A few weeks ago, i wrote a piece for publication in my childhood church’s newsletter in celebration of 35 years of ministry. Here’s a redacted version of it…happy reading!
I was about 6 years old when my family joined Evangel A.G Church. Before Evangel, we worshipped at Aladura church, an “adejobi” (white garment) church in Congo Town. If one’s outfit was the determinant, then we were the embodiment of “holiness.” Our Sunday outfits usually consisted of yambo – long shapeless white dresses – and headwraps that would scare away the most annoying of mosquitos. Our prayer life consisted of a few psalms notably Psalms 23, 121, 91 and of course, The Lord’s Prayer. Psalm 91 was usually reserved for those days when one of us had a bad dream and since we looked up to God for everything, Psalm 121 was frequently recited in our home. But all that was about to change. My mother had just given her life to Christ at the Reinhard Bonke crusade and with a little persuasion from sister Jean Rowe decided on visiting at a service at Evangel. My mom visited Evangel one Sunday and hasn’t left since. The year was 1991. Subsequently Evangel A.O.G Church had 4 more persons added to their list of new converts/first timers.
My sisters and I joined the children’s Sunday school. Sunday school was interesting. The first thing I noticed was the wide (make that huge) economic gap between us and some of the kids in Sunday school. Some had some very nice clothes and shoes, spoke English flawlessly and had chauffeured cars. Well…we had okay clothes and if you’ve read my post on my shoes (check it out here Let NO ONE Despise YOU ) you’d understand that there wasn’t much to say about them. We would trek the distance from Congo Town to Murray Town every Sunday with the three of us walking in a single file in front of our mom. We were a sight to behold! On most days, my older sister and I wore the same outfit – same fabric, uniform style, hairstyle etc – while my mom and my younger sister would wear the same fabric.
My mom was deliberate about dressing us up the way she did – she did not want anyone of us to feel like she loved one person more or less as reflected in the things she bought. On some days, we would walk the distance on empty stomachs to church but none of that had any bearing whatsoever on our interactions in Sunday school. Our teachers made sure of that. Sunday School levelled the playing field – it was where the aristocrats of Lumley, Spur Road and Wilkinson Road rubbed shoulders and shared space, food and treats with us, the then common folks of Congo Town, Cole Farm etc and we dwelt in peaceful harmony. Classes were taught in Krio making it easier for every kid to understand, engage and participate.
Bible Stories came alive in Sunday school! One of our teachers, Bro Alusine for example, was the Walt Disney of our Sunday school – he was quite creative and his animation brought the stories to life enabling us to relate with the characters. He also drew on other non-Bible studies to demonstrate biblical principles. We learnt a lot of scriptures through songs, memorization etc. The ultimate goal with every activity- quiz competitions, debates, sword drill, memory verse recitations etc. – was to increase our knowledge and understanding of the Word of God. My older sister was the Queen of Quiz competitions and was quite excellent with memorizing scripture verses, the Books of the Bible etc. She was particularly good at sword drills (a game where participants would stand in a circle and when asked to find a scripture in the Bible, the first person to locate a scripture would put out their “sword” (the Bible), and when recognized would read out the scripture and win a prize). As a child I must confess that studying the Bible then was not necessarily born out of love for God and His Word but more out of the desire to win. We had a great team of quizzers of which I was a part. I still remember how on one occasion we were invited to a quiz competition at St Peters AME Church, Congo Town where we ended up taking first place, beating the host! That win was one of the highlights of our time in Sunday school. Following the win, we were all ‘baptized’ with a Christian middle name. I was quite pleased with my new middle name, Ruth, which eventually made its way into all my official documents including my passport. (Now you know how I got my middle name!)
We had many great teachers but the two teachers that made the most impression on me were Bro Alusine Kamara and Bro Joseph Lefevre – they were like two handles of a scale. That is to say, in many ways they balanced each other out. Bro Alusine was easy going while Bro Joseph was firm and disciplined. Even though there was a gulf of difference in their personalities/characters, they had two things in common – 1) they loved God and 2)they particularly loved children and were committed to raising a generation of God-fearing children. This truth was not lost on the many children who succumbed to their discipline.
Because we loved church and church activities so much, it was easy for our parents to punish/discipline us. Enti you nor do you work, you nor dey go choir practice tiday. Those were about the most unkind words my mom would say to me. The only thing worse than that was when my mom threatened to report me to our Sunday school teachers. That would make me straighten up on any day because I didn’t like to disappoint my teachers. In my young mind, my teachers were the representation of God on earth and disappointing them was akin to disappointing God. My mom may have understood (and exploited) this fact because she would threaten to report the slightest act of misbehaviour to our teachers. Even my dad, a practicing Muslim then, understood how much we loved church and may have noticed the positive impact it had on our lives because he never ever tried to stop us from going church or participating in church activities. In fact, he encouraged us and would often scold us if one of us was running late for church or had failed to prepare in advance for church.
Even though every lesson influenced my life in one way or the other, the one that shaped my life the most was the lesson on The fear of God. That lesson still holds the torch for the most influential Sunday school lesson I’ve ever heard. Bro Joseph taught that class and was intentional about making sure we never forgot that lesson – And I never did. If possible, he would have manually instilled the fear of God in us. There were many memory verses including the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov (9:10) but this one stood out, To fear God is to shun evil (Prov 3:7). Bro Joseph placed much emphasis on choices and consequences and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own actions. That teaching amongst others strengthened my resolve to not be a victim of peer pressure and to choose my own path in life. Little did I know that God was using him to prepare me for my future. About a year after I graduated from Sunday School, I was awarded a scholarship to study at the UWCSEA in Singapore and later at Skidmore College in the United States. That lesson on the fear of God echoed through my mind in all the years I was abroad and even after I came back. That is not to say I’ve been perfect – far from it – but that lesson has guided many of my life’s choices and decisions. When I had the freedom, the choice to live however I wanted without Sunday school teachers, church friends and family to regulate me, it was the grace of God and those foundational words that kept me. Looking back, I can confidently say that Sunday school provided me with a strong foundation in Christ and prepared me for life as an adult, a woman, a wife and a Christian. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything in the world. My desire is that my kids would be blessed with such a strong foundation as I have.
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Daughter of the King