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Agogokristi, Christ’s Bell or The Bell of Christ, said he heard God’s voice one night in his sleep. “It sounded as if it was from a speaker, like a thunderclap. Boom, boom. But it was soft also, there was a softness to God’s voice,” he told his wife that morning. What God said to him then was not clear but in the next few days he could swear he knew the voice of the Almighty. “Now, God visits every night. He no longer speaks to me in my sleep. Our relationship has gone far beyond that. He comes in every night now, sits on my bed, and gives me messages for the world.”
This was how Baba Samueli – once a lout, once a carpenter, once a cheat – became a man of God, Agogokristi, The Jingling Bell of Christ.
It was not really expected but people came to love and believe him. He had only started with his family – his wife, whom he named Olorikristi, Christ’s Queen, his first son and child, Ohunkristi, The Voice of Christ, and his other four children. They had started small, using their compound, his wife opening the service with a prayer, his son, whose voice drew people for its sweetness, singing the praises and worship, and then Agogokristi himself mounted the pulpit, then made of a very low stool, to share the word of the Lord.
He always held a small bell, which he jingled at intervals between the words of his sermon, as if it was a kind of punctuation.
But quick enough the church of seven grew. All it took was some prophecy, some prosperity message, some prayer for the sick, and some trick for people to accept the God of Agogokristi who never fails.
In a matter of months there were already things like tambourine, shèkèrè, and two small hand-beaten drums. And the offering and tithe income weekly was good, at least. From this he was going to buy a wireless microphone and speakers, loud speakers that would send his voice ringing in the ears of all in Agbiri street and even beyond.
But Agogokristi couldn’t save a dime of the money, for different reasons for which you can’t really blame him. For instance, it was his ritual to drink beer every night, a bottle of Star costs three hundred naira, and the least he drank every night was two bottles; and his wife and children also ate every day. So he called out to his flock one Sunday morning.
Dressed in his neat white soutane, a yellow gird around his waist, no shoes but very neat feet, he mounted the pulpit. In his way, a practised style totally his, he placed his hands on the finely polished wooden pulpit he had made himself, and began. “People of God, the Lord needs our sacrifice; the Lord needs you to build his church. And you know when the Lord requests something of us it becomes an obligation.” He saw the faces of his congregants turn supple as he told them the Lord in His recent visits has been pertinent about the Build My House offering, which he said would be used for building His house. “I tell you not to worry,” Agogokristi said. “I tell you the Lord who has called you will not let you down. He will never let you down,” he assured.
“Ohunkristi!” Agogokristi called his son.
“Sir,” the young man soon came running. He knelt down before his father. That is how he must be when he is before a man of God, especially a very great one like his father, his father told him.
“I am thirsty, very thirsty, and I need some wine,” Agogokristi said. Wine is equal to Big or Small Stout, or Gulder, or Star, or any other beer. “Or did the Apostle Paul not admonish young Timothy to take a little alcohol for his health?” he asked his son who was still on his knees.
“Yes, Sir, he did.”
With that he handed the young man a thousand naira to go and buy two bottles of Star for him. “I send you only to Iya Mongere, deep down Odunsi. Nowhere else,” he warned. “Also buy me Suya two hundred from Bakre, the one who sells at the junction of Awofodu,” he added.
On nights like this, when his father sent him to buy Star, or Stout, Ohunkristi went to visit his girlfriend, Flora. She worked at Iya Mongere’s Joint.
Flora was a body-seller, since that was the only profitable alternative to being a cleaner in a hotel or a road-sweeper. Her mother had taken care of her from body-selling, too, and now that she too was ripe, she took it up from where her mother left off after she contracted one disease like that. There were different customers: Abokis, whose bodies always smell of sweat, from not washing for days, soldiers who came to have a pour-out of bitterness, and Alhajis, for whom the bodies of their many wives were no longer enough, to pastors who wanted a different anointing from the one they got in between the thighs of their wife. And now to politicians who came under the cover of night to taste heaven.
Ohunkristi knew the work his lady did, but he loved her all the same. Is it not just for sometime? Is this not going to end? he always told her. And she would tell him: “My love, I know one day soon we will hit something big, a goldmine, and I will not have to do this again. Then we can go and start new lives, to write ourselves into a new story.”
On this particular night, she told him she found that goldmine already. “My love, with a little help from heaven I swear we shall never know poverty again,” she said.
A certain senator, Senator Korama, had been coming in unto her for sometime now, and this man would be their open door, the gateway to a life of sweet things. All that there was need for was wisdom.
