At the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries on Rexdale Boulevard, congregants expect their weekly congregation of more than 500 to swell to 8,000 within 10 years

When I walked into the church, a sign on the wall said that those who have tattoos will be burned by hellfire. I glanced down at the tattoos on my ankles and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

It ended up being a four-hour service filled with dancing, preaching, singing and testimonials.

I was not expecting that when I entered Canada’s head branch of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, a square stripmall-looking storefront on Rexdale Boulevard across from the now-closed Steak Queen restaurant, infamous from the late Rob Ford’s days as Toronto’s mayor.

Visual interpretation of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries sign that is in front of the church. The drawing was created on Adobe illustrator and the colours are warm. The background is a light yellow with faint blue flowers floating. The sign is brown with the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries logo and name on it. Underneath the name in bold is the statement "Jesus Christ is Lord."

The ministry sign can be seen driving along Rexdale Blvd.

Dr. Daniel Kolawole Olukoya founded the original Mountain of Fire and Miracles in Lagos, Nigeria in 1989.

The vice-president of the Canadian Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Ade Adetayo, said Dr. Olukoya “got what [is called] a divine visitation: the Lord visited him in his room . . . and gave him the blueprint of [the] Mountain of Fire and Miracles ministries.”

This ministry became one that believes in aggressive prayer to combat spiritual and physical struggles.

Dr. Matthew LaGrone, who studies and teaches religion, said that Pentecostalist branches of Christianity hold with the utmost belief that prayer genuinely works. He said prayer is “direct, divine contact.”

Queen’s University Ph.D. candidate, James Kwateng-Yeboah, who is getting his doctorate in cultural studies, said prayer “claims to possess answers” to social issues such as disease and poverty.

“The welfare of Africans is intricately linked into how they deal with the problems of society. Meaning . . . [for] many African Pentecostals, the wealth is not just physical . . . the wealth is intricately linked with spiritual[ity]” he said.

The Rexdale location has been open since 2009 and is the head branch in Canada. Adetayo said every Sunday, roughly 500-550 congregants attend the service.

Image of the Rexdale Mountain of Fire and Miracles location. There is a boarder around the image which has a yellow background and pink fish drawings. The border was made on Adobe Illustrator

The front doors of the ministry and the bookstore, which is attached to the church.

Upon entering the church, I had almost a dozen people welcome me to the service. Young families, middle-aged folks, teenagers and grandparents – all dressed in their Sunday best – filed into the church and began to wait for the service to begin.

All the women were in traditional Nigerian head coverings and dresses; covered in colour and sparkles which hugged their bodies. The men were wearing suits with colourful shirts.

Before the service began, I was taken to the front row of the church by an enthusiastic woman who began to pepper me with questions. She noticed that my knee-length button down dress was showing some skin. She was worried about that and placed her handkerchief on my lap to cover the displayed skin.

The ministry has strict rules regarding how to dress appropriately. The rules also outline restrictions regarding jewelry, body piercings, tattoos and hair extensions. From the posted rules in the church, it is believed certain expression through bodily means can defile an individual.

The service itself was filled with exuberance. Hymns were yelled and sung to the ceiling by everyone in the church. Movements were purposeful and graceful, with a hallelujah shouted after every statement. At one point my neighbour gave me a napkin and told me to get ready to sweat. She stood and started shaking her fist to the sky. As someone who doesn’t dance and has a terrible singing voice, I was thrust out of my comfort zone within minutes.

Halfway through the service, the pastor announced that testimonials would be taking place. Roughly 15 people walked up to the front of the room and spoke about all aspects of their lives that caused them to believe in the power of religion.

A man told the church his daughter was close to dying at SickKids hospital with an unknown disease. He credited prayer, combined with his determination to find an answer through blood-tests, to help discover solutions for his daughter’s illness.

Once the first group of people had spoken their testimonials, the pastor encouraged more to come up and talk to the church. Within a breath, close to 30 additional people rose out of their seats and opened up to the congregation about their struggles and how they overcame these obstacles.

Near the end of the service people started walking around handing out envelopes. I didn’t realize that these envelopes were supposed to hold the expected tithe. I felt out of place paying the tithe as I was not a congregant at the church.

Everyone around me just held the envelopes while paying attention to the minister preaching. I quietly slipped mine in my wallet and decided to forget about it.

Roughly 10 minutes later the minister moved on from preaching about liars and thieves to paying the tithe. He said to the room, “even if you do not want to pay or you cannot pay, just know that the Lord wants you to pay.” That statement sent shivers up my spine and I froze, while everyone around me sprung into action and began filling envelopes with money.

Image of a quote said by James Kwateng-Yeboah. There is a light yellow rectangle with drawings of wheat in the background. The quote says: A Different Perspective on the Tithe. “There’s a lot of debates and issues about these particular [issues] about money.” In an African Indigenous setting, when people visit[ed] the traditional leader . . . they [went] with a gift, with money . . . They [brought] these things to the gods, the deities . . . with the intention that the deity, the gods and the spirits [would] respond to their needs. This practice, this transactional way of giving . . . has been prevalent in African Indigenous settings even before Christianity came. . . so many Africans . . . who converted to Christianity or to Pentecostalism still carry this idea that when you go before God, when you go before his servants, you need to go with gifts or money . . . [which] will activate divine responses to your problem. That’s where it becomes a problem of who has the authority to interpret this [act]. [Is it] you, the outsider, or [them], the insider? Because the insider’s . . . minds, even if they mean to sell their house or properties, or give their salaries to activate divine responses, they will do it. But the outsiders, perhaps, will be much more critical and investigate . . .the implication of this and how effective is this religious practice in dealing with the issues you claim you want to deal with. It’s not really a matter of compulsion in the eyes of the believers. Those who are very critical [of Pentecostalism] would see it as exploitive and would not condone such practices. Even if you have critical positions about this, the believers themselves don’t see it as such.”

James Kwateng-Yeboah is a PhD student that attends Queens University. He is studying cultural studies. When I asked him about the tithe he discussed the complexity of issue and considers who has the authority to dictate the practice as right or wrong.

Adetayo said that the tithe is used for a variety of reasons at the ministry, but is focused on supporting and expanding the congregations throughout North America.

According to the 2016 Canadian census, 20,630 out of 42,430 Nigerian-Canadians live in Ontario. This number has been rising over the last 20 years. The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries hopes to cater to the rising population with future developments to the current location and expanding the ministries throughout the country.  

Growth is on the horizon. The Rexdale congregation itself is looking to expand to over 800 attendants in the next five years. As well, there are plans to move out of the industrial building and build a new structure for the ministry. Adetayo said they are looking to expand the ministry to the Caribbean, St. Catherines, Ont. and Nova Scotia. He said he expects close to 8,000 people will become a part of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries in Rexdale over the next 10 years.

The Mountain of Fire and Miracles, while perhaps not a typical Sunday stop, has become an integral part of the Rexdale landscape and will continue to be so in the years to come.

Map of Canada with pins dropped in locations where Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries is located. These locations are: Toronto, Ajax Ont., Brampton Ont., Mississauga Ont., Markham Ont., Scarborough Ont., Hamilton Ont., Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Halifax

There are 13 Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries in Canada. They are continuing to look to expand to new locations throughout the country.