II. Squawk

“There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.” Psalm 18:8

Smoke From His Nostrils. 07-28-2012 6:36am. Philadelphia, PA.

Bishop D arrived in the meeting room and the congregation rose to their feet. A din of applause broke through and was sustained till he climbed the stage and took hold of a microphone. “Hello?” he began, checking the sound of his mic. “You’re all welcome to this camp. You may take your seats.”

“It’s good to be here in America.” The camp had began. The attendees were grabbing out pens and tablets to take notes. Bishop D would soon have them diving into a sea of scriptures in a moment. He cleared his throat and looked up as though to check who was seated at the back of the room. The next words out of his mouth, “Luke 11:6”, were followed by the visual display of the content of the verse on two projector screens which were adjacent to each side of the stage. Less ruffling of pages could be heard this year round; fingers would have flipped through worn, highlighted pages like trains speeding through subway stations, past Jonah, Micah, Obadiah and into the New Testament and then stopped in the book of Luke. But the room was quiet, only heads were bowed as touchscreens were tapped at. Bishop D was dressed in a striped long sleeve shirt and dark pants; he usually could be expected to be wearing a slight variation of this combination of apparel. The stripes this time were bright yellow and dark blue with a white collar. The last time he had visited, it was dark green and brown stripes. He kept the same black leather shoes on however, for Sunday services, to his evangelistic crusades and so to this camp meeting they had followed him faithfully like hounds after their master. Fortunately for Bishop D, they showed few signs of wear and tear.

“This camp will be about ministry and the work of God,” he went on, speaking matter-of-factly, his accent, Ghanaian yet carrying traces of an affected American accent and his voice, bearing the timbre and tone of one much used for preaching, praying, singing and strongly scolding his sheep and children from time to time. It was a familiar voice for the brethren seated in the gathering, a voice heard in their households and cars, in kitchens and bathrooms, in the morning and evening. So much so that their kids had learned to recognize it too and could point out even at the age of three that the bodiless voice on the iHome belonged to “Bee-shop”. It was a voice full of so much wisdom and counsel that it walled their lives, locked their houses when they slept and weeded out paths of prosperity through their thorny fruitless businesses. It was an anointed voice, the kind which one would play in times of difficulty and distress and after hearing over two hours of it, victory would be imminent. This voice was now charging from the figure standing before them.

The first few moments for most were spent in exhilaration and excitement at their reconciliation with the owner of the voice. A great white bird swooped down and landed adjacent to Bishop D. Broad breasted and over seven feet, this creature towered over Bishop D. Bishop D himself was already quite a powerful figure, his impressive stature was about six feet three and his firm shoulders boasted of strength, belying the fact that he was half a century old. Moreover, his skin, the color of copper gleamed with health and contrasted attractively with his black hair. Yet this bird, from afar, seemed to be even almost perching on his shoulder. It spread out its wings and made a small squawk like a call of some sort. A similar-looking aviary companion immediately appeared on the other side of him. The two stood still and silent while he kept speaking.

Nana Brandful sat in the middle row but close to the back, by a few fellow church members of his and beneath a chandelier that kept casting a glare over his eyes. His contact lenses were dry and itchy but he had kept them on for he did not wish to have glasses on; his appearance mattered to him greatly at this conference. This was not his first camp, nor his second nor his third. But he was already feeling how different this one would be for him. Before coming he had spent the week fasting and praying for a revelation of his calling. He deeply felt that God had sent Bishop D at the exact right time since the camp was taking place right before he went back into college for his final semester. He had spent the past year being confused. Confused was an understatement but it would do the reader no good to hear the full details of Nana’s deep depression and internal conflicts. Nana Brandful at age twenty, had landed himself in more trouble than one would normally meet at twice his age. But grace had found him and so here at this camp, he was rising and putting an end to swimming and wallowing where sin abounded. His heart was ready and open but he was tired. His trip from Atlanta was rough and he arrived in Philly after a day’s worth of traveling and little sleep. Thus, though he wished to listen with all his heart, his head would tilt forward, as he nodded off, in and out of sleep during the Bishop’s preaching.

