A Dangerous Evangelist Threatens to Come to America

I don’t care to criticize others for their religious beliefs. It’s not my business whether one worships Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, the pope, Mohammad, or Warren Jeffs. But when I see religious leaders spouting beliefs that directly, or indirectly, harm children, I speak up. Whether it is indicted Bishop Robert Finn or pro-spanking fundamentalist Christian preacher Michael Pearl, we must examine what role authority figures play in failing to protect children from abuse or, worse, inciting violence against children.

I just found out that Helen Ukpabio, a powerful fundamentalist Christian preacher from Nigeria, will soon be visiting Houston, Texas. I learned about this after reading a Huffington Post article written by Michael Mungai, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and founder of Harambee Youth Kenya, a Nairobi organization that offers shelter to homeless boys.

Ukpabio plans to perform a 12-day “marathon deliverance,” beginning on March 14th, where she promises to relieve people of such problems as nightmares, “witchcraft attacks,” being possessed by a “mermaid spirit,” and poverty. Mungai says Americans should be troubled by the arrival of Ukpabio whom he calls a “notorious child-witch hunter.” Mungai goes on to say,

Ukpabio alleges that Satan constantly manifests himself in the bodies of children through demonic possession, turning them into witches and wizards. Condemned as witches, these children are splashed with acid, buried alive, immersed in fire or expelled from their communities.

Richard Wilson, writing for New.humanist.org.uk, points out that Africans have long believed in the power of evil spirits, but, as of late, that belief has been ramped up due to the “explosive rise of Pentecostal and Revivalist churches” which push the idea during services.

“The belief in witchcraft has thus become intertwined with Christianity,” writes Wilson.

Ukpabio is one of the most influential preachers behind the movement. Warning congregants about witchcraft is a mainstay of her sermons, as well as the subject of her book, Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft, in which she tells readers how to identify a child witch.

“If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan,” Ukpabio writes.

The most damaging of Ukpabio’s propaganda, however, seems to be her 1999 dramatic film, End of the Wicked, in which child actors are seen being initiated in eerie rituals in which they are turned into drone-like witches and instructed to “blow up all electronic things in your home! Break plates, glasses, and then cause fever and failure to all other children in your home.”

Helen UkpabioThe film is comical to watch—I liken it to the old and zany “Our Gang” films—but, as Wilson points out, many Nigerian children are, indeed, blamed for bad things that take place, while being accused of being tools of Satan. Once the accusations fly, these children are often ostracized or made to undergo violent, and sometimes fatal, exorcisms.

And such abuses extend beyond Africa’s borders. London has seen a rash of crimes involving child victims who had been accused of witchcraft and tortured. Currently, a couple is on trial in London for the brutal killing of a 15-year-old boy named Kristy Bamu. Both perpetrators were born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is no wonder that some partly blame these abuses on Ukpabio. End of the Wicked has been widely disseminated, and her Liberty Gospel Church has grown tremendously since she founded it in 1992. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, Liberty Gospel now has branches in other parts of Nigeria and overseas. A poster advertising Ukpabio’s Houston visit says she will be performing at a Liberty Gospel church.

According to Mungai, “She [Ukpabio] continues to enrich herself, through her books and remittances from exorcisms. In this, she joins the growing list of televangelists who are fleecing poor Africans all over the continent, promising ‘miracles’ for a fee.”

There is a determined movement to protect children from this kind of abuse and oppose Ukpabio’s teachings. The organization Stepping Stones Nigeria and the 2008 a documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children have brought international attention to the issue of child witchcraft and Ukpabio’s fear mongering.

The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has passed a child rights law that prohibits people from accusing children of being witches. However, critics point out that government officials, themselves, believe in witchcraft and that children can be guilty of practicing it.

Leo Igwe

One Nigerian who has worked tirelessly to protect children from such abuse is Leo Igwe, a representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. In an interview with Wilson, Igwe explains how he became frustrated when he took three “confessed child-witches” to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and was told by the director that the children would “contaminate” other children being kept at a childcare facility.

“I was outraged,” Igwe said. “Here is a ministry that tells the world, ‘We are taking care of these children.’ But the director did not want to accept these children because, in the course of being interviewed, they admitted that they were witches.”

