The Pulpit is an annual Gospel reality show on TV which brings out evangelistic talents in children and excites a lot of viewers over the last few years. But in commercial buses that ply Lapaz to Kasoa, little kids do not preach for the cameras; they live what the other children do every year on TV, preaching almost every day in commercial buses, winning souls for Christ and taking money for it.
It is not as if preaching in commercial vehicles is a new phenomenon in Ghana. It is as old as the buses that ply the Circle, Kaneshie and Odorkor roads, but when kids between the ages of eight and ten are quoting scriptures with authority in rickety buses and begging for coins after each journey then the battle for salvation has become even more keener.
That is the story of some young ‘trotro’ evangelists whom I have decided to call Paa Nii and Yaw. Their story is one of determination to survive against all formidable odds and a zest to win souls for Christ.
It was a Saturday trip to the office in this commercial vehicle. The trip was unusually long but in it were Papa Nii and Yaw.
Papa Nii, 11, was the elder of the two. He wore a striped T-shirt and broke the ice with a shrill shout of “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”
After two attempts with no satisfactory response from the passengers he amplified his voice with a little passion and more power. “Oh Hallelujah!
He got the attention he needed. Some passengers including myself looked at him in awe and finally responded Amen! Then he began his sermon in Twi invoking the peace of God upon all saints.
Then he called for a prayer and directed all passengers to bow and close their eyes. It was an unusual call, one that many would have been angered by, were it to do with politics or social matter. But it was religious; a call to prayer, so some passengers obeyed. I did too. Those who didn’t looked on in awe.
Papa Nii recited the ten commandments in the Bible, handed it over to his younger brother Yaw, 8, and took his seat. The sermon had just begun!
Yaw quoted Job 1:2 as his foundational scripture and reminded the passengers that human beings came naked into this world and shall return the same way they came, without the material wealth they have been scrambling for, on earth.
He touched on greed, warned against vanity, called for true worship to God and a genuine expression of love to mankind.
He said: For everything shall pass except the word of God, hence the need to worship him with all our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.
To close his short sermon he said, God does not take bribe, so if a pastor or anyone tells you to pay money to secure your place in heaven, do not believe them. He crowned the sermon with a prayer and resumed his seat.
Without asking for money, hearts were touched and the monies started exchanging hands. The passengers started passing GhȻ1 notes and coins to them depending on the financial strength of the each passenger. The kids then alerted the driver’s mate they would alight at Kwashieman. I was touched and surprised at what had just happened and I wanted the story behind the preaching. I also decided to get down at Kwashieman, even though my destination was several stops away. I stopped them and began a little conversation.
After interrogations, I got to know they were a group of four with the oldest being 12 years old and the youngest, seven.
The two other boys also alighted from another vehicle and joined in the conversation. I call them Nana, 10 and Kofi, 8. The four lived around Kasoa, I reckoned, but they hop into commercial buses that ply those routes to preach each day after school.
On Saturdays, they do it full time only on buses that run the Kasoa-Madina route. Out of curiosity, I asked of the whereabouts of their parents and whether or not they knew about their young careers.
Paa Nii answered in the affirmative, adding that they give them the proceeds each day. That got me thinking: “Could some adults purposely be using these children to make money?”
Yaw confirmed that his team could make at most Ȼ60.00 on a good day and at least Ȼ15.00 any other day. I asked if I could go home and say Hi to their parents but they declined. I pushed further but they resisted harder. Paa Nii said they could only go home in the evening when business is over. When I asked if they could get punished if I went home with them, Paa Nii said yes but Kofi quickly said no.
I enquired of the contact numbers of their parents. There was another tussle. Paa Nii said he knew and could give it out, but Yaw interrupted, claiming his brother cannot remember the number.
They were in a hurry to get into another bus and they did. Paa Nii and Yaw boarded the first commercial vehicle that came along. Nana and Kofi took the other. I stood for a while defeated in my quest to learn more about these minors.
I never met them again until about a month later. Paa Nii was preaching in a Lapaz-Kasoa bus I boarded while Nana sat, supporting him with responses to his Hallelujah chorus.
After preaching, the passengers on the bus started passing on monies to the boys. One passenger who sat close to me pulled out a Ȼ20.00 note and handed it over to Paa Nii. Then with a smile, he said: “God bless you sir.”
I asked the passenger what motivated him to give the little Evangelist Ȼ 20. He said “Aww…I think these children are really blessed to know how to preach the gospel in front of tens and not feel shy. We hardly see this and I think they are doing great and I wish they were my children. There’s no way they will grow up and become wayward.”
