From Lagos to Winchester: how a divisive Nigerian pastor built a global following
On the second day of TB Joshua’s funeral in Lagos, his disciples took to the stage. A microphone was passed around as more than 60 disciples introduced themselves by name and nationality. They came from 18 different countries, among them Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, the US and the UK. Some seemed barely out of their teens; others were in late middle age, having spent decades serving Joshua, the millionaire Nigerian pastor and self-proclaimed prophet being laid to rest. A senior Nigerian disciple, recently promoted to prophetess, began her tribute. “How to describe someone so indescribable?” she said. “How to define someone so indefinable? Human and divine?”
Joshua died on 5 June 2021, a few days before his 58th birthday. The news spread on social media, before the Synagogue, Church of All Nations, known as Scoan, made an official announcement. “God has taken His servant Prophet TB Joshua home,” the statement read, “as it should be by divine will.” Over a month later, his funeral under way, there had been no mention of a cause of death.
In a city saturated with megachurches and charismatic pastors, TB Joshua stood out for his global celebrity. He drew huge crowds on his stadium tours across Africa, Asia and Latin America. His satellite channel, Emmanuel TV, was a presence in countless households across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Before the pandemic, his church was the biggest international tourist attraction in the country. About 15,000 people would come to Scoan every week.
Some visitors came out of curiosity; many came in desperation, hoping for healing from sickness or deliverance from evil spirits. Politicians came in the hope that Joshua’s blessing might win them favour with the electorate. George Weah, the Liberian football star turned presidential candidate, took a much-publicised trip to Scoan shortly before winning the 2017 election. The church is based in Ikotun-Egbe, a relatively poor neighbourhood situated amid the urban sprawl of the Lagos Mainland, far from the financial centres of Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Joshua’s fame transformed the area into a thriving commercial hub. Markets, banks, hotels and restaurants rose up to meet demand from visitors.
What made Joshua unique was not just his international reach, but the intensity of devotion he inspired in his disciples. They called him “Daddy”, kneeling at his feet when greeting him in his office. They accompanied him on international crusades and philanthropic trips. As well as intensive church duties, they spent long hours memorising hundreds of pages of his teachings, known as Quotable Quotes, which they believed to be the word of God. They lived in dormitories within the church complex. Many of his international disciples came from comfortable, middle-class backgrounds. In following TB Joshua, some had cut themselves off from friends and family, foregoing marriage, education and conventional careers.
“Daddy,” said a senior disciple from Senegal at the funeral, “it was divine destiny that brought all of us to you. We came from different nations, from different backgrounds, with different hearts: unlikely people indeed … ”
* * *
When Giles Hurst first heard the news of Joshua’s death, his first feeling was elation. “I remember thinking: ‘This was what VE Day must have felt like,’” he told me on the phone from his home in southern India. “I thought: It’s over. Justice is done. He’s not got away with it.” I told Hurst I was thinking the opposite – he did get away with it, didn’t he? “In this life,” Hurst added. “But I believe he’ll have to answer to God.”
Hurst’s second reaction was an urge to reconnect. After sending Facebook messages to a number of fellow former disciples, he ended up having a long conversation with Mary Winfield*, another British ex-disciple. They hadn’t spoken since Hurst had left Scoan in 2006. In Lagos, their relationship had been fraught. Winfield was, he said, one of the more zealous ones. He remembered being denounced by her in disciple meetings. Now, there was a kinship in their shared experience. They reminisced about life in Scoan, shared news about life since leaving.
A month later, watching disciples speak at the funeral service, Hurst was struck by how many familiar faces he saw. He thought of the experiences he’d had since leaving: five years in the British army, marriage, moving to the Isle of Wight, bringing up three kids. He was now working as a teacher in a Christian residential school in India. It was strange, he said, to think that so many of his old disciple friends had spent those years sleeping in the same dorm, caught up in the endless urgency of disciple life. (Scoan did not respond to my request to comment for this article.)
I never met TB Joshua. But for years, he loomed large in my consciousness. I had been writing a book that explored, among other things, the unlikely relationship between Scoan and the church of my childhood, Immanuel: a middle-class, predominantly white evangelical congregation in Winchester, Hampshire. When Joshua died, I was working on the last chapter of the book. In the days that followed, I felt oddly unmoored. It was like nothing I’d known before: no grief, but all the disorientation of a bereavement. The fresh double-take each morning, the small astonishment of every verb pulled into the past tense.
