Holding My Anchor In Turbulent Waters

Holding My Anchor In Turbulent Waters

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PNEUMA 40 (2018) 498–516

Holding My Anchor in Turbulent Waters God, Pentecostalism, and the African Diaspora in Belgium

Joseph Bosco Bangura

North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa JBBangura@gmail.com


Migration has not only led to the growth of African Pentecostalism in Belgium, it has also ignited interest in Pentecostalism’s conceptions of God. This article discusses AfricanPentecostalism’sarticulationof itsbeliefsaboutGodinanovertlydisenchanted Belgian public sphere in which religion is impugned. This article contends that in the secularized West, African Pentecostalism presents a view of God as the anchor of sta- bility in turbulent waters. This God, African Pentecostals aver, is the structuring prin- ciple who sustains human well-being. For this reason, praises, prayers, and prophetic proclamations are offered to God, from whom the pentecostal faithful expect healing, deliverance, and miracles.


God – African Pentecostalism – African Diaspora – Belgium

1 Introduction and Scope

Pentecostalism, particularly the newer charismatic type, has emerged as Afri- ca’s most buoyant expression of the faith to have profoundly reshaped the tex- ture of African Christianity in recent times. Described as the most powerful social movement to affect Africa,1 with its related currents spreading to and

1 John F. McCauley, “Pentecostalism and Politics: Redefining the Big Man Rule in Africa,” 322–

344 in Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial

Studies, ed. Martin Lindhardt (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014), 322.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04004002


holding my anchor in turbulent waters


influencing the faith convictions of the African Christian diaspora,2 African Pentecostalism aims to reinvent Christianity so that alternative discourses about God and the theological exigencies that appeal to the entrenched world- view needs of African Christians can emerge.3 The creative innovations artic- ulated by the various mutations of African Pentecostalism use a plethora of theological categories in its conversations about God, the constellation of evil, and the need for human well-being, which directly connects with the under- lying currents of Africa’s traditional religious cosmologies.4 But while present academic research about immigrant African Pentecostalism among the African diaspora in Europe is steadily expanding,5such discourses hardly consider con- ceptions of God held by the African Christian diaspora in a secularized Europe. Even Adogame’s insightful historiographical survey of African Christians in an increasingly secularized Europe fails to account for conceptions of God and the way in which this understanding influences the movement’s theological praxis.6 Apart from very brisk and general allusions that offer basic reflections about God among Pentecostals,7no sustained analysis has been made to delin- eate concepts such as “God talk” and “God’s action” among the African Pen- tecostal diaspora in the Flemish north of Belgium. This scholarly omission is disconcerting because God is thought to be the most central figure in Africa’s religiouscosmologies.8ThisGodissaidtoaccompanymigrantsinallthephases

2 Afe Adogame, The African Christian Diaspora: New Currents and Emerging Trends in World

Christianity(London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

3 Alistair E. McGrath,The Future of Christianity(Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 109.

4 Dena Freeman, ed., Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGO’s and Social Change in

Africa(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 12–13.

5 See, among others, Jehu J. Hanciles,BeyondChristendom:Globalization,AfricanMigrationand

the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2008); Frieder Ludwig and J.K. Asamoah-

Gyadu, African Christian Presence in the West: New Immigrant Congregations and Transna-

tional Networks in North America and Europe (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2011); Klaus

Hock,The Power of Interpretation: Conflicting Discourses on New Forms of African Christianity

(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2017).

6 Afe Adogame, “African Christians in a Secularizing Europe,”Religion Compass3, no. 4 (2009):


7 Stefan Huber and Odilo W. Huber, “Psychology of Religion,” 133–155 inStudying Global Pente-

costalism: Theories and Methods, ed. Allan Anderson et al. (Berkeley: University of California

Press, 2010), at 144–146.

8 James Henry Owino Kombo,The Doctrine of God in African Christian Thought: The Holy Trin-

ity, Theological Hermeneutics and the African Intellectual Culture(Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007),

160; Francis Anekwe Oborji, “In Dialogue with African Traditional Religion: New Horizons,”

Mission Studies19, no. 1 (2002): 17.

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of their journey.9 My article responds to this gap in three ways: First, connect- ing migration to the rise of African pentecostal churches in Belgium,10I discuss how prayer, praise, prophecy, and pain engender conceptions of God among the African diaspora. Second, using the pentecostal theology of miracles, deliv- erance/exorcism, and healing, I argue that African diaspora Pentecostalism clearly ascribes contingent activity to God.11And third, I argue that for African diaspora Pentecostalism in a secularized Belgium, God is not an absentee being who has suddenly returned to be reimmersed in human affairs.12 According to African Pentecostalism, because God is the source of all life and site of all power,13 and because this God is present and active through the Holy Spirit in the everyday affairs of human life, I advocate the view that God has been acting in history, bringing about human and divine interaction in ways that affect human well-being and mediate prosperity.14It would therefore be a con- sequential misnomer to ascribe to African Pentecostalism the argument of an absentee God who only recently returned from an unknown safari to assume roles that are said to have been eschewed by the Supreme Being, as some schol- ars would have us believe.15








Gerrie ter Haar,Strangers and Sojourners: Religious Communities in the Diaspora(Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 2.

