N310,000 Ticket To Heaven: God Told Me To Charge Rapture Fee, Says Pastor
Following the N310,000 Ticket To Heaven, pastor says God Told Me To Charge Rapture Fee
From ancient times, religion has always been regarded as a veritable tool for shaping and stirring the human society, because of its strong emphasis on truth, reason and morality.
For this reason, religious people are expected to live an exemplary life in society.
However, the manipulation of religion by unscrupulous clerics for their personal gain is a common experience in most societies, particularly in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
In the Nigerian context, religious impropriety by clerics manifests in many forms such as psychological manipulation, commercialisation of faith, exploitation of adherents, hypocrisy, intolerance and the subtle subjection of followers to laziness, frustration, desperation and deeper poverty.
Pastor Noah Abraham’s story
A trending example of a combination of these religious aberrations where the tenets of holiness, truthfulness, and faith are misrepresented is the case of one Pastor Noah Ade Abraham, who offered to take his members to heaven if they paid a ticket fee of N310,000.
The cleric, whose video had gone viral on social media, was said to have launched his operational base in Kaduna and later moved it to Kabba in Kogi state before establishing a “departure” camp in Araromi-Ugbesi, Omuo-Oke, Ekiti East Local Government Area of Ekiti State, where he is presently staying with his members preparing them for heaven.
According to him, a “kingdom” will descend from heaven and land on his church, where members would live forever with the One who commissioned him to prepare mankind for a paradise on earth which will be headquartered in Ekiti state.
So far, Abraham has attracted about 40 people to his “departure” camp; which he called the Christ High Commission. Some of those camping with the cleric in anticipation of the promised rapture have sold their material belongings and taken the money to him, hoping Jesus would meet them in Ekiti at an appointed time known to God alone.
A few others have abandoned their families who refused to join them to camp at Abraham’s church. However, some relatives of his followers have accused the self-styled ‘More than a Prophet’ of abducting by his church members because of the way he camps them and the lack of clarity which trails his motives.
Jim Jones’ cult
However, when Abraham’s story filtered on social media, many Nigerians feared that a repeat of the unfortunate mass suicide orchestrated by Jim Jones, an infamous American religious cult leader, was looming in Ekiti.
Jim Jones’ preaching had attracted many African-Americans from the 1950s to the 1970s, mainly because he propagated progressive views on racial equality. But, in 1977, the New West Magazine published an expose of him and his cult.
Consequently, Jones chose to relocate his congregation to “The Commune” which is located in Guyana, a socialist country in South America. When US Congressman, Leo Ryan, flew to Guyana to meet with him, Jones’s followers shot and killed him.
Knowing justice would soon arrive from the US authorities, Jim Jones decided to was a ruse, which can never be sustained in the long-term without any dire consequences, the cleric has raised over N10 million from his followers who paid the N310,000 ticket fee to heaven.
To Abraham’s disciples, their spiritual leader cannot be seeking to pursue an economic or commercial-oriented interest and tendency with the camping exercise.
It was gathered that since the apocalyptic pastor sited his new church in Omuo-Oke, his most ardent disciples in Kaduna and Kabba travelled hundreds of kilometres to join him in his camping programme.
Impeccable sources said one of his staunch followers sold a car he bought for N1.5 million for N700,000 to enable him to come to the camp and wait for the promised rapture.
Pastor Abraham’s self-contradiction
Meanwhile, when Pastor Abraham’s alleged exploitation of his members came to public knowledge, the cleric’s reaction was such that he spoke from both sides of the mouth; contradicting himself and leaving some observers both uncertain about the truth and confused about his activities.
In an interview in Ekiti, the preacher who spoke in Yoruba claimed that he did not demand and would not collect money from any of his followers to be at his programme.
He said, “It is only an insane person that would ask their members to pay an access fee into the kingdom of heaven.
“When I heard that statement (N310,000 rapture fee), I laughed and said that humans are daft, and then explained to the pressmen who came to me that I did not collect a penny from anyone.
