The residence of pastor Lazarus Iro was filled to capacity. Neighbours, friends, and sympathisers gathered in groups, each sympathetically folding their hands across their chests. At the entrance of his compound were vehicles packed on both sides of the road.
From afar, one could hear the voice of Elizabeth, Lazarus's wife, wailing like a hyena struck by the hunter's arrow. It was a bad day for the entire family. Lazarus, a man of God who had vowed not to derail from the path of love and righteousness, had gone missing.
Amid the crowd stood a man who had brought the bad news to the family. It was pastor James Eric, one of the missionaries who went on an evangelical trip to Uri, the troubled kingdom.
There were also other reverend pastors who also stood side by side as pastor James addressed the crowd: "We are the soldiers of the cross sent to Uri, a kingdom ravaged by inter-communal war, to preach the gospel of the Lord and heal their lands. Unfortunately, our brother, pastor Lazarus Iro fell into the hands of the enemy, and was taken captive.
"We thought the enemy would demand a ransom, but they never did. All they had demanded was that Elizabeth, Lazarus's wife, spend a night under the unholy roof of the sect commander," pastor James intimated.
"We had fasted and prayed for his release, but all to no avail. An ultimatum had been given. The dreaded sect of Uri kingdom gave us only two weeks to fulfill their demand, after which, our brother will be beheaded.
"We are calling for spiritual support. We solicit prayers made with contrite spirits. Let families, friends, and well-wishers rise in prayers for the successful release of our brother, pastor Lazarus Iro," he ended, while those who came to sympathise with Lazarus's family left to their various houses, leaving the family to proffer solutions to the problem.
Mrs. Roseline Iro, Lazarus's mother, couldn't sleep throughout the night. She had contemplated the best possible way to get her son out of the hands of the bloodthirsty sect.
While she was still in deep thought, a knock came on her door. It was Elizabeth. "Mom, It's midnight. Let's pray." She said to Roseline as she walked into the room.
"Did I hear you say 'pray?" "Yes, Mama! Can't we?" "We can, prayer warrior. Look at you. Just listen to yourself, Elizabeth. Was it not in your present that pastor James told us how they have fasted and prayed for the release of my son, yet no result; or do you want to tell me that you are holier than them? Eh, Elizabeth? Just tell me.
"Was it not also in your present that pastor James told us that the sect wanted you to spend a night with their commander before my son would be released? Eh, I'm asking you?
"I thought you came to tell me how prepared you are to rescue your husband from the snares of the sect that held him captive. I thought you had come to tell me that you are set to meet their commander for a night of romance, but here you are telling me …
"Enough of this nonsense, mama," Elizabeth cut in. "How could you tell me to concur with such a sinful act? Look, mama, I have a reputation as a wife of a reverend pastor to protect. I can't go for the same thing I preach against on the pulpit. Never!" She angrily sounded.
"Mama," she went on to speak, "Adultery is an abomination before God and man. Exodus 20:14 says, "Do not commit adultery. So, I am not ready to go against God's law,"
"I've heard you, holy mother of Christ. Is it not the same Bible that says 'you shall not fornicate?' Answer me, Elizabeth. Were you a virgin when my son got married to you? Eh! Tell me?" Roseline logically queried.
Elizabeth kept mute, while her mother-in-law wobbled like a malfunctioned communication gadget as she sobered: "I warned him," she said. "I knew you had no love for him, but he insisted that he must marry you. I know you plan to kill my son to enjoy his wealth and flirt with younger men."
"Mama!" Elizabeth marveled. "Don't call me, you green snake in green grass."
"Mama!" Elizabeth reverberated, sternly moping at her mother-in-law with shock. "Your plan won't work. It must definitely crash."
"Mama!" Elizabeth kept on screaming in astonishment. "Now, leave my room," Roseline ordered. "This discussion is over. Leave, now!" She warned again, while ripples of tears went down her cheeks. Elizabeth left the room without making any further comments.
The battle line had been drawn. Roseline would never sit tight and watch his son slaughtered, when her daughter-in-law had what it would take to save him.
The next morning, Roseline invited pastor James Eric to her house. She complained bitterly about Elizabeth's unwillingness to spend a night with the rebel's commander who had demanded her. Elizabeth was called for the discussion, though she had maintained her ground, insisting that prayer was the best option.
"Yes, prayer is the best option, sister Elizabeth," pastor James concurred, "but remember what the Bible said about faith. Saint Paul said in the book of James 2: 14, 'What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?' That was a very important question from Saint Paul.
"In verse 26, Saint Paul added, 'For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.' Sister Elizabeth, we will be praying as you said, but that will not stop you from taking action. The safety of your husband is solely in your hands."
"Pastor James!" Elizabeth was puzzled. She was completely disappointed. She never knew that pastor James would support such a thing. Elizabeth loved her husband. She cared for his safety, but she wouldn't like to have such a traumatic experience with the rebel's commander. An act that would tarnish her image as a wife of a reverend pastor.
