By Cecy Gaitho
We all called him Pr. Preach-it-all. Obviously that was not his real name. Pr. Joshua was a man of God, revered for his no-nonsensical approach towards sin. He condemned and demanded that everybody turn away from their heinous ways before God’s Day of Judgment. “The wrath of God is hotter than a burning furnace!” He would say every time he began his sermons. His favorite bible verse was in the book of Revelation, “As for the sinners, they will burn in the lake of fire that burns with sulphur!” And the whole congregation would fearfully shout “Amen.”
Pr. Joseph was privileged to have seen the light at the onset of the missionaries. He had been at the theological school in Nairobi, so many miles away from the village. “I am the only one who has seen the light. The rest of you live in darkness!” he would occasionally boast to the congregants. In order to get to Nairobi, one had to get into a bus which came to the village once a month. The white people had taught him how to speak in their foreign language and their strange dress code. After two years at the theological school, he had come back and started Holy Ghost Wrath church, where he now preached. Everyone in our small village adored him for his unfathomable wisdom of the word of God.
I had grown up attending the Holy Ghost Wrath church, where he shepherded. As a young girl, I feared stealing my mother’s sugar, lest our pastor’s all-seeing eyes haunted me. Pr. Joshua would visit the homes of his congregants and would excommunicate anybody he found not following the ways of the Lord. “In this very day, heaven is my witness that I have banished you from the church!” Occasionally, he would beat up the congregants citing that Jesus too beat those who disrespected the house of the Father. “The house of the Lord is a house of prayer!” He would shout, before unleashing the wrath of the cane on the back of a young man who had fornicated with a fellow youth. This, he said was an abomination before the eyes of the Lord.
It was mandatory for all children to attend Sunday school. Any child who failed to turn up was subject to a thorough beating the following Sunday. Looking back now, I still wonder why our parents could not stand up against this ruthless man of cloth. We had marks all over our bodies for minor mistakes, like singing out of the lines, which is common among young children. His four children, Elisha, Elijah, Moses and Rahab also attended Sunday school with the rest of us.
Rahab was the youngest and wore pretty clothes. She was my best friend and would share with me all her biscuits that her father brought them when he visited Nairobi. She would share with me horror stories that their father put them through. “Please do not tell anybody because daddy said he is going to kill me when I tell the family secrets.” And because I did not want to have her killed, I’d keep it as a secret. I would put my index finger on my mouth as a sign that I won’t tell a soul.
His wife, Rebecca was a thin-framed woman in her mid-thirties and had a permanent look of terror on her face. She hardly mingled with other women in the church and always sat beside her husband. She had big lips and a child-like face that spelt innocence. I always thought I caught a glimpse of her weeping during the service.
“Be like Rebecca my wife. She is of noble character like the bible requires of her!”
“Amen.” Shetoo must have feared her husband and when the truth finally came out, we came to learn that she had been battered so badly both physically and emotionally.
Tithing and offering sacrifices were among the most upheld activities in the church. “Malachi 3:10 Bring ye, all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house.
“Amen!” “Amen!” Thus, every member was required to bring to church a lamb or a calf at least twice in a year. Foodstuffs were stored in a granary within the church compound and only the preacher kept the keys to the room. The animal offerings landed to his home as he referred to himself a Levite, thus the congregants had to fully take responsibility of his needs. This was achieved without complaint. Furthermore, the man of God had instilled so much fear in the congregants so that nobody dared question his commands.
One Sunday morning, Pr. Preach-it-all failed to turn up in church. It was the first time for him and his family to be missing from a church service. All the years he served at the Holy Ghost Wrath Church, he did not have an assistant. “God’s sheep cannot be looked after by two shepherds because some will eventually go astray,” He would say.
He lived in the Old Testament times and had little regard for the New Testament, except where the word favored him. He believed Moses was the ultimate follower of God’s decrees and all his ways were pure. Therefore, when he missed the service, the church was in disarray. Nobody was in any way prepared to hold the mantle when the leader was away. Furthermore, nobody was aware of his whereabouts, though he did not have any close friends within and outside of church.
Two, three, four hours passed. Something was terribly wrong. The congregation gathered in small groups outside the church discussing in low tones as to what could have happened to the man of God’s family. Our village Bayobab was so small and no information passed unnoticed. News of death was quickly spread and every member of the small community participated in giving the departed a good send-off. In the preacher’s case, nobody had raised any alarm therefore death could not have happened. A group of men were sent to go check on the preacher as the rest of congregants were urged to keep calm and wait for the news of the whereabouts. For the first time since I joined Sunday school, we were allowed to join our parents in the larger church. For us children, it was such a big relief to miss the mandatory Sunday class. Rather, we loathed it.
I remember all the Saturday nights I would inwardly curse and pray that Sunday would not come. Pr. Joshua had instilled more fear of him than that of God in my young life. Every Sunday meant terror as we were required to be perfect to the word. Every child was required to recite the Lord’s Prayer and anyone who failed to do so was ruthlessly caned. One day, my mother overheard my sister and me badmouthing the man of God. We were planning to run away from the church as it was becoming a boring routine. We ended up sleeping on empty stomachs and with our bottoms sore from a thorough beating. Ever since, the topic of the preacher vanished from our discussions yet it remained edged in our hearts.
Pr. Joshua’s house was a short distance from the church. It was the only house in the village which had iron sheets. The rest of the houses were grass thatched and had mud walls. He was the only one who had ventured out of the village and would occasionally travel to Nairobi, the big city with tall buildings. So big was Nairobi that whenever he visited us at Sunday school, he would promise to take the most disciplined to see the tall buildings. Yet, all the while, nobody seemed disciplined enough to meet his standards.
The loud wailing emanating from the preacher’s house left everybody scampering to get to the preacher’s house first. Something was indeed very wrong. Lo and behold! Pr.Preach-it-all stood outside his house with blood all over his clothes and a bible lifted up on his right hand. His hair was matted with brown soil and he had a missing shoe. Everything was in dismay. Inside the house lay the bloodied bodies of his wife and four children, evidently murdered with a rusty, sharp knife that was thrown carelessly beside them. Alongside the knife was a tattered copy of a bible that was open as if they were in a bible study before an argument broke out. The shock that registered on everybody’s face! Pr. Preach-it-all stood unperturbed, vehemently cursing sin. “The wages of sin is death!” He shouted amidst the shocked gasps of the congregants.
Too stunned to speak, some women drove us children out of the house as the bodies were put together. Fortunately, the wife was still breathing, though faintly. The children had lost so much blood from their wounds and none had survived the ordeal. The hospital was too far away in the big city and first aid had to be administered to her. I could not believe that Rahab, my best friend, was no longer going to play with me. Neither could she secretly bring me all those biscuits her father brought her from Nairobi. Police were unheard of in this rural part and the only option was to take matters into their own hands. The angry congregants bayed for the pastor’s blood as they rained stones on him. Such animosity had never been seen or experienced in Bayobab village.
We all stood in silence, at a short distance, as the man of God whom we all revered was pelted with stones as he continuously shouted that the wages of sin is death. Ironically, we all expected him to plead for mercy, but he did not. Indeed this man of cloth was stubborn to the bone. Two hours later, Pr.Preach-it-all was dead forever, no longer would he torment us. The boring Sunday classes had finally come to a stop. Life would resume to the days when we would graze our cows all day long and play with our friends. I vividly recall his last words before his lifeless body lay in a pool of blood, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”