I grew up in a church where Jesus’ words, “Unless you are born again, you shall not see the kingdom of God” meant “Unless you join this church you shall not go to heaven.” I felt privileged to be among the chosen few to go to heaven because even Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen.”
The road to hell was very wide and almost everyone was on it, enjoying the temporary pleasures of the earth. But my church taught me to keep on the straight and the narrow, because only a few lucky people like us found it.
There would be more souls lost in hell than those redeemed in heaven, I was taught.
And I believed it.
But that was before my brother, Alex passed away.
Alex was a devout Catholic. Many of us at home had turned Pentecostal, but however much we evangelized to him, he refused to convert. I was very worried about him and decided to delegate a good chunk of my prayer time to him.
The last time I saw him, we passed by a ramshackle Pentecostal church on our way to a restaurant for lunch. It was a Monday. And they were having “Lunch Hour,” their two-hour lunchtime prayers. The wooden structure had less than a dozen Pentecostals in it but the sound system was deafening.
I would have liked it if they had been playing music. Instead, the pastor, or whoever he was, was shouting incessantly into the microphone at God in a mixture of Luganda and tongues. He was telling God how good He was but by the volume and forcefulness of his voice, if you didn’t know Luganda, you would have thought he was having an argument with God and was winning it.
However, though I was a committed Pentecostal Christian, this was one part of Pentecostalism I never understood. I don’t know how to shout, and so I wondered why in the world one felt the need to shout while talking to God. It’s not like God is near-deaf. Or, if one was praying for the benefit of the others in the room with him, why amplify one’s voice with a sound system that cost more than the structure under which they are meeting.
“It’s Lunch Hour. Go and join them,” Alex said, rubbing in the fact that it was totally absurd, what these guys were doing.
“Nah! I’ll pray over my food,” I said, as we entered a restaurant.
That was the last day I saw Alex.
One and a half months later, I received the news that Alex had passed away. I’ve never felt so heartbroken and disappointed. I had spent half of my life praying that Alex would cross to my Pentecostalism so he wouldn’t go to hell, and God hadn’t answered my prayers.
I didn’t go for the funeral because I was in the middle of exams at school. But as I cried, I failed to picture my brother burning in the fires of hell, just because he had refused to believe that one had to pick a certain church over another one in order to go to heaven.
Then God started ministering love and comfort to my heart. He showed me how much he loved me and hated to see me so heartbroken. That was when I got a glimpse of God’s love for the first time—the light that had been hidden from me by Pentecostal dogma.
That was when I started to lose my Pentecostalism.