By John Agaba
You pop up at church and standing by its entrance is this ‘ka’ maid whose duty is to collect dimes from anyone intending to enter, more like you are entering a video hall or a cinema — you don’t pay, you don’t enter. Interesting, huh? Since when did people have to pay to enter church or any other place of worship for that matter?
On New Year’s Day, I was disturbed, and really, when I made my way to Nakivubo Stadium to catch the national prayers to usher in the New Year and standing by the gate was this maid who looked me up and down before asking me for an entrance fee.
The prayers were organized by Bishop David Kiganda of the Christianity Focus Ministries.
Perplexed, I looked at her, in her face. “Are you f***** kidding me?” But, of course, I didn’t say that. The young woman was serious, “You pay sh3, 000. If you don’t have it, get out of the line.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
But when I hesitated, some rather ‘mugged-up’ guy reiterated, “Man you pay, if you don’t have money, get out of the line, you are holding up the queue.” I glanced at the other entrance, chaps were busy paying. I forked out some ill-looking notes totaling sh3, 000 and paid.
I wouldn’t have paid, except that I’m a journalist and had been commissioned by my editor to cover the prayers.
Inside the stadium, thousands, and mark my word, thousands, were immaculately listening to pastor after pastor, like they were waiting for the coming of Jesus. Of course, at times, they lifted their arms to the air in prayer or rose to their feet and sang along with the pastor. They filled up more than half of the main field. Some were lined up in the two pavilions. It was a night of prayer.
But as I roamed through the crowds, and listened to pastor Joe Kirya from Canada shout to the crowds to ‘praithee the looord’ for the good he had brought onto them in 2013, I couldn’t help trying to estimate what amounts of money such a mammoth number of people had contributed to the bishop’s pockets.
Somehow my mind switched to the returns issue. This was a big crowd. And everyone in here parting with sh3000 to enter, it was definitely huge chucks of money, all for one pastor or bishop or whoever was in charge of the gate collections, and in a space of one night.
But then more was to come. As I strolled there musing over how some individuals can make quick backs, the pastor from Canada, name, suddenly asked the masses to sow their last ‘seed’ of 2013. This was money. He was asking them to pay their last tithe of 2013, before they crossed into 2014.
There were maids all over the place; you would know them by the uniformed 97. 3 Kingdom FM t-shirts they were donning.
They moved around distributing envelops, the envelops where the congregation deposited their last ‘seeds’ of 2013, and then handed them back to their original bearers.
And chaps paid. Some women could be heard talking “God has seen me through a lot this year. I have to thank him.” And this was ‘taken advantage of’ by the pastor who, I don’t know if he was reading their minds, encouraged them to think about all the good that the lord had done for them that year, 2013.
“Some people started the year when they had cars, now they don’t have them. Some started the year when they had houses; the houses have been taken by banks. Think about what the lord has done for you,” ‘preached’ Kirya.
And while I was thinking, really? Is this not broad day robbery? (Much as it was approaching midnight) Bishop Kiganda, the host bishop himself, took to the stage or pulpit to be accurate. And like his protégée, also asked the masses to sow a seed. But not the last seed, the first seed of 2014.
Kiganda came to the pulpit approaching that midnight hour everyone was waiting for. And what a compelling man he is! Moving majestically, on stage, and emphatically, and speaking with such energy in his voice, he charmed the masses, but like all pastors do.
Then the clock struck midnight. Then there was the national anthem. And just like that, 2013 was over.
After the clock struck midnight, everybody in the stadium rose to their feet. They sang. They raised their arms to the air. They ululated. Some started crying, tears of joy. They were happy. Was it not the hour they had been waiting for. There were fireworks. And Bishop Kiganda’s voice could be heard cutting through all the merriness.
But after this ‘captivating’ interval, Kiganda roared, “Now you have to sow your first seed of 2014. And not just any seed. A seed that you will plant into the soil and it germinates into a beautiful and healthy tree.”
The man of God was asking children of God to pay their first tithe of 2014. Then the maids with envelops resurfaced again. But what was special about this session was that in the same envelop you deposited your first ‘seed’, you also included a note of the requests you wanted God to do for you in 2014, your prayer requests.
After the congregation had jot down their prayer requests and stuffed them into the envelops, together with their first ‘seeds’ of 2014, Kiganda asked everyone to raise into the air their envelops and held a special prayer for them.
Call it crafty, canny, mischievous or whatever you want, but it surely worked. Almost everyone raised an envelope containing both their first ‘seed’ of 2014 and their prayer requests. And Bishop Kiganda prayed for them, that God should fulfill all their wishes “written on those pieces of paper you put in that envelope.”
Like earlier, the envelops were collected into sacks by the maids. Kiganda promised to keep praying over them until the people in the congregation called him by his cell and asked him to stop praying that God had granted them their requests.
He read out the same mobile number to people who were not present in the stadium but were watching the event on Tv so they can send their first ‘seed’ on mobile money.
As I watched the events unfold, I could not help thinking how it was so very easy to make money, but at the same time very hard.
Here were thousands of people, some broke like me, enriching a man who was already rich. I tried doing the maths, calculating what he could have pocketed from the gate collections, and the sowing of the last ‘seed’ and obviously the first ‘seed’ and it was lots of money, all collected in one night.
Well, the Bishop had prayed for them, but I later saw him drive off in his ‘huge’ car meanwhile I shuffled with those who had collected money for the bishop on foot as we concluded the prayers and headed out of Nakivubo stadium.