JUST AS I AM….
By Njonjo Mue
The day was Thursday, 17 January 1991. It was the 30th anniversary of Patrice Lumumba’s murder in the Congo. The first gulf war had just broken out with Saddam Hussein promising the gathering allies the mother of all battles as George Herbert Walker Bush and Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf prepared to launch Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.
It was my first week at the Kenya School of Law where I was doing the mandatory diploma for my Bar qualification. Having no classes on this day, I had spent much of it at home in my aunt’s home at Lavington with a friend watching on CNN most of Sadam’s scud missiles being stopped by US Patriot anti-missile shields, as Bernard Shaw famously reported, “The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated!”
Shortly before 5 p.m. my aunt Monica and my cousin Susan came home and announced that they were going for an evangelistic crusade then taking place at the Nairobi Pentecostal Church Valley Road all week with a visiting Canadian preacher, and invited me to go along. I politely declined but was delighted to hitch a ride with them as, coincidentally, I was scheduled to meet up with my friends from law school at the adjoining Grosvenor Hotel for drinks beginning at 6 p.m.
We arrived at NPC at 5.35 p.m. and from the parking lot, I was immediately captivated by beautiful singing coming from the choir inside the church. Since I had twenty five minutes to spare before meeting my friends, I decided to go in and listen to the singing with the intention of leaving shortly before 6 p.m. to cross over to the the Grosvenor to meet with my friends.
However, the choir stopped singing at 5.50 p.m. and the visiting preacher, Dr. Barry Moore from London, Canada, started preaching his message. For some reason, I remained seated thinking that I would just hear the introduction of his message and slip out at 6. But this was not to be. The message proved to be far too interesting, though at this stage, I had no plans of it interfering with my drinking plans. I thought it would only delay me a bit but I would catch up with my buddies shortly.
Dr. Barry Moore preached from Acts Chapter 12. In the story, Peter had been arrested by Herod and was in prison awaiting execution. He was being guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Quite dramatically, an angel comes at night and wakes Peter up, his chains fall off and the gate of the prison opens by itself and Peter finds himself free.
Dr. Moore’s message was quite simple and straight forward. He said that just as there were four squads of four soldiers guarding Peter and keeping him in prison, there were also four guards that keep us in our own chains and from coming to freedom in Christ.
“The first guard is Pride,” Dr. Moore said. “Many of you here who have heard Jesus’ call are too proud to respond to it. You figure that salvation is for wimps and you are too self-sufficient and accomplished to admit that you actually need anyone or anything outside of yourself.”
This truth resonated with me. I had recently graduated as a lawyer and was on my way to becoming an advocate of the high court. What’s more, I had recently been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and would soon be heading up to Oxford University for my graduate studies. Surely I was too accomplished to get entangled in this salvation business! Wasn’t salvation for those who didn’t make it in life? Wasn’t it always those who struggled with grades in school who leaned on this crutch of salvation? Surely, I had too much going in life to need this Jesus.
My self-righteous thoughts were interrupted by Barry Moore’s voice, “The second guard that keeps us behind the bars is Pleasure,” he was saying. “Many people who hear the gospel and even get convinced of its authenticity are nevertheless too caught up in certain lifestyles to give them up. We value our sins too much to trade them for the demands of following a holy Savior.”
Dr. Moore told us the story of a young woman who once came up to him after he preached at a crusade saying she really wanted to get saved but was wondering if it was okay to continue living with her boyfriend. “I told her that God does not compromise on His standards of holiness and does not make deals with sin.”
I could identify with the young woman’s dilemma. Remember before detouring to this crusade, I was on my way to meeting my buddies for drinks and there was much else we did together that would not sit well with the demands of a life of following Jesus. I was a 24 year old college student who had his own history of sinful habits which, if truth be told, I enjoyed too much to be in a rush to voluntarily give up.
“The third guard is People,” Dr. Moore was now saying. “Many people are prevented from coming to Christ by their fear of what people will say.” He told of a successful businessman that he had shared the gospel with during a flight to some place and as they were about to land, Dr. Moore thought he had got through to the man and he asked him if he could pray for him to receive Christ. “But what will my business partner say?” he asked, and never did get past that guard. Dr. Moore was grieved that this man might die and lose his soul not because he did not understand what Jesus had done for him on the cross of Calvary, but because he feared what people would say.
By this time, my own mind was beginning to race. Having grown up in a Christian home and attended Christian schools and having heard the gospel preached a thousand times, I also did not have an excuse, but like the businessman, I was time and again kept from making the crucial decision by my fear of people. What would my friends say if I told them that I had skipped our drinks date that day because I was busy next door getting saved? What would I tell my girlfriend? My family?
