LUKALA - It was an ordinary day in late May. Isabelle Lusalakio was cooking in her kitchen when her parents burst into her home, in this city south of Kinshasa. They asked her to leave immediately.

“Pack your bags and come back home to Boma. The man you've been with is not the one that God has chosen for you," her father said.

The parents explained that the self-declared prophet of their church, Jacob Dumbi, told them of God's will, which manifested itself in the fact that the couple hasn't had children in 10 years of marriage.

Isabelle did not disobey her parents, and left without even waiting for her husband to come back. An open feud has since erupted between the two families.

A few months back, in the town of Matadi, a woman forced her nephew to drink rooster blood mixed with oil, before his uncle threw him out. The couple accused him of being responsible for the death, two weeks earlier, of their 6-year-old daughter who was struck by lightning. The mother reacted this way after she came back from a morning church service, where her prophet told her that her nephew was to blame for her child’s death. After she heard what the couple had done to her son, the mother of the boy came to her brother’s house and broke her sister-in-law's arm in the ensuing fight.

In almost every big city or mid-sized town of the Bas-Congo province, these kind of stories are growing more frequent. “They illustrate the blind belief of the population in certain prophets, whom they take for little 'Gods', even though most of them are frauds,” complains Didier Mambueni, a Bas-Congo activist. Some ask for money for their services, others do it for free -- following, as they say, God’s will.

Most of the time, those who trust the self-declared prophets tend to have an interest in doing so: It allows them to blame their misfortune and mistakes on others.

Extreme poverty

It is usually extreme poverty that pushes people to believe in such preaching. “Those who believe in prophecies are generally people who come from very poor families, looking for happiness, work or even a spouse,” says Gustave Ngoma of Boma, a port town on the Congo River. However, a farmer from Tshela who was visiting family members in Matadi -- the capital of the Bas-Congo province --, claims he has seen well-known political leaders and top businessmen going to see a famous prophet of Matadi.

The bishop Damien Lukoki is the local responsible of Awakening Churches in the Bas-Congo area. For him, “a prophet does not announce only bad things, but with divine inspiration, he can predict future events.”

The self-proclaimed Prophet Kavungu from the Eglise de Jésus-Christ par l’Esprit de Vérité Bima is more cautious than some of the others. He cites the Bible's saying that “a Church with no prophecy is a dead Church,” although he advises his colleagues from other churches to “try and avoid specifiying names of people in their prophecies…”

He says it is the only way the prophets can “protect themselves from prosecutions that do not honor the profession of God’s servants.”