By Theophilus Abbah
Thomas Dacopo wrestled with the gripping thought as he perused for the umpteenth time a handbill he reluctantly grabbed from a bulky, tired-of-life woman on a Saturday morning in 2004. Without make-up and without adorning her ears and neck with dangling and never-forget-me ornaments, no man would instantly have had a crush on this ordinary, unappealing woman who peddled the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry’s genre of charismatic Christianity.
“It’s an opportunity for you to be delivered from all the powers of the devil,” the unsmiling, stony-serious woman declared as she handed over an invitation handbill to Thomas and hurried towards other persons in the foyer of a two-storey multiple apartment in Egbeda area of Lagos. Without waiting to cajole or persuade recipients of the handbills, the woman rolled away in her heavy weight and soon disappeared from Thomas’s glare. But her words would not roll away from his inner soul. They remained glued to his heart like the Sunday school memory verses he had recited as an adolescent over thirty years ago.
Thomas stared at the images on the handbill – an artistic impression of a savage conflict, a fierce life-and-death war between a sword-wielding muscular man and a feral dragon. To complement the war scene and as an assurance of victory for the brave fighter was the bold, all capital letters, banner message: “WICKEDNESS MUST DIE,” which was spiced up with promises of “salvation, deliverance, healing, breakthrough, total freedom and lots more…” As he held the handbill the water of victory seemed to drop into his weary and frustrated heart, wetting and energizing hope to germinate in his mind. Perhaps, the promise of total freedom was real, and he could become the warrior who trampled upon the symbolic dragon under his feet.
His life had been characterised by a painful crawl through frustration. Hours had accumulated into days, and days into months, and months into years, and mounting numbers of years into five since he joyfully graduated from the university and migrated into a sorrowful world. Unemployed for five years since he graduated from the University of Ibadan with a Second-Class (Upper Division) honours degree in English Language, Thomas was increasingly convinced that there was a devil to his predicament. Many of his school mates whom he occasionally ran into in Oshodi told him positive stories of gainful employments or even multiple changes of jobs in five years. But Thomas had been hooked unto unreliable hand-to-mouth job as a private lesson teacher from one household to another. Without an apartment of his own, he had continued to hop from one friend’s house to another, some of them his schoolmates, who had begun to settle into their family lives. At Egbeda he squatted with a banker childhood friend, Jonathan, whose wife, Juliet, was pregnant with the young family’s first child.
“I need deliverance,” an inner voice told Thomas. “You need deliverance,” an outer voice repeated it, almost audibly into his ears.
Towards sunset, Thomas, clutching an old Bible with a mutilated cover and missing pages, strolled into the crowded hall of the wooden and window-free structure of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry at Egbeda. Accustomed to magnificent Catholic churches, Thomas disdained the wide, almost wild, open space with corrugated iron roof that was the church building. In addition was the discouraging sea of heads, which left him with the doubt that anyone could pay attention to his predicament. The thousands of heads in the large, open hall looked desperate for a miracle, so how could he experience the kind of deliverance that the handbill promised?
But another thought encouraged him to be patient and sit through the evening programme. If the handbill was an empty promise, he should not return to this church or any other church that promises miracles, signs and wonders. He conceded to the later voice and sat through the hot praise, chorus prayers, rapturous tongue-speaking, the near-acrobatic jumping up, boxing the air, bout of prophetic utterances, screaming at imaginary Satan, and the deafening sounds of ‘Amen’ that rented the air. Like a child lost in the wilderness, or a fish out of water, or a man in a foreign land, Thomas endured the charismatic and almost funny sessions. But the message of the young pastor who spoke with conviction for not more than twenty minutes left a lasting impression on his mind.
If he forgot every other biblical explanation the pastor made, Thomas could not ignore Luke 10 verse 19, which the man quoted dozens of times, as if those words were originally his own. The scripture says: “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” The young pastor accompanied it with confident emphasis like “Jesus has given you and I power over Satan! Don’t be afraid of the devil! He’s a defeated foe! For this reason was the Son of Man manifested, to destroy the work of the devil! Claim it! The work of Satan upon your life has been destroyed on the cross! Rebuke the devil and he will flee! If you need deliverance or special prayers, come forward…!”
Thomas walked to the altar along with dozens of others. Briskly, six other church leaders came to attend to them, divided them into a group of five each and handed a sheet of paper to each of them.
“As from this night you’ll begin to fast,” a taut, middle-age, dry-face, skinny woman in worn-out skirt and blouse told Thomas’s group. Her red eyes protruded like that of a dangerous viper, but Thomas sensed it must have been as a result of long hours of prayers.
