Helen Ukpabio, an evangelical Christian from Nigeria known for trying to exorcise demons from children she believes are witches, is planning a visit to the United States in March for a 12-day event that will involve “battling in the spirit for freedom.”
Leo Igwe, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)'s former representative for Western and Southern Africa, shared with The Christian Post that Helen Ukpabio wants to extend her ministry into the U.S.
“She is coming to spread the gospel of hate and witch hunts in the U.S. Ukpabio's mission is not good for America. Her evangelism is not good for children in the U.S.,” Igwe alleged. “Her church – the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries – is notorious for spreading the dangerous idea that children can be witches and that children can harm family and community members in the name of witchcraft. She conducts exorcism for alleged witches which often involves torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The IHEU describes itself on its website as a world union of humanists, rationalists, atheists and free-thought organizations. Igwe has previously been interviewed by the BBC on issues relating to African church movements, such the prosperity teachings some Nigerian churches have been employing by encouraging congregants to give money in exchange for financial and spiritual rewards from God.
The campaigner wrote in an article for the IHEU that Helen Ukpabio is a Christian fundamentalist and a biblical literalist, who professes that she is a former witch who turned to Christianity and eventually founded Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, which serves to “deliver people from witchcraft attacks.” Her sermons and teachings target supposed witches and wizards, mainly children, whom she claims are sometimes possessed by Satan.
Igwe elaborated in an email to The Christian Post that Ukpabio’s “gospel of hate” has caused thousands of children in Nigeria and other parts of Africa to suffer discrimination, violence, torture and death.
The campaigner wrote: “Witchcraft is a traditional belief that predates the advent to Africa of Christianity. Witchcraft accusation and persecution of those alleged to be witches has been going on in the region before foreign Christian missionaries set foot on the African soil. Sadly today African pastors, not the witch doctors are at the forefront of the wave of witch hunts sweeping across the region.
“These pastors literally interpret verses in the Bible that identifies witchcraft with evil and as the face of evil. Particularly they use the verse Exodus 22:18 which says 'Suffer not a witch to live' to justify horrific abuses of those alleged to be witches and wizards.
“So Christian doctrines as preached and understood by the like of Helen Ukpabio reinforced a traditional belief giving it new impetus and thrust. So many Africans, very difficult to estimate, are suffering and dying as a result of the fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of the Bible. Helen Ukpabio is one of such pastors and her Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries is one of such witch hunting churches.”
Ukpabio has produced several short fictional movies, in which she attempts to illustrate how children become possessed and serve Satan. One of her works, posted on YouTube and titled “End of the Wicked,” portrays “demonic” children gathering by moonlight and eating human flesh.
As a response to her ministry, U.K.-based charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) was established to try to expose her activities to the rest of the world and highlight the harm that witchcraft accusations are causing to children in the region.
A statement on the official website of the organization reads:
“Stepping Stones Nigeria does not believe that children can be ‘witches.’ However, Stepping Stones Nigeria acknowledges the right of individuals to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to the abuse of child rights as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).”
“Saving Africa's Witch Children,” a documentary that was broadcast in 2008 in the U.K. and in 2010 on HBO in the U.S., sought to expose Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries' work. The documentary has reportedly angered Ukpabio and her helpers, Igwe writes, who was also featured in the film. The church filed numerous lawsuits against SSN, accusing the organization of fraud, but have lost the cases, according to The New York Times.
Igwe claims in the IHEU article that in 2009 he had a personal encounter with members of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries:
“Ukpabio mobilized her church members against a local seminar on witchcraft and the rights of the child organized by Stepping Stones and the Nigerian Humanist Movement in Calabar, Cross River State. They invaded the venue, beat me up and stole my personal belongings,” Igwe claims.
After the alleged attack, Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries again tried to sue SSN, its partners and Igwe for millions of dollars for depriving them of the right to believe in witchcraft, but the case was again unsuccessful, according to the New York Times.
Information on the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries’ website reveals that Ukpabio will host an event called “Deliverance Session” in Houston, Texas from March 14-25. A poster for the program calls on people to “come and receive freedom from the Lord,” and targets those who have been experiencing everything from bad dreams and a stagnated life with failures to witchcraft attacks and “mermaid spirit possession.”
It is not Ukpabio’s first visit to United States – she also came to preach in 2010 in Houston, The New York Times shared, and revealed that in a her book titled Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft, she writes that “if a child under the age of 2 screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan.”
Ukpabio had previously declared herself Christendom’s first ever “lady apostle,” and defends her filmic depictions of possessed children gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh as works of fiction. She shared that she feels people criticize her “only because I am African,” and asked “Do you think 'Harry Potter' is real?”
A Facebook page called Stand Against Helen Ukpabio organized in protest against Helen Ukpabio is calling for 12 days of protests against the preacher when she comes to the U.S., along with a fundraiser in support of Stepping Stones Nigeria. The page has gained nearly 700 “likes” by Monday afternoon.
When asked what he believes the “lady apostle” might hope to achieve in the U.S., Igwe told The Christian Post:
“Helen Ukpabio's mission in the U.S. is a great and gathering danger. She would surely get more people in the U.S. to start believing the nonsense of child witches which she has been spreading in Nigeria through her church, films and publications. I strongly believe that her 'ministry' has already gained some ground particularly in Houston, Texas.
“Her ministry has already allied churches in America. So her efforts, if not opposed or exposed NOW will continue to gain ground particularly among African immigrants. Literally put, Ukpabio is coming to the U.S. to service and exploit the African market of witchcraft believers.”
Igwe went on to describe what he sees as the widespread problem in Africa:
“Witchcraft evokes fear in the minds of most people across sub-Saharan Africa. So she has a lot of support even among those who do not identify with her ministry or are members of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries. Yes her church has branches in Nigeria and beyond. Still it is not among the leading megachurches in the country. Most of the branches are in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states – a region where witchcraft-related abuse is common and widespread.”
Igwe concluded with an urgent warning about the need to protest against Ukpabio when she comes to the U.S.
“As we witnessed recently, a couple from Congo is being tried in the U.K. for branding a child a witch and of torturing the child to death,” he said. “So Africans living in the U.K. or the United States are not 'immune' from the beliefs and abuses related to witchcraft. That is why any of the so-called African pastors who [are] coming to spread this outrageous gospel in these countries and others should be stopped using all civilized means.”
Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries was not immediately available for comment at the time of press.