An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
Sabina’s theory was that modern day churches were a scam. She believed preachers made money from naive churchgoers and became wealthy, using church as a smokescreen to cover up for their immoral lives. They sent their children overseas to learn study at Tsinghua University, which cost K60,000 a year. She disliked everyone who attended church but, even so, kept attending services every Sunday.
ATTENDING church bored the daylights out of Sabina. But she remained faithful, mainly to see what each Sunday dragged to the pews. Arrogant rich people looking for peace and buying their way out of hell.
She couldn’t stand the unconverted loudmouths who sang like they were at the opera and jumped up and down, pointing their hands and fingers everywhere.
She also couldn’t bear the overdressed widows, who carried fancy bilums and fluttered their eyelashes at the preachers.
And she detested the ones who looked around before they dropped notes in the offering bag. She wondered if they were here for the service or to show how much money they gave.
She looked at their rings and necklaces and wondered how they would look if melted on their hands by some fire.
Every Sunday, Sabina took the last seat and didn’t smile at anyone. Instead, she observed proceedings and tried to find fault in the people who came to church.
She couldn’t stand it when men cried in church. Her conclusion was that crying men had hidden so many wrongs from their wives and wanted some kind of sympathy from the church members.
Oh, look at them! Such tyrants at home and now weak and wobbly she thought and laughed silently in her mind.
She looked askance at the women who cried and yelled when they prayed. She saw them as a bunch of hypocrites who wanted to show their husbands and other members that they lived a life of sensibility and purity.
But Sabina knew that during the week they were an undisciplined bunch gamblers who sat at poker machines and then came here to scream and moan.
Sabina concluded that the church was a place where unending drama was entertained without any boundaries.
What really bothered Sabina, though, were the preachers who stood in front and appealed for cash donations. In her mind, this was wrong. No one involved in Christian work should openly ask for money.
So she sat in her usual back seat and stared at the people greeting, smiling and shaking each other’s hands.
Hypocrites, show offs and wealthy snobs, she thought.
After church she walked home alone. Some church members invited her to go with them in their vehicles and even have lunch at their home, but she always declined
At home she cooked rice and fried kumu (green vegetables) with tinned fish and ate her food slowly.
Then she would lie down to take a nap.
When her head touched the pillow, her body felt heavy and oppressed and a vision emerged, pulling her into it from her bed.
She was at church, sitting in her usual back seat.
She looked at the pulpit and saw an old Caucasoid man wearing a long flowing gown. His hair was as white as snow and dropped down to his shoulders. His face was beautiful and full of kindness and he was built tall and strong.
When the old man opened his mouth, words flowed like bubbles on brooks and his voice was sweet and soothing.
‘A church is like a ship. When you want to travel across the seas you need to get on a ship. The captain and crew make your journey pleasant and safe.
‘The other passengers are for you to get to know and help and bear with each other on your journey.’
The white-haired preacher’s voice was soft, but it echoed all around.
‘But for you to travel all on your own, to swim across the vast sea, is impossible. There are dangers and you will surely lose your life because of your recklessness.’
He continued: ‘If you want to have life everlasting, if you want heaven, if you want to be saved, you need to be in a church.
‘Be the one to show that a church has a heavenly destination, a church is an earthly haven for you to experience love, kindness and commitment. A church is where you will find comfort, advice and shelter on this earth.
‘Look at the church, not the people, not their ups and downs, not their fashions, not their wealth. Be here to worship the Creator, not scrutinise your fellow members. Be the change in the church and others will see you and follow you.
‘The pastors are your captains, the deacons are your crew, the members are your friends and the church is your ship to take you to your destination, Heaven.
‘In this rough and tumultuous journey, you need a church to be your haven. You cannot do it on your own. Be a friend to have a friend. Smile first to be smiled upon.
‘Practice your heaven in this haven,’ the white haired man moved behind the curtains.
Then Kari (the name just clicked in Sabina’s mind) walked onto the front of the church and stood there in a long white flowing gown and with beautiful golden hair. As Sabina watched, Kari lifted her long slender arms toward the roof of the church and opened her mouth and the sweetest tune came out.
I was sinking deep in sin, far from
the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within,
sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea, heard
my despairing cry. From the waters lifted me,
now safe am I......
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.
All my heart to Him I give, ever to
Him I’ll cling,
In His blessed presence live, ever
His praises sing,
Love so mighty and so true,
Merits my soul’s best songs,
Faithful, loving service, too, to
Souls in danger, look above,
Jesus completely saves,
He will lift you by His love, out of
the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea,
billows His will obey.
He your Saviour wants to be, be
Sabina woke up with tears flowing down her cheeks.
That Sunday evening, she sat in the front pew, smiled at everyone and sang with a new vigour.
Kari’s song washed away the old Sabina and the new Sabina emerged to see church differently.