In the Heart of Africa, Pentecostal Fire Burns Brightly

In the Heart of Africa, Pentecostal Fire Burns Brightly

There is a fire burning in Lagos, Nigeria. Not the fire of war, poverty or crime, but of God and His Holy Spirit. "It is very common to see churches spring up each day," says a report from AllAfrica Global Media. In particular, Pentecostal and charismatic churches and ministries are multiplying rapidly in this city of approximately 5 million people.

One Nigerian minister agrees: "People in Lagos and in Nigeria as a whole are turning to God daily," says Albert Oduyemi, who works with the Ministry of Intercession in Lagos. A fellowship of Christians from different denominations, the ministry prays for suffering masses and world leaders.

"There is total freedom of worship in Lagos. Unlike the northern part of Nigeria, Lagos is the safest city as far as religious freedom is concerned," adds Oduyemi.

Even secular media outlets are beginning to notice. The April 16 edition of Newsweek magazine will feature "The Changing Face of the Church," a feature that explores "how the explosion of Christianity in developing nations is transforming the world's largest religion." Much of the article focuses on Africa and mentions the Pentecostal movement in Lagos.

According to Newsweek, Christianity is spreading faster in southern Africa than "at any time or place in the last 2,000 years." And in Nigeria alone, "there are seven times as many Anglicans as there are Episcopalians in the entire United States."

Even the president of Nigeria is Christian. According to Christianity Today, Nigerian Baptist Gen. Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, called for a "moral rearmament" of Africa's most populous nation when he was elected two years ago. "Unless we embrace and pray for spiritual revival and regeneration, we are not going to get anywhere," Obasanjo said at a 1999 press conference.

Christianity Today called Obasanjo a "staunch advocate of civil liberties and religious freedom. He frequently and openly confesses his Christian faith and peppers his speeches with quotations from the Bible. When he left prison in 1998 and launched his spectacular bid to return to power, he said, 'Victory is not mine ... it is the Lord's!'"

Although some Africans may be turning to Christianity because of rampant poverty, disease and wars, Newsweek points out there are inherent cultural factors too. "Africans have always recognized a spiritual world within the empirical, and there is much in tribal religions that makes adaptation to Christianity easy."

Charisma magazine supports this view: "Ancient forms of paganism and newer types of spiritism are practiced by the majority of Nigerians - even by nominal Christians. Because nominal Christian leaders tolerate the mixing of Christianity and occult practices, the three largest mainline Christian denominations in Nigeria are losing members to Pentecostal and charismatic churches."

Speaking from Lagos, Oduyemi explains that spiritual awakening jumps "when we have international speakers for crusades. In fact, many international speakers are being invited to Nigeria every month. I know of an organization that is inviting four international speakers from different countries to a crusade for this Easter period."

Crusades are huge in Nigeria - in numbers and frequency. Rev. John Amadi of Redeemed Pentecostal Mission in Lagos is coordinating the evangelistic crusade "Hell Empty - Heaven Full" from April 24-28. "I must tell you," says Amadi, "that we are expecting as many as 50,000 people or more. More so, everything has been arranged and we are trusting God that many souls will be healed and receive Christ as their personal Savior." The crusade will be hosted by some 200 churches. A thousand additional Christian leaders are expected at a pastor's conferences during the day.

Andrew and Brenda McKean of New Zeal Worship Center in Cincinnati, Ohio are among the invited speakers. Originally from New Zealand, Andrew McKean is a former missionary to Papua, New Guinea. Brenda McKean is the founder and international director of a dynamic outreach organization for women in many countries of the world. In addition to speaking at the crusade and conference, she will be conducting a women's conference in Lagos.

The McKeans plan to meet with the governor of Lagos, who is requesting outside assistance for help with orphanages and health care. "The average wage is approximately $40 per month and 90 percent of the 20 million people in the state of Lagos do not have access to stable light, water and health care facilities," says Andrew. "This is the open window of opportunity Christians have been praying for to make positive, proactive inroads into one of the poorest nations on earth."

A main focus for the McKeans during the Lagos crusade will be "divine healing and deliverance from the ravages of the enemy in one's body, soul and spirit," says Brenda McKean. "This is provided for in the atonement of Christ and is the privilege of every believer."

As the Newsweek article points out, "The most powerful and pervasive form of African Christianity today is Pentecostal faith healing - imported directly from the West. Last November, for example, nearly 6 million Nigerians jammed a park in Lagos to experience the miraculous healings of Reinhard Bonnke, a Florida-based evangelist."

Bonnke's Web site contains detailed reports from the November 2000 crusade: "'Lagos Ablaze with Fire' was the front-page headline on the international Spirit-ablaze magazine, printed in Lagos. And on this, the sixth and final day of what has quickly become the Historic Millennium Crusade 2000, we wholeheartedly agree. In fact, truer words could not have been written. Lagos is ablaze with the fire of God. This city and region has been impacted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in unprecedented proportions."

By Janet Chismar, Religion Today editor