When Rev. Eastwood Anaba finished preaching on Sunday, 21 August 2022, at the Fountain Gate Chapel’s headquarters in Bolgatanga, the Desert Pastures, he left the 3,000-seater auditorium shortly afterwards for his adjoining office.
With a soaked face towel placed on his left shoulder, his face and shirt dripped in sweat as he stepped out.
The heavy sweat was not caused by the afternoon heat. And there was a good ventilation system inside the hall of the megachurch. The familiar sweat resulted from an indwelling trademark ‘fire’ usually kindled spontaneously by an unseen force during sermon hours and tuned gradually to a degree that overshadows ventilation. That internal flame is a unique FIRE of his CALLING.
While away, some guessed that he had some guests to meet up at his office. But he returned even sooner than they expected. To some congregants, that post-sermon move looked a bit unusual of him.
While their attention was divided over the development, he took a seat near the children’s section upon his return, to monitor an ongoing child dedication segment of the Sunday’s service. Again, that also looked like an unusual interest.
He was calm where he exclusively sat at the back. He did not look the one who had just set the whole church on fire. And the sweat on his shirt was disappearing almost without notice.
A number of families had been taken through the child dedication formalities in a hurry before Pastor Eastwood (as he is best known, and prefers to be called) rejoined his flock. The church officials in charge of that segment were doing things in an uncharacteristic haste because time, it appeared, had been far spent.
The ceremonies also required that the families take turns to share a few words with the church. And those still waiting in line were many.
The family of a well-known former professional firefighter, Roger Atambire Abaa, was next in line just when Eastwood returned. It was their tenure, after their newborn daughter had been dedicated, to take charge of that rare or once-in-a-childbirth spotlight in a jiffy on, perhaps, the largest gospel stage in the north.
He had just said a few words when the officials said he had said enough. He told them he would not miss a rare opportunity to share a burning story he had unsuccessfully tried to tell the renowned Nabdam-born preacher face to face in the past.
Then, the officials advanced towards him for the microphone. As they inched closer, he raised his voice a bit, saying it would take them literally dragging him out of the hall to silence him in front a ‘scarce’ Eastwood he had finally met.
Then, the officials withdrew. Their withdrawal was not because of what Abaa said. But because the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the ‘Love Revolution Army’ told them so. He said they should allow Abaa to tell his story. And Abaa began.
Pastor Eastwood was listening, his fingers interlocked under his chin. Confident, flanked by a family all robed in white, Abaa’s voice boomed fluently through the filled hall from the ash trunk of the mic in his hand and the dark bellies of the assorted loudspeakers planted around.
Abaa had given up his job at the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) to focus on an organisation he established in Bolgatanga to free addicts from the ‘iron grips’ of alcohol and drugs.
He founded Life out of Alcohol and Drugs Ghana (LOAD Ghana) in 2015 after he himself had wallowed in years-long alcoholism. His addiction attained a hopeless peak where at times, after drinking heavily, he slept overnight in front of street kiosks on his way home.
He would only realise it the following morning, when the kiosk owners arrived to do business, that he had not arrived home yet and that where he had ‘comfortably’ laid his head, thinking it was his bedroom, was just the littered veranda of somebody’s shop.
But, at last, he turned a free man— and a happy soul, too— through a rehabilitation intervention undertaken in Ghana’s south.
His superiors at the GNFS were not comfortable as Abaa occasionally met with students and workers during office hours to educate them on drugs and substance abuse, pointing back at his past as a best example.
Later, they began to wage war against his campaign, serving him frequently with queries and blocking his salaries.
So regular was the embargo on his salaries that when the manager of the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) branch in Bolgatanga at the time finally met Roger at the bank one day, he asked him what wrong he had committed at his workplace.
When he told him the reason, the impressed manager begged him with enthusiasm to come back and deliver a lecture on the bank’s premises on alcohol and drug abuse to his staff, clients and the general public.
The more his fame grew outside, the more the flame at his workstation grew, too.
Later, he had to take a decision on which path to follow. He felt it was better to forgo rescuing people from fire, which in any case was not an everyday occurrence and already had several practised hands on standby to deal with it, than to ignore saving souls from addiction— a silent plague responsible for daily mass destruction to human lives with no single voice dedicated yet to combating it in the region.
Despite having a family to cater for, and not guaranteed the picture of the future, he resigned at the rank of a Station Officer, not turning back.
He took off his firefighting uniform and set out— to help fight addiction full time. His colleagues did not believe it after he left, until his name was deleted from the government payroll.