Obviously, she had no one to lean on. She could neither depend on her mother-in-law nor the church, while the pressure was gradually rising. If pastor James could support Roseline, who then would kick against the ungodly demand of the sect.
While Elizabeth was still contemplating this, pastor James came in with another annoying Bible quote:
"Look, sister Elizabeth," he said, "You are justified to do this. Even the Bible says in Exodus 20:1 that Abraham lied to King Abimelech that Sarah, his wife, was his sister, just to save his life. An act which made King Abimelech spend a night with Sarah.
"Enough of this nonsense!" Elizabeth angrily reprimanded. "In case you've forgotten, pastor, my body does not belong to myself. It's the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, it should not be defiled for whatever reason, simple," she said, as she angrily walked out.
The execution date of pastor Lazarus was fast approaching. It seemed like there was no hope of rescuing him. His wife had been relentlessly praying, yet, there was no result.
There was an ongoing program in Christ For All Church, as it was filled to capacity. Elizabeth was in attendance. The booming sounds of musical instruments, and the thrilling voices of the singers kept the congregants dancing.
"Hallelujah!" A voice echoed from the sanctuary. "Somebody shall be blessed tonight." "Amen," the congregants responded. "Tonight is a night of victory and liberty." "Amen," the congregants reverberated. "Psalm 91:7 says, 'even though a thousand fall dead beside you, and ten thousand surround you, you shall not be harmed." Another thunderous Amen echoed from the congregation.
"Who told you, pastor?" A woman's voice interrupted. "Eh! I'm asking you? Who told you that you shall not be harmed, when they have killed my son? Eh! Pastor! Answer me." It was Roseline. She had just stepped into the Church. She was carrying a tray pan containing a human head. She walked straight to Elizabeth and said: "Take it, you Taliban." "Take what?" Elizabeth rejected. "Your husband whom you have championed his execution," Roseline accused. "God forbid. I reject it in Jesus …" Behold, it was a dream.
Elizabeth was already shaking as she woke up. It was a terrifying nightmare. She picked up her Bible from the table and began to pray, with tears gushing out like a heavy night's rain. "Oh Lord my father, do not forsake your servant, pastor Lazarus Iro. Remember your words in Deuteronomy 20:4 “For the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” "Oh Lord my God, fight for me and bring back my husband," she prayed with a contrite spirit.
Just one day to go, yet pastor Lazarus had not been released. Should there be any further delay, the man of God may go into extinction, hence the intervention of his kinsmen.
"Elizabeth," an elder called, as they converged in Lazarus compound, "You told us that you know the God you serve. You boasted before us that when you pray to your God, Lazarus, your husband will be released in two days. Please tell us, my daughter, have you not prayed to your God, or has God kept a deaf ear to your prayers?
"My elders," Elizabeth said in greeting, "The God whom I serve is the God that answers prayers. He is God of a minute changer. He will not … "Stop it, woman!" Another elder cautioned, "For how long will you tell us this cock and bull story? Look, Elizabeth, we can't fold our hands and watch that dreaded sect slaughter our brother, when you have what it would take to save him. Yes. For your information, if anything happens to Lazarus, you will be banished." He threatened, as they angrily walked out.
Everybody had deserted Elizabeth. She could no longer be given an audience in any gathering. Not even in the Church where she was once held in high esteem.
The pressure on her had become unbearable, yet her relationship with God was paramount. "I think I know what to do," Elizabeth said as she set to meet with the infernal being called commander.
She was led into the sect camp in the company of pastor James and Oba, an elderly man from Lazarus family. They were to ensure that Elizabeth was delivered into the hand of the man who demanded her.
The sect commander was very happy when he saw Elizabeth. She was a beautiful woman.
Though, there was a place where prisoners of war were being kept, but Elizabeth was not taken to the place. She was led straight to the commander's lodge.
Later in the night, when pastor and Oba had gone home, the sect commander lured Elizabeth into his bed, to have her carnal knowledge. It was then that he noticed that Elizabeth was menstruating.
He felt so bad. It was against his faith to have intercourse with a menstruating woman. If not because of the love he had for Elizabeth, he would have executed her.
Elizabeth was not really menstruating. She faked it, just to get rid of the raging sin.
She pretentiously pleaded in tears for a night of romance with the commander. "It's a sin for me to sleep with a menstruating woman. You will be here until the menstrual period is over," the commander told her.
That was a condition Elizabeth had never expected. To stay back in the camp for sexual gratification. "Oh, God! Can I return from this journey without a stain of sin?" She wondered.
She prayed tirelessly, reminding God of how he delivered Paul and Silas, and how he sealed the mouths of lions for the sake of Daniel, his obedient servant.
The Lord revealed himself to Elizabeth after her prayers. Three times she was taken to the rebel's commander, after her menstruation; three times she was rejected. Each time the commander set eyes on her, he would instantly fall sick, and lost sexual desire.
This became a problem for him. To avert this, he had no choice but to release Elizabeth and her husband.
That was how Lazarus was saved.
© 2022 Chigbo Douglas Chiedozie