Yenagoa‟s churches and other “business centres”

“Yenagoa is a churcheous city,” my friend said as we walked around the Kpansia area of the Bayelsa State capital. “There are churches everywhere like business centres.” I thought that was a rather ingenious way to pass the message across. The churches bear names that will appeal to the average churchgoer, some inspired by certain portions of the Bible and others clearly a creation of the couples behind them: Salvation Ministries, Love Assembly Mission, Christ Palace, Healing City Church, and Soul & Spirit Healing Tabernacle International, to mention just a few. Since I stepped into Yenagoa three days back, I have seen lots of signposts and banners advertising churches, crusades and revival services. On INEC Road, where my friend and I were at the time, I counted 16 churches; and at some point, I imagined that there must be a church at least on every street in Yenagoa. Four of every five signposts I came across had a catchy image of the presiding preachercouples on them. By the look of those signposts, I could tell that most of the churches were fairly small congregations, numbering 100-200 members on the average. So, how come there are so many churches around? Is there that much hunger and thirst for salvation and healing? “We really don‟t know,” one resident said, laughing at the mere thought of the subject. I let the matter rest. Religion remains the „opium‟ of the masses and I wasn't going to get in the way of anyone's "fix". To each his own." Enter the Synagogue When I checked into a hotel at midnight days earlier, the 32‟ LED television set at the

reception was tuned to the „Emmanuel TV‟ channel, owned by Prophet T.B Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). A recorded „deliverance‟ service was underway. The church hall was filled to the last seat and parishioners were praying so passionately to the point of sweating. The cameras switched periodically to show three ministers as they marched past the congregants and laid hands on their heads, sometimes forcefully and roughly. This went on for minutes and the commentators, a male and a female, took turns to tell viewers what was going on— alternately in English and French. “Distance is not a barrier, time is not a barrier. Distance is not a barrier for the Holy Spirit to locate you,” the female voice said. “Touch the screen of your television and you will receive your deliverance in Jesus‟ name.”

The praying and hand-laying session over, the cameras cut to a part of the church where—as the viewer learns later— „demon-possessed‟ congregants engaged the pastors in a war of words. The pastor asked the questions (“How did you get into her?”) and the „confessors‟, almost all of them women, answered in very stubborn tones. It became clear that though the women were confessing, it was actually the devil in them voicing its thoughts. They spoke about how they wreaked havoc in the lives of siblings, parents and extended family members; and they went on and on about the calamities they had visited on members of their family, including causing job losses, deaths and folding up businesses. “How do you get at men,” the pastor asked one fair-complexioned lady at some point. “Through my eyes,” she replied boldly. “How do you mean, through your eyes?” the pastor asked again. “When they look into my eyes, they are hooked,” the lady said, the congregation

watching and listening in silence. A camera crew filmed the session at close range. The question and answer session continued until the preacher, satisfied he had drawn out all the answers he wanted, gave a final word banishing the evil spirit from the subject. “Your power over her expires this minute—get out,” he yelled. She fell to the ground, weakened only to get back on her feet a moment later, coming back to her senses and feeling ashamed in the midst of the church. “Thank you Jesus, I‟m free,” she said. And with that final declaration, their torments, it seemed, were gone for good. The rest of the congregation did nothing other than look on blankly. They were too transfixed to say anything, like they were watching a horror movie in a theatre only there was no popcorn! The “Ancient Alter” A particular case of deliverance involved a 17-year old lady, possessed two years earlier. It was a long-drawn battle with the preacher. “I am the first wife of Lucifer. I just came here as a warning. We are many—tell your master (T.B. Joshua) to leave them alone,” she charged and leaned defiantly closer to the pastor, who stood calm and unshaken, microphone in hand. A few hands (ushers) struggled to hold her back. The pastor simply looked on unfazed, his countenance looked every bit like he was being threatened by a toddler. “I am the ancient dragon, the ancient beast, the ancient alter. We only go after useful people.” According to the „beast‟, he‟s recruited two-hundred normal folks into his cult “through her eyes” and a hundred through her fingers. “Through her mouth, she speaks the ancient language, just like speaking in tongues,” we hear the lady say. “If you‟re around her then and you‟re not strong enough, she will catch you.” 2/3 The tense question-and-answer session continued for another 15 minutes with startling revelations. “Anyone that we see is likely to become a prophet, we enter them and make them useless. They will stop working for God and join us,” she said. “As for my siblings, I gave them little, little demons.” Mother and siblings, three in all, listened, stunned and shocked to silence and inaction. The preacher had had enough of the devil blabbing about his conquests. “Satan, your time has expired,” he declared forcefully, stretched his hand towards the girl‟s forehead. She slumped. The battle was won. END. Awofeso is a travel writer, magazine editor and a winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards in the tourism category.