‘It really is no use being close to someone who breaks you apart more than they pull you together.’
Ben’s friendship with me ended with a suddenness similar to which it began, and at the weirdest place; an evangelistic mission. It happened like a fire does, leaving nothing to salvage. When it was done, it left us being nothing more than strangers in the Lord. And while it made my heart ache not to be able to laugh with him, have meaningful conversations, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was for the better, the distance. It really is no use being close to someone who breaks you apart more than they pull you together.
I first met Ben at the church in college. And my God, Ben was one spiritually educated guy! Let me tell you about it. When he stood on the pulpit to speak, men, women and children marched to Calvary. Literally. He’d carry our minds and only stop once we were set and settled at the feet of Jesus. He’d talk about the beasts in Revelation, enthusiasm ringing in his voice and conviction gliding over each word. The number of horns standing on every beast’s head, the ones that fell as well as how or why they fell was his favorite bible story. My God, Ben was one spiritually educated guy. He told the entire Bible like it was all a good old story. Tell you what, if Biblical knowledge was a one-way ticket to heaven, then, I think Ben had his seat belt fastened and ready to take off for heaven at any moment.
And while I adored his love for God, his passion for mission, his tall frame and many other things, his personality was all brash and brash. Ben just tipped too far to the side on the rough around the edges concept. He could easily annoy you as he could make you laugh. That made our friendship a difficult one. But I also liked because it kept me safe from ever looking at him with that other kind of interest. I am all about gentle in the men I drift towards.
It happened somewhere in my second year of college, the crusade where Ben and I just decided not to be friends anymore. A week before that, my choir mates and I said our goodbyes to each other as the matatu driver pulled into the city center. The atmosphere; a mangle of noise, humid air, a slight drizzle and voices of touts shouting to and for passengers, Nairobi was a well-fed city. We had just finished a two-week long evangelistic mission somewhere in Meru and the entire trip back, I had sat next to this guy I sort of had a spiritual crush on.
This particular guy did share in my wantonness but both of us were just too proud to ever get around those feelings. Ah, the vanity of youth. But as he hugged me meaningfully at the bus station, for the third time that morning, I couldn’t help but think of how much I was going to miss him during the long holidays. Him, his meaningful hugs and those deep conversations he and I always had.
Light drizzles hit our faces, a few settling on our heads like tiny mushrooms as we all alighted. We shuffled all over trying to get our luggage in order. A few last ‘I’m going to miss you’s were uttered’ ‘and a whole lot of ‘Bye. Take cares’ said in an unplanned singy-song way. Most of the latter were genuine. I, for one, wasn’t going to miss some of those people. Don’t you known how it is in every choir, you love some, and then some you just co-exist in the Lord? Ah, but it is great that we’re all squeezing our way through the narrow path upwards. My next stop was home. Come Monday, I’d hit the road to the next crusade that would be happening in Ukambani.
I had been told lots of tales about Ukambani, how dry it is there, how water is scarce that Sprite soda can quench one’s thirst when water is unavailable. I think I was ready for Ukambani. I wanted to experience a mission where there isn’t too much food, water or comfort. Friendliness even, this you will understand as you read on. I wanted to see God at work in such a place. But in between Today and Wednesday, I had my parents to battle with for permission to attend this thing. My father for one, needed convincing that I wasn’t running away to go live with some non-existent man who would kill me after he’s done with me and my mother needed to understand why I was consuming too much Jesus.
I was even more excited about this crusade because Ben was going to be there too. Remember Ben from up there? Ben and his leather-bound Bible? Ben, my friend who had a ticket to heaven? Yeah that one. Ben was fun to be around sometimes. I could work around his brash side for a week, I thought. Also, it would be good to have a familiar face at a crusade where I didn’t know the rest of the people. So even as the waves of motion sickness hit me in the stuffy bus to Machakos, it really was well with my soul. Even after I had alighted and had to take a motorbike through winding hills, skinny roads, vast lands with little to no houses in the vicinity, afraid that this motorbike driver just might have kidnapped me in land I know no one, there still was a part of me that knew that I wanted to be at that crusade.
