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Sunday Adelaja: Europe's mega-church leader

By Robert Duncan
web posted November 6, 2006

I have to admit I hadn't heard of Sunday Adelaja until recently, but the Nigerian-born pastor is being billed as Europe's largest evangelical leader in Europe - some even claim that his church played an important role in the Orange Revolution that overturned the results in Ukraine's last presidential election.

It is said that Adelaja escaped from witchcraft in Nigeria to travel in 1986 to the Soviet Union to study journalism, to later found his own church. Just 12 years after starting that church, "The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations," boasts politicians as members, including Leonid Chernovetsky - Kiev's mayor - and 250,000 members spread throughout the country.

Adelaja and Ariel Sharon
Adelaja and Ariel Sharon

Adelaja's style appears to be a mixture of hype and US tele-evengelism, with a slick website that pictures himself beside Mel Gibson and Chuck Norris. On that website, readers are told that Pastor Sunday - as he likes to be called - is responsible for over one million "salvations in the first 8 years" that his church existed, and now averages "over 10,000 salvations a year." His website also claims that his church has planted over 300 churches in over 30 countries; three thousand leaders ministering in the Kiev church; soup kitchens serving 1,500 each day: the church's television network hits over 100 million viewers in Africa, Europe and Russia; and that Pastor Sunday has "personally written over 40 books."

All heady numbers for a person who I have never heard of - nor have I ever seen his program advertized nor any of his books, and Spain is supposed to be one of the countries where his church is active. I must move in the wrong circles. 

According to a Christianity Today article, Adelaja moved to the Ukraine to work in that country's first commercial television station. Feeling frustrated with not finding an evangelical church, he started one. That church, which began with a few Africans, some drug addicts and other social outcasts, has undergone a profound change.

"Students, housewives, former Mafia members, wealthy businessmen, and powerful politicians pack a sports stadium for Sunday worship. Behind the main platform where Pastor Sunday preaches, rock music faintly pulsates—Ukraine's top athletes are pumping iron in the adjacent weight room. The beat doesn't distract the clapping, singing, and swaying men, women, and children focused on praising God. And they're not alone; thousands of other church members worship at 30 additional locations throughout Kiev. They're also changing the nation's social and political landscape," according to that same Christianity Today article.

The Telegraph also described Adelaja's services. "The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is not quite sure which part of Sunday Adelaja's weekly services it likes the least ... The dubious Russian pop and the pom-pom-waving Cossack dancers are certainly contenders. The hot babes in choir dress swaying to the music might win the vote of its many older and weaker-hearted clergymen."

According to the Telegraph, as Adelaja "prepared to make a grand entrance the choirgirls shook their pompoms, the disco lights started to flash and a fanfare sounded. The lights cut out, and Mr Adelaja emerged from a shroud of dry ice. Children holding flags of the world wafted round him and the choir bellowed 'Sanctus!'"

"The congregation responded enthusiastically. Many danced in the aisles. With his eyes closed and brows furrowed in concentration, he raised his arms aloft. A hush fell over the audience," continued the article, "'A man who is having problems functioning in his manly area, God is healing you,' he intoned. 'Those who are having skin problems, God is healing you.'"

Not suprisingly, officials from the Orthodox Church - the Ukraine's main religion - have expressed their concerns about Sunday's activities, including suggesting that the Embassy of God could be a cult.

"The followers become like zombies - they are fully devoted to the leader of the organisation, ready to fulfil any of his desires," Father Superior Yevstratiy Zorya, spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Kiev, was quoted in a BBC article.

Of course his followers beg to differ.

"He is a young, visionary, Nigerian-born leader with an apostolic gift for the twenty-first century and a gifted teacher of the Word of God, with an unusual operation of the gifts of the Spirit. His teaching and use of these gifts have contributed in no small measure to the rapid growth of his congregation which has grown to over 25,000 members within twelve years," reads a press release.

Earlier this year, it appears that Sunday wasn't allowed to enter Russia, and was instead sent back from the Moscow airport. According to Ukraine Christian News, Adelaja said this was because "The Russian authorities are afraid that I will bring "Orange Revolution" to Russia."

There have been concerns in the past about Sunday's legal status in the Ukraine.

According to an article filed in 2003 by the UOC-MP press service, "Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine T. Korniakova requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to provide information on the legitimacy of Pastor Adelaja’s stay in Ukraine. According to the request, the religious activities of Pastor Adelaja, which include 'mass healings,' 'expulsion of devils,' and inducing an affective state in adherents during night services, cause great concern over Ukrainian citizens’ health. The request was issued because of numerous complaints the prosecutor’s office has received about the activities of the Embassy of God."

That same article noted that "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine reported that Sunday Adelaja entered Ukraine with a visa he received in the Ukrainian Embassy in Russia, whose validity expired on 6 April 1998. The purpose of his visit was cooperation with a private enterprise of limited liability, 'Valenta.' According to the ministry, Adelaja never renewed his visa after the expiration date."

Adelaja responded by posting documents on his website showing that he was legally in the country.

Adelaja has been making appearances in the US.

In September he participated in the Clinton Global Initiative, an invitation-only event held in New York that convened diverse leaders to discuss solutions to global problems such as poverty, climate change, public health and religious conflicts. Also in September Adelaja was part of a mega-church evangelization summit held in Dallas.

He is also planning on attending "The Return of the Kings," in Chicago conference being held Nov. 12. ESR

Robert Duncan is a journalist and ombudsman for foreign press in Spain. He is a board member and honorary vice-president for the Organización de Periodismo y Comunicación Ibero-Americana. Robert was the bureau chief for an international news agency in Madrid for many years, and was published regularly in Dow Jones Newswires, with articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal. He has also been published in World Catholic News, National Catholic Register, Renew America, Lifesite.net, as well as Capital Hill Coffee House, Common Conservative, The Conservative Voice, Enter Stage Right, News By Us, Conservative Crusader, World Net Daily, Mens News Daily and others. He is News Editor for Spero News, blogs at Pelican Press, and maintains the Santificarnos website.

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