Cornelius van der Laan, “The Development of Pentecostalism in Dutch Speaking Coun- tries,” inGlobal Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies: European Pentecostalism, ed. William Kay and Anne Dyer (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 111; Jelle Creemers, “Evangelical Free Churches and State Support in Belgium: Praxis and Discourse from 1987 to Today,”Trajecta: Religion, Culture and Society in the Low Countries24 (2015): 178.

Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 80; Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism(Cambridge,UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 162; Matthews Ojo,The End-Time Army: Charismatic Movements in Modern Nigeria(Trenton/Asmara: Africa World Press, 2006), 192; Philip Jenkins,The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, rev. exp. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 145; Peter Hocken, The Challenges of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Mes- sianic Jewish Movements: The Tensions of the Spirit (Farnham,UK: Ashgate, 2009), 33. Herbert Butterfield, “God in History,” inGod, History, and Historians: An Anthology of Mod- ern Christian Views of History, ed. C.T. McIntire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 193; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and Philosophy of Science (Philadelphia: Westmin- ster, 1976), 396–399; James Bradley and Richard Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works and Methods(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 54. Harry Sawyerr, Creative Evangelism: Towards a New Christian Encounter with Africa (Lon- don Lutterworth Press, 1968), 13–14.

See John Mbiti, Concepts of God in Africa (New York: Praeger, 1970); Harry Sawyerr, God, Ancestor or Creator? Aspects of Traditional Beliefs in Ghana, Nigeria & Sierra Leone (Har- low: Longmans, 1970).

See John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge,God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).

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2 Methodology, Social Location, and Conceptual Definition

To ensure that an appropriate nuance is established upon which this research was based, I clarify the methodology and social location from which the research was conducted and offer definitions of some of the key concepts used throughout this study. First, the methodology adopted in this essay is informed by theological ethnography, which is increasingly gaining currency among intercultural missiologists. As a method of scholarly inquiry, theologi- cal ethnography defines from an emic perspective the missional-incarnational character of various faith communities. The process itself allows for deeper learning about how to be and to serve the church, and how experiences gained from those encounters engender the migrant’s adaptation to the social context in which their church ministries are based.16 This approach is useful because it considers how theological reflection can be rooted in and contribute to the social and ecclesiological context of African migrant Pentecostalism as the movements seek engagement with the world around it.17 Consequently, this study reflects upon ministry observations gained from my eleven years (2007 to 2018) of involvement in pastoral ministry in African migrant pentecostal churches in Belgium. This experience of pastoral ministry offered valuable ethnographic openings that point to new emic meanings that may represent the overall pastoral theological praxis of African immigrant Pentecostalism in the Flemish north of Belgium.

Second, theological ethnography requires that a merger be forged between scholarly inquiry and the lived religious experiences of a specific group of Belgium’s African Pentecostal diaspora. Accordingly, the social location from which this study grew is predicated on my pastoral experience with Word Communication Ministries (WCM), a Cameroonian/African migrant pente- costal church founded in Brussels and Antwerp in 2003 by Lawrence Lobe Bokene.18This experience, which spans about eleven years, allowed me unfet- tered access to the liturgical and ecclesial practices of this mainly English- speaking Cameroonian migrant pentecostal church. Further, because WCM is affiliated with the Verbond van Vlaamse Pinkstergemeenten (VVP, or Flemish




Christian Scharen and James Smith, Fieldwork in Theology: Exploring the Social Context of God’s Work in the World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 8.

Andrew Lord, Network Church: A Pentecostal Ecclesiology Shaped by Mission (Leiden/ Boston: Brill, 2012), 1–3.

Joseph Bosco Bangura, “Pentecostal Worship Liturgies and African Migrant Churches in Belgium: Negotiating between Noise Nuisance and the African Cultural Desideratum,” Religion—Staat—Gesellschaft17, nos. 1–2 (2017): 23.

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Pentecostal Union), a government-approved organization representing pente- costal and charismatic churches at the Federal Synodical level in the Flemish region of Belgium, I had many contacts with pastors and parishioners from other African migrant pentecostal churches, such as those from Ghana, Nige- ria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Even though I am African, I am not from one of those countries. I am a Sierra Leonean who immi- grated to Belgium to carry out postgraduate and doctoral studies in theology following involvement in theological education as lecturer at The Evangelical College of Theology in Sierra Leone. This different ethnicity and national ori- gin as well as my theological training provided a reasonably critical distance for the in-depth probing of the cultural nuances and theological exigencies espoused by Belgium’s African Pentecostalism and the emic/etic observations derived therein.

Third, the concepts “God talk,” and “God’s action” used in this article require definition. My use of the expression God talk reflects the important place of oral conversations among sub-Saharan Africans. As orality is the core mark of sub-Saharan African cultures, words, talking, and conversations are a use- ful medium for the conveying of truth, both symbolic and mundane. Such truth could be expressed by Africans using either plain language or one filled with poetic phraseology and proverbs. This explains why the internationally acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once said, “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.”19This proverbial expression encapsulates the power of conversation among Africans. It especially emphasizes the impor- tance of speaking the right words so that trivial life situations can conform to what accords with the harmony and cohesion of human society. Applied to African diaspora Pentecostalism, words have power either to create life or to mediate death (cf. Prov 18:21). Therefore, when African Pentecostals talk about God, they use imagery of life that inspires hope and agency rather than befuddle life.The expressionGod’saction, on the other hand, speaks of the mys- terious activities that African Pentecostals ascribe to God. Because such actions defy any rational explanation, they are therefore only intelligibly explained by recourse to language reminiscent of those actions believed to belong in the purview of the divine. Thus, by listening to expressions of prayers, praise, prophecy, and pain among African Pentecostals, one gets the impression of a God who is present and is said to act benevolently in and on behalf of his peo- ple to offer healing, deliverance, and rescue in time of trouble. Accordingly, this study probes the extent to which this religious and spiritual phenomenon


Chinua Achebe,Things Fall Apart (London: Penguin Books, 2018), 5.

