South African news channel SABC1 has done an investigative report on Pastor Alph Lukau and Alleluia Ministries International (AMI), the church where a man named “Elliot” was allegedly raised from the dead on February 24, 2019. Although the incident has gone viral, with many mocking it, many others still believe in Lukau’s integrity and that the “miracle” was real.
“To use that vulnerability for any kind of religious gain, which is false, I quite frankly think is criminal,” said Bishop Paul Verryn, who is with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
What Was the “Miracle”?
The entire AMI service that concerns the alleged miracle is recorded and available to watch on YouTube here. In the middle of the service, a woman approaches Lukau, telling him that people on their way to Zimbabwe have just driven a hearse by the church when they saw the fingers of the corpse in it beginning to move. Lukau leaves the stage and goes outside to meet people claiming to be Elliot’s friends and family members. After a covered coffin containing Elliot is pulled out of the hearse and opened, Lukau asks what happened to him. A woman claiming to be his landlord says she saw Elliot die in front of her that past Friday. A man claiming to be his brother says the “body” came from a mortuary.
Everything about the scenario implies that Elliot has been dead, even though he is obviously breathing while he is lying in the coffin, something Lukau even mentions at one point. It’s also unclear how anyone could have seen Elliot’s fingers moving before the hearse arrived at the church since the coffin had been covered. After questioning those who brought Elliot, Lukau lays his hands on him and tells him, “Rise up!” Elliot then sits up and gets out of the coffin to much jubilation from the church attendees.
Since the alleged miracle occurred, AMI has denied that Lukau ever claimed to have performed a resurrection, despite the fact that later in the service (at 2:11:45 in the video) as Elliot is walking around in an apparent daze, Lukau says, “The dead man is alive. The coffin is empty.”
Arguing this was not intended to be presented as a resurrection ignores a host of glaring facts that AMI and Pastor Lukau have not yet accounted for.
What SABC1’s Investigation Found
SABC1 talked to several people who claim that AMI pays people to act as though they have disabilities and then pretend to be healed from them. One woman named Samantha Revesai says she went to AMI one morning for prayer because she was discouraged from being out of work for a long time. When people at the church found out she needed money, they told her to come back to the church the next week. When Revesai returned, she was given two papers, one claiming she had been HIV positive and another saying that she was now negative, something that was announced before hundreds of people that morning. Revesai denies ever having been HIV positive and says the church gave her money for saying that she was healed from the virus.
A man named Blessing Kwemelao, who was interviewed in the report, says that he recruited people on behalf of AMI to participate in fake miracles. He would tell them that what he wanted them to do was easy and that the pastor would do all the talking for them. Kwemelao says three to four teams at the church recruited and trained people for this purpose. He claims that those helping to orchestrate each “miracle” would send texts with instructions to the actors telling them what to do. For example, a woman might be told to pretend she couldn’t hear anything and then scream and say, “I can hear!”
One woman interviewed in SABC1’s report says the church won’t recruit people from South Africa because South Africans can easily be traced, but the church will recruit Zimbabweans living in South Africa, who are “untraceable.”
What About Elliot?
According to Elliot’s employer, Vincent Amoretti, Elliot’s coworkers say he has done other “stints” for the church where he has pretended to be healed by miracles.
SABC1’s reporter visited Elliott’s home on the east side of Pretoria where his neighbors (many of whom chose to remain anonymous) say the “resurrection” was a lie to make money. They expressed their anger at an incident they believe trivializes the grief of those who have actually lost loved ones. One member of the community says that the woman in the video is not Elliot’s landlord and that in fact no one in the neighborhood even has a landlord.
Elliot’s friend “Paul” claims he last saw him on Thursday, the 21st, the day before he supposedly died. Elliott was not sick and did not die, says Paul. Rather, he was acting in order to “make ends meet.” SABC1 also found that no medical teams in the province got a call about a death case on the Friday Elliott allegedly died. There was no autopsy report or certificate of death, and none of the funeral homes connected with the incident saw his body.
AMI Claims Innocence
AMI has maintained that it was not dishonest in the matter of the supposed resurrection and that it does not orchestrate fake miracles. Busi Gaca, a spokesperson for AMI, told SABC1, “So anybody to then allege that the miracles we see, whether it’s in the church or on the street, are either staged or people are paid for, I think that’s ridiculous.” If they were staged, she says, then people would be praying to a powerless God.
AMI has posted images on its Facebook page of documents from its attorneys stating that SABC1 did not give the church a fair opportunity to appear on the report or to defend itself. The church apparently urged the news channel to pull the program. In the comments on the post, many criticized Lukau, but many also defended him. One woman wrote, “If people believe that My Father Alph Lukau bought some people to fake miracles, then they should also believe that some people can be bought to lie about Pastor Alpha. Plz leave Pastor Alph alone, we didn’t force people to became member of AMI or follow Pastor Alph. WE LOVE U PAPA.”
In the report, one church member says he is so convinced that the miracle occurred he would stake his life on it: “If that wasn’t real, I am not real.”
‘Competition of Gimmicks’
Bishop Malusi Mpumiwana, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, says that fraudulent miracles are happening more and more often in the country and that it’s almost like there is a “competition of gimmicks” going on.
Bishop Musa Sono of Grace Bible Church says that while resurrection is possible, churches like AMI are taking advantage of people: “It affects people’s beliefs in what is authentically God’s word, and people end up not being sure, even when they see authentic things.”