But the people who attend love them, because the long stretch of time allows them to pray more intensely than a mere two-hour Sunday morning service will allow. On this Friday night, the focus of our prayers was a story in the Book of Acts.
The Apostle Paul, arriving at an island on his journey to share the Gospel, picked up some brushwood for a fire, and a startled viper within it leapt out and bit his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they thought that he would die. But Paul shook the viper off and lived. The pastor applied the Scripture to our lives: “Say it out loud!” he shouted. “Every viper sticking to my hands, my marriage, my career, my destiny, I shake it off. I shake it off!” The 200 people around me jumped up and down and shook their hands with fury, hurling invisible and metaphorical vipers into the air.
To be in Africa is to encounter a God different from that of a charismatic church in the United States. People say that the boundary between the supernatural and the natural is thinner there. Certainly religion is everywhere — churches and church billboards seem to be on every street — and atheists are few. American evangelicals often say that faith is more intense in Africa. There is something to this. Compared with Ghanaian charismatic Christianity, American Christianity can seem like soggy toast.
It is not just the intensity that seems different. In these churches, prayer is warfare. The new charismatic Christian churches in Accra imagine a world swarming with evil forces that attack your body, your family and your means of earning a living.