I left the UK for a Nigerian cult – I spent two years in isolation for being gay

When Rae first travelled to TB Joshua’s church in Nigeria from her home in rural England, she was mesmerised by how the “holy” man appeared to cure people from the worst illnesses, and full of hope that her homosexuality could be “fixed”.

“I got very very internalised homophobia, I knew from the age of about 12 that I was gay and thought, ‘Oh my god I have to get this fixed,’” she said.

Rae – whose surname i has agreed to withhold – hails from a Christian family and was brought up in a conservative setting in a West Sussex village. She spent her childhood “climbing trees and running through the woods”.

She was in her teens when she was first shown roughly cut VHS tapes of the “charismatic” evangelical leader – at one point among the most influential pastors in the world – carrying out supposed miracles.

“I was quite bored of reading out of a Book of Common Prayer, I didn’t really get it,” Rae said, explaining what attracted her to The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (Scoan). “They [Scoan] were saying that God is tangibly real.”

During her last year of university, she booked a week-long “spiritual retreat” at the church in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

She witnessed one woman, who was said to have breast cancer, allegedly being “cured” – TB Joshua “stretched his hand forward” and the woman’s breast appeared to “burst”.

Rae had known she was gay since the age of 12 but wanted to be ‘fixed’ (Photo: NH Holmes)

“To me, in that moment, there was absolute direct correlation between his action and the response of the person.

“I just burst into tears… I was so overwhelmed with, not him or what happened but this sudden shocking reality that. ‘OMG, God is real…’ and thinking to myself, ‘You are in trouble, you have not been a very good girl.’

“I had this sudden sense of overwhelm that I really needed to take my life very seriously and that God was all-seeing.”

By the end of the week, she had been recruited to stay in the compound, marking the start of 13 years of alleged sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the “prophet”.

‘Love-bombed and disgraced for being gay’

Rae is one of more than 25 former “disciples” who worked with BBC Africa Eye on investigating the alleged manipulation and abuse at the hands of Joshua. She recently appeared in Africa Eye’s investigation Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua.

While Scoan did not respond to the allegations in the BBC investigation, it denied previous claims against Joshua. “Making unfounded allegations against Prophet TB Joshua is not a new occurrence… None of the allegations was ever substantiated,” it said.

The church did not respond to i‘s request for comment.

The pastor recruited people who visited his compound by “love-bombing” them and persuading them that he was “a representative for God on Earth”, Rae told i. They were told to call him “daddy” and always be loyal to him.

“Once he got that in place he would then start knocking you down and let you know the areas of yourself that weren’t pleasing or acceptable,” she said, describing how she was put through rounds of “what I could consider conversion therapy” and was “regularly disgraced about the fact I was gay”.

Under a system which Rae said was akin to “totalism”, followers underwent “thought reform” and within a week, “my mind was pretty much under the control of TB Joshua”.

“I had abandoned friends, family, my former life,” said the 43-year-old, who now lives in Devon.

She entered the cult at the age of 21. The accommodation was “super-basic”, with people sleeping on bunkbeds in dormitories where toilets were not private but only had a shower curtain as a door.

Women were encouraged to walk around naked in the dormitory, while people were “drunk on lack of sleep” as they were not allowed more than three or fours a day. Meetings could be held at 3am despite people having allegedly worked most of the day in conditions akin to “modern-day slavery”.

There was a “culture of forced reporting” of other disciples’ supposed wrongdoings, “to the degree where people would massively inflate any little thing just to carry favour with him.

“People would lie, people would embarrass you, you are talking anything from somebody eating too long in the canteen to somebody being caught having a wank in the toilet.

“It was really embarrassing stuff,” Rae said, adding that Joshua would often preplan the humiliations by forcing people into “coerced confessions”.

Cult members were not allowed watches or phones, and internet use needed signed permission from Joshua, she added – and upon leaving the compound in 2013, she learned many people had tried to contact her over the years but she never received the emails.

“We had police with AK-47s on the gates of the compound,” Rae said. While this may have been for safety reasons, the former disciple added: “Essentially you were trapped, all our passports were taken away, they were locked in a vault, we didn’t have access to them the entire time we were there.”

‘I thought I was the sinner’

Rae alleges she was one of many who were sexually assaulted by Joshua, with the abuse happening over a period of six months to a year. She says she had lost perception of time, but based on events that happened, she believes this was around 2003-2004.

“There were several occasions within that period that he would phone me, call me to come up to his bedroom, assault, and then send me back down again,” she told i.

Rae said her brainwashing meant she found justification in what Joshua allegedly did while blaming herself for it. “I very much felt like I was the sinner in the situation and even started questioning whether I was the cause of it. Did I have some evil spirit that had brought him down?”

Eventually, she said, she was put in self-isolation for two years because she was still gay. This was not physical but it meant no one could talk to her and she was removed from work. She had a mental breakdown and tried to kill herself several times.

“He’d prayed for me many many times and I was still gay and I was very very unhappy,” Rae added.

However, while this was a punishment, “he kind of lost control of me” at this point, she explained, as Joshua knew about her suicidal thoughts and did nothing to help.

Rae, supplied
Rae now owns her sexuality and is happily married to a woman

The self-isolation led to a “crack in the armour”, which saw Rae regaining a “slight amount” of independent thinking.

In 2013, during a work trip to Mexico, instead of returing to the compound, she decided to go back to her parents’ house in the UK as she did not feel Joshua had changed her sexuality or was likely to do so.

“I realised that he had not been able to help me, I had been through several rounds of what I would consider conversion therapy, public deliverances over the course of time, and it became very apparent to me that I still had the same sex emotions towards women and this wasn’t going away.”

Rae recalled the moment she realised that “maybe it wasn’t so bad to be gay” – while watching Ellen DeGeneres and seeing her happily married to her wife, Portia de Rossi.

“I think, if it wasn’t for seeing the content from Ellen DeGeneres, I probably still would’ve stayed. It completely opened my mind to a different thought process. That particular thing was essentially what led me out of the place.

“It’s quite ironic really. Being gay is what took me there and being gay is also what took me out and I am super-grateful for that.

“I am not ashamed of anything related to who I am, I am a person, my gender and my orientation doesn’t make me any more or any less a person, it doesn’t make me who I am either, it’s just a part of me.”

Rae accused the British Government of inaction over the alleged abuse of its citizens “trapped” in the cult under an “absolutely prolific rapist and predator”.

She has claimed supposed welfare checks by the UK High Commission in Nigeria were inadequate, since UK citizens staying in the compound had been stripped of their passports and access to the outside world.

She and other survivors have written to Foriegn Secretary Lord Cameron asking for him to confirm the Foreign Office will investigate allegations of wrongdoing against UK citizens, and pressure Nigerian authorities to close down Scoan. But she claims there was no response.

A Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson told i: “We take all reports of crime, including sexual assault and violence against British nationals overseas, very seriously.

“Our trained consular teams are contactable 24 hours a day, ready to offer support and advice to British nationals, including on how to report such crimes to the local authorities.

“We always encourage British nationals who want to raise such allegations, whether current or historic, to contact.”

i contacted the UK High Commission in Nigeria for comment, but has not received a response.

Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua is a three-part documentary on BBC iPlayer. It is also available on BBC Sounds as the new season of the podcast World of Secrets.