I contacted old friends and interviewees. I spoke to Hurst, as well as Mary Winfield and her brother Dan*, who were old church friends of mine as well as former Scoan disciples. I asked Dan and his wife, Kate*, also an ex-disciple, what they thought would happen next. At first, Dan had hoped that his relatives – several of whom remained devout SCOAN supporters – would finally leave the church. With Joshua gone, he thought, the whole thing might quickly collapse. After Dan and Kate discussed the news with their counsellor, they sobered up. He urged caution. That’s not how these things tend to end, he said.
By the second day of the five-day funeral celebration, it was clear that this was not just a laying to rest, but a statement of intent. The last disciple to speak was a blond American woman in her 30s. “Daddy, we will preserve your legacy, we will defend your legacy,” she said. “One chapter in this remarkable journey may have come to an end, but it is not the end, never the end. Prophet TB Joshua lives on.”
* * *
TB Joshua first entered my awareness as a curiosity: a sharp-suited Nigerian preacher on the chunky plastic cover of a VHS tape, which sat among books and audio cassettes on the table at the back of the church hall. It was the late 90s and I was in my teens. When I first watched the clips of his healings and exorcisms – which somehow combined Billy Graham’s stadium evangelism with the kinetic drama of WWE wrestling – they provoked, above all, my growing teenage scepticism. But there was also a faint hope, a question hovering: what if this was the real deal? It was the remnant of a familiar anticipatory wonder that soon evaporated entirely.
In the years that followed, my aversion to Joshua intensified. He came to personify the toxic, tyrannical potential of the born-again Christianity I’d left behind. Since I started writing about him, and the confluence of forces that connected him with the church of my childhood, a kind of wonder has returned. Not at the possibility of his anointing, but at his audacity, and the sheer unlikeliness of what he achieved.
It’s hard to disentangle the facts of Joshua’s life from his self-mythologising. The official Scoan narrative is repeated in many online articles: his birth was foretold by a prophet, he spent 15 months in his mother’s womb, he received a divine revelation in 1987 while fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in an area of swampland that would later be called Prayer Mountain.
The basic facts are remarkable enough. Joshua was born into poverty in 1963, in a village called Arigidi in Ondo State, south-west Nigeria. He moved to Lagos as a young man, his secondary school education unfinished, and found work on a poultry farm. He was in his mid-20s when he founded the Synagogue, Church of All Nations. The earliest videos of Scoan show a skinny young man addressing a small congregation under a bamboo tent, wearing a white gown and a long, ragged beard. He barely resembles the plump-faced, well-groomed millionaire pastor he would become, but his movements are unmistakable: the antic energy, the easy mastery of the crowd.
Joshua was always a controversial and divisive figure. From the 90s onward, he was an outcast from the Nigerian Christian establishment. He was refused membership of the Christian Association and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria for making unorthodox claims about himself (his insistence, for example, that he became a Christian before he was born, during his 15-month gestation). He was criticised for his claims of healing. Aids and cancer were two of his specialities, and he once sent 4,000 bottles of his anointed water to fight the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. He was banned from YouTube in early 2021, after complaints about his videos showing him exorcise “demons” of homosexuality. His supporters, on the other hand, often proclaim him as a man of many good deeds, pointing to his philanthropy: he is reported, amongst other things, to have donated large sums of money to repair the electricity infrastructure in his native state.
Joshua’s prophecy videos, purportedly demonstrating his foreknowledge of events in the news, have created headlines of their own. In 2012, he prophesied that an African head of state would die within 60 days. In a later video, he appeared to name a specific date. When the Malawian president, Bingu wa Mutharika, died of a cardiac arrest on this day, he was succeeded by Joyce Banda, a devotee of TB Joshua who’d visited his church several times. In the press, there was speculation as to whether Joshua’s prediction was down to divine anointing or more mundane explanations.
The personal qualities that enabled Joshua’s rise to global fame might not be obvious to the casual observer. He had an infectious smile, a warm and open demeanour, but his preaching was simplistic, repetitive, bordering on crude. It lacked the slick fluency of fellow Nigerian pastors such as Matthew Ashimolowo or Paul Adefarasin. Perhaps its simplicity was part of its power. Joshua rarely attempted personal anecdote or biblical interpretation. He traded in aphorisms, the kind of memorisable nuggets of inspiration that could provide equal comfort to lorry drivers and international businessmen.
But Joshua had not simply hit on a formula with broad appeal. He meant different things to different people. It’s not hard to understand his appeal among the locals of Ikotun-Egbe, whose families his ministry nourished in the most literal way. It’s a little harder to account for his hold over my old church friends, who’d swapped lives of privilege in the leafy suburbs of Winchester for the privations of disciple life.
