U.S. megachurch preacher T.D. Jakes goes international
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — It’s time for Americans to look beyond their borders, superstar Texas preacher T.D. Jakes said Thursday as he prepared to hold his trademark Megafest outside the U.S. for the first time.
The best-selling pastor of Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House is throwing his signature event - part religious festival, part self-help fair, part gospel concert - at a convention center near Soweto this weekend.
Jakes debuted the event in Atlanta in 2004 and has drawn hundreds of thousands of people over the years.
He cited the global economic meltdown sparked by America’s credit crisis and the Sept. 11 terror attacks as examples of why Americans need to pay more attention to the world and their role in it.
“We can no longer live in corners and just care about ourselves,” he told The Associated Press. “Americans are becoming increasingly global-minded. If there were anything positive that came out of 911, it’s the realization that we are our brothers’ keepers.”
Jakes has preached outside the U.S. before, and South Africans at the press conference Thursday quoted from his books. But he’s never taken on anything so ambitious as staging a Megafest abroad. For the past year, more than 300 people have worked in the U.S. and South Africa to prepare for the event, in which he said his church had invested US$7 million (euro5.1 million). Tickets were selling for just 25 rand (US$2.71, euro1.97), and Jakes said he hoped only to break even.
The U.S. has a tradition of superstar preachers. Jakes is among the best known of today’s group, along with Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston.
Their appeal is testament to the power of two ideas: That spirituality can be a kind of self-help therapy, and that churches can be more than places to worship, but catalysts for community and political activism.
When Jakes preaches that Jesus died to make us free, and “we are not truly free until we are economically free,” he sounds distinctly American. But the sentiment is not foreign to South Africa, where religious leaders like retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped lead the fight against apartheid, and megachurches are blooming in Johannesburg suburbs.
Nkanyiso Bhengu, a popular South African actor, TV host and gospel singer, says young preachers across South Africa are copying Jakes’ approach and warm style after seeing his DVDs. Bhengu listens to Jakes’ CDs when he’s on the road with his gospel group.
“He’s very spiritual, but he understands the world that we live in,” Bhengu said. “It makes Jesus tangible. It makes God tangible.”
Megafest participants will also be able to get free AIDS tests and advice on starting businesses. While he’s been in the region, Jakes has built homes for AIDS orphans in the Johannesburg area and, working with the Christian aid group World Vision, opened a learning and feeding center for AIDS orphans in neighboring Swaziland.
Southern Africa suffers some of the highest AIDS rates in the world, but great stigma is associated with the sexually transmitted disease in conservative societies here.
The black church in the U.S. is also conservative, but Jakes has been a leader among black clergymen speaking out about the disease. He said having black celebrities like Magic Johnson come forward about their HIV status helped start an important conversation.
“We started losing people and somebody had to say something about it,” he said. “We have not mastered the art of communicating on this, but we are learning.”
Jakes brought along more than 1,000 supporters from the U.S. to attend the weekend festival, and said he expected other worshippers from Europe, Latin America and elsewhere in Africa.