Saturday, 11 April 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Where Are The Mega Religious Concerns? This is The Opportunity To Win Souls Through Actions!

Image credit: Premium Times
Food For Thought:
 ‘’And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins’’. Bible: 1 Peter 4:8

Preamble: On Monday, March 30, 2020, President Buhari abruptly ordered a two-week lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State to curb the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world. The lockdown came into force on Monday night meaning there was little time for people to prepare, buy foodstuffs etc. Even if there was enough time, many Nigerians don't have the wherewithal to stockpile essential commodities because many depend on subsistence income to eke out a living. Few days into the stay-at-home directive, a crisis within a crisis – hunger virus or HUVID-20 is emerging in Nigeria. Nigerians are confronted with hyper-inflation in the prices of food and essential commodities. A paint container of garri hitherto sold for N500 in most parts of Lagos state now goes for as much as N1,500, a 300% increase. Same applies to other food items. People are struggling to feed, pay bills and survive. The butterfly-effect will be potential increase in crime. We hear folks are stealing foodstuffs. Folks reportedly broke into the office of the LCDA Chairman at Ok√©-Odo, Lagos state and carted away COVID-19 relief materials. 

Nigeria, a country of contrasts
Nigeria is a country of contrasts. A 2018 World Bank report posited that Nigeria overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. According to the report, six Nigerians fall into extreme poverty every minute. In other words, about 94 million people in Nigeria now live in extreme poverty. On the other hand, Nigeria is blessed with high-flying entrepreneurs, politicians, life coaches, smooth-tongued, hero-worshipped motivational speakers styled as men of God or gods of men with business Concerns veiled as Ministries. For instance, Forbes reckons that a certain General Overseer of a sprawling Pentecostal church in Nigeria, is worth a whopping hundred and fifty million dollars. Inter-alia, he owns no fewer than four private jets, a couple of private universities. He considers it an insult being speculated to be worth a measly $150m. Another General Overseer is speculated to be worth about 65 million dollars. He reportedly owns a new 65-million-dollar Gulfstream G550 private Jet, Rolls Royce Phantom valued at $400, 000, amongst others. The report says, ''his churches give him at least two million dollars in revenue per year''. Apparently, church members, satellite branches are the goose that lay the golden eggs given that a chunk of this fortune stem from their dedication and upward transmission of offerings, tithes etc.

Where are the mega churches in Nigeria?
Where are the churches, the mega churches, the multi-million-dollar Concerns that want to situate their branch [offices] in the nook and cranny of Nigeria? What is the fate of their teeming, prospective members scattered across the country who may not have food to eat during this lockdown and Easter period? I think there are pragmatic ways these religious corporations can directly support their members and other people in this trying time. They have records of their branches or parishes all over the country. Granted some of them in typical photo ops, donated a couple of medical ambulances, hand gloves, hand sanitizers, some bags of rice to national and/or state authorities as a way of supporting the fight against COVID-19. Aforesaid items are probably not worth up to 30 million Naira and they will not trickle down to the folks that need them the most. If a man or his Concern is tenably worth $150m or $65m, will it be a big deal if he/his Ministry doles out say a $2m palliative, about N750m (or equivalent food items) to be shared amongst all parishes/local pastors to cascade to needy folks? If the HQ of a mega church cannot offer succor to long-suffering members, citizens during this perilous time, I think it would be ungraceful for them to continue exerting persistent pressure on branches on their perceived lack of membership drive or dwindling offerings (revenue). This is the time to win souls deeds, actions, not just by preachments. This is the time that church HQ that insist on onward transmission of 70% of the offerings, tithes etc. from local branches, even from House Fellowships, should give back to their local branches. Failure to directly support vulnerable and needy folks at parish levels is to say the least, antithetical to their teachings and not in keeping with what Christ stands for. Religious organizations should up their game in charity.

On continued offerings, tithes despite lockdown and 5G conspiracy theories
Sequel to the COVID-19 lockdown, technology savvy churches, concerns now stream their services online. They are also fixated on harvesting uninterrupted streams of offerings – first fruit, first Sunday, building/project, Seed offerings, tithes, amongst others, from members notwithstanding the lockdown and hunger in the land. Members are asked to meet at 'house fellowships'. The Heads of the House Fellowship centers would collect cash offerings, keep records and transfer to parish accounts for onward remittance to the church HQ. A WhatsApp message is circulated by one of the religious bodies subtly exhorting members to give their offerings online, via bank transfer or an App. It doesn't matter that these folks they are asking to give money are probably hungry and have not earned any income during this period. Smacks of disconnect, insensitivity. Nna m, late Ochiriozuo 1 of Aku si onye aghogburu ka agbara.

