Who Am I?
I squinted my eyes at the bright lights ahead. The sky was blue, the mountains a blend of green and brown, and very beautiful. My legs led me and I subconsciously followed. Suddenly, a crowd of people appeared in front of my eyes and somehow I wasn’t surprised. They were organized too, in two long queues that vanished over the hills and disappeared into the horizon.
“Get in line little boy,” a big man said and I joined him.
We moved slowly, a step at a time, one foot in front of the other. Where we were going I did not know but it all felt surreal in a weird way.
A little later, we came over the hill and I heard laughter in the distance. It wasn’t just any kind of laughter, no; this was a deep belly kind of laugh that sent shivers down the nape of my neck. And then a scary voice cut through the sky. “We love sinners: sex addicts, drunkards, killers and thieves. We love you all!” The laughter came again and I stood paralyzed in horror trying to figure out what was happening. The skies suddenly turned black and a red glow of light filled the near horizon.
“What’s happening?” I asked the man in front.
“We are dead little girl. This is the line to hell.”
What! It didn’t make sense… I wasn’t dead. I didn’t remember ever dying.
“I’m not dead yet!” I yelled.
“Yes you are!” A deep voice said. I looked up and saw shadows of clouds floating towards me. Hordes of demons flapping wings above the flames: yellow glowing eyes; the smell of sulphur. It was time and they were coming for me… the annihilation of the human race.
“Nooo,” I screamed. “Nooo. Please God! Please give me another chance. I promise to be a good boy. Please God. I don’t want to go to hell!” I trembled like a leaf and tears poured down my face. I couldn’t believe that my soul was damned to suffer eternal punishment. This had to be a bad dream. But it wasn’t and the laughter only got louder; the red flames hotter.
“Noooooo!” I screamed again.
“Wake George! Wake up!” My mum shook me vigorously till my eyes popped open. “You are having a nightmare.”
I opened my eyes and stared at her in disbelief. I could not believe that God had given me a second chance. I was alive and unscathed! I was not in hell!
I jumped into my mum’s arms and hugged her. “Mum,” I said amidst tears. “I want to get baptized. I don’t want to sin again.”
She pulled away and looked into my face. “That is the best news son. I will talk to the pastor tomorrow. I love you.”
“I love you too mum.”
She tucked me in bed a few minutes later and walked towards the door.
“Mum,” I called. “Please leave the lights on.”
“I will son. But remember this. God loves you and as long as you believe that, then no harm will ever come to you.”
Wednesday was a monumental day for me and I felt like a new man. It wasn’t my Baptism day yet but it was a step in the right direction.
“Hey George,” a voice called and I turned and saw Susan running towards me. She was fourteen, same age as I and we were good friends. “Are you going to church?” She asked breathlessly.
“Yes,” I replied. “I have to go and see Pastor White.”
“I’ll walk you then,” she offered and together we covered the one mile trek to my church.
“Susan,” I asked her. “What is Heaven?”
She gave me a curious look then decided not to prod. “It’s a place of supreme happiness and peace where good people are believed to go after death, to be with God and the angels.”
I nodded. “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?”
She was quiet for a moment. “Yes George.” Her voice came slow and solemn. “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
“Explain please,” I said.
“I heard my mum and dad talk about the vanity of humanity.”
“What’s that Susan?”
“I don’t know how to explain it but it goes like this; why are we born if we are going to die? Why do we work so hard for everything in life if in the end we are going to loose it all?”
I nodded, not fully understanding.
She continued. “My mum says that Heaven gives humans a reason to believe and be good. Heaven gives purpose to life.”
I had read about it somewhere: the futility and foolishness of life lived without an eternal perspective. Humans do not like to think about their own death and yet it is the most certain fact of our existence. Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.
Every word coming from Susan’s mouth worked to confuse me. I knew what she was talking about but I just didn’t understand it.
We arrived in church and knocked on Pastor White’s office door but there was no answer. The time was afternoon and Susan suggested that we walk around the church building and look for him or his car. We found him thirty seconds later leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette.
