It's Sunday, and 15,000 people are seated in the enormous arena-like church, fanning themselves against the dusty humid air in Nigeria.
The preacher in a blue flowered shirt taps his microphone to announce "prophecy time." He places his hands on worshippers, who spin in circles, wave their arms in the air and finally collapse to the ground, shaking. They've been delivered.
"Emmanuel!" he shouts. "Emmanuel!" the crowd echoes. A camera crew of 20 scurries around speakers branded with the slogan for his Emmanuel TV station, "Distance is not a barrier." The service is beamed worldwide.
This is T.B. Joshua, one of the best-known preachers in Africa and among the most profitable in Nigeria, the go-to faith healer and spiritual guide for leaders such as the late Ghanaian President John Atta Mills, Malawian President Joyce Banda and former Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Joshua's Synagogue, Church of All Nations, has branches around the world, and a recent YouTube video even credits him with predicting the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Yet critics say this wildly popular televangelist hinders efforts to curtail the spread of HIV and tuberculosis with testimonies by churchgoers that faith and his holy water can cure both. He is also accused of taking advantage of his followers and tightly controlling those closest to him, who call him "Daddy."
|Prophet T.B. Joshua - Healer or Controversial Leader.|
His Lagos church has a sprawling campus of restaurants, overflow tents for thousands and dormitories for visitors, who all hope to be touched, even if only by proximity, by the man known as "the prophet." Joshua also has satellite centres in London, Greece, Ghana, South Africa and several other countries, along with a 24/7 television station on cable and online that comes with simultaneous translations in French and Spanish.
The man who says he comes from the poor village of Arigidi in Ondo State, is worth between $10 and $15 million based on assets, according to Forbes magazine, which in 2011 estimated his personal wealth.
His church, however, has become controversial for showing on its website people with testimonies of being healed of HIV. They hold up a required before and after certificate, allegedly signed by a doctor, stating that their HIV-positive status has transformed to negative. UNAIDS notes that there is no available cure for HIV, and any interruptions to medical treatment can have serious health implications and infect others.
"We strongly advise people not to waste their money on T.B. Joshua and his false cures," said Marcus Low, head of policy at the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, which advocates increased access to treatment and support services for people living with HIV. When asked if he advises followers to forego HIV/AIDS medication for his "anointing water," Joshua responded: "Let me tell you, I am a medium. In the same way, doctors are mediums to bring treatment."
Joshua, 50, claims his mother was pregnant with him for 15 months. Later in life, he says, he fell into a trance for three days and saw a hand pointing a bible at his heart. He started his church more than 20 years ago, and now has allegedly more than 50,000 people who visit his Lagos synagogue weekly, including foreigners.
"It's the opposite of sacrifice," said disciple Angela Brandt about working for Joshua. She has stayed on the campus in Nigeria after visiting from California more than a decade ago. She said she was healed of severe scoliosis.
Joshua told the AP that God heals through him, with a smile and confidence that show why he's so beloved to some. He sits in a small office with a blue and white robe over his clothes, with several flat screen televisions visible from his desk. He uses a buzzer to call in - and sometimes shout at - young, barefoot men and women who serve him.
That kind of treatment of his disciples has also raised questions. Former disciple Giles Hurst, 31, says at first he was "lovebombed," a term that can be used to describe when cults or groups shower a recruit with love and accolades to get them to join. But when he became a disciple, Hurst said, he saw the other side.
Competition was fierce among the 200 or so disciples for Joshua's attention, and they were encouraged to "report" each other for behaviours deemed wrong, he said. Sins are confessed in front of others, recorded and archived, according to Hurst and other former disciples. Passports are taken, along with novels and any medications, including mild painkillers or malaria pills, he said of when he was there.
Permission from Joshua in the form of a signed "pass" is needed just to make a phone call or email, Hurst said.
"Nobody questions it ... he is a holy man, he can do whatever," Hurst said, a statement backed by interviews with other former disciples.
The danger Joshua posed became clearer, Hurst said, when his mother, who was devoted to the church, started losing her battle with cancer. Hurst claims that she refused chemotherapy because Joshua told her she was healed. And the cancer did shrink at first, but six months later, she was dead.
When Hurst told Joshua the news a few months later, he said the man he called "Daddy" hung up. It was explained to him that "the prophet" didn't like to listen to bad news.
Ruth Mackintosh, who is from the U.K., said she's lost her sister, brother-in-law, two nieces and a nephew to the church.
Calls and emails to Joshua's church for reaction to these allegations went unanswered.