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Nigeria's celebrity preacher wants to save your soul

From Christian Purefoy, CNN
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A pilgrimage to hear one man
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Enoch Adeboye is the general overseer of Nigeria's Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • The evangelical church claims to have 20,000 branches in 140 countries worldwide
  • Adeboye says he wants to reach the whole world with churches in every nation

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Enoch Adeboye, one of the world's most influential spiritual leaders.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Dressed in simple trousers and a shirt and bowtie, Enoch Adeboye's modest appearance belies the enormous influence and power he wields.

The Nigerian pastor, known to his flock as "Daddy," is one of the world's most influential spiritual leaders. On any given night, he can draw more than a million to his service at Nigeria's Redeemed Christian Church of God.

His fervent sermons, coupled with his magnetic personality, have turned the Pentecostal church into one of the fastest-growing evangelical congregations across the globe.

His numerous followers include national leaders, such as Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan, as well as industry executives -- many of whom often turn to him for advice.

Pentecostalism has swept through Nigeria and Africa in recent years, offering the promise not just of entry into heaven in the afterlife but of prosperity and healing in this life.

On a religious frontline
One of the world's influential people

The Redeemed Church, which was founded in 1952 by Josiah Akindayomi, claims to have over 5 million members across 20,000 branches in 140 countries worldwide.

That's a long way from the 40 branches Adeboye, a former mathematics lecturer, inherited when he took over the church in 1981.

Despite his congregation's remarkable growth, Adeboye has no plans of slowing down. "We want to reach the whole world," he says.

Adeboye, who was named by Newsweek as one of the world's 50 most influential people in 2008, spoke to CNN about the role of religion in Nigeria and his future plans.

The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: What is the Nigerian way of worship?

Enoch Adeboye: Our freedom of worship -- the way we dance, shout, enjoy the almighty God -- so I think that bit of us, bubbling enthusiasm, all is a good influence.

CNN: People describe you as being very humble, no expensive suits, why is that?

EA: The gospel is for all people, but I believe it is even more for the masses and majority of the masses -- if you are going to reach for them you have to be at their level. If they see in you someone they can relate to, it'll be easier for them to listen, to hear from you.

CNN: Do you think Nigeria is on a religious frontline?

(We) want to have churches in every nation and have members in every family in the whole world.
--Enoch Adeboye, pastor
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EA: There's no doubt about that.

CNN: That can become violent. Is that part of the course?

EA: I believe anytime light begins to shine there's bound to be a little resistance from darkness. So that's a settled matter. Unfortunate as it may seem -- some politicians go in the guise of religion to perpetrate evil.

I do not think genuine Christians and genuine Muslims will fight. But I think most of the crises are not really religion, it's politics. Some politicians choose to use religion as a tool for their own ulterior motives.

CNN: Do you think the church can play a role in politics?

EA: Of course, who was it that said man is a political animal? Everybody should decide who is going to rule over him and you should not complain about anything you permit.

If you fail to vote, fail to participate in the political situation and someone gets to become your ruler and you say you don't like the way he's ruling you, who's (at) fault? Where were you when he was being voted into power? And if someone gets into power and he's not doing what you expect him to do, then vote him out.

CNN: Does the church play enough of a role?

EA: Maybe they should do more. Because I believe in the past the people have been so focused on making it to heaven that they don't want anything to do with politics.

Politics has gizzards, which is another way of saying politics can be dirty. Christians are the light of the world -- should be shining a light not being the salt of the earth which is only of use if it's applied -- so I think we should be doing more than we are doing now.

CNN: You have the ear of presidents -- do you talk and support certain candidates?

EA: When I am consulted, I do talk. But then all you can do is advise -- you can't command, you can say this is the way I think this thing should be done, then they're free to decide whether they will take your advice or ignore it.

But as we live with the people on a daily basis, we can feel their pulses better. So when things become a little too uncomfortable for the masses, we take some actions.

CNN: Try to make them sway for a particular way to vote?

EA: No, when you have this kind of congregation, you have members of every party in the congregation and if you want to retain their respect for you, you must be neutral.

CNN: Where would you like to see Redeemed go from here?

EA: Still a long way from our goal. We want to reach the whole world. (We) want to have churches in every nation and have members in every family in the whole world and that's where we believe God will take us before I leave this world.