The controversial pastor’s wedding was like any other Sunday service at the church.
At exactly 8:29 a.m., I walked into the noisy grounds of the Perfect Christianity Mission, a semi-enclosed space where wooden beams are suspended on metallic poles, in Surulere, Lagos.
The Sunday service, which would double as the wedding of the General Overseer, had already begun.
The past few weeks has been awash with announcements of the impending marriage of Sign Fireman, a controversial character, who heads the church. He had picked one of the ladies in the church and the congregation were waiting, with bated breath, to see the bride.
On the wedding ‘flyer’ is a white Hummer limousine announcing the special guests at the ceremony – “governors, senators, top pastors from around the world, legendary businessmen from around the world,” amongst others.
I was present for the wedding ceremony.
I sat at a vantage point, from where I’d get a clear view of the altar as well as notice the arrival of any of the special guests. From my seat, I scanned the faces around the altar, no recognizable one yet.
Fireman, decked in a black suit on a cream shirt and his hair gleaming under the yellow lights at the altar, had begun to lead the prayer and worship session.
“Open your hands and come to the stage…”
The congregation chorused after him.
A lady in an obscure corner screamed: “My daddy is a handsome man.”
The music stopped abruptly.
Almost immediately, Fireman broke the silence. He sang, “Sweet sweet lover. Endless lover…”
The congregation went wild.
A security man, wearing a black face-cap and clutching a piece of wood, moved his feet in rhythm with the music. He threw the stick up, caught it mid air, and then dashed towards the gate- wriggling his waist all the time.
Not too far from where I sat in the church, a photographer begged a young lady in a long, flowing dress, posing for a shot to stop moving to the music and focus on the shot.
By the time the last of the choruses faded away, the church was filled to the brim with scores of people having nowhere to seat. Fireman, appearing surprised at the large turnout, knelt at the altar to apologize to those on their feet and asked some to come and perch around the edges of the altar.
A little boy leading an elderly blind man tried to force his way through the crowd onto a raised platform at the rear of the altar.
Signs and wonders
The controversy surrounding Fireman’s ministry lies mostly in the ‘signs and wonders’ he performs during his service, the miracles being astounding and outrageous in one breath.
A church flyer I was clutching showed a Sister Effiwatt testifying on how “the Man of God” raised her from the dead “instantly;” a Brother Olamide said he was cured “from seven years of total madness;” while Brother Okafor narrated how he went from abject poverty to owning his own house.
When Sunday’s Healing and Miracles session began, it was no different.
Fireman set the ball rolling by likening the power of God to electrical power which can be converted to sound, mechanical, light.
“If you need healing, the power can turn into healing. Now if you need money, the Bible says the power can turn into wealth. The power of God is the multi-purpose solution. Whatever you need, all you have to do is receive power,” he said then added, “Before I came to the service today, the Lord assured me that he’s going to heal at least 70 profound people.”
Claps and cheers erupted and then, the miracles began.
Fireman moved to the first man, who said he fell and hit his leg and ever since has been walking with aid of a stick. Suddenly, the man dropped his stick and began to walk.
He moved to the next man, who said he hadn’t walked for two and a half years, and hugged him. The man rose, started to walk, at first gingerly, before racing across the altar, jumping up and down.
Again, there were cheers.
And then as if a thought just struck him, Fireman paused, called Pastor Chigozie, one of his junior pastors and offered him a Jaguar – which he said was bought for Fireman by a member a week ago.
The congregation rose from their seats to clap and cheer.
“The moment I count from one to seven, the first 12 people to stand up, your lives shall change forever. Seven out of you, within the next 60 days, you will touch your first million,” Fireman announced.
He began to count and when he got to seven, everyone in the church stood up abruptly. I thought of all the things a million bucks could do in my life and leapt up from my plastic seat.
The miracles continued, gradually taking the semblance of a stage play, except that the congregation believed it was not.
A young woman began to roll on the floor of the altar, screaming, “She must serve me. She must serve me or I’ll frustrate her life. She must serve me.”
The pastor approached her.
“Are you ready to leave her?” he asked addressing the ‘demon’ inside the woman.
“Never,” the demon retorted, laughing maniacally.
A man in a grey beard walked towards the pastor, wagging a finger at his face and said, “You can’t do anything. I challenge you.”
“You challenge me?” Fireman asked.
“Yes. Who are you?” the grey-bearded man replied.
“You want to know who I am? I’ll take strength out of you!”
