The first thing that strikes you when you visit Lesego Daniel’s Rabboni Ministries in Pretoria is its location. The church is situated in a remote area, a few kilometers from Ga-Rankuwa; a large piece of dusty land surrounded by bush. I was not really surprised. It made sense that a man who encourages his followers to eat grass and drink petrol would want to be alone in the country.
Church starts at eight. I was a few minutes late, but so was half the church. The choir and those who came on time were already singing. An usher dressed in black and red took me to sit at the side of the stage. I put my bag on the chair, stood and sang with everyone.
They were singing the songs I used to sing at church in the little village where I grew up in, so it reminded me of my childhood. I didn’t sing for very long though.
The woman sitting next to me started hissing and rocking her chair back and forth. I turned to look at her. Everyone around us were pretending to not hear or see her. She looked to me like she was in some sort of pain. Whether emotional or physical I could not tell. I wanted to grab her and ask her: “Are you okay? Can I help?”
Instead I turned my head and looked ahead at the choir on the stage. I could no longer concentrate on the singing. At the same time, I could not just sit there and continue to stare at the woman. About an hour later a man came onto the stage. He spoke about persevering through persecutions.
I just wanted him to finish so Daniel could start. But, after him, another one followed.
He had a dark complexion and he was skinny and bald, like Daniel. For a second I thought it was him. It wasn’t.
The man spoke for a few minutes. That’s actually not true, he didn’t speak, he screamed. He was screaming, the choir was singing, the congregation was screaming in response. I could not hear a word of what he was screaming.
Just when I thought I was going to go deaf , the hissing lady beside me started ‘barking’ loudly. Three young women in front of me also started acting strangely. All three of them would bend their backs and move their arms in the same motion one would if one was running. But they moved like robots; fast robots. They would do this for a few seconds, then stop, then start again. Sometimes at the same time, but not always.
The hissing – now barking – lady stood up from her chair and ran into the aisle. Two ushers came to take her away. They took her to the back of the church. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Not very long after that the TV screen changed from showing what was happening in the church to a man praying outside over bottles of water and oil. It was “the man of God” and he was praying over dozens of water and oil bottles, brought by his followers for him to bless. He touched each bottle, even dipping his fingers into the bottles liquids.
Three hours after the service began, a lady came onto the stage to make announcements.
“Please do not use the entrance on my left,” she said to the congregation. It was for “the man of God” to use. Everyone else could use all the other entrances. But not that one.
The show was about to begin.
A few minutes later, Daniel appeared on the screen. He was walking into the church through the entrance the woman had told everyone to stay clear off. Another man was holding an umbrella for him.
He came on stage with a copy of the Sunday World newspaper. The paper had him splashed on the front cover, claiming he was not having sex with his wife and that he was driving around in luxury cars. That was the first issue he dealt with after leading the congregations in a few songs.
“I give everything to the church,” he told his followers. He did not say much on the allegations about his sex life, but he spent a good 30 minutes telling his church that what was written in the media was nothing but attempts to discredit him; attempts that would never work. His congregation cheered and clapped at his every sentence.
Eventually he started preaching. About Abraham and Melchizedek. I admit I zoned out at some point because one moment I was hearing about Abraham and the next he was saying “Come, come and eat”.
I looked up to find one of the ushers running onto the stage. She grabbed the flowers that were at his feet and yanked the head off a white lily with her teeth. She chewed on the flowers and leaves for a few moments before others started running onto the stage to get a taste.
When asked by their pastor what it tasted like, one responded, “biltong”.
Many in the congregation were laughing while others seemed undecided about what they were experiencing. Some looked like they wanted to go.
Eventually the flower-eating phase came to an end and Daniel continued preaching.
As he walked through the aisles, people would jump out of their chairs. Some even running through the crowd to be beside him. After being close to the preacher, one man lay with his feet suspended in the air, another grabbed Daniel’s leg and crawled behind him like a dog.
All the while the congregation laughed or clapped.
The robotic dance the young ladies in front of me were doing earlier seemed popular in the church. Throughout the day people in different parts of the church would erupt in a similar dance.
The service finally ended at six that afternoon. Or rather, I left at six. Even though they were free to go, many followers were still waiting in the communion line. Daniel held a cup for every person in the line.