I want to thank God for giving me the joy and privilege to serve Him, over these past thirty years. It has been an exciting ride that I cannot even begin to express in words.
I also want to thank my wife, Meriqua Whyte, for assisting me in this field of writing fiction—a field that I have grown to find very effective in getting the Gospel and biblical truth to people who will not hear it any other way, except in a story.
Thanks also goes to all of my children: Danni, Daniel IV, Danita, Danae, Daniqua, Danyel Ezekiel, and Danyelle Elizabeth, for assisting me in every aspect of my ministry and in all of my writing endeavours.
Also, I say thank you to all of those who have bought, borrowed, shared, and given copies of my books as gifts to others. Your kind words and support mean the world.
We welcome the presence of you and your wife, your assistant pastor and his wife, and any young pastors in training and their wives, and whosoever will to this, our first national non-denominational, Gospel convention at the All Peoples Non-Denominational Church in Oklahoma City at 333 Gillespie Avenue. Plan on spending one full week hearing great preaching, having great fellowship, sharing the Gospel, getting refreshed and refueled to return to your "Jerusalem" to lead your people forward in this great fight of faith.
Pastor Roland Gillespie, pastor of the prominent All Peoples Non-Denominational Church, was richly blessed of the Lord. His church occupied an area large enough to hold a public mall. It housed a bookstore, a children's library, an adult library, an elementary school, a high school, a college, a ladies' boutique, a health and fitness center, and a gym. Three shuttle buses transported people around the property to and from various points. God truly blessed him at a young age for his faithful and humble labor of love in the ministry, so much so that he was heard on radio and television world-wide. The envy of pastors across the nation, he was loved and highly respected. His advice was sought by many.
The meeting was well underway. The men were in one section of the buildings; the ladies were in their conference area, and the children were in a special section set aside for youth. Everyday at ten o'clock, the men went out to share Jesus with others in the community and returned with glowing reports of their experience. "If you want to experience true joy and at the same time lay up treasures in Heaven, then tell someone about Jesus," Pastor Gillespie repeated throughout the week. "Tell them what God has done for you and what He can do for them. Tell them that all they have to do is believe on Jesus Christ and they will be saved from hell and they can have life everlasting with God."
About midway through the conference, Pastor Gillespie sent for his wife. "For those of you who haven't met my wife yet, I'll introduce her to you in a few minutes. She's coordinating the ladies' meeting so give her some time to get over here." Deacons Walsh and Wiley left to deliver the message to the first lady.
The ladies were doing their thing and were having a grand time. There were aerobic classes in the health and fitness center, classes on health and beauty with a free cosmetics give away, a daily shopping spree, and much more. Various female speakers were on schedule to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences throughout the week on how to be a happy woman, how to bargain shop, how to raise healthy children, how to handle your man, and much more.
The deacons arrived at the ladies' conference area and delivered the pastor's message to his wife. "All right," Sis. Gillespie said but she made no move to carry out her husband's request. "You can go on ahead," she told the deacons who were waiting to escort her over to where the men were meeting. "I'll come as soon as I can break away."
Pastor Gillespie gave her time to make it over, but ended up sending the deacons back over with a second message. The deacons said, "Your husband said we are going to close our session soon and he wanted to introduce you to the audience before we close."
With obvious irritation, Sis. Gillespie said, "Look, tell him I am super busy right now." Ladies raised their heads and eyebrows at the sound of her voice as it echoed across the auditorium through her lapel mic. She was unaware that it was still on.
The deacons were stunned and did not say another word. They went back over to where the men were meeting.
Mother Louise, the oldest and longest standing member of All Peoples Church, gave Sis. Gillespie a long quizzical stare. She was sitting next to Sis. Gillespie and had overheard Pastor Gillespie's message as the deacons delivered it. She leaned over slightly to get Sis. Gillespie's attention.
"Now, Sister, with all due respect to you, don't you think you should go see what your husband wants? I mean, for him to send for you twice, it must be important."
"Mother Louise, he does not want a thing. He just wants to bother me, and that is all he has been—nothing but a bother throughout the marriage, and even more so since he started planning for this convention," Sis. Gillespie said in a whisper.
"A bother? You his wife. Who else is he to bother?" Mother Louise wisely asked.
"He has many others he can bother right now, especially since I am busy over here heading the ladies' meeting. I certainly don't need any of his petty mess this week."
"Well, why you married him then if you did not want to put up with any of his petty mess?" Mother Louise asked with a smile. "The Bible says you must be a ‘help meet'to him."
The majority of the ladies overhearing the conversation listened intently. They held Sis. Gillespie in high esteem and moved whenever she said ‘move.'
"I'll be a ‘help meet'to him. I'll help him by staying out of his way, and he can help me help him more if he stays out of my way," Sis. Gillespie responded.
"You know, Sister," Mother Louise said in her quiet way of speaking, "you really ought to check your heart. You've done nothing but put your husband down every chance you get, but especially since we started planning for this convention, and that is not good." Looking around, Mother Louise continued, "Besides that, what kind of example are you being to these other ladies? The whole church sees how you are dishonoring your husband."
Sis. Gillespie kindly, but abruptly, excused herself to ‘mingle with the crowd.' She had a high respect for Mother Louise as an elderly lady, but drew the line as far as anyone dictating to her how to live life as a wife. After all, she thought, nobody knows my husband better than I do.
One of the ladies pulled Sis. Gillespie to the side and whispered in her ear, "Did you know your lapel mic was on?"
"Oh, so it is," Sis. Gillespie said reaching up to turn it off. With a "Thank You," she continued on her course obviously unaffected by that newly acquired knowledge.
The deacons returned to Pastor Gillespie and discreetly relayed his wife's message to him. He was somewhat taken aback at her refusal. But then again, he wasn't shocked because shortly after their marriage began, she started displaying signs of disrespect, disobedience, and rebelliousness. He gave her all a wife could ask for: a huge house, that in his opinion, was far too large for just the two of them. He thought that maybe God would bless them with many children to fill the house, but after ten years of marriage, he had to accept the fact that children would not be one of his blessings; his wife expressed no desire to have children. In fact, she always avoided the conversation whenever he tried to bring it up. Sis. Gillespie hired two maids, against his wishes, from a house cleaning service to keep the house clean, plus a full-time gardener for the upkeep of the yard.
She had a Bentley and a BMW which she traded in every year, but for what? To uphold a certain image. She had so many clothes, a room was set aside for that purpose only. She had enough shoes to open up a shoe store, not to mention the jewelry and other accessories to accent her attire. She held a prominent position in the church and was on certain boards in the city. She was head of virtually every ladies' event at the church. In fact, she insisted on that, and she hosted many social events in the city. Even with all this to keep her busy, she was getting worse in her attitude towards her husband and towards anything new he tried to implement at the church.
As much as Pastor Gillespie hated to admit it, even to himself, his wife was a typical Proverbs 14:1 woman seeking to pluck down their home (Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.) Many times he wanted to quit and end the marriage, but he knew God would not be pleased. He decided to do the mature thing and not make an issue out of it, especially before others. He kept the marriage together for the ministry's sake and for the glory of God even though he was tempted to take another women as his wife, from time to time.
Pastor Gillespie forced himself into thinking that with all that was going on with the ladies, she misunderstood his message and so he sent the deacons a third time with the same message. "Tell her to come over for about ten minutes. I want the visiting pastors to meet her."
When the men arrived at the ladies' auditorium, Sis. Gillespie was at the podium. She stopped to address both men as they entered without making any attempt to turn off the mic. Any discerning person could tell she was irritated at their presence even though she tried to cover it up with a soft answer.
"Excuse me, ladies. May I help you, gentlemen?" All heads turned to see who these gentlemen were.
"First Lady Gillespie, Pastor Gillespie wants you to come over for about ten minutes so the other pastors can meet you," the tallest of the deacons, Deacon Wiley, said.
"Didn't you deliver that message earlier?" she asked. There was a hush all over the room.
"Yes ma'am, we did. But he sent us back. He wants you to come now." Deacon Wiley put an emphasis on the word ‘now.'
"It'll take a full ten minutes just to get over there. Tell him it will have to wait as my hands are full right now," Sis. Gillespie replied, trying to make light of the matter.
The ladies exchanged glances as the deacons turned to leave. They all knew that no matter how you feel and no matter what you are doing, when your husband calls, you drop what you are doing and grace him with your presence. The ladies waited almost breathlessly to see what would happen next. Sis. Gillespie went on as though that little scenario did not happen at all. As the planned events for the day proceeded, a few ladies came up to her with comments such as:
"That was really brave of you to not let your husband interrupt what you were doing. That will show him and other men that what we do for God as women is just as important as what they are doing."
"Isn't he going to be furious? I know my husband would be."
"Oooh, you go girl!"
"It is time out for demanding, bossy husbands in the church. I'm glad you stood your ground; many of us would have never done that."
"You keep it up and we'll stand behind you."
Sis. Gillespie soaked up all the flattering comments which inflated her ego even more. Mother Louise had her say also: "With all due respect to you, Sis. Gillespie, don't you think you answered your husband a little foolishly? Would it have taken anything from you to go see what he wanted?"
"Mother Louise, believe me, whatever he wanted can wait. Plus, if it is that important, he could have buzzed me on my cell."
Being the insightful and observant lady that she was, Mother Louise asked, "Is your cell phone even on? Where is it anyway? I'm used to seeing it in your hand. I used to think it was attached to your hand," she said with a smile. "It's probably tucked away in your office—oh, wait, that was done on purpose, of course."
Sis. Gillespie did not respond. How Mother Louise knew or guessed correctly at these things was beyond her. But she hit it right on the head. "Mother Louise, I wouldn't worry about me and Pastor, if I were you. You have lived your married life and I dare say lived it well. Let me live mine now. We're two different people married to two different men at two different times."
"Yes, yes, I agree with you," Mother Louise said adjusting her beige hat with the burgundy feather. "But some things are universal and never change, and one of those things is respecting your husband and going to him when he calls you whether you feel like it or not."
Sis. Gillespie excused herself. Right now, Mother Louise was not adding to her inflated ego; she was, instead, trying to beat it to the ground.
Pastor Gillespie was not pleased with the message the deacons delivered to him. "My wife says she is extremely busy and sends her apology," he said to the pastors who were attending the conference. "I tell you, those ladies must be doing it up over there."
After turning the podium over to the next speaker, he met with the two deacons in the back of the auditorium. "You did your part," he assured them.
"If you'll allow me to say something regarding this matter, Pastor," Deacon Wiley said, "I think she was trying to make a point to the other ladies. She could have discreetly given us the message. Besides, with all those ladies present, surely one of them could have kept things moving along until she returned."
"Yes," Pastor Gillespie agreed. "She could have come on over when I asked the first time." Pastor Gillespie knew his wife to be a controlling person who felt the ladies' meeting could not go on without her. "However, let's enjoy the rest of our meeting. No need to let this situation dampen our spirits."
The Lord blessed the last two days of the conference. On purpose, Pastor Gillespie did not bring up the incident with his wife. However, he brought it up immediately on the Saturday after the conference ended.
"Why didn't you come when I sent for you at the meeting the other day?"
"I already told you why: I was way too busy taking care of the ladies."
"Surely they could take care of themselves for ten minutes. But to disrespect me like that in front of all those ladies!"
Sis. Gillespie smirked. "You weren't embarrassed, were you?"
"No, Gloria, you made yourself look bad. Those ladies may have agreed with you and secretly patted you on the back, but I guarantee you none of them are having this kind of conversation with their husbands this morning," Pastor Gillespie said.
"You don't know that."
"Oh, yes, I do know. But that's not important right now." He glared at her as he continued, "What's important is, I've tried to keep your rebelliousness behind these house doors, but you opened the door wide and let it all out this past week. And I am not going to let you disrespect me like that and get away with it. You have pushed me far enough. I want you to send out a letter of apology that I approve of to all the pastors and their wives so that we can clear things up in their minds…"
Sis. Gillespie interrupted him with a smirk, "Puleez. I would leave before I ever do that because I am not in the wrong. Just because I'm the pastor's wife doesn't mean I ought to come on demand."
Pastor Gillespie sat quietly. He knew that his wife enjoyed her position as first lady and the prominence that it gave her in the community. And he didn't think she would easily give up that position if she could help it. The time that they had separated before, she came hurrying back after only three weeks of them being apart.
"There is no need for us to separate again or even go the divorce route," Pastor Gillespie said. "Just write the letter of apology and let's go forward together in the great ministry God has given us."
Sis. Gillespie turned and marched out into the hallway. "Not doing it," she shouted over her shoulder. Even though she knew deep down she was taking a chance at losing everything, her pharaohistic pride and stubbornness would not let her give in.
On Sunday morning, they went to church — separately, as usual — he in his Lincoln and her in her Bentley. Everyone had nothing but good things to say about the conference of that past week. Immediately after services, Pastor Gillespie called a special meeting with his main deacons who, though older than he, had a high respect for him. His assistant, Bro. Martin, was also present.
"Men, thank you for helping to make this week a successful one. I believe God is pleased with all that took place, but I also know Satan is at work. Something came up and I'll get right to the point. I'll need your honest input regarding the matter."
The men nodded, giving him their undivided attention. They all loved and respected their pastor.
"A couple of you already know of this. I sent for my wife to come over to our meeting on last week for no more than ten minutes to introduce her to the visiting pastors, just so they'll know who she is. Well, she outright refused to come even though I sent for her three times. What takes the cake is, she did it in the open for all the ladies to see and hear."
Most of the deacons did not look surprised. They already knew how Sis. Gillespie was, and besides that, they had already heard about the situation from their wives.
"The truth of the matter is," Pastor Gillespie continued, "We've been having some problems for some time now. I've taken the high road and the mature route and spoken well of her, but this past week brought things to a head. I asked her to apologize publicly regarding this matter, but she absolutely refuses to do so risking separation again, or possibly, even divorce. So I just want to give you a heads up and prepare you for that possibility. I don't want to get a divorce because I know it can have a negative impact on my ministry, this church and my nationwide reputation, so I really need you to pray hard for us."
The men expressed their understanding of the matter.
"Pastor, what if she actually files for the divorce?" Deacon Walsh asked.
Deacon Wiley jumped in before the pastor could answer. "Well, don't try to hold her back. Let her go. I'm sorry to say this, Pastor, but she may have to be the example to other ladies, including my own wife, as to what can happen to them if they choose to be rebellious and disrespectful to their husbands."
"Pastor, I agree with Deacon Wiley," Deacon Lester said. "If she can't respect you, she's not worth fighting to keep. Plus, if you let her get away with what she did, all the ladies who were present at the convention will begin to think that it's okay for them to disrespect their husbands."
Heads were nodding around the room. "I wouldn't doubt if what she did is not the topic of conversation among many of the ministers and wives who came to the conference from all across the nation. So her disrespect of you not only affects this church, but it affects churches across this nation."
"She is looked up to by many ladies across the country. In fact, Pastor, I have been told that she has more Facebook and Twitter followers than you do. She has over one million Facebook followers and over two million Twitter followers. She is very popular. But this defiant act can be the ruin of many marriages and ministries, Pastor," Deacon Marks said. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man with much insight.
"One more thing, Pastor," Deacon Wiley added, "I wouldn't even worry about the church ministry suffering or being affected by this. By the grace of God, we have grown and have impacted the lives of thousands, and by the grace of God, we will continue to do so."
"Amen," the deacons agreed. "Some may leave disgruntled, but God will replace them with three times their number," Deacon Lester assured them. "Whenever one person leaves the church, I always pray for God to replace that person with three more," he said grinning.
Pastor Gillespie felt encouraged. He often thanked God for these faithful deacons who had stuck with him through thick and thin. When the chips were down, these were the ones he could call on. He did notice, however, that his assistant pastor, Pastor Martin, was quiet the entire meeting. Pastor Martin had been with him for some six years now, and knew Pastor Gillespie's heart, and he had proven himself faithful and came highly recommended.
"What's on your mind, Bro. Martin? You've been quiet the whole meeting," Pastor Gillespie said to him.
"Pastor, you know I have always supported you and will continue to do so," he answered, somewhat reluctantly. "But contrary to what Deacon Lester said, any pastor who serves God ought to fight to keep his marriage together. Divorce cannot be an option."
Pastor Gillespie thanked the men for their honesty and asked again for their prayers for he and his wife.
When Pastor Gillespie arrived home, around 4:30, his wife's car was in its usual spot. She was waiting for him in the living room when he walked in. "About time," she greeted him sarcastically. The church worship hour had given her time to decide what course of action she was going to take.
"Have you written your apology letter yet?" Pastor Gillespie asked her.
"No, I have decided this is a matter between you and me, and I do not have to apologize to anyone who was present at that meeting. You interrupted me at the most inconvenient time and anyone who hears of it will agree with me. I have all those ladies on my side, and that's why I gave my answer as I did and in their hearing. You should have seen how they nodded their heads in agreement at my response to your message. So many of us can't be wrong."
Pastor Gillespie did not dignify her words with a response and that baffled her, and frankly, was throwing her off of her well rehearsed speech, but her prideful spirit pushed her to keep on talking.
"The days of women running at the beck and call of their husbands have come and have long gone, baby. We have been liberated from such mess," she said, feigning a sweet tone of voice.
Pastor Gillespie let his wife ramble on. She would be out of fuel soon enough and then she would walk away, as she normally did whenever they had their arguments. His silence continued to baffle her. After she had finally finished saying her piece, he calmly responded. "Gloria, we have had many disagreements in the past and I've kept them behind closed doors. However, because of your behaviour during the conference I have let the deacons know and have asked them to pray for us."
"Our business is none of their darn business," Sis. Gillespie retorted. "How dare you go and tell something on me to the entire church in my absence. I won't stand for this disrespect!"
"The entire church was not involved," Pastor Gillespie said. "Only a few of the deacons."
Sis. Gillespie was surprised at how calmly her husband was responding to her. Normally a heated argument would be underway by now with him raising his voice and getting in her face, and her smirking and rolling her eyes.
"That's it," Sis. Gillespie told him angrily. "You know what, I've had enough. Enough of you. Enough of our pretending to have the perfect marriage for the church. We're through." She picked up her purse and cell phone off the side table and stormed out the front door, halfway expecting him to call her back to work things out as he had done in previous arguments.
Tossing her purse and cell phone into the passenger seat of her Bentley, she slammed her car door shut, raced out the driveway, down the road, around the corner and off into the distance.
Pastor Gillespie sighed. Well, that took care of that, he thought. Deep down, he was hoping that his wife would have humbled herself and done the right thing. He sat in front of his computer to record all that had just taken place in case any issues came up in the future. He also recorded the meeting he had with his deacons before settling down for a peaceful evening. He prayed that God would protect his wife and help her to make the right decision and return home. He turned over in his mind the best way to present the matter to the church or even if he should say anything at all about it.
Even though Monday was his day off, Pastor Gillespie felt compelled to stop by the church. He was surprised to see Mother Louise there. "Mother Louise, what are you doing here so bright and early?" Pastor Gillespie said reaching out to give her a hug. "I thought you'd be in the bed resting up from this past week."
"I'm just stopping by to encourage my son in the Lord," Mother Louise said with a smile. For her to be almost one hundred years old, she was energetic and lively. Her long walk with the Lord had given her an overflowing well of wisdom from which Pastor Gillespie often made withdrawals.
"Me? Resting up! My secret is to take a little rest every day. How's my pastor-son doing?" she said returning his hug.
"Quite well, Mother."
"And how's the first lady doing?" Mother Louise was concerned, especially after Sis. Gillespie's rather smug attitude and response toward her husband during the conference.
"I hope she's all right," Pastor replied, leading her into his office.
"You hope she's all right?" Mother Louise questioned closing the door. "Now what happened between last week and today?"
"I tell you, Mother, it's been a tough week; I need your godly advice. Promise me you'll give it to me straight," Pastor said sitting down at his desk.
"Do I ever hold back?" Mother Louise said as she made herself comfortable on his plush couch. "I tell you, Pastor, you ought to give me this couch. It's enough to put you to sleep. Anyway, I'm all ears. What's going on between you and the first lady?"
Pastor Gillespie told her all that had taken place over the past few days and throughout their marriage, some of which she was already aware of. "I tell you, Mother, she has been the typical Proverbs 14:1 woman where the Bible says ‘Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.' Throughout our marriage, she has been trying to pluck down the house little by little. In fact, a lot of people don't know this, but she is one of the main reasons why I left my last church. The people saw how she disrespected me and how she was rebellious towards me, and she reaped what she sowed by the folks, especially the women, turning against her. The women began to disrespect her and a couple of them had set out to try to take me from her. But, Mother, let me say this, in fairness to her, one area of our marriage that she did not fail in was in the bedroom. She was always willing to take care of my needs in that area. No matter how mad she might get, she never denied me sex."
"Well, that's good to hear, but sex can't keep a marriage together," Mother Louise said. "She needs to get herself together in those other areas because that is what is causing the problems here," she continued shaking her head.
"I wanted her to become a truly virtuous woman and to be a biblical example before other ladies. She had what I thought were the makings of virtuousness—she seemed to have a teachable spirit. I bought her all the books I could find on being a godly woman. She attended just about every woman's conference there was. But all seemed in vain, Mother Louise, she got worse. She had all the material blessings she could want. She had no need of nothing—bad English, but you get my point."
Mother Louise nodded.
"It had gotten to the point, Mother, where I was ashamed to take her some places with me. As you know, I have always spoken well of her before the church. No man wants the negative things about his wife out in public — but I can only cover for her so long. I did all I could to keep the marriage together."
"I know you did," Mother Louise said.
"I am not perfect and I don't expect her to be perfect; but to live in rebellion day-in and day-out. Come on now."
"Like I said, I hope she's all right wherever she is."
After a few minutes, Mother Louise said thoughtfully, "You know, Pastor, I know you love your wife and you always will, but I hate to tell you this: I saw this coming for quite awhile now. I was hoping it would not come to this." She was shaking her head as she spoke. "When you sent for her at the meeting, and she responded with such disrespect in everyone's hearing, I told her she ought to be ashamed of herself."
"You did?" Pastor Gillespie leaned forward in his chair.
"I sure did. I told her she was setting a bad example before the other ladies who all look up to her. I also told her that when a husband calls for his wife, the wife ought to drop what she's doing to find out what he needs especially in front of guests. She brushed off what I said, and said something about you being a bother to her and that you can help her be more of a help meet by staying out of her way, or something like that."
"I am not surprised, Mother Louise. That rebellious attitude she displayed has been a pattern—it's almost predictable. And you know what, Mother? The devil has her so blinded that she can't even see how it's slowly pulling her down."
"You know, Pastor Gillespie, some people just have to learn things the hard way," Mother Louise responded.
"I was hoping she would just read the Bible and do as it says, but I guess she is one of those who has to learn the hard way, like you said." Pastor Gillespie sighed deeply. "I'll pray for her and that's all I can do right now. One thing is for certain, I won't go searching for her," Pastor said.
"I agree with that. She needs to be the one who comes back. But I'll pray for her, too, Pastor. My heart goes out to her. In the meantime, you have a large church to run and people depend on you to lead them forward. You must go on."
"Hi Gloria, so good to see you," Regina said as she opened the door to welcome her sister. The Sunday after storming out of her house, Sis. Gillespie had driven to the nearby town to her sister's house.
As they went into the kitchen, Regina said, "We haven't talked in a long time. What's been going on?"
"Oh, you won't believe it, girl," Sis. Gillespie sighed as she dropped into one of the kitchen chairs. She gave her sister a quick update of what had happened the past week. "The gall of him expecting me to write a letter of apology. Can you believe that? These church people have nothing to do with the arguments that we have at home. I mean, what takes place in our marriage is our business. And you know what, he had the audacity to discuss our business with the deacons in the church. He's gonna pay for that ‘cause I'm not going back."
"Well, you have left him two times before," Regina interrupted, "and you went back. So what's different now?"
"This time, I'm definitely filing for divorce." Sis. Gillespie kept glancing at her phone expecting him to call. "He can beg me to come back as he's done before, but this time, we're through."
Handing Gloria a glass of iced tea, Regina said, "I thought you had a good thing going there. Now, I'm not big on this church stuff, but I think it might be a good idea to think about this before you lose a good thing."
