By Romanus Ugwu
From the popular Jabi Motor Park to scores of other parks in the main city and satellite towns of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, itinerant preachers have inadvertently become partners with businessmen and women to keep the economy moving.
The preachers, mostly shabbily dressed, have devised ingenious ways of winning souls and making a living in a country beset with recession, inflation and joblessness.
While some travel several kilometres aboard the vehicles, preaching to the passengers and appealing for financial support for the ministry, other preachers simply pray for the travellers right in the park before their departure, also pleading to the passengers to “support the ministry financially.”
As part of their ever-evolving methodology, the preachers also seem to understand that invoking local deities and evil men from the village unlocks the generosity of the passengers.
Pastor Emmanuel, for example, after praying in a loaded vehicle in Gwagwalada, Abuja, asked: “Who is the parent of this boy, I saw a star on his forehead, it is a sign of greatness, it means that he is going to be greater than his siblings, he is a gifted child, but he urgently needs prayers to arrest the devil and evil men from the village hovering around him, trying to snatch these divine gifts.”
Whether the vision was true or false, Pastor Emmanuel was soon rewarded handsomely by the child’s parents, more concerned about any negative forces out to thwart the bright future of their child than whatever amount paid to circumvent the machinations of the devil.
Most times, it is fun to watch such pastors at work in most motor parks as they unfold their act to unlock the generosity of the passengers, deploying one spiritual, life-threatening message or another.
It has become conventional to hear them say: “I come against every manipulation of the devil from your village, as you travel to the village, no evil or juju men or women will harm you because I have covered you with the blood of Jesus.
“I pray against any accident on the road. I come against bloodsuckers on the highways and decree that they submit to the divine will that this vehicle must get to its destination. As it is happening in front, you will be at the back and as it is happening at the back, you will be in front.
“I cover this vehicle and the passengers with the blood of Jesus Christ. From now onwards, Satan has no authority over anybody in this vehicle because what is now in you is greater than what is in them.” The prayers are often greeted with a resounding “Amen” from both Christians and Muslims.
The prayers are, however, followed with the immediate request: “If you have accepted Jesus Christ, pray this prayer with me … I want to congratulate you because you are now a born-again child of God and immunised against any attack from the evil men in the village. Whoever that is moved to support this ministry financially, no matter how small or big, will be appreciated.”
The preacher also tells the passengers, “God bless you” in appreciation for their generosity, and then the concluding prayer, “God, bless every hand that supported this ministry, wherever they removed this money, Lord, replace it in hundred and thousand folds. Lead them to their destination and bring them safely back.”
The argument over whether the ‘ministry; of itinerant preachers are fuelled by financial interest rather than winning souls has been on for years now. The negative disposition and hostile reaction of many of these pastors, especially when the passengers are reluctant to “give to the ministry” has made the debate even fiercer.
Pastor Emmanuel, the preacher at Gwagwalada Motor Park, told Daily Sun when confronted with matter of their real intent, that, for him, having spent over 30 years “proclaiming the words of God and winning souls,” his motivation was not financial gain.
Although he admitted that he has spent his entire adult life in the ministry, sustaining his family and surviving on proceeds from preaching at motor parks, he warned, “anyone who feels that we preach for monetary gain will incur the wrath of God.”
According to him; “Mobile preaching has come to stay as a way of reaching out to souls that have not repented. It is a way of taking Christianity closer to the children of God, to raise the consciousness of many unbelievers that heaven and hell are real. Mobile preaching is playing an immense role in spreading the gospel.
“I am not surprised that many have testified to the results of the words of God we have impacted on them. Prostitutes, smokers, fornicators and evildoers have accepted and confessed to the goodness of God in their lives,” he said.
Motive for the ‘ministry’
Many have criticised the pastors for being more interested in extorting money from passenger in the name of God than in winning souls. While some attach serious importance to the prayers that the pastors render, others simply dismiss them as corporate beggars in disguise, armed with a Bible to coerce people with the word of God for financial gain.
