I often talk about what a difficult child I was. It wasn’t just for the sake of being contrary. It was just that I couldn’t bring myself to follow instructions that I didn’t understand. I felt the same way about religion too. So many of the rules and requirements of Christianity left me baffled and confused.
I just didn’t get some of the things this Jesus guy wanted me to do. I mean, seriously; love your enemies? That has got to be the single most confusing instruction in the whole Bible. It goes against every single instinct of self preservation for us to embrace a person we believe poses a danger to our wellbeing. Love our enemies paa? Hm. Jesus, this one dier… some way. The person who has made it their mission in life to bring me down, the one who spends all their time and effort plotting my disgrace, the ‘aboa’ who is diligently biting me from within my ‘ntoma mu’…. Ei Jesus, are you sure?
It was only when I grew older that events in my life helped me to understand the real meaning, the true significance, and, frankly, the pure genius of that instruction: love your enemies.
First of all, who is my enemy?
In Augusco, we had a School Prefect called Freddie-Wala. That guy used to give me such a hard time. Most nights, a bunch of my mates and I would skip prep and either hang about in the dorm, or go sit by the Assembly Hall, enjoying the sea breeze and gbaaing films (for the uninitiated, ‘gbaaing film’ is the fine art of telling the story of a movie you have watched, taking huge creative licence to make the film sound as spectacular as possible, thereby hooking your listeners with the narrative and making them want more).
In school, I was a master of gbaaing films. In fact, I was so good, that boys from other classes would come find me during prep and beg me to tell them a movie. I would sometimes charge them each a small fee before I started, and make sure I always ended on a cliffhanger, so they would pay me again the following night for “part two”. Once, I stretched out a movie for one whole week. Yeah, I was good.
Very often, Freddie-Wala would come on his prep-time patrols and catch us outside our classrooms. He would always let all the others go, and take me back to the Senior Prefects’ room for punishment. He would either make me kneel down for hours, or make me do the dreaded disco weeding. After I completed my punishment, he would then force me to do the two full hours of prep on the balcony outside his room before I went to bed. I never understood why he would always single me out for the harshest punishment, and let all my equally guilty friends go scot free. I was convinced he hated my guts and simply enjoyed torturing me’ Powerless against the almighty SP, I spent ages fantasizing about all kinds of painful calamities I wished would befall him.
One night, Freddy-Wala asked me to dress his bed. Under his mattress, I found an Economics test paper. The person had scored 69%, one percentage point short of an A grade. I looked closer and saw that the name at the head of the paper was mine. I picked it up, wondering how my test paper had ended up under the School Prefect’s mattress. Then I heard his voice behind me.
“I found that on the floor in your dorm last term”, he said. “You missed an ‘A’ by one mark. Read what your teacher wrote at the bottom”.
I looked at the paper and read, “You are capable of so much more than this, but you just don’t care. If someone doesn’t force you to sit up, you will waste all your time in school and leave with nothing”.
He took the paper from me and told me to sit down. I’ll never forget what he told me next. “Those boys who make you miss prep just to sit around and gbaa films all day, do you think they are your friends? Trust me they are not. And just because I’m on your case and forcing you to learn, you think I am your enemy? Trust me, I am not”.
With that, he gave me a blunt cutlass, and sent me to “disco-weed” the quadrangle.
It was thanks to my film-gbaaing friends that I nearly left Augusco empty-handed, and it was thanks to people like Snr Freddy-Wala that I didn’t.
My people, how do you feel about your enemies? Do you pray for their downfall? Do you spend hours in church binding them? Do you ask God to punish them? Perhaps you ought to reassess who it is that you’re battling against, because the fact is, if someone is spending their time and attention criticizing you, it’s probably because they care about you. I have learnt to take those who censure me very seriously, because if they wanted me to fail, they would keep their opinions to themselves.
As a kid, there was a lot I didn’t understand about what it meant to be a Christian. As an adult, I now realise that when Jesus asks us to love our enemies, it’s for our own good. For God knows how wrong we can be about who our enemies really are. Better we love them all than hate someone who actually wants what is best for us.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I thank God for my “enemies”. They are the reason why I won’t fail.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!