Tonye David-West, Jr., Ph.DFriday, November 18, 2005
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Political Scientist



he minister of music had already sent the congregation to heaven by the time the pastor claimed the pulpit. His job was made easier as the members ate readily from the palm of his hands. He preached about love - how husbands must love their wives just as Jesus loved the church. His verses were intermittently punctuated by spirited shouts of "amen." He talked about the need for families to love each other, not to succumb to the worries and stress of the American society. He was speaking to the believers and he made sure that the intended audience harvested his message. The pastor, one of the greatest orators of his time, stressed home his message of love, quoting richly from the Bible which says, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and love being the greatest of all three virtues of Hope and Faith (1st Corinthians 13:13).

Pastor Tunde as he is fondly called is the pastor of one of the new age Pentecostal and Bible-touting churches owned and pastor-ed by Nigerians in the US. This New York-based church, which I attend, was founded only three years ago, but its membership has soared over five hundred and counting. It cuts across all ethnicities from Nigeria and other African countries. Even the usually scarce northerners from Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Bornu, Bauchi and other parts of Nigeria can be found in this church in sincere worship of the Lord. Indeed, there are doctors, nurses, business men and women, well-heeled realtors, engineers, professors, Nigerian politicians (on visits), United Nations diplomats and all and sundry occupying the pews of this church every Sunday. Its main attraction is its progressive and precocious nature and its inductable biblical doctrines. The well-decked choir with the state-of-the art musical equipments that turn the church into a metaphysical 'nightclub' every Sunday morning, also adds to the attraction.

The church is a cash cow as its weekly and monthly yields are astonishing. The weekly offerings alone (according to the budget sheet distributed in church) atone for more than $30,000 and this is not inclusive of the tithe that is taken every month. Given the array of professionals in the church who earn hefty and appreciable sums, it is safe to conclude that tithe alone exceeds $100,000 a month. This is significant considering the fact that the church started from a small rented room in a nearby debauched hotel before it moved to its current spacious location and hoping to move into its own building at the turn of the new year. This building when finished will hold more than one thousand five hundred members. The basement and reception halls are elaborate and the parsonage fit for a king.

There are many of these types of churches cropping all over the fruited plains of America. A classmate of mine in college went into the ministry after graduation stating he had been called into the service of the Lord. His church located in the American Bible-Belt is doing exceedingly well. The last email I received from him indicated that the church had reached a milestone of one thousand registered members and still growing. The classmate, only in his thirties, is one of the most gifted Nigerians pastors in the US and fondly called the T.D. Jakes of Nigeria. A year ago, I was in his neck of the woods and stopped by to visit him, I marveled at the opulence and lush that had become his lot.

Invariably, Nigerian churches are scattered like mustard seed across the US. The growth of these churches in the last few years has tripled, especially, in major cities. They are popular amongst Nigerians as the songs are familiar and the services conducted in the true Nigerian style of worship. In these churches, one feels at home with the adornment of native attires and familiar routines. Like those in Nigeria, these pastors have a variety of reasons bordering on financial, legal, material to spiritual for opening these churches. But while some of them preach about love in the family, their own families are not intact. Some are separated from their wives and some are going through divorce even as they offer marriage counseling to their members.

In an email conversation with an good friend, an immigration lawyer based in the Washington DC area, who was responding to my article published on this site, "Our dollar pastor$", he talked about the increasing number of R (religious worker) visas his firm handled in the last year alone owing to the proliferation of Nigerian churches. He noted, "I have seen an unprecedented rise in the church worker immigration applications recently." He also talked about the increasing rate of divorce between these pastors and their spouses. He further noted, "About 80% of divorces that my firm filed this year was connected with disagreement between spouse regarding the church. Often, it is the wife that becomes a victim first. They spend enormous amount of time at night vigils and revivals, ignoring family needs."

The lawyer could not have been more linear with his observation as the divorce rate is increasing among this group. The bone of contention, as noted above, is usually the long hours these pastors spend with members of their flock at the expense of their families. They are out late counseling, encouraging and planning crusades, etc. Sometimes, they travel for days on church assignments. When they are in town, most return home late, often tired with no time to spend with their families. Children are neglected and wives forgotten. Even while at home, they receive calls from troubled church members about sundry issues. The work of a pastor is endless but, unfortunately, so are his troubles.

The good lawyer further observed, "Each week, I am bombarded by flyers of revivals all over the place. They are always "binding this" and "opening that." For one, the pastors have shifted their focus on taking advantage of frustrated Nigerians in the US who are easily convinced that their ill luck in this country is due to some family curse or other satanic influences that must be rebuked. They give "visions" and "prophecies," some of which have caused untold hardship on families. One guy relied on a vision by a popular pastor to relocate to California where great fortune awaited him. He ended becoming homeless. A neighbor of mine refinanced his house just to sow a seed of $7,000 to the Church; now, he struggles to pay his bills."

True enough, some of the frustrated Nigerians in the US go to these pastors to pray about an immigration issue or for the fruit of the womb, for healing, for promotion, for a new house and car, etc, and some of the pastors do well to take full advantage of these weak-hearted individuals. It's important to note that not all Nigerian pastors in the US fall in this category. Far be it from it. It will be very wrong to come to such conclusion as there are those with genuine intentions doing the work of the Lord and they must be encouraged in every possible way. But as noted in the lawyer's comments, the hardship some Nigerians have found in the US has turned them into involuntary pastors for the moment. This trend is not only limited to Nigerians but Ghanaians as well. For every two Nigerian churches in the US, there is one Ghanaian church. I was once told that the general superintendent of a famous US-based Ghanaian church was either separated from his wife or going through divorce (I have forgotten how the story went) for the same reason cited above. As these pastors battle to save their flock from broken homes and marriages, they ought to pay greater attention to their families before roles are reversed and the church members begin to offer them marriage counseling. How do they say it - Charity begins at home?

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© 2005 - Tonye David-West, Jr.