Disputing this impression, Pastor Emmanuel said: “The biggest challenges facing mobile preachers are unending attacks from other ministers of God and ordained pastors who know the truth yet don’t believe in mobile preachers. They accuse us of extorting money from passengers.
“They don’t believe in us even when our primary aim is to make sure that the passengers get to their destination without being afflicted by fatal accidents. We also immunise them from attacks from evil men in the village.
“It pains me when people see the good work we are doing as a means of making money from passengers. By the way, if the regular pastors cannot do without requesting for offerings and tithes in churches, why should our own be misconstrued as ripping off the passengers?
“Most of us don’t have any other means of livelihood than this mobile preaching. It is whatever we get that we feed our families with, pay for accommodation and pick many other bills. After our ministration, we usually appeal to those touched to support us. We don’t force anybody; the support is not compulsory regardless of how we go about the financial support. It is just to encourage the ministry.”
Satanic attacks from passengers
Warning those wishing to join the ranks of hundreds of itinerant preachers that the job was not for the chicken-hearted, another preacher known as Pastor Muyiwa argued that motor park preaching comes with serious spiritual battles, because some passengers are the devil incarnate.
“I have had countless spiritual encounters with passengers while preaching in loaded vehicles. One of them left a lasting impression when Satan attacked and withered my hand while praying for a particular woman. The attack almost paralysed me because it resulted in partial stroke, which took several spiritual battles to restore,” he said.
Corroborating this claim, Pastor Emmanuel said: “I was preaching one day and suddenly, my voice ceased and I became dumb. The surprised passengers supported me with prayers before I could regain my voice.
“Satan is always after us. They come in form of powers from the village, workplace, residential neighbours and marketplaces, using mirrors to monitor a passenger from their kingdoms. We also fight some of these bloodsucking occultic powers that cause accidents on the highways.”
Consequences of rejecting preachers
In a very religious country like Nigeria, there is every tendency to blame any mishap or carnage during journeys on spiritual attacks from enemies, relegating other factors to the background.
Little wonder, Pastor Gabriel told Daily Sun while responding to questions about the consequences of rejecting preachers and preventing them from praying before the vehicle departs, there are mixed reactions and there could be many interpretations. He said it was a thing of the mind.
“It has to do with psychological interpretations and the disposition of the passengers. I don’t think it has any implication but I recall one day, a loaded vehicle rejected my prayers because all of them were more concerned about the long distance of their journey.
“I was surprised to hear the next day that the bus had an accident and claimed the lives of all the passengers. It is, however, debatable whether the accident would have been averted if I had prayed for them. Some other vehicles had accidents even after prayers from some mobile pastors,” Pastor Gabriel argued.
Frustration pushing many into motor park preaching
Regardless of the spiritual mileage or achievements of these pastors, investigations have showed that most of them started preaching out of frustration with their condition and a need to make ends meet.
Tacitly confirming the impression, Pastor Emmanuel said: “Some of the men of God I started with have died or have been frustrated out of the business. I cannot speak for others, but for me it is not frustration but a calling. Several years ago, I established a church in Jabi with over 2,000 in my congregation but government demolished my church.
“However, when the Lord spoke to me that my calling is not to establish a church but to establish a ministry and reach out to perishing souls and those with spiritual challenges, I obeyed.
“I have no regrets so far because I got married and now sustain my family through mobile preaching. I don’t depend on government or anybody. I have saved thousands of souls, including foreigners.”
Expectedly, many Nigerians have not only bought into the work of itinerant pastors but also aided in spreading the message by supporting the trend financially. For many passengers, the preachers have become an indispensible part of their journey. They check spiritual attacks from enemies on the highway and the infamous ‘evil men’ in the village.
Some of the passengers who spoke to Daily Sun argued that it was a good thing.
“Since we are in a sinful word, many passengers feel psychologically secure during the trip with prayers from these pastors. For many of them, no amount they parted with is too much to safeguard their lives.
“Again, some genuine pastors have helped prevent spiritual attacks from evil men and women and enemies of progress in the village. I don’t see them as extortionists because it is in rare cases that you see somebody giving them as much as N1,000. They are sacrificing so much for the passengers,” one observer said.