Igwe believes that Akwa Ibom passed its child rights legislation largely due to international pressure and, he states, no one has been prosecuted or convicted for accusing children of witchcraft to date. Politicians are afraid that “if they dabble into it the witches will come after them,” says Igwe.

Liberty Gospel church

Helen Ukpabio

This won’t be Ukpabio’s first trip to the United States. She spoke in Houston in May of 2010. As reported by the New York Times, Ukpabio was “emphatic that children can be possessed, and that with her God-given ‘powers of discernment,’ she can spot such a child.” The Times reported that Ukpabio accused her critics of lying and that legislation criminalizing witch accusations infringes on her freedom of religion.

One can understand why Michael Mungai, in particular, wants to alert people to Ukpabio’s visit. He is a victim of abuse himself, having lived on the streets as a boy. He has worked with street children, many of whom came from abusive backgrounds. “It therefore disturbs me to see Ukpabio, hiding behind the immunity of religion, inflicting even worse torture on Nigerian children,” Mungai writes.

I join in Mungai’s appeal to Americans “to ensure that Ukpabio, with her hateful campaign against defenseless children, knows that she is not welcome in their country. She should be met with hostility similar to the protests against the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom. While we should all respect the freedom of everyone to practice their religion, this respect should stop where it starts harming those around them.”

“Protesting against Ukpabio’s visit to America would be a step towards the right direction in giving a voice to her unfortunate little victims,” says Mungai.

CALLS TO ACTION:

Visit this Facebook page which protests Ukpabio’s visit.

Sign this petition demanding that President Obama deny Ukpabio entrance to the U.S.

Donate to Stepping Stones Nigeria, an advocacy group that helps to protect children accused of witchcraft.

Comments

  1. It’s hard to imagine African fundamentalists finding a market here in America. We live in interesting times.

    Of course, the reverse is also true–American fundamentalists famously went to Uganda a few years ago to spread their homophobia, which encouraged Ugandan bills that included death penalties for homosexuals in certain situations.

    • I’m afraid it’s not all that hard to imagine something like this happening in the U.S. We have plenty of hyper-religious morons here who could easily fall for this nonsense. (The semi-hysterical responses from evangelicals to the Harry Potter books springs to mind.) Fortunately we have very secular laws against this sort of thing.

      Someone once said that “your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” This insane, evil woman need this explained to her in detail. Her claim of efforts to stop the madness somehow infringes on her “freedom of religion” is rather similar to some of our crazies here in the United States claiming that anti-discrimination laws infringe on their religious freedoms.

      Sorry guys. Believe what you want, but you don’t have the right to bully, harass, or harm other people just because you think your holy book gives you the okay.

    • There is a large Nigerian population in Houston. This can explain why she may have been invited and who the target audience is.

    • You mean like the African witchhunter who visited Alaska to bless Sarah Palin when she was running for office?

  2. Wyocowboy says:

    This is scarey for these chidlren in this community. A protest needs to take place. Children are not demons or possessed or witch’s…that is just crazy thinking. I would bet she is in for the money…Helen Ukpabio has no concern for chidlren only her pocket book.

  3. I came to see if you knew about this before I emailed to tell you about it. Texans arise and speak out!

    I’ve published a lot of articles by Leo Igwe. He’s a *very* brave man.

  4. The deadly symbiosis between American evangelicals and African fundamentalism is truly a marriage made in hell. Americans who support Ukpabio are no different from the ones behind the death calls to homosexuals in Uganda and we need to raise hell to stop the religious impunity they enjoy.

    I have always thought that it would be an interesting project to study the diabolical matrimony between African cultures and Evangelical Christianity. Historically, witchcraft was rampant in Africa even before the coming of Westerners. In the wake of Evangelical Christianity, most regressive African cultural practices were fortified and are now widely accepted in many African churches. Poverty, gender inequality and illiteracy in many African countries only adds fuel to this fire.

    Leo Igwe is a courageous man and I commend his efforts to counter this pestilence.

    • Diabolical matrimony between African cultures and Evangelical Christianity… Don’t you think that is going a bit too far? Not ALL Christians are as loony as you think. Rotten apples must not be associated with the good ones out there. And there are good ones out there.

