One man preached the Gospel in West Africa for nine years and only converted 52. But another man preached the same Gospel just for two years and 120,000 adult West Africans believed and were baptized into Christianity.
This is the commentary that Howard made about Prophet Harris in West Africa, (No. 3776, 1989) when he compared the remarkable achievement of the prophet, within a very short period, and without any Western missionary financial support, in comparison with the achievement of a fellow African preacher, Philip Quacoe (1741-1816), an Anglican priest trained in Britain for Ghana (then Gold Coast), who depended on Western missionary finance and control.
The statement shows how phenomenal the ministry of this prophet was and how in Bediako’s view, he serves as “the paradigm both for non-Western and essentially primal apprehension of the Gospel and also a settled self-consciousness as an African uncluttered by Western missionary controls.”
Born a Kru in Liberia, West Africa, he found himself in prison after being arrested for taking part in an insurrection by his people to protest against the repressive policies by the Americo-Liberia government towards the Krus. He is believed to have indicated that while he was in prison in 1910, certain events changed the course of his life and made him a prophet of God. These included a trance-visitation in which the Angel Gabriel became instrumental in his call into the ministry. Subsequent trance-visitations during his ministry were believed to have made possible meetings between him and Moses, Elijah and Angel Gabriel.
Prophet Harris had a quite simple message, which was, essentially, based on the Bible as the Word of God. He preached a monotheistic religion that abhorred cult objects –amulets and charms – of the idolatrous old Religion. He persuaded men to leave their sins to serve the only God who is holy and good. He encouraged people to believe in Jesus, destroy their cult objects, be baptized and become members of the Christian Church and live good lives. He did not establish a Church of his own but helped, through his evangelistic campaigns, the expansion and spread of the missionary Churches. In many ways, Prophet Harris can be considered as the precursor of the Pentecostal Movement in Ghana. The renewal he brought to Christianity was unprecedented. People, who ordinarily would not join the missionary Churches because of the fear of the wrath
of the gods, readily joined after conversion and an immediate baptism by Harris, considering the baptism by the prophet as sufficient protection.
He was not a “Spiritual Church” founder and leader in the strictest sense of the word, though many of his followers, after his death planted Prophet-Healing Spiritual Churches. He was an evangelical in every sense of the word but, in addition, was Spirit-baptized and manifested the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He could foretell, very accurately, events in the future, he spoke in tongues and had the ability to heal the sick and to cast out demons from their victims.
Besides all these, Harris seemed to have succeeded in areas where the missionary Churches had difficulty because he did not only preach about a God far away but brought Him near to his audience through the signs and wonders he performed in the Name of God. He was able to tap into the thought patterns, perception of reality, and the concepts of identity and community, which prevail within the Primal worldview of African Societies.
For example in areas where the people believed in the potency of a herbal preparation after the blessing of the fetish, Harris introduced them to the “Higher God” and blessed the preparation in the Name of God before administration. He allowed his converts to sing traditional songs in praise of God’s Name. By so doing, he made Christianity more attractive to the indigenous people than what was presented by the historic Churches. People could now become true Christians while maintaining their African cultural and traditional identity.
Harris made many converts to Christianity (over 100,00 in La Côte d’Ivoire alone until he was expelled from the country for the fear of his mass appeal becoming a threat to the French Colonial Administration). Many of these converts joined the existing missionary Churches. In Apollonia and surrounding villages alone, Harris is believed to have made over 8,000 converts many of whom had burnt their fetishes in response to the message preached by the prophet. In areas where there were no Churches, Opoku indicates that these “new converts waited patiently for someone to come and “‘unlock the Book” for them.”
Some converts, however, did not join any existing Church, and since Harris was not forming any Churches of his own, they started their own independent “Spiritual” Churches. The Twelve Apostles Church, which claims to the first of such Churches was started by two of Harris’ disciples – Grace Tani of Ankobra Mouth and John Nackabah of Essuawa. This Church was later to be popularly known as Nackabah Church after one of the founders.
The above piece is an excerpt from Pentecostalism in Ghana: An African Reformation, a paper by Dr. Jones Darkwa Amanor where he looks at the history and nature of Ghanaian Pentecostalism, the dominant form of Christianity in the West African nation. For the full paper you can visit here.
Header Image: Skogafoss Waterfall by Matthias Hauser