Walking through the tunnel at the Accra Sports Stadium I couldn’t help feeling a rush. The faithful’s singing got louder as I approached the field. At the end of the passageway, my eyes adjusted to the light, my spirit realigned, and I was ushered into the presence of a few thousand Christians, singing and dancing along to Cindy Thompson’s music. It was great! I was at the Billy Graham Ghana Jesus Crusade. I hadn’t been to the stadium since Ghana beat Nigeria at the 2008 African Cup of Nations. I hadn’t been to such a gathering since the Healing Jesus Crusade at Brewaniase in 2007. In fact, this was only the third of fourth crusade I’d ever been to.
Hours after I’d witnessed hundreds walk up in response to the call for salvation, I thought about our church programmes in Accra. There must be thousands each year, most meant to win souls. Of course, there are the charlatans who have jumped onto the bandwagon to increase the girth of their waistlines, and have become acquainted with Gucci and Prada in the process. But how do they all get congregations to flock to them in their droves, irrespective of motive? Good old advertising.
One evening, I was making my way to the Kwame Nkrumah Circle station after work. I was contending with the human traffic, while at the same time trying my best to not kick any wares laid out on the floor for sale. “Yesss, Ghana one Cedi!” the aggressive salesman shouted, as he dusted off cheap ladies’ handbags that had no doubt arrived on a ship days ago from the backstreets of Europe. The Accra Mayor’s much-hyped decongestion exercise had obviously ended in failure and a waste of my taxes. I walked carefully, in my bid not to step on any beggars’ toes as they sat minding their own business, reclining halfway across the sidewalk. How the poster along the wall caught my attention in the midst of this confusion is beyond me.
Perhaps it was because it was under one of the illegally-connected light bulbs hanging indiscreetly on the wall. Here was this pastor staring right at me from the poster. He didn’t crack a smile. He wasn’t coaxing. He certainly meant business. A cold shiver shot up my spine and snapped me to attention. The headline said it all: “THIS NONSENSE MUST STOP!” A convention? I did a double take. It would be serious battle. I hurried away from the line of posters pasted over a Nigerian movie poster. The pastor’s eyes seemed to follow my every move right up to the trotro I sat in.
The poster must’ve seized me more than I knew, for I mentally drifted off to a billboard that used to be along the La highway. It had one other pastor dressed in army camouflage advertising his church. His stern look exuded readiness for war. Too bad I was always travelling too fast to read what else it said. Speaking of theme-dressed preachers reminds me of a billboard around Emmanuel Eye Centre that probably belongs to Word Miracle Church. The sight of Bishop Charles Agyinasare dressed in baggies and a flat hat, inasmuch as it was for a youth convention, still seemed a bit out of place, especially as the other pastors on the bill were dressed to the nines.
Names always seem to have drawn in the multitudes too. Any mention of miracles is a sure banker. Having limited blessings to marriage, business success, children and visas (even those obtained through connection men), is it any wonder that these themes are amped up a good few times each month? Titles like “Catch the fire” also have pulling power of their own. Once, Rev. Eastwood Anaba commented that if he organised a crusade themed “Carry your cross convention”, he’s sure nobody would attend. I agree.
We passed a few more crusade advertisements. Indeed, rhyme and expression play their part too. “Pray through for breakthrough” and the like roll off the tongue easily, locking the image of instant success deep in the mind of the target. I chuckled to myself, remembering a charismatic preacher announce that a prayer time was going to be higgledy-piggledy. I guess that’s English for “εbεyε butubutu!”
The trotro’s coughing to a halt jolted me back to the present. It was done for the night. Furious passengers crowded around the driver’s mate to demand their change. It was dark and the traffic had taken its toll on me. I dug my hands into my pocket and walked past the crowd around the mate towards the crowd that I was about to battle with for my trip home. Eyes from the bus-stop bored through me. I ignored them. I needed a breakthrough.