“Deliverance is warfare,” the woman continued. “It is a spiritual warfare. One of the weapons that Christians use in the warfare is fasting and prayer. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 17:21 that some problems cannot be overcome except by fasting and prayer. Over the next six days, you have to deny yourselves of food. But you have to drink water. Only water. That’s what we call dry fasting. You are to wait on God to reveal the cause and sources of your problems to you. Jesus told Peter in Luke 22 verse 31 that Satan wanted to sift Peter, but he (Jesus) had prayed for Peter. That means prayers become effective if the Almighty reveals the sources of the problem. Fasting does not kill. Rather, it will help you to be attuned to the spiritual atmosphere around you. You will receive revelations; God will reveal to you things that are hidden about your life, your family, etc. The revelation would determine the kind of deliverance exercise that you would pass through.”
Oscillating in multiple thoughts by the fear of running his life without the energy that food provides for six days, anger welled and oozed up in Thomas’ heart so much that he felt dazed. The idea of surviving on water for six days in the name of deliverance from the powers of the enemy was very repulsive to him; it sounded grossly impossible and practically unattainable. Impatient and disturbed, he could no longer concentrate on further explanations as he burned with the impatient desire to hurriedly disappear from the scene.
Thomas floated on riotous thoughts as he briskly trekked back to Orelope Street. Visibly worried, when Juliet set dinner before him, Thomas’ limbs were reluctant to move to the amala and ewedu placed on the petit dining stool. ‘You’ve been eating food for over three decades now,’ a part of him argued. ‘What does it take not to eat for six day?’ He thought of the young lady who counselled them in the church auditorium. ‘If a woman can fast, why can’t I, a man, fast?’ Like a man struck by the tropical malaria fever, Thomas lost the appetite to eat. Then Juliet emerged from the inner room and smiled mischievously at Thomas.
‘Are you embarking on Mountain of Fire’s marathon dry fast,” Juliet asked, almost mockingly.
Thomas hesitated and smiled sheepishly. ‘My sister, I think I need deliverance. I’ve been told to fast for six days. I will try.”
Juliet excitedly said, “Tom, that’s good. Our pastor says fasting does not kill. Rather, it is good for our health.”
“The young pastors at the church said the same thing,” Thomas conceded. The supportive words from Juliet energised his resolve to embark on the fasting exercise. In a manner he could not explain, hunger disappeared from his body as soon as he resolved to take on the challenge. He rolled out the sheet of paper containing the prayer points from his Bible, quickly perused the items and the accompanying scriptures. “In case I sleep off, wake me up at 12 midnight,” he told Juliet. “The young pastors encouraged us to pray at midnight.”
“Okay,” Juliet replied. “Tell your friend Jonathan also. He works at night so he may be in a better position to wake you up.”
Thomas stretched himself into the long three settee cushion chair. He glanced at the wall clock whose clinking and eerie sound tore through the quietness of the night. It was 9.00pm. Thomas begged sleep to envelope him now to enable him rest properly before the 12 midnight prayer session.
It would be the first time that he would pray alone at night. Though his parents were Christians, Thomas had no memory of a deliberate effort made by them to teach him how to pray. However, Tunde, who was the President of the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES) on the University of Ibadan campus, invited him to the campus fellowship few times. Thomas had to disengage from that relationship because he could not reconcile with the chorus, rapturous and noisome prayer sessions in the flurry of strange tongues by members of the fellowship. Tunde had cajoled, educated, and encouraged him to b
elieve and receive the power of the Holy Ghost, but Thomas told himself that he didn’t belong in that group. Therefore, all his adolescent to the adult life he never learnt how to pray. As he woke up at this midnight to pray, Thomas was weighed down by the feeling that he was embarking on an impossible task.
“You have taken those talks at the church too seriously,” a mind told him. “Just go to bed and rest. You can’t pray. You are not cut out for this kind of exercise.”
Thomas ignored the appeal by this contrary thought, knelt down, opened his Bible, placed the prayer points on it, read the scriptures and prayed. There were twenty items on the list, but with emphasis on “Oh, Lord, reveal the secret of my problems to me.” The supporting scripture was Jeremiah 33:3: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and will show thee great things, and difficult which thou knowest not.” He prayed this prayer multiple times, but before he could complete seven of the prayer points, Thomas snored away in deep sleep.
When Thomas opened his eyes, it was already dawn. ‘Did God reveal anything to me?’ he asked himself as he searched his memory to know if he could remember his dreams. Nothing occurred to him. No spiritual message of any sort, but he felt triumphant that he could skip dinner and attempt to pray. He went to Church that evening to confer with the young lady that attended to him during the previous day’s service.
“I didn’t receive any revelation,” Thomas told her.
“You will,” she replied with certainty. “Don’t give up. God will speak to you.”
Thomas marvelled at the air of faith that exuded from the words of the young woman. She was unshakeable in her belief that God would speak to Thomas. As if the lady’s confidence infested him, Thomas returned home determined to pray longer than he did the previous night, and with a tangible expectation that God would reveal the secrets behind his unemployment.
