A divine healing from unknown sickness

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The family was thus an integral part of the whole community. Healers and Physicians When reviewing the workings of a modern-day health care system in a particular society, physicians would be studied in isolation as a central component of this system. However, in the biblical text the focus was always on Jesus. He resembled a modern professional healer studied in isolation, whose healing involved the whole system, or community.

A review of such a system or its workers in this case, physicians would therefore involve a study of the cultural beliefs of the society in question and an understanding of how people functioned and felt about their health care system in their particular social setting. Each evangelist and his intended and actual audience thus interpreted their traditions through a recognisable and acceptable health care system where each individual could not be separated from the community as a whole. It was therefore assumed that God endowed the healer with his medicinal power, and retained responsibility for success or failure of treatment Sir Many immigrants, particularly those from a Mediterranean background, hold to such beliefs even today.

The evangelist would then incorporate some newer aspects of healing from the Hellenistic culture such as consultation with a physician and taking medicines proposed by a professional healer Sir , These differences between the modern western health system and that found in biblical times, and the focus on Jesus, explain why there was little reference to professional healers in the Bible. The references to Jesus as a physician, in particular, thus emphasised his teaching and not the physical cure.

This association emphasised the need to restore holiness and wholeness within the individual and community. Men were healed from unclean spirits, paralysis, withered hands, deafness, speech impediment and blindness, whilst women were healed from unclean spirits, fever, death and haemorrhage, which had deprived them of their domestic status. Summary The emphasis on community health and relation of physical illness to spiritual ill-health played a key role in identifying and classifying various illnesses that had intended or unintended practical consequences.

All illnesses involved a human or divine aetiology in direct contrast to modern medicine where the aetiology is essentially disease orientated. It is blasphemy! Since illness was concerned with the sociocultural background of the ill individual and much less with its physical causes, then it is reasonable to view Jesus as both a teacher and a healer Mk From a physical aspect this effective outcome was not too dissimilar to that achieved with modern-day medicine.

The successful healings transcended all humanity irrespective of race, socioeconomic status, culture and creed. This aspect of suffering and access to God will be discussed in the second part. In this second part I will review two of the primary effects of illness that influence the process of recovery.

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These include physical and spiritual suffering and loss of access within the community. Illness also brings on fear, mistrust and abandonment. The threat of death and abandonment by family in the absence of faith may lead to isolation and fear. Few people would be in a position to cope alone with the suffering that is thrust on them in this frightening situation.

In this setting the ill often undergo a spiritual change, regain their faith and alter their approach to life as a result of their illness. Accordingly, the ill cannot undergo resurrection without death and knowledge of God, which is achieved through suffering and eventually death.

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Similarly, patients who suffer from potential life-threatening illness and who are able to experience this spiritual aspect of suffering being lonely, rejected or misunderstood would therefore feel closer to Jesus and would be able to experience salvation through their suffering, be it physical or spiritual, or both.

Care of the Ill It is not surprising, therefore, that the Catholic Church has always supported an attitude of listening, reflection and affective commitment in the face of pain and illness Pope Paul II The ability to see in ill patients the face of Jesus can be considered to be a divine gift of God. The ability to bring both physical and spiritual relief to the ill emphasises the inclusivity of discipleship Shriver , Love for the suffering patient can be construed to be a sign and measure of the degree of civilisation and progress of humanity 2 Cor ; Is As a physician who manages patients with cancer I am witness to this physical and spiritual loss and must, in light of the above, assist in their physical and spiritual recovery, occasional cure, and re-integration within the community.

Only recently the American Medical Association recommended that patient care should involve the social, emotional and spiritual dimensions of both the patient and the physician Mermann, It emphasised that altruism is a key attribute to being a good physician, who must be compassionate, show empathy and respect for patients as human beings in light of their cultural and spiritual values, beliefs, fears, hopes and preferences. Modern day solutions such as surgery may be found wanting, but constant prayer Jesus in Gethsemane; Mk , companionship and family care, although not curative from a physical aspect, assist the ill to prepare for, and experience, spiritual salvation.

