Continued from Trapped I
After the worship session, Jesse wipes his tears and settles on his seat. His wife walks down from the pulpit and flashes him a smile as she settles on her seat beside him. Jesse forces a smile as the MC of the services makes a dry joke. Carol whispers something into his ear, and he smiles even more broadly even though he has not heard what she has said.
This game of pretense sickens him to the core. But he doesn’t know what to do. The MC invites the youth choir to make a presentation as the ushering team collects offerings. This church is not very large, compared to the mega churches of the city. It has about six hundred members, but a majority of the congregants are mid to upper middle class citizens. The congregation is made up of a mix of professionals and business people. Discounting young graduates who are yet to secure employment, the church has no congregants who can be called poor.
The sanctuary itself is a beautiful three-story building, with a basement that is used for parking. The entire adult congregation is accommodated on the ground floor. There are two halls on the first floor and they are used by the youth and the teens for their services. Traditionally, “Youth” at King of Kings Revelations church meant anybody between the age of twenty and thirty, whether single or married. Over time, however, young professionals left the youth church preferring to attend the main service. These days the youth church mainly comprises of college students between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. Teens church is made up of high school students between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.
Sunday school children have their classrooms on the second floor. Pastor Arthur’s office is on the ground floor, behind the pulpit. He has a side door that allows him to enter into the sanctuary without having to go round the building. All the other offices are on the first floor. The offices are on the sides of the building and the halls are at the center. The halls are soundproofed to ensure that each service can use public address systems without disrupting the other.
Jesse’s office is in a corner, overlooking the road next to the church. His office is sandwiched between his wife’s and his mother-in-law’s. Jedidah, Carol’s mother, is the pastor in charge of operations in the church. She is a full time pastor, and therefore draws a salary from the church. She is also the church’s accountant. Carol is not a Pastor, but she works for the church as a Human Resource Officer. She is also a full time member of staff, and therefore draws a salary from the church. She doesn’t do the work that is usually done by Human Resource Officers, because the church does not maintain any paid staff, other than the three family members plus Pastor Arthur’s secretary.
Carol’s job primarily entails mobilizing volunteers to do what needs to be done. From washing the sanctuary, the halls and the offices to arranging chairs, mowing the grass outside the church and weeding the flowerbeds, the church depends entirely on volunteers. Carol maintains a list of college students and jobless young adults who she relies on to do the work, and the only thing they get is a meal…and that meal is junk food that is outsourced from a nearby eatery.
The volunteers do not complain because they are usually convinced that they are working for the Lord, but the situation bothers Jesse. Jesse doesn’t know exactly how much the church makes on a weekly basis, even though he sits on the church board in his capacity as a Pastor. After tithes and offerings are collected, the offering bags are taken to Jedidah’s office. Counting is done by Jedidah, Carol and the church treasurer, Aaron. Initially, it would take them the whole afternoon to count the money, but since the corona virus pandemic, most congregants prefer to pay their tithes and offerings via MPESA. The cash collections only take the trio about an hour to count.
The question of finances is shrouded in a lot of mystery. The board sits and approves budgets for operational costs such as water, electricity, internet and salaries, plus the occasional visit to a children’s home. Salaries take a huge chunk of these costs. Pastor Arthur earns three and fifty thousand shillings a month, and that is excluding tithe collections, which as per the doctrine of the church he is entitled to entirely. His wife earns two hundred and fifty thousand, and their daughter a hundred and seventy. The secretary, Mercy, earns twenty thousand shillings a month.
While the board approves the budgets that are presented by the treasurer, most of them approve without knowing exactly how much money the church has in its accounts. Jesse is in this category, even though he is the Senior Pastor’s son-in-law. What normally happens is that Aaron presents the budget and ask for the opinion of the board members. Pastor Arthur asks if the church can afford it. His wife, being the accountant, confirms that it can, and then a vote is called. Everyone votes for the budget.
Jesse has a lot of things that he wishes he could propose to the board. For instance, he wishes that the church could hire some of the jobless young people, even if is for a limited period, instead of using their labour for free. The church could hire cleaners, for instance. Their work would be to ensure that the church building and the compound around it is clean. And they would earn a living, even as they looked for better jobs. All the meals that the permanent staff take during working days are usually outsourced from a high end restaurant. Jesse thinks that the church can hire one of the younger members as a cook to prepare those meals. Jedidah could do with an accounts assistant, and the church could also hire someone to do ICT work.
Jesse also thinks that the church should get more involved in charity work. While he doesn’t know exactly how much the church makes in collections, he knows it is a lot based on the lavish lifestyle that the Pastor and his wife lead. Pastor Arthur and his wife live on a two-acre piece of land in Runda, which the church acquired for them. They drive high end German cars-a Benz for Arthur and a BMW for Jedidah. Everything they own, from clothes and shoes to wrist watches and jewelry are designer and mostly sourced from Europe. Jesse thinks that part of this money can be used to help the less fortunate in the society, because in his view, the core mandate of the church is charity work.
But he keeps his mouth shut.
The one board member who dared to ask inconvenient questions about finances, and voted no when he was given opaque answers, was excommunicated the following week. His name was Gerald. A girl emerged alleging that he had been making sexual advances towards her and twice had tried to rape her in his car. She even filed a report with the police and he was arrested. Pastor Arthur immediately fired him from the board and simultaneously excommunicated him from the church. The criminal case went nowhere, but his wife divorced him and has since then denied him access to his children. She is a senior government official and continues to be a faithful member of the church.
