Prophet T. B. (Temitope Balogun) Joshua needs no introduction. Everybody has his or her reason for liking or hating the controversial founder of The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations, a Christian religion with a growing fanatical following. T.B. Joshua, the religious leader whom many evangelical church leaders would not want to be associated with, because they believe he should not be in the fold of real born again Christians.
Of recent, Prophet Joshua has been the butt of renunciations and denunciations by some leading men of God in Nigeria, who questioned his authority and his authenticity as a man of God. Without any doubt, Joshua is an enigma wrapped in controversy. And it was our desire to unwrap this enigma that took us to The Synagogue, tucked away around the Ejigbo and Egbe axis of Lagos.
There we found a huge, unique Cathedral, the type that has not been seen anywhere in the world. Even the legendary King Solomon would marvel at this Temple of God, built by Nigerians, “under the inspiration of God” as we were told.
On our journey of discovery, our family members and even our colleagues were worried about our going to interview T.B. Joshua. So much was their worry that they had to fast and support us with prayers and spiritual “casting and binding.” To them, it was like entering a spiritual lion's den. But we were not deterred. After all, journalism is all about adventure. It is about venturing into the unknown and to report it.
There to welcome us at The Synagogue on Wednesday last week was a Briton, who serves as the church's public relations officer. There were so many white faces everywhere, giving backing to the claim that it is an international church. The young man took us on an excursion inside the church that looked like a huge Roman amphitheatre with pews, carpets, altar and audio-visual facilities that combine to give a colourful and mystical ambience to the church. We visited the church's Emmanuel TV studio, which broadcasts religious programmes around the world. There were all kinds of studio - for recording and making CDs, audio studios and photo studios. In every studio you saw workers behind computers busy editing films or whatever.
After the tour, we were made to watch a short documentary featuring the newly elected President of Ghana paying tribute to God and to T.B. Joshua for helping him to win the election in Ghana. For 30 minutes or more, we watched the Ghanaian President, Prof. Attah-Mills, worshipping at The Synagogue and even going to the altar to share his testimony about how God used T.B. Joshua to make him win the election in Ghana. He told the congregation about how accurately Joshua prophesied that there would be a tie in the Ghanaian election that would drag into January, but eventually he would win. And he won.
Around Joshua's living room were pictures of Presidents, heads of state, who either met the prophet or came to worship in The Synagogue. There is the picture of General Andre Kolingba, former President of the Central African Republic (who visited in 2003), Frederick Chiluba, former President of Zambia (who visited in 2001), Prof Pascal Lissouba, former President of Democratic Republic of Congo (who visited in 2006), and Sir Orville Turnquest, former Governor General of The Bahamas whom Joshua visited in 2001. Then there is Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon who visited The Synagogue in 2008.
After an hour of the preliminaries, T.B. Joshua sauntered in to welcome us. He was dressed casually in a T-shirt and shorts. He looked amiable. As we started the interview, he grabbed the tape recorder from us and spoke into it directly as we fired our questions at him. It was his own way of ensuring clarity in recording. Our approach was to get something biographical or autobiographical. This is Prophet T.B. Joshua's memoirs, in his own words, with a little editing here and there. T.B. Joshua, as you have never heard or read anywhere.
Successful people don't just drift to the top. It takes focus, personal discipline and perseverance to reach the top. As we know, there is what we call man's natural gift and the supernatural gift of God. This church is the outcome of the supernatural gift of God. Man's natural gift is a gift one can begin to boast of, telling you how it all happened. The work of breakthrough is not our work. It is our faith. The work of breakthrough is God's work. All what you are seeing now is God's work. If it is to be man's natural gift, then one can begin to say this is how I achieved it; this is how I came about it. Up till now, I look at The Synagogue edifice and ask myself: how did it happen? God just wanted someone to do all these things and He sent me to do it. It is not my work, but the work of God. So let no man boast. All boasting is excluded. The Bible says, there is no room for man boasting of his own ability or power. So glory be to God.
