His eyes, sharp and ever suspicious, swept the large assembly hall, missing nothing. They saw that Sister Carmela was back after missing church for two straight months after going to New York to help her daughter and son-in-law with the baby while the daughter recovered from a car accident. They noticed that Brother Toby had a bandage on his left wrist and his neck courtesy of a chop received by a man of unsound mind. They spotted the young newlyweds, the Whittles, the husband preoccupied with staring at the beautiful eighteen-year old daughter of one of the ushers, seated two benches down to his right, his wife next to him, oblivious to his roving eye. They spotted Brother McKenzie, a school principal who recently lost his wife, only child and closest sister in the space of nine weeks, severely testing his faith in God and his resolve to live.
The choir had just sung a rousing rendition of The Day Thou Gavest and the congregation was now ready to receive the word of God through His vessel Rev. James Richards Battle, or the Red Parson, as most people outside of his flock referred to him. Those inside it called him The Shepherd.
Rev. Battle focused his gaze on a young woman that was sitting in the section reserved for visitors. True to form, the section was full, as week in week out, people would visit out of curiosity to see for themselves what was so special about the pastor whose flock spoke of him with the sort of reverence one would expect them to reserve for Jesus. Some would immediately give their life to Christ, and offer themselves for baptism. Others would return from time to time before eventually becoming members. Others would not return.
“You have no place here.” His booming voice was authoritative. “Leave this young woman alone, she is not your vessel, and leave this house of God.”
The woman giggled and looked around guiltily, like a child caught being rude.
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
The woman started sneering and sucking her teeth dismissively.
“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
The woman started jerking. The visitors closest to her got up and gathered by the closed double doors, watching in fear and fascination.
“Red Parson bwoy, it betta yuh low me enuh! Ahoa!” the woman growled, her voice sounding like that of an old man who had smoked cigarettes for most of his adult life. She stood and began to contort her body. There were soft murmurs throughout the congregation but no one attempted to leave. For many, this was not the first time witnessing their shepherd doing God’s work.
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
“Red Parson bwoy mi nuh fraid a yuh! Yuh caa do mi-”
“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils.”
The young woman cocked her head comically as she looked at the reverend as though she was seeing him for the first time.
“Mi bumbo! Yuh a one a wi!” she shrieked before bending over, heaving like she was about to vomit. A frog, as dark as midnight, with huge red eyes, jumped out of her mouth and landed on the floor silently, surprising considering its size and weight. It seemed to look up at the podium before hopping towards the main door, taking the long route out of the church. The usher at the main door, though trembling with fear, stood his ground and opened it. He almost peed himself when the frog paused and looked at him momentarily before continuing on. He closed the door and leaned against it for support.
The church collectively hushed its loud murmuring and the visitors that had got up returned to their seats. They were all in awe at what they had just witnessed. One of the women, a rake-thin well to do businesswoman from Port Morant who wanted to give her life to the Lord but wasn’t sure she had found the right church yet, was sure now. The Temple of God of Deeds and Prophecy, where the church members were referred to as the flock, and their leader, The Shepherd, was going to be her new spiritual home. The place where she connected with God, in the presence of her religious brothers and sisters.
Her eyes, wet with joy, stared up at the podium in utter adoration as The Shepherd began his sermon.