Episode 5: THE MOUNTAINS TO MOVE
After the five-minute break, our keepers rounded us up. It appeared that they were about to give us a briefing of our next punishment for our decision to stand for Christ. The whole place became suddenly hot and I could feel sweat drops sliding down my stinky sticky skin. The other ladies were also apprehensive of what would befall them next.
The keeper of the correctional centre, whom we later came to know as “Babu Rahama”, (meaning “No Mercy” in Hausa language), addressed us.
“In this place, we are not devils who put you in bondage. We are just agents used by Allah to correct your belief in that religion of infidels. But while you are here, we shall ensure that your heart is changed. However, if you refused to change your mind and continue to follow them, we shall ensure you won’t leave here in one piece. And I am sure you know what that means”, he threatened.
Zainab gave the other ladies a reassuring look as they appeared terrified by Babu Rahama’s statement. Her look said, “Do not worry. God shall come to our aid and see us through”.
Stung by Fiery Ants
After the reprimand, they sent us back to our various rooms. On entering my room, I discovered that the room had been littered with crumbs of bread and cake. Some ants had gathered in large numbers, feasting on them. The ants were strange to me; I had never seen this kind before. They had a bright red, fiery colour, and each was about 2mm in size. They moved very fast.
Since the room was empty, controlling the ants would be easy, I thought. So I used the heels of my sandals to kill some of them. However, as if they knew they had come under some sudden threat, and in an attempt to fight back, they trooped out in millions from every angle of the room and started climbing all over my body, biting me with their mandibles as they did so.
Each sting was so painful that I couldn’t control the urge to shout. At first, I gave a low yelp as I tried to get rid of the insects. I jumped from one spot to another, like a bouncing ball. But each place I placed my foot was surrounded by the red-coloured ants.
I rushed to the door to escape but it was tightly locked from outside. I banged at the door, but no one came to my rescue.
The pain continued to increase and my skin was swollen and aching badly. This continued for about an hour.
Suddenly, as if directed by God to come to my rescue, my father arrived at the Correctional Centre and I was called out of the room. When he saw that I was in excruciating pain, he started laughing me to scorn.
Meanwhile, I was glad when he instructed me to go and pack my things as we are going back home. But not before he said that he would give me a more severe punishment if I should return to church.
Home, Sweet Home
At home, my mother prepared a hot bath for me and I bathed for the first time in two days. The sting I felt from the deadly ants made the bath a very painful experience.
After shower, my mother gave me some analgesic ointment to reduce the pain. She told me that my friend, Comfort, had come asking after me. Since that Sunday when we were seen going to church together, we hadn’t seen each other.
My mother had explained my fate to her. She, in turn, had reported the case to the church and intercessory prayers had been offered on my behalf since then. Some of the divine interventions I had experienced at the Correctional Centre must have been in answer to these prayers.
Mother’s Comforting Words
I remained indoors for hours brooding over my predicament. However, around 5pm, my mother knocked at my room door to check on me. She offered some encouraging words to comfort me.
She said, “I made a terrible mistake when I married your father as a young woman. When the realization of my actions dawned on me, it was too late to change. My parents did not support divorce. More so, your father was not willing to issue a divorce either. So I remained stuck in this marriage. That was my greatest regret in life because I was not allowed to serve my true and living God.
“My daughter, I do not want you to make a similar mistake or fall into their trap. If you are sure that God has called you out of the Muslim religion into Christianity, whatever challenge you face, do not give up your faith because it is very dangerous to do so.”
Her words of encouragement were very refreshing, such that I no longer felt the pain from the ant stings.
The Love of the Brethren
In the midst of our conversation, my mother’s phone rang. It was Comfort. She had called my mother for the umpteenth time, just to speak with me. She could not reach me directly because my phone had since been confiscated by my father.
After exchanging few words of pleasantries, Comfort said her pastor was there, and he wanted to speak with me. She passed the phone to Pastor Kenneth.
“Sister Sarah, good evening”, the pastor greeted me.
I remained silent, confused by the name he had called me. My name was “Salamatu”, not “Sarah”. The pastor must have sensed my confusion because he offered some explanations.
