Last week I travelled to Enugu for an important ecclesiastical assignment. Afterwards I drove to Mother of Christ Hospital in Ogbete Enugu to visit my relation who works there. When I came out, I engaged myself in an impulse purchase. For this reason, I packed my car beside the ever busy Ogbete – Uwani road to buy the attractive commodity. I bargained like a real market woman since I was dressed in my simple traditional attire. At last I bought the commodity at a cheap rate. When I put on my clerical attire to market, the sellers deceive me with 'Praise the Lord!” greeting while cheating me in the process. Eneke the bird said that since hunters have learnt to shoot without aiming, it has also learnt to fly without perching.
As I was walking back to my car, a steaming commercial bus with few passengers inside stopped by the side of the road to pick more passengers. The conductor was perching with one leg at the door and was shouting, “New Haven! New Haven!! New Haven!!!” Standing nearby was a very wretched man in tattered clothes and with an old polythene bag on his right hand, waiting aimlessly. The way he was looking showed me that he had no destination in mind. He just came into Enugu from a very remote town in Enugu State to look for greener pasture. He was just standing there to know what fate would bring to him. In fact, he was not sure of his daily bread. He was looking up to heaven for immediate help, lest he dies the next moment. So, when he heard the conductor shouting “New Haven!” he heaved a sigh of relief. He jumped into the bus with alacrity, because opportunity comes but once. He was soliloquizing, “So, Heaven is here at Enugu and I was in my village languishing in tears; and not only Heaven but new Heaven. What am I doing in this useless place? Let me go to that new Heaven and enjoy life. I have suffered enough! God, I thank you for answering my prayer which is already overdue. Indeed my people say that a patient dog eats the fattest bone.”
As the bus was moving, he entered into ecstasy and saw God giving him a bag containing Ten Million Naira at the gate of the New Heaven. He unconsciously laughed so loud. His fellow passengers looked at him strangely and unanimously shouted, “Mr. Man, are you mad?” He replied, “My people, I am not mad. Rather I am happy that I am going to New Heaven to enjoy life, because I have suffered in my poor village since I was born.” The passengers laughed at him in unison. The poor man was confused and kept mute. He said in his mind, “God, don't mind them.”
As the bus was approaching the New Haven bus stop, the conductor stretched out his hand to collect N200 transport fare from the wretched man. The man started laughing like a person being drowned in a river. He told the conductor that even if he sells himself, he cannot realize such an amount of money. The conductor seized his polythene bag and searched its content. He only found an extra-ordinary used chewing stick, a tattered shirt and a pair of torn trouser in it. In other words the conductor saw poverty inside the nylon bag. Amusedly, the wretched man asked the conductor to take the bag as his transport fare. The enraged conductor threw the bag with every force at his face. The indigent man retorted, “Idiot! I can see that you have no respect.” The conductor reacted aggressively by giving him an idiotic hot slap on the face. Out of anger and hunger, the man held the conductor and started biting him on the buttocks. The conductor released a poisonous gas into his mouth. The man shouted, “Poison, poison!” The passengers separated them. They calmed the conductor and the wretched, angry and hungry man. By providence a good Samaritan in the bus paid for the man's transport fare. The driver stopped at the New Haven bus stop. The wretched man and few others disembarked.
Do you know what next? The wretched man asked a passer-by the gate leading into the New Heaven. She told him that he is already in New Haven. She pointed at a nearby sign-post for him to read. Luckily the wretched man could read and write because he completed his primary school. He read, “Welcome to New Haven. Feel at home. There is no food for lazy man here.” He cleared his eyes and read it again in case he was daydreaming. He sighed and asserted, “Please Madam, this is not the correct spelling of Heaven. I can see Haven. Is the artist who wrote it illiterate?” The woman laughed and told her, “Mr. Man, here is New Haven area and not Heaven as you think. The people living here are hard-working. Are you a loafer? As you can see it is written boldly: 'There is no food for lazy man here.' Leave me alone because I am hurrying to my place of work.” The woman walked away briskly.
