Thursday, 21 October 2010

At Church with the President, God and Goodluck!

Two days after Independence Day I attended a Church Service to celebrate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee.  My main motivation for going was actually to see the inside of the National Christian Centre and despite hearing that the President was going to attend the service, I didn’t really expect that he would show up.
Inside the church
However when I arrived all the nearby roads were blocked, and there were Police everywhere, and getting into the building was a little like getting on a plane, only I didn’t have to remove my shoes and I wasn’t wearing a belt!  Inside the church was rather empty to start with, so I took my seat beside Christian, a fellow Oyibo (white person) that I met outside, and waited to see what would happen.  Being the only two white people present, we were asked if we were diplomats, I said no, but Christian said yes, and much to my embarrassment we were taken almost to the front row.  However once things got going I was rather pleased with my front row seat and view of the President, not so pleased with all the cameras in my face, several witnesses have told me they saw me on TV!

Onyeka Onwneu singing Happy Birthday Nigeria 
The service was amazing, very Nigerian of course, lots of singing and dancing and wonderful clothes, but also a real sense of hope.  It was based on Jubilee, in the biblical sense, with readings from Leviticus 25, Joel 2, and Isaiah 61.  The Jubilee year, as described in the Bible, is about giving land back to its original owners.  When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were each given their share of land.  As trade began the value of the land was to depend on the number of years to the next Jubilee, (every 50 years).  So Jubilee is about re distributing things such that every thing is fare again, as opposed to capitalist economics where the rich keep getting richer at the expense of the poor.  (I imagine Nigeria is one of the richest poorest countries in the world).  The other readings were about reclaiming the stolen years, and preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick and so on.
Year of Jubilee
So in the context of a country that has had a rather troubled first 50 years and is due to have an election in its 51st year, you can imagine all of the above took on a rather profound meaning.  This was added to by the “Sounding of the Shofar”, the Shofar is a trumpet, usually made from a Ram’s Horn, only blown by a learned man, for religious purposes such as prayer and announcing the Jubilee.
Sounding the Shofar
So that was the God bit, now for Goodluck, he read the second reading, and addressed the Congregation, each time standing at a special lectern.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what he said but a Nigerian sitting next to me said that he is good because he is open to change, and this certainly came across in his speech.
Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Federal Republic of Nigeria
So if you are someone who prays please pray for Nigeria, that the elections are free and fair, and maybe more importantly peaceful, and that the next 50 years are better for the Nigerian people than the last. 
Outside the church

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