Everyone in the board knew what had happened to Gerald, but they kept their mouths shut. No member of the board would even dare to tell Gerald’s wife that her husband was set-up for disagreeing with the powers that be in the church. Gerald did try to tell her, but she did not believe him because she believes in Pastor Arthur more.
These are the kinds of things that bother Jesse. His entire association with Arthur and his family requires him to be a hypocrite. Yet as a pastor he is required to be more righteous than the average person. Jesse is a prayerful man, but he often wonders whether his prayers ever reach heaven. Can God listen to a man whose soul is so conflicted?
After the service is concluded, Jesse walks out and goes upstairs to get his daughter from the Sunday School class. Normally, he and Natasha hang out alone on Sunday afternoons, while his wife joins her mother and Aaron in counting the offering. Carol has her own car, a BMW that was gifted to her by her parents, and therefore he doesn’t have to wait for her. Today he intends to take his daughter to a recreational center that was recently opened in Ngong. He has read reviews about the place, and he knows that they have excellent facilities and sports for children.
Natasha is a very outgoing girl, having taken her mother’s public persona. She likes the outdoors, so while Jesse is an introvert who prefers to stay indoors reading, he goes out of his way to indulge his daughter. He has come to realize that he actually enjoys being out with her, so he spends Saturday and Sunday afternoons at various child friendly recreation centers.
Most of the children in these places are usually either brought by both parents, or by their mothers. It used to bother Jesse at first, but now he is used to it. He is no longer bothered by the loads of unsolicited parenting advice that he gets from mothers. And the is no longer shocked by the flirtatious single mothers who shower him with attention-although he is still surprised by the occasional married women who flirt with him while their husbands are in the vicinity.
Jesse finds his daughter chatting with a woman he can’t quite place in his mind, but who looks familiar. The woman is not a regular at the church, otherwise Jesse wouldn’t have had trouble identifying her. But where did he see her?
“Hello Baba Natasha,” she greets him warmly when she sees him.
“Mama Ryan, or you can just call me Celestine,” she helps him out while extending her hand for a handshake. “We met at Maai Creek in Ruiru last Saturday but one. You mentioned that you are a pastor here so I decided to come and worship here today, because I am in-between churches.”
Jesse smiles. He has heard people saying that they are “in-between jobs” but “in-between churches” is a new one to him. He remembers the lady. She was very refreshing to talk to for two reasons. First, she didn’t try to flirt with him even though she told him that she was an unmarried mother of one. Second, she seemed to be very knowledgeable on many subjects, including religion, finances, economics, politics, football and world affairs.
It also helped that Ryan and Natasha clicked, and happily followed each other in the swings, slides and bouncing castles. That gave their parents time to talk about general affairs. Celestine is beautiful and she certainly knows how to dress. Her style is simple but classy. Last Saturday she was dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a pair of white sneakers and a white t-shirt. Today she is wearing a predominantly white, short-sleeved dress that has strips of Ankara on the hems and the neckline. Black stilettos and a gold watch complete the look.
She told him she works as a branch manager in a bank and he told her he is a pastor. He decided last year that he would be introducing himself as pastor whenever he goes out with his daughter, to reduce the number of women making advances at him. He is not sure it has helped, but he has stuck to that cover.
“Oh Celestine. I remember you. It was so nice of you to come and visit. I hope you enjoyed the service.”
“Well, I did. I hope when I come next time you will be the one preaching. I rather liked your worldview and would love to hear you tie it to scripture.”
“You may have to start attending midweek services if your intention is to hear me. On Sundays only the Senior Pastor preaches.”
“I just might. Anyway, I have to leave, Pastor. Today I am taking Ryan to the Beehive, a new joint in Ngong. My car broke down yesterday so I am using public transport. That means I have to leave now before Ryan starts complaining about hunger.”
“Incidentally, Natasha and I are going to the same joint. We can give you a ride.”
“Mom come and see.”
Carol is standing at the window of her mother’s office, watching the parking lot. She always does that every Sunday before they start counting the offering. In particular, she is always watching Douglas, a member of the church, and the man she had hoped to marry. Envy threatens to choke her every time she sees that silly woman he calls his wife entering his car.
She tried everything to convince Douglas to marry her, including sleeping with him. But even while they were sleeping together, he never publicly acknowledged her as his girlfriend. Then he appeared suddenly with a girl and introduced her as his girlfriend-and then married her two months later. Carol didn’t speak to him for a year.
Today though, the man who is making her jealous is a man she has no romantic feelings for, but one she happens to be married to. She watches with open envy as Jesse chats and laughs with a beautiful woman as they walk towards his car. She has never seen him so happy, and it bothers her. Natasha and a boy Carol assumes is the woman’s son are walking ahead of them, playing.
“That idiot is cheating on me, mother.”
Aaron senses that the two women might need privacy and so he quietly leaves the room.
“No, I don’t think…” Jedidah stops midway as Jesse opens the backdoor of the car and lets the two children in. She gasps as her son-in-law opens the front passenger door and closes it after the mystery woman has entered. “Oh my God.”
“I swear I will teach both of them a lesson, Mother,” Carol swears as Jesse pulls out of the parking lot. Other people have noticed that Pastor Jesse has left the compound with a woman who is not his wife and are staring. But Jesse and the two women are unbothered and can been seen chatting and laughing as they drive out. “They will pay for this humiliation that they are causing me.”
To be continued on Wednesday.
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