The pastor blew into his microphone thrice and the man collapsed in a heap.
“That is who I am,” Fireman declared.
The congregation cheered.
The man- judging by his accent, a Ghanaian- appearing remorseful, slowly rose to his feet and the pastor informed him that the cause of his problems were his grandfather but that he, Fireman, was going to send the “demons” back to the grandfather.
“Take a phone and call Ghana. In the next five minutes, he (the grandfather) will have a stroke,” Fireman said. “I’m not the first to do it. In Mark, Chapter 5, Jesus allowed demons to enter pigs.”
A woman told the pastor that her “pikin has been missing since one month.”
The pastor patted her on the shoulder, “Angel don find am. Now go.”
The woman walked away.
If I had thought that the Healing and Miracles session was a dress rehearsal for incredulity, the testimonies were a class act.
At 10:10 a.m., they began.
Fireman took up his seat on a cream coloured upholstered chair at the altar, allowing a junior pastor to run proceedings.
The first lady narrated how after the ‘Man of God’ blessed” her, she moved from having no job to getting six different offers in two weeks, including a phone call from a firm she never applied to.
The junior pastor asked her to step forward, turned to the congregation, pointed to Fireman and said, “I want 25 people to hold a seed of N1, 000 and come and drop at his (Fireman) feet. As you are returning to your seat, something must happen.”
Dozens of worshippers dashed towards the altar with their ‘seeds.’
Another member narrated how she used her “last N200 to sow a seed” the previous Sunday and how, six days later, “God surprised me and I’m laughing now.”
The junior pastor called for people to bring N200 to the feet of Fireman.
“Sow like a fool. Something must enter your hand. Your financial position is about to change. The person holding your money would release it after today.”
A crowd trooped towards the altar to drop their money at ‘Daddy’s’ feet.
The next testimony was from a woman who said that she had been barren for eight years but two months after she began attending the church, “the thing enter.”
Again, the junior pastor’s voice rang out from the altar.
“If you are here this morning and you are looking for a fruit of the womb or you know someone looking for a fruit of the womb, pick up a seed and come and drop here. The God of Fireman will surprise you.”
This time it was women that thronged the altar.
The next two testimonies sounded plain absurd to me: One lady claimed that after she was blessed by Fireman, she went to the market and the money in her purse “refused to finish.” A second lady testified that after her own blessing, the N100 notes in her bag turned to N200 notes.
“How’s that possible?” I asked the woman, nursing a baby beside me, my mouth half open.
The nursing mum smiled, “There’s nothing God cannot do.”
Perfect Christianity Mission
Perfect Christianity Mission runs a free transport service to convey members to and from the Sunday service.
The church’s edifice at Ketu Close is crammed between a Jehovah’s Witness church and a Mountain of Fire and Miracles church, with the sounds and sermons at the latter sometimes overlapping with the mission’s.
Every Sunday, smartly dressed young ladies stand at boundaries between the churches and lead folks into Perfect Christianity Mission’s sandy grounds where business activities flow side by side with what is happening at the pulpit.
At the rear of the church is a bookshop with cartons of olive oil near its door; a table stacked with indomie noodles and eggs, prepared on request; and a canteen where plates of fried and jollof rice are sold. Members are encouraged to visit any of the outlets during service.
Fireman realizes the stiff competition he is facing from his next door neighbours and he is determined to keep his flock from “straying.”
When he stood up in the middle of the testimony session, he had harsh words for his critics.
“Some idiots say if Fireman gets married, his power will go. The reason why Dr. Fireman is controversial (is) because this is what I’m born for!
“Jesus told me in person, in my room, that anybody that fights my marriage, he’ll take away from them something they love!”
After counting 15 people who stepped out to give a testimony, I stopped counting.
As the service drew to a close, the pastor announced that, at the next Sunday’s service, 18 and 200 worshippers would be made millionaires and multimillionaires respectively.
“If you are not around next Sunday, believe me, all your life, it will haunt you. The God that created Dangote (Nigeria’s richest man) is the same God that created you. He did not finish creating Dangote and stop.”
As I bent down to retrieve my Bible from under my chair, I realized that I’d barely touched it in the past four hours – we only read a verse from The Book of Second Peter.
The voice of junior pastor rang out from the altar again.
“Before we start the (wedding) reception, we are going to have our closing offering and tithes. After this, our daddy’s celebration. Celebration will not end in your life!”
The congregation chorused, “Amen!”
And Fireman’s wedding reception began.