* * *
When my old church, Immanuel, first made contact with TB Joshua in the late 90s, it was a time of frustrated hope. Immanuel had begun in the early 80s as a house church, meeting in people’s living rooms. It was a local offshoot of Southampton Community church, which came out of a 70s movement so radically anti-denominationalist that it evaded being precisely named. “Evangelical” worked as a broad umbrella term. Sociologists called us “restorationist”, related to a North American theological movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation. But in Immanuel, I’d never heard either of these labels.
We believed in the truth of the Bible, and the continuation of the spiritual gifts granted to the early Christians, such as tongues, healing and prophecy. We rejected dry liturgy and inherited tradition, and looked to the New Testament for a model of the church. Many believed that a return to the authentic church outlined in the gospels would lead to its worldwide restoration, which in turn would pave the way for Christ’s second coming.
To grow up in Immanuel was to absorb a radiant sense of anticipation, of being on the cusp of something unprecedented and barely imaginable. By the mid-90s, this anticipation had clarified into a specific prophecy. “Today, respected prophets and church leaders at home and abroad are confidently predicting that the Lord will surely give us the land in revival,” wrote our pastor in the summer 1996 issue of the church magazine. Revival did not just denote a boom in Christianity. Some people spoke of the Holy Spirit hitting Winchester like a tidal wave. Shoppers in the city centre would collapse in the street, suddenly overwhelmed with God’s power. The church would be inundated with people desperate to give their lives to Christ. There would be miracles, healings, countless people saved.
The prophecies felt plausible. Our church was expanding. Having moved from living rooms to rented halls, we’d recently got a long-term lease on a large Georgian building, formerly a concert hall, in the centre of Winchester. Around the world, we saw places in which the first stirrings of revival seemed to be happening. We read The God Chasers, by the US evangelist Tommy Tenney, whose title captured the restless, febrile spirit of the era. Our condition of material abundance kept us apathetic and lukewarm, he wrote. If we could shake ourselves out of the complacency of the times, we would surely see Him move. Church members travelled to places in which God was apparently doing something, in the hope that they might bring back the anointing with them. They went to Toronto, Buenos Aires, and finally, Joshua’s church in Lagos, where the signs and wonders of the Book of Acts were said to be a daily reality.
Years passed, and the people in the supermarkets and betting shops of Winchester remained vertical and unrepentant. A divide emerged between the God chasers and the revival sceptics, whose low expectations were, in the minds of the God chasers, one of the reasons why revival hadn’t happened yet.
To some in the church, TB Joshua seemed the epitome of a religious conman. To others, he was a bracingly radical presence, and his ministry the very opposite of comfortable Christianity. Members of Dan Winfield’s family set up an organisation offering trips to Scoan from the UK. “Why do I need to go to Nigeria to see what God is doing, when it should be happening here?” asked one of the FAQs on their website. The answer: “The different environment helps expose the depth of disappointment, cynicism and unbelief we live under in the west. It allows the Holy Spirit to renew our minds.”
Our pastor was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2001. He went to Scoan, where he was proclaimed healed by Joshua. He stopped taking medication as an act of faith. Around this time, another member of the church was diagnosed with cancer. After Joshua declared her healed, she cancelled her scheduled surgery. I was not around much during the period of desperate prayer and silent division that preceded their deaths. I was at university, getting occasional news from my parents, who were as horrified as I was by the rejection of medicine that accompanied these claims of healing.
I could understand, even in my disillusion, the appeal of this teaching. The prospect of our beloved pastor’s death was made more unbearable by the promise of revival we’d been hanging on to for years. What if his illness was not just cruel randomness, but demonic attack, intent on thwarting God’s plan for us? Not a tragedy, but a triumph deferred?
Joshua’s healing ministry, and others like it, had a get-out clause. If someone got better, it was thanks to the anointing of the Man of God. If they didn’t, it was because they – or those around them – lacked sufficient faith. There is no surer recipe for private misery than a belief in divine healing that can be prevented, even undone, by your own momentary doubts. After our pastor died, Immanuel’s decline accelerated. It limped on for a few years, losing members steadily, before finally disbanding.