“This man must not go just like that,” Ohunkristi said. “At least not until we have gotten ours from him. This is an opportunity, but I do not know how we shall go about it. I see a river of money flowing but I do not know how we shall take ours from it.” After giving it thought for sometime, Ohunkristi said, “Go to my father tomorrow, tell him there is a river of money you do not want to dry off, tell him you will be grateful if the Lord will use him to keep this river flowing. My father, I know, will have something from his head for us.”
Flora looked at him. “Are you sure?” Ohunkristi smiled. “I have never been surer – but do not mention me to him,” he added.
He kissed her the way he did every other night he came, running his hands over her skin, squeezing where there was need to, and hurried to get what his father sent him.
“When do you come again?” Flora shouted after him.
Flora sat down on a chair, directly in front of Prophet Agogokristi – the finely polished table of his small office separating them.
“So, young woman, what has brought you before the Lord?” Agogokristi asked, his hands on the table.
Flora told the man of God of the Big. “He has been coming in unto me for sometime now, and I want him to stay. To stay until the Lord has raised me up from the mire of poverty through him, at least.”
He shook his bald head. “That, of all things, is the littlest the Lord can do. Does his word not say, The hearts of kings, senators included, is in the hands of the Lord, and that he turns it wherever he wants?” He stood. “I am confident, said Paul the Apostle, that he who began this good work will complete it.”
He told her the Lord will plant Senator Korama forever in her bosom and the devils, referring to all other prostitutes in Iya Mongere’s care, will never be able to uproot him. And he asked her to come in the next seven days, he would fast and ask God for guidance. But before she left he tasted her too, they did a quick one on the finely polished table of his small office, and he testified that there in between her thighs was heaven – paradise.
For seven nights and days Agogokristi sought the Lord with fasting – which began after an early breakfast at six a.m. and was broken late in the night with beer, which his son, Ohunkristi, always helped him to get from Iya Mongere, as usual – and heavy prayers which he mumbled every now and then under his breath. And one night while on his woman it came to him, like a flash of light, a revelation. God had finally answered his prayers. He then ejaculated, had a quick shower, wore his almost lucent white garment, and knelt down to bless the name of the Lord who reveals the deep and secret things to his anointed.
On the seventh day when Flora came he said, “The Lord has spoken. He who has light has enlightened my mind in this matter.” Then he began: “Make sure he comes in unto you again, lay your bed with a fine sheet and perfume it. Wash your body and your hair, plait the latter in fine braids, and wear the clothes the Lord has blessed you with. Then call him in – if there is food, feed him. Give him your all, like the river gives it all to the ocean. Like Jael, then be a confident woman, says the Lord. Like Jael, pick the hammer and the long nail, daughter, the nail with the cap and run it through his temple.” He paused. “It is what the Lord says to do; do it and you shall be a tree planted by the rivers of money.” He then handed her the camera he bought. He says no more.
Flora left with the camera, after they had a nice round in the prophet’s office, on the finely polished table.
Indeed, Flora did as the man of God commanded her, and now she was sure that Senator Korama would be all hers. She would ask him for very big amounts soon. Soon. But then the tape. The tape was to be returned to Agogokristi, he had instructed her to bring it back to him. When Ohunkristi came that night she told him what was going on.
“I have done according to all that your father commanded,” she said. “I have recorded the scene, in fact it makes me laugh. How the Big Man was shouting, ‘Baby, you kill me,’ as I turned him on. It’s quite a sight. And I was smart enough to keep my face away from the camera,” she added.
All the while Ohunkristi said nothing. When he finally spoke his voice was coarse, and she could barely make out his words.
“I hope it is not that you have been crying,” Flora said, touching his face.
“We need to print a copy of that thing before you hand it over to him,” Ohunkristi said. “I know my father: all he cares about is himself.” He drew her close. “I am also not ignorant of the fact that you have been fucking him. I have the clips, too.”
Surprised, her mouth fell open. When she was finally able to regroup, she forced it open to ask: “You planted a camera in his office.”
He did not answer. Why should he? There was no need to. All the church members his father did it with, he knew. He could count his fingers for the numbers.
On a certain Sunday morning a big car, one that hardly passed roads like those of Agbiri Street with all the potholes that scattered over the road like hollow boils, rolled, on those big wheels, into Canaan, Land of The Lord’s People. The car was flashy, white, the kind that only politicians ride. And a big man descended from it and ran into the church to ask for the Lord’s Anointed. Members of the church who thought what they were seeing was a dream managed to lead him to the prophet’s office.