Alcohol and drug abuse is very common in the northern part of Ghana, where Pastor Eastwood’s church is headquartered.
The young people are the most enslaved to the abuse. They have other names by which smoking and drinking are called. Smoking is code-named fireworks, because it goes with fire. Drinking is also referred to as waterworks, because liquors are largely composed of water.
The list of drinking spots is growing day by day. And smoking dens are not shrinking in number, either. But a rehabilitation centre for alcohol and drug addicts is hard to search for, let alone to stumble upon, in the north.
Pastor Eastwood, like some of his fellow clerics in other denominations, has been very loud against drug and substance abuse very much in the same manner his resolute 36-year-old pulpit is opposed, with a righteous fury, to centuries-old altars of ancestrally transmitted idolatry in the north. He tags them as major setback agents that need to be punched head-on with full determination and with a ‘Holy Ghost’ brand of fire.
Until Abaa’s baby was presented for dedication, the Fountain Gate Chapel’s most senior pastor did not know that LOAD Ghana existed.
And to discover that the initiator of a very rare rehabilitation centre in the region was a member of his church, Eastwood’s reaction weighed far more than the joy of a landowner on whose property the state had discovered a well of crude oil in exportable and almost-inexhaustible quantities.
After Abaa gave the mic back to the equally impressed officials, Pastor Eastwood announced without hesitation his plans to support the centre as soon as possible. And he has continued to speak about the lone rehab facility in his sermons since then.
Subsequently, he visited the centre, interacting with the residents (the addicts undergoing rehabilitation) and donating food and cash. Abaa could not believe he was hosting the same ‘deity’ he had almost concluded he was never going to meet. The eloquent ex-fireman was speechless.
It did not end there. Pastor Eastwood also gave Abaa an opportunity to feature LOAD Ghana on Love Revolution Television, a media outlet of the Eastwood Anaba Ministries (EAM). He was introduced on the show by Pastor Eastwood himself.
And only a few weeks ago, the preacher’s wife, Rev. Rosemond Anaba, also disclosed the church’s plans to support the centre with beds.
Challenges of LOAD Ghana
On Monday, 26 June 2023, LOAD Ghana hosted stakeholders at the centre to observe the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
The global commemoration, themed “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention”, coincided with LOAD Ghana’s eighth anniversary celebration.
The stakeholders, including the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) of Bolgatanga, Rex Asanga, took turns interacting with the residents of the centre. They also encouraged them to remain committed to the rehabilitation course no matter the temptation to abandon it midway, stressing that whatever sacrifices they made to overcome their addictions would pay off in the end.
Again, an EAM delegation visited the centre, donating an undisclosed amount of money in contribution to the centre’s anniversary celebration.
Speaking to journalists, Abaa highlighted the support the centre had received from EAM so far. He also called on individuals and organisations to support the facility in reshaping the lives of the residents.
“It is not easy starting something like this. All is about money. We don’t have funding. We don’t have government support. We just do it on our own. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to solve some of the problems— water bills, light bills, food. To even get the right resource people to come and help us is not easy at all.
“We are just praying and working to attract foundations. If we can get funding, we can do more in terms of education, counselling and rehabilitation. There are many addicts that want rehabilitation. They need it badly. But who will sponsor them? We are praying that we would take those people in,” he said.
“We are on a mission of restoring and transforming the lives of people struggling with alcoholism and addiction. We are doing so through education, counselling and rehabilitation.
“It is not only to help them out of addiction. We also need to empower some of them with skills and help them to start something productive so that they would not idle and relapse,” he added.
The centre’s resident pastor, David Abesiba, said addiction could be overcome only if the addict would employ these three things: self-determination, prayer and good counselling.
He added his voice to Abaa’s appeal for support, saying the centre was more or less a charity organisation because, even with a very low fee being charged for rehabilitation and running the centre, some of the residents still could not afford it.
“I became an addict through the environment in which I found myself and curiosity. Sometimes, I stole people’s things and sold them to get money to satisfy myself. I couldn’t help myself. That is why I came here for rehabilitation,” one of the residents told newsmen at the event. “My stay here has been very helpful. For now, I think I don’t have any craving.”
Another resident said: “Back home, I was addicted to ecstasy, cannabis and codeine. But with the help of LOAD Ghana— I have been here for four months— I can do without those drugs. But when I was back home, I couldn’t go even a single day without smoking cannabis.”
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org