…Herbalists who turned pastors
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Pastor Chris, the youth pastor of a famous Pentecostal church located at Ikeja announced one Sunday during service that he should no longer be addressed as Pastor Chris but as Brother Chris.
Nobody understood him and it was obvious from the reaction of the Church leadership that the announcement was an embarrassment. Pastor Chris was not known to be the loud type. He was a younger brother of the Church founder who was equally aghast by his brother’s decision.
What went wrong?
According to Brother Chris, some young pastors from other Churches invited him out and he accepted their invitation without knowing where they were heading to. They took him to a place at Orile where they met an old native doctor who washed the faces of his companions one after the other. When it was Pastor Chris turn, he refused to have his face washed. His refusal surprised the native doctor who asked him to go elsewhere and wait for his colleagues.
But as Pastor Chris turned to go, the native doctor asked him to wait as he had something to tell him. He hailed him for being the only true Christian amongst his colleagues and revealed that many pastors who see great visions and work miracles come to him for ‘anointing’ and that his friends he just washed their faces and eyes will start seeing great visions and people will start trooping to their Churches. The native doctor told him many unbelievable things about pastors and Pastor Chris came back and made a decision.
He decided to resign as a pastor because he didn’t understand pastors and their ways any more and therefore would no longer want to be addressed as one.
Just recently, Nigerians flayed an outrageous “miracle” performed by Pastor Chris Okafor of the Liberation Ministries where he ‘healed’ a woman with stunted arm. With the power of the internet and social media, it was established that the miracle was indeed a fake one as videos surfaced of three other Nigerian pastors performing the exact same “miracle” on that same woman.
One could not say for sure whether the woman was a hired stunt woman who has the ability to retract her arms into a deformed position and return it back to normal after series of theatrics but
what pained many Pentecostals was Chris Okafor’s involvement in the scandal.
Pastor Okafor is a popular tele-evangelist, known for his swag and philanthropy. He also has huge followers. When the video where he healed the woman with stunted hand first emerged, people who saw it swallowed everything they saw hook, line and sinker. Positive comments trailed the video as posted on social media. But the euphoria was not to last.
Soon after, more videos of the same woman being healed by four other pastors of the same ailment emerged. Many became confused with the development. Then there was an outrage.
The sad part of the entire scene is that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are blindly dedicated to these pastors and the churches where these miracles were performed. These worshippers have unquestionable loyalty to their pastors, to the point that even when this video came out, many believed the pastors could not lie or fake a miracle.
However, the woman in the stunt was medically said to be suffering from Ehlers–Danlos syndromes (EDS), a group of genetic connective tissue disorders with symptoms which may include loose joints, joint pain, stretchy skin and abnormal scar formation. Doctors said there is no cure for EDS, but the symptoms can often be treated and managed. While some forms of EDS result in a normal life expectancy, those that affect blood vessels generally decrease life expectancy.
The church members are unaware of this because they mostly lack education and are not interested in learning the actual medical fact of the situation. They would rather rely on everything the pastors said.
In Nigeria today, especially in urban cities, Pentecostal churches are sprouting all over the place as warehouses, shops, open air are being transformed to miracle’ healing’ centres.
Nigerians under the guise of born-again would readily leave their work places to wait endlessly in these places, waiting to receive their miracles rather than work to earn a living.
Big cities in Nigeria, especially southern Nigeria are bustling with Churches where creative miracles were promised members who no longer look unto God but unto their pastors for miracles of healing and prosperity. The huge metropolis of Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria, is not just one of Africa’s most prosperous and populous cities. It is also the seat of the Africa’s fastest growing Christian Churches.
From the most obscure, tiny district church to the high-tech cathedral and shopping area in the heart of the city, the charismatic appeal of Pentecostal churches is ever present.
One of the main features of these churches is the use of broadcast, print and the Internet in spreading their message. There is also the practice of incorporating elements of traditional African culture, such as upbeat music, loud sermons, and above all, reinforcing deeply held beliefs in witchcraft and demons.
Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of followers seek spiritual enlightenment. The faithful storm the big and small churches throughout the city expecting miracles. Members are consistently told how witchcraft practised by certain members of their families have hindered their progress in life. These churches reinforce traditional African beliefs, sometimes to create fears into their memebers or followers and compel them to stick to them for deliverance.
“ I am not saying bad people don’t exist or wickedness does not happen but some of these churches give more credit to the devil than to God,” says Faith Uka, a Pentecostal. “My brother almost died. He was going from place to place in search of healing miracles. His legs were already rotting and he kept blaming the wickedness of man who he claimed inflicted an ailment on him. He nearly died but you know what, my brother had high blood sugar which was destroying his body organs. The ailment chased him out from the Catholic Church to a Pentecostal church and until we forced him to go for proper diagnosis of what was wrong with him, he would have died.”
Engineer Charles, a middle-aged man also had an experience. He said he met a very popular Lagos prophet based at Ikotun Egbe area first as a native doctor.
According to him, “ I was very ill and had gone to hospitals and nothing was diagnosed . That was a long time ago and being an only child, my mother was ready to take me anywhere for healing. I was taken to see a herbalist who operates somewhere around Idimu very close to a river. His shrine was constructed on the river. There, some others and myself who came for healing were asked to write our names on a piece of paper and the problems we were having and we all did.
