One weekend at a wedding, a most curious encounter occurred. Uninvited, a stout pastor approached me and, unprompted, began vaunting his vocation as a global missionary trainer. He spoke triumphantly with a braggadocios air as one who has attained some lofty pinnacle and performs an indispensable service the world needs. In the process he explained his connection to the bride and how he “shepherded” her in missionary school. Unaware of my foreign background and extensive global travel miles, he carried on and proceeded to “initiate me” into the state of affairs outside of the US. “We travel around to different countries and different continents” he boasted. “And let me tell you, it is very different from America. It is very un-American…you know!” His face squashed in condescending arrogance as if bemoaning in disgust the subpar conditions outside the US, as his eyes seemed to recall the images and memories of his expeditions.
“It is very different than America out there let me tell you that! There is a lot of poverty, people are very “ungodly” and… ” His facial expression and body language supplemented the meaning and message of his broken words. I just stared at him with a staid expression, refusing to voluntarily betray my palatial experiences that would certainly introduce an element of awkwardness to this discourse since that would place me as originating from one of these “subpar” countries. I listened on, struggling to hold equilibrium in view of this vainglorious wretchedness masquerading as missionary goodness. After some minutes, he finally took a moratorium from drinking the libation of his own greatness and thus inconvenienced himself enough to inquire into my background.
“Well, I was actually born in Nigeria!” Boom! Heavy lightning broke, like the storming electricity from a sinister thunderhead. My eyes conflagrated as my posture straightened with the imperial carriage of a Roman centurion. A floundering eeriness and brief silence ensued in which I proverbially fastened my armor in readiness to initiate the rendering of account for the demeaning implications of his earlier words. Drastic time! I must concede I relished this moment of revelation completely! For hitherto, the wedding had been a carnival of boredom.
Breaking the silence, he backtracked and commenced complimenting the Nigerian people, after which he resumed loquaciously expatiating on his expeditions. This time focused on Nigeria. He ranted about the places he visited there, and how many people he has “brought to Christ”. He even narrated this story about a local king who many different missionaries could not convert, but after repeated attempts HE finally won him over. The pastor’s face glazed with satisfaction, gratification and self-indulgence at this particularly difficult conquest that only he could achieve. A prized conversion that appeared to be his evangelical magnum opus. The assumption being that he of course is a heavyweight and a particularly strong one able to confront the biggest challenges and subdue it! My head twirled and staggered at the suffocating stench of this nauseating pomposity. As he bragged on about how many people had come to know Jesus through him, the visceral perception that flared within me was “Sir, based on your energy, you do not even know Jesus. And what you are really drawing attention to is not His Kingdom, but your conceit.” I stood speechless and flummoxed before the extent of this deplorable clownology. For all he really wished to do was bask in the light of his imagined efforts.
Anyways, he bombinated on and then suddenly made a most fatal mistake when he bitterly decried and vehemently chided the Nigerian government based on his assessment of their rampant corruption. Immediately, a volcano erupted within me whose molten lava spilled into words in order to call this rascality to order, “Do you think you are any better here in the US?” I rebuked sternly. “What you call corruption in Nigeria is merely special interests and lobbyists in the US. Tell me, what is the difference!” The firmness in my words at this phantasmagoric effrontery indicated I had dug my heels in the ground, and was thus prepared to objectively “cross swords”, “bang hammers” and “clash axes”. Realizing I had drank the last bitter dregs of his self-glorifying alchemy, he swiveled out of objectively responding to my retort and instead diverted the conversation onto more neutral pastures. Soon the discourse ended as affable and genial as it began.
As I paced away, I was immensely grateful for the encounter. His incessant need to bask in his presumed grandeur, as well as belittle and gaze condescendingly at others he surmised “below his level” was unimaginable and mind-boggling. But the whole episode highlighted how, no matter what benevolent work you think you do, your attitude and energy is what is perceived. It can either hinder and contradict…or support and resonate with what you offer. It was a warning to ensure that, before you speak, your inner being must be aglow in resonance with the heart of the Divine Message. If not, remain silent. For otherwise it will only have a repulsive effect that will actually do more harm than good and you might even spread destruction and poison, because your attitude would be the arrogant example you are advertising is an acceptable conduct as a supposed follower of Jesus. The inevitable reciprocity is mostly drawing people who are equally as vain and conceited as you, not earnest seekers bereft of presumption. I shuddered at the thought of how many times during the course of my life I might have displayed such garrulous ostentation before the awakened eye of another, all with the proud air of performing some lofty service! I vowed I would devote my energy to erasing and eradicating all traces of vanity and egoism in my heart, so that my will and supposed greatness is not what shines through, but rather the sacred reverence for the Divine Will.
Important lesson through the experience that engilded me that night!
~Ikenna Q Ezealah