by Timothy Konyehi
Last week, I had a very lovely conversation with a couple. These two lovebirds are Nigerians who live in the United Kingdom but have been home for some weeks on an extended visit. Our conversation was everything from the funny contrast between living in Lagos and Ogbomoso (just pronouncing the name of the town got the husband laughing a couple of times) to what pastoring was like and why a seminary was different from a bible school and hence took longer.
There was the intellectual part of the conversation where we dwelled on Bible criticism: for example the Jonah story. Was it possible that Jonah could be swallowed by a fish and remain alive? 3 days –who was counting? And he was comfortable enough inside the belly of a fish to pray? Was this story real or a myth? My response was that I believed the story, certain parts are inexplicable and the miraculous could not be ruled out. Plus real fish or myth, the point of the story is not the fish swallowing Jonah but God’s love for an extremely wicked city demonstrated in sending a ‘freaked out’ but eventually obedient servant of his to proclaim a fearsome warning. The wicked city repented. Case closed. My audience did not raise hesitation, and I was relieved. However, they quickly pointed out that many Nigerian pastors did not want to be questioned and never welcomed contrary opinions. This was very much unlike in a developed society where people could query a pastor’s opinion in fact in their church, a certain lady disagreed with the pastor’s opinion on a certain matter after their Ghanaian pastor preached one time yet the lady kept coming.
At this point we hit a very juicy chord in the conversation: the contrast of Christianity in Africa and why many people lose their faith once they move to a more developed society. Their premise was simple: most prayer points here were due to the limitations of the system and once the ‘Christian’ sees that life can be well-lived another way, his or her ‘God’ could become redundantly useless. For example, an excellent healthcare which is affordable could cure or provide hope for a cure of an ailment that would send the Nigerian to shuttle between a prayer house and an under-equipped General Hospital. In another society, nobody prayed for electricity because the system works! Most of what we termed as breakthrough was baseless – whatever you wanted was possible once you were determined to work and save to take of that expense, for example, a vacation or school fees for kids when a new school year was approaching. Other major ‘breakthroughs’ such as a house or a car can be paid for over a period through a mortgage or a loan where you could pay in instalments. Prayer was not needed in this respect and they had proof. Here they were in Nigeria surfing the internet and they saw an opportunity for a new car on an affordable loan, wife liked the idea and applied via the bank. The bank sent her an email saying she qualified, dealer sent her an email saying her car was ready for pickup. Nobody prayed or fasted for this ‘breakthrough’. Instantly, I remembered a Nigerian pastor who was invited to minister in Germany several years ago. This pastor preached powerfully and afterwards, went into a series of prayers for different cases. He goofed when he asked for people who wanted brand new cars to step forward to sow a prophetic seed, a large portion of the congregation walked out immediately.
The good part of the contrast was that the Christianity in a different society allows for some very important intangibles: an assurance of salvation for eternity, peace in varying life circumstances, joy, and a meaning to life. Wife told me how her colleagues were surprised she returned to work quickly after the death of her brother last year. She appeared to deal with it in a way that was calm and peaceful while not oblivious of the pain. One lady commented: “I like your religion now that’s what I want!” Husband also informed me that while in Nigeria, one could get overly religious and Bible-thumping flaunting phrases like God will do it and by the grace of God, in other places your faith was a personal matter and had to be kept so. He narrated how he didn’t get a job once because during the interview he had unconsciously mentioned ‘God helping him’ or something like that. He said he could see his British interviewer’s face fall and he could tell that even though he had been impressive up to that point that job was out of his hands.
After listening to all this, it just made sense why as Nigerians we are very religious. The motivations for the supernatural are very much present: bad roads, poor healthcare, no light, a university strike, crime, poverty, unpaid salaries, poor transportation, the list is endless. This begs the question – is prayer the solution to the bad road I ply to work every morning? No because the solution to the bad road is to hold my government responsible; However yes because my safety is in God’s hands even in perfect conditions (Psalm 127:1). Faith is expressive in varying circumstances. However the point of Christianity is not a God who is an ATM to supply my needs and help me through my difficult environment. If He is, then my faith is pathetic. I exist to bring God glory and my life is an expression of worship (to Him) wherever I am (Acts 17:26-28) because my faith has no passport.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija