By CARLEY PETESCH, Associated Press
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — It's Sunday, and 15,000 people are seated in the enormous arena-like church, fanning themselves against the dusty humid air in Nigeria.
The preacher in a blue flowered shirt taps his microphone to announce "prophecy time." He places his hands on worshippers, who spin in circles, wave their arms in the air and finally collapse to the ground, shaking. They've been delivered.
"Emmanuel!" he shouts. "Emmanuel!" the crowd echoes. A camera crew of 20 scurries around speakers branded with the slogan for his Emmanuel TV station, "Distance is not a barrier." The service is beamed worldwide.
This is T.B. Joshua, one of the best-known preachers in Africa and among the most profitable in Nigeria, the go-to faith healer and spiritual guide for leaders such as the late Ghanaian president John Atta Mills, Malawian president Joyce Banda and former Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Joshua's Synagogue, Church of All Nations has branches around the world, and a recent YouTube video even credits him with predicting the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.
Yet critics say this wildly popular televangelist hinders efforts to curtail the spread of HIV and tuberculosis with testimonies by church-goers that faith and his holy water can cure both. He is also accused of taking advantage of his followers and tightly controlling those closest to him, who call him "Daddy."
Joshua brushes such concerns aside.
"The gospel needs to be preached all over the world," says Joshua, whose full name is Temitope Balogun Joshua, in a rare interview at his church with The Associated Press. "You cannot light a candle and put it under a roof."
Even in Nigeria, a country of 170 million where various forms of evangelical Christianity are practiced passionately in churches around every corner, Joshua stands out for his ambition. His Lagos church has a sprawling campus of restaurants, overflow tents for thousands and dorms for visitors, who all hope to be touched, even if only by proximity, by the man known as "the prophet." Joshua also has satellite centers in London, Greece, Ghana, South Africa and several other countries, along with a 24/7 television station on cable and online that comes with simultaneous translations in French and Spanish.
The man who says he comes from the poor village of Arigidi is worth between $10 and $15 million based on assets, according to Forbes magazine, which in 2011 estimated his personal wealth.
His church, however, has become controversial for showing on its website people with testimonies of being healed of HIV. They hold up a required before and after certificate, allegedly signed by a doctor, stating that their HIV-positive status has transformed to negative. UNAIDS notes that there is no available cure for HIV, and any interruptions to medical treatment can have serious health implications and infect others.
"We strongly advise people not to waste their money on T.B. Joshua and his false cures," said Marcus Low, head of policy at the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, which advocates for increased access to treatment and support services for people living with HIV. "Supposed faith healers often lead people to forego effective treatments in the mistaken belief that they have been cured. They exploit the desperation that many sick people feel and use this desperation to enrich themselves."
When asked if he advises followers to forego HIV/AIDS medication for his "anointing water," Joshua responded: "Let me tell you, I am a medium. In the same way, doctors are mediums to bring treatment."