There was this one time when you were 11, maybe 12 years old and you and your mother went for this prayer meeting and it felt as if the Lord God Himself stretched out His hand from Heaven and placing it gently on your shoulder, told you that everything was going to be alright. It was a Thursday evening at one of those prayer meetings where a believer, usually a woman, opened up their homes and hosted other believers and they prayed and shared the Word of God along with tea and snacks with one another. The chocolate covered pretzels that Mrs Preston always served were by far your favourite. A part of you still suspects that she may have gotten them because she knew that you loved them so much.
Such meetings were usually led by a pastor or a ‘Man of God’ of some kind, the kind that went from town to town preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ trying to win as many souls for Christ as he could. Much like the apostles of the New Testament had done after Jesus had commissioned them and then ascended into Heaven.
Most of them were crooks, of course but back then you didn’t know that. You believed because your mother believed and back then that was more than enough to go on. It never occurred to you that someone out there would actually try to profit from people’s blind, often ignorant, faith in God and His ability to speak and communicate His will through men and women that called themselves prophets and prophetesses and apostles and who wrote epistles of their own and handed them out in the form of pamphlets for just four dollars a piece. Like Apostle Bret Channing’s Epistle to the People of Pennsylvania for example. This was back when you were still living in the States, a time that has since faded into something of a half-forgotten dream. Almost nothing remains of that time except for maybe your taste in music and the inkling of the suggestion of the possibility of the American Dream.
In fact, it was Apostle Bret Channing who was leading the prayer meeting that night. He was a tall, burly man who looked like he may have played American football in his younger days. His voice sounded like the tyres of a Toyota 4×4 spitting up gravel. He prayed and laid hands and turned red with emotion when he went on about God’s goodness and everlasting devotion and the blessings He bestows if only one knew how to tap into His singular goodness. He encouraged with uplifting words and quoted scripture that promised blessings from on high and all of God’s people said Amen! And Amen! And Amen!
“I want us to pray for the spirit of the Lord to descend upon this place. I can feel him knocking, knocking on the door of my your heart asking if he can come in. Do you?”
There was a chorus of Amens. There were about 10 or 12 of you all standing in Mrs Preston’s sitting room with the old but sturdy furniture pushed back against the walls, your eyes closed and your hands raised towards the ceiling. Apostle Bret Channing was walking amongst you like a drill sergeant among a platoon of fresh recruits. You were the only child. You and your mother were the only black people.
“Lorrrrrrrrd, we want to invite you into this place today, this evening. We come before you humbled, our souls lying prostrate before you in abject humility…and we ask for your mercy. Aaaaaall have fallen short of your glory, there is not one that is righteous, not a one, not unless you make him righteous oh Lorrrrrrrrd. And so we ask that you pour out your righteousness, oh Heavenly Father, and cleanse us of all our iniquities, and oh how numerous they are oh Precious Lamb of God and we ask you to come down…come down…come down…come down…”
You cracked open an eye to see why the good Apostle sounded like a skipping CD and saw him standing over one of the ladies; small, in her forties, her clothes conservative, neat and expensive-looking but worn. Miss Patty. She was divorced and was struggling to raise her two children with no help at all from her ex husband. Apostle Channing had one massive palm on Miss Patty’s forehead and the other on the small of her back. Every time he boomed the words, come down, the palm on her forehead nudged her a little bit and every single time Miss Patty would teeter a little bit, would totter a little bit but would remain on her feet. After the fifth or sixth nudge though, Miss Patty finally seemed to get the point and allowed herself to be tipped over, the good Apostle easing her down gently with the hand he had on the small of her back. As if on cue, as soon as her body touched the carpet Miss Patty began to babble,
You never really considered what they called ‘speaking in tongues’ as anything all that unusual back then. It was just something that happened when someone was ‘prayed up’ and ‘the spirit took over’. It happened. Looking at that woman right then though, plastered to the ground as she was, as if a huge hand was holding her down, shaking her head from side to side, spittle forming at the corners of her mouth, gibberish spilling from her lips and down onto the front of her blouse like an unbroken string of spit, it suddenly struck you just how strange it all looked. Suddenly Miss Patty didn’t at all look like she was having an encounter with God, she looked like she was having some kind of epileptic seizure. She began to spaz and flop around on the carpet like a goldfish taken out of its tank by its little blond haired owner just to see what would happen to it while Apostle Channing stood over her and prayed in a voice that sounded like he was having an argument with God. A small bubble of worry formed in your throat. Miss Patty was a really nice lady, you hoped there was nothing wrong with her. The other women were slowly forming a circle and throwing prayers at her like darts at a board.
“Father God, I pray that you will release this woman from the bitterness she holds onto in her heart like a fiend to their needle. I pray that you will teach her how to forgive and to know that anger and resentment is a poison that eats away at the soul. I want to pray that she will let go and let God.”
