The ever-smiling Mrs. Johnson had just left her family to go to Ifewara, a town known as the birthplace of one of the most powerful pastors in the country, for a two-day retreat with the women’s group in their local church.
She promised her family to spend just two days and not follow the group on their 14 days of fasting and prayer which was planned to happen at another retreat centre in Ekiti.
Like her, other members of the family, which included Mr. Johnson, her husband, and Deji, their only child, are committed and passionate Christian believers.
Every Wednesday was for Bible study, Thursdays were for prayer marathons while Saturdays were for evangelism, which the family played an active role in organising and executing.
Ever since Mr. Johnson got sacked from the sawmill after he was accused of selling more than the allotted potions of planks by some crooked fellows, things have become puzzling for him and the family.
Though it allowed him more time for church, he found himself in an unending struggle to meet ends. He had spent his savings on a canoe to serve as a carriage for tourists and sea travellers with heavy loads on the Makoko high sea but the dividends have been paltry.
He opened a store for Mrs Johnson in the poverty-inscribed area. Though running fine but the profit is what they feed on. And on days when the market shrank and things didn’t go smoothly, life would turn out to be all shades of hunger and moodiness.
Before leaving for the retreat, she had prepared a meager fish stew, Okro and Everest of Eba that would last the family for the days she was going to spend.
The time of the retreat coincided with the period of the 7 months strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which had left students in federal universities across the country stranded at home.
During this time, Deji, who was studying Electrical Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University, had been home helping his father with the canoe and leading the church choir and drama department.
Like his father, Deji has an average height that complemented his weight. He’s easy-going and blessed with a sonorous voice that had always been the reason why many female fish hawkers on the dingy island attend the only church in that neighbourhood.
Something was unique about him. Everybody knew this but yet couldn’t decipher it, it was more than voice. Maybe it was his demeanour because he’s taciturn.
He would seldom look up while speaking. Very respectable child people have considered him to be. Pastors loved having him around because he could really be compared with little Samuel in the scripture.
Though uncomfortable for the family, he had brought his friend home to stay with them for some weeks after Stephen, the friend, had insisted on staying with him for a while before going back to his family in Abuja.
He had always wanted to enjoy the feel of the slum. He had heard the popular name and seen the floating school in movies but when he learnt Deji stayed there, he begged him to come with him from school. Luckily the strike gave him the opportunity and he grabbed it.
Stephen appeared to be dumbstruck about the true nature of the slum. It was nothing compared to what he had heard or seen in movies. The sorry but minimal ways of living, the heap of dirt that’s almost as tall as their plank-made houses. The open defecation, which he had now participated in more than thrice.
Amid all of the mesmerising sights and scenery, Stephen’s way of life was totally in conflict with the religious lifestyle of the Johnsons. His thick dread started as the topic of the sermon in the first week of his stay there.
On the night of the first Monday with the family, he had sneaked out to light up his well-wrapped Indian hemp by the side of the sea when Mr Johnson, who was about to tie the canoe’s rope to the peg designed to hold it beside the sea, saw him puffing out smoke like a Rastafarian.
He pretended that he didn’t see him but went inside his wooden-constructed home to castigate his son for having such a friend and worst still for not preaching the message of salvation to him.
But Deji explained how he’s tried but Stephen’s heart is hardened due to the atheistic background he has.
When Stephen got back inside, Johnson allowed him time to eat and settle down before he called him back outside and preached the message of salvation to him.
How he’s loved by Christ and his soul is precious in God’s eyes. But Stephen met him with a defence that ensured the conversation lingered till midnight in futility.
A few days after the exchange, Deji had convinced his father to allow him to take the canoe on a ride at the request of Stephen, and Johnson agreed to this but on the condition that he would have to join them because he couldn’t afford to leave his only valuable investment at the mercy of the two boys.
On Tuesday morning, the three of them set out to sail in the canoe. Deji untied the knot from the peg and pushed it slightly before he jumped inside it.