Wednesday morning came, and Pastor Gillespie still had not heard from his wife. He thought of calling her on her cell phone, but decided against it. She chose to leave, he told himself. After working out at his home gym, he went through the mail while waiting for his coffee to brew. A large orange envelope caught his eye. He opened it immediately and scanned its contents. It was a letter from her divorce attorney stating that she was filing for divorce. Well, that settles it, Rev. Gillespie thought to himself. At least now I know what direction to go in.
After the prayer meeting that evening, he met with his deacons and his assistant pastor, Bro. Martin. He shared with them that his wife had left and was filing for divorce. "With that said, gentlemen, I ask that you pray for us that God's will be done, and I would appreciate it if you did not discuss this with anyone."
"Well you know you have to tell the church family soon," Bro. Martin said matter-of-factly.
"This coming Sunday, I will let them know. I have nothing to hide," Pastor Gillespie said. "However, I want you all to know, I have no intentions on resigning as pastor for several reasons: one, the Lord led me to start this church. Two, it was her decision to leave, and it was also her decision to file for divorce. Three, I do not claim perfection in our marriage, but she just has not been obeying the Bible which says the wife should be submissive and respectful toward her husband. Any comments?"
"Are you going to go along with the divorce?" Deacon Wiley asked.
"I really don't want our marriage to end in divorce, but if she goes through with it, then I'm not going to fight it. I want to know where you all stand on this decision."
The men were silent for some time. Deacon Wiley spoke first. "Pastor, I am not going anywhere. We've walked this way too long together for us to part ways over this small matter. It was your wife's decision to leave…"
"Divorce is no small matter," Bro. Martin interrupted.
"I agree, Bro. Martin. We all would hate to see the Pastor and Sis. Gillespie get a divorce, but wrong is wrong, and she was totally wrong in this," Deacon Lester said.
"Pastor, all I know is this, if you had not stood firm in your decision, the men of this church and in our sister churches would be the laughing stock among the women as I speak," Deacon Rodney said. "Frankly, I am too old to engage in that kind of fight in defense of myself as head of my home." He was the oldest of them all and had walked with Pastor Gillespie ever since the inception of the church. He was full of wisdom and chose his words carefully whenever he spoke. As an after-thought, he added, in his Southern drawl, "But as feeble as I am, I will fight for my headship position in my home if I have to."
The men all laughed, nodding their heads in agreement, all with the exception of Bro. Martin who sat behind the group with his arms folded across his chest. Pastor Gillespie noticed and wanted to hear more from Bro. Martin.
"Pastor," Bro. Martin said somewhat hesitantly, "We all know the Bible says if a man knows not how to rule his own house, and keep his house in order, how shall he take care of the house of God? I mean, if you can't keep your wife in line, how can we expect you to keep the church in line?"
"Pastor, if you don't mind, I'll answer Bro. Martin's concern," Deacon Alexander said. He did not care much for Bro. Martin, but at the same time he respected his position as assistant pastor. Pastor Gillespie nodded, giving him the go-ahead.
"Frankly, Bro. Martin, Pastor Gillespie has ruled this church well, and he has ruled his house well, but when you have a wife or anyone under you who continually rebels against you, disobeys you, and disrespects you, there is nothing you can do but let them go if they choose to go. It was Sis. Gillespie's choice to leave and to file for divorce. Pastor did the right thing by putting his foot down. Pastor has been sober-minded, vigilant, and hospitable. He has not been a drunkard, nor has he shown any violence, nor is he a lover of money, and he doesn't have any children at all, and since that's the case, he doesn't have any unruly children. So he fits the bill to remain as pastor here—has fit it for years now."
Deacon Alexander looked around at the other deacons who were nodding their heads in agreement.
Not even giving Bro Martin a chance to respond, Deacon Rouch said, "Pastor, I think you ought to send a letter to all the pastors who were present at the meeting explaining the situation to them. There is no telling what those women who were present at the meeting will do. Women know how to communicate with each other without saying a word."
Pastor Gillespie chuckled. "Brothers, thank you all for your input and encouragement. Please continue to pray for us."
Bro. Martin was the first to leave the meeting.
The following Sunday, after giving the morning service benediction, Pastor Gillespie motioned for everyone to stay in their seats. "I have a very important announcement to make."
Mother Louise knew this was about the impending divorce, and she nodded for him to proceed. She bowed her head and prayed silently.
"I know many of you have looked up to my wife and I throughout our years of ministry in which we have placed a strong emphasis on marriage and family life. We have never claimed to have it all together, and we have had some serious problems lately, which came to a head on last week. To make a long story short, she is filing for divorce. This is a difficult time for us, and I am simply asking for your prayers."
A ripple of whispers went through the large congregation as several people exchanged glances of surprise and shock while others looked at each other with a look of ‘I told you so.'
"Hmm, prayer? They should have been praying all long," Sis. Imogene whispered to her husband. "Hush your mouth," he whispered back, "we don't know all the details and he needs our support."
Sis. Mary shook her head and muttered, "Nothing but the devil."
A few of the single women who had their eyes on the pastor seemed pleased at the announcement: "So that means he's single now."
"Perhaps, I can get a date."
"I'm glad she's gone. Now I can get him."
Bro. Martin looked at his wife, Zelda, and shook his head as Sis. Collins and Sis. Shirley walked out.
Sis. Collins, who had always looked up to Sis. Gillespie, was furious. "Where is my first lady? — The devil is a lie!" she muttered but loud enough for others around her to hear. "We need to hear her side of this story, don't we?" She slung her purse over her shoulder and marched out.
Sis. Shirley Bond was right behind her. "Yes, every story has two sides, and a divorced pastor who has preached against this very sin is someone I cannot sit under." Midway down the aisle, she looked back at her husband and said, "Well, aren't you coming, Jamal?"
Bro. Desmond sighed, "Lord, have mercy."
Sitting in the back of the church was a man dressed in African attire. He was an immigrant from Ethiopia and had been living in the States for several years. He had been searching for a church home, but had felt hostility from other churches he had visited. Here at All Peoples Non-Denominational Church, he sensed a different spirit, felt welcome, and liked the leadership of Pastor Gillespie. He also liked the straight-forward preaching of the Word. Now, he watched with special interest at what was taking place.
Across town there was a small but growing community of African immigrants mostly from Ethiopia. They led a quiet life away from the busyness of the city. Although most of them spoke the Amharic language, a few understood the English language and were quite fluent in it. This included Sentayhu and his niece, Ayana. Sentayhu was the leader in the community because he led that group of people to immigrate from Ethiopia to America and he was well-schooled in the American way of life. The Ethiopian immigrants often came to him for advice.
Sentayhu glanced at the front door again as Ayana served him a cup of herbal tea. He had been ill over the past week, but he was feeling better today.
"Don't worry, Uncle. He'll soon be back," Ayana told him.
"He's normally back by now," Sentayhu said. "I hope this delay means good news."
Sentayhu had been living in the United States some twenty-two years now. Ayana came to the United States with her parents a year after he did; she was four years old then. Both her parents died within a four year span and Sentayhu took her in as his child. He trained her in the Christian faith as much as he could, as well as in the Ethiopian culture including its language. "Even though in America, we must never forget our native language, and you must never forget your roots," he often told her. Now at twenty-five years old, Ayana spoke the Ethiopian Amharic language and the English language fluently and could easily switch from one to the other. Outside the community, she used her chosen American name—Charmaine; but inside the community she was Ayana—"beautiful blossom."
"Bohlale delays in coming," Sentayhu repeated.
"Don't worry, Uncle, I hear someone slamming a car door."
Ayana opened the front door to reveal a tall, dark, and handsome young man, three years older than she. "Hello, Ayana. It's good to see you again," Bohlale said with a smile.
"Come in, Bohlale. Uncle Sentayhu has been anxiously awaiting your return." Ayana stepped off to the side so he could make his entrance.
Bohlale, whose name meant ‘wisdom,' left Ethiopia for the United States over eight years ago on a student exchange program. He pursued studies in medicine and was now working at the local hospital. He and Sentayhu met at a community event for immigrants. Sentayhu invited him to move in to their Ethiopian community. It was there that he met Ayana. Bohlale respectfully bowed before Sentayhu.
"It's about time, Bohlale," Sentayhu said rising from his seat. "I trust that all is well."
"All is well, Sentayhu—more than well." Bohlale took a seat across from Sentayhu at the table. Ayana left to serve them their mid-day meal.
"Sentayhu, I visited again the church—All People's Non-Denominational—that we both visited before. Like you said, it seems like it will be a good church for us. That Pastor Gillespie, as you so wisely discerned, is an honest, up-front person. I listened in on a meeting they had after the services; he openly told the church he and his wife had been having marriage problems and that she was filing for divorce. Many of the people walked out; others were whispering."
"Thank you, Ayana," Sentayhu said as she set the meal before them. Ayana took her place beside her uncle and ate her meal in silence, listening as the men spoke.
"I heard some of the women whispering among themselves that the pastor's wife was very disrespectful to him at times and did not always do as he said," Bohlale continued. "Some said she left on her own. Others said it was a disgrace."
Sentayhu shook his head and waved his hand in the air. "No time for people's gossip. Get to the point. Do you think we will be welcomed there?" he asked.
"Four Sundays in a row and I have felt welcome each time. You said you felt welcomed the three Sundays you went. The others who came with us a couple weeks back said they felt welcome. It seems promising."
"Ayana, how would you like to visit the new church with us?" Uncle Sentayhu asked his niece after Bohlale left.
"I'd love to, Uncle. But you know I love our little church here just as it is," Ayana said.
"Yes, I know you do. But we lack depth in our preaching. None of us has been trained in theological issues and biblical facts, you know." Sentayhu had a business degree and he owned and operated his own restaurant. He and the older men of their community had been doing the best they could in overseeing matters within the community including the church they had started. "There is so much I do not know, and I feel I have been short-changing you all on the spiritual side of things. Anyway, don't worry about a thing. This Pastor Gillespie and his church seem very promising."
Ayana removed the dinner plates from the table.
"You know, Ayana," her uncle continued, "I think Bohlale likes you and may ask for your hand in marriage. Would you accept his offer?"
Ayana shrugged her shoulders. "Not ready yet, Uncle. There is so much I want to do with my life before settling down. I still have a few more years before I become what these Americans call an ‘old maid.' I'll get married then, but until that time, I want to enjoy my singlehood."
"I know you do," Sentayhu said sympathetically. "But in our culture we marry at a young age. Do you not like Bohlale?"
"It's not that, Uncle. I do care for him. I guess I am a little scared of marriage." Ayana gave her uncle a hug. "Look at what happened to Pastor Gillespie."
"Aah, but what happened to Pastor Gillespie does not have to happen to you. Pray about it," Sentayhu said with a smile.
"Uncle, I've always done what you have said. I just don't feel ready for marriage."
Gloria Gillespie felt out of place the following Sunday even though she tried to put up a brave front and deny it to her sister.
"I know you feel bored sitting in the pew, so to speak," Regina said to Gloria as they sat in front of Regina's computer watching the live services at All People's Non-Denominational Church online through GoToChurchOnline.tv. "You know, you being first lady and used to being in church every Sunday helping to run the show."
"Oh, I know he's regretting causing me to leave; everything is on him now. He'll be calling me by this evening. I guarantee it." She said this more to herself.
"You know, Gloria, you might want to make the first move and give your husband a call. It has been a week now and like I said, you don't want to mess up a good thing."
Gloria nodded her head but did not reply.
"I know you've been trying to act tough all week, but aren't you curious as to how things are going with him and the church?" Regina continued.
"Maybe," Gloria sighed. She had plans to call Bro. Martin and Sis. Zelda later that day to get an update.
"You know, Gloria, I'm not trying to push you against your will, but divorce is nothing to play with. You saw what happened to me, and I don't want it happening to you. Tim and I have been divorced for a little over five years now, and it does not get any better for me. I feel like I am being torn apart every time I see another married couple out together doing things. It's no fun coming home to an empty house. I'd rather have someone to argue with than have no one to say ‘Good morning' to. It's like living a death everyday. Frankly, I'd rather we were separated through death."
Gloria listened even though she pretended to take her sister's words lightly.
"Like I told you before, Gloria, after you've been with a person everyday for ten years and you then go your separate ways, it's not easy—it's a pain that you have to live with. I do not know how you church folks handle your divorces, but the emotional and mental turmoil are still the same. I wouldn't wish divorce upon my worst enemy."
"Well, I got Jesus to see me through," Gloria said flippantly. How much He'll see me through, I'll just have to wait and see. If Roland begins to hurt, good for him, but I am not going to let this hurt me. I'll just block it out. Sis. Zelda will keep me up to speed on everything.
"Sister Zelda, what's new? This is first lady Gillespie."
"Sister Gillespie, you have certainly caused a stir," Sis. Zelda said with a chuckle. "Now, what's been going on with you and the pastor?"
"Well, I'm just tired of running at his every beck and call—years of him pushing me around and bossing me: do this, do that, I need you here, I need you there…ten years of that," Sis. Gillespie said, knowing she was exaggerating. "I showed him I was not going to put up with it anymore. This is the twenty-first century; that submission stuff isn't going to work anymore."
Sis. Zelda chuckled. "Some of these men take it too far, indeed. Well, anyway, I had a few ladies who were present at the conference to call me and they are cheering you on, Sister."
"Has Brother Martin said anything to you about Pastor saying anything more about it?" Sis. Gillespie said.
"He only told me he asked him and the deacons to pray for you all. He's treading carefully, Sister."
"I bet he is," Sis. Gillespie said.
"Don't worry about a thing. He'll come running back soon. These men can't do without us," Sis. Zelda said. "Many people walked out when he made the announcement and quite a number did not show up today. I'm sure he'll be reconsidering because he does not want to split the church."
"I know. He'll come begging me to come back like he did before."
"I didn't know you all had separated before," Sis. Zelda said in surprise.
"Oh, yes. We did and he kept it hush-hush. But both times he came back all soft and humble saying, ‘Gloria, come on back and let's just work it out.' This time, he's going to wait a long time. Anyway, Zelda, keep me informed."
"I sure will, and I also want you to know that Brother Martin and I are not with your husband on this. I'll get Brother Martin to pressure him because right is right and wrong is wrong."
Sis. Zelda eagerly shared with her husband the conversation she and Sis. Gillespie had. "This may just be the ticket for you to push for more recognition as we've been talking about," Sis. Zelda told her husband. "Tell Pastor Gillespie you want a more prominent role in the church or you'll publicly side with those who have left and then you will begin your own church with his people."
Bro. Martin smiled. "You're a genius, Zelda."
"I'm not your wife for nothing," she chuckled. "First Lady Zelda Martin sure has a ring to it."
With the Sunday services behind him, Pastor Gillespie carefully formulated the letter about the impending divorce to send out to the pastors who had attended the conference. He spent half the day on Monday writing and re-writing to make it right. He shared its contents with Mother Louise who whole-heartedly agreed with it, as did his trusted deacons, and Sis. Mona, his secretary. Bro. Martin was not too pleased about any part of the letter, but kept his mouth shut. I hope these pastors see things as I see them and shut him down, he secretly thought.
So many of the church ladies, especially the single ones, were vying for Pastor Gillespie's attention. He knew he would have to do something quick.
"I tell you, Sister Mona, the amount of food these ladies have dropped off for me this week is enough to open up a restaurant. I believe I have put on more weight these past few weeks than I have put on in twenty years," Pastor Gillespie told his secretary.
"I think some of them want to do more than just bring you food," Sis. Mona replied with a laugh.
Pastor Gillespie also began to have desires for sex but knew he could not fulfill them with someone who was not his wife. "I have to be honest with you, Deacon Walsh. Prayer is the only thing keeping me from sinning right now."
"Pastor," Deacon Walsh said with a chuckle. "After she finalizes the divorce, I am sure God won't hold it against you if you start looking, with the intent to get married, of course. There are some promising possibilities even in this church."
Pastor Gillespie tossed around the idea of possibly seeing other ladies, and even though he knew he was wrong, he took a few of them out on a date.
JoLeen, a member of the church, was beautiful but her problem was she praised him too much. "A man that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet." She was not too crazy about prayer either. "Oh, Pastor Gillespie, I just love your preaching," she told him. "I have never heard a man preach like you do. You certainly know how to put words together to get the people all worked up and in the Spirit."
"Well, Sister, I hope they come to church already prayed up and in the Spirit."
"Already prayed up? Pastor, it's your job to get us all worked up. We should not have to do that ourselves. That's your job," JoLeen insisted.
"Well, I am a man of prayer. After all, the Bible does tell us to pray without ceasing, and I insist on my wife being a woman of prayer. How do you think we are having the success that we are having? It is because of prayer."
JoLeen frowned at this statement. She only saw prayer as something to use when there was an emergency, not something to do faithfully and regularly every day.
Patricia was a beauty queen. She had been a Christian for some years now and was eager to be a pastor's wife. Throughout the course of their conversation, they touched on husbands leading their homes and wives being in subjection no matter the situation. Pastor Gillespie appreciated her honesty about this area. "I don't believe in all that, Pastor. I am so beautiful, I really believe no man would ever get mad at me, even if I did disobey him. I would just flash him one of my brilliant smiles and he would take one look at my beauty and forget the whole matter," Patricia told him.
"Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with thine eyelids."
Not so, Pastor Gillespie thought. You have yourself fooled. No manly man, including myself, is going to go for that. That was the first and last time Pastor Gillespie spoke with Patricia in private.
Kendra was not one you would call a knockout. She did have a contagious laugh that kept his attention. Pastor Gillespie had a heart for lost souls and a desire to share the Gospel with others especially those who were in poverty and who could not really do much for the church. Kendra believed the opposite. "You know, Pastor, I believe you're just wasting your time trying to reach those poor people. You should reach out to the well-to-do and those who can be of financial help to the church. You need to stick to your type."
"And just what is ‘my type'?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"Rich folks. Those who can put money in your pocket once they join the church," Kendra replied plainly.
Riches take their wings and fly, Pastor Gillespie immediately thought. That just about killed any interest Pastor Gillespie had in Kendra.
Amanda, it turned out was not saved at all. She believed that going to church each Sunday and faithfully giving her tithes to the Lord made her a candidate for Heaven. Pastor Gillespie's love for the lost led him to take this opportunity to share the message of salvation with her.
"Well, if that is not how you get into Heaven, how do you get there?" Amanda asked sincerely.
"First, you have to realize that you are a sinner. The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.'"
"I agree with that," Amanda said.
"Second, there is a penalty we all have to pay for our sins. Romans 6:23 says, ‘For the wages of sin is death.'"
"I've never seen that before," Amanda said. Pastor showed no surprise even though he had shared this verse many times with the people of the church.
"Third, because of our sins," he went on, "we are on the road to hell. Matthew 10:28 says: ‘And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.' Many people believe they can do something to save themselves, so they throw themselves into doing church work or doing good or…"
"Or paying their tithes," Amanda interrupted with a smile.
"That's right. But in Ephesians 2:8-9, we read, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.' God does not want us to enter Heaven singing ‘I did it my way.' He wants us to see it is all because of Him. That is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. And God wants us to accept His Son's death and accept the fact that His Son is the only way to get into His Heaven. John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that's you, Amanda) believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"
Amanda quoted the verse with Pastor Gillespie. "I learned that from Sunday School, but I did not know it carried such a deeper meaning. So what do I do now?"
"Just repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to come and live in your heart and change your life. Romans 10: 9 and 13 says, ‘That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved…For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"
With tears trickling down her cheeks, Amanda asked Jesus to forgive her of her sins, to live within her heart, and to change her life. "Thank you so much, Pastor Gillespie," she said giving him a hug. "You have showed me how to have new life through Christ even though we may not have a life together."
"I guess I'll just have to keep praying and looking," Pastor Gillespie shared with Deacon Walsh. "A person can only hold out for so long. There are certain qualities I want in a wife, though, so I won't rush into it."
Pastor Gillespie's office was inundated with phone calls for weeks following the sending out of the letters to pastors nationwide about Sis. Gillespie's actions and the pending divorce. The church's mailbox was overflowing with responses to his letter. Most of the pastors stood with him:
Of course, some voiced their disagreement over the whole matter:
"Well, what do you think?" Pastor Gillespie asked Mother Louise, Sis. Mona, some of his deacons, and his assistant pastor, Bro. Martin.
"We're still behind you, Pastor Gillespie," they all said except for Bro. Martin.
"You might want to seriously take the advice of the last letter you read," Bro. Martin said. "Divorce and remarriage equals adultery. You don't want to be found guilty of all three."
"I tell you what, Bro. Martin is something else," Mother Louise said to Sis. Mona over lunch that same day. "I smell trouble from him."
"Me too," Sis. Mona agreed.
"I have been praying for God to put this marriage back together and it seems the more I pray, the more the Holy Spirit is leading me to get involved directly," Mother Louise shared with Sis. Mona.
"Speaking of the Holy Spirit," Sis. Mona said, "one of my devotionals for this week led me to Titus chapter two where it talks about the older ladies teaching the younger ladies. But with Sis. Gillespie being the first lady, I felt out of place correcting her on some of the things she was doing."
Mother Louise chuckled. "That's the same chapter I read on yesterday. Sis. Gillespie needs someone to show her how to be sober, how to be humble, and how to love her husband. She does not fully understand that true love is serving and giving of yourself without expecting anything in return. These young wives nowadays simply do not understand that."
"I am with you on that," Sis. Mona said. "How about this Saturday we pay her a visit, say around eleven? I have her cell phone number. I will call her to find out where she's staying." Smiling, she added, "Maybe we can get her and Pastor to reconcile before he gets hooked by some other woman. These single ladies around here are trying hard to hook him."
Mother Louise and Sis. Mona were ringing the doorbell at Regina's house, where Sis. Gillespie was staying, at exactly eleven o'clock on Saturday. Regina welcomed them into her home.
"It's good to see you again, Mother Louise and Sis. Mona," Regina said giving them both a hug. She had met them at one of the ladies' retreats at the church about a couple years ago before she stopped attending.
"It's good to see you too," Mother Louise said. "We stopped by to visit with Sis. Gillespie. She's expecting us."
Regina led them to the sunroom at the back of the house where Sis. Gillespie was waiting for them. Regina said goodbye as she had some business to tend to outside the home.
"Mother Louise and Sis. Mona, I know you're here to try to talk me into going back to my husband, but my decision is final—I am not going back," Sis. Gillespie said pulling on the cord to slide the drapes open to let in more sunlight. It was a beautiful sunshiny day.
"Why not?" Sis. Mona asked. "We all miss you."
"If he wants me back then let him come and beg me to return. It's immature and boyish of him to send you two after me. Tell him to man-up and do the dirty work himself."
"Oh, he did not send us over here. In fact, he does not even know we are here," Sis. Mona quickly replied.
"Oh, well, maybe you ought to leave the matter alone then, and let him fix it—if he has any heart at all. After all, he's the one who's wrong," Sis. Gillespie said adamantly.
"How so?" Mother Louise asked giving Sis. Gillespie a knowing look.
Sis. Gillespie hated that look. It was as though Mother Louise was peering deep into her soul and could see beyond her lies, exaggerations and insecurities, and now, her hurt and pain which she was trying to hide.
"Come on now, Sis. Gillespie, you can't be married for ten years to someone, go your separate ways, and not miss that person," Mother Louise said.
"Only if that person has your heart…" Sis. Gillespie replied flippantly.
"Does your husband have your heart?" Mother Louise asked.
Sis. Gillespie wanted to deny it, but Mother Louise had her number. She managed to force a smile. "I don't know," she said. "But I'll admit that I do not feel overjoyed about the separation."
Mother Louise and Sis. Mona exchanged a glance. That was a start: acknowledging that the separation was not ideal.
"If you don't mind," Sis. Mona said, "me and Mother Louise would like to come by once a week and just have a little Bible study with you to encourage you in your walk with the Lord. This will help you greatly at this time whether you get back with your husband or not…"
"Well, what about him? Who's talking with him?" Sis. Gillespie asked. "And I don't appreciate you ladies making it seem like I am the one to blame—like I am the only one needing encouragement."
"We won't worry about your husband," Mother Louise said with a smile ignoring her last statement. "God is dealing with him. God will do a better job dealing with him than me, you, Sis. Mona and the whole church put together."
The ladies agreed to meet again the following Saturday at the same time. As soon as Mother Louise and Sis. Mona left, Sis. Gillespie placed a call to Sis. Zelda.
