Loved (A mini-series): Series finale – Reunion
Written by Joy A. Adewumi
Episode 4 Recap
Go to your church on Sunday.
My church? I didn’t have a church.
Of course, you do. The one you left. They’d be all happy to see you.
I paused with a start! No, no, no! It was too big a leap! I couldn’t just waltz into my dad’s congregation as easily as I waltzed out. It would be cataclysmic.
It would be glorious.
I wasn’t so sure about that. I did think it was a good place to check for Ayo though. So, I’d go as late as I dared. I’d wear a rather obscuring hat and search surreptitiously for Ayo in a congregation that I hoped was still as sparse as the 150 people it boasted when I left.
I was wrong! I was very wrong. And I was done for!
As I alighted from the bike in front of a building I remembered was The Church Of God’s Saints, I almost lost my footing on the heels I wore. I paid the bike man his fare and stood staring at the small-hall-turned-mega-auditorium. I played casually with turning on my heels and going back home because there was no way only about 150 people will be seated in that gigantic building. If the cars packed in and outside the compound were anything to go by alone, 500 was a ridiculously small number not to talk of the thousands that must have arrived without cars. Was dad even still the presiding pastor? How on earth was I supposed to find my own family in the crowd of people that had to be seated in that building talk less of Ayo? This was all a big mistake. I certainly wasn’t up for this.
I turned back to hail another bike which wasn’t hard as I was wrong on another count. I thought I was fashionably late at ten-thirty, since last I checked, services lasted nine-thirty to eleven-thirty. However, the number of people that had arrived and walked into the church since I got there proved I was earlier than many. With a disappointed sigh, I raised my hand ready to hail the bike that had just dropped off a woman and her children.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
I blinked rapidly at the familiar voice that called behind me. It surprised me and even borderline-bothered me that the faceless voice which was almost a constant companion these days did not bother to say a word as I tried to leave the church. Turned out he had delegated the job to someone else.
Ayo stood with a smile dancing on his lips as he pocketed his phone. But really, what were the chances that in a congregation of thousands – no doubt, the first person I would see was the same person I came to see?
‘Hi!’ I greeted.
‘Hi, yourself.’ He replied with a fuller smile. ‘You’re not thinking of going back, are you? Because it felt like you were going to hail that bike that just dropped off that family. You haven’t even stepped in yet.’
I blinked again. ‘How do you know that?’
‘I’ve been here all along. I was taking an important call when your bike dropped you. You were still standing there and staring when I ended the call. That hat of yours is quite the thing, you know? I could barely see your face, but it struck me odd that all you did was stare rather than walk in. When your shoulders slumped and you turned with a raise of your hand, I finally caught a glimpse of your face. Imagine my surprise.’
I smiled at his recount and shifted my weight on my heels.
‘Why won’t you come in? You might as well make the transport fare worth it.’
‘When I thought of coming this morning, I didn’t expect I would be worshipping with thousands of other people. The size of the building, the crowd. It’s rather daunting.’ I replied with a shrug.
‘Elizabeth, it’s been over a decade since you were here last. Naturally, growth had happened over the years. The denomination had only about three locations in all of Lagos when we were teens. Between then and now, a lot of church planting had taken place and there are no less than 250 locations all over now. Besides, you picked a special Sunday to visit. It’s a sort of regional service today. That is, all twenty-something locations in Agege and environs are gathered here today for the service and that’s the reason for the crowd.’
‘Oh!’ I replied as I took in all the info. ‘You seem to know a lot. And to think I thought it was a rather long shot to think I would find you here today.’
His brows hiked. ‘You came to look for me? Why? Wait, is this what I think it is?’
My lips tipped up a bit as I replied, ‘Obviously, Sherlock! I haven’t been a church, much less this one in over a decade.’
‘Wow! So, you came to look for me because…’
‘When I found Jesus, it was overwhelming how many people I thought should know. Then, I thought of the random guy who had been praying for me for six years and thought I had to be more intentional about informing you about the change that had occurred. Of course, my parents deserve even a bigger courtesy, but I knew just where to find them. You, on the other, had were a whole different ball game.’ I released a big sigh. ‘I’m glad I found you easily. I’m also glad the Holy Spirit found a way to keep His promise to you. You’re the first person to find out I got saved.’
‘Blessed heavens!’ Ayo shouted with a jump and fist pump in the air. ‘Glory to God! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Comforter Divine’
I couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped my lips. His palpable joy was contagious. It was a good thing we were out there alone.
