Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Christian preaching in Liberia

I had seen the signs all over Liberia:
"Healing Jesus Crusade - Dag Heward-Mills"
I had no idea, though, that when I finally decided to leave Monrovia, I would, after six hours of hitchhiking, arrive in a town on its first night of the show.  I was told by the diver of my last ride that God must have organised it this way for me and therefore I must attend.  [I don't usually call this God, more a coincidence or fate... but what is an a word?]  I took his advise and decided to stay here for the night.

As I walked through the dark; dim-lit streets of Ganta, a man named Thomas decided he would accompany me to the show.  The open football field was filled with thousands of people, people who had come from remote villages from all over the Nimba region of Liberia, even people from neighbouring Guinea, all just for this special event.  Thomas told me the last time there was a large Christian crusade like this was in 1989; four years before the civil war began.

The show started with hymns being sung in the traditional African call-and-response way between the singers on stage and the thousands of spectators in the crowd.  I decided to join the big family behind me, mainly made up of children who had noticed the white woman and all had their turn to hug me, who were especially enthusiastic in their clapping, dancing and singing.

Then the preacher came on stage and ruined everything by asking for money.
"Who has $1000?"
"Probably nobody" I thought, disgusted.
"Who has $500?"
"Is this man even on this planet?!" I couldn't believe my ears.
"You can be part of this crusade you can be our brother or sister in spreading the message of God to the people of your country!  Be our partner and God will reward you!"
Some rich person chirped up with $100.  Then a few more did.  People in red shirts came out to the rest of us, shoving bags in faces encouraging people to give what cash they had.  I gave in to the pressure too; it was embarrassing not to.

After the cringe-worthy section was over, he got down to the real preaching.  The story telling.  The guilt-trip avenue.
"Let's talk about sins..."
"How many of you have lied before?"
Everybody put their hands up, laughing guiltily.
"How many of you have stolen before?"
Everybody put their hands up, laughing, chatting, admitting to each other.
"How many of you have fornicated before?"
This got the loudest laugh as most people put up a hand.
"How many of you have killed someone before?"
There was a striking cry of guilt as half of the crowd put their hands up.  My heart sank in momentary confusion.
"Yes, many of you were involved in the war; you were rebels or otherwise!"
He ended his speech with a long prayer for the crowd to repeat after he had spoken.  Not one person remained silent.  They spoke to God softly and with passion and love.  They spoke to Satan with anger and strength; "Satan! I am finished with you! I belong to God!"
The electric force of the cries of the thousands of people around me sent shivers through my body and jolts through my heart and tears to my eyes and an unbearable lump to my throat.

After my time so far in Africa, I have been coming round to the opinion that religion is actually good.  My self-important, "intellectual", "western" mind of thinking that religion, forced or otherwise, has so many negative effects has gradually become void.  After witnessing the reactions in this crusade, my mind has been changed entirely.  All these people who have terrible pasts filled with war and death and who are faced with guilt and heartbreak in their memories... How could you ever move on from that?  You can't, because you are still waking up every day struggling to feed your family because you live in one of the poorest countries in the world.  Until Africa is relieved of its poverty, religion and belief in God is the only answer for individuals.

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