When the preacher spoke next as he approached the end of his message, I felt as if he had taken my thoughts from my head and broadcast them from the pulpit for all to hear. For by this time, I had started accepting that I needed to make peace with God and coming to terms with the fact that I would have to get saved some day.
“The fourth guard,” Dr. Moore was now saying, “Will come and lay a friendly arm around your shoulder and say to you, ‘you know, friend, what that preacher is saying is quite right. You do need to get saved…. Just not today.’ The fourth guard is Procrastination.” Dr. Moore explained that most people understood the necessity of salvation, but kept putting it off with some even foolishly thinking that they would wait until the last possible minute before death to give their lives to Christ.
“But my friend, you are not guaranteed of your next breath,” he said. “Your life belongs to God and He can take it at any time. That is why the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2 ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’ and again in Hebrews 13:15ff ‘Today if you hear my voice do not harden your hearts’.”
With that admonition, Dr. Barry Moore concluded his message and started making the altar call inviting all those whom the Lord had spoken to to come forward to be prayed for to receive Christ. At the same time, the choir whose angelic singing had drawn me into the sanctuary earlier started to sing the old classic hymn of invitation,
[Just as I am without one plea,
but that Thy blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God I come, I come.’]
It may have been the end of Dr. Moore’s message, but it was the beginning of the mother of all battles in my heart. Sitting five rows from the altar, I struggled and fought with an overwhelming feeling telling me that this was the time to accept Christ as Lord and Saviour of my life. But I sat glued to my seat wondering whether my aunt on my left and my cousin on my right could sense the battle raging within.
I gave myself many excuses as to why I could not go forward at this time, but each one of them was countered from the word that had just been preached. All the while people kept streaming forward, some with tears in their eyes. But not I. I sat steadfastly even as I debated and struggled and fought. I had not planned to get saved tonight and I was not about to interrupt my plans for the day, for the week, for my life…
I tried to reason that I was too dirty even for the blood of Jesus, and that I needed to put my house in order first before I could qualify for salvation, but the choir was unrelenting,
[Just as I am and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot
O Lamb of God I come, I come…]
Still I fought. I remembered the many shameful things I had done, some very recently. How could Jesus be interested in me? The war raged within me, I felt hot under the collar, my heart beating fast in my chest. But I refused to yield. Still the choir sang, leaving me no excuse,
[Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings and fears within, without
O Lamb of God I come, I come…]
Somewhere deep in my consciousness I heard a voice from a scripture I’d read long ago ‘It is not the well who need a doctor,’ Jesus was saying, ‘but those who are sick.’ The choir intoned in agreement,
[Just as I am though wretched, blind
Sight, riches, healing of the mind
Yea all I need in Thee to find
O Lamb of God I come, I come…]
By now, my resistance was wearing thin. What I later learned was the relentless wooing of the Holy Spirit was persistent. God had sent this man all the way from Canada with His Word of salvation and He had ordained that His word as concerned me would not return to Him void. But I did not know it then, nor acknowledge it at that time. And so I still put up a fight.
After the second last stanza of the hymn, Dr. Moore asked the choir to pause and said, “My brother, my sister, I need to close the service shortly, but I feel God impressing upon my heart to tell you that you may never be this close again to the kingdom of God.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew they spoke to me in a deep and personal way and I somehow felt God was giving me the last chance. Already, the flood of people going forward had reduced to a trickle and then stopped altogether. But the pull in my heart had not stopped; on the contrary it was stronger than ever.
[‘Just as I am Thy love unknown…’] I willed myself to stand up and start moving toward the altar now surrounded by those who would soon be the latest members of the universal body of Christ. [‘Has broken every barrier down…’]. I pushed my way through those sitting on my pew ignoring the voices in my head that were mocking me and telling me how foolish I was being to give up promises of wealth, status and success, and that this salvation thing would not last anyway. [‘Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, O Lamb of God I come, I come…’]. I was the last to reach the front just in time for Dr. Barry Moore to lead us in the sinner’s prayer as we asked Jesus to forgive us our sins and come and be Lord and Saviour of our lives.
Shortly afterwards, we were taken into a back room for a few minutes of counseling and to receive some Christian literature to help us along as we took our first few steps into Christian faith.
There was no thunder or lightning or earthquake that night. I went home in silence, had a quiet dinner with my aunt and my cousins, said a short awkward prayer before bed time and fell asleep.
Outwardly, nothing had changed, at least not yet. But inwardly, everything had become new for I could hear the echoes of yet another scripture even as I drifted off to sleep, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come’.