by Adventist Today News Team
Five men and two women were arrested by Ghana Police Service at the Maranatha Adventist Prayer Camp in rural Ahafo Ano District and arraigned last Wednesday (April 10) in an Accra Circuit Court charged with human trafficking and conspiracy, according to a number of sources. Among the seven alleged offenders were Veronica Agbo, age 30, who had assumed the alias Ellen Christ, and John Agbo, age 36. The other five ranged in age from 24 to 42, according to court records published in Ghana Business News on April 11.
A group formed in the Aflao Seventh-day Adventist Church about five years ago during an evangelism crusade. “The team had fasting and prayer … and all of a sudden, the spirit fell on” Veronica Agbo, a Lucien Anane, who identified himself as an elder, told an investigative reporter for the New Crusading Guide newspaper in Ghana. When church leaders admonished Agbo, she accused them of being possessed by an evil spirit and when the group was disfellowshipped, she told church members that the Second Coming and the Battle of Armageddon were very near and they should flee to a rural area.
The investigative reporter, Anas Aremeyaw Anas joined the prayer camp near the village of Mentukwa and evidently recorded conversations with a number of the group members, including children. Transcriptions of some of the interviews are being published in a series of long stories in the New Crusading Guide.
The adherents were told that because the return of Christ was so near they must stay at the secluded camp and away from the “sinful world” in order to assure their salvation. “They were preparing themselves to be lifted to Heaven,” reported the Daily Graphic, another newspaper in Ghana. “About 50 members of the church in Aflao bought into the prophecy and followed the” Agbos to at least two other rural “prayer camps” before settling in the Mentukwa location.
Police Superintendent Patience Quaye told The Ghanaian Times that the group had built mud houses and was cultivating crops of corn, beans, cassava and plantain at the camp. The police decided to raid the group when it received a tip that girls as young as 14 were being forced into marriages with older men in the group, and that children were denied food, health care and education, reported the Daily Guide based on statements by Quaye.
A total of 18 individuals were rescued when Quaye’s team raided the camp on Sabbath, April 6. Four babies and at least seven children under 14 years of age were among the victims, according to several news reports. The Ghana national government’s Minister of Gender and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, said some of the children were malnourished after she visited with the group. She said they were being placed in a shelter and would be provided with new living arrangements.
The investigative reporter, Anas, recorded young boys at the camp telling him, “They don’t allow us to use phones,” speaking of the adults in charge. “They say when we start using a phone, all our attention will be on the phone and we will forget God.” They were taught that their thoughts must always be focused on God if they were to be saved when Jesus returned. The boys indicated to Anas an interest in attending a nearby school but told him they were not allowed to because “when we go to school … our attention will be drawn away from the Word of God.”
Anas also reports evidence of the members of the group being whipped and caned. Physical punishment was evidently dished out to all except the Agbos. “Even the financier of the church, [an] Aflao based business woman” said when she could not immediately deliver cash to the Agbos, “for not giving the church money, I was whipped.” A 13-year-old girl for “her refusal to consent to an arranged marriage” was beaten.
Anas was told that a mother “refused to send her daughter to the hospital” when she became ill, because “the doctrinal position of the church was against orthodox medication.” Anas explains that “adherents are virtually psychologically enslaved to … Prophetess Ellen … whose words could not under any circumstances be challenged.” Anas stayed under cover in the camp for several months and reported, “The first accusation that is usually leveled against any member whose actions go against the dictates” of Veronica Ago, calling herself Prophetess Ellen Christ, “is that he or she has been possessed by ‘evil spirits.’ This accusation paves the way for deliverance,” meaning dire restrictions and physical punishment.
The camp was located beyond where rural electrification has extended in Ghana. The group wore “footwear made of wood with a leather flap. They do not take meat and pepper; members are always dressed shabbily,” Anas wrote. “They read and learnt the Bible a lot … pray more than 15 to 20 times a day … study the Bible morning, afternoon and evening.”
The first story by the investigative reporter in the New Crusading Guide likened the Adventist splinter group to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978. It also recalled a similar event in Uganda in the 1990s when “500 followers of Joseph Kibwetere under the group African Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments committed mass suicide … to announce the coming apocalypse of 2000.”
There are 375,000 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ghana in a total population of about 25 million. Some researchers believe that there may be as many as three times the membership among unbaptized children and other adherents, based on census data and surveys. There are seven local conferences in the country and nearly 1,200 local churches. The denomination operates eight hospitals and nine community clinics in Ghana, as well as a large Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). In addition to Valley View University in Accra and Asokore Teacher Training College, there are four Adventist secondary schools in the nation and Advent Press is located in Ghana.