THE JOURNEY FROM THERE TO HERE

Becoming a teen, I was the black sheep of my family. Everything I did was customarily wrong even when I try to please everyone. As a young teen, I suddenly developed kleptomaniac tendencies, I would always pick small money from my father’s pocket when he enters the bathroom and sometimes I would always look out for hideouts where they hid money from us.

Most times, it was that hidden money I was after as I always rationalized my actions with “well, they must have forgotten that the money is here”. The more they devise new means to hide it, the more they train my mind to know exactly where they would be hiding it. It was an impulsive behaviour that was beyond my control. The fact that my father usually labels me as a wicked boy made things worse for my emotions because it wasn’t intentional.

Before such propensities evolved, I have had a mysterious experience as a kid in my primary school when a hand tapped me one early morning and said audibly “go and preach the gospel”, I believe it was God. As a kid, I started going for early morning street preaching but things changed when I got admitted into a seminary school. While in Junior Seminary, all my belongings were stolen except the shirt I was wearing on my body. The day I removed it to wash it, it was also stolen! The senior prefects who also majored as official bullies didn’t give my kind any chance, they would beat me every morning because I had no shirt. Stealing became a survival skill for most of us, I found it hard stealing other people’s stuff not because I didn’t need them but because I was scared, very scared of getting caught. After a year and some months, I left the school.

It was the moment I came out of the junior seminary that I saw these thievish propensities sprouting! I realized later that it had become a part of my natural idiosyncrasies as I hiked through juvenile. Those times, these things were what I never wanted to do but I found myself doing them! Sometimes, after stealing change, I would go to a nook and cry. It was ravaging me, particularly with the way I was always dealt with and spoken to as a result of that.

I was feeling a void in me, my father found me extremely disgusting. Whether I try to please him or not, he found me very horrible and every subtlest misstep would bring his resentment on me. I wanted to do what was right but inside of me, I was trudging in confusion, striving to come to terms with who I was, with my identity and with the supposed God’s judgement. Anytime I was privileged to attend church programmes, I would answer altar-calls because we were always told that the moment we are prayed for, the desire to do what is wrong would leave! Well, it never left me! Oftentimes, when I steal money, I wasn’t regarding it as stealing, I was always considering that I would soon make money and repay all the money I had taken.

At a point, it was declared openly in my family that God was angry and has instructed that they stop praying for me since he has marked that I will depart at the age of sixteen.

My parents had directed my siblings before then to stop associating with me, they didn’t want me to influence them wrongly. Mum would seldom wake me in the midnight to talk to me, she wasn’t like my Dad. Her concerns were usually shown more softly even when it becomes unbearable. Sometimes, I watch my mum’s frustration and cry, I wished she knew that I wasn’t doing those things intentionally, that I was also battling within myself to do what was right.

I wasn’t doing something so different from what other young ones were doing but it was serious in my family. What is defined as stealing in my family, is what some other families may define as merely crossing boundaries. In my family, taking food from the pot without authorization was as severe as stealing money and stealing money was treated as a near-murder case. With my recent interaction with people, I have realized that what is considered wrong in some families is typical in other families. I also realized in some studies I have done as regards to teenagers that some behavioural traits are very common and would likely be outgrown if handled with care.

My mother didn’t stop always praying for me though, she felt she was losing me away to the devil. It was at this period that my siblings were told not to have anything to do with me, I would stay in the room alone all to myself. When it was declared openly that God was angry with me and that I will die at the age of sixteen, I felt even more awful! My father had rejected me, my siblings have been asked to reject me and now God, according to them, had rejected me… I was slowly moving into depression. I remember my several attempts to kill myself, my self-esteem was deeply hurt that I felt terrible in the presence of people.

There was no day my father did not call me names, there was no day he wouldn’t shout at me, fear became a part of me and my heart would skip at every occasion. This was also how I developed conflict phobia, allodoxaphobia and several other related phobias. I was also punished for the offence of others in the family. Anytime something wrong comes about in the family, with little or no inquiry, I was invariably accused and punished. My words became unbelievable too. Whether I was telling the truth or lying, they were all treated as lies. Sometimes, to win the trust of my mother, I would steal money from her bag and return it telling her I picked it from her room.

One of the nights after dad had finished flogging me for something I didn’t do wrong, I looked at the wounds and determined I was going to die. I tried mixing the methylated powder with water believing it would kill me if I drink it. Dad caught me, he asked me what I was going to do with it and I told him I wanted to apply them in the wounds he gave me. He flared up and accused me of belonging to a cult where they taught me to use powder on my body after being flogged. Guess what? He started beating me again.

All through the night, I was crying. I could not sleep, it had become so intolerable and I remember he told me “you are not my son! I disown you today!” I felt even more offended, not because he vocally disowned me but because I stopped deeming him as my father that moment and I didn’t see any reason someone who isn’t my father would want to discipline me. I even began to feel very offended whenever he sends me on errands or beat me for my poor result in school.