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is expressed in the believer’s conversations and translated to affect the real-life issues of the faithful.

3 African Pentecostalism in Belgium

Belgium, with its tumultuous history of Catholic/Protestant acrimony,20 has seen a significant rise in the number of Christians who clearly identify with the spiritual impulses of global Pentecostalism.21A key feature of Belgium’s Pente- costalism is that the movement is most active among immigrant communities, with Brazilian and African communities being the most noted.22 This is not a surprising development because Pentecostalism, with all its uncharacteris- tic taxonomies, traveled the globe. For this reason, Belgium’s Pentecostalism benefitted immensely from the growing influx of immigrants from Africa, as are those from elsewhere.23This migratory trajectory was especially bolstered after bilateral agreements with Italian mine workers collapsed due to a terri- ble industrial accident.24Following the strengthening of industrialization and the creation of the federal state, Belgium, especially Flanders, needed scores of unskilled migrant workers who would keep factory production up to speed with market demands.25 Even though bilateral agreements were struck with workers from Morocco and Turkey, which did see a huge influx of workers in the 1960s onward,26 there were still menial job vacancies to be filled in the



22 23




Jean Meyhoffer, “L’église sous la croix (1604–1781),”Belgia 2000: Toute l’histoire de Belgique 5 (1984): 47; Michel Tilleur, “Les débuts de la Réforme,”Belgia 2000: Toute l’histoire de Bel- gique5 (1984): 22–27; Frank Le Cornu,Origine de églises ReforméesWallonnes(Utrecht: van Boekhoven, 1932), 45.

Colin Godwin, “Belgian Protestantism from the Reformation to the Present: A Concise His- tory of Its Mission and Unity,”European Journal of Theology22, no. 2 (2013): 154–155; David D. Bundy, “Pentecostalism in Belgium,”Pneuma: The Journal of the Society of Pentecostal Theology8, no. 1 (1986): 52.

Godwin, “Belgian Protestantism from the Reformation to the Present,” 155.

Colin Godwin, “The Recent Growth of Pentecostalism in Belgium,”International Bulletin of Missionary Research37, no. 2 (2013): 90.

J.P. Grimmeau, “Vagues d’immigration et localisation des étrangers en Belgique,” in A. Morelli, ed., Histoire des étrangers et de l’immigration en Belgique de la préhistoire à nos jours(Brussels: Editions Vie Ouvrière, 1992), 119.

Dave Sinardet and Dimitri Mortelmans, “Between Al-Jazeera andCNN: Indicators of Media Use by Belgian Ethnic Minority Youth,”Communications31, no. 4 (2006): 428. See, e.g., Christine Timmerman et al., eds., Moroccan Migration in Belgium: More than 50 Years of Settlement (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017); Ron J. Lesthaeghe, Com- munities and Generations: Turkish and Moroccan Populations in Belgium (Brussels: VUB University Press, 2000).

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much richer Flemish north of Belgium. Sub-Saharan Africans, initially from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi (all of which are for- mer Belgian colonies) and later from farther afield, seized the opportunity to emigrate to and settle permanently in Belgium. These new waves of African immigrants who came to Belgium were inspired by the religious underpinnings of their pentecostal faith convictions, and, with time, African Pentecostalism came to represent a sizable chunk of the general character of immigrant Protes- tant Christianity in Belgium.27But this form of Pentecostalism embraced by the sub-Saharan African diaspora faith communities has had to adapt to a Belgian social context blighted by increasing secularity in which institutionalized reli- gion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular have been realigned to the private sphere.28

While Belgium is becoming a new destination to which many Africans choose to immigrate due to its relatively liberal policy on immigration and pro- cedures for family reunification,29 many of these African migrants have come to this country with a responsibility for missions, evangelism, and church plant- ing, such as Innocent Phanzu Ditsia, a Congolese national who founded and now leadsCentre evangélique Christ-Roi(CECR) in Brussels.30The perception of this missions-minded African is that Belgium, like the rest of Western Europe, is irreparably ravaged by the vicious forces of secularization, which has led to a dismal waning of the influence of Christianity on public life.31 Belgium in particular is considered as “one of the most needy countries in Europe, with great spiritual apathy and faith largely banished from the public sphere.”32Such insinuations call for the urgency of Christian missions to Europe because the continent is thought to have long drifted away from the very Christian faith that European missionaries once brought to Africa. For this reason, by immigrating to Europe and establishing churches, African migrant Pentecostalism hopes to restore Christianity to a continent on which the faith has become a tiny

27 28



31 32

Van der Laan, “The Development of Pentecostalism in Dutch Speaking Countries,” 111. Karel Dobbelaere, “Two Different Types of Manifest Secularisation: Belgium and France,” 68–82 in Eileen Baker, ed.,TheCentralityof ReligioninSocialLife:EssaysinHonourof James A. Beckford (Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), at 75–78.

