Bishop T.D. Jakes is in Africa this week, opening centers for Swazi children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, building homes for South Africans who live in tin shacks, and connecting entrepreneurs from within the region with American counterparts–all part of what is possibly the largest MegaFest gathering ever. This is the first time the spiritual extravaganza is being held outside of the United States–a nod, the Bishop says, to the “vital importance” of thinking globally. ESSENCE.com caught up with the renowned preacher, author and teacher in Johannesburg, South Africa.
ESSENCE.COM: How are you enjoying South Africa so far?
BISHOP T.D. JAKES: Oh, it’s wonderful. My son told me, “Daddy, we got to move.” He loves it. I do, too.
ESSENCE.COM: Your visit to South Africa in the 1990’s was your first trip to Africa, correct?
JAKES: It was the first time I had ever set foot on the continent of Africa. It fulfilled a void that I didn’t even realize that I had. And to think that my ancestors left this continent in chains on a boat and I flew back in a 747 jet.
ESSENCE.COM: Why did you decide to bring MegaFest here?
JAKES: I think it’s vitally important that, whatever we do in the future, we continue to think globally, because most of our challenges we face in our generation are global. Diseases are not being contained, global warming is not being contained, the economy is not being contained. When I introduced Yolanda Adams, they knew who she was and they know Israel Houghton and The New Breed, so we’re communicating in the most important ways. We can’t be blind to that in the way we plan and the way we think for the future. We have to start thinking in terms of our family being more than just our community.
ESSENCE.COM: You’ve said that instead of “God Bless America” we should say God…
JAKES: Bless the world. For many years now I’ve been saying that, because we can’t be narrow in our scope any longer. We have to recognize interconnectivity.
ESSENCE.COM: How will MegaFest help this interconnectivity?
JAKES: I’m of African descent and my people, my ancestors are actually from Nigeria. We have always told stories to pass on information. And I think of the people who go back and tell stories to their children. There are so many pastors here who will go back and tell their congregations. They will come back with pictures. There will be stories told and blogs written that will measure the impact of thousands of people leaving this country with impressions. I mean, if we were in a secular business, you couldn’t pay for the impact of the marketing of thousands of people carrying your message back to the four corners of the world. All of that is happening here.
ESSENCE.COM: You mentioned that there were many people who wanted to come here from the U.S., but couldn’t afford to make this trip. What message would you give to those people, who are struggling economically or because of other things going on right now in the world?
JAKES: Big question. It’s a scary time economically. I think that we have to be careful and cautious and prudent–but without being afraid. As I see it, part of our economic crisis is a derivative of our own fear. My message is this, do not be afraid because fear itself can be polarizing; it can be vicious, it will lead to crime, it will lead to murder and destruction. And to use that old quote, “We’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself.”
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the legacy that you’d like to leave here?
JAKES: I want to leave a message that we care. I want South Africans to understand that all of us who could come did come, and that many more wanted to be here. And I don’t want them to think that we don’t come because we don’t care. I want them to understand that many didn’t come because they couldn’t afford to come. But they are interested and passionate and curious and hungry. I find that many people of African descent are not sure that African-Americans, or Americans in general, really care and I wanted to dispel that myth.
Stephanie Hanes is a freelance journalist on location in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has written about southern and central Africa for a variety of publications.