Thousands go to church to find true love, get tips on avoiding dating 'devils'

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Thousands of people began to arrive at the Nigerian megachurch just after dawn on a cool morning, looking for love and hot tips on how to avoid "dating devils".

The "singles summit" is one of several offered by hugely popular Pentecostal churches in the west African nation, where marriage is a cornerstone of society to which most people aspire.

With the relentless hustle and bustle of city life, and challenging economic conditions in a period of recession, there's often little time to seek out love.

But the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries aims to change all that at its vast Prayer City complex, opposite an amusement park off the Lagos to Ibadan expressway.

Its Gen218 programme -- named after the Bible verse in Genesis where God says "It is not good that the man should be alone" before making Eve -- promises to teach participants tricks for picking the right partner and avoiding pitfalls.

The lucky ones may actually find a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Read also: 9 ways to boost your relationship

Michelle Michaels, a 37-year-old public servant in a brown striped dress, was among the crowds at the summit one Saturday in February.

"Obviously I'm a single, not married, searching and all that," she told AFP.

"But it's more about getting it right," she added, turning serious.

"Marriage can be a disaster. The rate of divorce is very high nowadays and I don't want to be part of it."

With an astonishing maximum capacity of more than 200,000 people, Prayer City bills itself as a "24 hours a day, 7 days a week, non-stop" venue facilitating "aggressive prayer".

By 8:30 am the singles summit was well under way, with a dapper singer in a suit and red tie belting out majestic soft rock ballads that were more Coldplay than Kumbaya.

Read also: Key to marriage: 'The plural of spouse is spice'

Half an hour later, there was dancing in the aisles. By 10:00 am, many were crying. Some were sprawled motionless and face down on the floor in apparent rapture.

The summit appeared to be reaching a climax but in fact hadn't even started: superstar pastor Daniel Kolawole Olukoya's appearance was still four hours away.

A range of churches offer singles summits but the substance is more or less the same.

It includes frank advice about the realities of married life, while divine guidelines are prescribed such as abstaining from sex until marriage, and there's a lot of praise.

Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo of the Kingsway International Christian Centre held his own event earlier last month, teaching from his bestselling book "Don't Date Devils".

7 signs your relationship won't last

  • Signs of a break up #1: Is the relationship turning mean?
  • While "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen" may sometimes attract that special person, if you've been with your loved one for a while and you're still being treated mean then it's unlikely that your partner's objective is to keep you keen.
  • While most couples tease each other by being 'mean' in a playful/flirtatious way, if their main intention is to hurt or demean you then the respect has evaporated from the relationship and it's going to end in tears.
  • Signs of a break up #2: You choose not to spend much time together. Relationships thrive when both members of a couple create the right balance between spending time apart and spending special time together.
  • If you find yourself spending a large amount of time without your partner and you're not even missing them, there's a good chance you're just not that into them and your relationship is probably headed for the rocks.
  • Signs of a break-up #3: You're not introduced to family or friends. When you've met that special someone who you really love, you have butterflies in your stomach and you want to shout about your romance from the rooftops.
  • If you've been with someone for a good few months and they still haven't introduced you to their family or friends then you've got to question why they aren't making your relationship public information.
  • Signs of a break-up #4: They're controlling. Does your other half want to know your exact whereabouts and exactly what you're up to at all times? While you might enjoy the attention to start off with, this can become pretty annoying after some time.
  • Signs of a break-up #5: Where's the commitment? If you've been seeing each other for a while and your other half has shown no signs of wanting to commit, it's worth wondering why.
  • Of course, some romances take a long time to develop by nature, but make sure you don't end up being strung along by someone who doesn't see a future with you.
  • Signs of a break-up #6: You have nothing in common. Yes, we know that opposites attract but when you're so opposite that you can't even have a decent conversation because you have nothing in common, we're pretty sure that polar opposites repel.
  • Of course, you don't want to be with someone who is exactly the same as you (yawn!) - having different interests can be exciting. When it gets to the point where your conversations are boring though, we can pretty confidently say that this isn't go
  • A relationship where one person wants to commit and the other doesn't seem interested is destined for disaster.
  • Signs of a break-up #7: Too busy to call. Of course, it's normal for people to be too busy to call their partner a lot of the time - life is busy! However, if the phrase "I'm too busy to call" is becoming all too familiar, then your other half....
  • ...needs to prioritise. If they can't do that, you're going to end up feeling pretty rubbish. Everyone needs to feel special and if your other half doesn't make you feel that way, it's time to ditch them for someone who does!

On a different note, husband and wife team Bisi and Yomi Adewale, from the Family Booster Ministry, host singles events on the theme "12 Relationships You Must Avoid At All Cost".

"The singles are not only going there to hook future sanctified partners but also to acquire the spiritual endowments and secular skills on how to become future rich husbands and wives," said Nimi Wariboko, a professor at Boston University's theology school who studies Pentecostalism.

"The summits are also places of pleasure, spaces where one can intensely party in the name of worship and experience huge emotional release without guilt.

"It's a bundled service package directed at a segment of Nigerians eager to cross over from one stage of life into another."

While the church may appear conservative in some ways, specifying that women must cover their hair on religious premises, for example, it's liberal in others.

The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries condemns forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy and inherited marriages, which see a widow passed on to another family member and are still common in Nigeria.

Read also: 6 reasons why you shouldn't rush into marriage

In this way, the church helps guide young professionals as they adapt their traditional customs to modern life.

"There has been an evolution from arranged marriage to marrying for love, and of course a shared love of Jesus Christ is a way of legitimising a choice of who to marry," said Daniel J. Smith, an anthropology professor at Brown University in the United States.

That said, Olukoya still emphasises patience, since hasty vows can result in an unhappy marriage to what he calls a "baby husband" -- someone who "loves his mother more than the wife" -- or an "acidic wife" -- a woman whom, "when she talks, you feel like committing suicide".

"Being a single isn't a bad thing," said Oluboyede Oluwatosin, a thoughtful 31-year-old technician attending his first singles summit.

"It's good to be married but you don't just jump into marriage, there is some training you need. If you jump into marriage, you will surely jump out."


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