Valentina Mazzucato, Djamila Schans, Kim Caarls, and Cris Beauchemin, “Transnational Families between Africa and Europe,”International Migration Review49, no. 1 (2015): 149. Joseph Bosco Bangura, “Pentecostal Worship Liturgies and African Migrant Churches in Belgium,” 23.

Afe Adogame, “African Christians in a Secularizing Europe,” 488–490.

Jason Mandryke, ed., “Kingdom of Belgium,” in: Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation(Colorado Springs: Biblica Publishing, 2010).

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minority in the place of its origin,33 and thus bring to fruition the “blessed- reflex” principle.34

The growing presence of diaspora African Christian communities in Europe was the subject of a 1999 conference convened in Belgium. Alongside conclud- ing arrangements for the creation of aCouncil of African Christian Communities in Europe (CACCE) for church leaders and academics of African descent,35 the conference pinpointed the urgent need for its European counterparts to con- duct detailed ethnographic studies aimed at analyzing the history, theologies, liturgical practices, and contextual relevance of African Christian communi- ties in Europe. Guided by the pressing desire for the constitution of a religious fraternity whose scholarly research was expected to benefit Christian commu- nities of African descent, the conference was meant to embolden the African Christian voice amid the competing philosophies of secularization that con- tinue to challenge assent and commitment to the Christian faith in Europe. This process was envisaged as a vital step that contributes toward the devel- opment of ecumenical dialogue and bridge building with white indigenous European churches and academics, some of whom were believed still to har- bor misgivings, albeit privately, about the merits of studying Europe’s growing African Christian communities.36

Although reliable statistics are hard to obtain, Belgian Pentecostalism, together with the rest of Protestantism, represents only about 6 percent of the population in a 2012 survey carried out by the Administrative Council of Protes- tant and Evangelical Churches in Belgium (ARPEE/CACPE). While this figure is itself marginal, Pentecostalism accounts for about 2 percent of this over- all growth.37 This is a significant development because until 2003, there was no official body that represented the various Protestant, evangelical, and pen- tecostal churches at the level of the state in Belgium. While such churches existed as loosely constituted ecclesial structures, they had little contacts or no communication either with other churches of like nature or with the state.




36 37

Gerrie ter Haar,Halfway to Paradise: African Christians in Europe(Fairwater, Wales: Cardiff Academic Press, 1998), 1–2; Jehu Hanciles, “Mission and Migration: Some Implications for the Twenty-First Century Church,”International Bulletin of Missionary Research 27, no. 4 (2003): 148.

Kenneth R. Ross, “‘Blessed Reflex’: Mission as God’s Spiral of Renewal,”International Bul- letin of Missionary Research27, no. 4 (2003): 164–165.

Roswith Gerloff, “Religion, Culture and Resistance: The Significance of African Christian Communities in Europe,”Exchange30, no. 3 (2001): 276–289 at 277–278.

Gerloff, “Religion, Culture and Resistance,” 279–281.

Godwin, “The Recent Growth of Pentecostalism in Belgium,” 90; Bundy, “Pentecostalism in Belgium,” 52.

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However, a merger in January of that same year between the United Protes- tant Church and the Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches resulted in the formation of the Administrative Council of Protestant and Evan- gelical Churches in Belgium (ARPEE/CACPE).38 Most Pentecostals operating in the Flemish region of Belgium are represented by the Verbond van Vlaamse Pinkstergemeenten (VVP, or Flemish Pentecostal Union constituted in 1998). Through theVVP, Pentecostals have joined the Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches and have therefore received officially recognized status from ARPEE/CACPE to operate as a separate Christian religious denomination in Belgium. It must be noted, however, that not all immigrant African pente- costal churches in the Flemish north of Belgium have joined the VVP. In 2014, migrant African pastors representing the mainly Nigerian immigrant pente- costal churches formed theAfrican-CaribbeanPastor’sAssociation(ACPA), with the expressed aim of offering better representation at official circles of the diversified interests of the various Nigerian-founded and -led African pente- costal churches in Belgium. The association elected Mike Nwanegbo of Antwerp as its president. Nwanegbo is himself a Nigerian national who had immigrated to Belgium in 2002 and founded the New Life RCCG Assembly at the district of Brechem in Antwerp.39 This Flemish situation could be further differentiated from what operates in the southern French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. Here, the Fédération évangélique francophone de Belgique (FEFB) represents the interests of most Protestant, evangelical, and pentecostal churches. Even though some African pentecostal churches are affiliated with FEFB, others have simply chosen to remain connected with associations that are independently constituted and serve diversified religious and social inter- ests. Nonetheless, in this new ecclesiastical dispensation, African Pentecostal- ism is emerging as the most recognizable feature of Protestant Christianity40 and, by establishing ACPA, is taking small but important steps to represent its interests to the Belgian state. Thus, an understanding of Pentecostalism’s God talk and a sense of God’s action among the African diaspora is required if the academy is to further understand and better appreciate the function of Pente- costalism in enhancing the coherence of African Christian communities in the Flemish north of Belgium.