* * *
TB Joshua found his vocation as prophet in a time of crisis in Nigeria. After the high oil prices of the early 70s prompted a decade of state spending and dramatic growth, their subsequent fall left Nigeria on the edge of an economic precipice. By 1986, the military regime was forced by the International Monetary Fund to accept a structural adjustment plan to facilitate the repayment of debts. The currency was radically devalued. Many state services collapsed. Much of Nigeria’s emergent middle class was plunged into poverty. There was a wave of violent crime: kidnappings, car-jackings, home invasions. It was in this context that a boom in Nigerian Pentecostalism began.
Some scholars argue that this rise in Pentecostal Christianity amounted to a kind of neo-imperialism. At a time when western financial institutions were imposing brutal austerity measures, western preachers came to Nigeria spreading a prosperity gospel that taught people they could pray their way out of poverty, and that the struggle that mattered was in the spiritual realm, not the political. Other scholars, such as the Nigerian theologian Ogbu Kalu, have paid more attention to the ways in which Nigerians have taken this form of doing church and made it serve their own needs. There are surely more benevolent examples of Nigerian Pentecostalism than TB Joshua, but he does nothing if not exemplify this creativity.
Nigerians often lament the ways in which their country’s abundance of natural resources has failed to translate into lasting prosperity: how they export raw materials such as petroleum and palm oil, only to buy them back from abroad in expensive refined form. Joshua’s trickster genius lay in the way he took the raw materials of western Christianity and transformed them into something to sell back to the west.
After leaving Scoan, Dan Winfield sent a cache of Joshua’s supposedly sacred words to a friend, who put them through an academic plagiarism detector. As a young disciple, Dan had spent long hours transcribing and memorising these words, convinced that their uncanny, fragmented eloquence was proof that Joshua was channelling something beyond himself. This much was true. The plagiarism detection programme found that at least 19% of the text was plagiarised, largely from US evangelists such as Billy Joe Daugherty and Don De Welt – the kind of writers whose pamphlets flooded the Christian bookstands of Lagos in Joshua’s early years as a prophet.
Some of his influences were more overt. On the walls of the Synagogue Church, there were framed pictures of famous, predominantly American evangelists: a group dubbed God’s Generals by the US writer Roberts Liardon in his book of the same name. Disciples told me that Joshua often spoke of this book. The lives of these evangelists exemplified, at least in Liardon’s telling, the man or woman of God as entrepreneur: driven, individualist and charismatic, contemptuous of the checks and balances of the law or denominational church. Several touched on a trope central to Joshua’s own story: that of the unlettered Man of God. He was clearly literate enough to have gathered that his lack of formal education could be invoked to authenticate his prophetic gifts.
Far from refining western Pentecostalism, Joshua distressed it, like stonewashed denim, taking advantage of western Christians’ yearning for supposed authenticity, and the blindspots of their exoticising gaze. In turn, the white faces and BBC voices of these disciples – always featured prominently on Emmanuel TV – gave his ministry extra prestige among his Lagos followers, and the attenders of his stadium tours across the global south.
* * *
For years, TB Joshua existed on the periphery of my awareness, one bizarre aspect of a religious upbringing I was glad to have left behind. Then, in 2010, he came sharply back into my life. I was forwarded an email that Dan and Kate Winfield had written, explaining their reasons for leaving the church after so many years of devotion. Kate had confided in Dan that she’d been regularly sexually abused by Joshua over the course of several years. “It was like a veil was removed from my eyes,” wrote Dan. Her disclosure made sudden sense of the depression that had afflicted her since they’d married in 2006. It also brought into clarity the authoritarian nature of Joshua’s leadership that Dan had managed to justify to himself for years.
In the email, Dan and Kate went on to describe their experiences in astonishing detail. They spoke of sleep deprivation, public shaming and a community in which Joshua was considered infallible. They described witnessing Nigerian disciples being whipped and beaten by Joshua. They had been senior disciples, tasked with running a Scoan branch in London, now defunct. On leaving, they’d sent the email to a large number of friends, disciples and supporters. I couldn’t fathom how the people who sent this email – clearly not lacking in intelligence or moral integrity – could have spent years in such a place.
At the time, Dan and Kate were not the only people to have left Scoan because of alleged sexual abuse by Joshua. Two other British female disciples had left with stories similar to Kate’s. Bisola Johnson, who had been a senior Nigerian disciple, had made public allegations against Joshua, claiming she was one of numerous female disciples Joshua had abused. Her testimony had prompted Scoan to release a lengthy video called Beware of Blasphemers, which accused Bisola of being possessed by evil spirits, and having a “contemptible character”.
