By Abasifreke Effiong-
I worshipped at Reigners Bible Church International, Holy Ghost Palace, at Ekom Iman Junction, on Sunday December 10, 2017. It was my first time in the church. I wasn’t there by invitation. I was on a mission to find out few things about christian experiences in the church, one year after the roof of its cathedral caved in and killed some worshippers during a special service.
I found my way to the church courtesy of a friend, not a member of the church though, but he is familiar with the area. The new Reigners Church is hosted in a 1000 space capacity warehouse along Etinan road by Ikot Oku Ikono junction. It has a congregation of about 320 people, with two large choirs.
Right in front of the congregation were five female choristers, each standing by a microphone and singing praises as I was marched to a seat by very neatly dressed ushers. I could identify one of them. Her name is Peace Nathan. She was injured during the December 10, 2016 mishap. I met Peace through a colleague, Mfon Hanson, on 14th December, 2016. While walking down to the state command of the FRSC, to get few pieces of information four days after the mishap, Mfon was around there. She had asked me whether I’d like to speak with one of the victims of the incident, who is her neighbour. I was interested in meeting her for two reasons. One, I had spoken with a number of victims previously. Two, speaking with the victims gave me a broader perspective and completed my understanding of the event.
I met Peace laying on a plank, with bandages wrapped tightly around her waist. She had internal injuries. As she opened her eyes to speak with me, her eyes yacked tears. She said “I’m happy to be alive. Your colleagues announced my death on facebook and newspapers when I’m still alive”. From that day, I kept checking on her till she fully recuperated about seven months later. On one occasion while chatting with her, I asked her why she remained a member of Reigners after the incident. She said, “Reigners is not just a church, it is a family”.
Seated right before me in the congregation on Sunday was a woman with clutches. She was one of the victims of the incident. She sang praises waving her hands. During testimony time, she spoke glowingly of the faithfulness of God upon her life in the last one year. She was among the 10 people who gave testimonies during the service.
I looked around in the congregation, I saw very many people wearing hand-bands bearing the message, “I’m redeemed to reign”. The lady that sat by my left had the photo of Akan Weeks as the wallpaper on her phone. This tells me that despite what society says, they are still proud Reigners.
As I walked down – cold- to the front to drop my offering, I saw a number of faces whom I had met in the hospital a year ago, who were affected by the incident. They have fully recuperated, and have moved on praising God. A few of them who spotted me in the congregation walked up to me while the service was going on, and said “thank you for worshipping with us”. Others met me just before I stepped out of the auditorium after the closing prayers. They expressed their appreciation to have me around. Reigners are a lesson in faith.
More so, I’d like to share with us the story of the tower Siloam. Had anyone read in the gospel according to Luke 13 verse 1-6 about the tower of Siloam? Siloam was in Southern Jerusalem. It was a popular place in bible record because Jesus Christ referred to it at least twice in the new testament. However, an extraordinary calamity that shook the disciples of Jesus Christ happened at Siloam, causing the disciples to question their master, Jesus Christ. Jesus recollects in Luke’s record that the tower of Siloam “fell and slew” 18 christians who were worshipping God there. Reigners’ experience had first happened at Siloam. Jesus said, that calamity did not befall the Galileans at Siloam because they were sinners above all Galileans.
The congregation at Reigners has moved on. However, each passing day, non-reigners are pushing forward for “justice” for those who died in the accident. I have particular reservations about this agitation. I lost a dear friend in that incident. I felt and still feel the anguish of those I met at Ibom Specialist Hospital. I owe them a duty to continually mention them to God in my prayers. This should be a better advocacy by those who feel pained by the incident. I do not support vengeance or whatever name that would best suits the kind of punishment advocated by my christian brothers. That doesn’t make sense to me. I will state my reasons.
One: the Reigners’ mishap was an accident. Accident is anything that happens by chance; however, sometimes not without human error. A few brethrens have given a rather awful interpretation to the mishap. I have particularly noted on the lips of some very dear christian friends that those who died were used for sacrifice by Akan Weeks. Others have said some terrestrial forces within the church’s domain caused the collapse of the building. Forgive me, I don’t believe in such spiriticism and ideological nonsense, because no one has substantiated any of these mundane claims. Reigners’ incident like Siloam was an accident.
Two: Can anyone suggest the quantum or kind of punishment that would bring back what had been lost? Would hanging those who were directly or indirectly involved with the construction of the collapsed building assuage those who passed on? Is that what those who passed on cry for? Is that what their families want? Did anyone hear from them? I spoke with Dr. Chris Ekong at the burial of his brother who died in the mishap. He said, “it was an act of God. We won’t blame anyone”.
Moreover, I have noted that a handful of those seeking “justice”, for victims of the incident were not directly affected by the event. Nevertheless, they are in the majority seeking revenge. They are moved by emotions to seek that those people they assume were at fault, be made to live in perpetual pains. This is un-christian. I think, howsoever selfish men may be, there should be something else in this case that should interest them, other than seeing the remnants of the church continuing in pains.
Three: it bears repeating here that Reigners congregation has suffered deep physical, social and psychological pains. Further agitation aimed to punish anyone in the congregation would be too much a cruelty to be advanced by anyone.
Four: Dearly beloved brethrens, I’ll like to directly address those pushing for vengeance, here. You have by all estimation given service to casualties of the incident in your advocacies- good or bad. I think vengeance is not the kind of service they need right now.
Did you take time out to visit any of the victims after the incident? Did you make donations toward off-setting their hospital bills? Have you visited the families of the deceased? Did you pray at the burial of the departed? If you didn’t do either of these, I’d suggest you start the advocacy from here. This would be a more humane service in times as this.
Reigners church is marching on; everyone who attended the anniversary’s solemn assembly last Sunday confirmed this. Prelate of Believers Assembly, Isaiah Isong said “Reigners Bible Church is a living spiritual seed”; that the crowd at the service “was an overwhelming encouragement”.
Isong urged victims, families of victims and Akwa Ibom people to put behind the anger of the December 10, 2016 event.
Bishop Emmanuel Etim of Faith and Power Church, and Rev. Patrick Edet prayed for victims of the incident and the congregation.
Akan Weeks in a message to victims and families of victims said he “continually prays for the robust grace of God to sufficiently console the heart of families of the departed and injured”.
He urged christians to “view the occurrence as a challenge to [their] faith and hold fast unto their belief, faith and trust in God”.
Weeks thanked Governor Udom Emmanuel for leading the rescue operations after the incident. He equally thanked security agencies, uniform organisations, CAN, PFN, and Akwa Ibom people for supports given to victims of the mishap.
Reigners congregation is a lesson in faith. Not very many christians would not denounce their faith after such magnitude of calamity. My prayers are with the Reigners family and all those who were affected by that unfortunate accident.