Despite relying on technology to evangelize and stream their services to audiences across continents, the ilks of Pastor Oyakhilome plunged themselves, indoctrinating gullible adherents with fallacious conspiracy theories on how 5G technology is anti-Christ, causes coronavirus bla bla bla. Who did this to Nigeria? Some of us are forward-thinking and literate enough to research and make inferences. As at April 2019, 5G technology has been trialed or deployed in 81 countries. Lesotho has been using 5G since 2018 and yet to record a single case of coronavirus. While we squabble and dissipate energy on how 5G technology is anti-Christ and causes coronavirus, some countries and companies are already brainstorming, developing 6G wireless technology. Since these religious Concerns now accept offerings, tithes online or via Applications. Please tell these gods of men not to accept online offerings, tithes paid via faster 5G or 6G technology in Nigeria. Let them stick to 1G or 2G technology. For your information, the University of Oulu in Finland is currently funding its 6G Flagship program to research materials, antennas, software, and more that will be required to launch 6G. Japan is planning to launch 6G by 2030.

Kudos to the religious corporate organizations, kind-hearted individuals that have affected the populace positively. On Wednesday April 8, I saw a presentation on Emmanuel TV showing its members in the United Kingdom reaching out and dropping food items, hand sanitizers etc. on the front entrances of neighborhoods in Southampton. Some of the residents confessed that they had no foodstuff at home because of the COVID19 lockdown. They appreciated the church's act of kindness. Though not his devotee, love or hate him, Prophet TB Joshua not only preaches but epitomizes charity. Never mind that some business-inclined Pentecostal preachers in Nigeria gainsay his calling or source of his ‘power’. Cheers to Prophet Jeremiah Fufeyin who reportedly gave back tithe and offering to Nigerians by way of charity, through his Jeremiah Omoto Fufeyin (JOF) Foundation. So far, he has reportedly given out about 300 million Naira charity since the lockdown began. He's quoted as saying, ‘’there is no better time for Men of God to give back to members, followers and society, than this COVID-19 isolation period’’. I don’t know him from Adam. This is the first I am hearing his name. God bless you and likes bountifully. Please don't relent to do more if you can. According to CNN, an anonymous donor in the US gave every household in an Iowa town $150 in gift cards for food. This is also another way of making local businesses to survive. I see such acts of charity as synonymous with practical Christianity. It is Christianity in action and in my humble opinion, this is unarguably the best way of evangelizing and winning souls. This Bible verse - Mark 6:34-41 reminds us how Jesus Christ had compassion on the multitude following him. While His disciples suggested the multitude be sent away to fend for themselves, Jesus requested his disciples to fetch the Five loaves of bread and two fishes in their possession. He blessed the bread and the two fishes, and they offered to the multitude. Similarly, according to the Bible, 1 Timothy 1.5, '' Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned"

COVID-19 could redefine religious following in Nigeria
Home truth is, many religious folks out there are disillusioned, grumbling. Scores feel that when the chips were down and push came to shove, it was 'to your tents oh Israel'. They were on their own; even their Daddy/Mummy G.O literarily chickened out. Seemingly smaller, close-knit religious organizations are the ones that directly reached out to support their members. By the time this Covid-19 pandemic peters out, I envision some church members rethinking their affiliation or 'porting' to another denomination that may have supported, provided psychological and material support to them. Church-member relationship ought to be symbiotic, not unidirectional or about oblations. Extreme poverty in Nigeria is the reason many churches in Nigeria are filled to the brim. Folks need a miracle to feed and they seemingly rely on places of worship for hope and succor. Most of the things we fast and pray for in Nigeria are rights of citizens in some climes. For your information, the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced that Canadians who are out of work, off sick or remain home to look after children because of the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for up to CAN$2,000 (about N524,000) a month for the next four months. I bet you, if the Nigerian government lives up to its obligations to its citizens, many places of worship will close shop. This is the situation in some Western countries where increasingly, church facilities, Cathedrals are bought by commercial enterprises and converted into industrial hubs. The opposite is the case here: a religious concern buys rundown premises of a flopped company and erects a gigantic worship centre.

Again, when the dust settles, the pandemic would have demystified some pontificating men of the cloth who bask in their ability to call forth miracles. Now it appears everybody, politicians, religious leaders, footballers that earn hundreds of millions of dollars inclusive, are looking up to scientists for COVID-19 cure or vaccine. What this means is that we all have our ‘’Callings’’ and it would help we stay our lane. Another takeaway is that men of God are not omniscient. They are humans after all and don’t know it all. Feel free to respectfully disagree when they bandy ignorant assertions.

Please pardon my bluntness and courage to speak truth to power. I may have made sweeping remarks, but it is not nothing personal and doesn’t take away the veracity of my submissions. Yes, I am a Christian. I appreciate, respect spiritual injunctions and authorities but I am not given to brainwashing, blind followership. I believe in charity, preferably giving DIRECTLY to the needy. It would help if the top echelon of religious organizations stumbles on this post. Rather than see this call-out as antagonizing, they should view it as feedback. I speak the minds of scores of people, conformists out there who cannot voice out.

Let us continue to stay safe, practice social distancing as a way of curbing the spread of COVID-19. Let’s also remain security conscious and resilient. The Scripture assures us that this too [coronavirus pandemic] shall pass. Amen.


©Don Okereke, 
a security analyst, thought leader, writer, active citizen, change agent and an ex-serviceman passionate about cyber/security advocacy.

April 10, 2020

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