The African Passover
(excerpt from the book, Laughter of a Crazy Man)
Matu was amazed at the totally captivated crowd gathered around Botoe. His voice was strong, his presence electrifying and his eyes focused not on the crowd but on the horizon like he saw a vision in the heavens. A few months ago, Daniel Botoe was excommunicated from her Jehovah’s Witness group, and she hated to admit it, but he was the best preacher and evangelist she had ever seen. “Africa has always been the refuge of our faith and the sanctuary for the people of faith. When King Herod tried to kill baby Jesus, the savior, Africa was the sanctuary for Jesus, the refugee child and his family. A lot of people forget that Jesus was a refugee and sometimes even Christians treat refugees badly. Yes, the baby Jesus, a refugee in Africa. In the time of famine, Egypt in Africa was the sanctuary for Joseph, the dreamer, and the Israelites.” Botoe continued to preach with fervor. “The Lord with his grace has taken the motherland, Africa, as the place to fulfill his word; Africa will be transformed from the sanctuary to the genesis. The stars and place of Africa, Liberia, are rising. We will be the place where the principles of everlasting life for believers start. You are the small group to whom this has been granted, that everlasting life, but only when you obey the word.” Botoe condemned contemporary Christian view of sex as sinful: “The men of the Bible enjoyed sex; David had eight wives, and Solomon had over a hundred wives…The Bible has nothing against sex.” A few months earlier, Daniel Botoe was the star evangelist of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. His dedication was unquestioned and zeal unmatched. Botoe convinced and converted many. At Bible study, he engaged in complex analysis and easily grasped and seemingly understood the principles of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Daniel Botoe had one problem; sometimes he said things that were doctrinally untrue to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first, they thought it was innocent mistakes, but later it seemed deliberate, or it was what he believed. When Sister Matu confronted him, he was elusive, and she felt this was dangerous. Sister Matu duly informed the elders, who scheduled a meeting with Bro. Daniel Botoe. The meeting did not go well; instead of being remorseful, he was defiant, and the group was shocked. The elders moved swiftly, and he was excommunicated.
The crowd was mesmerized, and you could hear a pin drop when Botoe lowered his voice, saying slowly, “Death is not inevitable because man was created with the capacity to live forever.” She stood away from the crowd, dumbfounded. It was crystal clear this man, now expelled from her church, was filled with special power and invigorated by something supernatural but certainly not the one she worshipped. Botoe asserted defiantly that the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the other churches did not own the word of God and had no control over its interpretation; it was given to mankind. He read and made his own rendition and was appalled that Africans were not owning the scripture. He declared himself a messenger informing the world that physical everlasting life was possible if we follow scriptural truths, and God did not intent life to be a drab, dreary existence but wanted blissful sexual pleasure for mankind.
After his expulsion, the small band of witnesses on Bushrod Island assumed they had seen the last of Botoe, who disappeared for several months. The retreat was certainly no surrender, they later realized. Botoe organized, got a copy machine and started writing pamphlets and handouts reminiscent of what he did with the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Daniel Botoe was a middle-aged, dark, stocky, droopy-eyed, medium-height male who migrated to Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, from the Sinoe area. He identified with his tribesmen but interacted freely. The new and very attractive principle was everywhere in no time. After all, the scripture came to Africa after Phillip baptized the Ethiopians in the book of Acts. Africans should be spreading the word of God to the world, he thought, instead of Americans or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses come from a continent discovered thousands of years after Jesus; why should they be the one bringing the word to us? Their continent had only cannibals and savages when the Good News reached the African continent.”
If they could interpret the Bible, he could, incorporating and extending a principle of Jehovah’s Witnesses that death is not inevitable and mankind was made with the capacity to live forever. God had promised everlasting physical life and stated it plainly in the Bible, and Botoe had scriptural proof of that and an earthly paradise with a time for sensual sex. There were unconfirmed rumors that the church was a sex cult, but members angrily denied this. In a short time, he had a core of well-indoctrinated followers with sound scriptural knowledge defending his beliefs and convincing others. As the faith gained adherents, his title became Bishop or Comforter, but he worked unrelentingly spreading the word and felt disturbed when people claimed his church was just a cult. The church gained a lot of popularity and topped the news headlines several times.
