Considered by many to be one of the originators of today’s prosperity gospel, William Wadé Harris, was born in 1860 as a Kru man of the Grebo tribe in Liberia. His father was a heathen, at a time when heathens and Christians lived in separate parts of the village. His mother lived as a Christian, in the midst of a family life that was associated with traditional sacrifices and witch doctoring.

At the age of twelve, Harris served as a ward to Rev. Jesse Lowrie of the Methodist Episcopal Mission. Through him, William learned how to read and write in both Grebo and English. Harris converted to Christianity in 1881 or 1882 when he was baptised by Rev. Lowrie.

After he returned as a crew boy on ships that sailed on the coast of West Africa, he settled back home as a brick mason, William married Rose Badick Farr and had six children. Then In 1892, he left Methodism and joined the American Episcopal Mission as a school teacher and catechist.

In 1911 after being arrested and inprisoned for his part in an insurrection, Harris claimed to have received a vision of the angel Gabriel, who commissioned him, saying: “Harris, you are not in prison, God is coming to anoint you, you will be a prophet … you are like Daniel.” Harris related further that as he heard these words, almost simultaneously “the spirit descended on him with a sound like a jet of water”. This experience, according to him, happened three times. Henceforth, he saw himself as a prophet and particularly as one who has been given the responsibility of the watchman referred to in Ezekiel 33.

On July 27, 1913, Harris began on a missionary journey from Liberia to Ghana, clad in a white robe and a turban. He carried a bamboo cross, a Bible and a gourd rattle, symbolizing the African nature of his mission. Harris identified himself with the biblical prophet Elijah. Harris preached an orthodox Christian message, with an emphasis on dealing with indigenous fetishes. He burned the objects and called on his hearers to spurn occult practices. In an eighteen-month period from 1913–1914, Harris baptized over 100,000 new converts. Among those converted by Harris was Maame Harris Tani, who would go on to become his third wife and, later, to lead the Twelve Apostles Church of Ghana.

Harris died in 1929 in extreme poverty. His preaching produced hundreds of “Harris” churches along the Ivory Coast, although many of his followers joined established denominations, both Catholic and Protestant.

He has been described as the “most extraordinary one man evangelical crusade that Africa has ever known” and Jones Darkwa Amanor suggests that he can “be considered as the precursor of the Pentecostal Movement in Ghana.”

Bibliography:

  1.  Amanor, Jones Darkwa. “Pentecostalism in Ghana: An African Reformation”. Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  2.  Jump up to: Shank, David (1986). “The legacy of William Wadé Harris” (PDF). International Bulletin of Missionary Research10 (4): 170–176. 
  3. Jump up to: Larson, Rebecca (18 April 2011). “William Wadé Harris and Other Christians You’ve Never Heard Of”. Intervarsity Press. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  4.  Jump up to: Omulokoli, Watson. “WILLIAM WADE HARRIS: PREMIER AFRICAN EVANGELIST (PDF). Biblical Studies UK. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  5. Ayegboyin, Deji (11 May 2011). “African Indigenous Churches — Chapter Six”. Institute for Religious Research. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  6.  Jump up to: Leonard Allen, Gabriel (2016). “William Wadé Harris: Prophet-Evangelist of West Africa” (PDF). Journal of African Christian Biography1 – via DACB.
  7.  Jump up to: Jenkins, Philip (2002). The Next Christendom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 49.
  8.  Irele, Abiola; Biodun Jeyifo (2010). The Oxford encyclopedia of African thought, Volume 1. Oxford UP. 
  9. Kathleen E. Sheldon (2005). Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Scarecrow Press. 
  10.  Jump up to: Noll, Mark (2000). Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. p. 290.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1681 – Scottish Covenanter preacher Donald Cargill is hanged for his faith in Edinburgh.

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