Langa nursed the feeling ever since the conviction struck his heart. Things were needed to be placed right to enliven the church of the living God. The first day he attended the Chapel of Fire, located at Mandela Street, three streets away from his residence, he felt strongly a burden. The Chapel of Fire had envisioned a mission in him.
Langa had always been enchanted by the bustle bubbling out from the chapel. Every Sunday, when passing by to his church, the strong rhythm of music and the singing voices booming out from the church to his ears began to sow an urge. The urge was nurtured every Sunday till it matured to irresistibility.
One Sunday, he pluckily entered the chapel instead of moving further to his church. He sat on one of the white plastic chairs on the left row, near the backdoor.
An usher walked to him, wearing a fairly backless wear. She knew he was new. She gestured to him with all warmness on her face to stand up; took him to a specialised set of settees at the front row. He was lowering his body to sit down when a brassy music blazed out, ushering in a barmy atmosphere. He swiftly pulled himself up.
Members sprang up to dance. The band of four players was at a far end of a frontal space of the church, near to the pulpit. A young, slim man in grey suit, with a goatee, led the worship songs at the podium. His dancing steps were fleetly. His body twisting to the beats. He had two supportive female singers in jeans and fairly backless tops.
Langa was thrilled, though he was a novice to the praise and worship’s ministration. His nodding head was his contribution to the dancing binge, he sang along some of the songs. They were songs from hymns sang in his church, but repackaged into high pitched music.
After an hour, the hard rhythms dissolved into soulful songs. The song leader’s eyes were now tightly shut like one coaxed to do so. Every passing song at that moment softened the tempo. It softened on till it dissolved into prayer and speaking in tongues.
Langa had long heard about the unearthly language that possessed a human tongue to do its bidding. But he had never been so privileged to speak in tongues, and had never seen a member of his church doing so.
Few years ago, when he could not get a convincing answer from his pastor and members in the church, including his father, why none among them was blessed with the gift of the tongues, he asked his lecturer.
His lecturer was a part-time evangelist, when he was a student at the University of Kwazulu Natal few years ago. The lecturer told him it was a spiritual gift given to some believers, and he should not feel inferior if he was not so blessed. There was a greater gift which all believers had – the gift of evangelism – given to all Christians to go out and preach the gospel. His lecturer also informed that speaking in tongues in nowadays churches had been corrupted with deficiency of interpretations which was an inseparable part of the gift.
But Langa admired the chemistry associated with the speaking in tongues. He hungered to be upgraded to such status. When the Chapel of Fire boomed in the tongues, Langa’s mind was centered on his tongue. He imagined himself raging with his tongue. As much as he pushed and polished his imagination to step into reality, the more he understood he was fooling himself.
After the prayer and speaking in tongues session ended, a pot bellied man walked to the podium for announcement. Langa and four other visitors were welcomed with smiling faces and handshakes by members. The announcer informed the visitors to wait after the church’s service to meet the pastor, Pastor Mpeh Sibisi.
The racy atmosphere of the chapel continued during Pastor Mpeh Sibisi’s sermon. He was a stocky man in his mid forties; his admirers believed he had been blessed with a double dosage of the Holy Ghost’s baptism. As he electrified his flocks with his Zulu accented English, the worshippers replied with whistling and applause. Meanwhile, a muzak of Don Moen‘s jazz version of “Our Father” was playing since the beginning of the sermon.
After the closing prayer, Langa and other first time worshipers met with the pastor at the vestry. He snapped out a brief exhortation on the things of the Spirit and prayed out some tongues laden prayer. He urged them to be present next Sunday and dismissed them, Langa remained on his seat.
“Pastor, can we talk briefly, please?”
“Bless you, Brother, feel free.”
“Firstly, Sir,” Langa began with a grin, “I admire the manner you preached the message …”
“It is the Lord’s doing, Brother … em … em …”
“Yes, Brother Langa Kuhle. When the Spirit is leading, He makes you to be admired in the eyes of the listeners, thanks for the commendation.”
“I have a problem, Sir.”
“Lay it here now, and you are assured of solution.”
“I want to know how to speak in tongues.”
“Is that all?” The casual response of the cleric did not dilute a bit the gravity of the wish that hung starkly on the visage of Langa.
“Yes, Pastor, yes, please.”
“Are you born …? Oh, I remember, during my short exhortation with you and others, you told me you are born again. What you need now is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
“Baptism of the Holy Spirit?” Langa was lost.
“Yes, you haven’t heard about that?”
“You mean baptising inside a river?”
“Oh dear,” the clergyman chortled, “not that one. The Holy Ghost Baptism is far superior to Water Baptism. You must be baptised by fire before you can speak in tongues.”
The pastor saw fright on Langa’s face. His belly laugh shook his bulged belly that was fastened inside his long sleeve, light blue shirt; tucked inside a belted black trouser.
“I did not literarily mean physical fire. I mean … but where have you been worshiping?”
“African Mission Church at Sebukwe Street.”
Pastor Sibisi smiled a knowing smile. “I perfectly understand you now. You have been attending an orthodox church. A church with a setting of orthodoxy is not au courant to the thing of the Holy Spirit. Holy Ghost Baptism is like an abomination to them. Now let me tell you what Holy Ghost Baptism means: It means a spirit filled man of God praying powerfully and passionately for a budding believer to receive the Holy Ghost for the purpose of speaking in tongues by laying his hand on the believer. Speaking in tongues is not a language of this world but of Heaven. It can only be given from above. ”
Langa listened raptly, poised to satisfy a thirst.
