Dallas preacher T.D. Jakes takes his pulpit to Africa
The megachurch leader’s entrepreneurial evangelism is popular with a new generation of South African blacks.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
Johannesburg, South AfricaSkip to next paragraph
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The crowd is electric even before he walks on stage. They’ve been dancing and cheering, singing and praising. They’ve been loving the Lord and reaching to heaven, up in that cobalt blue African sky, far beyond the mine dump that looms next to this arena as a reminder of the bad old days, back when black South Africans were expected to toil and sweat to make white people rich.
They came in minibus taxis and shiny BMWs; with lawn chairs and blankets and babies and boyfriends; with $3 tickets and VIP passes. They woke up at 4 a.m. to arrive early, lining up hours before the gates of the Expo Centre opened. They didn’t want to miss “T.D.,” as he’s known here – the American author, preacher, and religious television star, Bishop T.D. Jakes.
“I love his preaching,” says Thongie Nduna, a flight attendant turned stay-at-home-mom who is trying to shade herself from the punishing sun with oversized sunglasses and a program pamphlet. “When he preaches, he can see you. And he might be on the TV, but it’s like he’s talking right to you. I love him.”
Bishop Jakes is a renowned figure in the African-American community. His Potter’s House in Dallas is one of America’s fastest growing megachurches, with more than 30,000 members, 400 staffers, and 60 outreach ministries. His books, such as “Mama Made the Difference” and “Reposition Yourself,” are bestsellers; his TV sermons attract millions of viewers. In 2004 Jakes launched a nondenominational Christian festival called MegaFest which became one of the most widely attended religious festival in the US.
But here, under the blinding sun, it’s clear that Jakes is more than just an American phenomenon. Initial gate counts show that more than 100,000 South Africans came to the first day of the event – breaking attendance records for this venue, one of Johannesburg’s largest.
“He is our bishop, too,” says Ntombi Sibanyoni, a teen from Pretoria. “We are just so excited.”
This weekend’s gathering was Jakes’s first MegaFest International – an attempt to reposition the event as a world celebration.
“It is important for all people to think much more globally than we ever have before,” Jakes said at a press conference before the festival. “The prayer in our country has been God Bless America. But we have come to learn that it’s not enough to ask God to bless America if he does not bless the world.”
And the world – this part of it, at least – was ready to be blessed.
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On radio shows last weekend, hosts quoted Jakes’ book and took dozens of callers sharing stories of connection with the bishop. One popular actor and gospel singer, Nkanyiso Bhengu, said that local preachers are now trying to copy Jakes’ style. Local dignitaries, such as Sibusiso Xaba, director of economic development for the province, and tycoon Patrice Motsepe, praised him, saying that people across South Africa revere him.
“It’s just a huge privilege for us,” Mr. Motsepe said. Jakes “is an inspiration not only for young people in America but for young people on the continent.”
Religion plays an important role here. Eighty percent of South Africans identify themselves as Christian. The nation’s fastest growing church is the Zion Christian Church – one of 4,000 “African independent churches” that blend charismatic Christianity with traditional African beliefs. On Sundays, members in robes of various styles and colors walk through the streets to their services.