A Pastor From Ghana Offers Blessings

Rev. Eric Kofi Owusu preaches at his Holy Fire Dynamic Word International Church in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx. (Photos by Jack D’Isidoro for Voices of NY)

On the second floor of a beige, brick commercial building in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx, more than 40 members of Holy Fire Dynamic Word International Church eagerly await a man they consider a prophet. Rows of fluorescent lights illuminate the vibrant, traditional kente patterns of the women’s dresses.  The congregants sway to the backbeat of a three-man band and female choir whose gospel rhythms emanate from hulking speakers stacked floor to ceiling in the opposite corner. People continue to file into the room from the narrow back staircase and take their places at the neatly arranged chairs.

A short man in a tailored suit emerges from a door to the right of the red carpet altar. He is the man they have been waiting for, Rev. Eric Kofi Owusu. The band suddenly plays louder.

“Miracles are the act of God provoked by man,” says Owusu to the crowd. “Every person needs prophecy.”

Owusu’s followers say they believe he can see their dreams, predict their futures and give deliverance from ailments, both spiritual and physical. But these works aren’t free. Many in attendance have brought cash donations, hoping they will be one of the few Owusu chooses for a blessing.

More than 24,000 Ghanaians live in New York City, according to the Census Bureau, making them the largest African immigrant group in the city. The majority live in the Bronx. To them, Owusu and his blessings offer a bit of cultural familiarity in this strange new world, and a way to solve the problems they face – from finding work, to going to court, to renting an apartment, even to making friends.

Owusu, 35, founded the church in his mother-in-law’s house in 2005, just three days after himself arriving in the United States. Already a pastor in Kumasi, Ghana, he immigrated to be with his wife, an American citizen, with whom he has four children. Owusu now has branches in Virginia, New Jersey and the Bronx, and has plans of starting a church in Ghana’s capital of Accra.

Today his church in the central Bronx draws a weekly crowd of 150 congregants, largely West African immigrants who say the reverend’s blessings, characteristic of a distinct brand of Pentecostal Christianity practiced in Ghana, are worth every penny of their offerings. Around 28 percent of Ghanaians practice Pentecostalism — the most of any form of Christianity — according to CIA data. Part of Pentecostalism’s popularity can be attributed to its ability to interweave the ideals of Western religion with traditional cultural superstitions.

Standing in front of a portrait of a lion’s head, Owusu hollers through the microphone in Twi, a language native to Ghana. By his side is Nuuruyatu Sowah, a female pastor who translates every sentence of his impassioned speech into English. The intensity of his words reaches a boil, and Sowah and the three other pastors next to her erupt into glossolalia. The cacophony of rapidly uttered monosyllables inspires the congregation into a fervor of prayer. Some pace the aisles closed-eyed, waving and clapping their hands. A minute passes and Owusu gestures to the pastors. Everyone stops.

After the service, Isaac Nettey, a churchgoer, leans against the back wall by an open window. Nettey considered moving back to Ghana after arriving in 2012, but a wife and newborn child kept him stateside. He recently brought his immigration papers to a church event – one of a handful of weekly gatherings focused specifically on community issues –for them to be blessed. The parish prayed over the paperwork and Owusu declared that God would intervene. The following day, Nettey was notified that his immigration papers had been accepted.

“You cannot always use strength. God favors things to happen,” Nettey says.

He says he hopes that he’ll be able to leave his job at a local pizza shop once he finally obtains his green card.

Gerard Tewiah, another congregant, was facing a charge of assault and battery against his ex-wife – falsely, he claimed – when Owusu called upon him at service.

“Owusu said, ‘There’s a court issue ahead of you. It will be dismissed,’” Tewiah said. Sure enough, the charges were dropped.

“I’ve seen the work of God,” Tewiah said. “God is on my side.”

For the Ghanaians who flock to Owusu’s services, there is no doubt that it is Owusu’s intercession that works miracles.

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