"Sis. Zelda, did you know Mother Louise and Sis. Mona came over to try and convince me to crawl back to my husband?"
"You don't say. Your husband probably put them up to it," Sis. Zelda said. "He'll soon realize how wrong he is—people are leaving the church because of what he did. No one wants to sit under a divorced pastor. After enough people leave, he'll come apologizing. If I were you, I would not listen to what Mother Louise and Sis. Mona are telling you. Like I said, your husband probably put them up to it."
The next day, Pastor Gillespie preached from I John 4:20-21: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also."
At the end of the services he made a special announcement:
"Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned before, the Lord has impressed upon my heart the need to begin a new ministry that would reach out to the immigrant population that is growing in this city. This has been further confirmed by the presence of eight native Ethiopian brothers and sisters. They can't hide; you can pick them out by their attire. They have been attending our services on and off for I believe a month now. Let Sis. Mona, Bro. Martin or myself know if you are interested in working in that area of ministry. Don't worry about the language; we will just have to learn whatever language they speak and we can also help them learn our language. Please make this a matter of prayer throughout this week."
After the services were over, Pastor Gillespie hurried to speak with the Ethiopian visitors.
"It's obvious from the meeting that Pastor Gillespie is very interested in integrating people of other cultures and backgrounds into the church. I want to see how readily the people of the church will accept us, though," Sentayhu said to Ayana and Bohlale as soon as they returned to their community. "Remember how other churches have shunned us? I've found out most times, it's not the pastor, but the people who have a problem with us."
Bohlale and Ayana nodded.
"The others who came with us feel the same way. How do you feel about the church, Ayana?" he asked his niece.
"I loved it, Uncle."
"How about you, Bohlale?"
"This is definitely the place, Sentayhu," Bohlale replied with a grin.
Throughout the week, Sentayhu expressed how pleased he was at how things turned out and how he appreciated the warm reception given them at the All Peoples Non-Denominational Church. He visited the homes of the other immigrants, especially those who had visited the church before and expressed to them that this may just be the place of worship for the people of their community. There was a joyous atmosphere in the community that week as they looked forward to going to their new place of worship.
"Pastor Gillespie seemed to take special notice of your presence today," Sentayhu said to Ayana after services the following Sunday.
"Oh, Uncle Sentayhu," Ayana said blushing, "as many people as there were, he could have been looking at anyone."
"I don't think so, and especially not with the long handshake he gave you," her uncle said. "And remember, he is single now and I am sure he is looking for a wife."
"Oh, Uncle, you are just reading into things," Ayana said.
Hearing this conversation, Bohlale folded his arms across his chest and grumbled in the back seat.
Pastor Gillespie tried not to stare, but he had never met anyone so beautiful as Ayana. Her meek and quiet, unassuming mannerism arrested his attention. An elderly man named Sentayhu introduced her as "Charmaine" . That name, Charmaine, stuck with Pastor Gillespie throughout the evening. She did not appear to be married—at least, he did not notice anyone in the crowd who may be her husband.
After services were over, Pastor Gillespie secured all of the immigrants' visitor's cards from Sis. Mona. The name Charmaine was on a card by itself with the same address as that of Sentayhu who he had noticed did most of the speaking for the group. Looking at the card, Pastor Gillespie did not notice a check mark in the box beside the ‘Married?' question, and the ‘How many children do you have?' blank was empty as well.
Pastor Gillespie observed Charmaine throughout the services over the next couple weeks. He noticed how she interacted with grace and ease with everyone she met. The genuine hugs she returned to some of the ladies scored winning points with him.
Later, as he sat in his office, he thought to himself, I would love to get to know this Charmaine.
Brother Martin was given complete charge over the new outreach to the community of Ethiopian immigrants. He was expected to report to Pastor Gillespie each week on the progress that was made. Brother Martin, for reasons not yet obvious, was not too thrilled about this new ministry at all. However, he did not voice what was in his heart to Pastor Gillespie — only to his wife, Zelda.
"These illegal aliens are a burden on our country and a menace to society," he said. "They only want to feed off of us and especially our church. They will do nothing but cause problems and bring down the standards of the church and the community. Pastor Gillespie is setting himself and the church up for big problems. We've already got some Jamaicans in the congregation and you know how proud and arrogant they are. And we still have the Haitians over here that Pastor airlifted from Haiti during the earthquake, supposedly, temporarily. But I told him then that they weren't going back. Now they are breeding faster than we are. And how can we forget the increasing number of wetbacks coming from South America, which the Pastor is so excited about, who refuse to learn the King's English or the Queen's English. Now we have to kick out thousands of dollars each month for them to have a separate Spanish-speaking service."
"Now, honey, you know you ought not to call them wetbacks," Zelda interrupted.
"Well, I believe they call us something in Spanish," Brother Martin retorted. "I saw one of those little macho men say something about you when you passed by the other day. What did he say? You know a little Spanish."
"If you would take the time to learn Spanish yourself through Rosetta Stone like Pastor told you, you would be able to communicate with them," Sister Zelda said.
"Well, I don't have to learn Spanish. This is America; we speak English here," Brother Martin snapped. "On top of that, even the white crackers are starting to come up in the church more now."
"Now, you know you should not call them crackers. They are good Christian brothers and sisters just like us," Zelda replied.
"Well, why is it that as soon as we get a white person in the church, the Pastor has to always promote them to assistant pastor or the director of something?" Brother Martin asked. "It's almost as if he has a psychological hatred for his own people and thinks like some Negroes used to think in the past that ‘white is right and black get back' even though he is black himself. The old black people used to use the example that if a black man was selling ice and a white man was selling ice, black people would think that the white man's ice was better. When you go to a white church, you don't see a whole lot of black people in leadership positions, do you? These white pastors are always talking about the need for racial reconciliation, but they don't ever talk about the need for repentance. How can there be reconciliation if there is no repentance on their part? They think they can just come in here and start telling us how to run things. I have an M.Div and a Doctorate in Theology, plus, I have thirty years of experience in the ministry and I have never been divorced. But if I went over to First Baptist Church right now, they will try to sign me up to be a janitor. Now, you know that's true, honey. And even though you graduated from Spelman and got your Doctorate from Harvard, they'll have you taking care of their children like Aunt Jemima."
"Now, we are about to be invaded by a whole group of real Africans all the way from deep Africa in Ethiopia. What's next, the people from the Congo? Knowing Pastor Gillespie, we'll have the Jews and Palestinians in here after a while. Then we'll really be a sinking ship. The Lord wants us to get on the good ship of Zion not on the Titanic."
Zelda shook her head. Even she was surprised at her husband's words. But Brother Martin was too fired up to stop. He went on: "Pastor just does not understand that when you mix niggers, crackers, wetbacks, and a bunch of other people, you are going to have a hellacious time trying to keep things going smoothly. I even told the Pastor that he needs to keep those poor niggers from the hood out of here, and stop busing those snotty nosed children up here each Sunday. We need to keep reaching out to the middle class and upper class so we can keep the money rolling in here to take care of all these things. You know those poor niggers ain't got no money."
Behind the scenes, he continued sharing his negative thoughts about the new ministry with his wife and a few others. On top of that, he was not too pleased that the pastor's divorce was being finalized.
"I tell you, Zelda, it's just a shame the direction this pastor is taking the church in. And the people are blindly following him. We ought to do something about it. This just might be my ticket to gaining more recognition in this place. What do you think?"
"You hit it right on the head," his wife told him. "You get a few people—just a handful of those who carry some weight in this church, and that's all you need to bring him down and to put you up in a higher position. There is a tactful way to do it. I'll help you."
Each Sunday, Sentayhu, with the help of Bohlale, brought in more and more of his people to join in the services at All Peoples Non-denominational Church. Pastor Gillespie made it a point to recognize them before the crowd, and to personally greet them during and after the services. Brother Martin never once went out of his way to greet them. He was light-skinned, and had been raised to look down on other, darker-skinned people—especially those from Africa. He seethed in disgust each time he saw a new group arrive at the church. "They need to go back to Africa, or wherever they came from," he told his wife.
"Don't get your blood pressure up worrying about them. I told you I'll help you take care of it."
"They are ignorant and uneducated and should not be a part of this church. Soon they will be casting their voodoo worshiping ways on us. They can hardly speak English," he complained to his wife and to the three men from the church they had invited over for dinner one evening where Brother Martin was taking the opportunity to get them on his side. Zelda had been talking to their wives about all that had been happening at the church.
Even though Pastor Gillespie had recited the verse which says that God is no respecter of persons, especially since he started the new ministry outreach, Brother Martin could not bring himself to see these Ethiopian immigrants as souls in need of a Savior. Because of his light skin, and because he could very well pass as a white person, he saw himself as better than these ‘lower-class,' more than likely illegal, immigrants. Since Pastor Gillespie announced this new ministry, his whole attitude had changed.
The more he complained to his wife, the more she spurred him on to secretly plot for the removal of Pastor Gillespie. She encouraged him to use the pastor's divorce situation and how he was handling the immigrant situation in the church to his advantage. In Brother Martin's opinion, Pastor Gillespie did not handle the situation with his wife as he should have, and so he was unfit to carry on as pastor. "He should have just sucked it up," he said to his wife.
"You should stand up to him," Zelda encouraged. "Tell him it is not biblical for him to get a divorce and that he should willingly step down. If you just get a few people in the church behind you, and you all apply enough pressure, he will have no choice but to resign. Then who's next in line? You of course."
Brother Martin's ego grew as his wife brought the possibility of him being the pastor and her being the reigning first lady of a megachurch to his attention each day. Having collected a small gathering of five long-standing and well-respected members, he convinced them to stand by him in his effort to get rid of the pastor. "When I'm pastor, I'll reward you if you stand with me now," he said. He asked them to consider various ways of getting the pastor to resign or forcing him out. "Let me know what you come up with. Whatever you do, don't let on that I have anything to do with it because I will be the ticket to you all gaining a position in this church."
One Sunday, Brother Martin left his followers in a Sunday school classroom as they were discussing the best way to confront Pastor Gillespie. Sentayhu and Bohlale were waiting in the hall just outside the classroom door for a few others who were still fellowshipping with the church members. They had just seen Brother Martin duck out of the room. He had passed by them hurriedly without a word or a glance in their direction.
"For some reason, I do not think that man likes us very much," Sentayhu said to Bohlale.
"Yes," said Bohlale. "He is back here each Sunday, but he has never spoken to us or any of the others."
"Well, we can't let him spoil this church experience for us. I still believe this is a great place for our people to worship." Sentayhu sighed contentedly and leaned back against the wall, half-closing his eyes. Then he heard low voices coming from the room that Brother Martin had just exited. He stood up straight and opened his eyes motioning for Bohlale to step closer.
"I think we should just confront him in his office and tell him if he doesn't resign on his own, he's gonna be forced to," a high-pitched voice said.
"Sam, I think you should just bring it up before the church one Sunday after the services. We have to move fast and forcefully. Brother Martin will let one or all of us speak from the pulpit when Pastor leaves to go to the main entrance to greet the people. He'll probably call for the people's attention and say you have something to share with them," said another voice.
"So, you're thinking of by-passing a private meeting with the Pastor?" the first speaker, named Sam, asked.
"That's the plan," said the second voice. "I think we will have a more dramatic effect that way. That should throw him off."
"That's a good way to do it," another voice agreed. "My wife, and I'm sure some other ladies she's confided in, could join us on the podium and we'll address the church together. You know how important it is for us to have at least some of the women on our side."
The second voice chuckled. "He'll be so caught off guard he won't have time to react. And while we are at it, we will ask those immigrants not to return."
Sentayhu and Bohlale hurriedly backed away from the entrance of the classroom as they heard the men preparing to leave. They looked the other way as the three men exited the room.
Sentayhu had come to love and appreciate Pastor Gillespie and was hoping to discuss with him his interest in helping out in the New Immigrants Outreach Ministry. Bohlale loved the pastor as well. They did not want to stand by while others made plans to get rid of Pastor Gillespie. And after hearing what they had heard, they knew they had to move fast.
Pastor Gillespie, Mother Louise, Sister Mona, Deacon Walsh, and Brother Martin visited the Ethiopian community the following week. They were very impressed with the kindness and the friendliness of the people.
"We all one blood and one family," one of the older Ethiopian men told them in his heavily accented voice. "We just different shades."
No, you're not one of us, Brother Martin thought.
"Thank you so much, Pastor Gillespie, for letting us join you in services each Sunday. You are an answer to our prayers," another immigrant told them.
I wish you all would stay away, Brother Martin thought.
"There is only one God and He is a big God encircling all of us with our differences, but we all got to come to Him the same way—through the blood of Jesus," another brother shared with the visiting group.
"Amen, my brother," Pastor Gillespie said bowing to the man who had made that statement.
Here are people hungry for the Word of God and just as innocent and pure-hearted as can be. How can we turn them away? Pastor Gillespie shared these thoughts with the others. "Brother Martin, do you think you can take it from here? As you can see, they are open to you visiting them anytime to learn more about them so we can more effectively minister to them spiritually and in other ways. Every one of them invited us into their home. They are so eager to share their culture with us. Take advantage of it."
Brother Martin nodded nonchalantly.
Mother Louise and Sister Mona glanced at each other. They had noticed how Brother Martin hung back whenever they visited a new home. When they were invited inside, he always remained standing at the door. Pastor Gillespie was too excited to notice, plus he was hoping to see Charmaine.
"Sentayhu and Ayana are at the restaurant," one resident told them. "He's a wise man and has kept us together."
"No better time than now to have my first Ethiopian meal," Pastor Gillespie said as they drove to the restaurant. "How about lunch everyone?"
Sentayhu welcomed them into his restaurant, the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, and assigned Charmaine to wait on them. Pastor Gillespie observed everything and everyone, especially Charmaine. She was the perfect waitress: reserved, attentive, friendly, and very beautiful to look upon. African paintings and sculptures hung from the walls. Another room, separated from the eating area by a glass wall, housed colorful African attire with accessories and arts and crafts of the various African countries.
"These people got it going on," Pastor said to Mother Louise and the others. "We have to support them as much as we can. I don't know about you all, but I am going to purchase me a couple shirts or Dashiki as they call them." Everyone excitedly bought something from the Ethiopian store; the bill totaled over $3,000 not counting the food. Everyone bought something except Brother Martin. As usual, he stood by the door acting as though he was in a hurry to go somewhere.
"Very impressive," Sister Mona said. She could tell that Pastor Gillespie was more interested in Charmaine than he was in the shirts. She was certain the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant had already become one of her pastor's favorite restaurants, and it looked like the pastor had found his queen of Sheba.
Pastor Gillespie and Brother Martin visited the restaurant the next day for an early lunch. They drove in separate cars.
Pastor Gillespie and Brother Martin sipped glasses of Guinness Draught, a favorite of Ethiopian men, as they waited for the meal to be served. Brother Martin was not too eager for the meal to be served. I do not trust these people's cooking. To me, the food looks nasty. They won't give me a fork and spoon to eat with, got me eating with my hands, using this knitted, spongy bread to pick up the food. This is just not civilized. I don't see what Pastor Gillespie sees in this restaurant. We could have gone to Ruth's Chris Steak House like we normally do instead of sitting here like savages. His phone rang and he was grateful for the distraction. It was his wife, Zelda, reminding him of their previously scheduled lunch date. Brother Martin made a show of apologizing profusely to Pastor Gillespie, but inside he was glad to get out of the restaurant and the immigrant community.
"Surely you are not going to let the pastor eat alone," Sentayhu whispered to Charmaine as soon as Brother Martin left.
"Why not, Uncle," Charmaine said with a smile. She knew what her uncle was up to. "He came to eat, plus my job here is not to entertain the customers—just to serve them a well-cooked meal with care."
"This customer you might want to consider entertaining," he said taking her by the arm. "He has an appetite and, as of now, you are on a thirty minute break before the lunch crowd comes in," he whispered to her as they approached Pastor's Gillespie's table.
"How is your meal, Pastor?" Sentayhu asked.
"The best," Pastor Gillespie said placing another handful in his mouth. "Brother Sentayhu, I am going to recommend your restaurant to my church members. So, in the words of a famous preacher, T.D. Jakes, ‘Can you stand to be blessed?' ‘Get ready! Get ready! Get ready!' Because once I tell my people about the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, they will flood this place out for months and years to come. I can assure you that."
"Thank you, Pastor. There is plenty more for seconds, and this meal is on us. You are welcome to eat here anytime you wish. All meals for you will be on the house," Sentayhu said.
"I appreciate it, my brother, but I want to be a blessing to you and your business. I'll pay…"
"I won't hear of it," Sentayhu said waving his hand. "We're hospitable people in our country and I hate to see you enjoying such a good meal by yourself. Charmaine has about thirty minutes before the lunch crowd comes pouring in. She will be glad to join you," he said before returning to the kitchen to fix a plate for Charmaine.
Charmaine sat down in the chair her uncle had pulled out for her while Pastor Gillespie stood up out of respect for Charmaine. As a man, Pastor Gillespie was blown away by her striking beauty, her elegance, and her humble, meek, quiet, cheerful spirit. Now was not the time to protest her uncle's wishes. She knew how much it meant to him to be able to attend a church after being shunned by so many others. She did not want to mess that up.
"Thank you, Charmaine," Pastor Gillespie said.
"You are welcome, Pastor Gillespie," Charmaine replied with a smile.
"Charmaine—is that your native name?"
"No, it's Ayana."
"That's a beautiful name. What does it mean?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"A fitting name," Pastor Gillespie complimented her.
Sentayhu came out with Charmaine's plate of tsebhi — an Ethiopian dish of fried meat and vegetables with hot peppers, fresh tomato sauce, and that famous Ethiopian bread. He winked at her as he set the plate down. "Enjoy yourself, my daughter," he said.
"Tell me about your family, Ayana. I think I'll call you that; it's such a lovely name," Pastor Gillespie said.
"From what my uncle and others in the community have told me," Charmaine replied, "my parents came here to America when I was two years old. Even though they wanted a better life, it was not easy for them to adjust to their new surroundings. My mother missed her homeland and pined away with depression. She died within about three years. My father could not overcome his grief over her death; he passed away about two years after she did. My uncle Sentayhu and others in the community raised me as their child."
"I notice you have a strong accent. How is that? You have been in America most of your life."
"Well, my uncle insisted on me learning about my culture—its language, its history, its food. The ladies taught me to cook, to sew, to do crafts by hand and everything else."
"Mmm," Pastor Gillespie nodded urging her to go on. He was eager to hear more.
"For four years they kept me inside the community; all I knew was the Ethiopian way of life," Charmaine said. "I did not know much of the outside world."
"How did you become ‘American' so to speak?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
Just as Charmaine was about to answer, the door to the restaurant swung open. Bohlale walked in still dressed in his long, white doctor's coat. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he observed Pastor Gillespie and Charmaine eating together.
Without a word, he walked to the counter to give Sentayhu his order. "What's going on there, Sentayhu?" he asked nodding his head in the pastor's direction.
Sentayhu grinned. "You're not jealous, are you? But that's no surprise. Your jealousy lets me know you have a heart for her. Is that not right?"
Bohlale nodded. He was indeed interested in Ayana and had expressed his interest to her uncle. "She seems to be enjoying the pastor's company," Bohlale said flatly.
"Why not be a man and go greet him then," Sentayhu said.
Mother Louise and Sister Mona stopped by Sister Gillespie for their weekly meeting. They were excited about the new ministry outreach and promised to take Sister Gillespie to the restaurant for lunch.
"I tell you, Sister Gillespie, it's going to be a beautiful thing having the immigrants worship with us," Sister Mona said.
Sister Gillespie had noticed a handful of the immigrants sitting in the back pew a couple Sundays before she left. She had no idea her husband was taking the church in that direction.
Getting down to business, Mother Louise said, "Sister Gillespie, let's pick up where we left off last week. Go to first Corinthians chapter seven. Verse ten says: ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.' Here, we see that marriage is a permanent thing, honey; but if a husband and wife do end up getting separated, the woman is to remain unmarried or consider going back to her husband."
"You don't have anyone waiting in the wings, do you?" Sister Mona asked with a smile.
"Oh, no," Sister Gillespie said. "And as of right now, I have no desire to start another relationship."
"Good for you," Mother Louise said. "Can I safely assume you are open to going back to your husband then?"
"I did not say that," Sister Gillespie replied quickly. "After all, my husband, in a sense, put me out; he's the one that brought up the divorce in the first place—I just carried it through."
"Even if that were the truth," Mother Louise said, "From reading the Bible, it seems as though from God's perspective it is best for you to forgive and reconcile with your husband. Sister, you ought to humble yourself and not worry about what your husband did or did not do. Like I shared with you before, God will deal with your husband."
Sister Gillespie did not want to hear it. As far as she was concerned, her husband was at fault for her decision to leave, therefore he ought to be the one to make amends. Her pride would not allow her to make the first move, and from what Sister Zelda had been telling her, she felt sure her husband would come asking to put the marriage back together. She knew he did not want to have a church split. I am open for going back to my position as first lady, she thought. She had always coveted the position of being first lady at a prominent church.
Mother Louise continued speaking, "Jumping over some verses, which we will come back to later, let's go to verse thirty-four which ends with: ‘but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.' A wife's job is to please her husband," Mother Louise said. "And I know from experience that no good man will make it difficult for his wife to please him."
"That's what you think," Sister Gillespie said. "Roland was always demanding that I do this and do that for him. Like at the conference—demanding that I leave what I was doing just so he can introduce me to his pastor friends."
"But that was not asking too much now, was it?" Mother Louise replied softly.
Sister Gillespie had to admit, at least to herself, that her husband's request was not asking too much of her. Sister Mona added, "You know what, sister, it's an amazing thing, but I have found that when I please my husband I feel fulfilled as well. It is almost as if God has wired women to get pleasure from pleasing their husbands once they are married."
Sister Gillespie gave an exasperated sigh. She had had enough of Sister Mona and Mother Louise for one weekend. She nodded to them both. "Well, you gave me a lot to think about," she said. "But I think we've done enough for one day." She ushered them out the front door where they hugged and said goodbye.
As soon as the front door was shut, the phone rang. It was Sister Zelda.
"Sister Gillespie, how are you doing? Have I got news for you," Sister Zelda sounded excited.
"I am doing fine, Sister Zelda. What news do you have for me?"
"Martin told me he and your husband went to this Ethiopian restaurant to eat and shortly after he left, your husband and one of the young African women were eating lunch together. They did not know Martin was in the parking lot watching them. In fact, I was on the phone with him for about fifteen minutes. That's how long he observed them."
"What!" Sister Gillespie felt jealousy, humiliation, and anger in her heart, but she quickly caught herself and took on a more somber tone. She was not going to let anyone know how deeply she was beginning to hurt from the impending divorce.
"I am serious," Sister Zelda continued. "Now that is a disgrace for a pastor of his notoriety to be seen with a single woman, and an immigrant at that. He is not even waiting for the divorce to be finalized."
"Does it seem like they are really close?" Sister Gillespie asked, trying to hide the jealousy in her voice.
"Martin told me they were just laughing together like they had been seeing each other for a long time."
No wonder he started this new outreach. He is going to use that as a way of staying in contact with this woman, Sister Gillespie thought. She swallowed hard. "Zelda, you said that a few of the men were thinking about confronting Pastor Gillespie to ask him to step down to avoid a church split. And you said that you and your husband were trying to prevent that."
"Yes, Sister Gillespie," Sister Zelda told her. "You know it's Martin's job as assistant pastor to hold things together and to step up if the pastor is faltering. From my husband talking with some of the men of the church, there is already a group willing to confront Pastor Gillespie—they'll demand that he asks you back or that he step down, and…" Sister Zelda stopped mid-sentence. She was about to mention that the plan was for her husband to take over the pulpit, but thought against it lest Sister Gillespie ‘took it the wrong way.' She may think I am too eager to take her place as first lady, Sister Zelda thought.
"You know, Sister Gillespie, I may be wrong," Sister Zelda continued, "But my womanly intuition tells me your husband was probably seeing this woman before you all went your separate ways, so you did a good thing by leaving him when you look at it from that view." Thinking of the plan she and her husband had concocted to get rid of these unwanted immigrants, she said with confidence, "Their relationship is not going to last much longer. Trust me."
Sister Gillespie was determined to find out who this new woman was in her husband's life.