“Come to me children of God,” Pastor White said as he quickly tried to hide the cigarette.
“My name is George and this is my friend Susan.”
“You are here to register for the Baptism class?” Pastor White loomed over us, his white beard almost hiding his mouth.
“It’s only George,” Susan said. “I was baptized last year.”
“Good girl.” Pastor ruffled Susan’s hair lovingly. “Come on George; let’s go get you squared away.”
“Thank you Pastor.”
Half an hour later we were done and walking back home. There was a halo around my head and I felt pretty good about my chances of going to Heaven. I raised my head and said a silent prayer to God thanking him for giving me a second chance and not sending me to hell. Baptism was my silver lining and wild horses couldn’t keep me from giving my life to God.
“You look very happy,” Susan said.
“I am Susan. I want to dedicate my life to God and serve him in every way I can.”
She wanted to hold my hand but we dared not least somebody saw us.
“What’s that?” Susan suddenly asked.
I followed her pointing finger and saw the piece of paper on the ground… and then I picked it up. “It’s 20 shillings. It’s our lucky day!” My face beamed with happiness but when I turned to look at her she wasn’t smiling. “What’s wrong Susan?”
She shook her head sadly. “I was just worried for whoever lost the money. I hope they got home safely, or worst, I hope they can afford to buy food for their children tonight.”
I couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. “Susan,” I said wanting to shake her awake. “Look at this. We can buy all the candy we want. Come on, I will buy you a chocolate. My treat?”
“No George.” Her voice was low. “It’s not our money. We have to take it to Pastor White.”
“What?” I stared at her like she was mad. “The Pastor will just buy cigarettes Susan.”
She leveled her unblinking eyes at me and asked. “Do you know that for a fact George?”
“No,” I said as I lowered my eyes.
“Then allow me to give you the facts George. If we spend that money then we are spending someone else’s money.” Pause. “You will understand better after you get baptized. When we get spiritually weak, then we get worldly strong. Doubt clouds our judgment and our vision wanes.”
Susan was too smart for her age and I couldn’t win an argument with her. She had always been the nice one; diligent with her bible studies, virtues uncompromised.
“Ok Susan,” I said giving up. “Let’s take the money to the Pastor.”
Our hearts desire for the very things that we can’t get.
There were fifteen of us; boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15, all dressed up in white shirts and black pants and looking very angelic. Soft music guided our steps; white candles flickered in our hands as we waltzed towards the front of the church. A chapter in our lives was coming to an end, and I was scared in a good way.
I turned my head and caught the proud look on my mum; smiling faces and wet eyes in the building. I had made the right decision and I was going to dedicate my life to God for the rest of my life.
One by one we stepped in front of the Pastor and Holy water was poured over our heads to purify us from our sins. The Pastor spoke in a dramatic tone as he performed the ritual. “I baptize you George in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Immediately I felt a difference inside my body as I was admitted to the community of believers. It felt surreal to me, being on the other side of the bridge. A unity between me and God had been created and I could love and worship him for the rest of my life.
Lunch at home with my mum and a few friends turned out to be a party to celebrate and catch a glimpse of the new me: for it is true what they say about the people we love; they define our self identity and our identity falters when those relationships break. The way they looked at me made me believe in myself.
Susan came and we ate cakes and drank sodas. In the afternoon and tired of staying indoors, I finally took off my nice clothes and slipped into a pair of blue jeans. Together, Susan and I ran down the road to enjoy the Sunday afternoon sunlight.
“Hey George!” A voice called an hour later. I turned and saw William and two rat faced looking boys walking towards us.
“Hi William.” My voice was weary because William and I were not friends. He was a year older at the age of fifteen and famous for bad behavior. Parents warned their kids to stay away from him.
“Heard that you went rogue on us George,” William said with a mocking tone. “Being saved looks cute on you.”
“I got baptized William. You should try it too. I feel like a new person.” I knew I was talking to a wall because William didn’t have a decent bone in his body.