Kormosa and her husband, Karmo, had recently moved to Jamaica Road on Bushrod Island. They rented a two-bedroom flat on the backside of a bigger house with a bathroom and kitchen. Her husband, a military officer, got a small stipend to help with rent, and she was satisfied he honored her wishes not to live in the quarters near the Barclay Training Center (BTC). The new area was teeming with activities, and in no time, she came in contact with the Assembly Church of Africa, better known as Never Die Church. While her husband trained soldiers at Camp Todee in Montserrado County, she was home alone but courted some ladies from the church, who encouraged her to join the worship service and explained the teachings. Kormosa had misgivings about their belief of no physical death but had a strange attraction to an event they called communion or passover. Though they kept it secret and talked in a hush tone, she understood it was all about sex; the men “passed over” the women, and the women passed over the men, and everyone was happy. She was curious and asked questions to know what the ladies did if they got pregnant but felt her husband would not join because “he’s too selfish and jealous to share me.”
“Our church [is] not like the Baptist church where the reverend preaches against fornication while sleeping with all the women. Aye, so only the reverend should enjoy?” The ladies roared with laughter as Ma Jolo detailed her experiences as a Baptist. “In this church, everybody enjoy,” continued Ma Jolo. “I’m not saying don’t listen to your husband, but men are the most selfish animals God created. They want to be the only one to enjoy. Just join our church, and you will see how your man will get angry when you join,” she continued while nodding her head wisely like she could write a treatise on the nature of the male species. “I will never join a church where the pastor gets a private jet and the congregation can’t even afford taxis.”
Time is the thief of love, but Kormosa had no question about her love for her husband; it had endured the years. She only questioned if he should be the only source of her pleasure and was excited at the prospect of so much free sex everywhere, but one of the older ladies shared some wisdom. Ma Jolo spoke from experience, stating, “At first, you will be so excited, but later, you will get tired.” She warned that sex loses its value when you can get it anytime, with no challenge or barriers to get it. In her view, the process of getting the man or the woman was as important as the pleasure in the act of sex. In the Never Die Church, you lost that special pleasure in doing things forbidden like sleeping with your husband’s friend, she joked. Kormosa began to daydream and fantasize about the passover and schemed to convince her husband. When he returned for a week, Kormosa introduced the ladies to him, and he listened excitedly to their preaching but did not commit.
Ma Jolo, who lived next door, had a lot of experience in this matter and quickly hatched a plan. One day when Kormosa left home to shop, she visited their home to see Karmo, the husband, accompanied by another lady. Hawa was tall, statuesque, with glazed flawless cocoa complexion; she moved gracefully like a gazelle, and it was not uncommon to see women looking at her intentionally either seeking to find a fault or just fawning at how beautiful a creation she was. Men were toys, and she chased them away, most of the time. This woman was their secret weapon for men with roving eyes, a weapon that had never failed. She joined the church due to her insatiable sexual appetite but could easily have satisfied it without the church, considering how many men drooled over her. As they were invited into his living room, Ma Jolo could see Karmo’s eyes light up, excited in carnal desire. Suddenly, he transformed from gracious but not inviting to being cordial and engaging—he wanted to know when the next celebration was scheduled and began to seek information of a more practical nature.
The elderly lady was unsurprised when her friend informed her the family was joining the church and happily greeted them at the worship service. The service was one of jubilation, and the sermon was well crafted. The congregation dressed in bright, festive, mainly African attires, and the bishop wore a shirt and tie with a traditional gown. They sang songs emphasizing the idea of everlasting life, and the atmosphere was festive and merry with clapping and a loud “Amen” following every important statement. Karmo, with his usual sharp tongue, left there joking that they were happy because “everybody doing everybody.” As the communion drew near, Kormosa disappointedly informed Ma Jolo that her husband did not agree about them attending, because he was scheduled for work out of town. Ma Jolo asked if she knew when her husband was due back, and Kormosa understood the reason for the question. “Kormosa”—she smiled—“what he don’t know can’t kill him; nothing spoil,” and added, laughing, “No meter there.”
Passover was a seminal event of great importance in the Assembly Church of Africa, lasting seven days, and was scheduled at seven large houses in the Duala suburb. The people in each house formed a praying unit, eating and studying the Bible during the day and at night freely intermingled and had uninhibited sex. They broke up daily to randomly be placed at the different locations in a way that people got to commune with new partners. Many members lived for this event that was held several times during the year. It was the first event for Kormosa, and while others at her first location were tired during the wee hours of the morning, she was invigorated and sought another hookup. The next day was more of the same, and she experienced tons of pleasure from the event and knew that nothing would stop her from the next festival.
