William Wadé Harris

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William Wadé Harris
William Wadé Harris dressed in a white robe and turban, carrying a Bible and bamboo cross.
Born 1860
Graway Village, Liberia
Died 1929
Nationality Liberian
Occupation Religious preacher
Known for Prophet-Evangelist of West Africa
Spouse(s) Rose Badik Farr
Children 6

William Wadé Harris (c. 1860[1] – 1929) was a Liberian Grebo evangelist, who preached in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.[2] He has been described as the "most extraordinary one man evangelical crusade that Africa has ever known"[3] and is considered one of the originators of today's prosperity gospel.[4]

Early life[edit]

Harris was born in 1860 as a Kru man of the Grebo tribe in Liberia.[5] He was born to a "heathen father", at a time when the heathens and christians lived in separate parts of the village.[5] His mother lived as a christian in the midst of a family life that was associated with traditional sacrifices and witch doctoring.[5]

When Harris was 12, he served as a ward to Rev. Jesse Lowrie of the Methodist Episcopal Mission. Through him, Harris learnt how to read and write in both Grebo and English.[6] Harris converted to Christianity in 1881 or 1882 when he was baptised by Rev. Lowrie.[6]

After Lowrie went to Cape Palmas, Harris became a (Kru-boy) crew boy onboard ships which sailed on the coast of West Africa.[7] After he returned as a crew boy on ships and settled back home as a brick mason, he married Rose Badick Farr and had six children.[6]

In 1892, Harris left Methodism and joined the American Episcopal Mission as a school teacher and catechist.[6]

Religious career[edit]

In 1910 he was arrested for his part in an insurrection, and he later indicated that while in prison he received a vision of the angel Gabriel.[2] On July 27, 1913, Harris began on a missionary journey from Liberia to Ghana,[8] clad in a white robe and a turban.[9] He carried a bamboo cross, a Bible and a gourd rattle, symbolizing the African nature of his mission.[9] Harris identified himself with the biblical prophet Elijah.[9]

Harris preached an orthodox Christian message, with an emphasis on dealing with indigenous fetishes.[9] He burned the objects and called on his hearers to spurn occult practices. He approved of polygamy, and traveled in the company of several wives.[9] In an eighteen-month period in 1913-1914, Harris baptized over 100,000 new converts.[1][10]

He went on three more missionary journeys thereafter (1917-1918, 1919, and 1921), which he travelled from Liberia to Sierra Leone and back.[8]

Harris was described to have been the "most extraordinary one man evangelical crusade that Africa has ever known."[3]

Among those converted by Harris was Maame Harris Tani, who would go on to become his third wife and, later, to lad the Twelve Apostles Church of Ghana.[11]


Harris died in 1929 in extreme poverty. His preaching produced hundreds of "Harris" churches along the Ivory Coast, although many of his followers joined established denominations, both Catholic and Protestant.[12] Jones Darkwa Amanor suggests that he can "be considered as the precursor of the Pentecostal Movement in Ghana,"[2] while Mark Noll notes that his form of Christianity was "not as thoroughly indigenized as the Zionist movements of South Africa."[12]

David Shank argues that Harris's work "brought about a massive break with the external practices of traditional African religions all along the coast," including the disappearance of lascivious dance, huts for isolating women during their menstrual periods and a variety of taboos about days and places.[1]

Harris is also considered by many to be one of the originators of today’s prosperity gospel.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Shank, David (1986). "The legacy of William Wadé Harris". International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 10 (4): 170–176. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Amanor, Jones Darkwa. "Pentecostalism in Ghana: An African Reformation". Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Shank, David (1986). "The Legacy of William Wadé Harris". Sage Publications – via Sage Journals. 
  4. ^ a b Larson, Rebecca (18 April 2011). "William Wadé Harris and Other Christians You've Never Heard Of". Intervarsity Press. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Shank, David. "Harris, William Wadé (c.1860-1929)". BU School of Theology. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c d Omulokoli, Watson. "WILLIAM WADE HARRIS: PREMIER AFRICAN EVANGELIST" (PDF). Biblical Studies UK. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Ayegboyin, Deji (11 May 2011). "African Indigenous Churches — Chapter Six". Institute for Religious Research. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Leonard Allen, Gabriel (2016). "William Wadé Harris: Prophet-Evangelist of West Africa" (PDF). Journal of African Christian Biography. 1 – via DACB. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Jenkins, Philip (2002). The Next Christendom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 49. 
  10. ^ Irele, Abiola; Biodun Jeyifo (2010). The Oxford encyclopedia of African thought, Volume 1. Oxford UP. ISBN 978-0-19-533473-9. 
  11. ^ Kathleen E. Sheldon (2005). Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5331-7. 
  12. ^ a b Noll, Mark (2000). Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. p. 290. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Shank, David A. Prophet Harris, the 'Black Elijah' of West Africa (Studies of Religion in Africa, No 10). Brill, 1994.