Ah, I liked the smell of the air in Ukambani, was my heart said the moment I finally alighted at the crusade ground.
That first evening, as we gathered in a darkly lit room, splayed with worn out mattresses on the floor, our stomachs full of the thick porridge we’d had for dinner, Ben turned to my side. By now we had exhausted the stories we had been so excited to share before I arrived. We were at peace in the Lord. At least until he spat the next words to me, ‘You know, I do not understand why you came to this mission. It was for evangelists only. Not ordinary people.’ With a straight face, he watched me for a few seconds before his eyes wandered back to the front at whoever was sharing the word for the night. After that, all my ears remember were a stream of ‘Amens’ running out of Ben’s mouth as the figure at the front went on about God’s love. I also remember not feeling God’s love at 100% as I went to sleep that night.
At this point, I think it is important that you know who the attendees of that crusade were. We were 12 people, excluding the locals of that place. 8 of them were preachers, seasoned preachers of the word. People who had tons of mission work under their belt. Spiritual overachievers, if I can switch the temperature up. The kind of people you don’t feel offended when they tell you, follow me as I follow Christ. I’m kidding, just follow Christ alone, Thanks. And maybe Paul from the Bible.
The other 4 of us were just citizens of heaven or earth, you know what I mean? Just sojourners supporting God’s work, preaching in the background while the real preachers did it from the raised pulpits. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it there at the back scenes for it was just as worthy a calling as the next. Else, why would I have saved money down to the skin of my teeth to be able to pay my fare to this literally God-forsaken hilly place?
But laying in my bed that night, feeling the anger in my mom’s text messages jump off the screen of my phone, as she demanded to know why I had gone to the crusade despite my father’s firm objections, I almost regretted coming to that crusade. Because, now I was broke to the clothes in my travel bag, my parents were crazy mad at me (like 34 missed calls mad at me), and as salty icing to my cake, I was stuck with a friend who thought this crusade was not for ordinary citizens like me and a bunch of strangers in the Lord. ‘Shirt>!’ I must have silent cursed in a moment of weakness and then repented of it in my prayer before I drifted to sleep.
2 days later, a slow afternoon that was filled with the sound of the booming speakers from the crusade ground, I had the second significant encounter with Ben, probably the last significant one I had with him as a friend. The Bible Study session had just ended, a choir of four was filling in as the next preacher got ready to do his thing and through the corner of my eyes, I registered movements. People of God stretching their feet, some yawning almost too carelessly and maybe the far-off hum of a motorcycle. My phone was still teaming with text messages from my mother, each dearly and at times cruelly expressing her disappointment in me. ‘Does that God you went to see teach you to disobey your parents?’ read the last one. Ah, now I’m perched, I said to myself and quietly made for the kitchen.
I was making small talk with the guy on duty to cook in the kitchen when Ben came around the corner. The cooking guy didn’t seem to understand why I struggled to comb my hair every morning when I could as well as cut it altogether. It was just banter to me while I waited for the water to reach my legs, I’m a tall woman you know. But Ben could not let. He just had to take that moment to give me a talking of my life. Dear Ben, you should have shut up that day or found a kind way of saying whatever it is you said.
‘Nyanchama,’ he began, startling me with his loud crow-like voice. Ben’s voice got that way when he was mad. I did not turn to face him because I was till mad at him from the previous night and now even madder at my own mother whose texts were riling me up so fast my head was pounding. ‘Not now Ben.’ I chewed every single syllable before spitting it out. But Ben, you just never were good at listening, I guess.
Demanding to know what I was doing in the kitchen, when I was supposed to be at the crusade ground, he went on. Wanting to know why I had insisted on coming to a crusade that was originally for evangelists, people who had a calling. He actually said that, you know. Stating that that he did not see my purpose in that crusade right in front of the two gentlemen on duty in the kitchen that day. One, who believed my mane was a waste of time and another that was a great friend of mine.
