A Pastor’s Ordeal Of Raising 5 Children With Sickle Cell Anaemia
When Pastor Abel Olukayode Adewale, 51, delivers a sermon or prays, the very walls vibrate with the boom of his voice, Pastor Adewale was a child of prophecy, his mother having been childless for many years after marriage. The Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) had told her she surely receive the fruit of the womb, among whom would be just one male child who, like Samuel of the Old Testament, would serve in the vineyard of the Lord, a preacher. His mother was with her seventh husband, prolonged barrenness being a major factor in her movement from conjugal pillar to conjugal post.
Though the prophecy was kept from him till, in 2003, he decided to start his own church, Adewale, by a longing ‘from within’ attended the CAC Theological Seminary in Lagos. Before that he had helped ground the newly-established Deeper Life Ministry in Ilorin, Kwara State of Nigeria, following an educational career mainly in the teaching line.
Genotype was a Greek word when Adewale got married in July 1991, as it remains for millions till today. But, as a prayer-minded ministry of the first order, the CAC parish he and his future wife attended had prayerfully sought – and allegedly received – divine endorsement of the marriage.
‘I had no inkling,’ Adewale was to say years later, ‘that I was descending into hell.’
Sickle Cell Births
No sooner did they marry than the children rolled in, eight in all, male and female. Four of them were confirmed with sickle cell anaemia; a fifth child, the eldest, also with symptoms suggestive of sickle cell, could not be clinically confirmed as she passed away before a diagnosis could be made.
Had he suspected that his good health – in combination with his wife’s sound health – would spell such a trial for his children, he would sooner have stopped making babies. But the couple had no definitive diagnosis until all eight children had been born. Neither the proneness to be ill nor the repeated episodes of illness among some of the children led the couple to think of sickle cell till it was too late.
The word ‘needy’ is written all over Pastor Adewale, but you would not know it except you visited him at the church he founded just this year. The very small congregation – half of it his own family – worships in a threadbare uncompleted building; the wooden benches are not his own: the young boss of one of those DSTV parlours mushrooming all over Lagos, where football fans watch their teams in return for a small fee – lent him for so many hours per Sunday.
At ‘home’, not far from the church in Agodo Segun Village, the story is the same. The domicile is a concoction of tin roof, cardboard and wood on which the Pastor pays small rent (only for the land). There is space enough for lizards to crawl in and nod on the old sofas when no one is at home, not to talk of mosquitoes. It is hardly the type of condition in which to raise a child challenged by sickle cell, not to talk of four.
Rain or shine, warm or cold, one or the other of the Adewale children is dragged into sickle cell crises. As one recovers, another is launched afresh, gulping whatever resources the family wishes to spare for a rainy day.
So poor, the pastor has had no recourse than to seek help. Even as a full-time pastor with the CAC, his monthly take-home did not meet a tenth of the requirements for his dependants.
‘The Church once became so weary of making appeals for us,’ says Beatrice Adewale, ‘that the priests told us, ‘look, other families have need of assistance – we can’t fleece the congregation just because of your family alone!”
Friends and acquaintances are enlisted to help: after doling out cash or medication a few times and the appeals keep coming, they switch off their phones when Adewale calls!
Fellow pastors have advised the couple to separate without a thought for the fate of hapless children. Children with SS, argue their advisers, are a waste of time, and a waste of money, and must occasionally be left in the lurch.
Flesh Of My Flesh
Beatrice Adewale’s looks belie the family’s lack of means. Plump, fair and handsome, she could have passed for the wife of a banker or politician. It was not until 2009 that she and her husband knew their sickle cell carrier status – too late in the day to quit a marriage of 19 years.
Under the pressure of constant illness episodes and the resultant financial and emotional strain, she occasionally entertains thoughts of ‘running away’; but quickly rebukes and banishes the very idea.
‘How would the children feel if I abandoned them?’ she asks herself. A hardworking trader, she doubles as a midwife to expectant mothers in the locality.
’I will never desert my family,’ she says.
The petty trade, the midwifery, the ministering – and the barbering, which the pastor learnt to augment his income – do bring in money, but the funds are quickly drained by illness in one, two, three or, as it happens, all four children at once. Many are the sleepless nights massaging a limb or trying to comfort a child screaming in pain. Many are the sad moments of reflection pondering why a child, in particular the eldest (Ireti) would make negative, sorrowful statements about life while in the grip of a bone pain crises.
‘No sooner do we gather money for some other purpose,’ Mrs, Adewale says, ‘than crises comes to knock off our plans.’
But though sickle cell often bares its fangs and poses as Cain (in its ill-will) to their godly Abel of a marital union, Pastor and Mrs. Adewale are resolute about one issue: to allow neither bark nor bite of the mocker, whatever may be its source, to render them asunder.
The Adewales are perpetually in debt. Sometimes a friend deposits charity money into the pastor’s account and the following day a child complains of this and that.
‘This often makes me wonder,’ says Pastor Adewale, ‘whether there is not an evil force inducing the children to fall ill and drive me further and further into penury.’
Last month, Pastor Adewale had the opportunity to address secondary school students at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja Lagos.
‘Don’t allow ignorance of genotype to drive you to the brink as it did me,’ he pled, ‘and better open your eyes before you fall in love – place the health and well-being of your unborn children above all else.
‘If not for the promise of the Scriptures,’ he confessed to the audience, ‘I could have taken extreme measures on myself over this matter.’
Culled from African Sickle Cell News & World Report (vol 2 no 3)