The emphasis thus is on a holistic approach of body, mind and spirit to patients and their families involving multidisciplinary care. It must be said that others see spirituality as a serious threat to medical ethics and believe that this approach should not be used as a form of treatment Gillen and Gillen , 3. Their concern relates to the possibility that carers may suggest to a patient that physical cure was dependent only on faith. This attitude is compounded by modern day expectations where we desperately want to be healed to succeed. An emphasis on quality, respect, open communication and patient focus pre-empts this issue Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Centre, Access Illness causes suffering and reminds us of the fragile and finite world we inhabit Schreiter , However, illness or disability is not the only source of suffering.

The chronically ill and disabled are no better off in the modern Western world. Whilst a chronic physical disability may become second nature to the individual, the exclusion from society dehumanises, corrupts and diminishes a person.

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Illness therefore has physical, psychological, spiritual and social ramifications. Illness such as cancer is a threshold or life-event. It forces the ill to commence an unknown journey. Life-threatening illnesses often prevent the individual from returning to an original and familiar world. This experience of isolation and loneliness may remain unrecognised by hospital staff, family and friends. The barriers to access may therefore be physical flight of stairs or social dependent on the attitude of the person and care-giver towards the illness.

Illness can isolate the patient because the family elect not to speak about it, a caregiver uses euphemistic terms when speaking to patients, or illness may be attributed to moral guilt as a result of sin and lack of faithfulness to God. The attitude towards the ill and other minority groups denies them their rightful access to the human community. His healing stories revolved around this theme, which evoked: 1. The divine power of Jesus affirming his identity as Christ Mk The compassion of Jesus in the presence of human suffering, which transcended the Torah and the Sabbath , emphasised his love towards those who were isolated from society and his opposition to violence and domination Tannehill , The exclusion and isolation of the ill, minorities and disabled.

Jesus used touch to heal the sick, establishing contact with the isolated and tabooed human being. This contact served to reintegrate the ill back into the community Mk ; All things can be done for the one who believes. The church should consist of spiritually, not physically, healthy people. Conclusions Illness leads to physical suffering and sin leads to spiritual suffering. Both forms of suffering lead to loss of oneself, to isolation and to fear.

This experience is coloured by the cultural beliefs and social norms of the time. For those where physical cure is not possible it will offer them solace in the expectation that they will find spiritual recovery in God. Barrett, D. The Discussion Forum, SikhNet. Best, E. Such occasions prompt an intensification of human protection to ensure that the power-force of life that witchcraft and evil wants to destroy is enhanced.

Good health suggests that the individual is living in harmony with the physical and spiritual world Sawyerr When sickness strikes, healing is sought so that the destructive agent that has brought spiritual, personal and social disharmony is eliminated Conteh Two questions show how serious healing is in culture. Firstly, illness and personal misfortune usually demand answers as to why this has happened.

Sierra Leoneans believe that sicknesses are not mere occurrences, they indicate underlying spiritual mishaps. People fall sick because: i the ancestors have been offended and their desires abandoned by surviving relatives; ii clan taboos have been violated; or iii unscrupulous people have bewitched their siblings because they fear they are becoming more successful than them.

Causes such as these bring misfortune on community life and obstruct human flourishing. Secondly, when the precise cause of illness has been found, people would resort to ways of healing. It is at this time that the services of sacred specialists are contracted to help ascertain the precise cause of illness and effect cure Gittins ; Shaw ; Wyse The sacred specialists will engage in a process of divination that may last for a couple of days.

The sick person will be told to offer sacrifices that appease ancestors and malevolent spirits and restore broken relationships among affected parties. Further, herbal medication will be prescribed at the completion of the process of divination. The sick person will be offered other forms of ritual purification in order to perfect healing and prevent the recurrence of any such illness in the future. This process of healing may also constitute herbal medicines that are used for curative and protective purposes Conteh Persons who die while undergoing healing rituals are to be given culturally appropriate burial rites.

Traditionally, death does not end human life. Death is transitory, possessing the power to usher persons from a state of physical existence to one that is spiritual. Even though the dead are believed to be spatially living in the abode of their graves, they continue to exist as real spiritual beings in the world of the living dead. Death and burial rites are events that can go on for days.