“Come out to the front here, I have three chairs.” These words broke through Nana’s short reverie and he sat up abruptly. He shook himself, stretched his arm, brushing his neighbor and looked around. As he watched few people trickle to the front of the room to near the stage where Bishop D was standing, he found himself walking there, brushing off his dark grey jeans. He was moving briskly as though time was running out. He got to the front of the seated crowd and stood next to what could have been about twelve others. Suddenly, he was directly facing Bishop D and their eyes met. Bishop’s eyes were full of purpose and intent and a burning desire and for the brief moment of connection, Nana could feel it. It was palpable. He hoped that his eyes burned with the same flames, at least enough to reflect the loud call to ministry he felt on the inside at that instant. God was calling him and he had never been more sure of this. “What’s your name?” A lady pastor pulled him to the side, tablet in her hand. He replied with a smooth drawl, “Nana Brandful. That’s B-R-A-N-D-F-U-L.” She typed it out while he turned his attention to Bishop’s next instructions.

Fire Out of His Mouth Devoured. 07-28-2012 4:25pm. Philadelphia, PA.

Tey put one hand down but still continued to sing, “I’ll never know how much it cost.” He lifted his eyes toward the ceiling, “to see my sins upon the Cross.”

He couldn’t cry. For the past few years, no matter how hard he forced himself, he could never get a single tear to drop from his dark African-shaped eyes. After smoothing his hair with his other hand which was still raised, he dropped it and dug both hands deep into his pockets. He definitely wanted to though. His purple sweater felt wet, and it clung to his back. Just some minutes ago, he had been breaking out dance moves in front of the congregation, next to the stage, with a bunch of his friends and before he knew it he was breaking out in a sweat.

He had walked back to his seat as the last praise session mellowed into a time of singing worship to the Lord. He paid no attention to how much moisture his body seemed to exude however. It was raining from the ceiling, drops of liquid as clear as glass but with an orangeish, brownish taint on them. Oil. He could not only see it. He felt it. Like tiny bubbles being blown from a bubble-blower, the oil droplets filled the air. They would land in many of the hands lifted up and drip down their arms. It became extremely humid in the meeting room but it did not repulse Tey. He could see a flight of doves circling, they would swerve between the congregation but always never moved too far from Bishop D. He began to pray. How could he remain silent in such an atmosphere? It was simply glorious. Still etched in his memory were the giant white birds he had seen next to Bishop.

He prayed louder. Something powerful was going on in this place. Bishop D was a peculiar vessel whom God was obviously with. It may be not be clear to us till we reach heaven whether his was a vessel of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble but clearly there was some honor about it. In fact, there was much honor to his ministry. His was to attract laborers to the fields. His was to fish out men and have them follow him (and ultimately Jesus). His ministry undoubtedly bore close resemblance to that of Christ’s as it was full of medical doctors who had curiously left their professions in pursuit of the kingdom of God just as Luke did and lay men (fishermen and plumbers and the like) who found themselves preaching and winning souls like Peter did. His crusades attracted crowds; Jesus sat in a boat to preach to crowds that gathered on the sand, but Bishop D stood on stage to preach to crowds that numbered as many as grains of sand at times. Out of his vessel flowed greater works, undeniable miracles, healing and the presence of God.

Tey was experiencing a little bit of all right there in the camp meeting. He was being healed from a lack of self-worth and self-confidence that made him feel incapable of even being in ministry. The camp was virtually over but something greater was beginning. Halfway through the camp time, he had made a number of calls.

His lease was coming to an end this month. He called his apartment rental office and confirmed that he would not be renewing it with them. He had called his roommate to inform him that he had made a decision about leaving. His roomie joked about his reasons for leaving a little but Tey wasn’t moved by Charlie’s stinging remarks. They would have a moving sale as soon as he returned to Bridgeport. His assets would undergo full liquidation. He had already prepared a resignation letter for his job. The last calls he made were international. His ticket had been booked for a one-way flight leaving in a week and his destination was Accra, Ghana.

