COVID-19 ban: Secret service, mobile evangelism take over Lagos

The Church is one of the institutions that severely felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as some states are yet to lift ban on religious gatherings. Lagos, which is one of the states feeling the heat of the pandemic the most in Nigeria, fashioned out different measures to combat the deadly virus from spreading and the ban on worship centres is one of the measures. SEYI SOKOYA went round Lagos State to monitor the current situation with Lagos churches which have been under lockdown in the last four months.

It is evident that religious activities, mostly among Christians in Lagos State have remained at a low ebb in view of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which led to the ban on public and religious gatherings in the state.

The heart and outskirts of Lagos popularly noted for their series of Christian activities especially on Sundays have witnessed a different narrative in the last four months. The restriction order on public gatherings to religious leaders, Christians and transporters is far from being a blessing in anyway while the development has become a relief to the neighbourhood with its attendant less traffic in the city, Tribune Church gathered.

A recent visit to Lagos revealed the atmosphere was relatively serene in many parts of Lagos as many churches were shut. Tribune Church went round some places, including Berger, Ikeja, Ogba, Oregun, Ojota, Agege, Iyana Ipaja, Abule Egba and Ikotun to monitor the compliance level and the present state of various worship centres in the state.

The metropolitan city which accommodates thousands of denominations and branches has not witnessed any major or regular church activity since the wake of COVID-19 except for some churches in inner locations that have adopted other measures in engaging in physical worship.

Many churches on the major roads, including the mega ones were under lock and key just as some were partially opened but with no activities. Investigation also revealed that many churches now hold services very early on Sundays.

Tribune Church’s investigation revealed the activities of one of the African instituted churches around Abule Egba area of Lagos which now holds services in the early hours of Sundays – precisely between 6am and 7am. Precautionary measures are reportedly being observed with the most intriguing being that the church no longer permits new worshippers in their fold as a measure to guide against being caught unawares by probable law enforcement officers who might be posing as new worshippers.

It was also gathered that all services are being furtively held as public address systems and music instruments at worship centres are not being put to use. Tribune Church also gathered that churches holding services despite the ban order hold church programmes behind closed doors.

Tribune Church witnessed a quiet Sunday service by a Pentecostal church around Ogba with members seen sneaking in and out of the church premises. Some members, after benediction, were not seen with copies of their Bible as they were leaving for their homes. Obviously, they had been tucked away from prying eyes.

Investigation also revealed that churches have been moved to homes as people now largely worship at homes aside those that have access to online services of their various churches.

A member of a church who pleaded under anonymity told Tribune Church that the church where he worships only holds early morning service and that it is strictly for members as no new  worshipers are allowed in the church auditorium.

“We need prayers and will continue to pray, especially against the deadly virus. We are not really holding a major service. We are only doing special prayer meetings. I play a major role in the church.  We held the special service today and I interpreted for my pastor. We are just hopeful that the ban on religious gathering is lifted in Lagos so that things can come back to normal. Importantly, we will not go against government’s directives against the spread of COVID-19,” he added.

Tribune Church also observed that mobile evangelism has become the order of the day as many evangelists other clerics alongside their members were seen preaching gospel at strategic locations of major roads of Lagos.

On the Victoria Island of Lagos, the situation is the same as mega churches in Lekki and other parts of VGC and Ajah were under lock and key but Tribune Church noticed that some denominations were engaging in online services.

Tribune Church gathered that church leaders in the city have continued to express concern over the situation as some claimed that the government is partial about the ban in relation to the ‘freedom’ being enjoyed by other public institutions.

It was also gathered that come church leaders are currently expressing worries over the uncertainty of holding forthcoming major church events slated to hold in the remaining year if the situation remains.

In preparation for the lifting of the ban, Tribune Church gathered that a large number of churches – both small and mega – are currently preparing to adapt to the ‘new normal’ as some churches were seen to have put in place various precautionary measures such as sanitizers and hand washing stands, among other measures.

The Director of Communication of the Latter Day Saints Church, Ikpe Nkanang, told Tribune Church that the government’s ban did not really affect their denomination as the cardinal focus of the church is about the spiritual and welfare of its members and people in general.

Nkanang noted that the leadership of the church had earlier shut down all branches globally few weeks before the general ban and that the church had not missed the church buildings, hence it had intensified efforts in building the spiritual lives and supporting people in many ways.

“The church’s leader had prophesied about the incident, but no one had a clue that it will take this dimension. We are happy that we have been able to adapt and overcome all challenges that came with the COVID-19 as a church and individual.

“We advised our members to maintain family worship which we tagged ‘Home Come Follow Me’ programme. It involves gospel teachings and fellowship with nuclear and extended families.  Also, only authorised family fellowship can do the usual sacrament. Visual messages are also sent to family heads. We have not relented in impacting lives since the outbreak of the pandemic. We are still assisting the society on the pandemic. In few weeks time we are going to support medical institutions, especially the medical front line workers.”

He also charged Christians at large to keep hope alive as the church will overcome all its challenges. He also expressed hope that God will take control and restore all to normalcy soon.

Vice President The Apostolic Church Nigeria and LAWNA Territorial chairman, Pastor (Dr) Emmanuel Segun Awojide, told Tribune Church that, the church is fully prepared and ready to resume normal service.

“We are a law abiding church, and are cognizant of what the Lord requires of us to give honour to those in authority of governance and adhere to their rule for the peace of the society. So, we cannot be against the rule of hygiene or health protocols as set at the national and state level.

“In terms of their expectations, be assured that the Apostolic Church Nigeria has fully taken all necessary precaution for the safety and good health of our members and congregation. We have ordered sanitizer from a reputable government approved organisation and this has been sent to all our assemblies through their respective areas, in order to ensure strict compliance. Also, we have directed our pastors to ensure compliance with social or physical distancing protocol at all worship centres. You can be assured that thermometer will be used and running water and soaps will be available at the entrance of each assembly as the case may be. Our pastors are fully aware of this, so we are ready. And let me just add that our preparation is not only physical we have been praying for the nation, and our world for a quick end to this pandemic.

The General Overseer, Faith Revivalist Apostolic Church, Apostle Paul Adenuga, however, said that the only preparation after the coronavirus break should be the repair of the altar of God.

Adenuga said that the altar of God had been broken down and the wood is scattered; hence, the need to put the altar in order so as to make the fire come again.

He noted that it is difficult for anyone to put the Church under lock and key, adding that of paramount importance is the altar of the Lord and that was what Elijah did to restitute the Church back to God.

“The preparation after the COVID-19 break should be the repair of the altar of the lord. God wants us to repair the altar of the Lord that has already been broken down. The scattered wood should be put in order so that the fire will come again. Nobody can lock the Church. If you see people go to church, they focus on the altar; hence, all the altar must be put in order,” he added.

On the intervention of Christian bodies in the state, Tribune Church learnt that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) at the state and national levels, among other bodies are working earnestly to ensure that government lifts the ban as well as ensure the churches across the board comply with the new directives of church activities. It was gathered that plans are ongoing on synergy with the state government on the reopening of churches.

 

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