Traditional death and burial rituals always require the full participation of the entire community. Because Sierra Leoneans are hugely loyal to their cultures, when Ebola arrived people were unwilling to part with cultural practices that allowed the safe passage of the dead to the world of the ancestors.

These traditional practices soon became the linchpin that accelerated the spread of Ebola among the citizens. As Feather-stone points out, the fact that many of the precautions needed to prevent the spread of Ebola conflicted with deeply rooted cultural practices, containing the virus became a huge impediment. This meant that faith leaders and healing evangelists were to be brought on board if the nation was to win the war against Ebola.

Healing evangelists on pestilence and strange diseases among God's covenant people. Even before the Ebola outbreak, access to basic healthcare was not readily available. As such, those who fall sick turn either to traditional healers or the newly established Charismatic faith healing centres that began appearing on the church scene in the s. The formation of Freetown Bible Training Centre by Russ Tatro, and the use of this centre for the distribution of Charismatic doctrines such as health, wealth and power across the nation was a pivotal event in the development of the doctrine of divine healing.

Believers are always at war with spiritual forces and evil in high place who are seeking to destroy life. In order for believers to continue to experience good health, spiritual power that causes misfortune, ill health and death must therefore change hands. Those who are born again are transported from a place where they are susceptible to demonic attacks, to a place that gives them spiritual and physical immunity Ban-gura Faith healing centres were the places to go to acquire healing, deliverance and spiritual power. The latter became more attractive because these centres combined biblical and African traditional approaches to disease, healing and human wellbeing.

Charismatic healing evangelists are known to affirm that when Christians fall sick, it is their faith in Christ, rather than the medication they take, that brings healing. Faith healers defend their practice by referring to evidence drawn from their reading of the Scriptures. Mambu founder and general overseer of Faith Healing Bible Church attests:.

Sickness in whatever form is of the devil. God calls it captivity Job ; Jesus calls it bondage Luke and 16 ; and the Holy Spirit calls it oppression Acts The victory ofJesus is our victory. He did nothing for himself. He conquered sin, Satan, disease and sickness on our behalf. He shares his victory with all who repent and believe on his name. He bore our infirmities, sicknesses and diseases so that we could claim full release and deliverance. Mambu Given this background, four premises underlie the assessment of healing evangelists about pestilence and strange diseases among God's covenant people.

In what follows, I use Charismatic church leaders to illustrate how they employ the biblical material to understand the Ebola crisis. This view was popularized by the Charismatic revivalist preacher, Apostle Moses Kay, who is widely known for his monthly "Fire for Fire" crusades. For him, human suffering which can come in the form of strange diseases and pestilences, is invariably linked to human fault. Sin affects the believer's prayer life and prevents their prayers from being answered Psalm , Deuteronomy ; 1 Samuel and James Sin ambushes God's abundant supply of grace and the release of his blessings on the life of the born again child of God.

This reading coheres with ancient Israel's understanding of the relationship which they saw existed between sin and human suffering. Gaiser reminds us that for ancient Israel, it was virtually impossible to exclude God's place as actor in the events of life. Second, healing evangelists also regard rebellion against God's laws and servants as causes for pestilence and diseases among God's covenant people.

This perspective was championed by Apostle Israel B. Momo, founder and general overseer of Living Stone Evangelistic Ministries. Apostle Momo represents the younger generation of Charismatic healing evangelists who merges biblical teaching with African culture, and is gaining a steady following in Sierra Leone. Using the account in Numbers 11, Apostle Momo argues that Israel's rebellion against God and Moses resulted in their death at the hands of serpents.

In his view, Sierra Leoneans are at the mercy of the venomous claws of Ebola primarily because of their rebellion against God and his servants. Ebola, opines Apostle Momo, is the contemporary serpent whom God is using to call attention to the presence of sin and rebellion in the church and nation. In just the same way as Israel cried out to God in their distress, Sierra Leone must turn to God in sombre reflection, fasting and penitential prayer so that the land will be rid of Ebola Joel Third, Satan and his legion of demonic forces also account for pestilence and diseases.