Bohlale thought about Sentayhu's words as he waited for his meal to be served at the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. Yes, he did feel a tinge of jealousy when he saw Charmaine eating and talking with Pastor Gillespie. He did not hate Pastor Gillespie, but he had had his eyes on Ayana for some time now. In fact, he was saving up his money to build a huge house fully furnished before asking her uncle for her hand in marriage. He could not stop thinking about how he would not be able to compete with Pastor Gillespie who was well-off financially.
"Yes, I will be a man and go and greet the pastor," Bohlale said to Sentayhu. "But before I do, when do you plan on telling Pastor Gillespie about the plot by Sam and others? From what I can tell, they plan on raising this issue before the whole church this Sunday."
"Yes," Sentayhu said. "It seems that Brother Martin is in on it, but I can't say for sure. We only saw him coming out of the room. The others may be plotting behind his back."
"He probably is in on it," Bohlale said. "Remember he gives us the cold shoulder each time we cross paths."
"We'll let the pastor enjoy his meal. I'll make an appointment for us to talk with him on Wednesday before the evening services. The lunch crowd is starting to come in anyway," Sentayhu said. "Now would not be a good time."
Bohlale took his plate and hurried over to greet Pastor Gillespie.
"I trust that you are enjoying your meal, Pastor Gillespie," he said. "Ayana," he added, addressing Charmaine. "Is it alright if I sit with you two for lunch?"
"Sure, Bohlale," Pastor Gillespie said. "Ayana was educating me on your culture. I must say it is very interesting. I might even take a trip to Ethiopia some day soon."
About fifteen minutes after Bohlale joined them at the table, Charmaine excused herself. "If you'll excuse me, Pastor Gillespie and Bohlale, the lunch crowd is increasing," she said. "I'm sure Uncle Sentayhu could use my help."
On Wednesday afternoon, Sentayhu and Bohlale met with Pastor Gillespie, and with their permission, Deacon Walsh and Sister Mona, the pastor's secretary, were also present.
Sentayhu and Bohlale informed the pastor of the conversation they had overheard the previous Sunday about some of the prominent church members plotting to either force Pastor Gillespie to resign or be put out by a church vote.
Pastor Gillespie was shocked when he heard what Sentayhu and Bohlale told him. "You said Sam was involved in the conversation?" he asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Yes, the men kept addressing someone named Sam," Sentayhu affirmed. "We did not get the name of the others."
"But we did see Brother Martin coming out of the room before we overheard the men talking," Bohlale added. "We did not hear him talking with the others, but they did mention that he would give them permission to talk with the church family after the services on Sunday."
"Sentayhu and Bohlale, if you don't mind, I'd like for you to come back to my office immediately after prayer meeting tonight," Pastor Gillespie said. He had an idea who the other three men that had been talking with Sam were. The four men he had in mind often questioned many of the decisions he had made in the past. They thought that because they were wealthy and gave large sums of money to the church each week, they could buy his favor and run the church. "Money may talk," Pastor Gillespie had told them more than once, "but it does not talk loud enough for me to hear."
Pastor Gillespie confronted the men immediately after the Wednesday night services. None of them could deny the accusations once Sentayhu and Bohlale pointed them out by recognizing their voices. Pastor Gillespie got straight to the point. "If you men still have a problem with my wife and me getting a divorce, and if you do not like the way I am running things here at this church, then you can leave. None of you will be allowed to cause any disturbance here without a fight from me."
"All we are asking you to do is to step down from your pastoral leadership role for a few months, maybe a year, until you get things resolved between you and your wife. If you have noticed," Sam continued, "since your wife left, people have been leaving the church each week. In fact, my wife has mentioned that a number of the women have told her that they would be leaving as soon as they find another church to settle down in."
"Pastor Gillespie, you do not want us to leave," a man named Emmitt threatened, "because as you know, financially speaking, we are the backbone of the church."
Pastor Gillespie chuckled. "Yes, you have been giving generously each week, but God does not need your money to keep this church running. Leave and see how well we will do without you."
Pastor Gillespie gave them a choice: "You can stay and conform and keep your mouths shut, or you can leave if you do not like the decisions I make as pastor of this church."
The men looked at each other. Three of them rose to leave. "Sorry, but we cannot sit under a divorced pastor," one of them said as they walked out.
"On top of that, you are bringing in a group of people who are going to bring down the standards of this church. I have invested too much money here to stand by and let this happen," another said.
"Well, you can go and take your money with you," Pastor Gillespie said. Sam and Emmitt, even though they had no intentions on leaving the matter alone, decided to stay, but to lay low—at least until they spoke with Brother Martin.
After the men left, Pastor Gillespie turned to thank Sentayhu and Bohlale. "I don't know how to thank you both enough. You saved my church from going through what would have turned into a nasty fight."
"You're welcome, Pastor Gillespie, and you owe us nothing but to keep on preaching the Word of God," said Sentayhu. "Your letting us come here to freely hear the Word of God is payment enough."
"I notice you've been attending services regularly. I would like you to help out in our new outreach to the immigrants in the area?" Pastor Gillespie asked. "But under one condition."
"What's that, Pastor?"
"That you officially join the church."
Sentayhu and Bohlale smiled. "That can be easily arranged, and we'd love to help out in the new outreach ministry."
"You know, Pastor," Sister Mona said as they locked up the church building that night, "I would not be surprised if Brother Martin is not behind all this. He didn't seem too excited when we visited the Ethiopian community, and whenever I've asked him how things are coming along in the new ministry, he is very abrupt and does not want to talk about it. I don't know if you noticed, but when we went to the Queen of Sheba Restaurant, he hardly touched his meal and he did not purchase anything from the store even though the church was paying for it."
"Mmm. You know, Sister Mona, I did notice a certain aloofness about him but I paid it no attention," Pastor Gillespie said. "Martin is funny like that sometimes. I knew he was disgruntled about my wife leaving, but I thought he had gotten over it. But, I have more important things to deal with than worry about that matter now. Brother Martin has been very faithful for years, and I would hate to jump to conclusions."
Pastor Gillespie, being the generous man that he was, wanted to do more for the Ethiopian community. "Do you have any suggestions Deacon Walsh and Sister Mona?"
"I know, Pastor," Deacon Walsh said. "We could give them a couple of buses to use to travel back and forth to the services. I have noticed that Sentayhu has been making two to three trips to get people to church on Sunday mornings."
"And," added Sister Mona, "we could set aside one Sunday to let them lead the worship service and allow them to bring in their culture and their type of music. Maybe we could call it ‘Ethiopian Eunuch Celebration Sunday' and we could encourage people to dress in African attire. That would be good for us all to get to know them better. And don't forget to encourage our people to visit the restaurant and the shop."
"Sounds good to me," Pastor Gillespie said. "Sister Mona, why don't you begin putting that together. You can work with Ayana and a few of the other ladies to get suggestions."
"Ayana? Who's Ayana?" Deacon Walsh asked.
Pastor Gillespie smiled. "Oh, that's Charmaine. Her Ethiopian name is Ayana."
"Is she your new love interest, Pastor?" Sister Mona asked with a smile.
"Let's just say, she's promising," Pastor Gillespie answered.
Brother Martin was angry that his plan had been thwarted by the very people he hated.
"Zelda," Brother Martin said to his wife after getting off the phone with Sam. "Pastor Gillespie found out about our plan to remove him. Two of those Ethiopians overheard them talking and reported it. We need to put Plan B into action right now."
"Don't worry, Martin, there is power in the pen," Zelda consoled him. "I'll write the letter, but first I need you to secure the physical addresses and email addresses of the Ethiopian community leaders. That shouldn't be too hard. Sister Mona has all that information filed away somewhere. Just ask her for it first thing in the morning and email it to me right away. Second, I'll send out an email as well as a printed letter telling them that the new immigrants' outreach ministry will no longer include them so they will not be welcomed at the church. We will forge Pastor Gillespie's signature on everything that's sent out. They will have to believe it comes from him."
"Zelda, you're a genius," Brother Martin said giving his wife a kiss on her cheek. "You sure know how to make things happen."
"We'll get rid of them," she said confidently.
Despite her reservations and out of respect for his long-standing position in the church, and also so as not to tip him to her suspicions, Sister Mona released the information Brother Martin requested.
Zelda Martin dropped the letters off at the post office. "Doesn't the signature look authentic?" she bragged to her husband. The letter read:
The Ethiopians, including Sentayhu, who received the letter were stunned and disappointed. Sentayhu was shocked to see Pastor Gillespie's signature at the end of the letter. "I know there are certain people in the church who do not particularly care for us," he shared with Bohlale and Ayana, "But I never dreamed that Pastor Gillespie felt that way towards us."
"There must be some mistake," Ayana said. She was growing to like the pastor.
After studying the contents of the letter, Sentayhu felt within his spirit that something was not right. He also felt within his spirit that just maybe Brother Martin and the men who Pastor Gillespie had dismissed had something to do with it. Perhaps they were trying to cause trouble for the Ethiopians because they were the ones who revealed their plans.
"That's what I am thinking also," Bohlale said. "Brother Martin has not shown any interest in wanting to discuss this new ministry with us even though we are supposed to be working together."
Just to get under his skin, Sentayhu always pulled up each Sunday with a van load of people and made it a point to introduce them to Brother Martin. Sentayhu discussed the contents of the email and letter more with Ayana. He began to think that if Ayana could get close to Pastor Gillespie, maybe she could find out how he really felt about their community being a part of the church.
Brother Martin was not too pleased when he was informed by Pastor Gillespie that he would be working with Sentayhu and Bohlale. What can these people teach me? What help can they be to this church? he fumed. "After I become pastor," he told his wife, "that ministry will be the first to go."
Sentayhu was having the time of his life. He bombarded Brother Martin with workable ideas for assimilating the Ethiopian families into the congregation. Brother Martin tried to ignore all of Sentayhu's and Bohlale's ideas and suggestions. Sentayhu continued to bring in his brothers and sisters for services. The more people he brought in, the more Brother Martin detested him and his people. Brother Martin had to come up with a workable plan or, as the devil had him thinking, we will become known as the Black Ethiopian Church. He complained to his wife about these "bothersome Ethiopians whose only intention is to infiltrate and take over the church."
"What did I tell you?" his wife softly chided him. "Just leave everything in my hands. My German name, Zelda, does not mean ‘woman warrior' for nothing."
Sentayhu showed the email and letter to Brother Martin. "Do you think it is for real or is someone playing some kind of trick?"
Feigning concern, Brother Martin said, "It seems real to me. I'll take care of it. I'll talk it over with Pastor Gillespie. He signed it. If he's changing his mind about this new ministry, he forgot to tell me."
"Sure," Sentayhu said. "Keep me informed."
Sister Gillespie remained seated after she got off the phone with Sister Zelda. Another woman, she thought, and like Zelda said, he was probably seeing her before we got separated. No wonder I was led to leave him. I'll make a visit to this Ethiopian restaurant to see who this woman is…and a foreigner at that. How low can a dirty scoundrel go?
Sister Gillespie Googled ‘Ethiopian restaurants' in the area and found the address to the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. That's it. Maybe I ought to wait until Mother Louise and Sister Mona take me there for lunch. No, it might be awhile before they get around to it. I wonder if they know about this woman. They sure have shown no signs of it. If they knew about her, why would they keep coming here to pray and to encourage me as they say they are doing? It may be best for me to visit the restaurant by myself.
As soon as her sister, Regina, returned home from her job, Sister Gillespie shared her thoughts with her. "Regina, I can't believe he is already seeing someone. It has not even been a year yet. How could he?"
"Do I detect some jealousy here?" Regina said with a smile.
"Jealousy? Of course not. He can have whoever he wishes because I am through with him—have been through with him."
"This Charmaine was–," said Sister Gillespie.
"Now, how did you find out her name?"
"Sister Zelda told me. She also told me her husband saw my soon-to-be ex-husband with her."
"Is that so? I told you, Gloria, you need to stop talking with Sister Zelda. She's only feeding you negative things," Regina said.
"Well, aren't you curious about this Charmaine?" Sister Gillespie asked.
"Well, I am and as of now, you and I are going out to eat our first Ethiopian meal at the Queen of Sheba Restaurant. I'm all set. Let's go," she said taking her sister by the arm and heading out the door.
Regina burst out laughing once they were in the car. Sister Gillespie said, "I'm just going to check her out, you know, just to see whether or not she matches up."
"Sistah, you will have to try harder to convince me that that is all you are going to do and that you are not jealous about your husband seeing another woman," Regina said.
Once at the restaurant, they took a seat at a table where they had a full view of the entire dining area.
"I must say I am impressed," Sister Gillespie said. "I thought this was going to be a rinky-dink place. You know a lot of foreigners live in poverty in their homeland and when they come to America they just throw things together. But I must say, I am impressed."
Their waitress waited on them with class and made them feel as though they were the only ones in the place. Sister Gillespie could not contain herself any longer. "Excuse me, ma'am, does a Charmaine work here? We are friends of hers."
Regina kicked her under the table for telling that lie.
"Charmaine? Oh, you mean Ayana," the waitress replied. "Yes, she is. I can get her for you. She is running the register. Give me a minute."
"Did you hear that? Ayana," Sister Gillespie said to her sister but was thinking, such a beautiful name.
Regina rolled her eyes. Even at a distance, they both could tell that Charmaine was a natural beauty. She was even more beautiful up close—a true Ethiopian queen.
"Hi, I'm Charmaine. My co-worker told me you wanted to see me. I hope that you are enjoying your meal and that you are being served well."
"Oh, yes," Sister Gillespie said. "I am a friend of Mother Louise and Sister Mona from All Peoples Non-denominational Church. They told me about your restaurant and especially about you. I just wanted to meet you, and I must say everything is lovely; the meal is delicious."
"Thank you," Charmaine said. "Let me know if you need anything."
As Charmaine walked back to the register, Sister Gillespie couldn't help but marvel at the young woman's sweet spirit. She could clearly see why her husband was interested in her.
Sister Gillespie ate the rest of her meal in silence.
"Gloria, I hate to tell you this, but you had better do all you can and get back with your husband because that African girl in there is a knock-out," Regina said to her sister before they pulled out of the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant's parking lot. " I can see why your husband is paying attention to her."
"Are you implying that I'm not as appealing?" Sister Gillespie retorted. Deep down she could not deny her sister's statement—Charmaine was stunning.
"Now, you know I am not implying anything. I'm a straight shooter," Regina replied. "All I am saying is, you're going to have to face reality and stop this charade, swallow your pride and your hurt and begin fighting to get your man back before it is too late. Your husband is one of the few good men out there. Stop fooling yourself into believing he's going to come begging you to get back with him. I bet he has already decided to go on with his life without you; you're the only one that's obsessing over it."
Sister Gillespie shifted in her seat, a defiant expression on her face.
"Don't look at me like that, Gloria," Regina continued. "I'm your sister. I hear you crying some nights and I know it's for your husband. When you get around others, you pretend you're not hurting and that everything is alright, but when you are by yourself you're all torn up on the inside."
Regina placed her hand on her sister's arm. "Trust me when I tell you that the hurt does not go away. You might get a little diversion every now and then, but when you lay in your bed alone, when you sit at the dinner table alone, when you have to go through life alone when you're used to going through it with somebody else—it is heart wrenching. Thank God you two don't have any children together; I hear the pain is worse when you have children because they are constantly reminding you that they do have a father. Like I have shared with you before, it's been seven years now since my divorce and it still hurts sometimes. So, I know what you're going through."
"Thanks, Regina," Sister Gillespie mumbled.
"So if you want your husband back, you're going to have to make a move soon before Charmaine starts moving," Regina said as she pulled into her driveway. "And I did not want to say anymore about this, but that Zelda lady from the church must not be telling you the truth. You told me she told you that most of the people left after hearing about you and your husband separating. I don't believe it. The past two Sundays, as I drove by the church on my way home from the hospital, the parking lot was as packed as always. It seems like Zelda is only feeding you negative news to keep you from trying to get back with your husband. You might want to limit how often you talk with her. She might be after your husband herself."
"No, not Zelda," Sister Gillespie said. "She's the assistant pastor's wife."
Regina sighed. "If I was in that church and I wasn't your sister, I would be trying to get him too."
Saturday came around quickly.
"Mother Louise, do you think it is time to tell Sister Gillespie that we really believe she should try to reconcile with her husband?" Sister Mona asked Mother Louise on their ride over to have another Bible study with Sister Gillespie. "I mean, Pastor is really getting serious about Charmaine. I think he calls Sentayhu so often because he knows Charmaine will answer the phone. And his trips to the restaurant are becoming more frequent."
"Mmm, I've been thinking about it, Sister, but I think we should wait a bit longer. She has to fully acknowledge her part in this fiasco she's created. Right now, she's still blaming her husband for everything," Mother Louise said. "When and if she goes back to her husband she needs to be a totally new woman."
"You have a point there. Did you hear about Sam and Emmitt and the other men who were plotting to put Pastor Gillespie out of the pulpit?"
"Yes. Pastor Gillespie told me about it," Mother Louise said with a chuckle. "I only hope Sister Gillespie had nothing to do with it."
"Do you think she would go that far? Is she that bitter over something she caused?"
"I just hope not. And I do not know for sure who she has been talking to from the church if she is talking with anyone. We can only pray that God would touch her heart and Pastor's heart so they can see their need to get back together."
Mona chuckled. "Evidently, the Pastor's heart is being touched by Charmaine right now."
"Sister Mona, can you come into my office?" Pastor Gillespie said to his secretary over the intercom. "You remember Sentayhu and Bohlale, the two Ethiopian brothers who reported about the men plotting my removal," he said to her once she stepped inside the door.
"I have been wanting to do something more for them. I mean they helped prevent what could have been a nasty confrontation on this past Sunday. Can you think of anything?"
After thinking for a few seconds, Sister Mona said, "Why don't you give them complete charge over the Ethiopian outreach ministry. They could still work with Brother Martin, but they would be the head of the ministry from now on. They know first hand what their community's needs are spiritually and otherwise, and they would be able to minister to their own much better than we can." And, Sister Mona thought to herself, it would mean that Brother Martin would not be in charge anymore as he does not seem happy running the ministry anyway.
"Mmm. That sounds good. I'll pray about it," Pastor Gillespie said.
Later that week, Pastor Gillespie made his decision and called Sentayhu to give him the good news. "As of today, you are the head pastor over the Ethiopian outreach at All People's Non-Denominational Church," he said, "and I bestow upon you all the rights and privileges of a pastor including compensation. I will be discussing your new role with you in more detail at our meeting later this week."
"What about Brother Martin? I thought he was in charge of the ministry," Sentayhu said.
"Oh, Brother Martin is moving on to some other duties. You will be the head of the ministry in two weeks," Pastor Gillespie said. "Anyway, Ayana and I have been discussing some things. I asked her not to say anything yet to anyone. I hope she has not betrayed my trust," he added jovially.
"She hasn't, Pastor," Sentayhu assured him sounding surprised. "One thing about Ayana is that she can be trusted. It would take a lot for her to break a promise. Trust is very important."
"Yes it is," Pastor Gillespie said. "Sentayhu, if Ayana is not busy, may I please speak with her?"
While Ayana and Pastor Gillespie were talking on the phone, Bohlale entered the restaurant. Although his work at the hospital kept him busy, he tried to give a few hours of his time to help in the restaurant each week. "I owe you so much," he had said to Sentayhu more than once. Sentayhu had been like a father to him and kept him encouraged when he felt like quitting medical school. "It's not easy living in a foreign country away from your family," Bohlale had shared with Sentayhu.
"Ayana's been on the phone for a long time," he said to Sentayhu shortly after he arrived at the restaurant.
"So you've noticed," Sentayhu said with a smile.
"I suspect it is Pastor Gillespie," Bohlale said.
"Yes," Sentayhu said. He turned to face Bohlale. " I know you've expressed to me the feelings you have for her, and it is our custom to choose the mate for our children, and I must say you are a well qualified young man, but Ayana is a smart girl; I have decided to let her follow her heart. Of course, I'll step in to protect her if the need arises. Remember, I am not her father. I did promise him before he died that I would take care of her as my own daughter and nurture and guide her until she gets married. Pastor Gillespie is a good man and I trust him with her…"
"You don't trust me with her?" Bohlale was quick to ask.
"Bolahle, don't ever think that," Sentayhu replied. "I trust you as my own son. It's just that I think she should decide for herself who she wants to marry. By the way," Sentayhu added, "I spoke with Pastor Gillespie. He has decided to make me the head pastor of the Ethiopian outreach ministry for the church. How would you like to be my assistant?"
Bohlale laughed. "No need to change the subject, Sentayhu. I can handle rejection. But since you asked, I would count it an honor. Have you said anything to Pastor Gillespie about the letter we received?"
"Not yet. I've been praying about it. I believe God will show us what to do," he said. "I did show it to Brother Martin and he did not show the concern I felt he should. He took my copy and said he would discuss it with Pastor Gillespie. I have not heard anything back."
"Want to bet a million dollars he has not shown the letter to Pastor Gillespie?" Bohlale said. "That man has a problem with us."
"That's nothing new. We have experienced that before."
"What does Ayana think about it?" Bohlale asked.
"She was shocked and she finds it hard to believe. I've instructed her not to say anything to Pastor Gillespie or to anyone for that matter. She thought of giving him the cold-shoulder, but I told her not to do so because if he did write the letter, his true colors are showing. I just don't believe he would befriend Ayana with this sinister plot in the back of his mind. If he did not want us here in the first place, the mature thing would have been to just tell us," Sentayhu said. "I just don't sense any hatred towards us in Pastor Gillespie. Now, with Brother Martin, I do. I am prayerfully treading with caution. We don't want to falsely accuse him lest he turns on us for sure. Right now, we have a good thing going. Plan on being in church on Sunday. We have to get you your CDL license so you can drive one of the buses they have given to us. We want to be a part of the church, but at the same time, we want to maintain our independence. I do not want them to think we are just here for a hand-out."
Bohlale nodded in agreement.
"They will be delivering the buses some time this week along with two vans. We are going to have those buses rolling into All Peoples Non-denominational church every Sunday packed with people as long as I'm alive." Sentayhu said seriously.
On Friday morning, Pastor Gillespie had a meeting with Brother Martin in Sister Mona's presence. "So how do you feel about working with Sentayhu and Bohlale?" he asked Brother Martin after he informed him of his decision to make Sentayhu the head of the Ethiopian outreach ministry.
Brother Martin hesitated. "Pastor, I…I felt you should have asked me first. I do not want these people stressed out about anything that goes on at the church. You know how stressful the ministry can be. I want them to come in and just enjoy the services. Plus, my wife is helping me by taking care of some little details such as telephone calls to ask them how they enjoyed the services, sending them a ‘thinking of you card', and things like that…"
"You do not like the decision I made?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"Oh, no…that's not it," Brother Martin stuttered. "I feel honored, Pastor, to work with them. I just have had a lot of things on my mind lately."
"Well, if you need a vacation, we can arrange that. We have others here who are quite capable of filling in for you so you can recuperate. I would just like for you to help Sentayhu get this new ministry off the ground. You have led the way for many of our other ministry outreaches. The sooner we get this one off the ground, the sooner you can take some time off," Pastor said.
"I am with you, Pastor," Brother Martin said quickly. He wanted to finish the conversation as quickly as possible.
"Well, share with me what you have done so far in reaching out to them," Pastor Gillespie said.
Brother Martin had to think fast. It had been a couple weeks since he had talked about the ministry with Pastor Gillespie seeing that he had not done much to advance it.
"Pastor, we are planning a big surprise. My wife is helping me put it together. I'll let you preview it when it's ready. We will share it with the whole church then. Give me about two more weeks to get everything together."
"Well, I hope that whatever you and Sentayhu are planning will be good and helpful for the whole church family," Pastor Gillespie said. "And by the way, you might want to set aside whatever is on your mind and try smiling when the members greet you. One lady shared with Sister Mona that you were abrupt with her when she stopped to say hello."
Brother Martin nodded. "I will, Pastor.
"How do you think that went?" Pastor Gillespie asked Sister Mona after Brother Martin left.
Sister Mona shook her head doubtfully. "I can't wait to see the surprise he and his wife have planned."
