The number one trending topic in Kenya as we speak is ‘Bro Ocholla’. His chat in a WhatsApp group called Embakasi prayer cell found its way to the public domain. The online community including brands have jumped on the bandwagon to make fun of the situation yet amidst the fun and the tirade, the issue exposes a festering wound that is secretly crippling the church.
For a very long time, the church has projected an image of perfection. The world looks at the church as a congregation of saints who don’t have struggles. When a scandal like the current one gets exposed to the world, people immediately brand the church as a hypocritical entity that is busy preaching water while their mouth smells of beer. This image of the church has stood on its way to effectively carry out its mandate of the great commission.
Walk with me through this journey as I tell stories of men and women who have tasted first hand this saying, Christian soldiers are the only ones who shoot their own wounded:
Joanne was born and raised in the church. When her parents had her, they dedicated her to God. So she grew up in church literally. After clearing high school, she had been told that the ex-candidates program will keep her busy until the KCSE results come out and before the family decides on the next course of action. Her parents believed that the church was a safe ground for her. She would be kept far away from the prowling lions who would mean harm to their young daughter. She believed them too.
And so she faithfully spent most of her time in church. After doing a few house chores, she headed straight to the church where she spent the rest of her day. She loved to sing, the worship pastor particularly loved her voice and dedication. So they grew fond of each other. She would sometimes find herself alone with the pastor in his office where she would be given specialized one on one lessons on how to play the guitar among other musical instruments she was interested in. She loved the affirmation of the pastor, but she mostly admired how he was ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’ on the pulpit while leading worship.
A few months later, Joanne was pregnant. She did not know how it happened because she never thought that things would slide so fast. The pastor was married.
Kevin gave his life to Christ on 2nd June 2010. He had lived such a wild life that he was relieved to come to a place of peace and rest for his weary soul. He did not know much about the church but from the general expectation he had in his mind, this place was supposed to be full of love, acceptance, understanding, mercy and all the beautiful virtues and qualities he got from the bible.
The day he gave his life to Christ, the hospitality ministry was very friendly. Their courtesy affirmed the fact that indeed this was a safe refuge. So he quickly made friends with church members. His policy was openness. He believed in scriptures especially the one that says that a strand of 2 cords is not easily broken. He believed in radical accountability with his friends.
Prior to his salvation, Kevin struggled with drunkenness and fornication. Though he was born again, he would sometimes slip back to his old lifestyle. He would sip a glass of wine to a point of drunkenness or indulge in a night of passion with his ex-lovers who never believed in the principle of abstinence and purity. So once in a while, Kevin would find himself in that pit that held him captive for many years. The guilt of living a double standard life constantly robbed him of the joy he received when he gave his life to Christ. He never knew how his newly acquired friends would react if he shared his struggle.
One day in a men’s fellowship nyama choma meet up, coincidentally, they were discussing accountability as an effective way of overcoming habitual sin. Kevin, having been convicted by the words of the pastor decided to pull one of his accountability partners aside. He confessed his struggles, giving details to how frequently they occurred.
A week later, he heard his story with a member of the church who was coming to ‘stand with him.’ Kevin felt betrayed. How could he trust his accountability partner with such a private issue only for it to be made public through gossip?
David has always been a good worship leader. His voice particularly made him the worship pastor’s favorite. When he stands at the pulpit to lead worship on Sundays, people confess that they feel the power of the holy spirit move. During worship practice, he notices the beauty of the sisters who lead worship with him. He was particularly fond of Zain because of her free spirit attitude, sense of style and a curvaceous body. She would lift up her hand during worship and her voice would stand out from the rest. David harbored attraction towards her, but he never knew how to express it. One day, through a mutual friend, he found out that sister Zain too had a crush on him. The two struck a rapport and flirting began. For fear of being expelled from the church, they kept their passions under wraps.
They enjoyed the forbidden fruit once in a while of which they repented in dust and ashes immediately after indulging. They fully understood the ramifications of what they were doing, but they couldn’t just stop. So one day in the heat of the moment, as David was flirting with sister Zain, he erroneously sent the message to their joint WhatsApp prayer group. As they say, the rest is history.
While the above scenarios are hypothetical and cannot be used independently as an accurate representation of the church, they reveal some of the challenges that the church faces.
Jesus, in the core of his ministry, came for the lost. Those who are sick, downtrodden, the outlaws, murderers, rapists, perverts, psychopaths, terrorists and all manner of sinners were all showed affection on that rugged crossover 2000 years ago. But his ministry is quickly being hijacked by pretense, gossip, a false impression of perfection and self-righteousness.
While the bible equally condemns all sins including all manifestations of sexual sin, the cell group at Embakasi missed a chance to reach out to a brother who might be struggling with sin. Instead of seeing an opportunity to restore one sheep back to the fold, a short-sighted selfish person saw an opportunity to gossip and embarrass a fellow comrade. What will happen to the man? Will he ever trust the church again? What chance does the group have to reach out to him without suspicion from his side?
The church should not be treated like a seminary of saints but a ward for the sick, recovering patients and an open door admission policy to anyone who needs redemption.
The church traditionally is meant to be the place of refuge, a brook for parched souls, a balm for broken hearts and a place of restitution. The likes of bro Ochola should feel free to share their struggles with their churches with a view to being better without feeling like they will be judged, embarrassed or even exposed.
And the church must be willing to admit that regardless of how long someone has been saved, or however experienced they are in salvation, hormones will always be hormones. The question that we need to grapple with today is this, how can the church respond with mercy to those who are struggling with sexual sin? And what is the role of accountability in winning the war against habitual sin? And at what point do we cover the nakedness of our own? How can the church and the Embakasi cell group reach out to brother Ocholla to undo the mess that they have done?
The Army Ranger’s creed is, “Never shall I fail my comrades … I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.” If the Christian Army would only treat their brothers and sisters the same way. If the Christian Army would follow this creed, the Christian landscape would be quite different.
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