38 39


SeeARPEE/CACPE, “Statuts,” http://cacpe.be/cacpe/statuts/, accessed August 16, 2018. See Joseph Bosco Bangura, “African Pentecostalism and Mediatised Self-Branding in Cath- olic (Flanders) Belgium,” in review and to appear in Vienna Journal of African Stud- ies. See also, African-Caribbean Pastor’s Association, official Facebook page, where its mission is stated: https://facebook.com/pg/African‑Caribbean‑Pastors‑Association ‑523803891054595/about/?ref=page_internal, accessed August 16, 2018.

Godwin, “The Recent Growth of Pentecostalism in Belgium,” 92.

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4 “God Talk,” Pentecostalism, and the African Diaspora

Any conceptual discussions around the broad themes of God talk within African Pentecostalism in the various Christian diaspora communities in Bel- gium must, as a matter of priority, begin by contending with the notions of God promulgated by African traditional religion (ATR). African pentecostal theol- ogy takes its inspiration from the Bible, charismatic revivals in African church history, and the African cultural context.41 Using these categories has been helpful to Pentecostalism as it constructs its core theologies, including its view on God’s existence and action. Further, these sources explain why many African theologians agree that the idea of God is perhaps the most important and unify- ing concept inATRto have influenced Pentecostalism. Such constructs inform the African belief in One God (or the Supreme Being), who is conceived as the creator of humanity and of the universe and from whom the human fam- ily derives its essential meaning.42Such perceptions and understanding of the Supreme Being imply that the entire intervening provenance experienced by humanity as they live this life must revolve around a firm sense of the existence and activity of God. As far as Africans are concerned,

the existence of the African peoples is linked to God. Consequently, the traditional African peoples believe that if God does not exist, then the reality outside of him also does not exist.43

This intuition partly explains why Matthew Michael concludes:

We accept the existence of God as Africans not because we are foolish, but because it is reasonable to do so … thus the Africans begin with an assumption similar to those of the biblical world and continue from there to understand the claims of the Christian faith.44

To this end, four areas in the migrant’s faith experiences, church life, and pas- toral ministry disclose the specific semantics used by the African Pentecostal diaspora fraternity in Belgium to frame conversations of God.

41 42 43 44

Clifton R. Clarke, ed., Pentecostal Theology in Africa(Eugene,OR: Pickwick, 2014), 35–36. Oborji, “In Dialogue with African Traditional Religion,” 17.

Kombo,The Doctrine of God in African Christian Thought, 160.

Matthew Michael,ChristianTheology and AfricanTraditions(Cambridge,UK: Lutterworth Press, 2013), 66.

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4.1 Prayer

Prayer is the most common medium employed by humanity in its attempts to communicate with the divine. Because Pentecostalism perceives Christianity as being primarily relational, the faith requires its adherents to engage in reg- ular communication with God the Father through sustained fellowship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. African Pentecostalism believes that the faith’s relational disposition helps the believer to appropriately discern God’s will for faith and how human life is to be lived. For African Pentecostals, prayer is the oil that lubricates faith and nourishes the believer’s relationship with God. The confidence that African Pentecostals have when they pray and the expectation of receiving an answer presumes that there is a bonding between God and the believer through Jesus Christ (Eph 3:12; Heb 4:16). Thus, African Pentecostals are expected to participate fully in private and congregational prayer meetings organized by migrant churches in Belgium. Some of these prayer sessions are conducted for a whole night in the church auditorium. These “tarry nights” or “prayer vigils” are led by the pastor or persons who are believed to have received a sense of calling to the ministry of prayer and have been ordained as inter- cessors and prayer warriors. It is at those meetings that requests for various needs are brought by the congregation to a God whom they believe promises to answer when they call on him (Ps 50:15). Several formulae are adopted dur- ing tarry night prayers. For instance, the monthly tarry night prayer held every last Friday at Pastor Jake’s mainly Ghanaian God’s Divine Tabernacle Ministry in Antwerp is one among the many African churches that use the ACTS model in its prayer meetings. This model begins with Adoration, where participants worship and adore God for who he is and receive admonition from his word. They continue with Confession, where they repent of any known or unknown sins that they believe may hinder their prayer life. Then they proceed to Tes- timonies, where members testify what the Lord has done for them and offer thanksgiving. The prayer session ends withSupplications, in which their needs are completely surrendered to God. At this point during tarry night prayers, screams, loud cries, clapping of hands, and speaking in tongues can be heard among members. Because they believe that a closed mouth bears the hallmark of a closed destiny, they are enjoined to cry unto God in their moment of need. The prayer session ends with the most senior pastor or invited guest speaker praying over and anointing each participant with olive oil.

4.2 Praise

Appreciating God for who God is (nature) and what God has done and will do (benevolence) is central to the praise offered by African pentecostal churches in Belgium. These corporate worship liturgies, which African Pentecostals

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describe as “praise and worship,” often encompass exuberant, sound-intensive, and distinctly audible liturgical worship practices. These events require that the worshipers participate in vibrant worship, dynamic preaching, and ecstatic utterances any time they congregate.45As a result, the Sunday worship service, mid-week prayer meetings, and men’s, women’s, and youth fellowshipmeetings are occasions that provide opportunity for celebratory encounter with God. While the sound intensity of pentecostal worship in African migrant churches has attracted disparaging criticism from mainstream media establishments in Europe,46African Pentecostals continue to argue that the whole worship expe- rience contextualizes Christianity so that it fulfills the African spiritual quest for a celebratory encounter with the divine.47Therefore, the main emphasis of the songs of praise and worship talk of the almighty God who goes before the African migrant and prepares the way for their eventual success in the coun- tries to which their journey takes them.The annual Open Heaven Choir Festival organized by Word Communication Ministries in Brussels includes songs that encapsulate this emphasis. Two examples best illustrate this fact:

Example 1: Carry me dae go, Jehovah carry me dae go, dae go, dae go, dae

go. (Translation: Carry me along, Jehovah carry me along, along,

along, along.)