Stephen was so close too. He held his friend’s hands with a tight grip as he helped him climb into the canoe too. Mr Johnson was the last person to jump into it.
The canoe could be driven in two ways. It could be manually paddled or automatically driven but the latter consumes much fuel, which was why Johnson instructed Deji to paddle the canoe instead as his father continued preaching the word of salvation to Stephen.
“He’s the author and finisher of your faith. He died a painful death to set you and I free from the pangs of death,” Mr Johnson urged Stephen to give his life to Christ.
“But you claimed that was more 2000 years old. I believe the life of Christ is a myth and as humans, we are responsible for our wrongs and rights, not some Christ. After all, we’ll still all die anyway despite your claim that some Christ died for me,” he said with unwavering confidence.
The exchange continued for more than 30 minutes as the cooling breeze of the sea swept past them. Deji paddled through the vast wide Lagos sea as fishes visibly jumped from side to side to delight Stephen.
A fast boat flashed passed them splashing a torrent of water on them. Johnson had just opened 1Peter 1 when the torrents landed on them, wetting the Bible. He had to return the brownish rectangular book into the black pouch he carried while he paraphrased the part of the scripture he meant to read from the bible.
A fishing boat the Johnson family was familiar with slowly moved past them. Deji paddled close as they share pleasantries before he continued towards the Lagoon front at the University of Lagos.
The rays of the sun gave the sea a golden reflection that almost faded immediately into blue sea water as you drove closer to it. Stephen would put his hands in the water and splash it over himself in a bid to distract himself from pressing exegesis of Mr Johnson.
At the centre of the sea, Stephen queried Deji’s father further, saying “If Christ truly died for us then why are people are there so much suffering in the world and why are people still dying?
“If he comes to fix the errors of Adam and Eve, then why couldn’t he correct the concept of death which never existed before Adam’s offence? Is that not part of Jesus’ job as a saviour?”
Mr Johnson was about to answer this when the canoe hit sediment of rock that had sprung out like an iceberg. Deji thought he had paddled past it but the rock was larger than he imagined. The frontal part of the canoe cracked into the middle. The immediacy of the accident threw the three passengers into the sea.
Mr Johnson struggled to find his way out from the depth of the sea while supporting himself with the fractured canoe. He continued breathing heavily as drops of blood flowed from a brutal mark on his forehead.
After catching his breath for a couple of minutes, he dived back into the sea and saw Deji lying lifeless at the depth of the water, not far from where Stephen lay. In a split second, he made a decision on whom to rescue first, he plunged toward Stephen, lifted him up and placed him on his back as he swam back to the edge of the water.
He pounced on his chest with his hands, aggressively pressing it continuously till he jerked back to life. He nosedived right back into the water and brought Deji out the same way, placed him beside the now-conscious Stephen, and did a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation routine but Deji remained lifeless.
He stopped after a while and sat beside his son’s lifeless body without moving or uttering a word. A countenance of confusion bleached his black face, while Stephen, with his scattered and wet dread hair, kept pressing his friend’s chest amidst tears and mucus rushing out from his eyes and nostrils.
As if waiting for the event to unfold, the sun went down and the face of the earth became cool. Stephen too had gotten tired. He lay on his back staring at the sky with tears flowing through his cheeks.
He said with a shaky voice: “Why did you save me first, why didn’t you carry him out of the sea before you helped me?
“You should have left me, I don’t deserve to be alive when Deji is dead. He’s much better than me.”
Mr Johnson, whose eyes have now become redder and more intense, responded: “Deji, would be glad I saved you first. He’s saved and has always wanted you to be saved by Christ.
“He died as a believer, who will see Christ in his full glory. I did what he would have done,” he took off his wet Ankara top and covered the face of Deji’s dead body with it.
Inspired by a true life event narrated in a discipleship class
Photo credit: Pinterest
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