Every success story started from somewhere. I was brought up from a Christian home. My father's name is Kolawole Balogun. He was a Christian. He was a farmer who was also the secretary to St. Steven's church in our village. When the white people came to our village, he served as a translator. He was translating English into Yoruba. He was an educated man. He lived with the white people as well as serving as church secretary. I cannot say much about my father because he died when I was a small boy. I know that he loved me a lot. I was his pet. I was the one who suffered most from the effect of his death. Being the last born, anywhere he is going, he would take me along. He would carry me to the church. As a little boy, I would be running inside the church. I would jump from the choir to the catechist's table.
Some people used to rumour that my father was a Muslim. I don't know where they got that from. My father was a Christian and I am a Christian. When I was very small, I could recall him taking me to church regularly. As a kid attending primary school, my dad would make me to stay after school with a Catholic priest whose house was at the back of the church. I did all the normal things kids do, like running around and playing football.
When my father died, my mum's brother who became the father figure to me was a Muslim. That does not make me a Muslim. I was brought up in a Christian home. And right from childhood, I was passionate about the Bible. Right from primary school, I was well versed in Bible knowledge. It was my favourite subject and I excelled in it. As a primary six kid, I read the New Testament twice. In my secondary school days, I finished reading the Bible on the average of two months.
Every two months, I would have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It was the only subject that I believed so much in. It was as if Bible was the only subject that interested me in primary and secondary schools. In exams, I scored 99 percent consistently whereas I performed woefully in other subjects. My excelling in Bible knowledge affected the other subjects where I performed poorly. At school, I was the leader of the Scripture Union.
Even though I was second in primary school, I didn't find it easy getting admitted into secondary school. As luck would have it, I got late admission into Muslim College. In that Muslim College, we were restricted from carrying the Bible openly. To read the Bible, we would have to hide under the mango tree or backyard and the Muslim community would begin to chase us. We were all 20 in number then. Like the early Christians, we would read the Bible in secrecy because they never allowed us to do it openly. I was the leader of the Christian team in the school, at Ansar-Ud-deen Grammar School, Ikare. And because of the pressure, I couldn't finish a year in that school. It was obvious I couldn't fit into this dominantly Muslim setting. So I left the school. I left because my life was in danger. I could sense that since I was doing this thing secretly, one day something could happen to me. To avoid that I had to leave. From Ikare, I came to Lagos.
'I spent 15 months in my mother's womb'
Back to my early beginnings, I was the last born of the family. When I was born a lot of strange things happened. Seven days after I was born, I was told that I was put on a mat and a big stone nearly crushed me but miraculously I escaped. How did it happen? White people used to come to do borehole in our village. And in our village, it's all stone under. When they are drilling, they would be hitting stone and stones would be flying out dangerously. Before any drilling, they would publicly announce that everybody must stay at home to avoid the danger of being hit by a flying stone. The stone used to fly because of the nature of the machine they use. It was on the seventh day when they wanted to name me that they put me on the mat and a big stone flew from where they were drilling, pierced the roof where people were celebrating and landed where I was placed. But it missed me, narrowly. The stone is still being kept till now. Nobody has ever heard this story from me.
The other mysterious story about me is that a normal pregnancy is nine months. But I spent more than that in my mother's womb. My mother was taken to Egbe, which had the best hospital in those days. Egbe is in Kogi State. It was probably the best hospital in the whole of Nigeria then. My mother was carried there for operation. After nine months, she started labouring. She ended up spending three months in the hospital. My grandmother had money and my mum is the only child. At the level of the village, granny was a very rich woman. So she could afford the hospital bills for that lengthy period of time. Each time the doctor wanted to operate my mummy, the doctor would say: “I am not comfortable with carrying out this operation.”
My mother told me this story. She remembers that in that Egbe, some Christians used to come to the hospital to preach to the sick. She said she was just lying down on the bed and a pastor just walked in and said she should not be operated. He said to my mum: “God is busy preparing this child. So, please, they should not operate you. Go back home. If you attempt the operation, the opposite would happen.”