William appraised me with his cunning eyes. “So you are not afraid of anything now?” Silence. “I mean, if you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit will protect you against anything right?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to figure out his play. He was a tough read. The two rat faced boys beside him chuckled.
“I dare you then to go and knock on Mr. Muffin’s door.” A conceited look appeared on William’s face and my insides froze at his suggestion.
Susan tagged at my shirt. “Let’s go home George, it’s not worth it.”
But I couldn’t move. My legs wouldn’t let me. Mr. Muffin’s house sat secluded at the end of the street near the forest. The outside wall of the house was a forest of mosses and lichens with climbing plants crawling all over the building. None of the children had ever really seen him and word was that he only came out at night like a vampire, to seek prey and bury dead bodies.
Everyday when going to school, the children sprinted when they got near the house and gasped for breath afterwards laughing about how scary the house was.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
“Ha?” William couldn’t believe his ears. “You will knock on the door?”
“I’ll do it,” I said. “I’m a child of God now. Nothing can scare me any more.” My words came out strong; my exterior cool, my insides screaming with panic. This party had just gone over to the dark side and I knew it.
“You don’t have to do this,” Susan pleaded.
“It’s okay.” I touched her hand and headed for the house.
While William, Susan and the two boys waited at the gate, I walked slowly through Mr. Muffin’s front yard and headed for the front door. My heart was pounding so hard that I had to stop halfway to take in a deep breath. I looked up and saw crows on the roof; the shift of a curtain in an upper bedroom. I wanted to run but I couldn’t. Not in front of Susan and the boys. I couldn’t give them a story.
The wooden door was rotten and uglier at close range. I raised my hand and readied myself to ring the bell. There was sweat on my face although it wasn’t that hot.
“No George!” a female voice yelled.
I span and saw William grab Susan from behind, a hand clasped over her mouth and I totally lost it. Fire burned in my eyes and I moved on a dead run towards them. William saw me coming and pushed Susan to the ground. I leaped into the air and landed knees first on his chest. He went down hard, his back slamming the ground and taking his breath away. My hands moved without control and I rained his head with blows. The other two boys tried to pull me away but my fury seemed to give me super powers and somehow I wouldn’t budge.
There was blood on my fists and on William’s teeth. A gun shot suddenly cut through the air and we all started running in every direction, Susan beside me and William struggling to get to his feet. Everything was happening so fast and our bodies completely controlled our actions. We finally stopped behind a grocery shop and placed our hands on our knees. “Are you alright,’ I asked.
“I’m okay George. You?” Susan could barely breathe.
I looked at Susan and started shaking my head from left to right as though in a daze. “I can’t do it Susan,” I said.
“I don’t understand George. What are you talking about?”
I raised my bloody hands for her to see. “I just got baptized today. Look at me now. Do I look like a child of God?” I could feel it… the truth. Beneath all the façade, I was still George, a boy defined by poor choices in life.
She put her arms around my neck and looked warmly into my eyes. “Yes George. You look like a child of God. Mathews 19:14 says: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.”
“But Susan, am a sinner! No matter how hard I try I always end up in trouble. I can’t do this!” There were tears in my eyes; the ringing in my ears was not that of silver bells on a Christmas day but the sound of breaking chains as the fibers in my body snapped to reveal my weakness. I was doomed to walk the lonely road; my own flesh and blood had betrayed me.
“Yes you can George. Please don’t run away from this. You have to stay and fight. Please, I will help you!”
“How do I do that?
“With prayer George. It’s our best weapon. But when you pray you have to believe that God will forgive you. Without faith prayer means nothing.”
I stopped crying and sat down on the grass. Susan joined me and together we stared into the distant horizon. The trees whooshed in the wind and the birds sang under the warm afternoon sun. Deep inside I was terrified. I knew that they would come for me at night… the shadows… they would punish me for my sins and drag me into the unknown.
“Susan,” I said in a shaky voice.
“Please teach me how to pray.”
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...