  5. Janet, Thank you so much for the work you are doing to protect our children from these horrors. I am appalled and disgusted that Ukpabio is promoting these messages! She needs a wake-up call and some education how the experience of trauma can affect the psyches of children. You are right on with your information. I am a trauma therapist and can tell you conclusively that symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can look an awful lot like “demonic possession.” The sad truth is that these children–who have likely been sexually or physically abused- develop the “screams in the night, cries, are always feverish and deteriorating health” are labeled “possessed,” then exposed to even more torture, which leads to Complex PTSD and (especially if the trauma is pre-verbal) their symptoms dramatically worsen… which leads to more torture. (Meanwhile, the perpetrators get off scott-free as the child is blamed… which, of course, is a common component of childhood abuse.)

    Actually, what came to my mind just now while reading your article was the “creating of a zombie” practices in years past–whereby a person would be burred alive for days–and, once finally exhumed–near death, is so traumatized (disassociated) that he had no thoughts of his own, and would unconditionally obeyed his master. “The walking dead” indeed. Tragic. And I suspect that the result of the torture that is imposed on these youngsters is extreme disassociation–to the point of being “zombies”… so they become good, obedient children.
    Laurel Cozzuli, MC

    • Matt Begley says:

      She doesn’t care about the damage she causes to the psyches of any children. Wanting to educate her is absurd. The wake up call she needs is to be executed. She has found a very lucrative income doing what she does and has not just preached this evil, she has personally tortured and murdered children. She and those she cons have no interest in rehabilitating these children or ever accepting them back into society. Her perpose is not to make them into “good, obedient children”, they already were. Prophet for Profit is her sole interest.

  6. Matt Begley says:

    This evil creature is not only indirectly responsible, she is directly responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of innocent children. She and her thugs attack anyone who opposses her warped vile rantings. Even the most devout Evangelist Christian should stand against this witch.

  7. This woman is well documented for abusing children in Nigeria, but there is (realistically) not much hope of bringing a stop to her there. While she is in the US she would be open to prosecution in a US Court. This visit should be seen as an opportunity.

  8. Jan – Thanks for giving us action steps to take against this child abuser. Keep bringing awareness to these issues, and we’ll step in to help where we can.

  9. These are false accusation on Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio. All what the humanist foundation and Leo Igwe are saying are all false. Do you people think that Nigeria government will seat down without arresting and prosecuting those inflicting pains on helpless children? Leo Igwe is seeking for international recognition and an avenue of making wealth. Why is it that other Nigerians are not complaining about Ukpabio? We all in Nigerians know what Leo is up to. Do not be deceived, Mrs Ukpabio is innocent. Beware,bewarned and do not fall a prey to LEO IGWE LIES

  10. Hello readers, there is no need campaigning and mobilizing people for street protest against Marathon Deliverance scheduled to hold in USA by Helen Ukpabio. All these write up about her are fallacies. She does not afflict or recommend children to be subjected to any form of torture. For more details, you can contact any Nigeria Authority of your Choice to know if actually, she practices all what she is been accused of.

    • I apologize for taking so long to approve these last two comments. The delay was due to computer problems I’ve been experiencing. In regard to supporters’ comments about Ms. Ukpabio, I would not state that she “recommends children be subjected to torture.” She is not being challenged because she supports child abuse per se. She is being challenged because she foments fears about children being witches. While she has every right to believe this, as someone who is recognized as a religious authority, she is irresponsible to make such beliefs public, for it is these beliefs that have led to the abuse, torture, and death of children. The connection between Ms. Ukpagio’s preaching and the abuses that result is undeniable.

  11. Michael Breen says:

    Shame on Texas for letting this thing enter their state. Shame on the US for allowing it entry into this country.
    Their has to be a cut-off point where common-sense must prevail.

  12. Joe Smith says:

    Just a note: Please stop using language like, “appeal to Texans” or “comes to Texas” as if its some event for the whole state. Texas is huge. I can drive to California when i do half of the drive is in one state: Texas. Its meaningless. Just say Houston or where ever it might be.

  13. Evert de Vries says:

    So sad. The incidence of abuse will no doubt go up for a while after her visit. Preventable by not letting her in. But, let her in, monitor and gather evidence, prosecute. imprison and save a whole lot more from abuse. In the meantime social services will need to be very vigilant in those communities most likely to be affected. Good luck Houston !

  14. Christopher S. Fite says:

    Jesus loved children. He took them up in his arms.

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