I joined the boys on the next bus they picked and told them I wanted to go home with them and talk to their parents. They quickly remembered our previous encounter. Paa Nii agreed but Nana was reluctant. He said they would go home after 10pm. I said no problem. Whatever time they decide to go home, I will go with them. I was determined not to miss the story behind the preaching this time around.
Nana conferred with Paa Nii, briefly and they agreed to go home with me. We set off to Osiadan near Kasoa in the Central Region, where they live.
They preached again in the bus we boarded and were blessed by the passengers with cash. Soon after the preaching, Paa Nii fell asleep. He was tired. Nana was wide awake and prompted the driver when we got to his destination. We had to cross the main Kasoa-Winneba Highway after getting off the bus.
Poor Paa Nii had taken the lead to dreamland
Through a mechanic shop up on a hill along the highway, we got onto a bushy footpath where I picked my way with care, mindful of what animal might be lying on the way. Interestingly, these little boys walked through the footpath with so much ease. The had been doing that for weeks, months and deep at night.
The boys walked through the footpath with so much ease
The path led us to a muddy rough road. When I asked how far we were from their home, Paa Nii pointed to a house which was sited on a hill and surrounded by bushes.
I thought the story I heard from these little Trotro Evangelists was heartbreaking but that was only the tip of the iceberg.
It was a long journey home with the kids but at home was a bigger story of a whole community where kids have stopped schooling and have joined the seemingly lucrative business of Trotro Evangelism in buses to fend for themselves and their families. It emerged some of them went missing for days with no contact to their guardians. It was a touching encounter with the parents, guardians, and teachers of the kids some of whom shared the story of how the whole concept of little Evangelism business started and who was the brain behind it. Let’s meet Nana’s guardian.
Before the encounter with the guardians and teachers Section, 6 of the Children’s Act 1998 prescribes the Parental duty and responsibility. (1) No parent shall deprive a child his welfare whether:
(a) the parents of the child are married or not at the time of the child’s birth, or
(b) the parents of the child continue to live together or not.
(2) Every child has the right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education and shelter from his parents.
(3) Every parent has rights and responsibilities whether imposed by law or otherwise towards his child which include the duty to:
(a) protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exposure to physical and moral hazards and oppression;
With the Country’s laws clearly spelled out in the Children’s Act, let’s meet;
She sat, watching, as I walked with Nana towards the house. She is Nana’s grandmother and looked to be in her 50s. I told her my mission and she welcomed me heartily. Sooner than expected she started blaming Nana for the state of affairs. She claimed to have warned Nana several times against evangelizing in commercial vehicles but to no avail. She blamed one Asare, a boy who apparently introduced the business to the kids in the community. She accused him of luring her grandson into the preaching enterprise.
According to her, Nana flees from the house after school each day and comes back late at night. It is worse on weekends, she laments, saying in Fante that Nana pretends to be playing with the children and before she will say jack, he is gone.
When I asked if she benefitted from the proceeds of the preaching, she was quick with a denial. She said she and her husband do not have enough to take care of him but have tried their best since his mother abandoned him when he was six months old. She, however, promised to ensure Nana did not go preaching anymore.
She also promised she would take Paa Nii home and thanked me. That was my first encounter with her.
The second time I met her, she told me Nana had gone to school and had stopped the act because the leader of the little preachers, Asare, had been moved to Swedru in the Central region by his parents, I was in no position to confirm that.
Feeding the family at age 11; the story of Paa Nii
Mr Tei could not hold back his tears as he spoke
It was an emotional encounter with Paa Nii’s father- Mr Tei. He is 43-years-old. He has been taking care of Paa Nii and his younger brother, Kobe since the death of their mother.
They were both in school until he lost his job as a security man. Now, he helps friends do some small jobs but that does not fetch enough money. Mr Tei confessed he could not afford to pay their school fees.
He was also quick to point accusing fingers at Asare, the boy who introduced the business but whom I was yet to meet.
I have been beating him over that but I had to stop at some point because it was yielding no results, he noted.
Mr Tei admitted that on days when he doesn’t get any job to do, Paa Nii feeds the family with proceeds from the preaching in commercial buses. It is his wish that his children will be in school but he does not have the financial muscle to enroll and keep them in school. He is however happy with how obedient he is at home.
I was then introduced to many more children with horrifying stories about how they spent several days out in buses, preaching and making money.
Is the preaching a gift from God or another spirit?
I met Mr Prince Danso, who had a chilling story to tell about his son believed to be notorious for spending several days and night out preaching.
Mr Danso is a concrete mixer. His 12 year-old son Kwame is believed to have picked up the habit of staying out for days, sometimes weeks, together with Asare.
