By D. F. Effiong
When I visited the University of Jos sometime ago, we came across a young man who was introduced to us by Dr John Thomas. “He wants to be a priest,” he’d conclude, after telling us he just graduated from a certain department. I just shocked my head in amazement while continuing the serious discourse. It wasn’t until I met him few hours after in the school canteen, not so far from the female hostel where I was at the moment that memories of a man I met in 2013 rushed back. Unlike him, the other fellow I met (in Calabar) was not just a graduate but also working in a hospital. He was well built too and gives that smile that’ll tell you life was good. But he wanted to be a priest – until he met me.
The meeting took place the very day I went to the ‘watt’ market to buy fresh fish. He excused me (obviously he met me discussing politics with a priest and lecturer in UniCal) and begged to hear his story. I couldn’t resist his charmness and gentlemanly approach. For the next two hours, we would stand right there at that spot talking about something – the priesthood. “Sir, I have a good job,” he began “but each time I meet people, even strangers in church, they’d always say I look like a priest.” Many times too, even when I want to forget about it, I keep dreaming of touching souls at night. So I’d ask myself, God are you calling me?” He would go on and on, telling me about the sudden desire to become a priest. After listening, I asked him some questions: first, if he discussed it with a priest, to which he replied enthusiastically, “yes sir, I did. Infact, he even gave me a book titled ‘the joys of the priesthood’ and asked that I pray and fast about it.” “Is that all Mr ehmm…” “James sir, its James!” “Okay Mr James, do you have a girlfriend?” I inquired. He never expected to be asked such ‘unholy’ question. The expression on his face said it all. “Am sorry,” I continued, “but I just want you to be honest please.” “Well, I have a girl…, I mean I used to…” he muttered. “James, you have a girlfriend. It’s okay. Did you tell her about your choice of becoming a priest? What was her reaction if you did?”
In the few minutes James would tell me about his girlfriend, how she loves him, how angry she was with him, yet still stayed, still visited. I could see the glow, the soothness in his face each time he spoke about her. I now had two variables to weigh and present to him namely; the life he wasn’t sure of (priesthood) and the one that was right before him (family/job). Right there at the market, I told him shocking but certain truths about the institution he desired to belong. I asked him if he, at his age would be ready to obey his juniors. I asked him, if he could afford to do manual labour, accept to carry out certain absurd punishments, wake up everyday at particular hours, be sent to places he’d never ordinarily choose to go, etc. I asked him daring questions and placed them side by side with the life before him – a comfortable job and a ready lover. I suggested to him not to reject the ‘love’ of a lady because he was listening to the voices in his head. Voices of perfect strangers who studied sorcery and knew what or how a priest should look like but never the ‘love’ of a woman or the pleasures and happiness of a fulfilling job. “I would want you to weigh these two together and make a mature choice,” I said finally as we departed.
Last year, while I visited Calabar again, I was opportuned to meet him during a public function. “Sir, please meet my girlfriend Maryann.” She stood there with a toothy smile and chubby cheeks and would later offer me a warm handshake. After our conversation that evening, I roamed in the thoughts of knowing the difference between showing someone what a thing is and what it is not. Many a times, pastors, imams or priests as well as religious citizens have lied about or refused to present issues objectively to their followers or admirers. Can we begin to have imams who speak about Islamic tolerance? Can we begin to have priests or pastors who talk about making mature decisions? Can we begin to talk about people who see certain vocations or occupations as exclusively Mr James’ or Miss Rita’s despite signs showing the contrary? We have exposed illusions to our youths and massaged their egos. We tell them, “leave your job and serve God,” not because it is their choice but, because we want them to fill a void we couldn’t feel. We have introduced ‘hisses’ to people’s lives rather than the ‘kisses.’ We have been untrue, and worst of all, we are not even aware of it. Can we say no to absurd and immature decisions?