Dan’s exit from Scoan led me to reconnect with old church friends with whom I’d previously lost touch. We reminisced about Immanuel. We talked about Joshua, and shared our frustration about how difficult it was to find credible information about his church online. He was, according to the search results, either a great Man of God or the antichrist. The critical articles were as hyperbolic as the puff pieces.
We decided to start a blog called TB Joshua Watch. The first few posts gathered the better critical accounts of Scoan that were scattered around the internet. Some of my friends, who were still practising Christians, addressed the holes in Joshua’s theology. We wrote posts debunking Joshua’s prophecy videos, which were released after the events they claimed to predict.
The blog soon picked up momentum. We started receiving emails from people around the world keen to share their experiences as disciples. We got threatening emails from Joshua supporters, including one promising that “confession” videos would soon be released to discredit disciples who had written posts.
What was surprising was the number of emails we received that were addressed to TB Joshua himself. People must have come across our blog and concluded, without reading it, that we were an official Scoan site. The emails were mostly pleas for healing or prayer, and occasionally for money. Most were from sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe, among others. Some were sagas in miniature: tales of orphaned children, traitorous husbands, wayward brothers, dreams of studying electronic engineering thwarted by poverty. There were stories of indebtedness and precarity; postcards from a world with no safety net, in which professions and degrees failed to guarantee a basic level of survival. Some included attachments: CVs or scanned diplomas, photos of those asking for prayer.
“I have tried to save my family from this financial hardship by creating other sources of income but to no avail,” read one email. “I currently have another business (selling of houses and lands, sugar and oil). Man of God, please help me break through with this business successfully. My sisters and I rely on my meager salary which does not even last us the entire month. As a result, my mum supports us from her little daily sales.”
The average westerner went to Scoan seeking deliverance from the ennui of comfortable modernity. Others, inhabiting different modernities, looked to TB Joshua for a radical Christianity equal to the radical uncertainty of their lives. I was struck, reading these emails, by the bare fact of Joshua’s psychological power. How many human longings converged on him? He entered people’s dreams. He rallied them on. He illuminated hopes of a better future.
It seemed wrong to receive these heartfelt pleas and not reply. But as TB Joshua Watch, we could offer nothing but disappointment. In the end, we only sent one reply, to an Ethiopian man in the US who was asking for healing from HIV. We didn’t pretend to be Joshua, exactly, but left the email unsigned.
Thank you for your email. I will pray for you. I would urge you to follow medical advice and take medication if at all possible. Be careful of those who tell you to abandon medical treatment. God does wonderful work through doctors. God bless and stay strong.
G’s reply was short, and clearly unimpressed. “I AM TAKING A MEDICATION BUT I WANT TO COME SO THAT GOD MAY DO MIRACLE THRO YOU CAN I KNOW HOW?”
What G didn’t realise – and who were we to explain? – was that any power Joshua possessed had an inverse relationship to his proximity. That he worked best, if at all, as a distant beacon of hope. That he did the least harm to the ones who couldn’t afford to come to Lagos for healing.
* * *
On Friday 12 September 2014, at around midday, a six-storey Scoan guesthouse collapsed. About 300 visitors were staying in the building at the time. Many were having dinner in the ground-floor canteen. TV footage showed the aftermath: a dense tangle of twisted metal, ripped mattresses and bedsheets, layers of collapsed concrete floors. Weeks later, a final death toll would be confirmed: 116 people were killed, 85 of whom were visitors from South Africa.
Two days after the collapse, the Sunday service went ahead as usual. Joshua explained to the assembled crowd that Scoan had been attacked. He showed a video that attributed the collapse to a plane flying low over the guesthouse. Later, the church would make the claim more specific: a mysterious plane fired an infrasonic weapon at the building, which caused it to collapse. The video showed CCTV footage of the guesthouse, pausing to highlight the silhouette of a plane flying overhead, then unpausing. Seconds later, the building fell. Joshua claimed that this was a failed assassination attempt. “Don’t be scared,” he said to the congregation. “You are not the target. I am the target. I know my hour has not yet come. Anything close to Jesus receives attack.”
If Joshua was distraught about the loss of life, he did not show it. He gave one concession to the gravity of the occasion. He proposed a minute’s silence in memory of the victims, whom he referred to as “Martyrs of Faith”. The dead, lying under rubble just a few metres from the auditorium, had not yet been counted. Some of them, in all likelihood, were not even dead yet. But they had already been co-opted into a minor supporting role in Joshua’s personal mythology. The minute’s silence lasted just under 20 seconds, and TB Joshua moved on.
