30 pieces of silver and a bowl of dengu stew: the prize for “excelling” at the expense of character!
by Ronald Amaganga
Bio: Ronald, a missionary teacher in Marsabit County, ministers with CITAM Northern Frontier Missions (Marsabit); he is also the interim chair of KSCF Marsabit Team; he is married to Elose Muthoni
KCSE results this year attracted a lot of attention including that of a parliamentary committee – MPs felt that there was more than meets the eye in the ranking and non-ranking of certain schools. And indeed, there was. It emerged that there was a Mumias-based conman who had impersonated the KNEC CEO and managed to make lots of money from school principals in return for better grades. The saddest news for me was the admission by a school principal that he had sent Ksh. 200, 000 to the conman. 200, 000 is lots of money!! That is how desperate for ‘success’ our schools have become.
It confirmed for me something I was told in December 2013 by an examiner of many years. We had just listened to a very loud and eloquent principal of a top 5 national school brag about how he had improved the A grades in his school from less than 2o to 95 in five years of being at the school. My examiner friend casually wondered why the principal was boasting yet it was common knowledge that he pays for ‘grade polishing/cleaning’, a process of improving the school mean that a principal can pay for to corrupt senior KNEC officials and before long their school will be shining real bright. It looks like I had dismissed my friend too soon! How sad that our celebrated principals have stooped so low.
And it is not only school principals who are desperate for success, everybody seems to be – Christian students too! A few years ago, I was facilitating bible study at a Christian Union Leaders camp and the issue of exam cheating came up. To the question ‘Would you use illegally obtained information to pass your KCSE?’, the group of eleven (11) CHRISTIAN UNION LEADERS from eleven (11) different schools were unanimous and in total agreement, “although one is a Christian when it comes to KCSE, this is your life and so you must do everything you can to excel” (the verbatim response of one CU Vice Chair from a high ranking school in Central province). On that afternoon, I understood why Jesus used the whip in the temple – you do not negotiate when the devil takes a seat in the temple! You kick him out, of necessity – violently (the kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force, for this reason – Matthew 11:12).
But it is not only in our times that many have sacrificed character at the altar of pseudo-excellence and temporary success. You will remember Saul, the first King of Israel, who disobeyed God to please the people (1 Samuel ch 15). God’s instructions were very clear: destroy every Amalekite and everything associated with them. Granted, this sounds harsh but a close reading of the bible would help one understand why God wanted this to happen (the need to remain undefiled is critical for God’s people; the Amalekites were exactly that, a defilement of the land); more so, we do not question God – we only trust and obey! Saul chose to keep what he felt should not be destroyed and when asked by Samuel the Prophet argues that these items were for worship and sacrifice. That sounds just like some people who argue that they cheat and take shortcuts to ‘excellence’ because there is need to show that Christians are also successful people! The long and short is God did not like it; God demoted him as King and also pronounced judgment on the spot!
Saul’s plea to Samuel reflects the attitude of many Christians today: “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God” (1 Sam 15:30). Translation: I know God is not happy with me and has rejected me but if I look good before the people what does it matter? That is tragedy! It is better to be shamed before people but find honor with God for it is a tragic thing to fall in the hands of God! It is better to fail – in the assessment of men – but be a hero of the kingdom. Like Saul, many of us do not mind looking good and successful before people although we know that God is not happy with us and will judge our compromising lifestyle harshly!
Our heritage as Christians is to live exemplary lives that honor God and demonstrate what He has done in us more than the popular views of success. It is better to look foolish and uncool before the people than to be thought a success by people when you have failed the standard of godliness. It is better to fail many times over than compromise our Christian principles. Abraham Lincoln arguably the most inspirational and successful US president of all time lost at the ballot 16 times in part due to his uncompromising stand on the issue of slavery but by his consistency eventually won. Your stand for godly values will eventually pay off and you will have an enduring legacy because of your defense of Christian values. God will vindicate you if you remain steadfast and unyielding in your stand for Christ.
When we compromise our Christian standard to achieve worldly success we behave like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil (minji/nzouwu/dengu) soup!! In foolishness, Esau had roared “Look I am about to die, what good is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32) only for him to “burst out with a loud and bitter cry” and plead for a blessing when he learns that Jacob had got what he had sold him and despised – the birthright (Genesis 27)!
I can guarantee you that by the time many people realize what they have lost when they chose to compromise Christian character in their quest for excellence and success it is a bitter and painful experience that has led many to self-destruction, and in some cases suicide. Like Judas, they realize too late that the thirty (30) pieces of silver do not compare to the love of and fellowship with the Master they betrayed as they took the shortcut to the top (of the very tree from which they hang dead)! [Mathew 27:1-10]
Have you ever wondered why university student suicides are on the increase? Does it ever surprise you that university students live the most self-destructive lives of promiscuity and drug abuse? A study done at the University of Nairobi, by a secular professor, found out that the majority of this sad lot of students comes from the top schools of the nation. I reckon, (and can be proven wrong) it is the guilt of taking shortcuts to get to the university that drives many of them to live sorry self-destructive lives.
How then can we be saved?
Is all lost for our generation? No! You can retain Christian character even as everybody else compromises to succeed:
1. Retain your focus
Do not take your eyes off the prize, and the prize is Jesus Himself, not worldly success. Until you see Jesus, there is no room for compromise. As the bible encourages, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every hindering weight and the sin that so easily entangles, and lets us run – with perseverance – the race marked out for us; keeping our eyes (focus) on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and now sits at the right hand of God the father” (Hebrews 12:1-2). May you follow the example of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, in remaining pure and undefiled in your choice to only excel in the manner and way that pleases the God who will exalt you in due time!! Amen!
2. Ask for spiritual sight
It will take a high level of discernment for you to remain uncompromised when even fellow Christians are walking the road of shame. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart that you may see him and the great reward he has for you. I pray for you as Paul did for the church that “the eyes of your heat may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in his people.”(Ephesians 1:18). Amen! May it motivate you to remain pure and uncompromised in your Christian character to know that you have a glorious inheritance in Christ Jesus, an inheritance that exceeds any success you can get in this world.
3. Manage your appetites; be disciplined
It is because of indiscipline and a lack of self-control that we lose and falter in our Christian walk. Desire and be filled with His Holy Spirit that you may find self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). May your leg be strengthened to kick that bowl of dengu stew out of sight, in Jesus name!
4. Even failure is good
Many times we misquote 2 Samuel 6:16 that famous verse about David dancing until his clothes fell off. He was not just dancing; he was filled with the Holy Spirit and dancing was just the outward manifestation of that joy. But did you know that this extravagant delight in the presence of the Lord had followed a major failure that had resulted in the death of at least one person? (Read 2 Samuel 6).
Key lessons to learn from failure: beware of good intentions (they have led many to hell), always inquire of the Lord and His appointed priests, act right and quickly when God speaks and directs, spare no expense in obeying God.
5. Treasure your Christian testimony
Never despise your Christian identity! Enough said! Ask Judas Iscariot! Oh, he is dead! The heavy price of compromising Christian character for worldly success!
May your motto be even as Job’s was: “TILL I DIE, I WILL NOT DENY MY INTEGRITY!” (Job 27:5).
May the Lord help you keep your stated purpose to remain undefiled!