Trumpeted by Apostle Emric Webber, founder and general overseer of Cornerstone Ministries, aka The Rock Church , he adopts a youthful approach to Charismatic urban church ministry. Presiding over a ministry that attracts a large number of the highly educated youth and urban elite, Apostle Webber's preaching resonates well with the religious sensibilities of the youth.

From his reading of the gospels, Apostle Webber notes that Jesus had to confront human suffering that was sometimes caused by demonic forces and evil spirits. He believes that Bible passages such as Matthew ; ; Mark and Luke speak to this context.


What he makes of passages such as these is that, they speak both of the demonic presence of sicknesses and need for divine power that expels demons and evil spirits. If demons can cause human suffering, then the superior person and power of the name of Jesus must be used to deliver and heal people.

For Africa Pentecostals, notes Omenyo , a more realistic way of helping Christians deal with deep seated spiritual fears is to rank Jesus Christ as higher in status and power, and able to heal and save. Fourth, by way of last resort, healing evangelists cite divine providence as a cause for disease among God's covenant people. This viewpoint represents a somewhat different approach to the CM's healing ministry.

Apostle Dumbuya who runs a weekly faith clinic where barren women, pregnant women and lactat-ing mothers converge to receive their share of healing miracles, has been awarded prestigious national laurels for her astute contribution to the development of Christianity and human fraternity Blyden In her teaching, Apostle Dumbuya believes that biblical stories like the man born blind John , Lazarus John and Paul 2 Corinthians , point to God permitting certain painful and unfortunate events or even death to occur so that the full benefits of his glory may be made manifest among his people.

Ebola, may perhaps be one of those tormenting ailments that God is using to declare his glory in the land. Reitsma refers to this approach as 'last option,' and suggests that Pentecostals and I argue Charismatic healing evangelists also only turn to it when all other options fail.

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Although the perspectives represent what might be construed as moderate positions on Ebola found within the CM, the four reasons are consistent with the marks of Sierra Leone's Charismatic revivals. Charismatics are widely recognized for their unlinching emphasis of healing, miracles, demons and exorcism, prophecy and anointing with olive oil. By reading Scripture this way, healing evangelists desire to retrace the roots of biblical Christianity, and to apply biblical principles to the existing cultural and social problems of its members.

The fact that healing evangelists appear to have taken time to study Scripture and identify key factors they believe are responsible for human suffering, one may see this as an indication of their attempt at contextualization. These efforts show their concern for Holy Scripture and how the Bible speaks to the specific contexts of followers among whom they minister.

Healing evangelists and the Ebola crisis: interpretations, contexts and consequences. It is to be noted that the nuanced interpretations of the healing evangelists presented above about Ebola stem from their reading of Scripture and the local cultural contexts. This interpretation appears to have reinforced existing fears that were already circulating among a fearful public. In particular, faith leaders were quick to emphasize that Ebola was punishment for the evils of national political leaders and the excessive wrong carried out in the land Featherstone To compound an already worrying situation, some even went further to declare that angry ancestral spirits whose wishes and desires were abandoned, and the obnoxious activities of witchcraft, demonic forces and evil spirits were responsible for the Ebola outbreak.

Of course, because such interpretations clearly converged with traditional perceptions of strange diseases, they were easily accepted by the public. Two implications in the fight against Ebola clearly emerge from their interpretations.

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  • Firstly, it was understood as lending support to the general sense of apathy and suspicion that there was a government attempt to cover up the crisis. Feather-stone notes that some faith leaders denied the medical basis of Ebola. Many others even believed that medical and health personnel were actually spreading the very Ebola they claim to be fighting. Furthermore, there was an increase in cases of stigmatization. This was partly due to the perception that had developed where Ebola sufferers were themselves perceived as being punished for their involvement in witchcraft.

    Thus, people began to hide their sick, resisting all attempts to have them taken to isolation centres. Some even believed that because body parts were forcibly removed from Ebola patients, this explains why there was an increase in deaths. The effect was that communities decided to hide their sick and continue traditional burial practices so that their deceased relatives would be given appropriate traditional burial rites. The practice of hiding the sick and conducting secret burials led to increases in new infections and deaths, including medical practitioners, traditional healers, pastors, healing evangelists and other law enforcement agency officials Featherstone A second impact was the effect it had on the ministry activities of healing evangelists.