Sister Leah, a highly devoted convert of Agogokristi, was the one who came in to tell the man of God he had a big visitor. She was the only one who had the mouth to talk to the man of God, unlike other converts who almost, if not already, turned him to an idol. And now, with this Big Man with the big fine car coming to see the prophet, it was certain that those who saw him as a prophet before would now see him as Messiah – a kind of Messiah. No one would hesitate to run to the God of Agogokristi that touches the heart of the mighty and changes the thoughts of the lowly.
He asked her to let him in.
The Big Man with the big and flashy car was Senator Korama, the same one that went in unto Flora, the same Flora that Agogokristi had taught to play it the way of the Lord. The man was sweating, restless, Agogokristi could almost feel the beat of the man’s heart from where he sat. The election was close.
“The Lord’s Anointed help me.” Senator Korama went down on his knees.
“Ah. No. Stand up,” Agogokristi said as he stood to help the man up.
“Just let me be this way until I receive a solution to this problem. Let me be this way,” he said as tears rolled down his eyes.
Agogokristi had never read Shakespeare, but his father had, and he still remembered one of his father’s favorite lines: How the high and mighty have fallen! As he watched the senator – a man that had grown a big belly from the mass’s stolen money – that line took on meaning.
He was just too wise. Or smart. Agogokristi prided in the wisdom in his thought. He knew this would happen. He already went ahead to prophesy.
One morning, he had gone all the way to a big hotel, where he heard the senator would be, to deliver a perfect prophecy. He stopped the senator on his way to a very urgent meeting that day, not minding the guards, and said, “Mighty one, there is an enemy, a very serious enemy that seeks to take from your body this cloth of worth and give you one of shame. Eli,” he shook his body in a practised style, “do not fear, for the Lord has given you victory over this lady, this lady that seeks to feed on you to grow fat. Find the Lord’s Anointed when this fire begins, find him and you shall be victorious over your enemy.” That day the guards had carried him out, but he knew well that the same guards would later follow the Big Man to Canaan. He did not believe it; he knew it.
And now here was the mighty on his knees before the Lord’s anointed. The law of victory, the law of defeat.
“Rise,” Agogokristi instructed.
And that was how Agogokristi began to ride a big and flashy car like the Big Man, and also began to live in a big house. To show appreciation, Senator Korama also built him another church, enough to accommodate the growing converts who had now stuck their faith in the God of Agogokristi permanently. They began to call him The New Messiah.
On a certain day, Sister Leah brought news. “Have you heard that your son now sits in your place when death has not found you, my lord? He holds a crusade down Alapade Street. Come see your own flock clapping and dancing to a doctrine they say is straighter than yours. Come see them singing the praises of a prophet who they say has the eyes of an eagle touched by God. The one who has the ears of men of old times and speaks fluently in the language of the Lord. Ah!”
There was a certain way to Agogokristi, a certain calm that never eluded him, even when the storm seemed thick. Probably this was why so many saw him as the New Messiah, probably it was this calm. He asked Sister Leah to leave, after he told her, “Daughter, that should be no cause for fear, or trouble. Keep your mind at rest. Remember the words of the Lord: If they are not against us, they are surely with us. And what more will give the Lord so much joy than seeing the child from the loins of His own prophet doing His work?”
It was a Thursday when Sister Leah brought Agogokristi this news, and for some weeks before then Ohunkristi had not shown up at home at all. His father had not noticed this until Olorikristi had called his attention to it. He would have noticed if he still needed a person to help him buy beer, but things had changed: now he could drive into whatever hotel he felt like, stay the night there and drink as much as he wanted.
The absence of the boy from home did not bother him, not at all. Left to him, the boy could brace whatever borders he wanted. The absence, however, started to become a boulder when it was Saturday night and the boy ceased to show up. But since it was a boulder, and he would never be stopped by any stony enemy on earth, not even his son, he would have to make a way.
That night he had a dream. Flora was showing his flock a video of a man of God shouting Jesus while sleeping with a woman who had come to that man of God for help.
He did not bother to pray when he woke up from that stupid dream; he only rushed into his soutane, stained on the chest with the beer he’d drank the night before, and without wearing any pants he grabbed his car key and rushed out. He would go to see the turn-up in Canaan. May it not be as I think.
Unfortunately, when he got to Canaan it was just as he thought it would be. No members, only Sister Leah and her sick daughter and a few members. All the Big People, those in the flock whom the Lord uses to raise the hand of his servant, like he did in the days of Moses, all were gone. To where? The look in Sister Leah’s eyes could not be discerned easily, but Agogokristi thought he saw mockery in them.
He held his soutane and ran out of the church on barefoot, like the brother they once brought to his church he said was being chased by the dead spirits of his ancestors. He would never agree he looked just like that brother as he ran out of his empty church.
