“Death levels all,” poets told us.
I am one of the luckiest people on earth who have witnessed raw faith. I served under the leadership of one man who evidenced the integrity of the Christian faith. Boniface Okenchi Eziomume, PhD was not desperate to acquire or possess this world’s bling bling. Not fazed by the craze for power, he was so confident in his faith that he felt comfortable working with “strange people.” In one of the messages he preached, he said, “I will make you mad until you have faith.”
Pastor Boniface cried with my family when we cried. He laughed with us, ate with us. He never dispossessed anyone in order to become what he was. I could not remember a lie he ever told me, because he did not. He was truthful to a fault, to the end! He was unpolitical with the truth. He did not buy in to the mold of any Christian organization that would play politics with the truth. He once served as a Prayer Secretary for the Nigerian Ministers Fellowship, a story for another day. His was simple: a lie is a lie. I will miss him sorely. Those smiles… many will cherish.
The funny thing though is that his death leaves an ironic peace within me because I know that he never caved in to the pressures of the American spiritual rat-race. In American Christianity, you look at people’s faces before you speak the truth. Otherwise, excommunication awaits you after you tell any truth which ends up hurting anyone or spoiling the garri of the powers that be! So you have to decide whether you want to “belong” or be hanged! Dr. Okenchi showed the meaning of “difference” as defiance.
Twice, I was reluctant to leave him to work for other pastors. The second time after he wrote a recommendation letter for me, perhaps his soul could not bear to see that he had released me into something that he could not take because when he heard the outcome of that send forth, his one question to me was “why did they not report this to me?” His wife listened in shock as I replied, “Pastor, there was no wrong to report. It is classic, authentic hell-on-earth drama.” The first time was when some pastors came from outside this country, seeking a pastor to lead their congregation, Pastor Okenchi shocked everyone. He brought these people to me, saying that I was the right man to lead their church. I thought that was crazy. I thought he was kidding me. But such was the depth of his radical faith. I told the pastors seeking a lead pastor, “Go and pray again.” If you know me, you know that my elasticity for political correctness is not reliable. Pastor Okenchi reminds you of Jesus’s radical nature, that is, if you really knew Jesus; not the colonial “Jesus” of title-wielders and microphone grabbers that emerged in the nineteenth century, having been invented from the failure–should we rather not conclude?– successful plantations of America!
I did not get to know whether this pastor of mine was a Republican or Democrat. He had no space for fooling around and defending it with the Bible or justifying unholy actions with some holy texts. Nor did he accommodate the idea of “going bananas” in the name of being progressive.
I am so glad that I had met just one man in this lifetime, a man about whom I can say categorically, after all these decades, “There once lived ONE righteous man, his name is Boniface Okenchi Eziomume.” I know no other pastor like him! A man whose gentle demeanor hides a faith simultaneously rapturous and radical that you are already living the truth before you acknowledge that something has hit you. One of his types is enough for me. Now, my Pastor from Deeper Life in Nigeria, Professor Christopher Agulanna, can see the face of the man whose faith changed me so drastically. But good people don’t last in a world of darkness.
But I am so broken and physically exhausted by the gap that he has left. He was the second pastor who tolerated questioning of faith. The first, Pastor Blessing Ubani, PhD, is another Christian thinker that the world is yet to fully explore–or understand.
One way to better understand people is by reading the books they read or the ones they wrote, or those written about them. So I invite you to get a copy Pastor Okenchi’s book and read it. It is on Amazon here. Use this link here: Consumed by Passion: A Clarion Call for Prayers. In the book, you will read about Pastor Eziomume beliefs about the integrity of the family as God’s creation, his articulations about prayers, and radical faith.
Many people, especially, pastors talk about heaven without believing it. Not only did the man Boniface speak about heaven, but he also condemned evil, particularly the American brand of wickedness. He lived out the meaning of faith. He believed to till the end. One sure philosophical basis for testing positive belief is how adherents of a religious tradition treat others, especially those who are under, the oppressed, the foreigners, the weak, the immigrants, “those who have been robbed along the highways” by the powerful and privileged. Boniface Okenchi Eziomume had respect for all. He did not look down on anyone. So a chapter of our argument has been closed. I have no more answers coming from my father in the Lord, except the sweet memories of a labor of love.
So, what would these tears bring? What then, after all these human-labeled accolades? What then?