She was scheduled the third day at a house near the beach in Duala. The monstrous fifteen-bedroom house was once used as a clinic. It all started well with a breakfast of fried eggs, cornbread and tea, and everyone retired to their separate rooms to study the scripture of the day. At the time for group study, they gathered in the meeting room, and she was shocked to see her husband walk in. He instantly raised his voice: “What you doing here?” She seemed undisturbed, answering calmly, “So, what you doing here?” He raised his voice in anger and moved to attack her, but the other men restrained him. It required great effort for the men present to restrain Karmo, and realizing he was determined to start a brawl with his wife, they advised her to leave. She walked out toward the beach, but in no time, her husband broke away from the men. Karmo, an accomplished bawler, had them fighting to protect themselves and pursued her. The commotion brought more help, and the larger group of men gave chase and made a timely rescue. Kormosa’s dress was ripped, her hair in disarray, with sand all over her. Invigorated by anger, passion and jealousy, Karmo could not be easily subdued by the men, who slowed him down enough for his wife to run and hail a taxi that took her away. “Leave the woman alone, man,” one guy yelled. The other guy tripped him as he tried to follow, yelling, “What’s wrong with you?”
Ma Jolo felt responsible. She was shocked, Karmo made Hawa swear to secrecy and secretly arranged to be at the passover. She tried to calm Karmo and went to visit him the next day, but he told her to leave and warned, “If you come to my house again, I will break your foot”; he was implacable. Anxious to punish the church, Karmo sought legal advice. Legal resolution using a justice of the peace or circuit court would require several months of waiting, so he sought redress at the tribal court associated with internal affairs.
The case was scheduled but the ever-combative church leader was ready to defend his prerogative against the charge of soliciting, engaging and abetting prostitution. Botoe considered himself an Olympic-class athlete in the art of verbal sparring and was convinced he could win any fair fight. The confident bishop had a victory service thronged with supporters the night before the court appearance.
The courtroom at the internal affairs ministry was jam-packed. Many were curious to see how the bishop would perform under pressure. Sweat rolled down faces. People wiped using soggy handkerchiefs. Others fanned using pieces of paper. All quietly awaited the judge. The only ventilation was the oscillating fan, set in the direction of the judge. The open windows offered no relief. Everyone stood as the judge entered and started the proceedings. His stern face visibly frowned as the clerk announced the case against Bishop Botoe.
Karmo’s case was quickly dispatched as the bishop quickly pointed out that the soldier was selfish and wanted to eat from the communal vineyard but deprive his wife—eat without sharing. Botoe won because he quickly established that the accuser was culpable in the crime since he joined the church for communion and engaged in the same activity and hence was in no position to accuse. Karmo was angry and depressed. Comforter Botoe, however, had two other accusers, military officers, who were nonmembers of the church complaining their wives were duped into joining the church. He also had to contend with the fact that the judge was a lay preacher and demanded scriptural support for the activities of the church. Botoe biblically supported the “passover,” using two quotes from the Bible: Matthew 21:31, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you,” and, Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” but he repeated the latter verse, saying, “It is easier for a prostitute to go through the eye of the needle…” Botoe asserted that his church fulfilled the gospel to make it easy for women to go to heaven.
He had nimble answers for every question and undermined every argument. When the judge stated that prostitution was illegal, the bishop quickly asserted that it was not true prostitution since no money was exchanged for sexual favors. The judge, a lay preacher, ruled the bishop incriminated himself and admitted his church “made women into prostitutes” and warned him of “a day of reckoning” when the wrath of God would come crashing on him. The judge berated Botoe but promised not to go beyond his mandate as a judge. “God doesn’t need me to fight his battle.” He turned to his constable and asked, “How do they call the ceremony, again?” “Passover,” the constable replied. The judge laughed. “African passover, I bet.” Then, with his usual stern gaze, he raised his voice, which echoed in the hall: “You chose to disrespect the holiest day in the Bible, Mr. Botoe; all I have to say is peace be unto you.”
While leaving the court, a news reporter asked if he agreed with the decision that his church made women into sex slaves and prostitutes. Botoe replied, “I have nothing to say except you should see that none of my accusers are women”. He was unrepentant, but based on the three complaints and statement on prostitution by the bishop, the Never Die Church was found to be engaged in something resembling prostitution, and an injunction was issued to close the church. Rather than take an appeal, the Assembly Church of Africa closed that location but continued at their other branches.
Karmo had enough of Bushrod Island and Jamaica Road and soon relocated the family to military quarters near the Barclay Training Center. Unlike before, he made many unplanned trips back home to “check on the family.” Kormosa stopped her interactions with the Never Die Church and ended her relationship with Ma Jolo but cherished her experience. She considered herself lucky since she never got pregnant or had any sign of disease but admitted to a sense of emptiness on leaving the church. It was not easy replacing the camaraderie and lively time spent on Bushrod Island. In a short time, she developed budding friendships with the wives of the other soldiers quartered nearby.
