Our friend Eli the bajaji driver told me about how when he goes into the bank on a Monday to make his repayments, the officials of one of Dar Es Salaam’s most famous churches are there at the same time, depositing the offerings from Sunday. This church is renowned for its prophet who promises great healing and people bring their offerings to him in hopes of receiving. The money goes to the prophet. He’s known to live in a huge house with great wealth.
It’s the story you expect to hear of the prosperity gospel in Tanzania – the big man who exploits the vulnerable with his claim to possess the power they need.
So I asked Eli, what do you think of this guy?
At first he was reluctant to say anything. This is pretty typical, I’ve found. Everyone knows and can describe the situation but analysing it out loud to another person is too confrontational. But Eli told me he had a Bible verse that was relevant to the situation:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3
He told me, God is the one who brings prosperity and looking to humans will prove itself to be false. Don’t be fooled by the ‘prophets and apostles’. Look to God for your prosperity and wait on him.
Eli did not finish high school but his ability to quote Bible verses far exceeds mine. His life is precarious, yet this does not stop him from discerning what real and what’s fake. And Eli absolutely believes that God will come through for him and bring him prosperity – but that does not mean that he is going to give what little he has to a self-made prophet, no matter how popular.
When we talk about prosperity gospel in Africa, when we talk about the poor and the vulnerable, who are we really talking about? Can we believe that discernment is not the exclusive domain of the educated or the wealthy? Are we discerning enough to see that talk of prosperity in Tanzania does not only come from those who seek to exploit but also from those who seek to develop? Can we listen to this brother?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.