Marvin Andrews’ entire life is governed by the Bible, and he claims it is God’s will that he is back at Raith Rovers.
This is the Gospel according to Marvin. It recognises only what is definite: good or bad, life or death, heaven or hell. There are no shades of grey. This is his sermon and it tells us something of ourselves, something about the world in which we live. Believer? Non-believer? Can one truly understand the other? Judge for yourself...
“The Bible says, ‘He speaks, God says my sheep shall hear my voice and the voice of a stranger you will not follow’.” — Marvin Andrews
IN THE beginning, you have to look for the red doors. Just down from the Forget Me Not flower shop and next to Forth Office Supplies in a quiet corner of Kirkcaldy. It is the door on the left. Push hard, it is not locked, just stiff. Then up the stairs and into the Zion Praise Centre International church hall. There is nobody in the room, only rows of plastic seats waiting sombrely in front of a lectern on a stage.
Why are we here? Because this is where Marvin Andrews saw the light, eight years ago now. This is where his injuries were healed by the power of faith, this is where he heals the pains of others, this is where he was ordained as a minister; this is where he became who he is. Up another flight of stairs, Andrews is in the church office, sitting across from the Rev Professor Victor Onuigbo, founder of the Victory Christian Mission International in Nigeria and a guest preacher. He is an elderly, smiling man with a whitening moustache and a look of kindly indifference on his face, who is slumped in an easy chair, his shoes kicked off.
Tony Rougier, who had been a teammate at Raith Rovers, first brought Andrews here soon after he arrived in Scotland from Trinidad & Tobago in 1997, aged 22. He was a believer, just not to the exclusion of all else; he prayed and read his Bible on his own. Then Andrews injured his groin and developed inflammation of the pelvic bone that doctors told him required surgery, which made him anxious.
Here, Pastor Joe Nwokoye showed him a passage in the Bible that tells of the healing power of Jesus. So they prayed together and Andrews believes he was healed. “That day, I put all my trust into God and I don’t care what anybody else thinks,” he says in a loud, echoing voice. “First thing in the morning: God. Last thing at night: God. Middle of the day: God. Without God, Marvin Andrews is nothing.”
He talks of himself in the third person and seems no longer a man of free will. After being released by Rangers at the end of August, he spent last month fasting during the day, training at night and praying all the time. He asked God for direction and so reduced his existence to nothing but the acts of listening for an answer and staying fit. “I didn’t believe I was going back to Raith Rovers, but my life is not my own anymore,” he says. “Where God wants me to go, I go. I could have gone to many other clubs, that offered me much more money, bigger status, but money doesn’t bring you happiness. Or peace.”
“The Bible says, ‘Jesus Christ prayed for the sick and they recovered’.”
IT IS called anointing oil, although it is really just extra virgin olive oil. It is sprinkled onto the area of the body that hurts and then comes the prayer. That is faith healing. How does it work? You just have to believe. When Andrews damaged his anterior cruciate ligament last year, the Rangers doctor told him he needed surgery. It was more serious than the groin injury, but his faith was also stronger than before. Marvin spent six weeks praying, resting and doing exercises; then he returned to training. “Look up medical books,” he instructs. “It is eight months minimum if you have the operation. God has healed me completely and I’m going to keep believing that. Everything is fine.”
If his knee was to give way now, his faith would remain intact. That is what it is to believe completely. Three weeks before last summer’s World Cup, he slipped during training and strained his knee and as a result Leo Beenhakker, the Trinidad & Tobago manager, thought he was not fit to play at the finals. Doubt could not assail Andrews, though. His teammates looked for it, but they found only his booming, positive self. And still he said the team prayer before each game. “It wasn’t a matter of being fit enough, God didn’t want me to play,” he says. “I believe I fulfilled my dream, to take my country to a World Cup. I have peace. These are the risks of the game, that you get injured just like that. The same God who took me to the World Cup 2006, why can’t he take me to another World Cup? He can change Raith Rovers, the club is in the Second Division today, tomorrow they can be in the Premierleague.”
Kneeling on top of the stage, the anointing oil was sprinkled over Andrews’ head when he was ordained as a minister two weeks ago. He has been preaching and taking Bible classes for several years, but the ceremony made it official: at the Zion Praise Centre International, Andrews is a minister of the Pentecostal faith. He struggles to explain how he communicates with his God. It is not physical, not a feeling or a sense. He might hear God speak to him in the passage he reads in the Bible, or in the pastor’s sermon. If you listen hard enough, you will hear something. “Many people think it’s a gut feeling, but it’s not,” he says. “If it was about feeling, I wouldn’t have gone to Raith Rovers. It’s about faith.”