‘So, are we going in anytime soon or not?’ I asked as I glanced at the imposing auditorium again.
‘Wow! You really want to go in? I don’t have to coax you?’ He asked with a broad smile.
‘Oh, I have no doubt you would have coaxed me and succeeded, but you don’t have to. Your reaction makes me want to go out on a limb and hope everyone who recognizes me in there would express something akin to that joy. Plus, I’m particularly anxious to meet my family now.’ I said as I took a step forward, then stopped. ‘Wait, do you think they’re going to be here? Or has my dad been transferred somewhere else?’
He smiled again as he nodded toward the building and replied, ‘Why not come in and check?’
That was good enough for me, so we walked towards the building together. ‘You’ll seat with me, please?’
‘Huh…’ He trailed as he rubbed the back of his neck. ‘That might be a bit hard, especially if you don’t want me to draw attention to you prematurely. There’s a column for the pastors and me seating somewhere else might require a bit of explanation.’
I stopped once again on my tracks. ‘What?!’
‘Huh? What?’ He asked bemusedly.
‘You’re a pastor?’ I asked with an unbelieving chuckle.
‘Yea, that’s what I said.’ He replied with furrowed brows and outstretched palms.
‘You didn’t say. You only implied. Just now.’
Another smile was playing on his lips. ‘You make this sound like this is a deal-breaker.’
‘It’s… It’s just that you don’t look it.’
His smile metamorphosed into a full chuckle. ‘Tell me about it. So there’s a pastor-look?’
‘I’ve had tons of them try to convince me to return to God over the years. I would know what a pastor looks like.’
‘Sorry to disappoint you then.’ He replied though he didn’t look in the least bit sorry. That mischievous smile was playing on his lips again. He just seemed too free and easygoing to fit into my picture of a pastor. Most pastors I knew, my dad, inclusive took the sobriety and gravity rule quite literally. Even the young ones.
‘Don’t be.’ I replied. ‘If I had figured you were a pastor on the bus that day, I certainly wouldn’t have been as attentive as I was. It would have been a deal-breaker.’ After a thoughtful pause, I added. ‘Wait! That means you remembered me more clearly than you let on that night. Because if you are a pastor in this church, it means you know my sisters well. It also means you knew my situation better than you let on.’
‘I know your family, well. Yes, I know your sister well, too. Her husband and I are quite close. It’s also true that it wasn’t hard to figure out it was you on the bus that night. But that’s only because both your sisters recognize me as much as I recognize them. You on the other hand didn’t give me a second glance that night, so, nope, it couldn’t be either of them. I can assure you, however, that you have never been a topic of any conversation I’ve had with them. They have no idea I’ve been praying for you beyond what the whole church does. My surprise at meeting you that night was legit.’
I nodded thoughtfully and then spoke as we got closer to the entrance. ‘You know what? Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl. I can certainly seat by myself in church.’
He smiled with a nod as we walked in and whispered, ‘I had no doubt about that.’
I looked around for a seat as close to the door as possible and was grateful when Ayo whispered something to an usher who then showed me to a seat that met my requirements.
I had for a moment there forgotten what it felt like to be amidst God’s people. No, scratch that. Never had I ever felt this beautiful sense of belonging. I felt like I was amidst family even though I didn’t know many of them. I wondered how that worked.
I looked up at the screen closest to me, at my seat close to the exit, to catch a glimpse of the pulpit and almost choked on a sob. There was my dad. It was funny, really. I saw him every other weekend and never had this strange feeling of wanting to cry at the mere sight of him. But I realised why sooner than I could ask why. I was right here, where he had no doubt prayed for over a decade that I’d be. And there he was again as my Pastor and not just my dad. One tear escaped the corner of my eyes and I dabbed it away with a knuckle.
It was hard to keep the tears at bay though when the camera closed in on my brother, the one between me and my younger sister, Philip. He was the one on the organ. More than the sense of belonging I felt right there in the church, I finally felt like I was a real part of my own immediate family. I would be lying if I said I did not always feel like an outsider during family gatherings. Everyone else seemed to speak the same language, one I understood sometimes but refused to key into and at other times simply didn’t get. But today as my younger sister’s unmistakable alto belted through the speakers and her face alongside that of the soprano singer became the focus of the camera, I felt a wave of appreciation wash over me yet again that I was finally a part of the family.
