A time was when the mission was about aiding people; when people were wooed, cajoled and literally begged to embrace the Church. With time, even though with some reluctance, they did, and the Church began to blossom. Today, in the largely Christian dominated south of Nigeria, the Church is thriving to the extent that some churches, especially, the new generation ones, have become richer than the government, with the pastors owning planes and the kind of exotic cars one could only hear about but won't readily see. Thus, to some people, religion is becoming a booming business. Indeed, it is booming for those who hijacked religion and turned it on its head to look like money spinning ventures.
Now, let's jump to another scenario; this time in Chad, outside Nigeria. There was this priest of the Catholic Church that went on a missionary work to that place. What he saw there was shocking. The people had no time for religion. This meant that, as was the case in Nigeria during the early years, the Chadian people needed a lot of wooing to even come to church.
And the church being talked about usually consisted of ram shackles in places that such could be afforded. But in the main, masses were held under trees. Mind you, this meant that since they were held under trees in the dry season, no one came once it rained.
When the priest came home, he looked for used clothes from friends to take back there to Chad so that he could use them to entice them to come to church.
Now, compare the scenario in Chad to what obtains here and you see the difficulty the missionaries face in Chad. They dare not do anything that will scare people away from the church. Thus, the missionaries go the extra mile to keep the faithful happy and interested.
But down here, because the seed has long taken root and germinated, a lot of things could happen and the Church will remain unshaken. But then, because things have become the way they are here, sometimes it appears as though the Church is derailing from her original mandate which is not just to win souls for Christ, but to offer the milk of human kindness to the poor and suffering. Sadly, though, the Church's growing material bent seems to be distancing her away from the people who ordinarily should be getting succour from the Church.
And if there is anything that is causing this gulf between the Church and the faithful today, that thing is education. Yes, the Church has been investing in education, setting up schools – both secondary and tertiary. But these schools, after the faithful helped to set them up, not only become too expensive for the poor, but appear not to have the milk of human kindness by the way the managers of such schools relate with people.
It is yet another new school year and many parents are running around to ensure that their children and wards either enter school or remain in school. But the tales emanating from parents are anything but encouraging. They complain mainly of extortion and lack of kindness. They wonder why such should be happening in mission schools they helped to set up.
Granted that education doesn't come cheap, it is still expected that the mission schools should be slightly different, less ''exploitative'' and more friendly. The things I have been hearing from aggrieved parents these past few weeks have done nothing to make me believe that the mission schools are not derailing. The torrent of reactions we had came after our editorial on the problems encountered by parents every new academic session.
I have chosen to use just two of them that summarized the problem under discourse.
The first respondent who lives in Onitsha (I will only address him by his first name of Pius), complained about the prospectus given out by schools in Onitsha, but was particularly concerned about the ones by the Catholic Mission schools.
He referred to a particular case where a set of twins had graduated from the JSS cadre and were to proceed to SS1 in the same school. It happened that they had a junior sister coming into JS1. Ordinarily, as obtained in the past, the junior sister ought to have automatically taken over their old stuff for her own use. But the school authorities insisted that the parents should pay for new ones, regardless of the fact that the poor girl had exactly what they were demanding. The parents had no choice than to pay; something that was clearly a waste of money and certainly punitive and wicked.
Hear Pius, 'I discovered it is the same for all schools, both private and mission. It's less in public schools because there is a check on them by the government. It is more pronounced in private and mission schools. It is worrisome, especially for the schools returned to the Church by the Peter Obi Administration.
'It is however fair in some schools like CKC, Onitsha, where parents have commended the Principal for his fair mindedness.
'There are some of these schools that task parents a bag of cement as a reprimand for a student who failed to return as scheduled on resumption day; who doesn't follow the school time; who fails to do his/her project or assignment which is also judged as a continuous assessment, etc.
'This attitude is more in mission schools where the clergy are the managers. This is creating an image crisis for the Holy Church. Let the Archbishop investigate these allegations.
'Most of those stuff to be given by the school, including the text books, are on some occasions, already in the possession of the student by virtue of having a friend or elder one that has passed such stage. I think the parents of such students should be considered in such a case.'
He also noted that unlike public schools, the fees in mission schools paid vary. He said that sometimes the schools give the students magazines to sell, failing which the parents are required to pay for them. Thus most parents, rather have their children looking for buyers in the streets, choose to pay.
Now, if a school like CKC can consider parents in the situation referred to above, it means that it is possible to give parents a breather, rather than over task them in such situations.
This means that the schools where parents are forced to pay for things their wards already have cannot give any excuses.
The second respondent is a woman from Aguata/Orumba area. Her problem was that after her older child left a Catholic Mission school, she was barred by the manager of the school from submitting the foam used by her older child for her younger one that just gained admission to same school. This was despite the fact that the foam was still in top shape. She was thus forced to pay another N16, 000 to get a new foam, meaning that the old one that was still good was rendered useless by its rejection by the school. It is clear from this story that the said school is just bent on making money to the detriment of the parents in these hard times.
I recall that during my time, parents went about collecting textbooks used by others in former classes for their wards to use. The schools did not reject them. What mattered was that such wards had the required textbooks. This saved money for parents. And mind you, that was when all the schools were public owned. But they still displayed enough human face. Now that the missions have taken over, what do we see? We see what looks like extortion; even wickedness. There is no excuse for that.
The woman also complained that textbooks used by others are not allowed to be used by their siblings or friends. The rule is that one must buy fresh ones from the school, regardless of whether one already has many of the required textbooks.
I also learnt that a Mission school in Awka sent parents a list of what they would bring and how much to pay during registration, but when they came to the school, they saw other things not included in the letter. They also ended up paying an extra N12, 000.
Now, these things may be waved aside easily in some quarters but that doesn't lessen the seriousness of it. Parents are increasingly grudging and grumbling. Last Tuesday in Onitsha when Francis Cardinal Arinze went to Holy Spirit Parish Omaba, a man pleaded with him to ''tell the bishop to look into the robbery going on in mission schools''. This man's concern captures the perception of mission schools by the faithful who are parents.
I dare say that any mission school which does the things itemized above is not worthy to be called a mission school. Mission schools should have a human face, have the milk of human kindness. They should be places where suffering parents should go to find succour. Extorting money from parents in any guise, to me, is not only Unchristian, but sinful. It is sinful because it is a wicked act and wickedness is a sin.
In these hard times, the least any mission school should do is to help suffering parents by easing their burden; not adding to it. This is how I SEE IT.