our brashness in setting up business right under their nose. I quickly posted folks at the entrance to watch out for our own people and instruct them to gather at a spot down the road to await further instructions. One of the assistant pastors pointed out dejectedly that we would not be able to distinguish our own guests since they would not hang a sign around their necks to identify themselves. I thanked him for being so explicit, but that was something we would have to live with. It was then that Lazarus joined us. He was steaming, to put it mildly. I almost cursed out loud. He would have been the first among those assigned to the gate because I didn¶t want anybody that would fret me. I needed a clear head. We had less than 45 minutes. I sent somebody to the police station. The police should have no hard time deciding what to do. We had evidence that we hired the place before they did. But surprisingly they were already on their way, two of them. When they arrived, nobody paid any attention to them with their

ineffectual clubs. I told them what happened and they quickly sent for their boss; this was clearly beyond their control. Meanwhile we located Senator who was surrounded by his jeering people. He refused to say anything until the police boss arrived. Mr. Boss demanded an explanation from Senator and he said his church had gathered for a special service to sanctify, anoint and bless the whole region, and if time permitted the whole nation. ³Is this your latest prank?´ Lazarus shot at him, his fury making his breathe come in gasps. He then turned to the police officer and explained how we had suffered in the hands of Senator and his church. ³You see this people, they are fighting with God and they can¶t prevail. The first time, they turned all their loudspeakers in our direction. They had more loudspeakers on their fence than in their church but we did not say anything. But they started replacing the loudspeakers inside when they broke down with those on the wall until nothing was left and we thanked God for that victory. The next thing they did was to point the exhaust of their fossilized generator on us. Again we kept quiet because we believe in God fighting our battles for us«.´ Lazarus was interrupted by another hothead from the opposing camp ³Just how did you keep quiet? How, I am asking you! Was it not you people that blocked our gutter and you claimed you were leveling the road? Was it not one of you haters that knocked down our sign post with his car in broad daylight?´ That really was a blow below the belt. The last incident involved one of our members whose husband gave a car for her birthday and had not yet mastered translating the degree of turning of

the steering wheel to the actual path of the car. We even offered to reinstall the sign board but of course we were turned down. Our head pastor rose to the bait, firing back, ³You hypocrites. Was it a man that knocked down your sign? Did we not offer to replace the sign altogether? Officer don¶t listen to these people. They are jealous of what the Lord is doing through us. Look at what he ± he was referring to Senator ± is doing. This hall cannot even contain his church but he has brought his people out here to cause trouble.´ ³We chose this hall for the same reasons you chose it «´ ³And what reasons are that, you hypocrites?´ Somebody shot forward to address the police. His voice started off cool but somewhere he lost it and ended up screaming. ³Officer please ask this man to stop calling us hypocrites. Or else this matter will not get settled!´ Officer had no chance to caution our head pastor because another person shouted ³But that¶s what you are! If not you people wouldn¶t be here. And I have been meaning to ask you people. Who prepares your sermon because he is always attacking us. That¶s uncivilized.´ ³Ooooooh!´, somebody drooled. ³Our sermons are working. I see! But if your conscience is troubling you, make changes. We are not apologizing. Neither are we promising to stop.´ ³If you think condemning where your members are going will improve your own appeal then you are wrong. It doesn¶t work that way.´ Phew! That was me. And I scored well because someone responded.

³Like we really care. Those that come to you are those we would have kicked out anyway. They are not fit for the holy congregation of the Lord.´ ³And who are you to condemn anybody? Like the Lord Jesus, let people come to us, the toiling and the loaded down. We are transforming lives, we are winning souls«..´ ³Transforming lives, that¶s a laugh! What you have going is stepping stone to ««´ ³We let the good Lord decide that, not you rotten bunch of bible swingers!´ ³What!´ ³Could you all stop this shouting! We¶ve got a situation here and nobody is even talking about it!´ Oh, I had almost forgotten about the police! The truth was our official policy, from the country headquarters, was to quietly bear the maltreatment from Senator, sort of no paying back evil with evil. This fact vexed Senator a lot because the whole neighborhood had a clear idea of who was the persecutor and who was the persecuted. But pent up emotions had a way of getting vented during encounters like this. Both parties kept quiet so the police boss felt confident to continue. ³Now I am not a member of either church so I «..´ I couldn¶t resist jabbing ³Thank God you¶re not one of them.´ The boss continued like I never spoke. ³So I can afford not to be prejudiced. I don¶t care about how you feel about each other. Who rented this hall?´ Lazarus quickly shouted ³I did!´

