Visibly shy and sad faced Ajovi [not her real name] is seated in a couch in her mother’s sitting room. She remains tensed up even though we have told her to keep calm and trust us. We had to reassure her throughout the interview that we meant no harm.
Two years ago, she was forced to leave her home in Aflao for the camp at Mentukwa near Pokukrom, Kumasi, a place that was far away from everything and everyone she knew. As if this was not enough, she was forced, at a young age 13-years, into marrying a 19 year old ‘partner’ in the camp: the reason being that Prophetess Helen Jesus Christ had seen their union in one of her several ‘divine’ prophecies.
Though she has been out of the camp for sometime after her mother took her away, the memories of her life there are still fresh. She would not only have to live with them for the rest of her life, she would have to see it every day – in the eyes of her daughter.
Sitting next to her on the same couch is her mother, the former financier of the church, Auntie Mary Jesus Christ. She is holding and cuddling the product of that moment of madness in Mentukwa when Adjovi’s ‘husband’ forced himself on her. Her barely one year old daughter (name withheld), did not want to be left out of this interview, so she announced her presence after sometime with a shrill cry.
Adjovi in a shaky voice told us she would rather not talk about that episode of her life. But after reassuring her several times, she drew a trajectory of events leading to the forced marriage. It started when she was called by elders of the church to ask whether she would ever want to marry. Her answer was a simple, straightforward and bold NO!.
“They called me and asked if I would marry, I said no; so they asked my mother and another elder to convince me but I refused till my mother brought the bride price and they said that day I was going to get married,” she recalls. Adjovi was however quick to add “but I was not happy.”
Although Auntie Mary Jesus Christ confirms her presence at the ceremony, she puts her acquiescence down to the insults and accusations that were going to be hurled at her.
“I was in a tight corner at the time, if I stood behind my daughter, they would say I am filthy, they would insult and say very bad things about me. They always said that a lot of times, telling us that is what the Lord said.”
The Mentukwa type of marriage starts as a pairing process, where male and female disciples are paired as a couple irrespective of their ages. The young girls especially are told that they would marry so – and – so person in future, all from the prophetic grace revealed to Prophetess Helen Jesus Christ.
Auntie Mary Jesus Christ throws more light on the concept:
T: So can the prophetess arrange a marriage?
AM: That’s what they do over there, all the children; they are attached to the boys.
T: Can you please explain this marriage thing?
AM: They say now that we are expecting the coming of Christ, even though the bible doesn’t say when Christ is coming you should marry, they pair each boy and girl. So the two of you will be praying, everybody has their place of prayer [i.e. the tree] so if you are single, you go with your partner to go and pray that’s what they do, even with the children that’s what they do.
T: So what of those of you who have husbands?
AM: If you have a husband, they won’t attach you.
T: So what about the kids?
AM: Even my children, the small one was 7 – 8 years, they attached the man to her and the other one, they married another one with her.
T: So it’s just like an attachment, they’d be married in future?
AM: Yes, when they grow up, they asked me to buy cloth for them so that they prepare the marriage rites.
T: In the church?
AM: They go to their parents and do it there, if the parents are not there the church does it for them, they return and the church blesses them.
T: So when that happens, they live apart from each other?
AM: No, it means now they are married so they live in one room.
After the marriage ceremony between Adjovi and the 19 year old young man, Auntie Mary Jesus Christ was still being accused by the church members because her daughter would not give in to sexual advances by her husband.
The young girl would also become the target of insults and abuse by Prophetess Helen and other leaders whenever the ‘husband’ reported her refusal for intimacy. To them, she was wrong to deny her husband sex. Her punishment went as far as ostracism; she was asked not to join the church service.
Auntie Mary Jesus Christ and her daughter, Adjovi however give separate accounts of what transpired in the prayer camp when it came to sex after marriage.
T: How old was your daughter?
AM: That time she was 13, when I protested they insulted me, they said I was filthy, I have forgotten the boy’s age but he is still there. They forced her to marry him. When she got pregnant, I decided that she should stay at the camp till she gave birth. So as I was saying, I did not want to bring her, so I was waiting for her to deliver then bring her back, so after a week or two, when she delivered I used to go to them, waited for them at the gate and gave them what I had for them.
T: Did other children get pregnant in the church?
AM: There is a woman whose daughter was married to a boy and they have two children now – one when I was there and the other in my absence.
T: How do you feel about your 13 year old daughters’ marriage?
AM: I feel bad, but when you protest, they’d insult you. There’s no understanding in what they are doing.
T: So was your daughter happy about the marriage?
AM: No, she was also not happy at all.
For her part, Adjovi reveals how confused she was at the time because her mother was not in the camp when she was being forced to marry. She says she resisted at some point, but not for too long.
T: So what happened when the person married you?
S: I was not happy, so every night I fight with him, my mother had come here (meaning her mother had left the camp for Aflao), so during daybreak he reported me to the prophetess who heaped insults on me.
T: So in the evenings, what happens between the two of you?
S: Sometimes we fight or quarrel.
T: So what happens if he wants to sleep with you?
S: Sometimes I don’t agree and sometimes he forces me. So if the prophetess insults me and my mother encourages me, I feel that it’s God’s will so I leave it like that.
T: You love the guy, right?
T: Would you want to go back to the church?
T: What is your husband’s age?
S: I don’t know his age
T: So is it your mother who asked you to marry him?
S: No, it was the prophetess
T: What is the prophet’s name?
S: Her real name is sister Vero; in the church they call her Helen (Jesus Christ).
T: Did she get a prophecy or she just said you should marry?
S: She got a prophecy
T: Can you recall what happened?
S: The elders went to a meeting and they called me and told me
T: That what?
S: That the Lord says that now I should get married.
T: Did the Lord add who you should marry?
Auntie Mary is ever ready to send her daughter back to school. Adjovi is also willing to start from the scratch at school in spite of the fact that her peers are currently in Senior High School. Whenever ‘school’ is mentioned, she sits up and beams with smiles.
The father of her baby girl, according to Auntie Mary, calls her sometimes to ask about how his little girl is faring.