My Experiences with T.B. Joshua (III)
Seventh and Final Visit
The non-release of my announced book naturally raised many questions, because it had already been announced far and wide. The press wanted to know why it didn’t appear, and I had to explain that. Also rickety elements in the African organization of the church, the endless promises that were not kept, the strict conditions under which the ‘disciples’ stayed in the church (sometimes for many years), the harsh attitude (especially of the ‘disciples’) towards some guests, TBJ’s strict, single-minded, authoritarian leadership, which prevented him from seeing through many problems within the church community, the boundless respect of his ‘disciples’ (when one entered his room, that person immediately got on his knees – but there probably also was a bit of African culture in this), started to bother me more and more. However, my respect for his person, teachings and ministry remained to some extent because, as far as I could see, he preached the pure gospel of Christ, and persons who had been under his ministry had been brought closer to Jesus (such as myself).
At that point, I had no contact with Lagos at all and had no plans to go there again. In fact, the events surrounding the book stood like a mountain between me and TBJ – or so I felt – and I thought (or feared) that I would never see the Synagogue Church again. I was therefore quite surprised when TBJ urgently invited me to attend his 41st birthday on June 12, 2004. I gladly accepted that invitation because I at least hoped that our relationship would be normalized. From June 11 to 18, I made my seventh and last visit to Lagos. There turned out to be more than a hundred foreign visitors for the birthday, including our own Dutch group (25 people) and sixty South Africans, plus some British, New Zealanders, Americans and several visitors from African countries, including the consort of the Zulu king (South Africa).
Among the visitors were about thirty pastors from various countries, with whom we visited TBJ’s ‘prayer mountain’ on a weekday evening. We prayed intensely together – but each for ourselves – in some of the new huts and on Mercyland, a white beach in the jungle, on the water, under the open starry sky. No matter how pessimistic I still was, I received tremendous encouragement from the Lord straight from heaven for my church and for my ministry. I also prayed for TBJ, in view of the great doubts that had arisen in my soul about him. It was difficult for me to talk about that with other pastors; they all seemed to think only positively of him and his ministry.
One of the most remarkable ‘healings’ during that visit involved a woman who was heavily pregnant, but whose child was in the wrong position. During the meeting, the woman went into labor and cried out. TBJ reassured her, ‘Your child is turning, and now you can give birth to your baby boy.’ Which she promptly did: the baby suddenly came out from under her skirts. I was standing two meters away (see BBC episode 2). Without any birth difficulties, the baby rolled onto the stone floor through her hands, and the placenta followed immediately. The crowd of at least six thousand people started to cheer about such a great miracle: a child that is already in the birth canal, and yet still turns, and then promptly emerges! Mother and child were quickly taken away, but afterwards, the happy mother with the healthy baby entered the church, where all visitors had the opportunity to congratulate her.
During my own participation in the healing ministry that Sunday, and especially on the following Wednesday, I experienced that God’s power had not left me. Several people I prayed for manifested violently. One white visitor, with whom I had had nice contact during the week, turned out to harbor violently protesting demons, which I was allowed to exorcise. When TBJ came to him, it turned out that the man was already completely free. During the final meeting we didn’t say a word about the book! And it had also taken me a week to accept from the Lord that I should not bring it up myself either.
Speaking of ‘power’ – I don’t remember which visit it was, but TBJ asked me to walk with him, straight through the church (where 12,000 people were sitting during such a service), while he ministered to one sick person after the other, accompanied by a cameraman, so that the entire crowd could see exactly what was happening.
Suddenly we stood before a man to whom TBJ said, ‘You came here only to criticize and oppose the work of the Lord. But where is your own strength!? Any Christian in this room has more power than you!’ Then he said to another man standing nearby, ‘Command him in the name of Jesus!’ The man stretched out his hand to the first named man and shouted, ‘In the name of Jesus!’ Then – really, I was completely surprised – the critical man was picked up and thrown three meters further away. There he lay on the ground, ashamed, as the entire crowd cheered.
Now you may wonder all kinds of things (and I did too): Should it be this way? Should you expose and shame a man in public like that? Shouldn’t the power of God be used exclusively in a beneficial way? Those are difficult questions. But perhaps it was actually meant positively: the crowd experienced the power of God, and hopefully it made the man himself think. But what is much more important: How can you say that purely human power was at play here? What illusionist can visibly pick up a man and throw him three meters away without damage? And how can you say this was satanic power, when it happened expressly in the name of Jesus? In such cases I would rather say that I do not understand such things properly instead of immediately classifying them as purely human or purely satanic phenomena.
I was also shocked when TBJ said to another man (who was in the prayer line), ‘You want to be healed, but that can only happen if you first confess your sins. You are so sick that you don’t have long to live. But you have so many sins on your conscience – TBJ listed a number of serious crimes – that, if you do not clean up thoroughly, you will soon die.’ Another question of mine: is that the work of Satan to call upon a person to confess his sins before God?