The signboard had a photo of his son and his new name underneath it – Prophet Evangelist Pastor Rt. Revd P. J. Ohunkristi (a.k.a. The-Voice-of-Christ). On his side was a woman Agogokristi chose to not care about. And at the top was the name of the church: The God of Now-Now Intl. Ministries (GONNIM).
Finally, he was here. He saw the large canopy and the congregation under it clapping their hands to welcome the choir, led by someone he knew quite well but simply chose not to believe was there on the altar.
He stood out there in the burning sun for a few minutes, trying to find the Messiah in me. The Messiah that brought him all these people the devil, alive with fire in his own son, was now trying to steal.
Boastfully, or say confidently, Agogokristi entered the church. Now it was Ohunkristi that held the mic. Unlike his father, he was in a clean blue suit, a white checkered shirt underneath, and a plain blue tie, well-knotted. His shoes were dark and shiny, pointing upward at the nose. Agogokristi was now beginning to feel uncomfortable somehow but he proceeded; he was going to climb that altar and beat his son off the pulpit.
Ohunkristi knew the members of the church had seen the old man and that some of them were starting to feel uneasy already. They began to shift in their chairs and a soft murmuring started rising. But if there was one thing Ohunkristi had learned from his father, it was learning to manage people. So he continued, “Brothers and sisters,” that was how he referred to his converts, “the Lord calls us to a noble work, he calls us to do good in this world. And what more good can we do than to support his work here on earth? Do you not hear him? He says, Do not lay up riches for yourself on this earth, where moth doth corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but lay up treasures for yourself in heaven where neither moth doth corrupt nor thieves can steal. And how can you do this, Beloved? How do we lay up treasures in heaven? It is not a hard thing, the called; it is not. It is simply by hearkening to the voice of a prophet, for it is only he that keeps to the word of the prophet that gets the prophet’s reward.” He went on, quoting from Malachi, the last chapter, and reminding them of the widow who gave her last to the prophet Elijah.
His father was close now. Agogokristi had not noticed the bouncers dressed in black suits, standing like Iroko trees in front of the altar. As soon as he was close enough, two of them moved closer to him and bundled him up. “Treat him gently, he is my father,” Ohunkristi said into the mic, and the congregation began to clap and wo and praise the Lord and the Living Jesus, as if both were different.
Prophet Ohunkristi brought his thought to a close by saying, “Brothers and sisters, without any falsity, without any lie, I tell you you are where you should be. You are where the Lord wants you.” Then he points to a man sitting in the middle of the church on the first pew. “Brothers and sisters, this man is a testimony. A big man, you all know him, that has come to hear the Lord speak in me. He has tasted God’s power in my life and that is why he is here.”
He asked Senator Korama to come and bear his testimony of how the Lord has blessed him by the hand of Prophet Evangelist Pastor Rt. Reverend Peter Ohuntodunkristi, a.k.a The-Sweet-Voice-of-Christ.
After giving the mic to the politician, Ohunkristi quickly went to settle the man’s case.
His father was tied to a chair in his office, his mouth plastered with a paper tape, guarded by two bouncers – the same ones who had bundled him up like some log of wood.
“You shall have no problem Father,” Ohunkristi explained, “if you shall abide by my terms. And in fact you shall – you must.”
Ohunkristi asked the bouncers to excuse them.
From one of the drawers of his finely polished table he drew out a folded banner, opened it and showed it to Agogokristi. And then he untapped his father’s mouth.
For some time neither spoke; it was Ohunkristi who broke the silence. “I’m sorry but I’ll have no other choice than to show it to the whole world, and I must remind you I have the video, or rather the videos, too, that is, if you fail to cooperate with me. And Iya Mongere is here too, she will tell the world how many bottles of Star and Big Stout you sent me to buy every day; and here, see, on your garment is a beer stain.”
Ohunkristi’s terms were quite simple: Agogokristi must never come anywhere near this Canaan the Lord has called him, Ohunkristi, to lead this people into; two, now the man of God must go and bear witness to the fact that the Lord has called his son in his stead and that the hands of his son will do more wonders than his have done; and lastly, that they should help him ask the Lord for forgiveness, for he had almost touched the Lord’s anointed.
Simple. That was all. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“I will do as you say,” Agogokristi said to his son, “or is it not the law of victory, the law of defeat? That we dance to the drums of our masters even when the sounds do not please our ears. You have become my master, Son, because you have learned to play the game well.” And he remembered the words of Shakespeare again, now from the standpoint of the fallen.