A friend of mine got a lucrative job with a leading urban Pentecostal church in Kenya. The church wanted to train her for a year then send her back to her home country to plant a church.
They went on a charm offensive. A pastor was swiftly dispatched to carry out the sacred duty of convincing this person to take up the role.
They promised her heaven in the process: A fully furnished apartment, return ticket to her home country at least twice a year. This was going to be given during the festive season and maybe during Easter. Delighted, she jumped on the deal with both her claws, like a tigress pounding on her prey.
Her hopes were high. Because there was no way she was going to get any deal lesser than what she had been promised. But no sooner had she landed in Nairobi than the furnished apartment morphed into a bedsitter with broken windows, those toilets that look like pit latrines only that you can flush them, and a dusty house that can have someone cough their lungs out.
The walls looked like a good set for a horror movie with peeling paints and stubborn scary cobwebs with pregnant angry spiders. The owner of the house was like someone sent from hell; nosy, controlling and a typical Pharisee who would use Christianese language loaded with judgmental cues. She would send rude incoherent ten-page messages at 4 am to my friend giving her lectures about why coming back in her dingy bed sitter at 9 pm was unchristian.
My friend was not a baby but an adult who had done her graduate degree abroad while living alone. But the owner of the house decided to control her and treat her like a teenage daughter. To add salt to injury, she went on a propaganda mission, telling the whole church how she was being dropped late in the night with random men where they would go on and try making babies unsuccessfully in the car outside her house.
My friend like a good Christian went on and lodged a complaint with the church. She pulled out what they had offered and put it side by side what they had delivered. It was a stark contrast; heaven and hell, darkness and light. In fact, Lucifer himself would not give anyone such a raw deal after promising them heaven.
It’s not like my friend was desperate in her country. It’s not like she was starving and needed to be rescued. She had everything going on well for her. Her loving family surrounded her.
To cut the long story short, the abuses continued. The lies morphed into more lies. She complained. Asked us to pray for her. Talked to the pastor who went to convince her to come. She did everything humanly possible to stay in the program. She even ignored the bad conditions and gave her all. She would attend meetings, do her duties on Sunday, and meet the requirements of the program even if she felt shortchanged.
To drive a hot iron in a festering wound of betrayal, they denied her a Christmas ticket back home only to send her a dismissal letter via email citing lack of commitment.
Well, I don’t know the definition of commitment if someone leaving the comfort of his or her country miles away comes to take a ministry offered. Staying on even when it was clear that she had been massively short-changed, choosing to forgive those who peddled lies about her and sticking to the horrible abusive programme when my friend could have just resigned and gone back home.
I don’t know what commitment is when you have left a fully functioning cozy toilet back home only to squat in a dingy one that looked pregnant with infections. I don’t know what commitment is when someone who is an adult, in her late twenties, with an independent mind, having lived abroad doing her masters, with parents who believe in freedom, sucks up to a Pharisee who then decides to put up an 8 PM curfew.
Her story is similar to many stories in the church; people who walked in with wounds, only to walk out with more wounds, people who trusted men of God with their vulnerabilities only for those secrets to be spilt out. I’ve seen men and women who ‘fell’ as is the fallible nature of man paraded in front of the church to confess their sins.
I’ve heard stories of people who were employed by pastors only for them to be turned to mtu wa kazi ya mikono where they would help the pastor do menial jobs including plucking mangoes from their shamba in shags. I’ve heard stories of a pianist who would occasionally be called upon by the pastor to wash his underwears. Well, from a worship leader to an agnostic, that’s how deep my friend was wounded.
It sounds like I’m generalizing and it’s not fair. And I understand that maybe these people just experienced terrible people in the church. But you can’t blame them when the cross should represent forgiveness, tolerance, joy, love and all manner of virtues. You can’t blame someone who came to the church wounded and while expecting to meet the balm of Gilead met ravenous wolves who tore their fragile hearts into smaller pieces.
The church plays a very pivotal role in society. It offers redemption and reminds us of the need to store our riches where moths cannot reach it. While there are numerous churches that are doing the amazing work of God, there is a need for a radical change. The church must be a place of authenticity where people talk openly.
It should be a theatre for the broken, not a museum for the righteous. People should come to the church and meet Jesus, the one who never judged anyone but loved even the prostitutes. They should experience the same love and acceptance the woman who was found in adultery received from Jesus. We must break the walls of lies and pretence and cultivate authentic relationships that heal.