He was scared his son had gone missing just like a twin boys who went missing for close to two weeks.
After frantic search, a phone call came through from the police at Odorkor. It emerged that his son together with Asare had been sent there by a commercial driver and his mate at a very late hour. He was reunited with his beloved son.
He believed his son was in bad company and needed different school environment. “Sometimes they run from school and go preaching…In fact I think he’s been possessed by some bad spirit because I do not believe what he does is truly from God,” he narrated.
The twin story
The 42-year old mother of four, known as Ataa Maame said her six-year-old twin boys fled early one morning when she had gone to fetch water.
One of them returned later that Sunday evening but his brother was nowhere to be found. I asked him and he said they went to Kasoa, she narrated. Like the other children in the vicinity, they went to preach. She went on saying, I was very worried …In fact, I could not eat, I could not sleep. She said she reported the incident to the Police at Tuba, near Kasoa through whose help she found him after a week and three days.
Apparently, a good samaritan found him and took him to an Orphanage at Ofankor, near Kasoa.
All my four children are not in school because my husband and I cannot afford their school fees, the helpless mother narrated. She said whenever she left their two younger siblings in the care of the twins to go and sell, they would follow the other children and go preaching.
I could not bear it any longer so I sent the two of them to live with my sister in the Northern region…because if I let them stay, they might go one day and never come back, she added.
An Encounter with the famous Asare?
Almost all the parents and the children I spoke to mentioned one boy- Asare. He was named as the leader of the children who preach in buses. I was bent on meeting him, the ring leader in the preaching business. Upon reaching his house, I was told Asare had been sent off to live with his auntie in Swedru in the Central Region but i met his mother.
The mother of five admitted that her second son, Asare, 11 started the preaching business in the neigbourhood.
According to Millicent Adom, Kobe, her third son who is 9, began by preaching to elderly persons in the community and he made some money out of it.
His elder brother, Asare became interested because of the money Kobe was making from the preaching so he learnt some quotations and started doing it too, the mother said.
Then one day, he said the Holy Spirit has directed him to preach the word of God in commercial buses so he went with his brother, Kobe, she said in Twi.
One thing about Asare is that he is very generous…he buys food for the children who are not in school and so they follow him wherever he goes, she indicated.
She said some of the children could go to Asare’s school to wait for him so that they could go and preach in buses. According to her, the husband was able to stop Kobe, the 9-year-old from preaching in buses by constantly flogging him but could do same to his elder brother.
She said initially, her son could bring home up to GhȻ50.00 until a woman in the niegbourhood promised to give him her daughter’s hand in marriage.
At that young age, Asare had been convinced. His mom alleged that Asare stopped bringing the money home and rather gave the woman all his proceeds from the preaching. She also confirmed how her son could escape with other children in the neigbourhood for days.
“In his most recent episode, he was with one other boy who is not schooling. They went for about two weeks and it took the Kaneshie Police to find them,” he narrated.
She was however heartbroken that other parents in the community blame her son for the turn of events and even on many occasions hurl insults at her.
I was so frustrated and did not know what to do…the insults were becoming too much and his father threatened to kick me out of his house if I did not do something about him so I took him to my sister’s place at Swedru, she added.
An Encounter with Asare’s teacher
Together with his four siblings, Asare used to attend 3GS Royal School at Machigani, another settler community near Kasoa and about two miles away from their home. They travel all the way there because there is no school in their community.
The headmaster of the school said Asare and Kobe started performing poorly when they started the preaching business.
“His brothers and sister also school here and they are all very brilliant students but he and Kobe started performing poorly and when I investigated, I was told they had been preaching in buses for money,” Jonathan Hammond indicated.
He said he tried to help his parents to stop Asare from preaching in buses and focus on his studies but to no avail.
“One time he run away from school and went to preach in commercial buses in his school uniform and after he made some money, he went to gamble with it,” Mr Hammond said, adding, with his dirty uniform from his gambling nest Asare came to school the following without bothering to go home.
“I punished him but he and another boy who is not in school left home again for days. His father came here to say he was sending him away. Where? I never knew ” he noted.
He stated that Kobe has been picking up academically after he stopped preaching.
The journey behind little trotro Evangelists has been long, chilling and heart breaking. Over 90% of children of school-going age linger around in the neigbourhood each day because their parents cannot afford their school fees.
A UNICEF statistics show about 623,500 children of primary school age are still not enrolled in primary school and one out of four children in the kindergarten age range (from four to five years of age) are not in pre-school.
Preaching the gospel is not a bad thing but what does the future hold for these children if they do not have access to basic education despite living close to the country’s capital, Accra?