Over the coming months, the church’s PR machine pushed Joshua’s explanation for the collapse. Newspapers printed unquestioning stories about infrasonic weapons. (One brave journalist, Nicholas Ibekwe, released audio that captured Joshua offering cash for friendly stories.) Some reports drew on the judgments of supposed engineers, whose papers had hastily appeared in obscure pay-to-publish journals (one such paper contained 170 references, the vast majority of which were links to Emmanuel TV clips on YouTube with titles like Face to Face with Lucifer! and Human Possessed by Lizard Demon!).
In 2015, a coroner’s inquest concluded that Scoan was guilty of causing death through criminal negligence. They found that the guesthouse was constructed poorly, using substandard building materials, without planning permission or input from a structural engineer. Builders had recently added two extra floors to the guesthouse, without making changes to the foundations. Joshua was summoned to give evidence at the inquest several times but failed to appear. He kept his head down for a few months, letting disciples take services. Then he returned. A criminal case was brought against Scoan by the Lagos state government, but the case got nowhere, mired in endless adjournments and delays. Scoan resumed its status as the No 1 tourist destination in Nigeria, even while rubble from the guesthouse still lay in the Scoan complex.
When I first heard Joshua’s response to the collapse of the guesthouse, it seemed like the height of hubris and callousness. But it also made a kind of sense. One side-effect of his claim of divine anointing was that it forced him to constantly outrun the facts of his ordinary humanity. To have even acknowledged the collapse as a tragedy would have risked a greater collapse in his reputation as Man of God. He could only up the ante, whatever the cost to truth or dignity. The collapse could either be proof of his human fallibility, or a satanic attack that proved his anointing.
TB Joshua did not merely make a fortune from the story of prophethood he told. He built a vast and teetering human edifice around it, one that defied gravity for decades, held up by money and silence, and one that now faces a crisis in the wake of his death. He rose far above the poverty of his upbringing, but never left the precarity behind.
* * *
On the fourth day of the funeral, Joshua’s body was brought from Prayer Mountain to the Synagogue for the lying in state. A motorcade of police vehicles and SUVs made its way through the dense crowd gathered outside the church, followed by a military marching band on the back of a lorry, then a hearse displaying Joshua’s body.
At the time of the funeral, the question of succession remained unclear. Joshua’s wife, Evelyn, was named the head of the church immediately after his death. A few weeks later, the official Scoan Facebook page released an interview with Joshua, purportedly conducted in the final weeks of his life. He stopped short of definitive statements, but appeared to suggest that Evelyn did not have his blessing as successor. “The issue of family should not come into the issue of the church,” he said. Scoan was an apostolic ministry, he added, not a business to be handed down. When asked what he’d done to prepare for succession, he pointed to the five senior disciples to whom he’d recently given the titles of prophet and prophetess.
Other large Nigerian ministries, such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God, have navigated succession struggles and gone on to thrive. But Scoan has always been a one-man show. The disciple community lacked any stable hierarchy, relying on a provisional pecking order, subject to Joshua’s mercurial moods. Joshua rarely delegated, instead fostering a relationship with every individual disciple.
For disciples, to serve TB Joshua was to be one step away from the unfettered power of the Holy Spirit. It also meant living under relentless pressure, always chasing the prophet’s favour, always frantic to avoid missteps, always worried about sleeping later than him, who insisted on being greeted by disciples no matter what time he woke.
Watching the disciples pay their last respects, it struck me how even for the most devoted and grief-stricken, Joshua’s death might be experienced, in part, as a liberation. While holding up the promise of anointing, he also kept a check on ambitions, fiercely protective of his own authority. But the atmosphere of conflict and mutual suspicion that he encouraged will undoubtedly shape whatever comes next.
On the fifth day of the funeral, Joshua’s mausoleum was revealed: a hangar-sized hall within the Scoan complex, constructed with impressive speed. A pathway of illuminated posts marked the route that future visitors would tread, past a large circular fountain, its water lit up neon blue, towards the marble grave, housed within a white colonnade that held up a triangular roof, like a Greek temple in miniature.
Scoan did everything possible to emphasise how his passing was neither untimely nor unforeseen. He was called home – and if he did not physically ascend to heaven, his death could at least remain perfectly vague, unblemished by details of bodily failure. Now the inconvenient fact of the mortal man was gone, TB Joshua had become pure mythology. All-too-fallible flesh had become word.
* These names have been changed
Matthew McNaught’s book, Immanuel, will be published in June 2022