I was a boy. Ten or eleven years old. I lived with my aunt whose husband prayed in no other language but in tongues. His was not ordinary tongues. When he prayed for the family at dawn, you don’t understand a word but you could feel the spirit filling up the room. The refreshing presence of the holy spirit was palpable and all-engulfing. Well, that was how I felt.

All I wanted to be when I grew up was to be able to speak tongues as he did. In my little mind, I thought if I could speak tongues as he did, I could set up my own church with the vision of proclaiming liberty to the captives, heal infirmities and call upon heaven to descend on his own, all through tongues-speaking.

I started working on my dreams immediately…

I only made friends in the church with guys and girls my age who could speak in tongues. There was one line in tongues that captivated me anytime I heard it; “Shandele mamamama tayozulaa brukatopende.” Well, I don’t know what that means, obviously, but I figured it was cool for the human mouth to combine such sophisticated words together and pronounce them without breaking a sweat.

I measured every person’s tongues-speaking proficiency by this line. If I don’t hear it in your tongues-speaking, please stand aside. You are just but a baby tongues speaker. I only dealt with people who were matured in the language of the spirit. I so wanted to be one.

During those days, the church of Pentecost in Mankessim organized retreats for kids in September. Every first week in September is the Mankessim Akwambo festival. So the church scheduled this retreat to coincide with the festival to prevent us from partaking in the activities of the festival. They called it idol worship and thought it wise to keep us away from all that. During this three day retreat, we fasted and prayed. It was also the period to recruit new tongues speakers.

This was what happened…

The fasting was from 6am to 12pm. We started praying from 11am to 12pm. During that hour-long prayers, you don’t have to say any word apart from Jesus. We shouted Jesus repeatedly until the word “Jesus” metamorphoses into tongue-speaking. That day we were 38. I remember that number clearly because I was the last person counted before the retreat started.

We started the prayers; “Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus…” Just within ten minutes, three boys got the spirit and started speaking in tongues. The ushers came for them and sent them to a special room where they joined some elders and prayed together.

“Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus…” Again, about five other guys started speaking in tongues. The Ushers again came for them and sent them to the Elders’ room.

“Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus…” After 40 minutes into the prayers, about 30 people were picked and sent to the Elders’ room. All of them have been able to transform the name Jesus into some kind of language nobody could understand. Surprisingly, none of them ever used my favorite tongues line; “Shandele mamamama tayozulaa brukatopende.”

About 50 minutes gone and I was still standing there shouting Jesus Jesus Jesus. The voices around me got thinner and thinner and thinner as they were picked one after the other to the Elders’ room. At this point, I started sweating but hope never left me, for I knew Isaiah 40:31 that says “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” My strength was renewed. I kept screaming Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus…nothing was happening to me. I was forced to squint and watch the surroundings to see how many of us were left…

Three! Only three of us left standing there looking miserable and feeling rejected. But I never gave up. I knew in his time, he would make all things beautiful—beautiful for me and my dreams of becoming a tongues speaker.

Slowly time went by. The girl among us broke down and cried. She was led away. Somewhere in her heart, she might have felt unworthy. Why would everyone speak in tongues but she couldn’t? I could understand her. But I wasn’t a boy to give up so I kept screaming Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus….Then I heard the bell ringing to indicate the end of the prayer session.

I opened my eyes and saw the other boy who also couldn’t make it. He had a smile on his face when he saw me. Maybe he was glad he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t make it. He found solace in my presence. When you fail with someone, the burden of shame becomes less heavy to bear because you have an excuse; “After all, I’m not the only one who couldn’t speak tongues?”

I walked away from the church and went straight home. It was a Saturday and the festival was at its peak. I picked one of my sister’s straight dresses and wore it. Powdered my face and picked a toy gun I bought some time ago. Very soon, I saw the Asafo procession coming around with heavy drumming, singing, and dancing. You hardly could differentiate between men and women because all men were wearing women’s clothing just as I was.

I’ve never danced like that in my life. I sang and danced with the procession throughout the day until it was night. I felt I’ve found somewhere I could belong whether or not I spoke tongues. Nobody was judging or picking between who could dance well and who could not. We were all one and equal seeking gratification in total madness but it was ok.

Last time I was in church and this guy behind me was speaking in tongues and vibrating as he screamed the words out. I wasn’t jealous. I wished him well but until I could hear him utter the words “Shandele mamamama tayozulaa brukatopende” he’s not qualified to intimidate me with his tongues-speaking prowess.