Brothers and sisters in Chris...

2011-03-12 17:07

The warning was polite but firm: “This is not a football match, hey! It’s the word of God!”

“You can’t sell those tickets!” a ­security guard told a man in front of me.

It was the Night of Bliss with Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of the Christ Embassy Church.

Like sheep we filed into the FNB ­Stadium on Friday night to witness the event billed as a “Holy Ghost-filled ­meeting that is full of miracles”.

Even two weeks before the event, word had gone out that tickets to the 94 000-seater venue were sold out.

But thousands, like us, showed up without tickets anyway. And we were happy to find that, somewhat miraculously, security guards were still handing them out when we arrived.

Inside the world-class venue, a capacity crowd of sober worshippers viewed the proceedings from three big screens mounted on the sides and above an even bigger stage.

It felt strange to be here with no ­ roar of vuvuzelas, bittersweet dagga smell, the whistling of vendors and the jeering and swearing common at football matches.

Instead, people raised their arms and looked up to the heavens, singing along to gospel tunes belted out by various charismatic singers backed by a choir on stage.

The vendors looked a bit mellow on the night, selling cold drinks, hot dogs, books, CDs and DVDs by Pastor Chris.

It felt even more strange to hear roars and cheers of halleluuuujaaaa, instead of goaaaaaaal!

But this was no ordinary night – it was a Night Of Bliss.

And if the truth be told, it was a little better organised than most football matches.

Dapper security guards kept a hawk’s eye on the crowd, wasting no time in ­confiscating cameras and even warning those ­trying to capture the proceedings on ­cellphones.

A preacher took turns interviewing people who claimed to have been healed by Pastor Chris in past years.

One woman said the pastor’s healing powers had helped her overcome a painful case of piles.

Another man said until he was touched by Pastor Chris’s healing powers a few years ago, he had had problems controlling his ­bladder.

A child who had been born a deaf-mute had apparently begun singing and hearing when the pastor made his entrance at the Night of Bliss event in Joburg a few years ago.

To all this, people responded by ­cursing Satan, cheering, clapping and screaming in praise of Jesus and Pastor Chris.

But the cheering and screaming that followed when the man himself, Pastor Chris, dressed in a white suit, made his grand entrance at exactly 22.49pm was simply deafening.

When he appeared from the tunnel on the north-western side, flanked by a dozen or so men in black suits, people rose to their feet and clapped, screamed and broke into prayer.

A woman close by raised her arms, looked up to the heavens and called out repeatedly: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Pastor Chris brought the venue to a sudden, somewhat haunting hush by raising his left hand.

A well-spoken man, Pastor Chris thanked the country’s leadership, particularly ­President Jacob Zuma, who he said had done much in a short space of time.

But it was the main event, the so-called miracles, that drew cheers and applause that almost reduced the stadium to a pile of rubble.

“Pastor, six months ago this woman developed complications because of HIV and she couldn’t walk properly,” a voice boomed through the PA system.

A short woman, who seemed to have difficulty walking, limped towards Pastor Chris, who paced around like a man possessed.

He put his hands on her waist, then lifted his right hand towards her forehead.

“You are healed! In the name of Jesus, you are healed! Go and take another test in two weeks.” His voice was drowned out by loud cheering.

They were brought forward – clutching crutches, pushing wheelchairs and ­raising their arms in the air.

Apparently, until that night, these ­people had been either extremely ill or disabled but now, touched by Pastor Chris’s healing powers, they suddenly sprang back to good health.

Some had apparently been injured in accidents, while others had ailments that had rendered them disabled.

To heal them, Pastor Chris touched their aching limbs, lifted his hand towards their foreheads and proclaimed them healed in the name of Jesus.

And when they fell on their backs, their arms outstretched as if in a trance, he proclaimed it was the power of Jesus cleansing the pain and disease in their bodies.

And the people cheered, cried, screamed and prayed, all in praise of the man they call “the man of God” – Pastor Chris.

It was supposed to be a “Holy Ghost-filled meeting full of miracles”.

But as dawn broke over Joburg, I must have been one of the few who felt no bliss.

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