In between his harsh words and crow-like voice that was now grating so hard at my nerves, I could feel myself almost sway unsteadily on my feet. My hands wanted the round of Ben’s neck. My anger is that dizzying that I wanted to slap his face so hard until the blood in my ears stopped ringing, not because of how much I had sacrificed to be at this crusade but because of how worthy he thought He was in the eyes of God and me, not. I wanted to put him in can, shake him so vehemently, side to side, up and down until I pass out because of how humiliated he made me feel right at that moment and the night before. I wanted to hurt Ben because at that point in time, all my ears heard him say is that the blood that Christ bled for his sake was thicker and full of more nutrients than that which Christ shed for me.
Ben, the hate I felt towards you in those few seconds was nothing I have experienced again in my life. How I did not act on it, I just do not know. But I’m glad I did not.
However, in a few unguarded moments I do wonder, if that crusade was for those who had a calling, then why did you guys announce it as open for any willing persons? Even worse, if I didn’t have a calling as you pointed out, then what did I have? Just fare to take me to a crusade at the most broke years of my youth? A crazy stubborn spirit to go not war with my parents over a crusade? Or is it that I just had a calling to wear long skirts and dresses and comfortable t-shirts and climb the mountains in Ukambani and eat the guavas the people we visited gave to us? Or was mine just a calling to linger around the kitchen at every single chance I got looking for water or recommendations about my hair?
I don’t know. Ben, I just don’t know. But I know this, that in that instant, it felt like your salvation, as well as your sacrifices for the cause, mattered more than mine and here, I had thought we were all going to sit on that sea of glass across Jesus… all of us. Eating as many fruits as Jesus could allow. Maybe the stars in our crowns might be different in number but the table was going to be just the same, right? Don’t correct me Ben, not today!
Funny enough, I did not get the idea of leaving the crusade at all despite feeling offended to the last blood cell in my being. I was so benumbed to my core with anger even as I pushed on through the rest of the week and all I have to say at this point is this. It is not a beautiful feeling to have someone to deem their Christ better than yours. To act like there is a Christ for the evangelists and one for the ordinary citizen. Or maybe I was just too stung at what I saw when I finally got to see myself through Ben’s eyes. Truly, his were not the most accurate eyes at that point, no human’s are, but it still hurt considering how much Ben meant to me.
I do not even know why I remembered this incident years later when at the time of this occurrence I did not sit to question what annoyed me the most about Ben’s argument. Was it his yelling? Or was it his accusation of me being in the kitchen? Or maybe, was it the fact that Ben who always took me to the soft feet of Jesus Christ was now condemning me to burn in some imaginary flames of worthlessness for no clear reason? I really do not know. But what I do not want to hear you say right now is that since my worth is found in Jesus Christ, what others say does not matter. Because while you are right, the presence of my hurt feelings is just as valid. A million times so. Because, in that moment of humiliation, all I saw was dark and haze before my eyes.
But let me finish here. Ben later apologized …a very soggy apology that he shoved in my face on a Thursday evening as I left church for my hostel room. As he demanded to know why I had not replied to his message during the holidays, (I had changed numbers, so I never received his message in the first place), his apology almost fell short of a demand. But it was great that he apologized, okay? And even better for both of us that I had long forgiven him anyways. But I sure as hell wasn’t willing to continue with that friendship. I’m glad he didn’t expect me to either.
It was far too botched. At least it was on my part. Because the things friends say to you in the moment of anger, are things they’ve wanted to say to you for a while. Whether you take them lightly or not, it is up to you. For me, the road branched the moment he demanded to know if my Jesus had three legs. The rubber snapped the moment he cheapened my walk with Christ. Therefore, Ben and I … had to go back to the motions of life. To being people who see each other in church and appreciate each other’s zeal for God’s work. People who share only one interest, making it to the magnificent kingdom up there,