I Met a Traditionalist: What He Told Me
By: Deji Yesufu
Those who follow my writing on social media will remember that in the past few weeks, I have been complaining about this matter of power supply in the area where I live. Well, I finally found a way around it. Someone suggested a very affordable solar system for me, where I could even pay in instalments to defray the cost of the whole installation. The man who came to install the system in my house just yesterday was a traditionalist and I want to use the first of a three-part essay to tell you what transpired between him and me. I met a traditionalist, and this is what he said to me.
While installing the system in my house, Mr T (I will recognize him anonymously) asked if I was a pastor. I told him I was; how did he know? He said he just knew – that my mien showed it. He then said that he was not a Christian; he was a traditionalist. He used the time to install the system to tell me his story. Mr Tee is a 51-year-old man who lives in a humble abode here in Ibadan. He has been installing the solar system for two months now because he would rather find himself doing something than sitting at home. He is a graduate of Engineering and has lived in the city of Portharcourt for many years working for an oil company. It was his experience living in Portharcourt that led him away from Christianity. I told him that I had only recently visited Portharcourt and when I mentioned the place I lived in, Rumoadara, he said he knew the place well – even mentioning neighbourhoods that were close to that place.
Life in Portharcourt was good until he joined a Pentecostal church there. We’ll call this church PFFG. While in PFFG, Mr T became an ordained pastor and rose through the ranks to become a senior Pastor. He was a pastor in this church for 18 years. He told me that he spent practically everything he earned in his days working in Portharcourt building the PFFG – that he single-handedly built two churches for them. He looks back now and is thankful that he had the sense of judgment to have bought a house for himself while there. And that even this happened by chance. He had gone for an overseas training that was to last for six months and he suddenly discovered that if he could take advantage of a facility a church was offering in that country, he would be able to save money and bring home for a large project. He said that his senses began to open after he travelled out. That church offered a living facility for people with low income. So, rather than spend money on rent and feeding, he saved all that money and returned to Nigeria to buy a house – the only property he took out of his labours working in Portharcourt.
Mr T, the traditionalist, explained that after he returned from his training overseas, two incidents occurred that jolted his faith. The first one concerns a young lady in the church who found herself in a financial mess. This lady had procured a generator set for the church – although she took money off her company’s finances to pay for the facility. She planned to pay the money back bit by bit. Unfortunately for her, there was a sudden arrival of an auditor, who demanded to see the books of the company. At this point, the lady had paid back most of the money but there was remaining a N600,000 to balance the books. The auditors asked for the money, and she told them she would get it for them in a day. She rushed to the church and explained to her leaders her peculiar situation, and requested to be loaned the money so she could pay her company back and not lose her job. Her leaders refused. When Mr Tee learnt of the situation, he gathered a few friends, and they gave the lady the money. The lady never got over that incident. She left the church, although she remains a friend of Mr T to date.
The second incident had to do with a mission outreach Mr T and a few friends were involved in. This initiative was something outside the purview of PFFG and it required that they travel to a village in the deepest interior of Niger State. He explained that the village was so backward, some of the people wore no clothing. After the outreach, a medical doctor and his family volunteered to remain in that village to cater to the health challenges of the people, and at the same time share the gospel with them. Mr T returned to Portharcourt and reported this initiative to his leaders at PFFG, Portharcourt. He also told them that to put things in motion at that mission, they needed six million naira to sort out that missionary and other things. He said his leaders showed no enthusiasm for the project. He then went to different branches of the church explaining this need to them. No one responded. Everyone said they had one church project or the other they were pursuing and could not add this to their financial burden. Then this happened.
Mr Tee was discussing this challenge at the office and one of his bosses heard about it. Now this man was not a Christian. He had some deep moral flaws that I dare not even mention here as this essay could reach his table. It was this man who kicked started the mission work by donating a sum of three million naira. Mr Tee said he also put a million naira into the project, while others in the mission group raised the remaining and the work in that interior village in Niger State was kickstarted. Mr T explained that many such experiences led him to the conclusion that churches were only stealing from their members. It was about this time he began to examine the religion of his father.
Mr T’s father was a traditionalist. But he had practiced this faith along with his attendance at the local Anglican Church. His four children, of which T was the last born, were raised in a Christian environment. T explained that as they grew older, three of the four of them became ostracized from their dad. He explained that somehow their association with the new Pentecostal phenomenon had made them believe that the little challenges they were facing in life could be traced to their father. He said that it was only one of them that stood with that man till his death and that that is the only one of the siblings that is doing well now. The rest of them have either lost their jobs or facing one life issue or the other. He said he is thankful that ten years to the end of his father’s life, he realized his mistake and retraced his steps. That it was during that period, he learnt the traditional religion that his dad practiced. Then he confronted my Christian faith – because I told him his experience with PFFG should not be enough for him to renounce Christianity. He then asked me a few questions.
He asked how old the earth was. I explained that I was a young earth believer and that the earth could not be more than 6,000 years old. He said I was wrong because even in Yoruba land there are artefacts that are up to 30,000 years old. He explained that Christianity was a white man’s religion imposed upon us by those who came to colonize us, etc. In the second part of this essay, I will tell you how I responded to Mr T’s enquiry. But for now, I think it is safe to examine the merits of this man’s story.
I have long argued that the Pentecostal religion was producing a mass of atheists among Nigerians. My thinking then was that these people abounded among the youths who had been in these churches and had turned their backs on them. I am now realizing that even older people have their experiences too. People invest their livelihoods in churches and when they lose their jobs or retire, these churches turn their backs on them. The story is everywhere. My response to Mr T was that church could be done differently. I hope those who are in the leadership of these churches read this essay and learn something from it. I also hope that all these young people investing their lives in churches will take a cue from this. When you are old and should be earning a pension, these churches will not be there to help you. I will stop here for now. Watch out for the second part.