Why Nigerian Health Officials Turned to a Megachurch Pastor When Ebola Struck
Image: JACOB SILBERBERG / AP

When the deadly Ebola virus appeared in Africa’s most populous country this summer, one of the first people Nigerian health officials turned to was a megachurch pastor.

Temitope Balogun (T. B.) Joshua and his Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which boasts 50,000 weekly worshipers, are a continent-wide phenomenon. Zimbabwe’s tourism minister recently cited statistics that 60 percent of Nigeria’s tourists visit SCOAN to explain why the struggling nation was betting big on church tourism. One tragic piece of evidence: When a SCOAN guesthouse collapsed in September and killed 115 people, 84 of the victims were from South Africa.

Many are drawn by Joshua’s bold claims of healing powers, spread by his Emmanuel tv empire. People have died in stampedes seeking his “anointing water,” including four in Ghana last year.

So the Lagos State health minister visited SCOAN and asked Joshua to publicly discourage Ebola victims in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone—where the highly contagious virus has killed more than 3,000 people—from seeking his healing.

Joshua obliged and issued a warning: “What makes you a good citizen makes you a good Christian. … Obey the law of your land by not crossing the borders of your nation with Ebola virus.”

He then airlifted more than 4,000 bottles of anointing water to Sierra Leone, explaining that it contained the power of God and could heal Ebola. (Meanwhile, 60 Zimbabweans who visited SCOAN were under observation by health officials, who asked other citizens to suspend such trips.)

Spiritual and medical ailments are inextricably linked in Africa, says J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, professor of African Christianity at Trinity ...

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