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A Nigerian priest holds a crucifix
There are nearly 4 million followers of evangelical churches in NigeriaImage: AP

Evangelism in Africa

September 13, 2007

Evangelical churches in Africa appeal to traditional beliefs in miracle cures as charismatic preachers use electronic media to spread their powerful message to millions and fill church coffers with donations.


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 continent's fastest growing Christian missions.

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 this kind of church is the use of broadcast, print and the Internet in spreading its message. Another is 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 myriad big and small churches throughout the city.

Evangelical churches reinforce traditional African beliefs

This religious revival under banners which proclaim "Mountain of Fire and of Wonder" or "Redemption from the Dead" has become a worldwide symbol for the huge success of evangelical churches in Africa.

View of central Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria and the seat of Christendom in AfricaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

There are 3.9 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.

What appeals to church followers is the promise of cures from poverty and disease through God's blessing.

Ejiah Ndifon, a Nigerian engineer founded his own church, the Royal Kingdom Citizen International, based on these ideas.

"There are so many people who could have had bigger and better lives, but they could not achieve their destiny, because there was no one to lead them with a vision," the self-declared prophet said. "Royal Kingdom Citizen offers this guidance, and brings people together with God."

The faithful believe those who discover the Holy Spirit will lead transformed lives and that sickness and misfortune can only befall heathens.

The success of the Pentecostal churches lies with the belief in a God who fights the evil of pandemic disease, according to Erhard Kamphausen, head of the academy of missions at the University of Hamburg.

"Old superstitions, which were marginalized by more mainstream Christian missionaries, have come around full circle," Kamphausen said. "Africans believe in miracles and witchcraft."

German crusader in Africa reaches millions

German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke prays during his 'Great Gospel Crusade' in Nigeria
German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke has led crusades for decades in AfricaImage: AP

They aren't alone. German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who is known for his gospel crusades in Nigeria, had an epiphany at the age of 9 and decided to devote his life to God.

Bonnke has held sermons in Africa for nearly 30 years, and one of these massive mega-events was attended by 1.6 million followers. Earlier this year, another event was broadcast live on "God TV" by 200 countries, reaching an even broader audience and establishing his reputation as "undoubtedly the most successful missionary of our times."

The Web site of the evangelist's Bible association "Christ for all Nations" sells books and other promotional material on supernatural intervention and miracle cures in seven languages. A film series on DVD sells for 249 euros ($346).

Donation to the church tied with God's blessing

Ayimah Hondeh is a regular at the popular Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos. She said she became a true believer on Christmas Eve 2005. A young man had shoved her while she was waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant, and not wanting to provoke a fight, she switched to another queue. Shortly afterwards, some armed robbers stormed the restaurant and those in the first queue were injured, but Hondeh was unharmed.

"I believe it was God's will," she said.

A few weeks before the pastor had reminded her congregation that God's blessing was not guaranteed every year.

"He said we had to pray twice as hard and double our donation to the church," Hondeh said. "I quadrupled my contribution to the collection plate every Sunday. I know that God spared me on that day."

A donation tied to God's blessing is business as usual for evangelical churches. Small wonder that efforts devoted to proselytizing focus on miracle cures, according to Kamphausen.

Islam, Christianity battle for African souls

Members of the Redeemed Christian Church Of God church wait for the Holy Spirit at a camp for the redeemed in Lagos, Nigeria
Pentecostal-style revival tied to promises of miraclesImage: AP

"Miracles play a tremendous role," he said. "Even fairly grounded Pentecostal preachers say that there is no day that passes when some small miracle doesn't occur."

In principle, chicanery has as much or as little to do with a true belief in the Lourdes apparitions or any religion's professed miracles, but still the theologian warned against such aggressive proselytizing by charismatic churches in Africa that capitalize on local superstitions.

The repercussions of such religious zeal could unleash conflicts with Islam, the dominant faith in northern Nigeria. Roughly half of all Nigerians are Muslim, 40 percent are Christian and the remaining 10 percent are members of other faiths.

"Most churches which carry on their crusades in the north are dangerous and the tension between Islam and Christianity can only grow," said Kamphausen.

Thomas Mösch, Mansour Bala Bello and Geraldo Hoffmann (df)

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