At some of these occurrences, my mother usually seemed helpless. Whenever dad wanted to beat me, he would send her out of the room, lock up the door and deal with me till his anger is satisfied. Like many African parents, my father was a very strict and mean man but inside of him was a very soft, weak and water-hearted man. All that he was doing was a display of fear, he was dealing with me the way he thought was the best way to protect me. His intentions were for my good, he was scared I would turn into something he didn’t want, he was overprotective and coming from a polygamous family whose mother was the last wife, Dad didn’t have the experience of what it looked like to have a close relationship with his father. These days, I hold no grudges against my father, I appreciate everything he did even if they weren’t the best way to handle issues; it was his own best and he desired to have a morally sound son. If he had known better then, he would have done better.

That night, I packed up my bag, sneaked it out of the house and the next morning, I ran away from home! I wanted to run into a speeding car and die but on second thought, I went to my Uncle’s place where I stayed for a while before my aunt tried resolving the issues between I and my father. I was restored home. Before I got restored home, I had noticed an old laptop in my Uncle’s room that I felt he wasn’t using, I believed that the moment I grab this laptop, I would be able to make money with it, not as if I even know how but the urge was uncontrollable.

This kleptomaniac tendency manifested again and I carried the laptop. I had this bond with gadgets and I don’t know where it came from, I was always attracted to electronics whether it was a calculator, walkie-talkie, electronic watches and all that, I was always attracted to it. My father saw the laptop later, it was another series of beating and moral instructions before it got returned. I felt so ashamed of myself and for some days, I couldn’t even lift my face before my aunt and cousins. Those days, I was thoroughly searched whenever I come visiting. I wasn’t visiting because I wanted to, necessity called for it and I believe you must have read about in another story.

I remember one of the days my cousin complained that she was looking for her money, I was blamed, my tears were not enough proof that I didn’t do it and even though the money was never found, I was regarded and treated like a hardened criminal, this continued to make low self-esteem spread within me with speed. Nobody knew that I was fighting battles within me, I was struggling to come to terms with who I was. I questioned God on why I was created and I suggested that he would have made me an animal if I needed to exist.

At some point, I questioned if God truly existed because I believed if he did, he would have been able to control me even when I couldn’t control myself. At some point, I was also lacking the motivation to do the right thing because when I commit a crime or not, I would be accused of crimes I didn’t commit. However, whenever I remember the experience I had as a kid; about a hand tapping me and asking me to preach the gospel, I would always withdraw my questioning. Other times, I would feel that I had gone so bad that God has truly rejected me and marked me for destruction.

I was not a stubborn child, I was a scared and very quiet child who shiver whenever a hand is raised out of fear of being beaten. I remember back in the junior seminary school where I was accused of belonging to a spiritual cult because of the way I was usually quiet, the way I shiver whenever a senior is talking to me and the way I would cry instead no to requests from the senior folks. One of the days that I slept off in the classroom during night preps and didn’t make it back to the hostel room, many people believed I disappeared for an occultic meeting.

I was also very anti-social and scared of letting my opinions out. We barely had opportunities to relate with people anyway because we were restricted from going out, having friends and even relating with people closely. My dad usually felt very uneasy whenever he bumps into us on the road talking with someone whether male or female.

I was empty inside but in that emptiness, I always felt God was reaching out to me, I always loved God emotionally and I always felt sad that I wasn’t making God happy. Some days I would kneel asking God to take away my life rather than allow me to stay in the world and doing what I don’t want to do.

It was within this period that it was announced that God has rejected me, he was angry with me and that I will die at the age of sixteen. Few of my relatives started dreaming of my death too, they would always call my mother to relate their nightmares and this further validated the claims that God was done with me. I started seeing death hovering over me, it became a psychological problem. Anytime I walk on the road, I was expecting a car to just run into me and kill me!

We always read Bible during night devotions too and we’re asked to preach from it in turns! Initially, I only loved reading the stories in the Bible, I had never read beyond the book of Acts of the Apostles or the book of Judges. While we weren’t very committed to a local assembly, our family was a staunch Christian home. The nearest Church was very far from home and we went to church only on Sundays and sometimes, before we get there, the service is almost over.

After a long while, a new Church was planted close to home. First, I stopped attending Children church and started going to the adult church services. Sometimes, my parents would force me to sit with them in Church, I would become stiff especially when I sit with my dad. During music sections, I don’t move my body, I would just stand moping at the band and feeling chained! Who knows? I may dance and dance the wrong way, then dad will wait for me at home for a beating. Dad misinterpreted my uneasiness too! He believed I had a demon in me that makes me stiff in Church.

Somehow, I was able to break free and start attending services independent of my parents. Sometimes, I would just wake up, prepare and leave earlier than them and this way I would sit alone. I still had dads eyes on me though but whenever he looks away I’d steal some dance steps. I would watch my fellow youths in excitement as they dance and I felt there was a way to express myself the way I felt inside. When I was done with “O” Level examinations, I started going for most of the Church weekly activities, I was seen virtually in every single activity of the Church.

