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Prayer Camps and Faith-Healing in a Wounded Society in Ghana

By Francis Ethelbert Kwabena Benyah Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland.

Dr. Francis Ethelbert Kwabena Benyah is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department for the Study of Religions, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland. Benyah also teaches in Åbo Akademi’s international masters programme in social exclusion. He has also served as a PhD guest researcher at the Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen, and Princeton Theological Seminary. His research interest focuses on African Pentecostal Christianity with a special interest in how it intersects and interact with public life in areas such as media, politics, health, and human rights.


My interest in prayer camps (PCs) activities in Ghana burgeoned in 2018 after reading a blog post on the website of Open Democracy by Rev. Prof. Abamfo Ofori Atiemo, who taught me during my postgraduate studies at the University of Ghana. His post was a response to a report produced by the New York-based Human Rights Watch and a follow-up blog post written by Shantha Rau Barriga, who was then the director of disability rights program at Human Rights Watch. Barriga’s post was an open critique and condemnation of the work and activities of PCs in Ghana, particularly about their treatment of persons with mental illnesses. The rebuttals between Atiemo and Barriga were insightful and provided a scholarly repertoire that set the space for me to begin to read further about PCs in Ghana.

Before this, I had learned a fair bit about PCs during my early childhood in Ghana. I was born into a Christian family and socialized into a Christian culture and normative values embedded within the Church of Pentecost (CoP), Ghana’s single largest Pentecostal denomination. My mother, her sister, three other siblings, and two cousins attended CoP. My mother and aunty are still members of the CoP, with my aunty serving as a deaconess in one of the local branches in Ghana. PCs became widespread in the early 1990s, and the CoP operated and supervised several of these camps. One of the camps was in my district and was about 4km away from my hometown. As a member of the CoP at the time, I remember visiting the prayer camp on one occasion with my aunty. I also had the privilege of staying less than 100 meters away from a prayer camp belonging to CoP in a suburb in Takoradi, Western Region, Ghana. Although I am now a member of the Methodist Church Ghana, my previous knowledge of the PCs and personal visits provide me with not only an insider perspective but also a deep reflection of the experiences of people and why these centers continue to remain a place of attraction for many supplicants despite criticisms of their activities.

Someone would ask, what is a prayer camp? PCs are places where people (both Christians and non-Christians) go to pray. “Prayer camps” or “prayer centers” are used interchangeably in Ghana. Although PCs have roots in the Pentecostal tradition, both Pentecostal and Protestant denominations operate PCs in Ghana, with the majority founded by private individuals with roots in Pentecostal denominations. They are led mainly by individuals who are popularly referred to as prophet, prophetess, or an evangelist. Pneumatic ingredients such as visions, dreams, prophecies, speaking in tongues, and consultation with angels feature prominently in their worship. The social backgrounds of people who go to PCs are diverse and range from those in the low social status to high-echelon individuals in society. Reasons why people go to PCs also include economic, marital, educational, lawsuits, sickness, accommodation, drunkenness, employment, and so on. Some people also go there to wait on God for his special anointing to begin a specific assignment, including a vocation into a ministry. The main activities of PCs include prayer, fasting, bible studies, and counseling. Some are also engaged in farming.



My focus here is not to discuss the healing of mental illnesses at PCs (which has become very topical) but rather the reasons why people continue to rely on such centers in search of healing in their lives. I use the term healing in reference to the general well-being of people in different areas of life and not in reference to the healing of sicknesses or diseases. The failure of successive governments in Ghana to ensure socioeconomic development and stability in the lives of its citizens has led many people and families into disarray. Systemic corruption in different sectors of the economy, as well as government bloated expenditure coupled with low generation of revenue, has contributed to economic instability. Effectively, the government cannot provide the average citizen with enough social and economic benefits. The inability of the government to provide employment opportunities and other social amenities results in poverty and economic inequalities that generate distress and anxiety among the populace. In essence, society has become wounded due to its failure to provide social protection and general well-being for its citizens due to bad governance and leadership.

In such situations, many turn to places such as PCs to find solutions and answers to their everyday problems. PCs have become centers where those who do not have accommodation go to seek shelter, the unemployed go to pray for God to open employment opportunities, and those who are sick and cannot afford hospital bills go to seek a divine solution to their sickness. PCs are places where the broken-hearted go to seek comfort amidst difficulties in life, and the outcasts find belonging. Thus, the reasons people go to PCs are spiritual and physical.

As a place of prayer, PCs offer its visitors hope and assurance. Individuals confronted with difficulties in life and dismayed and hopeless turn to such places in search of hope and assurance for their problems. The messages of hope preached at PCs, the healing and deliverance performed, and the communal feeling provide an assurance that helps people face the present and future with hope and perseverance. Through prayer and fasting, supplicants at PCs believe that the healing power of God will be manifested in every aspect of their lives. That is, they would be healed and delivered from social, economic, physical, and spiritual problems they deal with, be it unemployment, sickness, marital issues, etc.

In sum, going to PCs to seek healing is not solely influenced by economic instability and social upheavals. Instead, it demonstrates people’s faith and belief in God to respond to existential needs in their lives. Thus, PCs provide avenues for people to express their frustration and overcome or, at least, cope with other health challenges in their environment.


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