Example 2: This kind God, oh, I never see His kind, oh;This kind God, oh, Blessed

be your Holy Name! He turn my mourning in dancing, He turn my

misery into miracle; This kind God oh, Blessed Be Your Holy Name.

(Translation: There is no god who could be compared to my God.

He turns my pain into a reason for praise. Blessed be his holy


Thus, although African Pentecostalism’s liturgical services and praise festivals are accused of being exceptionally noisy and in breach of the specific legis- lations on noise nuisance (for which fines, litigation, and ejection have been imposed), African Pentecostals believe that their worship coheres with their

45 46

47 48

Clarke, Pentecostal Theology in Africa, 37.

Afe Adogame, “African Instituted Churches in Europe: Continuity and Transformation,” 225–244 in African Identities and World Christianity in the Twentieth Century: Proceedings of the Third International Munich-Freising Conference on the History of Christianity in the Non-Western World (September 15–17, 2004), ed. Klaus Koschorke and Jens Holger Schjør- ring (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), at 37.

Hanciles, Beyond Christendom, 357–359.

These songs are usually composed in “Pidgin English,” a language spoken mainly in English-speaking countries in West Africa that were former British colonies.

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understanding of what happens when the presence of the Holy Spirit is mani- fested in the gathered church. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the migrant’s faith community, it is argued, should result in lively worship in which believers freely use their hands, voices, and hearts to herald the presence of the divine during private and corporate worship.

4.3 Prophecy

The gift of prophecy, according to Belgium’s African diaspora Pentecostalism, describes special gifts and exceptional abilities by which a Christian leader has visions and dreams and hears God and through which he/she speaks into the future trajectory of someone’s life. Prophecy allows the “man of God”49to com- mand the future of a child of God so that it could be made to conform to the ideal that God expects of it. Therefore, before believers engage in any signifi- cant life endeavor, it is customary for them to consult with the man of God to ask for spiritual guidance and direction, as well as to ensure the enhancement of life’s fortunes. This prophetic position allows pastors to speak prophetic dec- larations over clients that they expect will reverse bad luck, expel evil spirits, and break the yoke of bondage. Much like prophets and other religious special- ists in African traditional religions,50 when the prophetic man of God speaks any word into the lives of church members, the faithful understand this to be the very words of God that are addressed to their specific situation. Such words cannot be taken lightly or ignored, as doing so is simply detrimental to the believer’s continued well-being and prosperity. As a result, pastors of African migrant churches have increasingly assumed the roles of prophets, with some even purposely choosing to be called this way. Because these men of God in diaspora African Pentecostalism claim to be able to diagnose the past and pre- dict the future, they have attracted a large clientele who feel that their needs are being met. The relevance of prophecy could be related to what Charles Taylor describes as the expressivist disposition of religious life and practice, in which the faith one chooses must speak to them and make sense spiritually.51 As prophets, the men of God are regarded as persons who have extraordinary spiri- tual insights by which they access the deep mysteries of God and communicate




The title “man of God” and its associated cognates “woman of God” or simply “servant of God” have become popularly used by African pentecostal churches in the diaspora to denote the prophetic abilities they believe are possessed by their pastors.

Kwame Bediako,Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion(Maryknoll, NY.: Orbis, 1995), 106.

Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited (Cambridge, MA: Har- vard University Press, 2004), 94–95.

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messages derived therein to their congregations.52Further, such prophetic dec- larations are given not only as interpretations of the problems of the past, but as a prediction of the fortunes of the future that the obnoxious activities of witches would want to prevent. These men of God are also expected to outline clear spiritual paths the faithful can take as they face the future.

4.4 Pain

Competing life challenges not only obstruct the enjoyment of the good life, they also abort any prospect for humanity to achieve social progress, eco- nomic success, and personal development in those countries to which they have immigrated. For this reason, African Pentecostalism construes pain as counterintuitive to God’s desire for the believer, who, by virtue of their salva- tion, is said to possess the ability to live in peace and harmony with the world around them. Nevertheless, African Pentecostals believe that when painful events occur (which can come in the form of prolonged sickness, undocu- mented status, and the inability to find a marriage partner), they give God the opportunity to display his power over the believer by either reversing cumber- some circumstances in life or using those very circumstances to bring about the fulfillment of God’s divine purposes. Therefore, African Pentecostalism’s God talk bears the strong stamp of a God who can be approached when one is struck by sickness, famine, and other catastrophes. Consequently, pente- costal clerical sermons often use the biblical narrative to focus attention on the transient nature of pain. In their sermons, African pastors argue that the pain endured by characters such as Leah (Gen 29:31–35), Joseph (Gen 50:19–21), Jabez (1Chr 4:9–10), and Job (Job 42:7–17), among others, was only temporary. The point emphasized by African Pentecostalism is that in each of these cases, the characters suffer pain due to no fault of their own. However, God, whose understanding of their specific circumstances surpasses all others, comes in to vindicate their innocence, shame detractors, and correct the wrongs they have been made unfairly to suffer. In like manner, African migrants are entreated to endure the momentary nature of pain, as this not only results in the strength- ening of their faith but also leads to the full realization of God’s overall plan for their lives (Job 23:10; 1Cor 3:12–15; Jas 1:2–4; 1Pet 1:6–7). The Nigerian cleric who goes by the name of Apostle Francis and founder of Glory Ministries in Brussels puts it this way: “Because He is the God who sustained me through my painful moments, He has become the God who deserves my praise!”This expla-


