Just after midnight, the pastor seized a woman’s forehead with his large hand and she fell screaming and writhing on the ground. “Fire! Fire! Fire!” shouted the worshippers, raising their hands in the air.
Pastor Celestine Effiong’s congregants are being delivered from what they firmly believe to be witchcraft. And in the darkness of the city and the villages beyond, similar shouts and screams echo from makeshift church to makeshift church.
“I have been delivered from witches and wizards today!” exclaimed one exhausted-looking woman.
Pastors in southeast Nigeria claim illness and poverty are caused by witches who bring terrible misfortune to those around them. And those denounced as witches must be cleansed through deliverance or cast out.
As daylight breaks, and we travel out to the rural villages it becomes apparent the most vulnerable to this stigmatization of witchcraft are children.
A crowd gathered around two brothers and their sister. Tears streamed down their mother’s face as she cast out her children from the family, accusing them of causing the premature deaths of two of their siblings with black magic.