Opon, Sampson (B)
Samson Oppong (variant spellings: Oppon or Opon) was a Gold Coast prophet-preacher. He was born in Brong Ahafo (now in Ghana) in a slave family originating in Gurunsi (now in Burkina Faso). He became an itinerant laborer, and, instructed by his uncle, practiced magic enthusiastically. While he was in prison for embezzlement in Ivory Coast (c. 1913), a prophetic dream instructed him to burn his fetishes. He resisted this and other admonitory experiences over several years, during which he prospered through sorcery. He had various contacts with Christian but no sustained church exposure. After a particularly vivid vision about 1917, he began itinerant preaching, calling for destruction of fetishes and abandonment of magic and witchcraft. He seems to have been by an American Methodist Episcopal minister, but he worked independently of the missions, drawing vast crowds in Ashanti where Christianity had made little progress despite a long presence. He confronted powerful chiefs and disturbed the colonial authorities. Illiterate, he was believed to learn Bible texts from a stone he carried (he identified it with the stone of Revelation 2:17). The Basel Mission ignored him, but in 1920, a Wesleyan Methodist missionary, W. G. Waterworth, met and traveled with him, and from then on Oppong worked with the British Methodist mission. Ten thousand baptisms followed in two years, and the Methodist structures could not cope with thousands more seeking Christian instruction. By 1923, 20,000 new converts were in pastoral care. Soon, however, Oppong’s uncle got him drinking again, and he became alienated from his church, whose southern Fante ministers he resented. He lost his electrifying preaching powers, could no longer “read” the stone, and in 1929 was convicted of a sexual offense in a traditional court. His later life was spent farming, though he was eventually restored to church membership and preached in his locality.
Oppong’s ministry, which transformed Methodist growth in Ashanti, recalls that of his better known contemporary W. W. Harris, but no direct connection between them has been shown.
Andrew F. Walls
H. Debrunner, The Story of Sampson Oppong (1967) and History of Christianity in Ghana (1965); G. M. Haliburton, “The Calling of a Prophet: Sampson Oppong,” Bulletin of the Society for African Church History 2, no. 1 (1965): 84-96, and “The Late Sampson Oppong,” West African Religion 5 (1966): 1-2; A. E. Southon, Gold Coast Methodism (1934).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.