By Morak Babajide-Alabi

I woke up with a jerk, grabbed my Bible and was about to jump up and shout hallelujah. Instead, I looked right, left; up and down to be sure no one noticed that I just came back from the dreamland. I did not see any judgemental eyes. Everyone was lost in the presence of God.

The sermon seemed to keep everyone engaged. I joined in the chorus of laughter but I didn’t really know why other members were hyped up, but it seemed the speaker had hit a raw nerve that got everyone going. There is nothing that gives a sleeper away in church than shouting “Amen” or “Hallelujah” out of context. Unfortunately, the sleep was still troubling me. Sleep, it is said, is no respecter of man or woman. It can grip you at the least unexpected places. However, it would be ridiculous if I, a “top ranking brother” was caught sleeping in the congregation. “Satan, you are not winning this battle”, I said to myself.

Then I attempted unravelling why I felt so sleepy. I knew why. I had eaten from the leftover jollof rice from the previous night’s dinner? I had woken up that morning with a heavy hunger but it was no justification to descend on the bowl of leftover jollof rice. This overindulgence was almost causing a big embarrassment for me. And to think that I finished the portion before realising that it was our church’s corporate fasting weekend. Satan is indeed a loser. But in defiance, I said to myself: “Pastor would never know if I had eaten or not.”

The words of my Pastor rang out loud in my head. He had never wavered in espousing the scriptures, especially on living holy and keeping the faith. He would quote Isaiah 58:6-7 on why we must always fast. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

I looked sideways and caught the eyes of a brother seated in the third row. He looked at me in a conspiratorial way and smiled. He had bloodshot eyes that made him a suspect of having come back from a deep slumber just like me. A few seconds after, I stole a glance in his direction to check his “status”. We locked eyes, with the understanding of each other’s plight – two sleeping brothers. We did not speak a word but we understood each other as we communicated over three aisles. We read each other’s minds as we sat there in solidarity for the indulgence on a Sunday morning

I scanned the church hall. My eyes were tired and heavy. How many people were in our situations? I could not find any. And I felt the guilt hammer. Some of these men and women had come directly from night shifts, while some would go from the service to resume work. They were the true worshippers whose love for God transcends their body requirements. I felt ashamed of my sleeping self, realising that some of these brothers, sisters, elders; ministers had genuinely worked 12-hour shifts (some 24-hours). There was no justification for my shameless sleep.

The preacher was speaking the word of God, “powerfully”. I had to get my head clear to follow the sermon. I was not going to come to the church this Sunday only to sleep. But I kept thinking about the committed believers who had braved the cold winter weather to attend the service. I felt, in a developed country, there should be a connection where people can join services online or on social media. Then my inner voice said: “You want a chance to sleep while pretending to be in service.” Honestly? No, I was being serious.

There are many examples of churches making good use of social media to propagate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter etc. are now used to reach the unchurched or the unbelievers. Facebook is reported to have over 2.38 billion monthly active users, Twitter has over 238 million and Instagram has over 1 billion. Imagine the potentials of these platforms.

I have seen how one-minute video clips on these channels go viral and change lives. This can work for the propagation of the Word and bring more people to the realisation of Jesus Christ. The monthly RCCG Holy Ghost Festival streamed via social media is an example of how to attract the unchurched or unbelievers. Souls could be saved by posts via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, while personal testimonies could also impact how unbelievers are converted.

As I was about rounding up my thoughts with my eyes still wide open, the speaker’s voice boomed on the speakers. “Social Media is evil! It is a fertile ground for all sorts of nonsense”, he said. Within seconds, my lofty social media dream dissolved. He continued: “I have seen a lot of people waste their precious time on social media, posting pictures and irrelevancies. They will go to hell if they do not stop. I don’t use social media”.  My breathing suddenly became laboured.

The speaker was not in a world of his own. It is now a trend among some religious leaders to use the pulpit to lambast the “evil” social media. Many try so much to disabuse the minds of Christians on why social media is everything but a tool designed by the devil. It is disturbing to hear some of these arguments and the more painful as ignorance of the proper use of the platforms are celebrated as reasons for non-engagement.

No doubt, social media could be a dark place, but what you put in is what you get. Your aims on social media will determine what objectives you fulfil. This boils down to the understanding and knowledge of the platforms. Despite the obvious lack of understanding and education, I smile when church speakers strive to paint a picture of a dark social media world. Some try, albeit unsuccessfully to quote scriptures to support their positions. Using these platforms can be compared to a new resident in a city. If he/she does not understand the workings of the city, he/she will not know the “downtown” postcodes he/she should not visit after 7 pm. Lack of knowledge is no excuse for condemning the platforms or users.

These are modern times and technology is drastically changing the way and manner we do things. As a result of these developments in the past ten years, the world had learned to adjust our behaviours, our lifestyles and many things. The word of God has not changed, but the means of propagating it has shifted slightly. For more people to hear it, popular channels have to be used.

We clapped for the speaker. He loved it and took the cue to lay more into the “evil” social media users. “All of you using social media, you need deliverance and repentance, if not, your journey to hell is a one-way ticket”. We clapped the more as we wanted more education on social media. But time was no longer on our side.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked back and the brother behind me smiled. It was time to share the “grace”.  I had been dreaming with my eyes wide open.

As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, July 7, 2019.