Today’s piece is a departure from my usual articles. The above quote taken from the Holy Book is a clear indication of where I am going, moving away from my usual secular writings.
I have decided to write in this vein in view of the surprising announcement by the General Overseer of The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, to his congregation last Sunday that he would relocate his ministry from his country of birth to Israel, the home of Christianity. He said he had held meetings with three prominent Israeli mayors of Jerusalem, Tiberias and the Jordan valley and he had been offered land in an area around the biblical site of the Sea of Galilee to organise meetings for international pilgrims.
And why is Prophet Joshua contemplating moving from his most familiar environment? One of the reasons he gave was persecution. “This is the most persecuted ministry in the world. Who are the people persecuting the ministry? My people, Africa,” he said.
Indeed, he is not too far wrong on the persecution. It is as old as his ministry but in all these, he has come out stronger. There have been institutional persecutions and persecution from people who were supposed to have the same calling – religious leaders. I recall that as far back as 1995, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) stormed his fledgling ministry then, and invited him to their headquarters. Pray, what has a man professing Christ whose fame was on the ascendancy got to do with drugs? Of course, nothing incriminating was found in the ministry. Years later, the NDLEA visit was found to be not unconnected with the conspiracy to do him in over his growing popularity which was making some ‘Ministers of God’ and ‘General Overseers’ uncomfortable. Also years later, the chairman of the same NDLEA became a convert to T.B. Joshua’s ministry and never missed a service or the weekly teachings in The Synagogue.
We all know how and where the ministry started – in an unmapped, unchartered area of Ikotun-Ebgbe, Alimosho local government area of Lagos State. ‘Old site’ as the place is called is a tourist attraction today. Apart from the spiritual element where most who come for religious tourism can commune and be at peace with their Maker, it is also a tourism wonder with mechanized facilities. You can even take a boat cruise in the areas as the waters of that areas have been dredged. The foreigners who come for religious experience hardly ever want to leave the country without a visit to that wonder in the swamp of Egbe.
It was from there that a new worship center opened on Irefin Street, off Ikotun Road. It was another humble beginning. The church was without covering on its sides. The only protection then from the elements was the corrugated iron sheet on the roof. The floor was simply that – the floor. The chairs were long wooden benches. Bu the ministry kept growing, due to the spirituality displayed by Prophet Joshua. The crowd kept coming. They all came for the same thing – healing from their infirmities. They were not disappointed.
The G.O. was unassuming and could be seen in those days washing and cleaning the gutters and generally keeping the surroundings of the church clean. The Synagogue was a home for everybody, both the high and low in the society. He is a man attuned to giving. Despite the difficulty of building a ministry, supplicants who came for one thing or the other never went back without something in their pocket. That has continued till today. He does not need to know you. Widows and orphans have always enjoyed is generous nature. Apart from money, food items have been given out. His philanthropy didn’t end there; houses have bene given out, people have been set up in business. He donated items worth millions to Haiti during its earthquake disaster. He has intervened similarly in other parts of the world. To my knowledge, he is the first Nigerian religious leader to have intervened in a disaster zone at such a high level. I may be wrong, though. But that’ just by the way.
Persecution was there. Other men of God did not see him as one of them. They demonized him. The said it was magic that he was weaving. That he had strange powers and the power would not last. He was ostracized, not being a member of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) nor that of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
That is what brought about the quote above. For over 20 years, save for the blot occasioned by the collapse of one of the church buildings, SCOAN has grown from strength to strength. It has international recognition. The United Nations had once written to the GO to commend him. The President of the United States had written to acknowledge him. He is as popular in Korea as he is in Nigeria. South Africa like a second home, as is most parts of Africa. World leaders have visited Nigeria to see T.B. Joshua for healing. If the ministry is not of God, shouldn’t it have folded up?
But in Nigeria, the biblical quote also comes to mind – a prophet is never popular at home. In one particular year, the acrimony was such that he and another Man of God were invited to the police headquarters to ensure that peace reigned. Foreigners kept trooping into the country, looking for healing and balms for their spiritual yearnings.
Now, he seems tired of the entire persecution. He wants to leave to a place where he feels he would be received with open arms. But he should not be allowed to leave. His ministry has helped to further project the image of the country positively. The local economy has gained tremendously with his presence in the country. If he is allowed to leave, he would be followed to wherever he is by those desirous of his services. That is income loss for the country. Hotels and others who make brisk businesses would be in loss. Jobs would be lost as businesses would no longer boom. In all these, those that would be majorly affected would be the hordes of Nigerian who daily besiege the church for one help or the other, either for cure for their infirmities or in their request for succor. They would be left like sheep without shepherds. Whatever it takes, the Federal Government should ensure that he does not leave the country. It is thus heartening when Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who incidentally has the tourism agency under his portfolio, said Prophet Joshua should reconsider his decision, adding that he should dialogue with the appropriate authorities on whatever challenges he is facing.
“That will be very unfortunate in the sense that if he does move out, it will affect tourism in Nigeria. Pastor Joshua is an important person; he must bear with us. This is his country. If he moves out and goes to South Africa, for example, the revenue will go to South Africa. It is better that Pastor Joshua sits down with the relevant authority and resolve whatever problem he has”.
The minister has said it all and he should be rightly concerned. But he should not leave it a that; he should find a way to dialogue with the GO on steps to take to ensure he does not relocate. More so, it is his ministry that stands to lose in the event of Prophet Joshua’s relocation. The earlier this is done, the better for the country and all concerned.
Bolaji Tunji is a seasoned Nigerian journalist and currently the executive director of The Sun Newspaper where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.