EVERY MONTH in nearby Wasaga Beach a non-denominational service takes Place at The Prince of Peace Anglican Church. Leading the Saturday night affair is the husband and wife team of Zak and Karen-Marie Gariba, who live in Barrie.
While the service is nothing out of the ordinary, the story of how Zak came to his present vocation as a Christian pastor is a tale worth telling. The story involves a change in religion, running for his life and putting faith in God. Along the way there is a series of bumps and experiences that teach him God indeed does work in some mysterious ways.
Zak, 44, was born in the West African country of Nigeria and subsequently raised in Ghana West Africa. Growing up in a family of six boys, Zak said that for some reason he was selected to attend an Islamic school. Zak, his parents decided, was to become a Muslim minister - called an Imam.They teach you Arabic, you come to understand the Koran more, learn how to lead a Muslim worship - that type of thing, he explained. Zak followed through with his studies and attended a normal school as well. Finally, at the age of 26, he became an Imam at his local mosque. The job meant providing spiritual leadership and counsel to approximately 300 people. At the same time Zak was getting his feet wet as a Muslim leader, he also worked another job. Zak was an inventory controller for an international company in the agriculture sector.
At the age of 27, he said, his secular work resulted in a transfer to Nigeria. Zak moved to 1987. "I got there, joined a mosque and started to get in touch with the community", he said. But after about a year - in which time Zak became an Imam at the Nigerian mosque - the first of his troubles started. "I had friends, Christians, who I really liked. We would debate the Bible and Koran", he said. Zak recalled that one day his friends asked him to give them a lift to a Christian crusade at a stadium. "I agreed but there was a problem. I also had to look after my landlady's 12-year-old girl, who was paralyzed from the waist down. She used crutches to get around", he said. Zak recalled that he forgot about his chauffeur responsibilities until the friends showed up for their lift. As a result, the group decided the girl would ride with them and she could return home with Zak. "So I drove them to the stadium, about 45 minutes away, and something happened. I got struck", he said. Getting stuck is an accurate description. "In Nigeria people don't park in lots using yellow lines as a guide", Zak said. "So there I was blocked in by all of these cars and there was nothing I could do because everyone was in the stadium".
Zak said after pondering the situation for a while he decided to walk with the girl to a nearby bench, where they'd sit until the stadium emptied. While walking there though the girl leaned on her crutches and one broke and then she leaned on the other and it broke too, he said. At the same time, over a nearby speaker, the two could hear a Christian healing ceremony taking place inside the stadium. Zak said what happened next is something he'll never forget. The girl's limbs started to move and she demanded to be put down. "All around me I heard Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and then this happened. I thought it was witchcraft or Voodoo", he said. The girl continued demanding Zak put her down so she could walk. "I wouldn't do it and so she bit me", he said, rolling up his left shirtsleeve and pointing towards scarred tissue shaped like a bite.
The bite caused him to drop the girl and moments later, he said, "she started walking. So now I have a problem. I'm going home with a girl who is walking. The second problem is I'm an Imam and what am I going to tell her (Muslim) parents? That night the girl's mother fainted when she saw her daughter walking", he said, adding the family, luckily, didn't create problems for him. "My biggest problem was that night I went to the mosque. We are reciting the prayers and I say Jesus Christ of Nazareth and it echoes across the mosque. To this day I don't know where that came from - I wasn't thinking about it". Still the remark caused mosque officials to kick Zak out. "They wanted to kill me, harm me. So I started going from village to village and staying with (Christian) people I knew," he said. The Muslim community, Zak noted, not only removed him from his mosque duties, but also took away his secular job, his car and his apartment. It was a small community and people knew each other. "Everyone knew what I said", he explained. "In a mosque you don't say `Jesus Christ` out loud". While staying with his Christian friends Zak said he started asking them questions. "I wanted to know who Jesus Christ was - that was my quest. I was searching for the truth", he said. Later that year Zak said thankfully he obtained a student visa allowing him to study in Canada. He arrived here May 4, 1987. "My older brother was here so I came over to live", he said.
Zak studied human resources and computer sciences program at Ottawa University and said North American life soon caused him to forget about Christianity. Ten years later, on Jan. 23, 1997, the faith he pursued briefly crept back into his consciousness. I finished my job at a company in Kanata, where I worked as a shift supervisor, and came home. I was fed up with my life and so I went to bed. At 3 a.m. I heard a banging on the door of my town house. I went to investigate but no one was there. Zak said the knocking happened several times but whenever he opened the door no one appeared. Then I heard a voice and it said: "If your mother and father forsake you I will be there for you". Psalm 27:10. A voice then said: "Before you were born I knew you and called you by your name". The sentence is from Jeremiah 1:5. Zak said he thought that maybe God was trying to tell him he should become a pastor. I ended up applying to 50 Bible schools but all of them turned me down, he said. So I started reading the Bible and going to church in Ottawa .
Finally, in 2000, Zak said he was accepted at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Bible School. At the school he met Karen-Marie and the two married in December 2003 in her native Scotland. In April 2003, he started as a pastor at Gateway Harvest Fellowship in Barrie.
Looking back on his journey and the experiences he went through Zak said the thing he's learned more than anything is love. "Love you cannot buy. Love you cannot earn. Love comes from knowing who God really is. God is love and he gives us love to love other people", he said. As a Muslim Imam, Zak explained love wasn't something he encountered. "So I was just a hardcore person. I was working hard to prove myself and work my way to heaven. But the Bible says heaven is free and I don't have to work hard", he said. Zak and Karen Marie's next worship service is at7 p.m. on April 16 . Prince of Peace Anglican Church is located at 565 Mosley Street. The couple says anyone is welcome to attend. They started the service after meeting the church's rector, Rev. Jim Seagram, at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Bible School.
Zak said Seagram, who is also the minister at the Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Stayner, invited them to speak and that subsequently they have felt a calling to return monthly. The non-denominational service gives area Christians a chance to unite. "Unity is very important. In everything Jesus Christ did there was unity. Without unity there is no hope. You can¹t have a marriage without unity. You can¹t have a church without unity", he said. The service at Prince of Peace itself focuses on praise and worship, Prayer and healing. For more information, call Rev. Jim Seagram at 428-3465.