My mum called the doctor and the doctor met the pastor who repeated the message to the doctor. My mum left the hospital after three months back home again to continue the labour. She laboured and laboured. Instead of nine months, she spent 15 months labouring. But one night, they delivered me without operation. So this made the villagers and the whole community to say they must celebrate my birth. And they now gathered on the seventh day to name me and celebrate. It was that seventh day they were doing the drilling and the big stone flew like a missile, heading to my direction, but miraculously missed me. Where the stone passed is still there. Where they laid me on the floor is still there. Because I said they should not touch it. The stone that fell is still with them.
The story began to go round the village about this mysterious child that was born after 15 months, a child they carried to Egbe Hospital and they could not do operation, they came back home, they delivered him safely. Now after delivering him, this stone fell and a mysterious hand carried this baby from the mat. Nobody saw me being carried. They only saw me in another direction, crying: Choo, choo, choo.
The stone was supposed to fall on me, but a mysterious force moved me into safety within the same room. It was a narrow miss. The cloth and everything burnt into ashes. And my mummy fainted. And she was carried to hospital. My mummy was in the hospital for good two days. The ram and everything were all there. The rice, they could not eat it. Because everybody was rushing to the hospital to revive my mum. Nobody did any ceremony again. But eventually I got named. I was named Temitope Olutope Oluwasheun Oluwarotimi Opeyemi; I have plenty names. On the day I was named, I was given 30 names. But I just chose Tope out of the plenty names. My mother one day called me and said: “Your names are almost 30 and they are written down.” And I just chose Temitope. I just picked Temitope.
My mummy woke up after two days in the hospital. My mum's name is Adesiji Kolawole Balogun. Her father's name is Kolawole. My mummy is late, my father is late. My father died first when I was a kid and my mother was left with the responsibility of training me and sending me to school. But she was handicapped financially. She told me: “You this boy, I cannot finance your education. You would have to wait until your brothers finish their university education. They would be the one to sponsor your education.”
Mum was the secretary to the union of daily savings collector - what it is called in Yoruba: 'Aya ni lowo fowo pa mo.' I remember her going out to collect daily savings from her clients. She used those things to train her children. Now that she was no longer into that business, and was hoping my brother, who was attending secondary school in Gbongan would be the one to send me to college. That was the only hope that I had to go to school.
Based on the hostility and the religious intolerance at Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, I decided to leave Ikare for Lagos. I met some people who used to carry cassava from the village to places like Ibadan and Lagos. I approached them and explained my predicament to them. They would spend four days on the road transporting the cassava to Lagos on the trailer. The trailer would be loaded with stuff like cassava and cocoa while the owners would sleep on top. I decided to join them. I did not tell my parent I was going to Lagos. I stayed inside the vehicle for four days before getting to Ibadan. From Ibadan we landed in Mile 12 in Lagos. They dropped me there and told me: “This is where we can carry you.”
For five days, I was in Mile 12. It was during the rainy season. The job I was doing was washing the feet of people coming out of the muddy market. I would wash feet and be paid little money with which I fed. I was washing feet until one day I heard two women conversing in my native dialect. I interrupted their conversation and asked if they were from Arigidi, my hometown, and they said yes. I told them I was in Lagos to trace my sister whose whereabouts I don't know. Luckily, I was able to trace my sister to Egbe area of Lagos. After 10 days, I traced her and started to live with her. That is how I started my life. Today, I have an NGO for motor park boys, because I have also been one myself.
I realized my sister had her own family and I should not be burden to her. I do not like inconveniencing people. If I visit your house and you give me a bottle of soft drinks, I would make sure I put something in the envelope, because I believe we make a living by what we give and we make a life by what we receive. This is what I believe in. In life, you don't just have to collect and collect. It destroys one's life. You have to give and give. Because the Bible says, you must see giving as an assignment from God.
