‘It’s your local church kicked up a notch’
What is MegaFest?
Walk around downtown Atlanta this week, and you can see that it is, if anything, big.
A gathering organized by Bishop T.D. Jakes, preacher, prolific author and creator of the “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” franchise, MegaFest is a wildly successful way to attract a predominantly African-American crowd to the city for foot-stomping gospel, self-help seminars, and fellowship on a massive scale.
Perhaps 175,000 will come through Atlanta in the course of the four-day fling.
But what brings the crowds? Why not stay at the home church?
There’s a multiplier effect, say the participants, in which the principle of “wherever two or more are gathered” is expanded by a few orders of magnitude. “It’s your local church kicked up a notch,” said gospel performer Tina Campbell, one-half of the duo Mary Mary.
– Concerns About The Teachings Of T.D. Jakes
The theme for this year’s MegaFest is “It’s a Family Affair,” and the black families crowding the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, and Philips Arena seemed alive and well.
Some, including Louis Sweatt, 38, a sheriff’s deputy from Antioch, Calif., made significant sacrifices to spend time with the nuclear unit. Sweatt, for example, came with his wife and two children, but left his golf clubs back home. God comes first and family comes second, he said. Golf comes third.
MegaFest is music, and Thursday’s “Women of Purpose” concert, featuring Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight, was to be dedicated to Coretta Scott King.
Yes, MegaFest is also Christian praise. It is one of the biggest religious gatherings in the country, and Pastor Bill Upton was making sure his “ninjas” were sharp and ready for spiritual battle. “Okay,” said the drill master, testing his flock on their scripture. “John, 15, 7: Hit it!”
His field commander “Col.” Terrence Campbell, responded without pause: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
MegaFest is also an African-American touchstone, one of the biggest gatherings of black people in the country. And yet the participants see race as a secondary if not irrelevant element.
“It’s cross-cultural,” said Elvis J. Rose, who was, perhaps, the only black Elvis attending the festival. “It’s not a black thing.”
Movie actor and born-again Christian Stephen Baldwin, dressed in camo slacks and a ball cap, was the master of ceremonies at the “Livin’ It” skating performance, a gnarly mixture of loud music, dangerous half-pipe tricks, and Christian ministry that will tour perhaps 150 cities this year.
“It’s common sense that there will be more African-Americans here than anybody else,” said Baldwin. “But the appeal of Jesus Christ, more than anything else, is what MegaFest is about.”
MegaFest is also money.
Rose, 49, from Baltimore, Md., said he’d probably spend $5,000 on his trip to Atlanta, by the time all the receipts are totalled.
Multiply those kinds of expenses by the numbers present and you have a $125 million economic impact for the city of Atlanta, said Lauren Kenworthy, of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. That’s in a league with the International Gift and Home Furnishings Market, which in January brought $148 million into the local economy, she said.
In a different sense, MegaFest is also about prosperity, and not just the spiritual kind. Jakes preaches that God wants his followers to flourish, a message that has been criticized as prosperity theology by some and praised as good sense by others.
Jakes takes steps to make sure it happens, with financial advice seminars from the likes of television guru Suze Orman, whose “Young, Fabulous and Broke” address on Thursday afternoon was well attended.
Does God bless his followers with better jobs? “I think He blesses you whether you believe in Him or not,” said Orman earlier in a telephone interview.
But, she added, “if you don’t understand the power of God within yourself, you will never have what you should have, and even if you have it, you’re not going to keep it.”
Eugene Lindsey listened Thursday as Orman offered ways to raise your credit rating, and reasons to buy your own home. “I’m working on it,” said the Columbus, Ohio, resident.
MegaFest is about emotional growth as well as spiritual and financial growth. Cassandra Francis, 35, a new transplant to Lawrenceville, felt desperate and needed help. The mother of six, she is newly separated from her husand of 10 years, and needed to find a job and some counselling.
MegaFest helped with both. Francis attended a workshop for couples led by Judge Mablean Ephriam (of television’s “Divorce Court”) and also was able to share a private word with T.D. Jakes’ wife Serita Jakes, the “first lady” of MegaFest, who advised her how long it will take to find a job in Atlanta.
“She put her hands on me and told me it would take five weeks,” said Francis, who brought five of her children to the festival.
“I feel much better.”