"Zelda!" Brother Martin called to his wife on arriving home for lunch. "What's your next plan? Pastor has decided to replace me as the head of the Ethiopian outreach ministry. There's no way we're going to stop those heathens from coming to this church now." He told his wife about the meeting with Pastor Gillespie. "What can you produce real fast—something I can place in Pastor Gillespie's hand to keep him satisfied and quiet while we do what we have to do? We only have two weeks before Pastor is going to let Sentayhu take over. We have to shut this down before then."
"Oh, don't worry ‘bout a thing," Zelda said. "Our next step is to turn the entire church family against the Ethiopians. That way, no one will suspect us. And Pastor will be forced to deal with it himself—either he will handle it head on and there will be a big division in the church, or the Ethiopians will leave on their own because they will know for sure that nobody in the church wants them there."
Brother Martin began thinking. If we can just communicate to the church members how horrible integrating with the Ethiopians would be, then we could get all of them on our side. "I have a plan," he said to Zelda.
"Before you tell me about your plan, I have another letter to show you," Zelda said.
Brother Martin was not too sure about sending another letter. "A letter did not work the last time," he said. "Sentayhu is bringing more of them in each Sunday. They took up four pews last week. We are going to have to stop busing them in and let them come in their own transportation like they used to. Pastor is going crazy talking about giving them two new buses and two new vans. I heard Deacon Walsh on the phone with the bus company. I tried to tell him just to give them one of our used vans because if you give people something free they won't see the value of it."
Sister Zelda shook her head as her husband continued.
"Have you ever noticed them in church? They are some of the biggest hypocrites I have ever seen. They just sit there bobbing their heads at everything Pastor Gilliespie says and just a grinning from ear to ear. I bet they don't understand a word he is saying. I can't stand people faking like that."
"A second letter will show them how serious we are," his wife assured him. "While you were at the church I spoke with Emmitt's wife, Connie, and she told me that the government is cracking down heavily on illegal aliens in this area. In fact, the police carried out a raid at a trailer park not too far from where the Ethiopians live and arrested fourteen illegal immigrants. I bet you quite a number of those Ethiopians are here illegally," she chuckled.
"What's so funny about that?" Brother Martin asked his wife.
"Connie told me these immigration officers do not play. What they do with these illegal aliens, particularly those from Mexico, is, they get some buses and load them on up and bus them back across the border. These Ethiopians want some buses to ride on? They'll be riding on some buses soon—some buses to the airport to fly them back to where they came from. I will begin looking into that this evening. If we can get some immigration officials over there to investigate their legal status, maybe the government can solve part of this problem for us."
"I didn't even think about that," Brother Martin said. "And I know that's the furthest thing from Pastor's mind—especially with him all caught up with that Ethiopian girl he keeps going to the restaurant to see. The last thing he would want is for her to be deported." He rubbed his hands together. "This should work real well. Now, let me tell you about my idea."
As his wife sealed the second set of letters for him to take to the post office, Brother Martin shared with her his plan to get rid of the Ethiopians and to permanently put Pastor Gillespie out of the pulpit.
"We can send another short but detailed letter to all of the church family excluding the main deacons and anyone else we know supports Pastor Gillespie. We will give them all the reasons why these Ethiopians should not be allowed to continue worshiping with us. And now that you mentioned them possibly being here illegally, we got something on them that they probably won't see coming," Brother Martin said to his wife. "I smell victory."
Sister Martin gave him a kiss and with a laugh said, "I'll look into this immigration thing right away."
The Martins spent the rest of the evening putting together an e-book titled The Truth About the Ethiopians, intending to put Pastor Gillespie's name on it as the author. They planned on getting it printed and distributed to all of the church member as well. The letter, which was dropped off at the post office that evening, read:
Zelda Martin visited the INS website seeking information on how to report illegal aliens in the country. She called down to the office and spoke with Weldon Carrington.
"Mr. Carrington, this is Mrs. Martin. There is a growing Ethiopian community in our area and the word around here is that the majority of them are here illegally. They work at various places in the city and now they are trying to slowly assimilate into our church."
"What church is that and where are you located?"
"All Peoples Non-Denominational Church here off Gillespie Road. Most of them live about eight miles from the church."
"I'm curious, does your pastor know they are here illegally?" Mr. Carrington asked.
"I am sure he's aware of it even though he has not mentioned it. In fact, he's pushing very hard for the other members to accept these newcomers. It seems like more and more of them come to our services each week. I don't know how they could be arriving so fast.. I am afraid, along with some other church members, that they will eventually take over our church and then just turn the whole community upside-down."
"Thank you, Mrs. Martin. If you can give me your number and your pastor's name and the church address and number, we'll definitely look into it. In the meantime you remain quiet about this and let us know if you hear anything else."
"I really wish to remain anonymous," Zelda Martin told him.
"We can arrange that," Mr. Carrington assured her.
"We got things under control, Martin," Zelda told her husband after she got off the phone. "We've got to move fast though. I'll have that e-book ready in the next two days. I think we need to forge a letter to Pastor Gillespie from the INS office."
"I think this is a bit early. We don't want him to begin to get suspicious, especially since he seems to be getting serious about that Ethiopian girl Charmaine."
Bohlale stopped by Sentayhu's residence on his way home from work. Sentayhu was gone to the city to pick up supplies for the restaurant and store.
"He won't be back until late," Ayana told him.
"Do you need anything?" Bohlale asked
"No. All's well, but thank you for asking," Ayana said.
Bohlale turned to leave, but he turned back to Ayana. "Ayana, how are things between you and Pastor Gillespie?"
"All's well, Bohlale. Why do you ask?"
"I'm just concerned about some things, Ayana. I do not know whether or not your uncle has shared with you my feelings for you as I have expressed them to him. Anyway, he told me he was going to leave it up to you who you will want to court and eventually marry. Be that as it may, Sister Ayana, I just want to remind you to be careful with Pastor Gillespie and to remind you also that in our country women do not marry divorced men; you seem to be headed in that direction."
"And, Ayana, I just feel it is best to marry one of our own people."
"Bohlale, I appreciate your concern. My heart is touched, and I especially appreciate your not making this a difficult time for me. Yes, my uncle has told me about your feelings for me and I did tell him I was not ready to marry yet. I did not set out to become close friends with Roland…"
"I mean Pastor Gillespie," Ayana said with a smile. "Things just happened and I can't hide from my true feelings. I do like him."
"Does this mean you don't have any feelings for me?" Bohlale was disappointed that Ayana had spent so much time with Pastor Gillespie and that they had become so close.
"That's not a fair question, Bohlale," Ayana answered. "But I'll answer you. I do care about you. I count you as a dear friend."
"In light of the letters we received, don't you think he may be using you?" Bohlale asked.
"No, Bohlale. I don't sense any deceit in Roland. I believe someone else is behind all this. I just don't know for sure who it is."
So now they are on a first name basis, Bohlale thought as he said good night. "It's hard for me to believe Pastor Gillespie wrote those letters, but then you can't judge a book by its cover," he said to her.
When her uncle arrived home later that night, Ayana shared with him the conversation between her and Bohlale.
"I know he loves you, Ayana, and he has expressed that to me more than once, but I have never pushed you to get close to him. I just feel that this is an area in which you need to decide for yourself. Plus, you told me you wanted to enjoy your singlehood as long as you can."
"Yes, Uncle. He also mentioned something about our Ethiopian culture not smiling upon women marrying divorced men."
Santayhu smiled. "If you ask me, I detect jealousy in Bohlale and I give him credit for handling it well. But he's correct, we don't condone divorce, but there are just some things God allows because of our sinful nature. If I understand correctly, Pastor Gillespie's wife left him because she refused to obey his wishes. In our culture, a wife's disobedience is not smiled upon either. Pastor Gillespie's wife has not shown any signs of wanting to return to make amends, so as far as I am concerned, he is free to continue on with his life."
Ayana nodded. "So you don't believe I am being unfaithful to my people?"
"No, Ayana," her uncle said. "Give Bohlale time, though; he'll come around."
Mother Louise stopped by the church office as she normally did once a week just to encourage Pastor Gillespie and whoever else she happened to meet while she was there. "Pastor, our new visitors have been such a blessing. I'll be stopping by the Queen of Sheba Restaurant again on tomorrow for lunch," she said.
"They have been a blessing, haven't they? They are just simple folks eager to learn the Word," Pastor Gillespie agreed. "They just soak it up. I wish some of the church members were more like that."
"They sure are, and that Charmaine she is just as sweet as can be," Mother Louise said.
Pastor Gillespie laughed. "She sure is, Mother Louise. I am glad you mentioned her. I've been wanting to get your advice on two things: Sister Mona almost has things set up for the Ethiopian Celebration Sunday event that she suggested. From what she's told me, the plan is to just turn the whole service over to them. I've been talking with Sentayhu, and I really feel like we need to go all out to make his people feel at home here."
"That would be a great thing to do, Pastor," Mother Louise said. "That would also give me a reason to buy another African dress."
"Sentayhu has the makings of a pastor even though he does not think so. I just see it in him," Pastor Gillespie said. "If you want to help, you can talk more with Sister Mona and Ayana. I already have Sister Mona working on it. Ayana has some great ideas that would help us minister to them more effectively. I have not heard too much from Brother Martin as of yet. But get ready for an exciting Sunday."
Mother Louise laughed. "I'll be ready, Pastor. Now, what was the second thing you wanted to talk with me about."
"It's about Charmaine," Pastor Gillespie said. "You know it's going on a year now since my wife walked out. I have not heard from her. Zelda Martin did tell me recently that she spoke with her and she is not talking of reconciling. I think I have waited long enough. I am ready to get married again."
"Did you want me to try to talk your wife into coming back?" Mother Louise asked.
"Oh, no. This is where Charmaine comes in. You know I have been talking with her, and she is everything I could want in a wife. Mother Louise I am thinking of asking her to be my wife. What do you think?"
Mother Louise smiled although she was a bit anxious. "Now, Pastor, I'll support you if that's what you feel the Lord is leading you to do. We all love Charmaine and to be honest with you, she would make a lovely wife and first lady, but don't you think you should wait a bit longer? I mean there is so much going on at the church you may want to slow down—you know, learn more about their culture, even take a trip over to Ethiopia. It's one thing dating someone; it's another thing being married to them."
"Are you trying to deny me my blessing?" Pastor Gillespie said with a laugh.
"Oh, no, Pastor. I just don't want to see you make a decision too fast."
Mother Louise stopped to speak with Sister Mona about the upcoming Ethiopian Celebration Sunday. At Mother Louise's request, Sister Mona walked her out to her car.
"What else is on your mind, Mother Louise?"
"Sister, we have to move fast. Pastor is talking about asking Charmaine to marry him. Can you come to lunch with me tomorrow at the Queen of Sheba Restaurant? I am going to ask Sister Gillespie to come with us."
"I'll be there," Sister Mona said.
The Ethiopian community was disturbed after receiving a second letter urging them to find another place of worship. What really disturbed them the most was that it was signed by Pastor Gillespie, again. And on top of that, they were being accused of being in the country illegally. A small group had gathered at Sentayhu's house.
"Let's just face it, Sentayhu, we are not accepted. We need to stop trying to fit in. We need to stop trying to be one of them," one older Ethiopian man said to Sentayhu.
"We're not trying to fit in and we are definitely not trying to be one of them," Sentayhu assured the group. "We ought to be free to worship with them because there is one God and He is no respecter of persons. We are all His children."
"Where did Pastor Gillespie get this false information that we are here illegally. My papers are right here," a middle-aged woman said waving her alien registration card and other paperwork.
"Don't bother to pick me and my family up for church. We will just worship here in our house. Anyone is welcome to join us," another man said.
"Yes, we should worship right here like we used to!" a woman said, and several others voiced their agreement.
Sentayhu managed to quiet the group down. He told them to go home and pray about the matter and then gather at his house the next day.
"We have to do something," Bohlale said as they watched the people slowly leave Sentayhu's home.
"Yes. We'll take both letters to the pastor in the morning," Sentayhu said.
Sentayhu, Bohlale and Charmaine were at the church early the next morning. Pastor Gillespie greeted them with open arms.
"What brings you here this early morning?" he asked.
Sentayhu placed the letters on the pastor's desk, smoothing the creases out with the palm of his hand. "Pastor Gillespie, do you know anything about these? We're a little confused. Verbally you're telling us one thing but in these letters you are telling us another thing."
Pastor Gillespie read both letters. "Where did you get these? I did not write these and my signature is on both of them. What in the world is going on here?" he asked looking from Sentayhu to Bohlale to Charmaine.
"The people in our community received these letters. The first letter I shared with Brother Martin. He took it and said he would discuss it with you," Sentayhu said.
"Sister Mona, can you come in here please?" Pastor Gillespie said to his secretary. Handing her the letters he asked her, "Do you know anything about these?"
"No, Pastor," Sister Mona said after scanning the contents of both letters. "I know I did not type them up and you have never given me a letter like that to type up, and I definitely did not sign them."
"Sister Mona types up all my letters and she has my permission to sign my name if I am not available to do so at the time," Pastor Gillespie explained. "You said Brother Martin knows about these letters?"
"Yes, Pastor. He said he would discuss it with you," Sentayhu said, "and that you did not mention anything to him about a change in this new outreach ministry."
"Well, he certainly has not said anything to me about it." Turning to Sister Mona he told her to tell Brother Martin to come into his office ASAP. "Use my phone right here, and stay for this meeting. Make yourselves comfortable. I believe we may be here for a while. Now, brothers, I do not have any Guinness Draught here on the church property," he said with a chuckle, "but if you would like to have some tea or coffee, I am sure Sister Mona can fix you right up."
Brother Martin entered the office and was surprised to see Sentayhu, Bohlale, and Charmaine seated along with Sister Mona.
"Have a seat, Brother Martin. Do you know anything about these?" Pastor Gillespie said handing him the letters.
"No, Pastor," he said after scanning the already familiar letters.
"Well, Brother Sentayhu tells me that he showed you the first one about a week ago and you took it from him leading him to believe you were going to discuss it with me. You may want to read the letter again," Pastor Gillespie said to him.
Brother Martin pretended to read the letters again and as if in deep thought he said, "I vaguely remember Sentayhu handing me a similar letter. I scanned its contents intending on showing it to you, but I was so busy, it slipped my mind."
"Something as disturbing as this should not slip your mind, in fact, it should bother you knowing what the Lord is leading me to do for these dear people. This requires immediate attention," Pastor Gillespie said firmly. "As far as the church family is concerned, you are in charge of this outreach until next week. Has anyone indicated to you at all that they are disgruntled about these dear people worshiping with us? This is sinister, wicked, and devilish."
"No one, Pastor Gillespie," Brother Martin said. He could sense the anger rising up in Pastor Gillespie. "My wife did share with me that she overheard someone saying something about immigration cutting down on illegal immigrants in this area. She expressed concern for the Ethiopians, but I figured it was none of our business."
Sentayhu and Bohlale exchanged glances.
"What about Sam and Emmitt? I know they were disgruntled about my wife and I getting a divorce. Do you think they or the other men who left the church have anything to do with this?"
Brother Martin shook his head no. He hardly breathed as he wondered how this meeting would turn out.
"While we are at it, I have not received anything from you on the project you said you were working on. Where are you?"
Brother Martin started to sweat. "Aah…our project is not quite done. It is taking me longer than I expected. My wife is putting parts of it together so we can take it to the printer…"
"Well, don't you think I need to see it first before you get thousands of copies printed? Have your wife to send it to my email immediately even if it is not completed. Use my phone and call her right now so you won't forget," Pastor Gillespie insisted.
Sister Mona and Charmaine glanced at each other, as Brother Martin reached for the phone.
"Zelda, could you email what we have ready for the project for the Ethiopian outreach ministry to pastor's email right now…He wants to see where we are on it…Yes…He knows it is not done."
"Tell her it has to meet my approval before it goes to the printer," Pastor Gillespie said.
"Did you hear that, Zelda, it has to meet his approval before final printing. I'll be home to help you with it." Brother Martin's heart almost skipped a beat as he hung up the phone.
"How do you like working with Brother Martin?" Pastor Gillespie asked Sentayhu.
Sentayhu smiled. "Pastor, it has not been going well at all." Ignoring Brother Martin who loudly cleared his throat, Sentayhu continued. "Each time I have tried to talk with him he says he is in a hurry or he has something to take care of. Whenever I greet him or introduce him to one of my fellow Ethiopian brothers or sisters, he conveniently shifts his Bible back and forth in his hands, or he'll put his hands in his pockets.
"Anything else you wish to share? How about you Bohlale?" Pastor Gillespie prodded.
"Since Sentayhu has placed me as his assistant, I felt the liberty to write down some ideas we've had which we gave to Brother Martin. To date he has not implemented any of those ideas."
Charmaine nodded her head.
"Were you aware of this, Charmaine?"
"Yes, Pastor Gillespie. My uncle and Bohlale would often discuss this new ministry and things your church could do to better minister to us. They have written down those ideas and as far as I know they planned on sharing them with Brother Martin. Some of those ideas I have shared with you."
"Why didn't you tell me this was happening?" Pastor Gillespie said to Sentayhu before looking at Brother Martin who was stiff with fear. "Well, is this true and why aren't we implementing their ideas?"
"I… I… We just have not had time to implement them. But I will, Pastor…" Brother Martin stammered.
"I don't think it would take much to have one Ethiopian brother or sister to share their salvation testimony with the church, now would it? We do this all the time," Pastor Gillespie said.
The meeting was interrupted when Mother Louise knocked on the door. "I hope I did not come at a bad time," she said.
"Oh no, Mother, you could not have come at a better time," Pastor Gillespie greeted her. "Come on in and join us."
Charmaine gave up her seat to Mother Louise after giving her a hug. Charmaine's eyes met Pastor Gillespie's as she took a seat on the chair Bohlale pulled out from a side table.
After briefly filling Mother Louise in, Pastor Gillespie continued. "Brother Martin, as of today you are relieved of your duties in the Ethiopian Outreach Ministry. Sentayhu and Bohale are now fully in charge and I do not want you involved in the ministry at all from this point forward."
Brother Martin shifted uneasily in his chair. Although he did not want this ministry in the first place, now that it was being taken away from him, he did not like it. He felt as though he was losing some power or influence. This would not go too well with his plans, but then again maybe it would.
"I am going to give you a week off to get some rest. I do not want to see you here on the church property at all except for Sunday services. If there is nothing else, you are free to go."
After Brother Martin left, Pastor asked them all, "Who do you think wrote these letters?" Everyone said they believed Brother Martin had something to do with it. Even though Pastor Gillespie did not want to believe that Brother Martin would do something so sinister, he had to take the concerns of Mother Louise, Sister Mona, Sentayhu, and Bohlale seriously.
Pastor Gillespie and Sister Mona took the opportunity to share with everyone their plans for the following Sunday. "I hope this is not too short a notice, Sentayhu, for you and your people to cook us up a feast spiritually as well as physically."
Everyone looked forward to Ethiopian Celebration Sunday.
Pastor Gillespie touched base with Sentayhu on Saturday before the Ethiopian Celebration Sunday.
"Are you ready to turn us upside down, my brother?" Pastor Gillespie said to Sentayhu. "Don't hold back on your preaching now. The people like to see a minister who lays it all on the line."
Sentayhu laughed. "Pastor, I don't know how to thank you. We've had so many to stop by not only to eat but to shop from our store. Look," he said pointing to the store, "people are still shopping for African attire for tomorrow's event."
"Praise the Lord! Just let us know if you need us to do anything else?"
"We've got it under control, Pastor. You have done so much for us already. I could not even think of asking you to do anything else for us. My only concern is if we will have enough room to seat even half of the people who will come to our restaurant after the services. We will be setting up a tent on the left side of this building. We've done that before."
Pastor Gillespie laughed. "It will all work out. Don't hesitate to call me, Sister Mona or Deacon Walsh if you need anything." Looking around, he asked, "Is Charmaine working today? I was wondering if she could help me choose something special to wear for tomorrow. I want to dress like an Ethiopian king or prince—something rich-looking."
Sentayhu chuckled. "Pastor, you're too much. I sent Charmaine home so she could get some rest. She has been working hard to help us prepare for tomorrow. But you are not going to believe this: we ordered you a special Ethiopian outfit. The package is in my office."
Sentayhu went to get the outfit. He returned with Appiah, an older lady originally from Ghana but who had been living in America for twenty-two years. "Appiah will help you with the accessories and even the sandals if you are interested in wearing them."
The Ethiopian Celebration Sunday was a blast. The members of All Peoples Church and visitors came clothed in their African attire. Even the white members, the Hispanic members and the Indian members and all other races were dressed in African attire. The mayor and his wife, who were white and who were members of the church, came dressed in native Ethiopian attire as well, and gave an official welcome to the Ethiopian immigrants. Many African nations were represented in one form or another. Green, red, gold, and royal blue were the dominant colors. Under Charmaine's supervision, a room was set aside for those ladies who needed help with their head wraps. A few ladies had opened up their homes on Saturday to help style those ladies and girls who were interested in a native African hair style. It was an exciting time.
Traditional Ethiopian music reverberated throughout the church building. Both overflow rooms were filled. Promptly at 11:00, Pastor Gillespie, Sentayhu, and Bohlale took their positions at the podium. "Get ready! Get ready! Get ready!" Pastor Gillespie said. He looked as dignified as an Ethiopian king in his Habesha dress—a white dashiki shirt down to his upper thighs embroidered with gold. He wore white slacks underneath. "I thank you all for coming and for supporting us in our endeavor to reach out to all people as the Lord would have us to. Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, under the leadership of Pastor Sentayhu and his assistant, Brother Bohlale, are in charge of the services so I will get out of their way as soon as possible. After the preaching of the Word by Pastor Sentayhu we will have a baptismal service for those believing Ethiopians who have not yet gotten baptized. When that is over, everyone should have worked up an appetite, but don't worry, they have a feast prepared for you at the Queen of Sheba Restaurant. So get ready for a blessing!"
Pastor Gillespie took his seat as three Ethiopian men and two Ethiopian women took the stage to lead the praise and worship time. Afterwards, Charmaine walked to the podium to read the Scripture for that Sunday. Fittingly, she read the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon from First Kings 10:1-13. Pastor Gillespie had to keep reminding himself to focus on the Scripture that was being read. Words could not describe how beautiful Charmaine looked in her blue Habesha dress with a matching headdress, gold shoulder wrap and silver bracelets and necklace. The name, Charmaine, "beautiful blossom," was certainly a fitting name.
Sentayhu delivered a spirit-filled message after the Scripture reading.
"Our message for today will be from Acts 8:26-38—The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch."
A very fitting message, Brother Sentayhu, Pastor Gillespie thought.
After he had explained the passage to the congregation, Sentayhu said, "Just as the angel of God told Philip to go and explain the Gospel to this searching Ethiopian, God is telling you who have the Gospel truth to go and explain it to those who are searching in this day and time. The angel did not tell Philip to wait for the Ethiopian to come to him, but instead to GO and search for him. In verse 30, we see that Philip found the Ethiopian and asked him, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?' Do you understand the Word of God? The Ethiopian Eunuch said, ‘How can I understand if no one will explain it to me?' Rather than turn away from him, Philip saw the need and Philip responded to the need and explained the Gospel to him. He was reading from Isaiah about our redeemer, Jesus Christ, how He was slaughtered as an innocent lamb for our sins. Philip preached unto him ‘Jesus saves'"
"Yes, my brother. That's the Gospel!" someone in the audience shouted as others applauded.
"And as he preached Jesus, the Eunuch began to understand that there is salvation through none other than Jesus Christ. He understood that all he had to do was simply believe. The Eunuch said, ‘Here is water why can't I be baptized?' Philip told him ‘if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'"
"Yes, He is the Son of God," Pastor Gillespie shouted. "Amen, my brother. Preach the Word!"
"Only believe, my brothers and sisters; only believe. Me and my Ethiopian brothers and sisters only want a place to worship; we only want a place where, like this Ethiopian Eunuch, we can hear the Word of God explained to us so those who are unsaved among us can have the opportunity to get saved and so that all of us can grow in the faith even as you. Don't deny us this God-sent, God blessed opportunity. We believe just as you believe because there is only one way to Jesus and that is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins."
During the invitation, many raised their hands for salvation as they prayed asking Jesus Christ to save them.
Over one hundred Ethiopians were baptized.
The day was topped off with superb meals served by the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. Pastor Gillespie hung around the restaurant chatting with church members after he finished his meal. As most of the customers left, he and Charmaine sat down at a table while Sentayhu and Bohlale did a final check to make sure everything was cleaned up and ready for Monday's customers.