Ayo had said I picked a special Sunday to visit. I’d say the faceless voice chose a rather strategic one. Between the choir piece that emphasized co-heirdom with Christ and my dad’s sermon on the oneness of God’s family, I’d say the faceless voice had to be the most intentional being I’d ever been acquainted with.
By the end of the sermon, I felt more a part of the family of God than ever because I was finally able to accept the feeling with comprehension. I, alongside every other saved believer in the congregation that day was integrated into the family of God by God’s Holy Spirit abiding within. He’s the uniting factor in God’s family and he’s the reason I could feel a kinship with a crowd of people I’d never met before now.
The former me would have been thinking of seeking more evidence, but the new me was more than satisfied with the beautiful sense of belonging that overwhelmed me. It was a notable change. And a very welcome one. Things were indeed different this time around. The change I sought back then as a teenager whenever I prayed the sinner’s prayer but never saw was now so evident. I was a living testimony of 2nd Corinthians chapter five verse seven that says: If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold all things have become new.
I came out of my musings as I noticed people beginning to leave. I wasn’t very sure what to do. Do I wait till the church emptied and then join my parents on their way to their car or do I just wait till the Sunday lunch we always had every other Sunday? One was slated for that afternoon. It seemed I didn’t have to make the decision though, because the next time I looked up, the whole family was headed towards me. And leading the pack was none other than Ayo. Really, what had I been I expecting? That he’d let me leave without seeing my family?
‘Irapada?’ My mum called, blinking rapidly as I tipped my hat backwards a bit at their approach.
‘Sis Lizzy!’ Both my younger siblings gasped as they stared as if they’d seen a ghost.
My dad took off his glasses and squinted down at me as if that would help him see more clearly. ‘Elizabeth?’
My big sister was the first to get over her shock. She charged forward and wrapped me in a fierce hug. ‘Oh, how I prayed when you called me last week about that childhood experience! I prayed it was the beginning of something new. Something that’d lead you back to God. I’m so glad my prayers were answered.’
‘I am glad too, sis. Thank you for praying for me.’ I replied in a teary voice.
My mum was next as she sobbed not so quietly. She wrapped me in her gentle tender embrace and rubbed my back up and down. ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ Was all she could manage amidst her sobs.
My younger siblings, Ella and Philip took turns welcoming me back into God’s family. While Ella was in full sobbing mode, Elisha had tell-tale signs of tears in his suspiciously red-rimmed eyes.
Dad swallowed hard and said in a gruffer voice than I knew him to have. No doubt he was holding back emotions of his own. ‘Surely there’s an end and the expectation of the righteous shall not be cut short.’
‘How did you know?’ Philip asked glancing at Ayo who stood a reasonable distance away from our group.
All eyes in the group turned on him expectantly. He smiled and shrugged. ‘Caught her philandering around the premises. Stopped her from running away when she saw the crowd. Guided her back. A short interview later. I found out that she desperately wanted to see you l to tell you about the change in her life. Thus, I felt the onus was upon me to arrange this little meet.’
Nods and chuckles followed but I was caught in the realization of the double meaning behind his words. I was philandering and running. He guided me back. It was the perfect summary for the role he played in this whole play. A small smile danced on my lips as I glanced up at his knowing and smiling eyes. He knew I picked his double meaning.
My eyes welled with emotion at the expression on their faces. It was just all so humbling. I thought I was being my person and charting a practical course for my life when I decided to stop being a Christian, while in truth, I was running away from the uncertainty of not being sure of who I was or what I stood for. So, I decided to make up an identity for myself and carve a niche by myself. How foolish!
Little did I realise how many hearts I broke. Or how many hours of prayers had gone up to God on my behalf, evidenced by the many tears that streamed down the faces of my family members. But I was glad as I stood there that morning, surrounded by my loved ones, that I found the love of Christ and my way back home.
I was saved! I was redeemed! And I was greatly loved, not just by my biological family and God’s family. I was loved, beyond imagination by the One who made me and gave His life for me. He is the faceless Voice in my head. The new Pilot of my life. The one I now deferred to instead of my flawed sense of morality and my not so sensible common sense. The One that loved me even when I least deserved His love.
It has been quite the journey, hasn’t it? And it would have been a rather lonely one, had you not come along with me. Thank you so much for your continued engagement from episode 1 to this finale, I do not take it for granted. Thank you for all the shares and comments.
I hope you have been blessed by this series. I pray we all will continue to enjoy that beautiful relationship that comes from an intentional communion with Divinity in Jesus name. Don’t forget! As saved believers, we are angels on assignment wherever we are. Stay available and useful to God!
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