Senator too claimed he did. ³Okay. Since both of you rented the hall, I will have to ask for your papers and permits then.´ Lazarus immediately produced the papers. Trust Lazarus to have such things handy. In his own world everything was waiting to go wrong and he was always prepared to fix them. Senator sent for his bag and produced receipts and permits too. The booked hours corresponded but our papers were older. And the clerk happened to be a member of his church. Senator claimed to be innocent and the clerk was naturally nowhere to be found. ³Then you will have to give way for them!´ Senator began to protest ³This is not fair! I was not aware of any clash so it is not my fault. We got here before this people! See, the hall is full of people! What do I do with them?´ The police boss stood straight, squared his shoulder and arranged his face into a remember-whothe-boss- is glare. ³You heard me. Move out of this hall!´ Lazarus¶ face was flushed with anticipated victory. Our head pastor and his subordinates were shaking hands and praising the Lord. I checked the time. I was relieved. We had about ten minutes left. Another crisis averted. The Lord we serve is always good. ³Well that¶s not easy. These people are «´ ³Then we do it for you!´ The cheers from our camp reached concert noise level. We hugged one another in celebration. Oh, the police boss was such a darling!

³What! Are you going to force this people out like they are rioters?´ ³Exactly! I am giving you three minutes to try and convince your people to go, which will give us time to mobilize more personnel. After that, things are going to get ugly because we are going to move in with batons and shields and drive them out! Get it?´ ³Fine! Go ahead´, Senator said as he walked away. What! Senator daring the police? That was ridiculous. I didn¶t know what he was doing. Did he think the police would bend to him? ³Oh, president!´, somebody screamed. ³Look, the media people are here!´ Things were getting interesting. I did not mind a little publicity. We were in the clear here. But who invited them? News travel fast these days. Then I saw the cameras. Television! My chance to be on air! Oh my God! How do I look? Nooooooo! I am in an old track suit! But thank God I brushed my hair « ³President!´ Somebody grabbed my elbow. ³They have been looking for you!´ Behind him was a lady reporter with her cameraman. ³And this is one of the presidents of the two churches involved. Sir can you tell us what is happening here?´ The reporter thrust her microphone in my face and there I was on the television! Of course I would have to wait until news time to see myself but thanks, Senator! I looked directly into the

camera and said ³There¶s been some misunderstanding between the two churches but it is being resolved. We have booked this hall for the same time but like I said it is being resolved.´ ³But sir, we see a lot of people here. What is going to happen now?´ I tried a bit of diplomacy, after all I was on air. ³The police are here and they are in total control.´ ³I heard the other church is going to be evicted. Is that true?´ ³Did you hear that from the police? Because like I told you they are in charge.´ ³Thank you sir!´ Lazarus shot at me, ³Why didn¶t you hit the nail on the head just there? That was our opportunity to show the whole world the liar those losers are but you bust it!´ I walked away. This was not the time to educate a grown-up on what to say and what not to say on television. The 3-minute ultimatum was about to expire. Senator had not even addressed his congregation, The police boss already had a megaphone to his mouth and he was fighting his way to the front of the wall. That would give us five minutes before the chairman of the occasion mounted the stage. Then I saw Henry tearing toward me. In the few seconds before he got to me many bad thoughts raced through my mind. If he was coming to tell me that fighting had started«. ³Daddy you¶ve got to stop the police! You have to stop him!´ I looked at my own son, wondering if he had not gone out of his mind. I was sure it was the same thought passing through the minds of those around us.