"How did you think everything went, Charmaine?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"Wonderful. A truly spirit-filled day. We could not have asked for a better experience." Charmaine smiled contentedly.
"By the way, Charmaine," Pastor Gillespie said, "you looked beautiful up there today. I have always had a high regard for women who have a heart for serving God, and I could see that in you today."
"Oh, thank you, Roland," Charmaine said. "God has blessed me so much, and I have much to be thankful for. I was very glad to have the opportunity to serve Him publicly today."
"Well, you serve Him everyday with your sweet spirit and the way you serve others right here in this restaurant," Pastor Gillespie said. "And, I know this may be too fast for you, but I want to ask you to consider something."
Charmaine's heart rate suddenly accelerated.
Pastor Gillespie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had thought and prayed about what he was going to say many times.
Finally he asked, "Will you marry me?"
Charmaine was at a loss for words. She shifted her gaze from Pastor Gillespie's eyes to the half filled glass of water she was holding. She tapped the glass lightly with her index finger. Her calm spirit attracted Pastor Gillespie even more. He reached his right hand across the table and rested it lightly on hers. Charmaine smiled but kept her focus on the glass. If his touch stirred anything inside her, she did not reveal it. Pastor Gillespie was about to tell her to think about it when her eyes met his.
"I…I don't know what to say. I feel honored. I…"
"How about saying, yes," Pastor Gillespie said. He felt her studying him as she kept her eyes focused on his. It was as though she was peering into his soul. He saw innocence and sincerity in her eyes.
"Yes, Roland, I'll marry you," she finally said.
"Thank you, Charmaine. Thank you so much for accepting my proposal."
Charmaine nodded her head slowly. Pastor Gillespie felt honored by her humility.
"I'm not sure what the custom is in your country," he said sliding his hand away from hers. "I will ask your uncle's permission, of course. Forgive me if I have jumped ahead of myself."
"That's fine," Charmaine said with a smile. "We'll do it the American way first; then we will do it the Ethiopian way. My uncle won't be mad."
"We're all set to go," Sentayhu said as he and Bohlale walked from the back kitchen into the dining area where Pastor Gillespie and Charmaine were seated. "Pastor Gillespie, I want to thank you for everything you did to make the Ethiopian Celebration Sunday go so well," Sentayhu said extending a hand to Pastor Gillespie. Bohlale did likewise. He thought he had seen Pastor Gillespie slide his hand away from Charmaine's as they entered the room. Looks like they're getting pretty close to each other, he thought.
"You are more than welcome," Pastor Gillespie said. "And I thank you for everything. I don't know about you, but I'm beat. We have everything recorded on DVD and they will be on sale in the church bookstore and on our website soon. Just let Sister Mona know how many copies you want and she will get them delivered to you. Stop by the office as soon as you can Sentayhu, you too, Bohlale. I have some things I would like to discuss with you. Good night, my brothers and my sister."
"Good night, Pastor Gillespie."
"A blessed man," Sentayhu said of Pastor Gillespie as they rode home.
Charmaine was deep in her own thoughts. It would be an honor to be his wife. Everyone seemed to have received my people well today because of his eagerness to include us as part of the church family.
"Charmaine, is all well with you?" her uncle asked her as he pulled into the driveway at his house. "Do you have something you wish to share with me?"
Charmaine smiled. Her uncle seemed to always know when she had something on her mind. She hesitated to share the good news with him—not that she was trying to hide it from him; she just wanted Pastor Gillespie to mention it to her uncle first.
"I was thinking of waiting, but I'll go ahead and let you know. Pastor Gillespie asked me to marry him," Charmaine said. "I…said yes."
Sentayhu pulled the keys out of the ignition and thought a moment before speaking. His silence lasted so long that Charmaine began to wonder if she had accepted Pastor Gillespie's proposal too quickly. Finally, he said, "Congratulations, my daughter." He leaned over and gave Charmaine a hug. "I'll let you go ahead on to bed since it is so late and I know you are tired. We'll talk more in the morning."
"One more thing," Charmaine said. "Don't think he's being disrespectful for not asking you first; he is going to ask. I just wanted to let you know."
Pastor Gillespie stopped by the restaurant on Monday afternoon after working out at the gym.
"Brother Sentayhu, I'm still rejoicing over the blessings of yesterday," Pastor Gillespie said.
"Oh, yes, Pastor. It was truly a blessed day," Sentayhu said wondering when Pastor Gillespie would tell him he had asked his niece to marry him.
"I was going to wait until you stopped by the office, but I felt inclined to come by and share a few things with you," Pastor Gillespie said.
After the men settled down in one of the booths, Pastor Gillespie said to him, "I don't know if Charmaine said anything to you, but Brother Sentayhu, I'd like to ask for your permission to marry your niece."
"Pastor Gillespie, you have my permission and my blessings, but the decision is entirely hers," Sentayhu said. "I only ask that you treat her well and with respect, which I am sure you will do."
"Thank you, Brother Sentayhu. Don't worry, I will treat her well and with the utmost respect. She carries herself in a way that demands it," Pastor Gillespie assured him. "Another thing I wanted to discuss with you was this: would you and possibly Bohlale be interested in going to seminary. I want to ordain you as pastor to your people so there won't be any questions asked. You have the makings of a pastor. The church will take care of all expenses. You can commute back and forth so you can still oversee the restaurant."
Sentayhu chuckled. "You know, Pastor, I've been having a desire to go to seminary for pastoral training if we could not find a church to worship in so I could add more depth to the little Bible knowledge that I have. We were going to just have services on the compound, but you came along."
"I want you to still go and get the training because I want you to be their official pastor. In fact, I believe it would be better if you were their pastor; coming from the same country you would better understand some of their concerns. As of right now, you and your people will be leading the services every fourth Sunday. Perhaps we can add a small Amharic language service for those of you who do not speak English."
"That sounds great to me," Sentayhu said. "I will definitely pray about these matters and discuss them with my people."
"And another thing," Pastor Gillespie went on. "I'd like to hold an official meeting with your people one day this week to let them know in person that I did not authorize the writing of those disturbing letters you received, and to let them know that I will find out who is behind it and deal with them accordingly. If I hated you Ethiopians, I would not be here talking with you, I would not send my people to do business with you, and I definitely would not have asked Charmaine to marry me. "
"You have a point there," Sentayhu said. "Just the Ethiopian Celebration Sunday on yesterday is proof enough that you did not write those letters. When you announce your engagement, that will set their minds at ease even more."
"Yes, as soon as we decide on a date to announce the engagement, we will let everyone know," Pastor Gillespie said. "Now, tell me about this immigration matter. One of the letters said that some people in your community are here illegally. I don't believe that is the case, because the whole letter is fabricated, but if there is any way I can help you in that area, please let me know."
"I can assure you, Pastor, that there is no truth to that. We are all here legally. In fact, every person who wants to live in this community must show me or one of the other community leaders their immigration papers. If someone comes into the country who does not have his legal papers up front, we help them get their paperwork together," Sentayhu said. "Each person in our community is an honest, hardworking individual. I can testify to that personally."
"So whoever wrote that in the letter is lying and is just trying to cause problems with the government?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"Right," Sentayhu said. "I hope that these foolish pranks do not get out of hand or discourage you and your people."
After Brother Martin left the meeting he returned to his office and immediately got on the phone with his wife.
"How's it coming along, Zelda?"
"Great! I'll be hitting the send button in about forty minutes," she said. "I deduced from the phone call that something came up."
"Yeah. Those Ethiopians had a meeting with Pastor Gillespie and they showed him the letter. They still do not know who wrote it though. That one that's in charge of them, Santa-something, even with me sitting in there, had the audacity to tell the pastor he gave me lots of ideas for the ministry but I have not used any of them. Can you believe that?" Brother Martin said to his wife.
"They're trying hard to assimilate," his wife said. "Trying to hide from immigration, I guess."
"With those bright colors they wear every Sunday they are doing a poor job of hiding. Anyone can spot them a mile away," Brother Martin said. "They look like parrots with all those bright colors."
His wife chuckled. "I created two e-books. For the one going to Pastor Gillespie, I just copied facts from Wikipedia, you know to throw him off so that he will think this is something good. The other e-book has all the things we brainstormed on to get the members all riled up. We'll let him get his first. We'll send the members theirs tomorrow."
"Good. That ought to get some buzz going. If Gillespie does not kick the Ethiopians out, the church will kick him out. Have you found out anything more about them being here illegally?"
"No," Zelda said. "I've only asked the immigration officials to check them out to see if they are all here legally. I haven't heard back from Mr. Carrington."
"That's not good," Brother Martin said. "Why don't you call him again and make it more urgent. You know, toss in something about them disturbing the peace and possibly being responsible for some break-ins."
"Martin, we don't want to lie too much now," his wife said.
"Who says we are lying? We may be stretching the truth a little in thinking ahead as to what may take place," Brother Martin said. "On that letter we're sending to Pastor Gillespie, just copy the logo off of the official website and put it on the letterhead and the envelope. If we can just get Gillespie to think that there may be legal trouble down the road for the church if the government finds out that we are sheltering illegal immigrants, that may be enough to get him to slow down on all this integration stuff he's doing."
Sister Mona brought the e-book that had been sent to his e-mail to Pastor Gillespie's attention.
"This is impressive," Pastor Gillespie said as he clicked through the first few pages of the e-book titled Getting to Know Our Ethiopian Friends. The front cover featured a large, colorful image of the dancing performance that had taken place at the Ethiopian Celebration that past Sunday. In the front was a letter by Brother Martin to the All Peoples church family praising the inclusion of the Ethiopian community. The rest of the pages were a series of short articles regarding the Ethiopian lifestyle, culture, and Christian faith, complete with colorful pictures of statues, architecture, and artwork. In the back was an advertisement for the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant as well as an advertisement for the Ethiopian exhibit at the local museum.
"What do you think, Sister Mona?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"No wonder this took him so long. He put a lot of thought and work into this project. The church and our Ethiopian friends would love this," Mona replied.
"Email him back and tell him I said it looks great and to go ahead and send it to the rest of the church family," Pastor Gillespie said. "I can't wait to hear what Sentayhu will say."
Zelda Martin was unsuccessful in getting a hold of Mr. Weldon Carrington. The lady who answered the phone informed her that they would be investigating soon. Zelda spent the rest of the afternoon forging the letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office to Pastor Gillespie. The letter read:
The letter was signed by Weldon Carrington and included the Texas address of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
When Sister Mona showed Pastor Gillespie the letter he was deeply disturbed.
Brother Martin appeared to be highly upset as well. "We have to find out who is behind this," he said, shaking his head.
Sentayhu and Bohlale, who had been called in to the meeting, gave Brother Martin a strange look. They were surprised at his reaction. Maybe we have been misjudging him, Sentayhu thought.
Mother Louise and Sister Mona were on their way to pick up Sister Gillespie for their weekly meeting.
"Sister, we have to move quickly and be direct with her. We have not a moment to lose," Mother Louise said.
"Why the urgency?" asked Sister Mona.
"Pastor told me that he proposed to Charmaine and she said yes," Mother Louise said matter-of-factly. "And since he has not heard anything from Sister Gillespie, he is definitely not wasting any time."
"Wha-a-at?" exclaimed Sister Mona. "Have they set a wedding date? Tell me everything!"
"No, they haven't. They haven't even announced the engagement to the church yet." She turned the corner and pulled into Regina's driveway. "Now, wipe that excited look off your face before Gloria suspects something. I'll tell her in good time."
Upon arriving at the restaurant, they chose a booth seat. Charmaine attended to them.
"Charmaine, this is Gloria Gillespie," Mother Louise said as she introduced them. "And Sister Gillespie, this is Charmaine."
Charmaine greeted Sister Gillespie warmly. "Yes, I've seen you here before," she said. Gillespie, Gillespie, Charmaine thought as she took their order. I wonder if she's related to Pastor Gillespie somehow.
Sister Gillespie smiled pleasantly enough. "Pleased to meet you again, Charmaine. My sister and I came by a couple of weeks back. You waited on us. Everything was lovely."
As the ladies enjoyed their meal, Mother Louise got straight to the reason they were there. "Sister Gillespie, we know you're a smart lady or Pastor would not have married you, but you're not acting wisely right now."
"What do you mean, Mother Louise?"
"Here you are married to a very well-known and well-loved man; he has everything going for him; God has richly blessed him and is blessing him now more than ever. As his wife, you had everything a wife could ever want and you are foolishly throwing it away. What would it take for you to admit you acted rashly and immaturely, and to humble yourself, and submit to your husband as the Bible tells you in Ephesians chapter 5: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.' And go back to your husband before another woman takes him. You are on the verge of losing the greatest blessing that God has ever given you—your husband."
"Oh, really," Sister Gillespie said dryly.
"Yes, really," Mother Louise continued. "Let me put it to you plainly: You had better cut the crap and let go of your pride or whatever you are holding on to and face reality—you are going to completely lose your husband and soon."
Sister Gillespie stirred her lemonade impatiently.
"You don't believe us?" Mother Louise asked. "He told me on yesterday that he's thinking of asking someone to marry him. He told me who, but as of right now I won't say who she is."
Sister Mona glanced at Mother Louise across the table, knowing she was only telling half the truth.
Sister Gillespie stopped stirring her drink and her eyes widened. "Already?" she said in a slow, breathless voice.
"Yes, already. Even though Pastor is a good, godly man, he is still a man, and a man needs a woman, so since you left him over some foolishness, he's moving quickly. I have no reason to lie to you," Mother Louise said.
"Sister Zelda said he's just fooling around with one of those Ethiopian women trying to make me jealous. Whoever she is, he's just using her," Sister Gillespie retorted.
"You know you can't believe everything Zelda Martin says," Sister Mona said. "She's nothing but a gossiper and a liar. You've even said that to me in private."
Sister Gillespie looked across the restaurant at Charmaine who was tending to another customer. She thought of telling Mother Louise and Sister Mona that Zelda mentioned Charmaine as the one, but decided not to because, as Sister Mona reminded her, Zelda was a gossiper and a liar and had caused division in the ladies' ministry before.
"Well, what am I supposed to do, now? Obviously he does not want me anymore…and I don't think I want him either. I mean who would want a man who can only find fault with his wife, always criticizing me no matter what I do. I can never do anything to please him."
"Enough whining!" Mother Louise said firmly. Sister Mona smiled and nodded as Mother Louise continued, "The last words your husband said to me just this past week was that he waited long enough and he has not heard from you so he is moving on. That's when he told me he was thinking of asking this young lady to marry him. Obviously, he was willing to reconcile, but the ball is in your court." Mother Louise fell quiet so Sister Gillespie could process her last words.
Sister Gillespie swallowed hard. Yes, she was trying to wait her husband out; now she knew she was possibly fighting a losing battle.
As if reading her mind, Sister Mona added, "All may not be lost, but you have to admit you were wrong to disrespect your husband and make up your mind to fight for your marriage."
Before Sister Gillespie could answer, Mother Louise piped in. "You mentioned he is always correcting you. Sister, you know you are not above reproach. Everybody needs correction sometimes, including me."
Sister Gillespie swallowed hard again. Mother Louise pulled her Bible out of her pocketbook. Oh, no. I am in for it now, Sister Gillespie thought.
"As you know, marriage between a man and a woman is similar to the relationship between Jesus Christ and us, His bride," Mother Louise began flipping the pages of the Bible rapidly. "Once we get saved we become a part of the bride of Christ. As His bride, when we disobey Him, He chastises us; He teaches us through the Word of God and through biblical preaching, and His Holy Spirit convicts us of sin."
Turning to Ephesians 5:22-27, Mother Louise read: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify it and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Mother Louise looked at Sister Gillespie. "You've read this before; in fact, you've even taught this in the women's ministry at the church.
"Christ sanctifies us and cleanses us by His Word. When this passage speaks of spots and blemishes, it is referring to: disobedience, talking back, complaining, showing disrespect, having a bad attitude, lying, rebelliousness, stubbornness, and so on. He wants us to be clean so that He can proudly claim us as His bride; so that He can brag on us a little, if you will."
Sister Mona nodded. "Husbands are the same way," she said. "All good, strong husbands lovingly correct their wives when they are wrong because they want their wives to be free of the bad attitudes and sins that make them look ugly. For you know, Sister Gillespie, we can look very pretty on the outside, but we can get ugly real quick in the eyes of our men when we have nasty attitudes and sin in our lives. On the other hand, husbands also encourage and praise their wives when they are fulfilling their God-given roles."
Sister Gillespie knew Sister Mona was right. She remembered the many times that Pastor Gillespie had said good things about her from the pulpit even when she did not deserve it.
"Sister Gillespie, you may be wondering why I am being so firm with you about this, or why I am even getting involved in this. I'll tell you. Sister Mona already knows this, but I almost lost my husband after fifteen years of marriage. I was acting as foolish as you are acting right now. Well, my husband started talking to another sister in the church. That was like a dagger piercing my heart, but I refused to humble myself. My sister got so sick of my whining and moping about the house that she told me my husband was planning on leaving me and getting married to someone else. I found out later that she lied only to get me to move on and stop my constant whining. I got angry, but I would deny it bothered me. My mother did the best thing a mother could do: she invited my husband over, had all four of us, including my father in her bedroom and she and my father lectured us for about an hour." Mother Louise chuckled. "Then they locked us in the bedroom and told us we were not coming out until we got things right. We were in there for about five hours. First there was silence, then my husband said, ‘Let's just get it over with,' and broke out laughing. Then I started to laugh. I was laughing even though I was angry. To make a long story short, we yelled at each other, we blamed each other, and then we hugged and kissed each other and made up, if you know what I mean. Well, we spent the next twenty-nine years together until God took him home to Heaven, and I thank God my mother made us do the right thing."
Sister Gillespie would never have imagined anything like that happening to Mother Louise. "What's so funny, Mother Louise?" she asked after Mother Louise started to laugh.
"At one point when my husband and I were yelling at each other, my mother, I guess she had been listening through the door, she shouted at us, ‘You both are doing great. Get it all out of your system. You got a ways to go and the door is still locked.'"
The ladies were so engrossed in their conversation they were unaware of Charmaine's presence. She had come to refill their glasses and overheard Mother Louise's last few words.
"After a while we settled down and were talking like sensible folks," Mother Louise said. "My mother shouted through the door again, ‘Are you all making up now? That's good. I'll let you out after a while.'"
"I bet it was good too," Sister Mona said.
"It sure was," Mother Louise said laughing even harder.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Charmaine said as she reached for their empty glasses.
"Oh, no, we were just exchanging stories," said Sister Mona.
Charmaine cheerfully refilled their glasses then returned to her other customers.
"So, are you ready to humble down and make the necessary changes in your life to get your husband back?" Sister Mona asked, "‘cause I'm afraid Charmaine has stolen his heart."
"What?!" exclaimed Sister Gillespie.
Mother Louise glared at Sister Mona. "I told you…" she mouthed.
"So, it is Charmaine," Sister Gillespie said with a humble, broken voice of hurt. She was not angry with Charmaine; she was hurt that her husband would move so quickly to replace her and that Sister Mona and Mother Louise would sit there talking to her while all along knowing that the woman her husband was interested in was serving her lunch.
Sister Gillespie broke down and started crying at the table. Taking a cloth napkin from the table, she walked quietly, respectfully, and humbly towards the door.
Mother Louise and Sister Mona glanced at each other as Sister Mona slid out of her seat and hurried out the door after Sister Gillespie.
"Sister Gillespie, wait up!" Sister Mona said.
Charmaine and the other diners turned their heads at the slight disturbance. Charmaine hurried over to Mother Louise who was moving a bit slower due to her age.
"What's the matter, Mother Louise? Is there something I can help you with?" Charmaine asked.
"Yes and no," Mother Louise said. "I'll give you a call later. Right now, let me hurry on out here and help calm Sister Gillespie down."
Charmaine walked Mother Louise to the door. "I'll be waiting to hear from you," she said to Mother Louise as she held the door open for her to go outside.
"Don't worry, honey. I'll be giving you a call tonight."
"Mother Louise, thank you so much for calling," Charmaine said after answering the phone. "Is everything alright with Sister Gillespie?"
"Yes and no," Mother Louise said. "Charmaine, you do know who she is, don't you?"
"Yes, I figured it out. She's Pastor Gillespie's former wife," Charmaine said.
"Yes, and she knows who you are."
"And what's that?"
"She now knows her husband asked you to marry him."
An awkward silence fell between the two ladies before Mother Louise spoke up. "Charmaine, I'm going to give it to you straight, and I hope you won't see me as being deceitful. It's an awkward position that we are in. Anyway, Sister Mona and I have been meeting each Saturday with Sister Gillespie and talking with her about how she should carry herself as a wife. We've been helping her to see the mistakes she's made as a wife, and the change she needs to make if she plans on making amends and going back to her husband."
"I see," Charmaine nodded.
"Verbally she keeps saying she's not going back to him, that he's at fault, and he needs to come to her and apologize to her, but deep down, she's hurting and she wants him back…"
Oh, dear, Charmaine thought.
"We were trying not to say anything to her about Pastor Gillespie proposing to you, but it slipped out."
"I see," Charmaine said. "I'm curious, how did you know Pastor Gillespie asked me to marry him?"
"Oh, he asked my advice before he asked you; he's like a son to me. Of course, I told him to do as the Lord was leading him, and I assured him that whatever his decision was, we would stand with him."
"Well, we are in a tight corner, aren't we?" Charmaine sighed.
"You're not upset, are you?"
"Oh, no. By right, Sister Gillespie is really his wife, but I will tell you this: I love Pastor Gillespie and I did accept his proposal, but now, we have to figure out what to do."
"This is a thought: Let's spend the night in prayer over this. Sister Mona is already praying with us," Mother Louise said. "If you don't mind, we'd love for you to join us on tomorrow when we meet with Sister Gillespie. We can pick you up. It might be an uncomfortable meeting, but I think we need to do this."
"Sure," Charmaine said with hesitation. "Mother Louise, I've had some concerns about some things also, and I need some advice…and prayer."
Mother Louise listened as Charmaine shared with her what had been on her heart the past few weeks.
"You know, I love Pastor Gillespie and yes, I want to be his wife, but I am concerned about three things: One, in my country, and according to our Ethiopian culture, unmarried women do not marry divorced men. I know I am in America and have spent all my life here, but I was born Ethiopian, and I do not want to do anything that would cause a stir in my community or leave anyone disgruntled."
"I see," Mother Louise said.
"Two," Charmaine continued, "my people have never been accepted in any of the churches around here. Pastor Gillespie has graciously opened the church doors here and has invited us in with open arms. I know that someone is trying to get rid of us, but my marrying Pastor Gillespie, I'm sure, will provide my people with a solid place to worship…and hopefully a riot will not break out from dissenters…"
Mother Louise chuckled. "You don't have to worry about a riot, Charmaine. Pastor Gillespie will prevent the fire from blazing by putting out the spark. He'll fight for what he stands for."
"That's one thing I noticed about him," Charmaine said. "I just want to make sure I'm marrying him for the right reasons."
"What's the third concern you had? You said you had three."
"Yes, the third reason is Sister Gillespie. I do not want any contention between us."
"Sister, all I can say is you pray about it," Mother Louise said. "I'll be praying with you too, and you follow your heart. That's a decision I really cannot make for you."
Both ladies chatted some more. Mother Louise prayed with her before they bid each other ‘good night'.
Mother Louise shared with Sister Mona all that Charmaine had shared with her on their way to pick her up for the meeting with Sister Gillespie.
"Well, we knew this day was coming. God's will be done, is all I can say," Sister Mona said.
The meeting was an uncomfortable one, especially for Sister Gillespie and Charmaine. Charmaine listened as Mother Louise and Sister Mona instructed Sister Gillespie on what it meant to be a biblical wife. Their main focus was First Peter chapter three verses one and two: "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear."
Sister Gillespie felt embarrassed being given so much strict instruction in front of Charmaine.
"See, ladies, it says here that if a wife acts right, then God gives the assurance that the husband will come around and begin acting right himself…" Mother Louise said.
Charmaine nodded her head.
Why in the world is she nodding her head? She has never been married and definitely not to my husband, Sister Gillespie thought.
"Verse two says a certain fear will fall upon your husband as they take note of your godly behavior," Mother Louise said.
