In earlier times, white missionaries traveled from Europe and America to sub-Saharan Africa to save souls.
Today, the trend has reversed. Evangelists from the global south are targeting Americans and Europeans they say are ripe for Christian renewal.
There is no greater example than the Redeemed Christian Church of God. This ambitious Nigerian denomination has established its North American headquarters in Texas, and its goal is nothing less than becoming the next major global religion.
On a Sunday morning, inside a storefront church in Austin called Salvation Center, the worship service exudes the unmistakable spirit of West Africa.
The congregation is mostly from Nigeria, where this church originated. The message from Doyin Oke, the bald, heavy-lidded pastor, is one of prosperity through faith.
“You will flourish,” he preaches. “You will be great. You’ll be well. Whatever you touch shall prosper, in the name of Jesus.”
This church, located in an office park in north Austin, is one of 758 congregations of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in North America. The style of worship is energetic, musical and emotional.
This Pentecostal movement began 62 years ago in a Lagos shantytown, and is currently led by a Nigerian mathematics professor-turned-preacher named Enoch Adeboye. The RCCG, as it’s known, claims to have a presence in more than half the world’s countries. Its lofty goal is to have a member of the church in every household in the world.
The monthly Holy Ghost service back in Lagos routinely draws half a million people, and it is said there is a church within five-minutes walking distance from most Nigerians. In America, the RCCG’s goal is to have churches in every city, no more than a 15-minute drive from each other.
The church is currently adding about 100 new churches a year, according to James Fadele, a former auto engineer who is chairman of RCCG’s North American operations, located in farmland northeast of Dallas.
“In North America, we say, yes, we are happy,” Fadele says, but his boss in Nigeria has bigger plans. “One hundred churches a year is just child’s play. What he expects from us is maybe 1,000 churches a year. Then he will say, ‘Yes, you are doing a good job.’ But right now he will always tell us, ‘You can do better.’ ”
The Redeemed Christian Church of God has learned it’s a lot easier to start churches in Nigeria than it is in America. First, there are not enough trained, qualified ministers. Then there’s the expense of getting an American congregation to tithe enough to pay church expenses.
Finally, Nigerians at home seem closer to God. Life is harder there; people pray over everything from a hospital stay to a traffic jam. Fadele says Africans in America are more comfortable.
“What do I need God for?” Fadele characterizes their attitude. “I wake up in the morning, the radio is already broadcasting to me how my stock is doing. Is it going up or down? The road is good. When I get inside my house, the heater is working. My children are well educated, they are doing well. What do I need God for?”
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