“Don’t be confused my dear sister. After your conversion from Islam to Christianity, we believe that God has changed your life in a supernatural way. You now bear the mark of the living God. He calls you His child.
“The people of God in the church have also identified with you and taken you as one of God’s children. You are now a fellow sister-in-Christ, and part of the brethren in this unique family of God. We heard about your predicament and have been praying for you. It was during our intercession that the Lord revealed that your name should be changed to “Sarah”. So we have been referring to you as Sister Sarah since then. We are glad that you are okay and have arrived home safely”, he added.
Persecuted but not Abandoned
I felt so delighted that the church had not abandoned me and had been praying for me. They had heartily welcomed me into their midst and identified with me during these trying times. My mother was also glad about the change of name.
Pastor Kenneth encouraged me a lot. He gave me many scriptural passages to read during my period of weakness, when the persecution would seem very severe. He promised that Jesus would always be there to help me. Thus, I should not fear or be tempted to change my decision under the face of persecution.
“Pastor, thank you for these words. Actually, what has kept me going since my conversion was my fear of disobeying God. I would rather disobey man than incur the wrath of God upon my life for disobeying Him”, I said.
“That is very good, my sister. You are making the right decision. In fact, three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel chapter three refused to obey a king’s command to worship a graven image, an idol. They were threatened, yet they stood their ground and God came to their rescue. I am sure that God will continue to reveal Himself to you and help you.”
“Amen. Thank you pastor.”
Mountains to be Moved
“Meanwhile, there are other things I want you to check in your life.”
“What are they, pastor?” I asked.
“Do you have some mountains in your life that need to be moved?”
I was confused and expressed it. “I don’t understand, pastor. What mountains?”
“I mean, are there some things in your life that may hinder your prayers? Just like a mountain, these may stand as great obstacles in your life. And they must be moved”, he said.
“Please explain further, sir.”
“Okay. My sister, do you harbour some things in your heart like hatred, unforgiving spirit, secret sins, malice, backbiting, etc. These are great hindrances between God and some believers. Just as you cannot see a person standing at the other end of a mountain, these obstacles will stand in the believer’s way before God.
“For instance, when you are undergoing some severe persecution, and pray to God with a heart full of such obstacles, like hatred for your persecutors, your prayers become hindered. They will not be answered and the pain from the persecution may become more intense”, the pastor explained.
“Hmm… I understand now, pastor”, I said.
Prayer, Faith and Hope
“Also, when you are faced with persecutions and trials, and you pray to God for rescue, you must not lose faith and hope in God. Even when there is no immediate help from above, never compromise. Remain unshakable and stand firm. When your persecutors see your stand, they may even marvel and come to accept your God as well.”
“Okay Pastor”. I thought of many things at the same time, and a question popped up in my heart.
“If I have these mountains, how then can I remove them?”, I asked.
“Good question. You don’t need a physical caterpillar with strong men to move these mountains. All you need to do is employ a spiritual caterpillar to work on your heart. That spiritual caterpillar is prayer. The strong men that would work on that spiritual caterpillar is your strong faith. You need to set these two things in motion to move the mountain.
“However, the first thing to do is to identify these mountains in your life. Now I ask again, Sister Sarah. What are the mountains you need to move in your life?”
The Mountain of Unforgiveness Removed
I went into deep thoughts. As if in a trance, I remembered the pain that I passed through at the Correctional Centre and the hatred that welled up in my heart towards my dad. The anger I felt towards the Chief Imam who exposed me. I didn’t think I could forgive my relatives and the clerics who sold me some lies about a vacation they had planned for me without my consent, either.
However, as the pastor had admonished, I came to the conclusion that these were mountains in my life that needed to be moved. I discussed this with him and he encouraged me to forgive them totally from my heart. I conceded and he prayed for me before ending the call.
The counsel from the pastor was a great eye opener. As a young convert, I never knew having hatred towards your persecutors can stand as an obstacle to answers to prayers. I resolve to never have anger or hatred towards my dad and other persecutors, but rather pray for them.
How about you? What are the mountains in your heart that obstruct your relationship with God? Resolve to remove them as they may stand as obstacles to answers to your prayers.