Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, let me tell you about the king…
We are way out in the northernmost area of Nigeria, out in the bush where whitemen rarely go. Naturally, I am a bit of an attraction here. Kids stare at me from behind their mothers, old men sit in corners and peer at me, while younger men grin and wave hello. But the kids! It is the same wherever you go – the kids come running. Before long, there is a long stream of children dragging behind me, yelling and laughing. This must be more fun than they have had in a while, and I must look like the Pied Piper. I should have brought a bunch of candy with me.
I toured several homes of the Christians here and I have already related how hard it is for them to survive in this dedicated Muslim society. In spite of the quiet opposition, they have come from villages all around to attend a Christening ceremony here. Today, they will name the pastor’s new baby boy – a perfect excuse to have church. Yes, they need a reason, otherwise the Muslim village authorities will object to them meeting in such a public place.
I will tell you here that my message wasn’t all that great. I don’t know why. Maybe they thought it was, but I didn’t feel a thing. I grasped for a message, and finally felt like I should read from Psalm 27. It was certainly appropriate for their situation, but I was expecting fireworks and thunderings and lightnings like the Lord usually gives me. Nope, this was sedate and quiet – encouraging, but no fireworks.
I don’t control these things. Maybe those who “prepare” their messages for Sunday would not see a problem with this, but I’m an old-fashioned power and glory preacher, and I expect the message to come down from the Throne of God when I walk in the door of the church. And it always does … but not today. Who knows what God had in mind?
Anyway, after services and a tour around the village, we have to visit the king. After all, the presence of a white guy from America is big news, and protocol demands a visit. We make our way to the palace, which is merely a bigger mud hut than the rest of the other mud huts and has a mud wall around it. Not exactly dazzling. The king is seated on the floor of a bare room and motions for me to sit on an old chair. (I guess they think that Americans are too soft to “rough it” like the Nigerians … and I am not complaining. Hey, I’m pushing 60 here, folks.)
Grinning with a brown, decayed smile, he is thrilled to meet me. I need to mention here that the king is the head Muslim for this entire area, so I am treading very carefully. One wrong move and it could be disastrous for the Christians in his jurisdiction. Everybody loves cowboys, so I go into my “Texas cowboy routine” and then slip carefully into the Gospel. I am gingerly testing the waters here, watching for any resistance from this Muslim king.
Believe it or not, he wants me to pray with him.
Now here’s a secret: Muslims secretly want the Christians to pray for them, but they are too scared to let anyone know. They will tiptoe out to Pastor Paul’s hut in the middle of the night to hear the Gospel and pray, but then they return to their staunch Islamic stand during the daytime. But hey, the king can do whatever he wants, and the king wants to pray. So we pray.
I am on my knees praying with him when all of a sudden, the king jumps away from me like he felt an electrical shock. I don’t know what happened to freak him out. It turns out that the brother who has been accompanying me since I arrived decided to take a picture of me praying with the king.
This may have seemed harmless, but to the king, it looked like something that we would use to blackmail him later by saying that he has converted to Christianity. Nothing worse could have happened. The king freaked out, and I thought he was going to snatch my camera and smash it. That would have made things even worse because, king or no king, that camera cost 350 bucks, and no two-bit, wannabe king in a mud hut with rotten teeth was going to take that camera from me.
After abject apologies, however, he seemed to be placated, but the moment for prayer has been irrevocably lost and will probably never come again. I just hope and pray that this incident will not result in more persecution for the Christians. If the devil plants any more distrust in the king’s heart, it could mean destruction and even death for the Christians who will be here after I am long gone. But for the time being, we tiptoe away, breathing a sigh of relief.
Some of you sitting at home reading this in the newspaper probably see this as an interesting story that has captured your attention for a moment, but I have not even told you the half of what it is like here. The desperate need for help, the strong determination to stand and fight, the willingness to give their lives in defense of a Gospel that we take for granted is a story that I could only fully relay in person. It’s something that can only be seen in their eyes when they speak to you, and is too hard to relay in pen and ink.
I see two churches here – the Church in ease and safety vs. the Church under persecution -- the story of Esther and Mordecai. I can only hope that this story ends the same way as it did for Mordecai, but I suspect that much more blood will be shed before the darkness is fully conquered.
Christians who are not willing to pay this kind of price are left with a shallow Christian walk. They never see the deep things of God, because those jewels can only be found in the bottom of the Valley. They never get to fully understand the sufferings of the Cross, because they have never experienced the heart-swelling poignancy of a life totally sacrificed to God. Their hearts are not cut deeply over lost souls, because they cannot seem to grasp the wickedness of sin, nor the beauty of holiness.
The Christians you find out here do not have a grasp of theological correctness; neither do they understand the intricacies of doctrine or religious platforms. What they do have, however, is a deep sense of light vs. darkness and an understanding of the simplicity of right vs. wrong. They have made their choice to stand in the Light that can only be found at the foot of the Cross.
And that is enough for them.