    We noticed that the healing ritual of laying on of hands was immediately suspended and the government ordered all faith healing centres closed.

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    • Anointing with consecrated items such as holy oil, holy water and anointed handkerchiefs were replaced with cell phone ministries. Healing evangelists resorted to praying for sick people over the phone. The sick were told to personally use consecrated items on themselves after the cell phone prayers. Charismatic camp meetings, conferences, revivals and all night prayer meetings, that are a vital means of corporate worship, were banned. This was because the virus is known to spread easily among people who have close contact with each other.

      The roles of church ushers was expanded to include regular temperature checks with infrared thermometers. Even offerings were to be fumigated and ushers ordered to wear hand gloves before counting money. The traditional handshake that members shared at the end of the worship service was banned. Sitting too was much more spaced out to prevent body contact with people. The use of microphones during worship service was severely restricted.

      In some churches, those who were scheduled to take part in the worship service were asked to bring personal microphones to prevent the spread of Ebola in the congregation Theresa, Christian and Nnadi With Ebola in town, the very nature of corporate worship was never the same again. A major consequence of this theological reflection was the changing role of faith leaders throughout the Ebola crisis. In the months immediately after the outbreak, some faith leaders played key roles in perpetuating misinformation about the virus and promoting stigma Featherstone However, as knowledge about containing Ebola expanded, government authorities, national and international health experts decided that it would be a prudent idea to include as many people as possible in the fight against the disease.

      It dawned upon all the parties concerned that there was more collaboration that had to be done if the eradication of Ebola was to be achieved. Faith leaders, traditional healers, healing evangelists have to be mobilized, trained and re-deployed to their home communities to help fight the virus. As this was done, the disease began to show signs of slowing down. Evaluating the Charismatic response to the Ebola crisis.

      While the involvement of healing evangelists in the fight against Ebola certainly invites reflection, the scourge brings to the fore certain issues that have clear ramifications for understanding the role of faith leaders in times of national disasters. Three of these issues are worthy of further consideration. First, as Ebola spread among the population, people succumbed to fear and their faith faltered. The arrival of Ebola and the conflicting messages about its causes, lack of cure and prevention sent shock waves across the spine of the nation.

      The heaviness and uncertainty that fear creates and the fact that Sierra Leoneans were initially left to deal with the tragedy all alone, increased the nation's sense of powerlessness in the face of a ferocious enemy. So, as Ebola raged on like wild fire in the savannah fields, the faith of many began to dissipate. Sierra Leoneans need no reminder that when they begin to see foreign expatriates withdrawing yes, even missionaries! I mean really, really bad. History reminds us that this was exactly what happened in the s when a barbaric and horrendous rebel war tore apart the country leaving innocent civilians scraping for a living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

      Sadly, with Ebola many felt that this was happening all over again. Unfortunately, this time the enemy is not one who can be summoned to the table for peace talks. What we have here is an enemy who is mercilessly lethal and deadly. Sierra Leoneans, both within and outside the church, succumbed to enormous levels of fear and their faith faltered in the face of the lethal and cold hands of Ebola. While it is reasonable that fear gripped the nation, however, the traditional interpretation seems to have exacerbated fear in the people. By construing the present crisis as emerging from a harbinger of demons and evil spirits, healing evangelists inadvertently compounded the fear of the populace against an unknown enemy and depleted whatever was left of their faith.

      Second, where fear and faltering faith reigns, false prophecy is bound to also reign. Fear is the bedrock that breeds false prophecy. Fear about the obnoxious activities of mystical and supernatural powers is prevalent in the belief system of Sierra Leone. When natural events happen that beats imagination and defies any explanation, people are quick to consult seers, mediums and diviners whom they hope will give a spiritual or divine interpretation about what is amiss and prescribe remedial measures. Sadly, many Christians are inclined to listen to such voices from within the church that are claiming that Ebola is some sort of punishment from God for un-confessed sin and terrible wrong doing in the land.

