Like every Sunday I had spent on Ile-Ife university campus, this Sunday was no different. 7 am, and I was dressed as sweet as dodo. Crammed myself into the uncomfortable seats of the amphitheatre; the congregation huddled close to withstand the biting wind.
Sometimes I wondered was this tradition or belief? But still I came. After a brief opening prayer, Tobiloba (not his real name) took to the mic, to begin the opening praise session. As a member of the choir myself, I understood the gruelling skill and discipline that came with leading the praise session. Tobiloba and his four back-up singers would have spent at least 8 hours in the previous week perfecting the routine. Such rigorous practice was not helped by the fact that as a student fellowship we could only afford crackly microphones and very, very substandard instruments. The drum-set sounded like rusty pots and pans and the keyboard like a strangulating cat. But we didn’t let that deter us. Wires criss-crossed the stage in haphazard lines that spoke to the fact that they had been hastily connected at 6 am that morning just to be as hastily disconnected at 10 am. Whatever sound produced by the singing team was quickly dispatched out of the amphitheatre by the swirling wind as, our theatre was only semi-covered.
Nevertheless, we all threw ourselves bodily into the singing. We had all learnt to ignore such insignificances as cacophony masquerading as melody. Contentment we had been told comes from not having everything, but being happy with what we did have. So with great gusto we joined in the singing as led by Tobiloba. Tobiloba being a guy of great exuberance had us dancing and clapping with more enthusiasm than Elvis the pelvis, more rock and roll than the grandmother of soul, more throw down than James Brown.
All was going well till we got to on of my favourite songs. In the spirit of most African praise songs, it had only one line sung differently over and over. Changes in key and pitch and melody but never in words. “Lord you are an awesome God.”
Maybe to signify how ecstatic he was, Tobiloba attempted to come down off the stage to join the crowd with this one. Joy ensued. With the microphone in his left hand and his right lifted up to heaven he sang, “Lord you are an awesome God.” He took one step down the stage singing, “Lord you are an awesome God.” Unfortunately the aforementioned wires had become wrapped around his foot while he had been dancing and singing and gyrating.
As he tried to take the final step down, those crisscrossing wires he had been dancing around in gripped his left foot so hard, it almost seemed as if a hand was wrapped around it. They pulled him back so sharply that in mid-descent from the stage he was dragged into a horizontal position for a split-second with his feet suspended over the stage and his upper body parallel the concrete floor. But what goes up must come down. The next second with a resounding crash, he landed fully prone on the concrete floor.
Eyes glued to the still figure, the backing vocals sang on stoically if a little trepidatiously: “Lord you are an awesome God.” We in the congregation waiting to see if Tobiloba had been called to heaven, sang on tremulously. “Lord you are an awesome God.” Seconds passed. Backing vocals wondering if they should stop now and help. “Lord you are an awesome God.” Tobiloba twitched a bit. “Lord you are an awesome God.” He moved his left hand. “Lord you are an awesome God.”
Slowly moving his microphone hand to his mouth Tobiloba joined in, “Lord you are an awesome God.” Raising himself on one knee he sang, “Lord you are an awesome God.” Finally fully upright he belted out, “LORD YOU ARE AN AWESOME GOD!!!” The crowd went wild.
After church, we did check him over to ensure that he was okay. He was fine. He also told that story so many times before graduation, we were tempted to push him off a much higher stage.
But still we learnt something that has stayed with me all these years. Don’t wait till you are declared fine till you start again; don’t wait till you rise again before you keep on going. As long as you are alive… never stop singing.