'I carried shit to make a living'
I left my sister to live with a friend. From there, I got a job as a poultry farm attendant. The poultry is still there now. Not long ago, I traced the poultry to somewhere in Ikotun. The job they gave me is to carry shit. Fowl shit. And fowl shit smell is more terrible than human faeces. I was doing this job with many Ghanaians. There were so many Ghanaians in Nigeria then. I was the only Nigerian in that poultry farm. And I never let people know I was a Nigerian. I declared myself a Ghanaian too, because nobody would believe a Nigerian would do that kind of job. I did the job for three days and my body odour changed. When I'm moving about, people would perceive odour and flies would be hovering around me because I was smelling very badly. There was no amount of soap I would bath that would remove this odour from my body. As you are working in the poultry farm, the fowl shit would be dropping on your head. I did this for one good year.
At the same time, I enrolled in an evening school. New State High School is the name of the school. I attended many schools in Lagos. I would attend one school for two months, only to be sent away because of school fees. I attended New State High School, Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, Isolo, and another school called Metropolitan. Because I was very good in athletics, I was given what looked like scholarship. I won gold, silver and bronze in athletics. But I needed to work to support myself at school. That was why I took the poultry job. I was using it to pay my school fees. In those days, evening schools were like full, normal schools. You could easily attend evening school to do your WAEC and GCE. We even received better lessons in the evening than in the day school in those days. I was sending myself to school and at the same time teaching children Bible studies.
My athletics took me to Baptist Academy. When I was running they picked me. Under one year, I attended 15 schools here in Lagos. And I did not finish one year. I don't remember the year, because I cannot keep records. But it's all in the documentary on my life. I was born 1963. At least, I remember that one.
'I confronted a mad man at school'
My first attempt at discovering God's spirit in me was when a mad man came to my school. In those days, I used to be called Small Pastor. One morning a madman came to our school with a cutlass and everybody was running helter-skelter. The teachers all fled and the classroom was empty. I came and saw this mad person. The spirit of God spoke to my heart, not to my ear. I hear the voice of God in my heart and not in my ears. I heard the voice of God telling me: “Go there and collect the cutlass. Just tell the madman to bring the cutlass.” When I was moving towards the madman, everybody was concerned for my safety. They were saying something like: 'This is boy, he wants to die.' I just went to the madman and commanded him: “Give me this cutlass, in the name of Jesus.” The madman gave me the cutlass. I collected it and gave it to a teacher. It was from there they started calling me Small Pastor.
From there, they would call me in the assembly and ask me to pray for them. Every time I would pray for them. If they want to play football, I would pray for them. They began to come to me individually for prayers. It was pray for me, pray for me, pray for me all the way. They asked me how I was able to overcome the madman and I told them I was surprised myself to see what happened.
You see, God Almighty is awesome. He can use any medium to express Himself. He can use sand, water, stone, rod, he can use anything. When Moses was asking God, what should he do, God asked him: “What is in your hand?” He said rod. Then God said: “Use it to divide the sea.” Or are you talking about Paul and Silas in the prison yard? They were there and they never said: Hey, in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus. They just sang praises to God. The used the medium of sound. Or are you talking of Joshua. He said to his people to just shout Alleluia and the walls of Jericho fell. God uses any medium to express Himself.
The ministry started from St. Stevens Primary School where I collected the cutlass from the madman and where I started leading the Scriptures Union, teaching the Bible and everything. This is where the awareness of God's presence in me started. It continued. Everything big starts little. If everything big starts big, it calls for concern.
I was in Bahamas with the President of Bahamas, very close to Florida when my mother died. This is the picture. I was with him when they called me. Synagogue had already come into being. I was with him when they said my mother was a bit down, that they brought her from the village. They said my mother wanted to see me and have a word with me. Before I came back home, my mummy was gone. My mummy was late. It was too late for me. That was how I missed my mum.
She was a wonderful mother. The only little problem I had with my mum is that she wanted to see everybody succeed in life. I used to tell my mum: success is a two-sided affair. I have a role to play, God has His own role. It is not all up to God and certainly it's all not up to me. Success is a kind of partnership between man and God. I cannot define failure, because I don't believe in failure. There is no failure in my book. All I see is success, directed by the spirit of God. But as human beings, we cannot be perfect. Perfection eludes every human being. God is perfection.
•To be continued next week