      According to these teachers, this punishment includes ailments such as strange fevers Leviticus ; Deuteronomy The only cure involves pouring salt in boiling water and bathing with it 2 Kings Some of the salt should also be sprinkled in and around dwelling homes to fend off this curse. Further, humanitarian aid in the form of anointed elements, such as olive oil, holy water, miracle handkerchiefs were also shipped to help the government fight-off Ebola.

      Rev Daniel G. I must note that what false prophecy did was to deny the scientific facts about the origin and spread of Ebola. Because this vital piece of information was the missing link in the Charismatic equation of the crisis, false prophecy spread among the people. And third, in situations of crisis such as the one visited upon Sierra Leone by Ebola, Bible interpretation suffers terribly in much the same way as the people who live in that context.

      The view on Scripture taken by people experiencing suffering often reflects a search for meaning that brings back order to the chaos of life. They are tempted to read Bible passages that speak of comfort, hope, assurance, healing or even the total defeat of supernatural and spiritual forces who are responsible for human suffering.

      Sometimes, although many of the Scripture passages have a context that is substantially different from their experiences, they are nonetheless applied to such contexts. It is no wonder then that the Ebola conundrum led to a plethora of hermeneutical applications that claimed that the outbreak was a result of sin in the church and nation Leviticus Other interpreters blamed the scourge on the activities of demonic forces Matthew ; Matthew ; Luke ; Revelation , whose primary intention was to fulfil their yearly and insatiable want of human blood. And still others see Ebola as a visitation of judgement upon the activities of political leaders and that God is now using this situation to issue a wakeup call for the church 1 Corinthians Because these interpretations were given by revered church leaders such as those discussed above, they were simply accepted without any attempt to subject them to critical biblical scrutiny.

      Whereas such interpretations are an attempt to apply Scripture to the existential needs of believers, it is important to note that other factors were also involved in the continuing spread of Ebola. Sierra Leoneans need no reminder that many people are living under conditions of poor hygiene with inadequate or nonexistent health facilities. Even when there is an outbreak of seasonal diseases such as cholera that could easily be controlled where basic hygiene facilities exist, such diseases end up claiming the lives of many people before they are eventually brought under control.

      Although Ebola has no vaccine or cure, if appropriate resources such as routine health care facilities are put in place, the spread of Ebola could have been contained much earlier. The church must learn to lead in times of unprecedented crisis and change. This leadership should include supplying a hermeneutically sound exposition of Scripture in the face of popular but faulty hermeneutics.

      It requires the church to harness the knowledge of health practitioners in the fight against Ebola. It calls on the leadership of the churches to adopt multi track approaches as the nation struggles to contain the deadly outbreak. Bible interpretation, health education and community sensitization are to be used to build up the church and strengthen the faith of Christians.

      This, in my view, is an area where the efforts of healing evangelists failed in the fight against Ebola. While their interpretations of the crisis were culturally appropriate, the same could not be said of its biblical and medical approach. It is no secret that the problems bedevilling the health sector were broader than Ebola.

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      Addressing the spread of Ebola will require more than altering deeply entrenched cultural beliefs. It requires the churches to apply biblical perspectives in the context of medical science so that cultural misgivings are effectively dealt with. God calls believers in all generations living under different circumstances to consider their ways and draw near to him. What transpired in West Africa may be seen in the broad contexts of Jesus' end time narrative Matthew It seems clear that human suffering may happen so that subsequent generations can learn from the experiences and mistakes of previous generations Psalm ; Romans ; 1 Corinthians Ebola is an unfolding tragedy for Sierra Leone and West Africa.

      Many precious souls were lost to the disease. People are infected with or affected by Ebola. The nation's fragile economy will take years to rebuild. Social interaction particularly, the treasured culture of handshake and hug have been forever altered. However, as Charismatic healing evangelists have affirmed, new life will emerge out of this abyss of death and hopelessness.

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      The People's faith in a God who does heal will grow stronger than ever before. And, through these painful experiences of people, God will be glorified. But the church is called to witness to human suffering in ways that are biblically conscientious as well as culturally appropriate. The Ebola crisis will soon end. The outstanding question that remains though is this, are the churches adequately prepared to deal with any such disasters should they occur in the future? One hopes that they are. Anderson, Allan. Bangura, J. Brussels, WCM Publications. Blyden, Sylvia Olyinka.