We could hear the police chief ordering everybody not interested in our service to get out of the hall before he counted up to ten. And he started counting. ³One!, «« two!, ««´ ³Daddy you have to stop him!´ ³Three!, «.´ ³But it is too late now!´ ³Just stop him! I will explain!´ ³Four!,«..´ I was torn, literally. I could listen to my son and stop the chief or I could ignore him. I still did not know why I should listen to Henry so any decision I made was a gamble. And I didn¶t have time. ³Five!, «.´ Oh God, why must it be me to make such a decision? Why should so much rest on my poor head? ³Six!, «.´ I started to run to the police chief, hoping that before I got to him I would make my mind somehow. Honestly I would have gladly cast lots at this point, just anything that would ensure I didn¶t bear responsibility for any consequences. My people took after me. ³You should let the police do their job! This is out of our hands now!´ ³We should be thanking the Lord for this opportunity to deal with this useless lot!´ ³President

don¶t make any rash decision here!´ ³You are not going to listen to your boy and stop the police!´ It was the last one that made my mind. ³Seven, «.´ ³Officer! Please stop!´ My people glared at me like they could strangle me. The police chief regarded me like a deranged man. ³Don¶t send these people out. My son here just discovered something.´ Henry stepped forward. ³Chief I was present when Senator was interviewed. This whole thing is a frame up. His church really does not have any program here.´ ³And how do you prove this, young man?´ That was angry Lazarus. ³Fine. First the clerk that rented an already booked hall to Senator is a member of his church. Second, it was Senator himself that alerted the police. Then he summoned the press too. Then he dared the police to send his people out. He told the press that we are using the police to drive his people out.´ ³And what do all this prove, my friend?´ Oh my God! This my Henry is a genius! It just dawned on me what Senator had been doing. That crafty man! Then I remembered Leah¶s words: Don¶t fight them. That¶s what they are looking for. Did that really mean women were smarter?

The change in the face of the police chief was very obvious. Apparently he was not so dull. Neither did he fancy being caught in the middle of church rows. But for the sake of those that could not think fast, Henry elaborated, ³Senator has been using the police and the press. He wants to paint us in bad colors and we are playing into his hands.´ I turned to my people. They were speechless. I turned backed to Henry and shook his hand, I had no idea what else to do. I have always been proud of him but today was different. Lazarus should now see why you avoided saying some things on air, whether they were true or not. And my Henry had saved us a lot of trouble. The country headquarters would have been highly displeased if Senator had succeeded. We would have heard an earful when the branch rep came around. I could even lose my post as president. ³Ok, ok. So what do we do?´ ³Let¶s give them half an hour for whatever they want to do and make sure the news people are aware of it.´ That was Lazarus and this time I had no problem with his utterances. The police chief readily agreed but the look on his face said he was far from pleased with Senator. Senator was summoned and informed of our compromise. His face fell like a boy stood up on his first date. He asked repeatedly if the police chief really meant it and that one repeated with a malicious smile that since he was not a member of either church he could afford to be impartial. Senator¶s service stretched into an hour and fifteen minutes but we waited patiently until the last member left the hall, completely sealing our triumph, preserving the status quo: we the

persecuted, Senator the persecutor. Our service was fine although most of our guests left before we started. While we waited for our rivals¶ thirty minutes to expire Leah arrived with my clothes. She had chosen my suit that she liked best despite that it was a little undersized. And yes, I did change inside a musty toilet. Hannah was with her. She jumped into my arms as if nothing had happened. I wondered what had transpired in my absence. But of course she was just a little girl, yet to learn the art of rancor that shaped the lives of us adults. Predictably, the next Sunday¶s sermon was based on the need to regard advice, regardless of where it was coming from. I beamed from my seat, knowing fully well who had inspired the sermon. I also wondered what the police would do with Senator for daring to attempt to take the police for a ride.

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