Thursday, January 28, 2021
Harrisburg, PA, USA

hen I was sixteen, I lost a very dear maternal uncle. During the Biafra war, 1967 to 1970, he lived with our family in Nnewi. He was smart, witty, had an unbridled sense of humor and most of all, was exceedingly humble.

It was Ezengozi that taught me and others around us how to memorize the times table then. As the war raged, he grouped the young ones in the household into classes and would teach us age-appropriate math, English and literature. He taught us so many Asaba folk lore and stories, especially famed stories about the turtle- mbe di ogu.

I used to tag along with him and my brother, Emma, to the farm to harvest yam during that same war. We would dig up and gather the yam but as soon as noon time came around, we would stop, roast some of the yam that we called, mkpulu ji”, because it was small and round. Under the tree shade, we would relax and eat the roasted yam with palm oil we usually took along.

In January of 1970, when the war ended, along with other maternal relatives of ours who sheltered with us in Nnewi, Ezengozi departed for Asaba. I missed him dearly thereafter. Back in Asaba, he completed his secondary school education at St Patrick’s College Asaba and then headed to the University of Ibadan to study political science.

I was shocked to the marrow, sometime in 1977, when we got a very sad message that Ezengozi had died in Asaba! A rising star just fizzled in the twinkle of an eye. I was distraught! I was just sixteen and headed to my 17 th birthday. In my disappointment, I cried out: “Where is God to have allowed Ezengozi to die?”. That question may have been naïve but I know that from time to time, when adversity strikes, many believers wrestle with that question, at least in their minds. That age-old question of “why do bad things also happen to believers in spite of their good fate effort at moral rectitude” still lingers in the minds of many.

Years ago, I listened to an audio tape by Les Brown, the motivational speaker. He was talking about adversity in life and how sometimes, when something bad happens and someone says, “why me?”, he was always tempted to ask, “if not you, who would you suggest?”.

The truth is that as believers, we all pray for God’s protection in all we do. It is even enshrined in our Lord’s prayer: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil”…. So when we are sick, we call on God as should; when things are not going well, we ask God for intervention as should; when we want a job, we table our desire to God with the full expectation that the prayers will be answered exactly as we prayed. Unfortunately, life does not work that way. Sometimes, our requests do not seem answered and so we become disappointed and disillusioned and that nagging question comes roaring back, “why me?”

I have heard someone say, well, “that guy”, pointing at a random person “is not even a believer but his business is thriving, he has good health, he is smart, he has everything that he needs for a good life, while I, a believer, seem to have all adversities at my doorstep”.

Enter Rev Father Oluoma. I recently listened to a homily delivered by one Father Oluoma on Facebook. It had a provocative title- “You don’t need Jesus to be rich(Why Jesus Came). The homily was about life, Christianity and why even as a devout Christian, one could still be experiencing misfortune while an unbeliever would seem to be thriving. He preached that Christ’s promised to believers is salvation not necessarily the good life. Hence, a believer could go through all manners of adversities in life but should keep their eyes on the big price: salvation.

He noted that because all humans are God’s creation, in Genesis 1, the Lord “blessed them and said be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth…” He posited that the blessing was a general promise to all humans, both believers and unbelievers. As a result, anyone, a believer and an unbeliever, can thrive on earth. Thriving on the face of the earth should not be seen as an exclusive preserve of the believer but for all humans. But the gift of salvation goes only to those who live the life prescribed in the bible. Therefore, even when one is experiencing adversity, keeping one’s eyes on the ball by following biblical tenets, will beget the reward of salvation in the afterlife.

This principle may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not. If everyone understood this already, then we will no longer be hearing the question I naively asked in 1977 when Ezengozi died! If and when believers completely imbibe this life principle, then we would no longer see a good life as the exclusive preserve of believers. Inotherwords, if you face adversity, you will no longer feel demoralized. If someone around you dies, you will not ask, “where is God?”. You will no longer point and say, “look, that guy or woman has everything they need in life but are not even believers”. When bad things happen to you, you are able to look past it while keeping your eyes on the bigger price – eternal salvation.

In the Nigerian case, it means that when faced with health challenges, instead of spending endless days on night vigils, hoping that the ailment will just go away on its own because you are a believer, you should first get appropriate medical intervention and then pray over it for the medical intervention to be efficacious. It means that when faced with obstacles, instead of spending your days on night vigil, hoping that the obstacle will just melt away because you are a believer, you should first sit down, try to work out sensible solution and then pray over your thoughts for God to make it work. It means that when faced with a challenging examination, instead of forsaking your books and heading to weekend vigils, you will devote a lot of your time to studying for the exam while praying for retentive memory and success. It means that when the exam results come out and someone that is perceived as an unbeliever scales with distinction, you will not be wondering why an unbeliever did a lot better than you. The person excelled probably because they studied harder and you did poorly because you were tempting God by not studying.

If folks reorient their mind set in this direction, keeping their eyes on the ball of SALVATION even in adversity, I am almost certain that adversity will no longer make anyone, like I naively did in 1977, say, “where is God when this happened?”

Link to the homily -

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War