"And it won't be easy," Sister Mona said. "Because your flesh will act up and the ‘me, myself, and I' attitude will try to push itself forward."
Charmaine nodded again.
Mother Louise stared at Sister Gillespie to bring her back into focus. "If a wife plans on keeping her husband and thus her marriage intact, she has no choice but to do what the Bible says."
"Yes, sister," Sister Mona agreed. "She has to take heed to Proverbs 25:28 which says: ‘He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.' She has to guard and bring under control her spirit and her attitude and choose to respond in a Godly manner and not cater to the world's way of doing marriage, her fleshly ideas, nor the devil's corrupt suggestions."
This is good stuff, Charmaine thought. This is where I need to be each Saturday.
At the end of the Bible study, the ladies turned their attention to the unresolved issue they were facing. "I know this is uncomfortable for you both," Mother Louise said. "But we have to face reality. Pastor and Sister Gillespie are divorced. Pastor Gillespie has decided to move on and marry Charmaine; Sister Gillespie desires to get back with her husband. You two can either go your separate ways and pretend you never knew each other and…"
"And," Charmaine interrupted. "I know what we can do. Forgive me for being so forward, but I have a plan; it's not complete yet, so I'll pray more about it throughout this week and I'll share it with you on next Saturday."
Mother Louise, Sister Mona, and Sister Gillespie exchanged glances.
"Just trust me," Charmaine said.
After worship services on Sunday morning, Pastor Gillespie called Charmaine to the podium. "As you are now fully aware, Sister Gillespie and I have gone our separate ways. I have waited for almost a year now and Sister Gillespie has moved on—I have not heard from her. I have decided to move on myself and I have asked Charmaine Ayana Okekeri to be my wife. She has graciously accepted."
There were surprised looks on many of the faces in the congregation.
A foreigner? a few of the single ladies thought.
Others gave a round of applause. "Congratulations, Pastor!"
"We love you both!" Shouts of joy came up from the Ethiopian group. Some of the ladies did an African dance of joy at the announcement. Many saw this as the open door to solidifying their position and their presence at All Peoples Non-Denominational Church. Bohlale was surprised at the news. Overcoming his disappointment, he decided to do the mature thing. He congratulated Pastor Gillespie on his way out the door, and congratulated Charmaine later that evening.
Zelda Martin had barely pulled out of the church parking lot as she put in a phone call to Gloria Gillespie.
"I told you, Sister Gillespie. He was seeing her before you walked out on him. By marrying this Ethiopian girl, he is going to bring the whole Ethiopian community into the church and pollute the church. If I were you, I'd step in."
"And how do you propose I do that?" Sister Gillespie asked. Frankly, she was tired of Zelda's manipulating spirit.
"Oh, just walk into his office and tell him you're against it. Bring your lawyer into it. Or better still, go to the Queen of Sheba Restaurant and tell this Charmaine not to mess with your man. You can even work with me and Martin…"
"What do you mean ‘work with you and Martin'?"
"Do you have a new email where I can send you a little book about these people? We have the scoop on them. As soon as I get home, I'll be sending it to the church family. These Ethiopians are slowly working their way into the church to take over. Martin and I are going to put a stop to it!"
"Does my husband know anything about it?" Sister Gillespie asked.
"We tried to tell him about these people but he won't listen so we took matters into our own hands."
Sister Gillespie smiled to herself. This time around she was not going to let Zelda Martin pull her into a twisted web and have her all confused. But she decided to play along.
"Go ahead and send me the little book," Sister Gillespie said after giving her the email to send it to. "And thanks for letting me know. Have a great evening, Zelda."
Zelda Martin felt pleased as she pushed the send button that evening to send the ebook to the church family. "Tomorrow, we should be hearing some buzz," she told her husband. "I'll also call Mr. Carrington. I'll just share with him what Connie shared with me. Wednesday night prayer meeting should be mighty interesting."
On Monday, Pastor Gillespie took Charmaine out for lunch. "Well, how do you feel?" he asked her.
"Blessed," Charmaine said. "I look forward to being your wife. Have you found out for sure who's trying to get rid of my people?"
"Oh, I would not worry about that," Pastor Gillespie said. "Didn't you notice the tremendous response from the people when I announced the wedding?"
Charmaine nodded with a smile.
"All is under control. Right now, I need for you to focus on us. Can you do that?" Pastor Gillespie asked.
"I can do that," Charmaine assured him.
After dropping her off at the restaurant, Pastor Gillespie decided to stop by the church. So many things were happening he could not afford to take this Monday off. Sis. Mona greeted him with a worried look.
"Oh, Pastor, I was hoping not to bother you, but all hell has broken loose since last night."
They went into his office as Sis. Mona informed him as to what was going on. She pressed the ‘play' button on the answering machine to reveal some disturbing messages:
"Pastor Gillespie, you are one negro (I was going to say ‘nigger' but I respect you as a man of God). How could you do this to these dear people? They have been nothing but a blessing to us."
"This is not the Pastor Gillespie I know. Why would you stab these Ethiopians in the back like that?"
"I am definitely moving my membership elsewhere and I'll be taking a few other families with me."
"You are a deceitful, two-timing person. Here you are announcing you're going to marry that sweet Ethiopian girl, and then you put out a book putting them down."
"What is going on?" Pastor Gillespie asked Sis. Mona.
"This is what is going on," she said clicking on an ebook. "Bro. Emmitt sent this about an hour before you came. He said it was in his inbox when he checked his emails on the job this morning. He said his wife, Connie, received one as well. Apparently, someone sent this ebook out to the church family. I did not get one, and neither did Mother Louise and some others I checked with."
The Real Truth About the Ethiopians flashed across the screen. "Bro. Emmitt says to turn to page twenty and go forward." Pastor Gillespie took control of the mouse and hurriedly flipped through the familiar twenty pages. What he saw from page twenty going forward shocked him. The Ethiopians were pictured as "bastards, uncouth, having evil minds." It went on to state "these voodoo worshippers are slowly but surely infiltrating churches all over this country with their hedonistic practices." Pastor Gillespie read out loud: "These deceptive people will present themselves as humble, meek and quiet, seeking only to worship the true God with us, but after a few months, they will take over the operations of the church."
"What's all this about?" Pastor Gillespie asked with a puzzled look. "This was not in the original copy I gave the Martins permission to send out."
Pastor Gillespie continued reading to the end. The Ethiopians were presented as being here illegally with a notation indirectly indicating that most, if not all, of them may be in the country illegally. The last page had the following statement: Why don't you do your part as informed citizens and call your local Immigration and Naturalization Service Department, and inform them before the Ethiopians take over our beloved America.
"Tell me something, Sis. Mona, because I am ready to fight somebody here," he said reclining back in his chair.
"This is what I think, Pastor," Sis. Mona said, "I believe the Martins sent us a clean copy. Then after you gave the okay to mail it out, they went in and inserted all this negative stuff about them and sent it to the church family. I didn't get a copy, so I am thinking they did not send it out to those who were close to you."
"That's a logical explanation."
"Bro. Emmitt said he and his wife spoke with the Martins at length about it because he thought Bro. Martin was still over that ministry. He says he'll be talking with you on tomorrow. They will be going over to the Martins for dinner to discuss this some more."
"Thanks, Sis. Mona. Do you know whether or not Sentayhu or the others have received this book?"
"I don't think so," Sis. Mona said.
"Well, say nothing to them, and take all messages. I'm going to call this Mr. Carrington at the INS office and get to the bottom of this."
"Mr. Carrington, this is Pastor Roland Gillespie of the All Peoples Non-Denominational Church here in Texas. I received this rather disturbing letter from your office. In fact, it had your signature, Weldon Carrington, at the bottom of the letter. It came via overnight mail."
Pastor Gillespie read the contents of the letter to him. Mr. Carrington could not recall sending such a letter. "Let me check with my secretary. We have so much going on at the office."
When Mr. Carrington returned, he informed Pastor Gillespie that he did not authorize the sending of such a letter. "But," he said, "a Mrs. Martin contacted me a couple of times about your housing an Ethiopian group who may be here illegally. In fact, she mentioned your name and your church's name."
"Yes, she called last week but I was out of my office. My secretary spoke with her and told her to gather her sources and get back in touch with us."
"Mr. Carrington, Mrs. Martin is doing nothing but feeding you lies." Pastor Gillespie gave Mr. Carrington the full scope of what had been happening since the Ethiopians started coming to their services including having to relieve Bro. Martin of his duties as head of that ministry. "Everything was going well with them worshipping with us until I placed Bro. Martin over that ministry. Others have shared with me his negative attitude towards them and believe he is behind all the scheming to get rid of them."
"So, in effect, Mr. Martin and his wife are taking the law into their own hands?"
"Yes," Pastor Gillespie said.
"Do they know that that is a federal offense and they could get thrown in jail for it?" Mr. Carrington said. "Do you know for sure that they are here legally?"
"I am almost sure, but I can double check," Pastor Gillespie said. "Mr. Carrington, I want you to know that I do not mess with the laws of the land. I will cooperate with you as far as getting to the bottom of this."
"I pick up that you are an honest man," Mr. Carrington said. After putting Pastor Gillespie on hold, he returned to share with Pastor Gillespie how they should proceed.
"If you don't mind, could you please fax me a copy of the letter, and also a copy of the letters the Martins sent to the Ethiopians. It might seem as though we are moving fast, but we would like to come by on Thursday and Friday and do a random check of the Ethiopians before we confront Mrs. Martin."
"Sure," Pastor Gillespie said. "I am sure that will not be a problem. I'll show you around myself. Would 8:00 in the morning be too early?"
After Mr. Carrington copied down the church's address, phone number, and email address, 8:00 was agreed upon. Pastor Gillespie immediately passed on the newly acquired information to Sis. Mona. "Make a notation of everything, I'm sure we'll need to refer to it again. Before you do, please get Sentayhu on the phone."
No sooner had Mr. Carrington hung up the phone from talking with Pastor Gillespie, he received a phone call from Zelda Martin.
"Mr. Carrington, I am so glad I got a hold of you. Things have been happening in our favor regarding these Ethiopians. I have a lot of new information for you. Did you receive the ebook my husband and I put together about these Ethiopians?"
"I have not checked my email yet. I'll get my secretary to check it out. In the meantime, what new information do you have for us?"
"A lot. I have it all planned out how we can easily rid our city of them." Not waiting for a response, she continued. "My friend, Connie, was telling me you all just gather them up in one fell swoop and bus them to their country of origin. I can see how that works for the Mexicans — you just bus them across the border and deposit them. But how does it work for people overseas?"
"We have a holding place, and we either put them on a ship or on a plane as space allows and return them to their homeland."
"What happens to them once they are returned home?" Zelda Martin asked.
"We then turn them over to the INS officers in their country and they take it from there," Mr. Carrington said. Unknown to Sis. Martin, her conversation with Mr. Carrington was being recorded.
"Oh, I see," Sis. Martin said. "I've been doing some research and I found out that there is a big scam going on with these illegal aliens. I am told that they get a lawyer to help them get fake IDs and other documentation. They pay the lawyers big money to help them."
"We need to employ you," Mr. Carrington said.
Zelda Martin chuckled. "That's not all. This is where Pastor Gillespie comes in, and not just him, but I believe some of his deacons are in on it too. And that is, they marry these aliens so they can remain in the country. I hear they get paid to marry them, then after so many years they file for divorce."
"How do you know for sure your Pastor is in on this?"
"Well, he and his wife got a divorce and he announced from the pulpit on yesterday his plans to marry this Ethiopian girl. You see, he has to do his thing in the open so no one will get suspicious."
"You said his deacons are in on it as well?" Mr. Carrington asked.
"I believe one or two of them are," Zelda said. "They exchange their marriage vows down at the courthouse. It's a big scam, Mr. Carrington."
"Mrs. Martin, I want to thank you so much for this information. This will certainly make our job easier," Mr. Carrington said. "Hold on a minute, my secretary says she has the book that you sent up on her computer. She says I might want to take a look at it. If there is nothing else, let me go and read the book. Thank you so much for this wealth of information. Don't hesitate to give me a call if anything else comes up."
"I certainly will," Zelda Martin said.
Mr. Carrington hung up the phone.
Emmitt and his wife, Connie, arrived promptly at six at the Martins' house for dinner. Conversation centered around the ebook they received.
"Can you believe Pastor Gillespie or someone would do that?" Emmitt exclaimed. "Bro. Martin, I was surprised to hear you were no longer in charge of the Immigration ministry. Maybe that's a good thing, considering this new ebook about them."
"Maybe there is some truth to the information in the book," Zelda Martin said. "Martin had a hard time working with them. They just would not cooperate with him. They were always up in his face, pulling him here and there."
Connie glanced at her husband. She thought the Martins did not express much remorse over the negativities about the Ethiopians. In fact, they seemed a bit too relieved about the matter.
"I really find it hard to believe Pastor Gillespie wrote that letter. That is just not him," Connie said quietly.
"You really can't judge a book by its cover," Bro. Martin said. "You have to read it from cover to cover and in between the lines.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Emmitt asked.
Bro. Martin and his wife looked at each other. "Well, Zelda and I put the book together with Pastor Gillespie's permission. He looked it over and told us to send it off to the church family."
"What?" Emmitt said. "Things are not adding up. He holds this big Sunday celebration for them; he tells us every Sunday not to forget to stop by their restaurant and shop; to ‘adopt' some of them and be an encouragement to them, and just yesterday, he announced his plans to marry one of them."
"That's a plot," Zelda quickly added. "He's playing both sides, meaning he's part of a scam; he's been paid money to marry Charmaine so she can stay in the country. Some of his deacons are a part of it."
"What? This is unbelievable," Emmitt said.
"Believe it," Zelda Martin said. "Remember, Connie, you told me the INS just gathers up the illegal aliens and busses them on back home and that these Ethiopians needed to be bussed on out of here too. You said they were getting on your nerves."
"I did not tell you that, Zelda," Connie started. "I shared with you what I heard from the news after you brought up something about maybe some of the Ethiopians being here illegally. I told you it was none of our business."
Emmitt did not like what he was hearing. Connie was not a liar, neither was she a gossiper, and he did not appreciate anyone falsely accusing her like that — friend or no friend.
"Anyway," Zelda continued, "Martin can make you and your husband look real good if you stick with us."
"What are you talking about?" Connie asked.
"Tell them, Martin."
"Well, some people are still disgruntled over his divorce, and now he's marrying an Ethiopian. Some have shared with me that they are not going for that. So," Bro. Martin said, "there is going to be an uprising soon from the whispers I've heard; they are going to push for Pastor Gillespie to resign. I've shared with them that I'll be their pastor if Pastor Gillespie leaves. Emmitt, you can be my right hand man, and Connie, you can work with my wife in the leadership of the ladies' ministry. I have big plans for when Pastor Gillespie leaves."
I'm sure you do, Emmitt thought.
After finishing dessert, Emmitt and Connie decided to leave promptly. Emmitt said, "Well, we don't want to wear out our welcome, plus I have to go in earlier than usual on tomorrow."
"Now, this visit is just between us," Bro. Martin said as he walked them to the door.
"Oh, I won't let anyone know who does not need to know. Good night, my brother."
"Can you believe that?" Emmitt said as he backed out of the driveway. "Emmitt, you can be my right hand man," Emmitt said mimicking Bro. Martin. "Connie," he said turning to his wife, "I believe Bro. Martin and his wife are behind all this. I don't believe for one minute that Pastor Gillespie has anything to do with this. Bro. Martin is still disgruntled about Pastor Gillespie's divorce. He asked me once how I felt about the Ethiopians worshipping with us. Of course, I told him I was all for this outreach. See, he was trying to get me into his corner back then."
"Emmitt, honey, you just made a wrong turn," his wife pointed out to him.
"Oh, no, I am headed for Pastor Gillespie's house."
"But you promised Bro. Martin you would not tell anyone."
"Oh, no, I didn't. I told them I won't let anyone know who does not need to know. Pastor Gillespie needs to know."
Mr. Carrington and three immigration officers arrived at eight o' clock in the morning at the All Peoples Non-Denominational Church. Pastor Gillespie met them and they hit it off immediately. The group went over a few preliminaries before starting their two-day tour of the Ethiopian community. Their first stop was the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. They found everyone and everything in place and in accordance with city and state laws. Without hesitation, the workers produced the proper documents for legal status in the United States. Sentayhu served the men a late breakfast before they returned to the church.
Sister Mona, Charmaine, and a few of the deacons were directing the Ethiopians who were already at the church waiting to show their paperwork to Mr. Carrington and the other INS officers. Pastor Gillespie introduced them to his staff. "And this young lady," he added, "is Charmaine Ayana, my future wife."
Mr. Carrington was amazed at how willingly the Ethiopians cooperated. Whatever frustration they felt at the disruption of their daily routine was dissipated by laughter. Their light-hearted spirit confirmed for Mr. Carrington that Mrs. Martin was against these people for no reason. The INS officers returned the following day to finish their job. Pastor Gillespie, Sister Mona, and Charmaine took them on a tour of the Ethiopian community on Friday afternoon.
"All of their permits and papers appear to be in order," Mr. Carrington said to Pastor Gillespie after they settled down in his office at the end of the tour.
"They do, Mr. Carrington," Pastor Gillespie agreed, "and they have been a blessing to us ever since they have been here."
Mr. Carrington shared with Pastor Gillespie the telephone conversation he had with Zelda Martin on Monday after they spoke.
"You know, Mr. Carrington, you'd believe as Christians, we would just love each other and look out for each other, but sadly that's not the case. What Mrs. Martin and her husband are doing to these dear people is evil. Only a person filled with hatred and selfishness could concoct such a scheme."
Mr. Carrington agreed. He shared with Pastor Gillespie the e-book he received from Mrs. Martin.
"They sent me a copy without the negative information at the back of the book," Pastor Gillespie said. "I gave them permission to send it out to the church members. Apparently they added the negative part then sent it out. We had a heated discussion about it after prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Some walked out angrily. They thought I had been deceiving them; others voiced their opinion without holding back. I managed to get in enough words to explain what took place. As you can imagine this is a stressful time for us."
"Why don't you just ask the Martins to leave? You have some key evidence that they are in the wrong," Mr. Carrington stated.
"I do," Pastor Gillespie said. "But I want them to hang around for the wedding. Brother Martin especially knows that once God gives me the okay on something, and once my mind is set to doing something, I let nothing stand in my way." Then he added with a chuckle, "I am waiting them out just as they are waiting me out. Not only do they want to get rid of the Ethiopians, but they also want me to resign as pastor."
"Why would they want you to resign?"
"So Brother Martin can take my place as the pastor. You see, they are treading carefully because Brother Martin knows I won't go down without a fight. ‘I am for peace,' Mr. Carrington, but, as David said, ‘they are for war.'"
Both men laughed, then Mr. Carrington added, "You let me know what your plans are and we will work with you. Mr. and Mrs. Martin are messing with the work of the federal government; that can land them in jail for many years."
"I don't even think they are thinking along those lines," Pastor Gillespie said.
"How are the Ethiopians taking all this?" Mr. Carrington asked.
"I work through Sentayhu, the owner of the restaurant who is somewhat the leader of the community, and they see the bigger picture. They are very cooperative and they are on my side. They have tried to worship at other churches around here, but those churches let them know up front that they are not welcome there. I have opened up our doors to them because if we don't love them as true Christians then who will?"
Mr. Carrington, Pastor Gillespie, and the other INS officers chatted a while longer as Pastor Gillespie shared with them what Emmitt and his wife told him and also how his staff and others suspected Brother and Sister Martin to be the culprits behind everything.
Mr. Carrington said, "Let's stay in touch until we get this completely resolved."
While riding home after Wednesday night prayer meeting, and having sat through the heated discussion regarding the ebook with much anxiety, Brother Martin said to his wife, "Do you think anyone's figured out what is going on?"
"Oh, no," Zelda Martin assured him, "and even if they did, what could they do? It would be a ‘he say, she say' situation."
"Pastor Gillespie gave me the rest of the week off. What do you think about that?"
"Oh, you deserve it," his wife said. "You should have the rest of the year off as far as I'm concerned."
"Zelda, I don't know. It seems like lately he's been giving me too many days off."
"You worry too much," his wife told him. "I got it under control. Mr. Carrington is on our side. In fact, I'll be calling him tomorrow to share with him our plans for the Ethiopian pickup."
While on his way back to his office late Friday evening, Mr. Carrington returned Zelda Martin's phone call.
"Mrs. Martin, I've been out of the office the past two days. Sorry I missed your calls. What news do you have for me?"
"Great news," Zelda Martin said. "I have a plan that should work. We could actually schedule to have all the Ethiopians picked up on the day of the wedding at the church. I know they will all be there for sure."
"Now why would you want to mess up your own pastor's wedding day? Couldn't we do it another day? You could even befriend them, find out their place of employment and we could, over the next few weeks, pick them up one at a time."
"I think the wedding day would be best because they will all be in one place, and they won't have time to pass the word around risking some of them escaping," Zelda Martin said. "My husband and I and a few others could help escort them quietly out the auditorium, and…"
Mr. Carrington could not believe Zelda's wicked scheme.
There was a contagious excitement at All Peoples Non-Denominational Church as plans were falling into place for the upcoming wedding between Pastor Gillespie and Charmaine. Thousands of invitations were sent out, not only to the church family, but also to pastors all over the country including Canada and other countries. Under the direction of Appiah, the Ethiopian women went about the business of sewing the native Ethiopian wedding dress for Charmaine. It was a glistening white gown with ivory embroidery. They employed the services of Freeda's Wedding Planners Boutique and the Pictures of Silver Photographers Studio to help them with the wedding preparations.
"I think we ought to combine the two cultures," Sister Mona said. "That should make a beautiful and unique wedding."
Although Charmaine was excited she remained sober-minded throughout the planning process. She rehearsed over and over in her mind her plan for getting Sister Gillespie back to her husband. After much prayer and some fasting throughout the week, she shared her plan with her uncle, Sentayhu.
"Uncle, I have a change of plans regarding the wedding."
Sentayhu looked surprised. "What do you mean, Charmaine?" he asked.
"I met Pastor Gillespie's wife recently. I had met her before, but I did not know who she was. Anyway, on Saturday I went to the Bible study with Mother Louise and Mona, and Sister Gillespie was there; they were having a study on what it means to be a wife. Sister Gillespie is still hurting over the divorce and deep down she desires to reconcile with her husband. Now, I don't want to stand in the way of them getting back together, plus to remain true to my culture, as you know, I don't need to get entangled in that. After much prayer and fasting throughout the week, here's what I propose…"
After listening to Charmaine's proposal, Sentayhu asked, "Why don't you just go to Pastor Gillespie and tell him what you just told me, and give him all the reasons you just gave me?"
"That would be easier no doubt, but I just feel we ought to go about it the way I have in mind."
"What if he does not fall for that?" Sentayhu asked.
"I'm trusting God for it all to work out, and I need for you to pray and fast with me about it," Charmaine said. "One thing I am sure of and that is Sister Gillespie still loves her husband, and I have no doubt that he still loves her. In God's eyes, they are still husband and wife, and if she's willing and ready to reconcile, then I don't think I should stand in the way."
Sentayhu thought for a few minutes. "Okay, Charmaine. It's your decision and I'll stand by you no matter what."
"Thank you, Uncle," Charmaine said giving him a hug. "Please tell no one and pray and fast with me that it will all work out."
Charmaine shared with Mother Louise and Sister Mona her plan for getting everyone out of the awkward situation they were in. "Do you think it will work?"
"Do we think it will work? Of course it will work!" Mother Louise said with a smile.
"Yes. It definitely will," Sister Mona agreed with a sigh of relief. "This is going to be good, better than the movies."
Charmaine remained quiet as Mother Louise and Sister Mona shared more biblical principles on how to be a godly wife. She could not wait to share their plan with Sister Gillespie.
Sister Gillespie had waited anxiously all week for this meeting. Charmaine's last words — "I'll tell you what we're going to do" — had remained in her thoughts all week long. "What do you think she meant by that?" she asked Regina.
"Beats me, but whatever it is, I believe it will be worth the wait," Regina said. "I'll be at the meeting this Saturday. This month, I'll be on a new weekend rotation at my nursing job from three to eleven."
"Well, I was hoping she would call me and say, ‘Hey, Gloria, you can have your man back. I just told him I couldn't marry him'," Sister Gillespie said.
