I will never forget the first week of January in 1991, when I and 120 other girls started boarding school in Abuja, Nigeria. Life before boarding school could best be categorized as idyllic, filled with play-dates, birthday parties, lots of tutoring and all things related to church. Our lives practically revolved around church since my mother was the head of the choir and children’s ministry, and my father was an elder. We especially enjoyed Sundays as our Sunday school teachers were kind and we played with crafts, acted out dramatic stories from the bible and sang together. All that changed when as a 10 year old I was dropped off at boarding school.
Adjusting to boarding school was rough because I was away from family, I was forced to make new friends, students were tasked with many chores and the teachers were demanding and merciless. But whatever the challenges were during the school week, I quickly found Sundays to be the most jarring thanks to chapel. For the first time I was introduced into the world of charismatics and this new take on Christianity scared me. The message changed drastically from week to week based on what pastor was available to volunteer at our chapel, but a strong recurring theme was the need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and for us to understand our gifts. This was not something I wanted to discover as a 10 year old and coupled with the deliverance services for the “possessed”, I just wasn’t mature enough to be there. It took a couple of semesters, several fire and brimstone messages and countless repeated sinner’s prayers to get me up to speed with my fellow charismatics.
After several years, I began to mature and become more comfortable with the charismatic worldview. By the 9th grade I could speak in tongues and I knew I had the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit (not the gift of healing though, I tried this out on boarding school friends and failed woefully). Life was great, I knew believing in God meant that all things would work out for my good. I got to immerse myself in the charismatic movement in Nigeria, we studied under influential ministers like Benny Hinn, Benson Idahosa, Jimmy Swaggart, etc. We were a part of the word of faith movement, we believed prosperity, health and wealth was ours as children of God. This all made sense: God wants the best for me and the best car is a Mercedes so that is the vehicle He wants me to have. To be clear, Nigeria is a very religious country and Nigerians also love the finest (i.e. expensive) things in life; fusing religion and our desires is experiencing the best of both spiritual and material worlds at once. The “name it and claim it” phrase was common place and if my prayer did not get answered it was because my faith was lacking even though my request was sound.
In 1998 my family moved overseas to New Jersey and that was one of the best things that could have happened to me, because I got to experience having a relationship with God in a whole new way. My local pastor loved to talk about what my relationship with God should look like, how I should treat my neighbors, how my actions affect others, etc. For the first time I got to see God as a relational being, someone that wanted a relationship with me and did not simply inspire fear of eternal damnation. This revelation was great, my new friends hung out at church retreats, we got to go to christian festivals and even the emotionally charged “Acquire the Fire” teen events. I loved this new insight and new family.
Years later after I got out college, I began to miss the charismatic-ness of my youth. The experience had taught me to pray feverently, believe in the supernatural power of God and to actively want to win souls. The charismatic experience had it’s faults and I largely chalk that up to leadership, but at the heart of the message, being a charismatic is what helps a lot of people cope with the stress of everyday life. My Sundays in boarding school helped shape me into the person I am today and the Sundays in New Jersey helps me appreciate the desire to go deeper into a relationship with God that is not only spiritual but is relational as well.
My inner charismatic wants people around me to see my faith and understand the difference it makes when you choose to lay your life down to become a follower of Christ. The recovering charismatic in me does not see an unbeliever who might affect me with their worldliness; rather I see myself as a sinner saved by grace and reaching out to make sure everyone gets a chance to experience the peace I have in Christ.
“You are the only Bible some unbelievers will ever read.”
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