My Experiences with T.B. Joshua (I)
In January 2024, the BBC broadcast some programs about prophet (or ‘prophet’?) T.B. Joshua (1963-2021; abbreviation: TBJ) and his Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos (Nigeria). Because I made seven visits to TBJ between 2002 and 2004, and had very close contacts with him, many asked me for a response to those BBC programs. I thought it best to do this in the form of this article. The present column is Part I of it.
In 2002, I made my first visits to The Synagogue, Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria, to meet TBJ (1963-2021), one of the most remarkable figures I have ever encountered in my life, and this may be taken in a positive as well as a negative sense.
In March 2002, I went, completely unexpectedly, and almost unintentionally, to Lagos, Nigeria, to the church of senior pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua. Our eldest daughter, Josien, paved the way there. Her eldest daughter had been healed of her poor eyesight, and our own daughter was going to be healed of her partial infertility: in March 2003, after (and through?) TBJ’s ministry, she gave birth to a second child. In March 2002, Josien came home with the message: ‘TBJ wants to speak to you, because he says you are a man with vision.’ ‘What did you tell him about me!?’ I asked. ‘Nothing at all’, she said. I answered, ‘But if I want to go to him, I would have to plan it a year in advance, because my agenda is completely full’.
The truth was that I was on a plane a week later. I had a dispensation from the College where I was teaching, and had postponed my speaking engagements or transferred them to other speakers. It was just before Easter. Josien would be in Nigeria with a Dutch group, and I would join them.
During my first visit, one day the guests had to make their confession of sins, that is, write down their sins and come clean before the Lord, if they had not already done so. I had no intention of joining the prayer line the next day and therefore did not feel ‘obligated’ to participate in the confession. In fact, that was just my pride. Late that evening I discovered TBJ – I had not yet met him in person – who was in one of the tents giving instructions to about two hundred Nigerian evangelists. I quietly stood aside, but he quickly discovered me. He looked me straight in the eyes saying, ‘Nowadays there are even preachers who cannot sleep without the aid of sleeping pills.’ That hit the nail on the head! I felt ashamed. That night I didn’t take a sleeping pill; it was the first time in many months.
The next day, Wednesday, the weekday healing service was held. Since it was the last Wednesday of the month, the service would continue all night. I was happy that I could finally go to bed early in the morning (Thursday). Because we were very tired, we went to bed early that evening. It would be my last night at the Synagogue Church. Because of the missed night, I was sure I would fall asleep quickly. Yet that didn’t happen. I was wide awake and couldn’t fall asleep. What would I do? I could, as usual, take a sleeping pill – that would be ‘wise’, because I would miss the next night, which I had to spend on the plane, too – or I could get up and go to the church hall to pray. I realized that I needed my dressing gown to walk through the church, but I was sleeping in a dormitory with men whom I didn’t want to wake up. My dressing gown was somewhere in the chaos of my suitcase contents under my bed. How could I get it in the dark without making any noise? That could be a sign: if I couldn’t find my dressing gown easily, I would quietly stay in bed and take that sleeping pill. I carefully reached into the suitcase and grabbed it – I immediately had my dressing gown in my hand. I had no choice now: I put it on, grabbed my slippers and quietly left the dorm.
I spent about an hour on my knees near the stage, praying and listening. This experience was amazing: it had been a long time since the Lord had spoken to me as clearly as he did there. With love and patience, the Lord showed me my pride and stubbornness. Why had I not participated in the confession? Had I really confessed all my sins to the Lord? Weren’t there sins that I had confessed before, but from which I had never been freed? I had not come for healing, I had come because I had been invited by TBJ – but what was the Lord’s real purpose in calling me to Nigeria? To test TBJ’s working methods and teaching as an ‘expert’? But I didn’t consider myself such an ‘expert’ at all. Or to humble myself before the Lord and discover the power of the Holy Spirit in a way I had never known before? All this time I had been trying to understand the events in the Synagogue Church with my mind and to fit them into my ‘framework’. Now the Lord told me that He had something much more important in store for me: He touched my heart.
I took a piece of paper and a pen and started writing. I prayed about every part, really confessing things and humbling myself about them. I do not say that I have never again fallen, or will fall, into the sins I there confessed. Of course not. But I did feel so much more protected after my encounter with the Lord. This is not my merit, and certainly not TBJ’s merit, but solely the grace of the Lord. But it did happen in Lagos, at the Synagogue Church of TBJ.
