On December 28th 2019, Nigerian Pastor TB Joshua made several prophetic declarations for the year 2020, one of which addressed religious leaders and the challenges awaiting them.
“People will be getting tired this year because the work of God is not by power and might,” he revealed, adding they would face “so many challenges, tribulations and burdens they will not be able to bear”. The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, is certainly proving to be a veritable test of faith for religious leaders and those at the forefront of “the work of God”.
In unprecedented moves, Saudi Arabia has totally halted pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest of sites – Mecca’s Grand Mosque which contains the Kaaba – over fears the close congestion of worshippers would exacerbate the spread of the disease. Similarly, Iran has cancelled weekly Friday prayers at Mosques nationwide as the nation grapples to deal with the outbreak of the virus.
Christian worshippers in countries such as South Korea and Italy – where the outbreak is more serious – have not attended church for several weeks as large gatherings of people have been banned by the government. Even the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – the famous site where Jesus was said to be born – has been closed to tourists after several cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the West Bank.
Several age-old traditions in the Catholic church – such as shaking hands with fellow parishioners during the ‘sign of peace’ – have been ‘adjusted’ as worship ‘in the age of coronavirus’ strives to avoid any kind of close bodily contact.
In USA, Craig Groeschel, the Senior Pastor of ‘Life.Church’ – which has over 90,000 members – has been quarantined for two weeks by health officials after being exposed to the coronavirus at a conference in Germany. It has certainly been a trying time for religious leaders who must delicately balance ceremony with caution!
Intriguingly, the nation of Nigeria ushered in 2020 with a colourful array of prophetic pronouncements by pastors nationwide, most proclaiming ‘blessings’, ‘promotions’ and ‘testimonies’. To mention just a few – Pastor Chris Oyakhilome declared 2020 the ‘year of perfection’, Bishop Oyedepo termed it the ‘year of breaking limits’, Pastor Enoch Adeboye stated it is the ‘year of series of joys’, Pastor Paul Enenche declared it ‘the year of supernatural shift’ and Pastor Sam Adeyemi proclaimed it ‘the year of rest’.
The first three months of 2020 have, however, painted an alarmingly different picture to the declarations quoted above. The outbreak of the deadly disease – which has even infiltrated Nigeria – is just one of the events shaping 2020 that was surprisingly missed by almost all the 2020 prophecies which flooded social media in the opening days of January.
Generic events, which happen on a regular basis, such as political upheavals, natural disasters or the demise of public figures were commonplace in prophetic forecasts but the outbreak of the disease that has stoked worldwide fears and caused a massive economic backlash was strangely missing.
From a perusal of ‘2020 prophecies’ given by prominent figures within Christianity, the only one worthy of note in relation to current events is that of Prophet TB Joshua – which I partially quoted above. Contrary to his peers who named 2020 with bright and positive omens, Joshua soberly stated 2020 would be a ‘year of humility’ in which ‘our challenges would humble us’.
“Challenges can be affliction,” the cleric explained. “To humble us with these is for those things to destroy us or expose us. Let us move closer to God.” Nations such as China, USA, Iran, Italy and France would be forced to agree with this declaration as its leaders and people have been humbled in their efforts to contain and curtail the outbreak of the dreaded disease.
In the early days of 2019, Joshua had revealed at an undisclosed ‘prayer mountain’ that 2019 was “a very fearful year”, adding on January 4th 2020 – long before the dramatic spread of coronavirus attracted publicity – that the fear of the previous year would continue until March “according to God’s time-table”.
Another of his 2020 prophecies spoke of impending ‘economic backlash’, specifically within America – the truth of which can be currently seen in the volatile stock market numbers worldwide as fears of the virus run rife.
Given the fact that Joshua’s prediction was perhaps the only one bearing semblance to current events, it is no surprise that his declaration regarding spiritual solution to the epidemic has attracted significant attention. Several pastors – such as Chris Oyakhilome, William Kumuyi and Enoch Adeboye – have publicly prayed against coronavirus but it is Joshua’s message regarding the outbreak that has gone viral on YouTube.
On Saturday 29th February 2020, he declared that “showers of rain that will wipe away the fear of the unknown” would fall as a sign the days of the disease were numbered. Giving credence to his prophetic proclamation, rain surprisingly fell in cities around the world, including in Wuhan, China – the epicentre of coronavirus.
“Whether you come in contact with the rain or not, that does not matter,” he told Emmanuel TV viewers, declaring the end of March would signal the end of the disease and the fear that has spread in its wake.
Whilst churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship worldwide struggle to manage their religious duties in the midst of coronavirus-induced panic, The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) certainly remains unfazed – mirrored by the foreign pilgrims whose weekly troop to the church has seen no signs of diminishment.
Tawia Acheampong is a writer based in Accra, Ghana