Cephas N. Omenyo, “Man of God Prophesy unto Me: The Prophetic Phenomenon in African Christianity,”Studies in World Christianity17, no. 1 (2011): 30.

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nation is meant to lend credence to the name by which his church is known: Glory Ministries. Apostle Francis emphasizes the fact that God can take the believer’s pain and replace it with beauty for the ashes of pain. Their pain is therefore momentary as it allows the believer to be rescued from grass to glory.

5 “God’s Action,” Pentecostalism, and the African Diaspora

Ensuing from the awareness of God’s existence that is expressed in the vari- ous modes of expression used by African Pentecostals to talk about God is the reference to what they perceive are God’s actions in and through the commu- nity of believers. As has been made clear in this study, it would be remiss of African Pentecostalism to regard God as an absentee being who only recently returned to assume roles that once belonged to the divine but had been aban- doned.53 Emmanuel Lartey, the Ghanaian practical theologian who teaches at Emory University, is even more apt when he describes how African Christians conceive of God’s action. In his Postcolonializing God, Lartey makes this obser- vation:

In this sense … God may be seen to be present and active in the world. God is viewed in this usage as active, involved and in interaction with humans. God is seen as one who, in keeping with the divine nature, acts.54

In congruence with the sense conveyed by this quote, Belgium’s African Pente- costalism expresses the firm belief that places confidence in a God who is said to be actively involved in the affairs of the African diaspora. This God, African Pentecostals believe, is able to alter the course of human history by bringing about healing, deliverance/exorcism, and miracles. And as Nimi Wariboko has observed, these specific forms and meanings are precisely the media that dis- close the activity of God among Pentecostals.55

5.1 Healing

African culture holds the view that ill health does not simply happen by chance to anyone. There must be underlying causes that should be identified and dealt

53 54


See Micklethwait and Wooldridge,God is Back.

Emmanuel Lartey, Postcolonializing God: An African Practical Theology (London: SCM Press, 2013), xiii.

NimiWariboko,ThePentecostalPrinciple:EthicalMethodologyinNewSpirit(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

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with so that sickness and its causes do not prevent one from attaining the full- ness of life.56 Healing is one of the foremost activities that Belgium’s African Pentecostalism is known to ascribe to God. In particular, when African Pente- costals talk about healing, the understanding they hope to communicate is that it is the believer’s faith in God’s healing power, rather than the medical treat- ment they receive, that brings healing and restores human health to its normal functional capacities. African migrant churches have given this influence from African culture a sort of theological resonance that applies Scripture to the health predicaments that beset the life of the pentecostal faithful. For this rea- son, when human health fails, African Pentecostals believe that the presence of sin, the work of witchcraft, and divine providence are probable causes that explain the occurrence of ill health. While the first two are frequently used, the third variable is understood as a case of last resort when all other options have failed.57

5.2 Deliverance

African Pentecostals, using their reading of a number of Bible passages, the chief of which is Ephesians 6:10–20, are known to hold suspect the work of evil spirits, witchcraft, and demons, accusing these forces of bearing responsibility for the occurrence of inexplicably bad circumstances. The path out of such a quagmire is for the believer to subject themselves to a rigorous process of deliv- erance in which the assortment of evil spirits is exorcised and those held under its debilitating bondage set free. Thus, when African pentecostal Christians in the diaspora read the Bible, they encounter a God who protects believers from harm and delivers them from all forms of spiritual attacks and demonic manip- ulation. Further, African Pentecostalism believes that just as Jesus gave the seventy disciples authority to drive out demons during the preparatory phase of their missionary expedition (Luke 10:17), so has this same authority been made available to all “born again” Christians today (Matt 12:29; 18:18–20; Luke 10:19). This means that they could confidently use the authority of the name of Jesus to cast out demons, effect deliverance, and set captives free.58Therefore, the per- sistence or recurrence of a grave problem in the life of a believer can point to

56 57


Omenyo, “Man of God Prophesy unto Me,” 32.

Bernhard J.G. Reitsma, “Health, Wealth and Prosperity: A Biblical Theological Reflection,” in Evangelical Theology in Transition: Essays under the Auspices of the Centre of Evangeli- cal and Reformation Theology (CERT), ed. C. van der Kooi, E. van Staalduine-Sulman, and A.W. Zwiep (Amsterdam:VUUniversity Press, 2012), 167.

See Wilbur O’Donovan, Biblical Christianity in African Perspective (Carlisle, UK: Paternos- ter Press, 2000), 211.

