U.S. me­gachurch preacher T.D. Jakes goes in­ter­na­tional

The Covington News - - Religion -

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.

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