“Everyone who has a personal relationship with me and my sincere members knows that I do not receive gifts from people.”
Abraham clearly maintained that the report of a N310,000 rapture fee per camp participant was a false accusation levelled by detractors to tarnish his image.
Nevertheless, in another breath, he explained that because of the rising popular demand among his followers desirous to participate in his rapture camp, God told him to impose on them the sum of N310,000, which they must send to his account before they arrive as a way of screening the poor out
“I am not a pastor and I am more than a prophet. I am here to initiate and organise programmes. I said earlier that, if you hear that city from heaven is on earth, this is the man you should look for. If you don’t see him, nobody can enter. That’s it,” Abraham said.
When pressed to explain the place of the money in the current controversy trailing his church, the apocalyptic pastor said: “The people (in Kabba) who I play a fatherly role in their lives (like being responsible for their school fees, feeding, and shelter) felt empty when they were informed of my relocation to Omuo-Oke, and they said they would come with me.
“Also, when the church in Kaduna heard that a programme was coming up here, they said they wanted to be a part of it and I had never done such before where people would have to travel a very long distance for a programme because I, myself, hate travelling.
“So, I tried to wave off their request. I didn’t know how others in Kaduna heard and they begged to come over. Then, I talked to the Father (God) about it and he told me that not all of them are serious.
“Hence, he instructed that I should give them a test. He said I should inform them that every one of them should pay N310, 000 (those are people who can’t even fend for themselves). I was partly happy because anything that has to do with money (asking people to pay a levy), I don’t like and I have never been involved in that in the ministry.
“On the issue at hand, I really did not want it but I was happy that it (N310,000 imposed rapture fee) would scare them away. Then after three days, some of them were pleading that they had not gotten the money, even the money for transporting themselves wasn’t complete.
“So, it was one of them that suggested that the money from the things that have been sold in his shop should be sent to him, for the completion of the fee.”
Rich yam barn, stocked food storehouse
Having raked in nearly millions of naira in rapture fees, Abraham was pleased to proudly flaunt his rich yam barn and storehouse where assorted foodstuffs were stocked inside the Ekiti departure camp to whosoever is interested in inspecting them.
“Those are bags of rice over there (You can see if you want to), tubers of yams, beans, and others that we have in the store. Why that? Because of these people, they must not be hungry,” he said.
But the Ekiti State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Sunday Abutu, said that Pastor Abraham’s activities have been thoroughly investigated and subsequently arraigned in court.
Other cases of religious aberration by clerics
Apart from Abraham’s case, there are many instances of self-styled men of God having sexual intercourse with their members and committing other atrocious acts claiming that they acted on the divine directive.
In other cases, fake pastors and imams have been caught performing human sacrifices, ritual killings and burying people alive in order to acquire more powers and attract more followers.
Recall the story of a Muslim cleric named Kazeem Alimson a.k.a. Alfa who murdered a 3-year-old boy, Chiagozie Okereke for the ritual purposes by stoning him to death.
Many Islamic clerics make amulets with verses of texts written in pieces of paper mixed with herbs and other ingredients for cursing and protection in times of crisis, for women to attract lovers and to bring good luck, for prosperity, etc. This practice is contrary to the Quranic view, which sees Allah alone as the only saviour and sustainer of the universe
Nigeria is not the only place where unconventional activities are taking place in these modern-day religious houses.
In Limpopo, South Africa, a pastor with Mount Zion General Assembly, Prophet Lethebo Rabalago, caused a social media storm when pictures surfaced on Facebook and Twitter of him spraying his congregants with an insect repellent as a medium for healing people from cancer, HIV or any other illness.
Another controversial South African preacher, Pastor Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Centre Ministries made his congregation eat grass to be closer to God before stamping on them. Under the instruction of the pastor, congregants dropped to the floor to eat the grass at his ministry in Garankuwa, north of Pretoria.
Like Pastor Rabalago’s case, photos of Rabboni Centre Ministries congregants eating grass first appeared on the church’s Facebook page. Other photos on the page showed Pastor Daniel stepping on congregants as they lay sprawled out on the floor and others throwing up the grass they had eaten.