Bishop J came up to share closing remarks and dismiss the camp meeting. Tey stood in place while attendees made beelines for the exits. He felt someone tap his shoulder and turned around. Josephine had her arms wide open, beaming, “Lantey!” she half-said half-cried while he bear-hugged her. Kwame was right next to her. Josie was not screaming because she hadn’t seen him for long, rather her mind couldn’t grasp the fact that he would be leaving the country. He let go of her. “I’ll miss you,” she spoke softly.

Lantey laughed and grinned, baring his not-so-straight white teeth. Josie looked at him shyly, pulling on her dress.

Kwame spoke up, “We thought we’d all be pastors together here. Guess we were wrong.” He was smiling but it was a sad kind of smile. Kwame was as tall as Lantey, they were both five feet eleven, much taller than Josie, a mere five feet six but clad in her wedges, seeming more like a five-eight. They did not look the least bit alike but they bore resemblance in spirit. Brothers in ministry, Kwame couldn’t believe Tey’s decision but he had done well to say nothing about it. He didn’t want to be an impediment to Tey’s ministry. If God was calling his friend to take up his cross, so be it.

Every man had a cross, some made out of wood, some made out of iron and some covered in thorns. Tey was lugging a heavy rugged stake, it was bruising him in the process and the blood that oozed out was staining him and all that cared for him. But their desire was for God’s will to be done, and so they would surrender their friend and hope for the best.

“Lantey?” someone else was calling. Lantey turned to see where the voice came from. It was Nana.

“Hey Nana! What’s good?” Tey was happy to see his buddy. He noticed Nana had also responded to the altar call Bishop D made. “Are you leaving too?” His question was met with a confused look on Nana Brandful’s face.

“Leaving? No I wanna do an extra semester and cover some prereqs, possibly finish up my second major.”

“But you could leave now though! You answered the call, you must respond quickly!” Tey was disappointed to say the least. He was sure Nana should be able to see how urgent the missionary call was.

“Tey, I can’t. God is calling me, I’m sure of that but I can’t do anything immediately about it. In any case, his call is without repentance- ” Tey cut him mid-sentence, looking at the time on his black Calvin Klein watch and edging away from his three friends, “My flight is about to leave. Nana, Josie, Kwame, take care guys! You’ll hear from me. I gotta go! Peace!” He began running out of the room towards the exit of the hotel building, he was quite late for his flight to Bridgeport. But what really mattered was that he wasn’t going to be late in answering the call of God on his life.

Coals Were Kindled By It. 12-31-2015 11:45pm. Donkorkrom, Ghana.

Like fire-crackers just lit, they set off, speeding in different directions into a silent indigo sky. There was no fire on their tails but there might as well have been for each of them felt like bright hot flames were all over their bodies as they got used to constantly flapping their wings. They were greeted by remnants of clouds and moon dust if you could call the silvery sparkles lining the patches of cloud that. There was not much noise (although one expected to hear the crackling and sizzling of sparks, there was none). They did not speak to each other as they flew. Yet without speaking, the excitement was so palpable; it was as though they were all on stage with roles they had never imagined themselves in. They were free to be the characters they had only dreamed of being all their lives.

Although speechless, their movement was seamless. They soared round in circular motion until one of them took the lead and headed north. The rest instinctively followed their bold leader and thus they began flying in straight line. It was pure bliss to be up at heights that offered such a view and not be contained in a small seat by a small round window of some aircraft. The view was breath-taking. The swish-swish of the air in their ears was simply rejuvenating. Each of their world views was undergoing a transformation at the same speed at which they were traveling. And it would no more surprise the reader to learn that they were not only flying faster than aircraft but doing so at a lower altitude. Yet they were not cold. Their feathery wings were doing an fantastic job of keeping healthy amounts of warmth pocketed close to their skin. The most fascinating detail of it all was that riding on the wind did not leave them out of breath. They were not weary. The leader made a quick maneuver to change his direction and was immediately followed by the flock behind him. He swooped round as though going down to the ground but shot back up. This time round, he flew with his wings perpendicular to the ground. He had gotten sense that the wind’s direction had changed as they had entered a more mountainous district. He flew straight up past the clouds and kept going. Their wings were clearly powerful and capable of surviving atrocious winds. After all, they were built for that, they were the wings of eagles.

Read on! Here’s Chapter III.

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