1-2: Mountain of Fire and Miracles
One of the top teams in Nigeria is Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC, a Pentecostal club in Lagos. It’s a team that provides stability for its players within the fraught world of Nigerian domestic football — and also represents the country on the global stage. “Someone is sick, we all pray and fast,” says church sporting director Godwin Enakhena. “There is a deal that’s coming, we fast and pray about it, and say ‘God help this young man get this deal.’”
This week, he and David Goldblatt discuss his team’s remarkable rise from amateur youth club to elite team, the challenges facing Nigerian domestic clubs, and the rules that keep MFM FC on track.
About the guest
Godwin Enakhena is the Director of Sports for Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, a Pentecostal church based in Lagos. From 2007 to 2016, he led the church’s football program and took their team, MFM FC, to the top league in Nigerian football. Enakhena is also an independent radio and TV presenter whose shows have been syndicated to over 20 radio stations and four TV houses in Nigeria. He is a passionate fan of Manchester United, and he’s on Twitter at: @genakhena.
words from the host
The following is an excerpt from David Goldblatt’s new book, Football is First: The Global Game in the Twenty First Century, forthcoming in spring 2019.
A note from David Goldblatt: Mountain of Fire and Miracles are an exception amongst the big African Pentecostal churches. Not because they are engaged with football, but because their focus has been so resolutely on actually playing the game. For many others, the relationship is opportunistic at best.
The rising religious force in Africa — Pentecostal Christianity — has been filling the spiritual and institutional spaces other churches have vacated, and football is no exception. The occupation has been quite literal, for the most popular preachers have held services and prayer meetings in Africa’s football stadiums — the only structures capable of containing their huge audiences. Preaching the gospel of prosperity, promising financial miracles and personal redemption, offering a chimera of welfare to the poor, and balm for the guilt of the wealthy, they are booming. Who knows how many are really drawn to the light, but there are perhaps 100 million African Pentecostalists at least, and the numbers are growing, making up twenty percent or more of the populations of big states like Congo, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
The staples of their work are the prayer meeting and the TV show, but Pentecostalists have also shown enthusiasm, where it suits their purposes, to mix and move in the world of football. In Ghana, Bishop Charles Agyinasare has held special prayer services for the squad and support staff of Hearts of Oak, traditionally the team of the country’s ruling party. Alongside leading Pentecostalists like Reverend Gideon Titi-Ofei and Bishop Daniel Obinim, he was a key player in the religious team that played at the nation’s political tolerance football gala, a curtain-raiser for the presidential elections that year. In South Africa, in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, the oleaginous Pastor Ray — a white TV evangelist — was called on to bless the national football team on live television. Looking distinctly queasy on screen, he must have had a premonition of Bafana’s insipid performances to come, and was later taken to hospital for a heart bypass.
Most of the mainstream churches deal in the usual currencies of healing and miracles, tongues and visions, but at the more flamboyant, risk-taking end of the spectrum there are those that like to dabble in prophecy. Amongst the most skilled in this dark art is one T.B. Joshua, leader and founder of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations. His career as a football seer began in 2009 when he appeared to have predicted Ghana’s victory over Brazil in the final of the Under-20 World Cup. Indeed, he claimed to have been in communication with the Black Satellites and had issued them vital instructions. In 2011, Joshua upped the stakes by declaring that Nigeria would not do well in its impending AFCON qualification game with Guinea. Live on TV he mused, “I was just sitting down and God showed me the game between Nigeria and Guinea next week. What I saw was not favourable towards Nigeria.” The visitors snatched a last minute equaliser making it 2-2, and Nigeria were out of the running. TBJ’s stock went through the roof. Captain Peter Odemwingie announced that the prophecy had “really affected us.” Remarkably, his powers of prophecy failed to predict the collapse of a Lagos guest house that he owned and the subsequent death of 115 people.
Zimbabwe has proved even more fertile ground for football preachers. Uebert Angel of the Spirit Embassy Church, who made his name by producing “miracle money” from the pockets of his congregation, took the stand at a youth conference and told his audience that Manchester United would win the 2012 FA Cup with goals from Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie. He finished off by arguing “Why do we give prophecies about football? Just to show you God knows what is happening.” God certainly did seem to know what was happening, because that was exactly how it panned out. Master of the backdated tweet and YouTube post, Angel also claimed pre-knowledge of the death of Nelson Mandela. Burnt by his comments on Liverpool and their likelihood of winning the league, he has beaten a retreat from football and concentrated on celebrity deaths and terrorist attacks. Bulawayo-based Blessing Chiza shot to fame when he predicted that Highlanders would beat How Mine 3-0 in the Mbada Diamonds Cup and cemented his reputation by successfully predicting a victory for the national team at a tournament in 2014. “Why is God interested in football? I think I now have the answer because the devil is involved too much,” he said. “The Devil has often visited me in my sleep to say, ‘Chiza leave football alone, don’t interfere. Why are you praying for the Warriors?’” He should have listened. The bubble burst when Zimbabwe, predicted to beat Libya 3- 0, drew one-all and lost on penalties.
For the moment, the Christian God seems to have cancelled its SuperSport subscription, for all of these seers have withdrawn from the football prophecy game. Indeed, not a single pastor risked a prediction on the outcome of AFCON 2017 in Gabon. On the ground, however, Pentecostalism knew no bounds. Seven churches from across Africa gathered in the capital Libreville, forming a 100-person choir that sang on Boulevard Triomphal after every match in the tournament. A Nigerian pastor, Imhoi Peter, preached from next to the big screen in the city’s main square while Cameroonian MBella David made his pitch to the fans on the buses transporting the fans to the stadium.