Back in the Netherlands
I came back a renewed man. First, my preaching ministry changed quite significantly. I don’t testify that about myself, others have told me that. The day after my return was Easter Sunday. Twice I had to speak before large groups of young people, in Dalfsen and in Gouda, many of whom were touched. About Easter morning I found this on the internet: ‘I heard Ouweneel one day after he returned from Nigeria, at a Ronduit conference [Dalfsen]. I can safely tell you that I have experienced a lot at Ronduit, but I have never seen the leader of that service start to cry after his story, because she longed so terribly for God, and everyone was really very impressed by the extent to which God spoke through him. In any case, he was not into the occult [as some had claimed because of TBJ’s alleged influence on me]; I have never seen anyone preach the Easter Gospel with such power and enthusiasm as Ouweneel did that morning.’
Please take it from me that I don’t mention this to boast of myself; I just want to glory in Christ and His grace. I tell you this only to show what the Lord can do in the life of a person, even a person who had been preaching for decades (I was 57 at the time). At the very least, I hope people understand that I find it ridiculous when some claim that I came under ‘demonic’ influence in Lagos. Someone asked me that Easter morning in Dalfsen: ‘Have you become a Pentecostal?’ ‘No,’ I answered seriously, ‘I have only been touched by the Lord.’
Since May 2002, I have made several other visits to Lagos. All in all, I was there for two full months. Not only did I get to know TBJ’s person, work and preaching thoroughly – with all the positive, but also the negative aspects (see below) – and I spiritually went very deep myself. During the second visit, I also found healing from my sleeping problems, my knee problems and my frequent headaches, colds and throat infections. That meant a lot to me, because during the last winters I often had a cold more than half of the time to such an extent that I sometimes had to cancel speaking engagements because of my severely affected voice.
That healing is a remarkable story. Actually, as with my previous confession of sin, TBJ personally had little to do with it. It happened more despite him than because of him. During my second visit to Lagos, he prayed for my ailments during the meeting. While he prayed, I felt nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary, there was a tremendous attack of doubt in my soul, which surprised and disappointed myself. I had seen so many healing miracles, and now that doubt? Did I, deep down, doubt TBJ’s ministry? Believe it or not, three days later I got the worst cold of my life, which lasted a full three weeks and left me almost without speech.
Was TBJ’s ministry a failure? Or should I look for the cause within myself? In summer, I didn’t think much about it, because during the summer recess (when there are no Bible lectures) I always have little or no trouble with colds and laryngitis. But in early autumn, especially through contact (in Lagos!!) with a wise Austrian sister, who was a physician and a Christian, certain spiritual principles began to become clearer to me. This concerns the power of the spoken word, both in a positive and a negative sense. In Mark 11:23 the Lord says, if anyone “believes that what he speaks comes to pass, it will happen to him.” Jesus meant this in a positive sense, but it is a general rule, also in a negative sense. If I tell myself that this or that evil will happen to me, then I get what I say. If, at the first tickle in my throat, I told myself that I would catch a cold again, then I would catch a cold. During my first and second visits to the Synagogue, I told myself that I would certainly suffer the bad consequences of staying up all night during the church vigils, and I did suffer those bad consequences. I told myself that the little sleep and the constant switching between the hot climate and air-conditioned rooms would definitely give me a cold, and I caught a cold both times.
In the meantime, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson (somewhat). I simply ask the Lord to give me the physical strength for whatever experience I have, and I tell myself that the Lord will surely grant me that blessing without doubting in my heart (see above in Mark 11:23) – and He does it. Even though I am more a pessimist than an optimist by nature, I try to avoid negative predictions about myself and others and draw the attention of others around me, if they themselves make negative predictions. “With [our tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men” – including ourselves (James 3:9). Solomon speaks of cases in which people can be ‘ensnared’ by the words of their own mouth (Prov. 6:2). We must allow our thoughts and speech to be imbued with ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16). When we are filled with the Spirit, we will speak what is a blessing to ourselves and others.
Thus, my physical healing was accompanied by a mental healing and an inner change in mindset. After the critical nineties, which had shaken me so much – they were the most emotional years of my life so far (although I will not elaborate on that here) – I could not imagine a greater grace from the Lord than this warm bath in Lagos. A person has to learn to get out of such a bath, too, because if you get too used to it, you can no longer cope with the rough life outside. That’s why I didn’t go to Lagos again after 2004, because I didn’t want to become dependent on it in any way. It is an oasis, but you cannot stay there; the desert journey continues. My ministry is in Europe. And it lies in the area of Bible interpretation, not in that of the ministry of healing and deliverance.