By Tochukwu Onyeagolu
“I know the Bishop’s house. It is very beautiful.” This was what an Okada man who escorted me to the family of Late Mr. Chukwuemeka Aniwetalu of Umuazu village, Nteje told me. I almost missed the point when he said: “Bishop’s house.” I know that Nteje is not a diocese. I also know that the people of the town have no bishop yet. So I was wondering which Bishop’s house he meant. The Okada man must have read through my puzzled look for he added immediately: “Archbishop built a house for a family in this town.” That was when the power and the impact of what the Archbishop did struck me.
Never has a gift become too powerful as to break into a place and create a name for itself. But that is what the Archbishop has done. He did not just build a house for someone in need. He had rather succeeded in creating a moving human story, a story that will reecho for long among the people of Nteje. Oliver Wendel Holmes has words that capture so beautifully the significance of what has taken place in this community. “A man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” The story of the bishop’s house has no doubt enriched the narrative of Nteje community and the mind of her people.
Today in Nteje, it is common to hear ordinary people, men and children talking about the Bishop’s house. Even market women have a new staple on their gossip menu. And the questions on our lips have been: “How did a gift transcend itself to become at once a story, the story? How did a gift transform a place to give it a new identity? How did the gift of a new home gravitate away from the mundane plane of things to assume something of a legendary proportion?” I think it has to do with the character of the giver. Every gift reveals something of the giver. The Archbishop, in building the house, gave himself whole and entire. Now to the major story as it happened.
When the pathetic story of the beautiful Adaoma Aniwetalu, a young girl with special needs, was brought to the knowledge of His Grace, Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke to help her acquire basic education, Adaoma and her people were not prepared for the surprise that was immediately underway. In a gesture reminiscent of the sort of encounter between God and his servant Solomon, the Good Shepherd of Onitsha Archdiocese became a sign of divine providence for Adaoma and her family. Just like in the case of Solomon and how God blessed him with other things beside wisdom, the Archbishop gave Adaoma not just the needed scholarship to realize her dreams but also provided her with a home and a life worthy of the dignity of any child of God. All thanks to the Bishop’s inspiring sense of charity, many well-meaning people of God in Anambra State and beyond were excited to rally their resources in service of this great course. The good shepherd called out to them, they heeded with zeal.
Archbishop Valerian Okeke gives, in a classical Christian way, whole and entire, with no strings attached. This was my sentiment as I stared at the beautiful yellow structure with patches of orange colored designs adorning the front view, a house built for Adaoma by His Grace, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke in collaboration with many good-spirited individuals. I have known a few generous people and the many amazing things they have done for the poor. I have read tales about Greek mythic heroes, tales of Prometheus defying the gods to bring fire to mankind. While all these stories are moving and powerful in their own right, yet they could not prepare me for the spectacle of the ‘Bishop’s house’. It has class and it has elegance. The inside is tastefully furnished to plush standard. Are you asking of solar-powered inverter system, standby generator, borehole, CCTV security camera, furniture, kitchen fittings, and modern convenience? They are all there and much more. Some people referred to the house as full option, that is, a house built to taste and equipped to the last item needed for human habitation. It is simply a house built by a man for whom perfection was not a distant pursuit but a minimum ante. It is indeed a bishop’s house, built as if the Archbishop himself intends to call it a home.
It has been said that the power of wealth lies not in what it allows us to do for ourselves, but what it enables us to do for others. No place has the meaning of these words played out more than in what the Archbishop did for Adaoma. In fact, if wealth has any purpose and meaning, it has achieved it in the life of Adaoma,( now also called Ada Jesus)
“Thank you beloved Archbishop, my big daddy. Without you, I won’t be where I am today.” These were her exact words as the emotional Adaoma appreciated the Archbishop, calling herself Adabishop. Her gratitude to the Archbishop was so meaningful, such a poignant reminder to everyone around, of the deep human reach of the gift this beloved prelate has given.
Do you know what it means to know God? Jonathan Sacks, a Jewish Rabbi answered: “To know God is to act with justice and compassion, to recognize his image in other people and to hear the silent cry of those in need.” Rabbi Sacks was not giving vent to his personal opinion when he said this. He was rather reechoing the message of Prophet Jeremiah to his Jewish audience. “He took up the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is this not what it means to know me? declares the Lord.” (Jer 22:16) This is the story of a gift, a gift that reveals what it means to know God. The gift is the Bishop’s House. It is very beautiful.
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