“If I pray for you now, you can receive it. If you didn’t, that means you have not free your mind enough to receive it. Then subsequent prayers will be administered on you. The earlier you free your mind, the earlier you receive it. Understand?”
Langa was short of understanding the phrase called “free your mind”, but he muttered a Yes, and nodded.
“Good. Let us pray; kneel down.” He clasped his hand on Langa’s head and began the prayer in a mutter. His muttering cracked into boisterous utterances of the earthless tongues. He tapped Langa, urging him to speak out. Langa shook like a tree trembled by a tempest. His clenched teeth pictured a determination, but he wasn’t ripe for the tongues.
“Be not be discouraged. You will receive it at the appropriate time,” Sibisi said to him after the prayer ended. “Come to our Wednesday Healing Service this week.”
Langa walked out of the Chapel of Fire in high spirit. His failure to win the prize of the tongues did not discourage him. He believed he would achieve it soon. Now he had seen where his childhood church went off track. Now he had been shown the route to the light, and no one was going to stop him from going to take it.
And the discovery came at the most convenient time. It would have been difficult when he was still under the tutorship of his parents. Now he had a home for himself that had shorten his father’s reprimanding hand. Of course, fathers would always be fathers, and would snatch any opportunity to rebuke. But such had been suppressed to occasional occurrence during visitation to home.
That night, Langa dreamt. He saw himself vibrating with the tongues inside his childhood church. When he woke up, he muttered with a beam, “good omen”
At five, on Wednesday, he was at the chapel. He met few members seated.
The Pastor said, “Many members are yet to arrive. You know, this African time. In few minutes, here will be filled with …”
“Honey.” The pastor’s wife walked up to them and interrupted. She was donned in a female suit. Her uncovered, shining, cropped hair, made her boyish than girlish. There was a known gossip in the church that she could preen herself for over an hour in the bathroom. She gave the car’s key to her husband.
“Did you find it?”
“No. I thought I left it in the car,” she replied her husband.
“That means you forgot it at home?” She nodded and turned to leave. “Sweetie, meet Mr. Langa Kuhle, he was one of our first timer last Sunday.”
“Oh … yes. I remember the face. Bless you, Sir.” She smiled; a handshake followed.
“Thank you, Mrs. Sibisi,” Langa grinned.
“Pastor Ayobah Sibisi,” she corrected.
“Oh … are you …? Forgive me.”
“It is nothing.”
“Langa is a certified, chronic orthodox man.” The cleric’s badinage tickled out laughter from his wife and Langa. “Perhaps he never thought in his widest imagination that a woman could become a pastor.”
“He will adapt.” She said with a smile on the left side of her lips and left them.
“Come,” he tapped Langa, adding, “let us quickly utilise this moment to pray before the church become full.” They went to the sacristy. He repeated his ritual of prayer and of the tongues, but Langa was still unripe for the manifestation of the gift.
They entered the church proper to meet the pastor’s wife leading the worship songs that lasted for an hour.
The healing session began. Pastor Sibisi mounted the dais, and straightaway tongues of the earthless language were erupted by the pastor and his congregation. It rages like a downpour on the roof of a house. After about forty five minutes, it began to drizzles, in ten minutes, it drizzles to a cessation.
“During the speaking in tongues ministration, the Lord revealed to me that some people here needed to be healed. Jehovah Rapha is here to touch your afflictions and make you whole. Hallelujah!!” Sibisi boomed.
“Amen!!!” The congregation thundered.
“Whatever sickness the devil has deposited inside your bodies shall be removed!
“Now come forward to receive your healing.”
Immediately, two columns were formed at the aisles of the chapel. Every touch by the clergyman on the forehead of the miracle seeker felled the seeker. Most of the seekers on the columns had on previous healing services of the church stood up to receive a cure for the same infirmity. But Pastor Sibisi kept dodging the blames. He clearly saw the problem as theirs: they were plagued with dull faith that must be sharpened to receive the gift of healing. He often rebuked them for their miniscule faith.
Langa did not join the columns. Although he somewhat felt a sensation of headache when the pastor called out the sick, he dismissed it as sheer imagination. He admired the dexterous manner the pastor’s hand sent effortlessly sick members down to the floor.
The service ended late. Langa arrived home at about 10 pm. He slumped onto his bed after devouring his meal of potjiekos. He mulled over his inability to speak in tongues despite two attempts. He recalled the shameful pang of loneliness and frustration when every member of the Chapel of Fire yowled in the bliss of speaking in tongues. It was a pang whose fang pierced terribly, threatening to force out tears.
His consolation was rested on the cleric’s assurance that he would be blessed with the tongues at the right time. He had another consolation; he was learning something else at the chapel: the high pitched prayers cooked with flowery dictions; the fineness of the format applied for Praise and Worship songs; and the sparkling sermons. He would be the pioneer to bless his childhood church with his learning. They would oppose, he was sure of that. But he would find a way.
Next Sunday, at the chapel, he observed keenly the rite of service. Pastor Sibisi did not bring up the matter for another slice of prayer for his tongue. Langa was glad he didn’t: A break was badly needed to avoid suffering a failure three times consecutively.
When he returned home, he received a phone call from his father. He was expecting it. A Two-week absence from the church was no joke. He feigned a busy schedule at the departmental store he was working had been sapping his vim, leaving him with a single opportunity to vegetate only on Sundays. He promised to attend when situations become conducive. Langa attended the Chapel of Fire for two more Sundays, and was punctual during their weekly programmes.