What is the greatest test of faith? Anybody’s faith? Life and death, that is the ultimate boundary. One day in 1994, Pastor Joe travelled to London, where he claims to have brought Tracy Aronoko back to life after she was pronounced dead in hospital from tuberculosis. Andrews has never witnessed such a feat, but he believes that it happened.
“His God is the same God that I believe in, so the God who uses him to raise the dead will probably use me,” he says. “There’s nothing in this world that Marvin Andrews cannot do, as long as I have God. I’m sitting here with a man (Onuigbo) who’s done it 39 times; 39 people who were confirmed dead by doctors and brought back to life.”
We look across at the Rev Professor and he is sound asleep, snoring lightly.
“The Bible says, ‘A man reaps what he sows’.”
HE LEFT Raith Rovers for Livingston in 2000 because God told him to, and he did not join Dundee United three years later because God told him not to. He moved to Rangers in 2004 because God told him to, and there he overcame doubt and witnessed a miracle. Those are the words that he chooses. Andrews saw doubt all around him, in the press, in the dressing room, in the dugout even. God, he says, proved them wrong. “The ability I have is not close to some of the players at Rangers, but He took the little ability I have and made it great.”
The miracle? That came at Easter Road in May last year, when Rangers won the title while Celtic slipped up at Fir Park. As the players celebrated, Andrews, wearing a T-shirt that read “What is impossible for man is possible for God”, knelt down in the centre-circle and prayed. “God, thank you for being faithful, thank you for answering my prayers. When nobody else believed, I alone believed and you still answered.”
He saw, too, the corrosive nature of religion, the way that it can breed intolerance while preaching virtue. Protestants versus Catholics, a struggle from a different time, a different place, that is still enacted by some Old Firm supporters. “These two people they’re idolising, the Pope and the Queen, neither of them is God, neither of them can raise from the dead,” he says. “It’s not something that will be eradicated overnight, because every child born into a Celtic or a Rangers family immediately gets taught how to hate. Everybody is saying. ‘I don’t want to go to church, look what religion is doing to the world’. No, that’s how the devil operates. Rangers and Celtic have nothing to do with God.”
By playing enough games last season, he earned a contract extension, but Paul Le Guen had no place for him in his squad. They met, they shook hands and Marvin said “Thank you, no problem”.
“God says, ‘Blessed are you when people prosecute you and say evil things against you’.”
WHILE out driving the other night, a hamburger was thrown at Andrews’s car window. He pulled over, approached the young man who had hurled the missile and asked him: Why? What’s the problem? The story then reached the papers, and Andrews winces. “I never punched him, I just said that it could have been somebody more violent than me, who could have pulled a knife and killed him,” he says.
“The Bible says there is nothing wrong with getting angry, but you control your anger. I know loads of people are jealous of me, they’d like to pull me down and they’ll do it by making up stories. But God knows the truth. All these journalists who want to make headlines and sell papers, you’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Andrews can still be genial, but not in the way he once was, innocently. He picked up a tabloid newspaper earlier this year and saw his name on the front page. “It’ll be gay-me over”, screamed the headline. “Marvin’s church warns of plague if MSP ‘wedding’ goes ahead”. Pastor Joe had phoned the newspaper to say God is angry with Scotland, that he predicts a plague of Biblical proportions because Margaret Smith, a Lib Dem MSP, was about to marry Suzanne Main in a civil partnership. A quote from Marvin, describing gay people as an “abomination” was included in the story.
“You press people will always be press people,” he says, frowning. “Listen, I don’t hate gay people, what I’m saying is that what they are doing is against the word of God. The Bible says it is an abomination to God for a man to be with a man or a woman to be with a woman. I didn’t write the Bible. You have an opportunity to change, or else the judgment of God — not Marvin Andrews — will come upon you.” In giving yourself so completely to something, you also lose a sense of personal responsibility.
He has a pile of requests from reporters wanting interviews and he has chosen to do only this one. Why, when he so distrusts the press? Because he believes his task is to spread the word and the voices of newspapers carry far and wide. “If one person reads one bit of this,” he says, “it might change their life.”
That is the Gospel according to Marvin.