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the need for deliverance. This is because certain problems will never be solved until all demonic forces believed to be responsible for holding captive one’s future are cast out using the authority and name of Jesus. This casting out of demons, African Pentecostals believe, brings deliverance that ushers believers into a state in which they can again experience relief and enjoy God’s benevo- lence in life.

5.3 Miracles

The reality that African Pentecostals find after arriving in Belgium is vastly dif- ferent from the rosy picture they had conceived prior to engaging on the jour- ney. A recourse to miracles therefore becomes the inevitable means of helping African Pentecostals make sense of the complexities that arise from the jour- ney. Even though many would agree with Gerrie ter Haar that they are “half-way to paradise,” the life experiences of many of these African migrants is far from perfect.59 This is a sobering discovery for many because although migration promises a so-called “good life,” the reality for many African migrants after arriving in their preferred destination is at best a nightmare. African immi- grants suddenly wake up to new levels of stress caused by unpaid bills, the demands of learning a new language, unemployment, and the crippling fear of deportation if they are undocumented.60While family support systems are the first port of call as they search for help, the most critical help often comes from the migrants’ faith community. It is in the faith community and the rit- uals offered there that African immigrants are empowered to cope with the daily stress of life. It is here that prayers are offered to a God who is believed to effect miraculous changes in life’s stultifying situations, no matter how bleak they may be, into a cause for celebration. Participation in the spiritual activ- ities organized in the migrant’s faith community serves to discourage immi- grants from lamenting what has been lost in their past life. Instead, they are encouraged to make meaning out of present predicaments in preparation for the future bliss that will eventually be attained through faith in a God who gives second chances.61

59 60


Ter Haar, Half-way to Paradise, 2.

Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller, The Age of Migration: International Population Move- mentsintheModernWorld, 4th ed. rev. and updated (NewYork: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 157.

Adogame, “African Instituted Churches in Europe,” 231.

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6 Conclusion

The conviction shared by Belgium’s African Pentecostalism is that the Christian faith is presently undergoing a raft of significant challenges. This notion stems from their supposed understanding that belief in the Christian God or any god is no longer the preferred path people are willing to take while participating in public discourses about faith and religious belonging. The influence of institu- tionalized Roman Catholicism has long waned, with religion itself assuming a less significant role in shaping public narrative. People who still express reli- gious faith are put under intense pressure to defend the essential content of their faith, something that would have previously been self-evident facts of reli- gion. Islamic radicalization and recent incidences of terrorism across Belgium seem to have exacerbated the public’s furore and scrutiny about how the reli- gious affiliation of ethnic minorities could negatively affect public safety. Con- sequently, although religious belief in Western Europe has now been realigned to the private sphere, the public is still interested in analyzing the motives that are served by particular religious groups whose presence in Europe has been heightened by migration.

It is to this overtly disenchanted public sphere, however, that African dias- pora Pentecostalism offers to its clientele a perception of God as the anchor through whom the turbulent waters, to which the Christian faith has been relegated in secularized western societies, could be intelligibly apprehended. This context raises two critical observations that have serious implications for our understanding of the African agency in Belgium’s pentecostal narrative. First, religious disenchantment in Belgium seems to have aided African Pente- costalism’s attempt to defend its belief and understanding of God. Unlike the pronounced absence of any mention of God in public discourses, African pen- tecostal orality is unapologetic in affirming faith not only in God’s existence, but in God’s actions among the elect. African Pentecostalism perceives this God as the structuring principle who conditions faith, reality, and human well-being so that life, which could be difficult for a great majority of the African diaspora in Belgium, can be meaningfully lived. It is for this reason that praises, prayers, and prophetic proclamations are offered to God in times of joy and sorrow. And it is from this benevolent God that Pentecostals expect a release of heal- ing, deliverance, and miraculous power to help the faith community deal with the occurrence of unforeseen circumstances in life that migration has brought upon them.

A second implication arising from the context relates to the interaction (or lack thereof) between African Pentecostals and their white Belgian pen- tecostal counterparts. Perhaps reflective of its complex federation, which joins

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three communities (Flemish, French, and German-speaking) and three regions (Flemish, Walloon, and Brussels–capital region) into the functional Belgian state we have today, relations between Belgium’s racially distinct communi- ties and regions could at best be murky. For this reason, African Pentecostals have had to exercise caution as they carefully renegotiate these peculiar com- plexities while forging new relationships with their hosts. As a consequence, whereas a sizable number of African pentecostal churches are members of the Flemish Pentecostal Union (VVP), there is the feeling that African religious thought forms and their corresponding worship practices are not well received or understood by their native pentecostal hosts. This means that ecclesiasti- cal affiliation with organizations such asVVPis only undertaken as a means to secure official recognition. Beyond this there is no authentic dialogue in which issues of pentecostal doctrinal beliefs and practices, such as those relating to the understanding of God, could occur with white indigenous Pentecostals. Thus, while African pentecostal beliefs about God could be described, it is impossible to ascertain how such beliefs are modified to adapt to a Belgian con- text saturated by relentless secularization.

One could, therefore, conclude that whereas African Pentecostalism often uses religious categories drawn from its faith conviction, African culture, and religious traditions to better appropriate the rigors of migration and navigate the challenges of integration, these challenges have not contributed to the demise of belief in God among the African pentecostal diaspora in Belgium. If anything, such insinuations have inspired boldness in the affirmation of faith in a God who exists and does, in fact, act in the community of the faithful.

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