How to rob a bank without getting caught.
On 8th March, 2009, Reverend Fred Winters of First Baptist Church, Maryville Illinois was halfway through his Sunday sermon on “Finding Happiness in the Workplace,” when Terry Sedlacek entered the church. He walked calmly down the aisle, stood in front of the reverend and opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun.
The first of his four shots hit the reverend’s bible, sending a confetti-like spray of paper into the air in a horrifying scene that some initially thought was the first act of a play. But one of the bullets struck the reverend in the heart, killing him instantly.
We are used to politicians being assassinated or the Mafia engaging in blood-baths. We are no longer surprised when rap artists bump each other off, or when some irate high-school student opens fire on his classmates. We are already numb to the daily drone of terrorists blowing people up in an orgy of misplaced glory.
But the assassination of a pastor in the middle of a sermon in church is a whole new departure altogether. Already many mega-pastors are taking no chances. They now go about with bodyguards, in spite of Jesus’ warning that whoever tries to save his life will lose it (Matthew 16:25).
A colleague of mine insists he is still looking for Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo of Kingsway International Christian Centre, London. He says: “Anybody who knows where I can find him should please let me know.” “Why are you looking for him?” I wondered. “He owes me money,” he maintains.
Apparently, he attended one of the services conducted by the pastor as guest-preacher in another church. The topic was “24-Hour Miracle.” He is now convinced he was bewitched by the hocus-pocus at that service. At the climax, Ashimolowo asked the congregation to write cheques for as much money as they possibly could, with the iron-clad guarantee that it would more than double within twenty-four hours. In that time, they were assured someone would send them a ridiculously large sum by divine ordinance. You might get a call or a visit from someone about the miracle money, or notification that it had been deposited in your bank account.
This gentleman was so enchanted by the pastor’s charisma that he first gave half of his entire savings. Then, on consultation with his wife, he gave the other half as well. The next day, he did not go to work, waiting for the miracle call; but nothing happened. He thought perhaps he had made a mistake. Perhaps the twenty-four hours would start counting a little later than he had expected; so he waited for another day. Still nothing happened. After two weeks, it dawned on him that he had been scammed. By that time, the cheques had long been cashed. He went looking for the “man of God,” but was told he had left the country.
Making Merchandise of Christians
Let me let you in on a secret. We pastors don’t usually do a scam of this scale in our own churches. We do it at the invitation of another pastor. But we have an agreement beforehand that for every naira we raise, the host pastor gives us a certain percentage as commission. This is then done on a tit-for-tat basis. When I do the scam in your church, you reciprocate by doing it in mine.
Sometimes it gets really wild and this scam is done over several days. We tell people to go and bring their televisions, stereos, fridge-freezers, cars, jewelry, money; anything and everything. Some even bring the Certificate of Occupancy of their homes. Some give us the very clothes they are wearing and go back home in their underwear, confident that God is going to astonish them. It usually takes a while before they realise they have been conned. But some never wake up from the hypnosis.
Naira from Heaven
The Shepherd’s House, a church in Jos, organised a programme entitled “Financial Empowerment for All.” The handbill promised powerful prayers and anointing for “stupendous and bombastic financial breakthrough.” It went on to outline the “features” of the programme: “How to get 250,000 naira without collateral and 1.5 million naira to start or expand your business. How to get 5 million naira to build your own house. How to travel overseas without struggle. How to appropriate the power to get wealth. This programme will put money in your hands and give you financial freedom.”
With so many pastors now implicated in bank scandals, including Erastus Akingbola of Intercontinental, Shola Adeoti of City Express and Chika Mbonu of Assurance Bank, is it far-fetched to presume that some would soon be teaching in the churches: “How to rob a bank without getting caught?”