“ But we almost waited the whole day without seeing the herbalist we came for. Many decided to go and come back another time but we were not allowed to go. The apostles of the herbalist told us that if we must go without seeing the herbalist, we must chew and swallow the paper where they wrote our names and the ailment troubling us. That made many of us to stay and wait. What I am telling you, it was almost night before the water stirred and a man came out from inside the water. He apologised profusely and said he went to battle some forces that challenged him and he has won the battle. He attended to us one after the other and did I get healed? I did by drinking a cup of water given to me. But you can imagine my surprise when many years later, the same man became a world acclaimed pastor doing miracles of healing and prosperity. I met him as a herbalist and not a pastor and that is what baffles me.
“From my personal observation, some of these pastors or priests who work miracles and see visions have a background of their fathers or grandfathers being herbalists. Check out the Enugu priest, the one somewhere in the south-south, the one at Ijesha Lagos, the man at Ikotun or even many others that may not be operating very large churches; they have been herbalists who transformed into pastors or priests or those whose fathers and grandfathers have been in the practice of witchcraft but their children decided to take it to the next level. Nowadays, these pastors who don’t have such powers patronise herbalists for powers to see visions and work miracles. When you walk into a Church and the pastor starts telling you about your family and private things or mentioning names of members of your family or start saying things that have happened or are happening in your family; my sister, just run. Many of them are fake.”
Narrating her own experience, Funmilayo who read Micro-Biology at Lagos State University, LASU, recalled that during the writing of her project, she and her colleagues had cause to visit a herbalist who was living somewhere in Festac then. He was to explain certain things about herbs to them as microbiology students.
“But years later after my graduation from LASU, a friend invited me to a Church programme where the man of God was said to be very powerful and could even see the colour of one’s underwear from the entrance. I followed my friend and there in the church, I came face to face with the same herbalist I visited when I was writing my project as a Microbiology student.”
A research has revealed that there are over 4 million followers of the Pentecostal faith in Nigeria, the third-highest ranking in the world, according to the World Christian database in Boston.
Brazil, which is primarily Roman Catholic, is the worldwide leader of evangelical Pentecostal churches, with more than 24 million followers, while the United States has roughly 6 million adherents.
According to Erhard Kamphausen, head of the academy of missions at the University of Hamburg, “ What appeals to church followers is the promise of cures from poverty and disease through God’s blessing. The success of the Pentecostal churches lies with the belief in a God who fights the evil of pandemic diseases and transforms the poor to the rich. Old superstitions, which were marginalized by mainstream Christian missionaries have come around full circle. Africans believe in miracles and witchcraft.”
Nigerians, nay Africans aren’t alone in the belief in witchcraft. German evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke, who is known for his gospel crusades in Nigeria, has held sermons in Africa for nearly 30 years and one of these massive mega-events was attended by 1.6 million followers.
Bonnke made several evangelical visits to Nigeria where many surged and some received the miracles they sought. Several were known to have trekked miles to gain entrance into Bonnke’s miracle grounds. But one day, tragedy struck when 16 people were crushed to death during Bonnke’s crusade.
Among miracle claims of Bonnke during his visits were raising a dead man, healing a mad man and getting several witches to surrender their lives to Christ.
Miracles and donations
One of the conditions of receiving miracles from God as preached by some pastors was giving. For this cause, a member of a church founded by a popular tele-evangelist from the south-south who was a general cashier of Sheraton Hotel stole N39million from the hotel to fund projects and make cash donations to pastors of the church. He was honoured by a letter of acknowledgement from the founder but was caught by his employers.
Instead of miracles, he received punishment and brought embarrassment and scandal to the Church.
The irony of many believers is that while they use stickers of their pastors and their church for protection, their pastors use mobile policemen to guard themselves.
Recently, the social media was trending with a story of an Abuja-based pastor who has a miraculous swimming pool inside his church premises and called it “Pool Of Bathsheba” which is said to have healing powers and can heal any sickness under the sun that includes Ebola and HIV/AIDS once one enters to swim.
But unlike the Biblical Pool of Bathsheba, this one is not free. As alleged, it cost the sum of only N50,000 to swim and all one’s problems in this life are gone and church members are queuing up to swim after paying N50k. As alleged, the swimming pool is never in short supply of customers as the queue to swim is endless and those who are too poor to pay N50K have an anointed bottle water sourced from the “pool of Bethsheba that goes for N10K.
Opium of the masses
When Karl Marx described religion as the opium of the masses, one could think he had a vision of Nigeria in mind.
Pastor Charles Awuzie once alleged that in Nigeria, pastors now use charms. “There is a charm called crowd-puller which is another church growth strategy gone extreme. The pastors now bleach to attract female worshippers. Most church growth strategies are based on the 48 laws of power. There’s more Mafian life in denominational-ism than in the underworld. The moment a pastor becomes desperate for church growth, he becomes dangerous.”