But there were other instances where I began to suspect that I was being duped. For example, there was a Dutch-speaking, Antillean (?) woman in the guest rooms, who did not belong to our Dutch travel group. She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell how she ended up in the church; her coy story made me suspicious. Her hands were cramped and she told us that she had the terrible disease ALS. As she stood in the prayer line the next day, I was close by when TBJ said out loud, ‘If Jesus really has miraculous power, He will also heal this woman today.’ And indeed, when he prayed for her, her cramped hands were opened and she was declared completely healed. But because of her previous mysterious story, I felt doubt arise… Did TJB really need it, in order to continue his reputation, to occasionally fake illnesses and cures!?
Did other pastors also see those negative points? Dutch pastors who have been to Lagos, such as the well-known Jan Sjoerd Pasterkamp (1944-2020), seemed to have an exclusively positive opinion. The same seemed to apply to Kobus van Rensburg (1952-2013), a well-known healing minister in South Africa. One of the best-known charismatic pastors in New Zealand was Bill Subritzky (1925-2015), whom I once visited in his own home in Auckland to share my experiences about TBJ with him. He had gotten to know TBJ very well, and he also criticized him (including the complete one-man character of TBJ, who was not accountable to anyone), but not about the spiritual character of his ministry. I have never met a pastor anywhere in the Western world who had become thoroughly acquainted with TBJ’s person, teachings and ministry, and yet claimed him to be a servant of Satan. Those kinds of accusations came exclusively from people who had never met TBJ; people who were opposed to anything Pentecostal or charismatic anyway. And they also came from various Nigerian pastors and from former disciples who had (understandably) turned their backs on him.
Alas! It was quite some time after my seventh and last visit to Lagos that I came into contact with several (white) ‘disciples’ of TBJ whom I had met in person in Lagos. They told me that TBJ had had sexual contacts with quite a few (both black and white) of his female ‘disciples’. Some of those contacts had been so much against the will of those ‘disciples’ that they had to be called outright rape. The same ‘disciples’, and also some of the male ‘disciples’, told me about what they had subsequently experienced as a kind of peer pressure during the (often many) years they had spent in the Synagogue.
I also hear of other ‘disciples’ who indignantly reject such stories and label them as slanderous lies (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SYhLEnlCQ4 !!). I know of one (British) ‘disciple’ who no longer wants to have anything to do with TBJ – while his own parents, whom he once introduced into the Synagogue, are still ardent supporters of TBJ, even after his death (June 5, 2021).
I felt very sorry for TBJ’s wife Evelyn, whom I had gotten to know well in Lagos and who (I thought) had to suffer terribly from all those sexual escapades of her husband. But no, I hear that after June 5, 2021, she simply took over the church in Lagos and is now playing the leading role there, with a whole new circle of ‘disciples’ around her… Will the party continue as usual?
All this terrible news, which has now been released by the BBC – and it is terrible – cannot take away all the positive experiences that I, and so many pastors from all kinds of countries, have had in Lagos. Don’t ask me how to reconcile it all; I don’t know. Except for this one observation: Billy Graham once observed that every Christian leader is threatened by three dangers that can ruin him: power, money, and women. I entertain the possibility that TBJ started out sincerely with the Lord but was overwhelmed by all three of these dangers. Power: he was the sole authoritarian ruler of 12,000 congregation members and dozens of ‘disciples’, who owed him absolute obedience. Money: TBJ was reportedly the second richest man in Nigeria (although he personally never asked me for money; on the contrary, he reimbursed almost all my expenses). Women:TBJ sexually abused some of his ‘disciples.’
Does this condemn his entire ministry? Many will undoubtedly reject all of it. But things are not that simple. I have known such men in all major movements within Christianity, men who started with the Lord, but were ultimately corrupted by power, or money, or sex, or all three. That is terrible, and very condemnable in such men. But this does not mean that they can subsequently be labeled as servants of Satan. They may have started out as servants of the Lord, but allowed themselves to be captured by sin and Satan.
In summary, TBJ is now someone for me about whom I know a lot of good and also a lot of bad… And don’t ask me what to do with that. Anyone who listens to the Synagogue programs – even nowadays – hears only good things about him. Anyone who listens to the (non-Christian) BBC only hears bad things. I just leave it all in the hand of the Lord. And all the critics who have never met TBJ, but who say so many bad things about him – especially now! – will have to account for all of this themselves. I’m not defending any of the bad things I’ve heard about him now – on the contrary, I’m disgusted by them – but I’m not going to let the good things of 2002–2004 be taken away from me either. TBJ’s ex-disciples do not have the final say on him, and even less so does the BBC. It is to the Lord that TBJ must answer. And let us be a little careful about that. ‘Let him who stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12).
P.S. One of the lady disciples, heavily criticizing TBJ and extensively quoted in the BBC programs, read my above story, which I had sent to her. I was afraid that she would dislike the positive things I still had to say about TBJ. Rather, her comment was this:
‘Amazing read, Willem – you’re a legend 🙌. Proud of you for taking a stand – that isn’t easy.’
Prof. dr. Willem J. Ouweneel (1944) has a PhD in biology (Utrecht), one in philosophy (Amsterdam), and one in theology (Bloemfontein). He is a retired professor of systematic theology (Leuven), a prolific writer (over 200 books), and preacher and lecturer in (over the years) thirty countries.