African Christianity

  1. A pivotal scene from a story we followed extensively but never used in my "African Christianity Rising" film series. This happened during a weekly deliverance prayer meeting on Wednesdays in a young Presbyterian church we were portraying in Ghana. In the midst of personal counseling sessions going on with the three hundred-some people who had come for deliverance that day, the leader of Grace Presbyterian's deliverance team, Abboa-Offei, a science teacher in the local secondary school, invited Nana Yaa and her mother into a room off the main sanctuary in the church's rustic, unfinished building.

    To understand what's happening here one needs more background and context. At the time Nana Yaa was routinely going through fiercely physical deliverance sessions with Abboa-Offei and others. Here was a young woman who’s parents had been divorced and when she was having a hard time with her mother as a teenager, had been sent to the city to live with her father, whom she hardly knew. It was a hard, unhappy time in Nana Yaa’s life, it seemed. Abboa-Offei once told us that her experience with her father had been so painful that she wouldn’t talk about it with him.

    Nana Yaa's mother, who works full-time as a cook in the local secondary school, had been worrying about her, and agreed for her to stay in Abboa-Offei’s home with his wife and children. Nana Yaa came to call Abboa-Offei "Papa" and his wife "Mama." Nevertheless, her mother was concerned about her daughter’s recent involvement in this new Presbyterian church.

    Abboa-Offei had spoken often with Nana Yaa’s mother and invited her to come to their weekly Wednesday prayer meeting at church. There he had talked with her and, after Nana Yaa manifests demonic powers during prayer time, invites her join a private deliverance session with her daughter in a small back room off their sanctuary.

    Whatever else we might say about this exorcism work, as you can see in this scene, Nana Yaa has been able to express her anger, indignation, and autonomy toward a man standing in relation to her as her adopted father. She’s free to do it without consequence, even in the presence of her mother. It isn’t her after all. It’s the demon speaking. It is done indirectly. And it’s done bodily, it’s done physically, tiring them all out.

    Now, if transference in a psychoanalytic sense has any effect—when a therapist is seen and felt to stand for, or be, a central person in the genesis of a patient’s trauma or unconscious conflicts—it would certainly seem to be at work also here.

    Eight years later, when I returned to Ghana to do follow-up filming, we found Nana Yaa happily married and the mother of two young children. She told us, revealingly, that it was only while living with Abboa-Offei's family, during her period of fierce deliverance sessions, that she had learned what "family love" was. She was now part of the church's "deliverance team," particularly reaching out to troubled young women.

    While the physicality of the bodily "spiritual warfare" going on in such deliverance sessions will undoubtedly disturb many (western visitors are routinely not taken to such events), for Nana Yaa the entire process, involving many such episodes proved positive, even liberating, at this critical point in her life as she reflected on it eight years later.

    Nana Yaa's story and that of Abboa-Offei, a science teacher-turned-prophet of some renown, who now leads his deliverance team on mission each year to North America, are subjects of a book I am writing on this project tentatively titled "In the Feet of African Christians: Exploring Christianity’s Explosive Growth in Africa." In its e-book version it will have links to video pieces (like this) embedded in the text.

    (Shot by me with Frances Kwayke, an important collaborator on this project, doing sound.)

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  2. An extra from a documentary film series on African Christianity produced and directed by James Ault and edited by Kate Purdie. Interviewed in July, 2001, at Yale Divinity School by Jim Ault. Camera, Andy Reichsman.

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  3. A brief passage from our forthcoming film, "African Christianity Rising: Stories from Ghana," a two-part series with "Stories from Zimbabwe." © 2010 James Ault Productions. Produced and directed by Jim Ault, Camera: Tom Hurwitz, Sound: Francis Kwakye, Edited by Kate Purdie (and Jean Bouciaut). Filming Madame Akotowaa's work in this village, which took up much of the day, and ranged from gathering herbs while advising villagers about how to keep their stream water clean, to cleansing the village of bad feelings and angry spirits in a rite of sacrifice and cleansing, made a memorable impression on everyone. Everyone was called from wherever they were--out in the fields, wherever--to be washed in the carefully prepared mixture. We've edited fuller vignettes of her work that day which will be available as "extras" on the films' DVDs and eventually posted online.

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  4. Sample material shot in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2011 for follow-ups to be used at the close of "African Christianity Rising: Stories from Zimbabwe." Lusajo and her husband, Dingle, are starting a new branch of their church where they live now in Zeerust, South Africa, and where Dingle works as an electrical engineer for a mining company. Their church, headquartered in Johannesburg, is itself an outgrowth of Victory Tabernacle, where we first filmed them in Zimbabwe.

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  5. Sample material shot in Zimbabwe in 2011 for follow-ups to be used at the close of "African Christianity Rising: Stories from Zimbabwe." Vashandira also spoke about the vast number of child births she's overseen--"like mice"--and about the splintering of their Zion Apostolic Church branch since her husband, Bishop Ndamba's death.

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African Christianity

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Pieces from a documentary film project on African Christianity produced and directed by James Ault, edited by Kate Purdie (and Jean Boucicaut), and shot in Ghana with Tom Hurwitz (DP) and in Ghana with David Lyman (DP). With major funding from the Pew

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Pieces from a documentary film project on African Christianity produced and directed by James Ault, edited by Kate Purdie (and Jean Boucicaut), and shot in Ghana with Tom Hurwitz (DP) and in Ghana with David Lyman (DP). With major funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation. Sponsored by Hartford Seminary. © 2009 James Ault Productions

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  • Gregg Okesson

    Wonderful work; this collection can be really helpful for those of us who teach on African Christianity!

    by Gregg Okesson

  • Kim Cast

    I love the Stories from Ghana opening. Thanks for posting this. I can't wait to see the entire film!

    by Kim Cast

  • Rebecca Cole-Turner


    Just viewed these and found them to be fascinating and insightful. Will send them on to friends who ministered in Cote D'Ivoire for many years for their review and comments.
    +Rebecca Cole-Turner

    by Rebecca Cole-Turner

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