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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 14:53 GMT
Cameroonians follow 'Aids healer'
Reverend Stephen's congregation
The congregation sings, dances and shouts
test hello test

By Francis Ngwa Niba
The BBC's correspondent in Yaounde
line
Reverend John Stephen is known as "Prophet" - though his adoring followers also call him "Daddy".

The suave, handsome Nigerian arrived in Cameroon less than three years ago with just a handful of followers and began preaching in a small house in a Yaounde neighbourhood.

I am being remote-controlled from heaven

John Stephen

Today, his Kings chappelle ministry boasts thousands of followers. Mr Stephen presides over a cathedral and calls himself a bishop, as well as the leader of the Christ Army International.

He owes his popularity to his apparent spiritual healing powers

Lively services

Mr Stephen's services are full of singing, drumming and dancing - a sharp contrast to Cameroon's sombre mainstream churches.

For outsiders, the most striking moment comes when the holy spirit "attacks" church goers. A multitude of voices ring out as everyone begins shouting out their sins or telling the holy spirit what they want it to do for them.

The reverend presiding over all this says he is acting on God's orders.

"I am here (in Cameroon) on a divine mission by divine instructions," he told me when I asked him why he left Nigeria.

The 41-year-old said he has preached in other West African countries, but came to Cameroon after he heard the voice of God instructing him to do so.
Reverend Stephen laying his hands on a follower's head
Stephen's followers claim he can cure Aids

Asked how he healed the hundreds of people he is supposed to have cured of diseases including Aids, he said: "I am being remote-controlled from heaven".

I later spoke to two apparent Aids patients the pastor was said to have healed: 30-year-old Wisdom and 25-year-old Josephine.

They told me about their illnesses and even showed me Josephine's medical report.

It said she was first diagnosed with HIV on August 2001.

Another test conducted a year later, after she received divine prayers from the reverend appeared to have come back negative.

"I was almost dead when I came to Kings chappelle," a healthy-looking Josephine said. "But I never lost faith."

Scepticism

Some claim the sudden explosion of Pentecostal churches in Cameroon was sparked by crooked pastors out to make a fast buck.

But two officials from the mainstream Presbyterian and Catholic churches said that, although some pastors are indeed crooked, others truly possess healing powers.

"All of us can be cured, though not necessarily from the physical ailment," Rev Fai Michael of the Presbyterian church said. "But when you are cured spiritually, it overshadows the physical aspect."

Mr Stephen concedes that there are sceptics who doubt his powers.

But, he said, only those who have faith can be cured.

See also:

04 Jul 00 | Africa
Nigerian army salutes 'Aids cure'
23 Apr 01 | Africa
Aids tests Kenyans' faith
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