The court’s decision was a stinging rebuke, but Botoe was not one to accept defeat sitting. He called a meeting of his closest advisors, exhorting them to remain steadfast in the principles of the church. Botoe looked tired, slouched in the chair, but energized as he talked. “Read the Bible. Don’t take my word for it—the perfect will of God is that we go forth and multiply freely. The limitations and all these man-made rules put in by us are not the perfect will of God.” He nodded. “I know I sound racist, but the white men changed the rules when they saw all these black and brown men coming to join the church; they worried we would take all the women from them.” Next, Comforter Botoe embarked on a blitz of revivals, outreach and missions. His weary body got no rest as he committed every fiber of his existence to his mission. Botoe and his followers were everywhere, in every nook and corner, and “the flock” grew dramatically. Ma Jolo distrusted the new group of believers; they were not sincere. To her, they seem intrigued, fascinated and hungry for the commune (passover) and celebration of faith and passion but not keen in professing the faith of the church. Many of them, Ma Jolo, surmised, may have heard of the passover and wanted to use it as a conduit to get some much needed “attention.” She knocked on the door, walked into his office and raised her concerns with the bishop. He laughed and told her to read the books of Act, chapter nine. “Do you remember how Saul let his anger drive him on the road to Damascus? The road did not take him to persecute more souls, but it was the road to redemption. Let them come; they will come with carnal desires, seeking pleasures of the flesh, but the road will take them to redemption,” he commented, reassuring her.
Less than a year later, rumors spread everywhere that Comforter Daniel Botoe had suffered a massive stroke—people claimed seeing him in that state, but as more people became inquisitive, he disappeared from his residence. His followers proclaimed the prophet went to consult with God. Not long after, a man resembling Botoe, stricken by a stroke, was seen at Phebe Hospital in Suacoco, three hours’ drive away from Monrovia. When this man died, the body was unclaimed and buried with the unclaimed bodies. Botoe’s “death” was reported in The Liberia Star Newspaper, and his church divided into two groups: one group claimed he died, and his death was proof that Botoe was not a true believer, while another group vehemently denied his death and avowed the bishop went on a pilgrimage to confer with the creator.
All dressed in camouflage, Karmo walked into the living room tired but sporting a sinister smile. “Kormosa, the newspaper says your bishop died.” Kormosa walked from the room where she was attending to their five-year-old son and smiled, shaking her head, choosing to avoid an argument. “I think you should go sympathize with them,” he said jokingly. “Yes, I want to go, but you won’t let me,” she said curtly. His tone was unchanged, but he threatened, “Just try it; you will see what will happen.”
Kormosa was courteous to Ma Jolo, who beamed with excitement, when they met in the marketplace a year after the wahala. “How are you doing, my daughter?” she said with her dazzling smile. Kormosa replied, “I’m fine. Sorry about Bishop Botoe.” The elderly lady softly responded, “Yes, he went to consult with God,” and quickly changed topics, asking, “You need to find some time and visit us.” “Yes, really,” Kormosa agreed. “Ma Jolo, I’m missing my friends,” Kormosa stammered, promising with no intention of going, at least not if she wanted to keep domestic peace. “I will come.” “You don’t even know that I’m the bishop of the church,” Ma Jolo added. “Really, Ma Jolo, I’m happy for you,” the young woman replied. The bishop relayed how the church was expanding rapidly. “We’ve got branches in Nimba County, in Bong County and even in the Ivory Coast.” Kormosa had had enough trouble with the church and turned down the proposal when Ma Jolo charmed her with that mischievous smile, saying, “My daughter, the Bible says the right hand doesn’t need to know what the left hand is doing, so come when you ready.”
Seeing Ma Jolo jolted her memory, and Kormosa could not help but think about her beloved Bishop Botoe. As she thought of him, warmth filled her spirit, and a smile formed on her face. She remembered that booming voice that projected so well, so loud to fill any auditorium, theater or meeting place; she remembered the kids joking he had a microphone in his mouth. She recollected his wit and answer to every question, and that persona—so well-mannered and respectful, the beaming smile during church service that transformed to a glow during passover, for he truly enjoyed the pleasure of sex, and even after many such events, it seemed like every passover was his first. You had to know him to understand his high respect for women that he referenced as “the doorway to existence,” and Kormosa thought him a visionary, considering his prediction that one day a woman would be the head of the Assembly Church of Africa as Ma Jolo was now the leader. Though she never believed their doctrine, Kormosa never considered this a barrier to her enjoyment and celebration of the bliss called passover. The memory caused such a solemn loss and emptiness; it was tough to grapple with the mental images; it was untenable that this man, one with such immense talents, be laid to rest in an unmarked grave, unclaimed by his flock.
©Michel Dioubate2019, Laughter of a Crazy Man