It is no secret that pastoral work in Nigeria is now considered a lucrative business. Whether this stems from unemployment or vocation is another matter. Start-up churches can be seen expanding at an incredible pace which many attribute to a pastor’s reputation for performing miracles.
In addition to healing the sick, they prophesy financial breakthroughs and even raise the dead. Among Nigerian pastors, this miraculous ability is seen as the ultimate recipe for success. It is therefore not shocking to hear rumours that some these pastors have become cultists.
Based on a common trend, pastors who have been labelled as occultist often have the same things in common. They are influential, wealthy, and perform miracles that shock the human mind. These pastors parade their trade on television, some are philanthropists and claim regular occurrences of miracles and so hundreds of Nigerians and international visitors across Africa and other places come to to seek them out.
These pastors are household names even though they are controversial. They are always in the news. If they are not in the news about the miraculous healing prowess they are said to possess, they are in the news about some social development in the country. If they are not in the news about political developments in Nigeria, they are in the news about some community entanglements.
Idiosyncrasies of followers
Some of the followers of these miracle working pastors are known for their dramatic ways of showing their love to God. You can easily spot them through their dressing, stickers on their cars and general attitude.
However, their members who have been dealt with would often accuse them of all sorts of things; from hypnotism to worship of the python or anything.
Anthony Nwankwo, a Catholic narrated how he was approached by some businessmen who tried to co-opt him into starting a Pentecostal church with them.
“They told me we should contribute a certain amount of money to get an accommodation for the church and employ a prophet or someone who has a natural gift of seeing and healing. They even suggested we could employ a herbalist or native doctor and polish him, discard his old dressing and make him wear suits and dress trendy. I have never heard such a trash in my life and I told them my mind. They are operating somewhere in this Lagos and people are flooding their church.
“I call them satanic pastors and they have introduced strange deliverance strategies. Many of these pastors are practising what they call deliverance like native doctors. They rip off their followers while they smile to the bank. They claim the anointing they don’t have.
“Most members, too, are not interested to serve God in spirit and in truth. That is why you see high service, gossip, loose dressing, fornication and adultery in the church. Many women go to such churches to lure their unserious pastors to bed.
“In today’s world, there are many ungodly followers and leaders everywhere. It is only in a fake church that the pastor is always surrounded by bodyguards because he has so many enemies; he has cheated so many people, especially on his way up and so he needs so many guards. They over-task their members financially in other to open uncountable branches. Even if an armed robber comes to the church in an expensive car, the pastors get highly interested; they give him an undeserved attention and are ready to make him a co-pastor. They serve money, not God.”
Nigerians have encountered several pastors who have openly uttered prophecies using the name of God, but such prophecies never came to pass. A popular Lagos pastor took the nation by storm in the build up to 2003 presidential election, he told the world that God asked him to vie for the presidency and that he would win. He contested then for the president and was humiliated as the election was won by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The same pastor used God’s name again in 2007. He emerged the flag-bearer of a political party but was defeated by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. In 2014, he was at it again when he told the world that God asked him to contest the third time in 2015. The 2015 election was won by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In November 2016, a popular prophet told the world that a woman would win the United States’ presidential election. He was referring to Hillary Clinton. But to everyone’s chagrin, President Donald Trump won the election. In a bid to salvage his pride, the prophet said it was the prayers of Americans that saved the day.
In a similar vein, a popular pastor who is also a lawyer took the nation by storm when he prophesied that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would not be sworn in as president in 1999. The pastor said he saw the crown hovered around the President’s head a couple of times, moved closely as if to settle down, and just as Nigerians clapped and cheered, the crown flew off. He said the second crown came along and that this time, it was the crown of death and declared to the consternation of the nation that the crown seemed to settle on the President’s head squarely, meaning, Obasanjo would die. Obasanjo did not only become president, he ruled for eight years and he is still alive this moment.
Also not too long ago, an Edo-based pastor declared during a service that Governor Nasir El-Rufai would die if he did not revoke the controversial preaching bill he came up with. The state government has not revoked the bill. The noise over it has died down and El-Rufai is still living despite the non-revocation of the bill.
The same pastor predicted that, except Americans prayed, President Barack Obama would seek third term with a likelihood of the presidential elections not holding. This never happened.
In the build up to the 2019 Presidential Election, a Nigerian pastor based in South Africa, prophesied that Buhari would not emerge winner of the election and that he would die. Well, Buhari did not only campaign across the length and breath of the country, he won the election resoundingly, and he is still alive today.
Such attention-seeking pastors are uncountable and despite their failings, their followers never give up.
Whether we believe it or not, evil has infiltrated the church and the world is now in the church. Nowadays, many have itching ears, miracles without repentance, deliverance without salvation and love darkness instead of light.
One should be wary of churches that concentrate on healing, breakthrough, deliverance, prosperity and miracles. Many of them are false, especially pastors that make noises about miracles even when their churches are without any root. Some of these pastors emerged from nowhere, like to move in convoy and with escorts. Some of them use police protection while their members use holy water, anointing oil and stickers.
Nothing is wrong with knowing who your pastor is and who commissioned him: God or the devil. What are his antecedents?
Some of these pastors were not called by God. They were called by their stomach.