As Apostle Bret Channing prayed Miss Patty became still and as stiff as a board. She still offered some mutterings from her lips but nothing like the gibberish she was a few moments before. Her eyes were squeezed shut to the point of tears forming at their crow-footed corners. Apostle Bret continued to pray.
“All the trouble she is encountering Oh Lord, all the struggles she is going through, if she would just let go I know; just as I know that it is you that raises the Sun every morning, that you will pave the road smooth for her, that you will weed the garden of her soul and that you will allow your blessings to grow. Do you believe this Patricia?”
Miss Patty managed a nod.
“I need to hear you say it. God needs to hear you say it. Do you believe this?”
“I do,” She croaked. “I do.” A lot clearer. “I do believe this. I believe with everything that I am.”
“Do you accept the blessings of your Heavenly Father? And his promise of healing if only you will let him?”
“Then arise a new creature my sister and leave all the pain and anger and heartbreak that the world has heaped upon your shoulders on the floor where you lay.”
Apostle Bret Channing looked up and discreetly but firmly nodded at Mrs. Preston and another big lady dressed in a K-mart looking skirt and blouse. The two women helped Apostle Bret bring Miss Patty to her feet. And so it went with every woman present, your mother included.
As you watched you honestly thought that you would be exempt from these proceedings; the professions of heavy blessings, bright futures and the outpourings of God’s spirit but you were not. You were standing next to your mother while Apostle Bret Channing prayed over her life, prophesying immense influence and jet-setting around the world in first class cabins; the former sort of coming true the latter not so much. He did not send your mother sprawling to the ground like some of the others but his prayers still charged past his lips and out of his mouth with a bullish intensity. You believed him, you believed every word. And then it was your turn. You felt the heel of his palm on your forehead and his fingers clasp your head like he was going to pull it off of your shoulders and use it as a basketball.
“Lorrrrrrd, we want to thank you for the life of this young man. We want to thank you that you have blessed him with health and life and a vigorous desire to serve you. We want to thank you for keeping him away from harm and from the talons of the evil one. We want to thank you that he has a mind that is sharp and that works and that pursues purity. I want to pray for this young man this evening. That you will speak to him. That you will reveal yourself to him. That you will open my eyes and open my mouth and that the plans that you have for your son will pour out hence forth…”
And here the Apostle Bret Channing fell silent. A stillness fell upon the room like the calm before a storm. It was tenuous and strained with expectation. You waited…and waited… and waited. And then Apostle Bret Channing opened his mouth and the words of God poured out. Every declaration, every word of thanks, every promise given was punctuated with a smattering of ‘Amens’ and ‘Yes Lords’ and ‘Thank You Jesus’.
I see this young man growing into a great man of God; standing before the multitudes and witnessing to them the power and the love of the Almighty. I see his feet walking roads seldom travelled, wrapped in the scrolls of the living Word of the Most High and that prosperity will follow him all the days of his life. I see father figures, Oh Lord. Men that will speak into his life, that will mentor him that will teach him what it means to be a man, Oh Father God. I thank you for College, Heavenly Father. That his education will not be halted for any reason; financial or otherwise Holy God. That he will be dedicated to his studies, that he will recognise the importance of an education, Oh Father God. I thank you that you will raise him up to be the head and not the tail, that the desire for excellence will follow him all the days of his life. I see great things, great great things. May this young man recognise that You have handpicked him for greatness and so therefore cleave to You with a passion unparalleled; declaring Your name with each breath he takes. I thank You for Your word, Oh Abba Father, for drawing back the curtains of Heaven and allowing us to peek into Your infinite majesty. May this young man heed the word that You have given him and see it for what it is; a blessing, a privilege. I pray all of this in the precious name of Your son Jesus Christ whom You sent to shed his blood and in thus doing so becoming the Saviour of the world. A debt that we could never repay. Amen.”
Apostle Bret Channing let go of your head. Placed his meaty hands on your shoulders.
“God loves you, son and he has great plans for you, never forget that.”
You nodded. Said that you would never forget, not ever. And unsurprisingly, at the time you meant it. With all the honesty that your eleven year old self could muster. You had a genuine encounter with the Most High, the Master of the Universe, He that is Able. Images of Miss Patty writhing on the carpet were completely white-washed from your mind and replaced with promises of greatness, promises of prosperity and promises of well being. Your soul was swollen with the outpouring of the Lord Almighty’s glorious majesty. You were happy and you were at peace and that night you slept like a baby.
L.A. Lutara is a Ugandan writer who is a journalist by profession. His fiction has been published in The East African, Kalahari Review, Uganda Modern Literary Digest, Daily Monitor & Reader’s Cafe Africa as well as several other online magazines. He has penned a number of short films with one being turned into a student film at The New York Film Academy. He is currently working on a television sitcom and his first novel.