He prayed longer than he did the previous night. Again, he slept off before he could take the fifteenth prayer point. But he had a strange dream that stuck to his mind when he woke up. Thomas found himself in a room with an unusual woman who led him toward some strange images in a calendar that hung on the wall. In an abnormal and astonishing way, Thomas felt he came under a spell such that he could not resist the woman’s directive. They took a dark path or they walked into a dark night into an obnoxious atmosphere in which the human images in the calendar spoke in a dark growly tone to them. Thomas did not understand what the images told them, but the strange woman seemed to be in league with those who spoke from the calendar. He felt odd, but in an inexplicable manner, Thomas woke up before they reached the calendar.
“You must have had a relationship with some devilish women in the past,” the young lady at the Mountain of Fire told him when he relayed his experience to her. “In the spiritual world, women are very powerful. The devil uses women to lure men into their fold. That’s why a man must be careful about the women he sleeps with. One could dangerously sleep with a daughter and agent of the devil whose duty may be to submit men’s destiny to demonic covens. But you need to pray the more so that you could receive a fuller picture of the source of your problem.”
Thomas returned home to imagine which of his present and previous girlfriends could be the daughter of the devil. As an undergraduate, he had relationships with some beautiful young ladies, some of them were the daughters of pastors and rich persons. Now, he had a regular girlfriend, a choir member in Christian Power Center. Could she be the agent of Satan? Then a thought occurred to him – the lady in the dream looked older than his girlfriends.
On the third night, he couldn’t really pray as his body had become so weak that he could not embark on energy-sapping activities. Thomas took the week off from his teaching engagements in order to pray. That night he just slept off and hated himself as the pang of hunger ate deeper into his strength. However, on the fourth night, Thomas had a long, dramatic dream.
In that dream, Thomas found himself in the room of a woman he had had relationships with in Bodiga, Ibadan. It was a brothel. Her name was Angelina. While making love to Angelina, some strange man walked into the room, removed Thomas’s garment and cap from the bedside where Thomas had left them. Before Thomas could challenge him, the strange man rushed out of the room and disappeared into the thin air. Thomas ran out of the room, naked. He wandered around looking for the strange man, not realising that crowds had begun to gather around him. They jeered, ridiculed and derided him for his nakedness. It was at this point that Thomas woke up still kneeling down in prayer posture.
Horrified and still feeling the shame that he was exposed to in the dream, Thomas looked up at the wall clock. The time was 1.30am. He itched to talk to anyone who could help him interpret that dream. Angelina was a prostitute in Bright and Broad hotel, a brothel, in Bodiga. While in 300-Level at the University of Ibadan, Thomas had strayed into that brothel and slept with her. The two became acquainted, and Angelina began to support Thomas with finances. At a point, Thomas would leave the campus at 11pm for the hotel to sleep with Angelina over night after other men had slept with her from the early hours of the evening to the late hours. In a manner he could not explain, Thomas surrendered his heart to Angelina, but the relationship fizzled out after his graduation from the university. Even the mobile phone number that Angelina gave him before Thomas left for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was always switched off. After several months Thomas gave up on trying to reach Angelina. So what does this dream mean?
“That’s it,” the young minister at the Mountain of Fire told Thomas. “Your glory was taken away that period that you slept with that prostitute. Everyman is born with glory, which is like your clothing or garment. It is your glory that determines your favour. Your cloth is your natural cover, your natural gift and your cap is your glory. When your cloth and cap are stolen, it means there will be no value attached to your natural talent. No matter how you apply it, nobody will value it. Also, when your cap is taken away, the glory of God upon you is gone. This way, your life will become meaningless. In 1 Samuel 4 verse 14 -22, we read about the defeat of Israel when the glory of God departed from the temple. The sons of Eli slept with women who came to the temple and God was angry. He glory departed and Israel was defeated in a battle against the Philistines. Your prayer as from today is, ‘God, let my glory return.’ I will join you in that prayer.”
Thomas prayed aggressively throughout that night. At a point he felt a divine presence in the sitting room and out of excitement began to speak in a strange tongue. He prayed uncontrollably until dawn. ‘Let my glory return,’ he must have prayed over two thousand times in diverse ways as he prayed unashamedly and loudly. He continued through the fifth and the sixth day, when the deliverance pastor brought all those who participated in the weeklong prayers together for a vigil. They prayed until the next morning, casting away demons, and claiming the scriptures in Joel 2:25, which says, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, and my great army which I sent…”
Two weeks after Jonathan returned from work and asked Thomas: “Would you like to work as Public Relations Officer in an engineering firm?”
“What does that mean?” Thomas asked.
“My boss told me that one of his friends who manages an engineering company needed a graduate of English Language who could serve as a PRO and editor of the company’s bi-monthly newsletter,” Jonathan explained.
“I can do that,” Thomas replied excitedly. “Remember, I was the editor of Sunrise magazine while on campus.”
“Okay, I remember,” Jonathan said, “Let’s see how it plays out tomorrow. We have to go to my office to see my boss who would give you the address of the company.”
The next day, Thomas resumed at Martins & Partners Engineering Company, to take up his first employment after five years of graduation from the university.