Similarly, another preacher, Prophet Penuel of End Times Disciples Ministries in Pretoria, South Africa, made his congregants eat parts of a snake, believing it would become chocolate. Images posted on the church’s social media sites show Penuel dangling a live snake and dropping it into the mouths of his congregants.
“Man of God declared a snake to become a chocolate (chomp) and the congregation ate it. We have authority to change everything into anything and it will obey because of our authority,” read a post on the church’s Facebook page.
Also, in Tanzania, a clergyman reportedly gave a sermon while riding on the backs of his congregants. Pictures that appeared on social media showed the pastor standing on the backs of two hunched congregants as he addressed the rest of the congregation.
It is alleged that the pastor told his congregants that he could not deliver his sermon while his feet touched the ground. Members of the church took turns to piggyback him and avail their backs for him to stand on.
Why unscrupulous religious leaders succeed in deceiving their followers—Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria
Reacting to these odd phenomena by clerics, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) said some religious leaders succeed in deceiving their followers into making arbitrary decisions and taking weird actions because they understand the role religion plays in influencing the human mind and how to manipulate these functions to their advantage, especially when the people are in precarious situations.
According to the CSN, while religions serve to provide answers to spiritual mysteries, offer emotional comfort, create a place for social interaction and provide social control through its norms and mores, unscrupulous ministers of the gospel abuse these functions in ways that are hard to notice.
However, it regretted that the poverty and economic deprivation occasioned by bad governance caused gullible followers of these manipulative clerics to fall prey to their subtle antics.
These antics, the Catholic church, says are often characterized by outlandish promises of a better future.
Referring to Pastor Noah Ade Abraham’s case of N310,000 rapture fees, the Deputy Secretary-General of CSN, Rev. Fr. Mike Banjo told Saturday Vanguard, “Where you have pervasive poverty, people typically become more vulnerable.
“It is difficult in situations of poverty to distinguish between true faith and those who are just looking for a solution to their precarious situation, especially when they hear things like ‘pay a N310,000 preparation fee for heaven’.
“In cases like this, who do you blame? Is it the individual who has become a victim of circumstances or the hardship around him?
“Sometimes all it takes to take advantage of those in precarious situations is a simple statement like ‘Follow me. I will help you. Unfortunately, this is a card many are playing (to deceive their followers).
“They are taking advantage of our situation in Nigeria when they tell their follower: ‘I will help you. So, the people, who are gullible, follow them and they allow themselves to be deceived while the cleric turns around to reel out all sorts of crazy instructions to them.”
According to Fr. Banjo, the catholic church emphasises both the relationship and distinctions between faith and reason as the means to prevent these sorts of manipulations.
“Yes, God leads us through our pastors, but at the same time, He (God) has given us a sense of reason to fathom out the truth for ourselves. So when a pastor comes out to say pay N310,000 as rapture fees, I don’t see the link (between money and rapture). Rapture has to do with internal preparation (to meet Christ in his glory). What has it got to do with paying money?” Fr. Banjo queries.
For Ms. Chioma Onuorah, a theologian and staff of the Humanities Unit, School of General Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, no religious sect in the control condones evil, yet crime still persists in the society.
According to her, the numerical increase in church attendance in Nigeria has no significant impact on the level of virtue and integrity of the society. Thus, indicating an aberration.
To help society chart a way out of the prevalent quagmire in religious circles, she advised that people should not use their divine gifts to exploit other people in any form, instead they should hold on to love and humility.
According to her, “Those who do not have any spiritual gifts should not claim they have one. Such claims amount to insincerity and deceit to themselves and to the general public.
“Those who have charismatic calling should not abuse their divine gift of ministration. They should use their gifts in an appropriate way for the services of the church and the general public irrespective of the religious sects or denominations.
“People who are blessed with the gift of leadership and are fortunate to hold powerful positions should be effective and use it efficiently for the betterment of every citizen of Nigerian society.”