The Village Fire

zambiaI don’t where I heard it, or from whom, but it was about a wise Nigerian pastor who was preaching to a congregation of restless young men in a town north of Abuja on the Jos plateau. They were disaffected, frustrated and angry young men and he was struggling to get through to them and beginning to lose their attention. Some had been drawn to a new awakening in the old religions in the demonstrable power of the witch doctor, Some were stirred by Marxism while others were beginning to see Islam as the one true religion.

He told them a story.

There was a fire in a village up north in the bush. The flames tore through the fabric of roundavel so quickly that all the family inside were burned to death but, in the melee in the darkness, somehow, a two month old baby was plucked out of the inferno and was carried away alive. It was cared for by one of the families and miraculous survived unscathed.  The next morning the elders gathered to decide what to do. The most pressing issue concerned what was to happen to this child who the gods had so clearly blessed. Many wanted the honour of adopting and approached the elders with their claims. One said that he was rich and with money, could ensure a prosperous future for the child. Another said that he was educated and could give the child something that money could not buy. A third said that his wife had already raised six children; she had vast experience and was best placed to look after this special infant. The fourth claimant came forward but said nothing. When they asked him to speak, he showed them his arms. They were charred black with open wounds and third degree burns. He was the one who had plucked the child from the fire.

The pastor leaned over the makeshift pulpit and fixed the eyes of his congregation. “I don’t doubt” he said “ that the old religions, the religion of our ancestors are powerful, that they have much to teach us about the way we should live in harmony with nature and that the witch doctor is able to do amazing things, I don’t doubt that that we can learn much from Marxism especially in our post-colonial world, I don’t doubt that Islam is a great religion acknowledging that there is only one God and worthy of much respect, but…… you see…… I have to follow Jesus, because my God has charred arms. My God has nail holes in his hand. He is the one who plucked me from the fire.”

Crawford Mackenzie

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