Regina laughed as her sister continued.
"She gave this wonderful speech about not wanting to come between me and my husband, yet she hasn't said anything — not to me, not to Sis. Mona. You watch and see; she's going to go ahead with the wedding." Gloria Gillespie let out a long sigh.
"I would not worry about anything," Regina said. "I don't detect deception in Charmaine. I'm sure she has a good heart."
The ladies had a memorable study — one they would never forget. It marked the beginning of a turning point in Sister Gillespie's life.
"In today's meeting, we want to tie up some loose ends and solidify some things," Mother Louise said as Sister Mona nodded in agreement. "Sister Charmaine, you have been very patient and gracious in your attitude and spirit ever since we've known you. I know it's been uncomfortable for you this past week, but I thank you for putting others ahead of yourself."
All heads nodded. Sister Gillespie knew this to be true of Charmaine knowing her husband would not settle for less. Charmaine had been a source of conviction to her ever since she heard of her. After finally meeting her in person, she surprisingly developed respect for Charmaine because of the godly, meek and quiet, mature way she carried herself. I wish I could do this marriage thing all over again. Lord, if only I had a second chance. But I accept it. I blew it, I blew it, she thought over and over again.
Turning to Sister Gillespie, Mother Louise continued. "Sister Gillespie, it has been a pleasure meeting with you and fellowshipping with you over these past several months. I know Sister Mona and I have been hard on you at times, but we only were because we love you, and we want the best for you."
"I love all of you too," Sister Gillespie said.
"We just have one more area of business to take care of," Mother Louise said. "As you might recall, we've been emphasizing the importance of humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness from your husband for the wrong that you have done. And, then, once you do that, you need to forgive yourself as well and not worry about what you think he has done. Oftentimes, we as wives get so wrapped up with what we think our husbands have done wrong that we cannot see the evil that we are doing wrong. The truth of the matter is, it is not your job to correct him. Let God deal with him. You deal with you."
Charmaine smiled as her eyes met Sister Gillespie's. If you only knew the plan that God and we have for you, Charmaine thought.
"Sister Gillespie, just one question before we end this session," Mother Louise said. "If you could get back with your husband, what is the first thing you would do or say to him?"
The question caught Sister Gillespie by surprise. After gathering her thoughts together she answered slowly but deliberately. "As embarrassing as it may be, I would have to apologize to him and ask for his forgiveness. I would have to apologize for my ungodly behaviour and attitude throughout the marriage…I may even have to apologize to some of our church members…maybe the entire church for not setting a good example before them." Taking a deep breath, she continued. "That's the only way I could feel comfortable in becoming Roland's wife again." But, of course, that will never happen now, she thought glancing at Charmaine.
Regina, Mother Louise, and Sister Mona began to smile. Before them sat a broken and humble sister in Christ. Her next statement confirmed her brokenness.
"Mother Louise, Sister Mona, I want to thank you both for not condemning me. Thank you for helping me to see the error of my ways, and Charmaine, I wish you and Roland all the best. I could not ask for a better replacement; you're just the wife he needs."
Regina sniffled. She knew her sister would come around. There was not a dry eye in the room.
Clearing her throat, Charmaine spoke up. "This is a very touching time, and I wish to add to this memorable day. I've already shared this with Mother Louise and Sister Mona. Sister Gillespie and Regina, here is what I propose we do to remedy this situation."
Regina and Sister Gillespie were in awe as Charmaine shared her plan with them.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sister Gillespie asked.
"Yes, I'm very sure," Charmaine assured her. "Just pray and fast with me that everything would go as planned. Do not discuss this with anyone. As of right now only one other person knows, and that is my uncle, Sentayhu. He is fasting and praying with us too."
"Well, what do you think?" Mother Louise asked Sister Mona and Charmaine on their way home.
"Things are falling right into place," Sister Mona said, "and I thank God for that. Now that that's squared away, I can send a letter to the officiating pastor, Pastor Marshall Alexander, and let him know about it."
Charmaine nodded thoughtfully.
Wednesday night prayer meeting was directed by the Ethiopian brothers and sisters. It was a time of jubilee, especially in anticipation of the upcoming wedding only three days away. Gifts were already pouring in from all over the country. Of course, a few voiced their disappointment at Pastor Gillespie over his divorce and choice to remarry, but regardless, it was a time of rejoicing. Sentayhu led the services and after giving a mini-sermon on the importance of prayer in the Christian's life, he gave a challenge to Pastor Gillespie and Charmaine on the new life they were about to embark on.
"Pastor Gillespie, don't think I am disrespecting you. I know that you are fully aware of your role as a minister, as a man, and as a husband, but if you would allow me, I humbly and respectfully offer you and Charmaine this challenge."
"Go ahead, my brother," Pastor Gillespie said.
"I do not doubt that you two love and respect each other, but I want to kindly remind you both of the power of choice. Each morning you wake up, you're going to be faced with new challenges, and in tackling those challenges, you will have to make the choice whether or not you're going to do the right thing; whether or not you're going to please God or please yourself." Sentayhu turned to Pastor Gillespie and said, "Pastor, as you know, God wants you to do the right thing, not based upon your feelings and emotions, but based on biblical principles."
Pastor Gillespie nodded.
Addressing Charmaine, Sentayhu said, "Charmaine, let me encourage you, my daughter, to choose to do the right thing as well throughout your life not based upon your feelings and emotions, but based upon what is right. God will bless you, my daughter."
Charmaine nodded and smiled at her uncle who had indeed been more like a father to her.
Brother Martin and his wife sat close to the back of the auditorium listening with disdain as Sentayhu spoke.
This will be your last sermon preached in this church, Brother Martin thought, so challenge and preach with all of your might — up there looking like who-dun-it.
Those deportation buses will be rolling in soon, Zelda Martin thought with a smug smile. She congratulated herself for having come up with such a ‘workable plan', as Mr. Carrington called it, to get rid of the Ethiopians. I will be at this wedding with bells on.
She slipped her hand into her husband's and gave it a tight squeeze; they both smiled as if reading each other's thoughts.
Zelda Martin called Mr. Carrington on the phone early Thursday morning.
"Everything's set for Saturday pick up at around 1:00," Mr.Carrington said. "Go over everything with me again so we can make sure we are on the same page."
"Of course," Zelda Martin replied eagerly. "The wedding begins at two o'clock, but like most weddings they'll probably run late. Anyway, you can arrive early, by about 1:30 and pick the illegal immigrants up before the wedding ceremony actually begins; you know, just as they are about to enter the church. Or, you can wait until the ceremony is just ending and then burst in with your guys and gather them up. I prefer this one as it will add an element of surprise."
"OK, Mrs. Martin, we'll go with that one," Mr.Carrington said. "I'll make sure we have enough buses and agents ready. We don't want to leave any of them behind. Now, where will you and your husband be so I'll be able to get in touch with you?"
"My husband and I will be just outside the front double doors greeting and directing people as they enter the church. By the way, Mr.Carrington," Zelda Martin continued, "make sure you have at least five buses. There are quite a number of these Ethiopians. Anyway, you know I can't believe Pastor Gillespie would be so selfish and inconsiderate. Do you know he did not even ask my husband to be a part of the wedding party, as faithful an assistant he's been to him these many years."
"Oh, my, that's very inconsiderate of him," Mr. Carrington said.
"Now, will you be riding in one of the buses, or will you follow in your car?" she asked.
"I'll be driving my own car," Mr. Carrington said.
"We'll reserve you a parking spot off to the right of the handicapped parking section. It's right out front."
"All set," Mr. Carrington said. "Why don't you send me a picture of you and your husband so I'll know who to look for."
"Sure. I'll send it to you in an attachment as soon as I get off the phone."
Mr. Carrington shook his head as they hung up. He immediately dialed Pastor Gillespie's number and shared with him Zelda Martin's plan. "But this is my plan…" Mr. Carrington began.
"The Martins are proving to be more devious than I thought they were," Pastor Gillespie said, "but I'm ready." He then chuckled, "Are you sure you want to mess up my wedding day?"
"Pastor Gillespie, things will go so smoothly no one will notice anything," Mr. Carrington assured him. "I thank you, Pastor, for working with us on this. I did some research on you and your church, and don't worry, your good name will be protected. By the way, my wife and I were in your services on last Sunday. I don't claim to be a church goer, but I was impressed not only with your straightforward and clear preaching, but I was also impressed with the mixture of races and culture. I tell you, All Peoples Non-Denominational Church is truly a church overflowing with all kinds of people."
"Praise the Lord! You're welcome here any time," Pastor Gillespie said.
"My wife told me that she prayed the prayer of salvation you led everyone in at the end of your message."
"Oh, she did! That's a blessing!"
"I would like to speak with you more about that after your wedding," Mr. Carrington said.
"You make sure to do that, my brother," Pastor Gillespie replied. "Let's stay in touch."
All church activities for Saturday were canceled in preparation for the wedding. Freeda's Wedding Planners had been working all week long decorating the five thousand seat auditorium. The Ethiopian community was a beehive of activity as each took care of last minute details. For the Ethiopians, this marriage represented their being accepted in the local Christian community, so they, too, could freely worship under the preached word, because, ‘if someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.'
Sentayhu looked like an Ethiopian prince in his native attire. Charmaine looked as beautiful as a queen which represented her Ethiopian name — Ayana — Beautiful Blossom — well. The ladies, under the direction of Appiah, helped Charmaine into her handmade native wedding dress which was whiter than snow.
"You are going to look like the real Queen of Sheba standing next to Pastor Gillespie in his hand-tailored tuxedo," her uncle said with a smile. Sentayhu had Pastor Gillespie's tuxedo tailor made — a traditional black tuxedo with tails
"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Appiah asked her. Charmaine nodded. She had let Appiah in on her plan just the day before. Appiah was at first against it saying others may get offended and upset at her for leading them on, "and they'll see us as cheaters," she added.
Sentayhu told Charmaine, "You know, my daughter, we are looking to you, as God may have placed you in this position for such a time as this — to open up doors for us to freely worship in the church of our choice. After all, God is no respecter of persons."
Sentayhu, Charmaine, and Appiah hurried out the front door as the limousine drove up.Very impressive, Charmaine thought as she slid into her seat. Her thoughts turned to Sister Gillespie.
"Regina, I still can't believe this is happening," Sister Gillespie said to her sister early Saturday morning. "I am so nervous, I hardly slept last night."
"You better believe it's happening, girl," Regina replied. "Charmaine called yesterday to check on you but you were at the hairdresser. She said to call Mother Louise or Sister Mona if anything comes up."
"She's a true sister in Christ," Sister Gillespie said referring to Charmaine.
"Sure is. People like her are very rare," Regina agreed.
Sister Gillespie nodded. The phone rang before she could reply. It was Mother Louise.
"I just got off the phone with Sister Mona. Everything is falling into place just wonderfully. We'll both be by to pick you up at 1:45 in a limousine. Be ready now as we cannot be late. You know Ms.Charmaine is an on-time woman."
At exactly 1:44 the limousine left with Mother Louise, Sister Mona, Regina, and Sister Gillespie for the twenty-five minute drive to the church.
Mr. Carrington and the INS officers headed to the All Peoples Non-Denominational Church followed by several blue buses. They pulled up into the church's parking lot at exactly 1:45 p.m. The front parking lot and the two off to the sides were already filled up as people from all over the nation and around the world arrived for the wedding. Just as many people, if not more than the number of people, who attended the conference where Sis. Gillespie disrespected her husband by not coming to him when he wanted to introduce her to the pastors were attending the wedding. Visitors were beginning to park at the back of the buildings and on the grass. The church shuttle buses were busy transporting wedding guests from specially marked areas to the auditorium. The INS buses parked next to one of the buses used by the Ethiopians. Mr. Carrington pulled into the empty reserved spot next to the handicapped parking spaces. They waited, taking note of the guests as they entered the building.
"Those blue buses pulling in must be the INS," Zelda Martin said to her husband, pointing to them..
"Yes, and that car pulling in must be Mr. Carrington," her husband said. He eyed the group of Ethiopians entering the auditorium. Smiling, he said, in a smug tone to Zelda, "We won't be seeing the likes of them after this day. Good riddance!"
Mr. Carrington smiled as he saw the joy and laughter flowing from the Ethiopians as they flowed into the auditorium in their native attire. He took note of how the Martins ignored them.
"Let's head on into the auditorium," Mr. Carrington said to the other INS officers as two limousines pulled up one behind each other before the double doors at the front of the church. "We'll take care of the Martins later. This is one wedding I wouldn't want to miss."
"You must be Mr. and Mrs. Martin," Mr. Carrington said as he approached the front doors. Brother Martin swung around. "I'm Mr. Carrington from the INS office," Mr. Carrington said extending his hand.
After firmly shaking it, Brother Martin said, "Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Carrington, and thank you so much for coming to take care of this serious matter."
"Pleased to finally meet you both," he said shaking Zelda Martin's hand. "Since we are cutting it so close, I'll head on into the auditorium, survey the room, and we'll do the pick up after the wedding."
Sentayhu emerged from one of the limousines. He whispered something to Deacon Walsh, who was serving as one of the ushers, before returning to the limousine. Deacon Walsh, after delivering a message to the officiating pastor, Pastor Marshall Alexander, returned outside and signalled to Sentayhu. Pastor Alexander was fifteen years older than Pastor Gillespie and had mentored him since his early years in the ministry. Pastor Gillespie looked up to him as his spiritual father and often sought his advice.
Pastor Alexander called everyone to attention with an opening prayer as Pastor Gillespie took his position on the front pew facing the officiating pastor. A group of Ethiopian musicians standing off to the left struck up some lively music as a group of Ethiopian dancers and singers, beginning from the back of the auditorium performed their celebratory wedding dance all the way to the front. They were followed by Sentayhu and Appiah moving to the beat of the music. They both took their places off to the left as they joined the musicians in song and dance. The church was beautifully decorated and was much brighter than usual.
After ten minutes of praise, the musicians stopped as Pastor Gillespie stood before Pastor Alexander. The pianist started playing the traditional wedding song. As Charmaine walked in, the guests rose to their feet. Whispers floated across the auditorium as heads turned to view the beautiful Ethiopian bride decked in her stunning native wedding dress, soon to become the new first lady of All Peoples Non-Denominational Church. A magical silence took over the auditorium as she gracefully made her way to meet Pastor Gillespie at the front, stopping a few steps behind him.
"Wow!" Pastor Alexander mouthed to Pastor Gillespie.
"Who giveth this young lady away?" Pastor Alexander asked as the music quieted down.
"I do," Sentayhu said taking his place beside Charmaine. He escorted her the few remaining steps to stand parallel with the groom.
"You may hand over the bride," Pastor Alexander said. Everyone chuckled.
The drummer rolled his hands over the surface of the drum. After turning to meet his bride, Pastor Gillespie's knees almost buckled under him. He could not find the words to describe this beautiful woman standing before him. He gladly took her hand in his as Pastor Alexander spoke the following words: "If there is anyone here who sees any reason why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony as instituted by our God, let him or her speak now, or forever hold their peace."
Pastor Gillespie raised his head in surprise. "What?"
Pastor Alexander repeated the statement: "If there is anyone here who sees any reason why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony as instituted by our God, let him or her speak now, or forever hold your peace."
"I do," the voice repeated even louder.
Surely this is some Ethiopian wedding trick, Pastor Gillespie thought looking at Charmaine.Why would she object to our wedding today? We've had an open relationship, so what can it possibly be now?
A gasp rose up from the crowd as the guests anxiously waited to see what would happen next. What has Pastor Gillespie done now for Charmaine to do this? many were thinking.Could the e-book, The Real Truth About the Ethiopians, be telling the actual truth about these people, that they are not people of their word? Maybe Pastor Gillespie is not all that he has been portraying himself to be.
Well, what do you know, Brother Martin thought, they are playing right into our hands. The Martins looked at each other trying to hold back a grin. Trust these Ethiopians to sabotage themselves and mess things up, Zelda Martin thought.
This is most interesting, Mr. Carrington thought.
After the initial shock wore off, whispers began floating across the room. Pastor Gillespie raised his eyebrows and continued to stare at Charmaine. "Well?" he questioned. A confident smile spread across her lips. Knowing Charmaine, he could count on receiving a logical explanation. Charmaine spoke.
"Pastor Gillespie, after much prayer, thinking, and fasting, and after weighing the pros and cons, I feel very strongly that God is leading me in this decision. The Lord has allowed our paths to cross, and in that crossing, we have found out that there is a lot we have in common. With that being the case, you asked me to be your wife and, yes, I humbly accepted."
Clearing her throat she continued. "I came to another crossroad in my life the day you asked me to marry you. I had to slow down, pray more, and make some decisions. Pastor Gillespie, if I did go through with our marriage, I would feel as though I have completely severed the marital bond that God put between you and your wife, Gloria, when you two exchanged vows."
Pastor Gillespie stood amazed at the humility, graciousness, and bigness of the young lady before him — to put aside her desires so God's perfect will would be done.
"Pastor Gillespie, I also feel compelled to remain true to my people. We love you, and the entire community has been behind us getting married. There is, however, a cultural belief in our community and that is an unmarried woman does not marry a divorced man. I know this is the twenty-first century and things have changed, but I believe, and I believe you believe, this is backed up by the Bible."
Pastor Gillespie nodded.
"And last, but most important: I had the honor of meeting your wife and spending some time with her. Gloria still loves you dearly, and I do not doubt that deep down you still love her. Pastor Gillespie, I know your heart. You are a man who wants to do the right thing. And I believe God would have you both to put your marriage back together. And since we are all gathered here before God, honoring God by doing His will instead of ours, I believe that a wedding should go on."
Turning to face the audience, Charmaine signalled to Sister Mona. Everyone turned their heads not quite knowing what to expect. They were just as surprised as Pastor Gillespie. Pastor Gillespie blinked twice to make sure he was not dreaming. The double doors leading from the vestibule into the auditorium were pushed open by Mother Louise and Sister Mona to reveal his wife — Gloria Gillespie — in a beautiful lace white wedding dress — her original wedding dress, as she had lost a lot of weight due to the stress of being separated from her husband. He could not protest even if he wanted to, as the Lord had been dealing with him about reuniting with his wife instead of marrying this beautiful Ethiopian woman, but he was leaning more to the flesh than to doing the right thing. So, God used Charmaine to be the strong and spiritual one to help Pastor Gillespie do the right thing and go back to his wife.
As if on cue, the pianist started to play the wedding march as Gloria Gillespie gracefully glided down the aisle to take her place next to the man whose heart God had originally joined with hers. Their eyes never left each other as she drew closer to him. Charmaine, indeed, has more wisdom than I do, Pastor Gillespie thought.
Charmaine reached out and gave Gloria Gillespie a tight hug. Both were fighting hard to hold back the tears.
Blinking hard, Charmaine placed Sister Gillespie's hand into Pastor Gillespie's hand. She cupped both their hands affectionately, squeezing them as though placing a permanent seal around the reunion. Charmaine nodded at Pastor Gillespie as their eyes met. A single tear trickled down her cheek. Pastor Gillespie returned the nod. Turning to Sister Gillespie, Charmaine whispered, "He's all yours, as it should be, sister. May God bless the both of you."
As Charmaine took her seat between her uncle and Appiah, Sister Gillespie began to speak.
"Roland, before I try to reclaim this honorable position as your wife, I wish to apologize for not being the biblical wife that I should have been throughout our marriage. I have not submitted to you as I vowed. I have been disobedient, rebellious, disrespectful, and stubborn. I have disrespected you, not only at home, but before others whom you were trying to reach with the Gospel and help teach the truth of the Word of God, including the thousands who are gathered here today. I apologize to you for not being a good helpmeet to you and dishonoring you. I humbly ask you to please forgive me…and…I humbly ask, will you please take me back as your wife?"
Without hesitation, Pastor Gillespie opened wide his arms to receive his ‘new' wife. Gloria Gillespie just did something he never dreamed she would ever do — genuinely apologize for any and all wrong she did throughout their marriage. The Gloria he knew was proud, full of herself, and wanted to be in control. The Gloria standing before him was a humble, broken, spirit-filled, and glowing woman. What man would not want such a woman to be his wife?
With her husband's arm around her shoulders, Gloria Gillespie turned to face the wedding guests.
"Members of All Peoples Non-Denominational Church, visitors, and friends, I humbly ask your forgiveness for not being the example I should have been of a godly, virtuous wife and Christian woman before you. I ask each one of you to please, please forgive me and please give me another chance at being first lady of this great church."
The silence of the stunned people that followed was broken as someone shouted: "Hallelujah! We welcome you back, first lady Gillespie!" This produced a rippling effect that sent loud cheers throughout the auditorium. While tears were flowing all across the auditorium, and people were shouting and high-fiving each other, people tweeted old members of the church and the crowd that was in the overflow began to grow even more.
Many stood to their feet and applauded as the Ethiopian musicians struck up some amazing music that made the walls shake. The Ethiopians still had reason to celebrate: Pastor Roland Gillespie, their pastor, had stood up for them when someone tried to destroy them. They had finally been accepted with open arms and could freely worship among those fellow believers who had accepted them with no regard to their race. Yes, they had every reason to celebrate.
Pastor Alexander let them celebrate for a while before calling everyone to order for the continuation of this important occasion. Pastor Gillespie embraced his wife and kissing her tenderly. He said, "I love you so much." And then he knelt down and asked, "Will you marry me again?"
The crowd went crazy again.
"I love you so much, too," Gloria replied. "Yes, yes, yes. I'll marry you again."
Looking around she asked, "Where's Charmaine? Ultimately, she is the reason for all of this. I don't believe there is a woman in the history of the world who would have done what Charmaine has done. She is truly a woman of God and a princess among women."
Charmaine, being the humble woman that she was, took advantage of the celebratory time to sneak off with Mother Louise and Sister Mona because this was Sister Gillespie's moment. They took off in one of the limousines and headed for the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant to make sure everything was in place for the reception.
Mr. Carrington's heart was touched. He glanced over at the Martins. How could they do this? "Let's make our move, men," he said to the other INS officers who came with him. He had one of the ushers to ask the Martins to meet him outside. The Martins hurried to answer his call.
"Are you ready?" they eagerly asked.
"More than ready," Mr. Carrington said. "Mr. and Mrs. Martin, you are both under arrest for interfering with the work of the federal government. Anything you say outside of the courtroom can and will be used against you in the courtroom." Brother Martin and his wife, Zelda Martin, were shocked that their plan had backfired on them. "If I were you," Mr. Carrington said to Brother Martin who began to protest, "I would not say a word. Take them in," he directed his co-workers. Two of the INS officials walked the Martins to one of the big blue buses which took them to the federal prison to await trial. So, they were taken away in one of the blue buses that the Martins wanted the Ethiopians to be taken away in to be deported.
After their marriage vows were renewed, Pastor and Sister Gillespie, the Ethiopians, and the rest of the jubilant church crowd, and visitors made their way over to the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant for the wedding reception. The seating stretched all the way out the door and around the restaurant lawn. Music flowed and laughter was shared as the huge five tiered cake was cut.
Bohlale, relieved that Charmaine was still a single woman, grabbed her arm as the musicians struck up the dance tune. "Let's lead everyone in dancing!" he exclaimed. "C'mon everybody…and a one, and a two, and a three!" Pastor Gillespie, his bride, Gloria, Sister Louise, Sister Mona, the members of All-Peoples Non-Denominational Church, and all of the wedding guests from across the country and around the world jumped up and did the electric slide — Ethiopian-style.
A note from the publisher: Our main goal in publishing inspirational fiction is two-fold: (1) To help those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior live more faithful Christian lives, and (2) To show those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior how they can get to know Him in the course of life circumstances that many people face.
That being said, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior, here is how you can get to know Him today:
First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God's law. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7: 20: "For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death…"
Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
The Bible also says in Revelation 21:8: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
Fourth, accept the fact that you cannot do anything to save yourself! The Bible states in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Fifth, accept the fact that God loves you more than you love yourself, and that He wants to save you from hell. "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jesus Christ, John 3:16).
Sixth, with these facts in mind, please repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and pray and ask Him to come into your heart and save you this very moment.
The Bible states in the book of Romans 10:9, 13: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Seventh, if you are willing to trust Christ as your Saviour, please pray with me the following prayer:
Heavenly Father, I realize that I am a sinner. For Jesus Christ's sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life. Amen.