The wretched village man stood looking hopelessly. He was trying to make out the difference between Heaven and Haven. His little brain was about to crack when I came across him. By then I was driving slowly to New Haven area for another engagement. He waved me down and humbly knelt down beside the road, looking at me with pity written all over his eyes. I remembered the Saying of Jesus Christ on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Mtt. 5:7). I packed my car well and came out with outstretched hands. I helped the wretched man to stand on his feet. Then I enquired, “Please, what can I do for you?” He replied, “Father, please I want to go to Heaven to rest because I have suffered in my wretched village. Unfortunately, I ended up in Haven. I am confused because I can still smell suffering in this place. Please father, can you take me to the real Heaven?” I smiled and took him by the side and we sat down under an umbrella tree.
It is said that a hungry man does not sing Alleluia. The first Gospel you can preach to a hungry man is the Gospel of the Stomach. Hence I bought him a loaf of giant bread and a bottle of malt. He accepted them with gratitude. I told him to eat first before we talk. Then I bent down as if I was writing something on the ground. Surprisingly, before I could look up, the hungry village man has finished the giant loaf of bread and emptied the bottle of malt. He poured the sachet water he was drinking into the malt bottle and rinsed it. Then he drank it. I was dying with internal laughter to avoid insulting him. Afterwards, he stood up and shouted, “Father, praise the Lord!” I shouted, “Alleluia!!!” He embraced me with his dirty tattered clothes. I accepted the embrace willingly because the wretched village man might be Jesus Christ in disguise. My mind went to Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”
My Igbo people say, “Alachaa mmanu uka abaa na nti.” This means that when a hungry man eats, only then can he listen to your speech. I began the second stage of evangelization by explaining the difference between Haven and Heaven. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines Haven as “a place where people go to be safe.” Example, the place where refugees run to during war or violent crisis in order to be safe is haven. If you abandon a noisy area to a quiet area, then you are in haven. If you marry a nagging wife, you must learn to go to haven always. If you are living with a troublesome husband or person, then you ought to go to haven from time to time. Even the New Haven in Enugu is turning into something else. Suspicious characters are trooping in there and making the area unsafe. Haven is expected to be quiet and peaceful. There everyone goes about his or her normal business without molestation. I do not know what the outcome will be if I enter house to house to interview those living now at New Haven in Enugu. Their experience may show that they are no longer leaving in haven but in hazard. I concluded by telling the village wretched man that there is no comfort zone any more on this earth. Haven is on earth. Manner does not fall here at New Haven. I advised him to go back to his remote village to farm. It is better to remain in the village and feed well than to stay here at New Haven and become a nuisance to the society or to become a habitual beggar.
On the other hand, I explained to him that Heaven is not on this earth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1024 categorically states, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” Simply put, Heaven can be defined as God's abode, reserved for the Angels and Saints. God created us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. Speaking of Heaven St Paul says, “What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot imagine; all that God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor.2:9). The qualification for going to Heaven is living good life while we are here on earth, because nothing impure will enter the Kingdom of God. Repentant sinners can equally go to Heaven. Heaven entails seeing the Beatific Vision; that is, seeing God face to face. Some people argue whether Heaven is a place or condition of life. Whichever it is, Heaven is Heaven. The ultimate happiness is experienced there. I have gone to Heaven many times in my dream. However, I am anxious to be there in reality. I wish to go to Heaven even though I do not want to die today. But we must die to be there. All mortals must die. The last three things that await us are: Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell. St. Paul says that each and every one of us must render to God the account of his life on the last day, whether we like it or not (Rom.14:12). Let us make haste while the sun shines. We should not postpone our repentance. Delay is dangerous.
As I was making the distinction between Haven and Heaven, the poor village man was looking at me mercifully. After the clarification and impromptu preaching, he broke into tears. He was confused on what next to do. I embraced him like a caring father and consoled him. Then he said, “Father, please I want to become a Reverend Father so that I can go to Heaven. From my enquiry I learnt from the man himself that he was already fifty years old and married with two children. I replied, “My brother, you need not become a priest in order to go to Heaven. Heaven is for everybody who lives good life and repents from his or her sins.” He smiled and asked me, “Father, can a poor farmer go to Heaven?” I replied, “Of course, if he is upright. As you have married and gotten two children, go home and look after them. Be a good farmer and a good Christian. The God we serve will uplift you on this earth and later in Heaven.” I gave him little money for his transport and nourishment. Happily he fell on the ground and shouted appreciatively, “I am already in Heaven. Goodbye to New Haven!”