At first, I was endeared to Church for two reasons, first it was a place I felt safe and secondly, it was the only reason I could stay away from home for some time. Though there were times I would have issues with my dad for coming back from Church late, the Church was one thing they wouldn’t want to stop us from being committed to even though they wanted to have a say on how to be committed and where to be committed.

One Sunday morning, during church service, the preacher was preaching from Romans 6:23 which talks about the wages of sin and the gift of God. While the preacher dwelt on the wages of sin I became curious, I had to read again to see if there were any wages of righteousness but I couldn’t see, I rather saw the gift of God! My curiosity heightened, does it mean there aren’t any wages of righteousness? Why are we struggling to be righteous then? I asked myself and I decided to read the entire chapter, I couldn’t find a place where the wages of righteousness was mentioned and I went back to chapter one of Romans and started reading from there.

That was the beginning of my turning point.

I didn’t stop reading, I would read it over and over again even as I got home. What I saw was clashing with virtually everything I’ve heard as the gospel, it was subjecting a lot of things to questioning. It was at odds with many things I’ve heard not in the Children’s Church, in the adult Church and even in school moral instructions. I was fighting it but I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to understand better.

At some point, I would feel like “wow!” And at some other point, I would feel bitter with Paul and ask “is he encouraging us to continue sinning?” Within this time, I joined a youth ministry in Church and began to come out of my shelf gradually. My parents too were amazed! To some point, they started becoming proud of me and this alone was a big motivation to continue. What they have tried to see by all means started becoming possible just by the simple entrance of God’s word. I don’t know how it happened but God’s word was changing me drastically.

My life started changing, my viewpoint started changing with what I was reading in the entire letters of Paul and I began to doubt some things I heard earlier. I began to doubt that God was done with me, I began to doubt that God wants me dead at sixteen years, I felt it was the devil trying to take advantage of my situation. I have always heard and believed that the wages of sin is death but I was never taught the gift of God which is eternal life, I have always wanted this life, I had always wanted to work for my salvation but the more I tried the more I got even worse. I was never told it wasn’t my duty to work for my salvation, I was never told that the price Jesus paid was complete and perfect! I thought Jesus only came to make it easier for me to be saved but in Romans, I was seeing that Jesus saved me regardless of my sins!

I strived with the truth for months as it wasn’t what I’ve heard since I was born. I had no privilege to be taught those kinds of truth in the local assembly but each time I was in service, a voice would be explaining scriptures to me even when the preacher is saying something else. It used to come so clear that I would be writing them down as though I was copying it from somewhere. As each day passes, I was opening up for the truth more.

I started finding peace in me, my self-esteem started to improve and I began meeting people. In the youth ministry that I joined, I felt accepted for the first time. During Bible studies, I would also be allowed to contribute, this way, I felt my voice matter as they would always marvel at my contributions during the Bible study. I had experienced this too in Scripture Union during follow up and Bible study classes.

I was growing and I became sure that God never hated me, I became sure that I was not going to die at the age of sixteen and I realised that I was seeing death only because I started entertaining the thought of it. The change became obvious, it didn’t happen instantly, it took time and it is still happening till date but so far, it was glaring! My mistakes stopped becoming a yardstick for me to measure God’s love and acceptance.

It was at the age of eighteen that I remembered I was informed that I was going to die at the age of sixteen, that God was angry with me and has marked me for death. They were wrong, if the Bible contained the word of God, then they weren’t saying the truth! The truth I saw was what set me free, the more I understood the gospel, the more I realized I had no problem, that I was a slave by ignorance. I started seeing the best of myself, I started feeling much more confident of who I am.

While I have heard moral instructions for decades, it tried but it didn’t change me. I was so weird that Dad felt I had a demon! I remember the day he took me for deliverance, they turned me around, pushed me to the floor, raised me again and poured oil on me. It didn’t change me. I was not as bad as many young boys because I didn’t have the opportunity to be bad like them anyway but it made no difference!

I remember when I was taken to one “Evangelist-seer” who tried pressuring me into agreeing that I do see myself naked in the dream. She tried convincing me of a dream that was supposed to be mine! I never saw myself naked but she was insisting I do and that I was lying. For the sake of peace and because my mother would not believe me, I nodded reluctantly. She gave me Psalms and fasting… It didn’t lift as feather off me, I became worse.

The gospel did what years of disciplines, moral instructions and threats couldn’t do! Knowing that God loved me regardless changed everything, I would stay on my knees praying and crying to God, those tears were tears of affection. Somehow, what was in me as a child became stirred up! My love for gadgets got channelled rightly, I combined it with my love for writing and it was easy. Those things I supposed were deficiencies turned out to be a kind of strength! Sometimes, what we call weaknesses are strengths that got manipulated.

I heard the gospel, it changed me. No wonder the Bible says it is God’s power unto salvation, we don’t need to know how it happens, we just have to believe. All we know is that the gospel is God’s power to save those who believe… Realizing that God’s mercy is bigger than my mess mesmerized me and made me better.

Its been over a decade-plus but I am still living and enjoying God’s love. The death I experienced was the one I died with Christ and now I live for him. If he says I am free, who am I to question it? That’s how I’ve gotten from there to here.

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