Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) – Every morning at 7am Nigerian time, Pastor Jerry Eze can be seen on a YouTube livestream fervently praying over thousands of stacks of requests he has received from his followers around the world.
Flanked usually by his wife Eno, and an associate, Eze’s passionate prayers are delivered in an urgent staccato, as he prays for cures to ailments and challenges such as illnesses, court cases, and financial issues.
Eze touts miracle healings with the slogan ‘What God cannot do does not exist,’ and midway through the live broadcast, cuts to pre-recorded videos from his followers sharing testimonies they say are the results of his prayers.
They range from healings from terminal illnesses to conception after years of infertility.
Eze describes the testimonies as the “strange acts of God.”
“It’s way beyond science and technology,” he says.
CNN has not independently verified the content of the videos.
Most watched on YouTube
The broadcasts on the New Season Prophetic Prayers and Declarations channel (NSPPD) have propelled Eze to become one of the most watched preachers on YouTube.
With more than 90,000 peak concurrent viewers, Eze’s daily broadcasts rank among the most streamed globally on YouTube, according to the analytics website Playboard, which collates data for YouTube channels.
His YouTube platform also ranks second among gospel channels with the most live viewers worldwide — trailing behind Brazilian preacher Bruno Leonardo, Playboard’s data shows.
Eze also rakes in large amounts of donations from his broadcasts. He is one of YouTube’s top-earning preachers who are leveraging the platform’s Super Chat donations that help creators earn revenue.
YouTube’s Super Chat feature allows viewers to pin their comments on live streams for a fee that ranges from $1 to $500.
Eze’s YouTube channel receives one of the highest Super Chat donations in the world, according to Playboard.
Among his ardent fans is award-winning Nigerian singer D’banj who tells CNN joining Eze’s morning prayers has become a routine.
“Waking up every day to NSPPD … has become part of my daily routine. I hardly miss it. It’s part of my family’s morning devotion,” adds D’banj, whose real name is Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo.
The singer says he has had his own share of miracles from prayers on the platform.
“I remember last year Pastor Jerry said we should write seven things we want to see happen, and we prayed and I believed. I checked the list the other day and … all seven have been answered.”
Nollywood actress Tonto Dikeh says she also connected with Eze’s ministry early last year. She’s now “addicted,” she tells CNN.
A poverty-stricken background
Eze, who turns 40 on Monday, has come a long way from the days he and his single-parent mother struggled to find food to eat.
“I came from a family where poor people will describe my family as poor,” he says. “There were days my mum and I had no food to eat, and my mum would hold my hand and pray and give thanks to God. My mum was a single parent and a petty trader who sold groundnuts in the market … There were days she’d come home crying having not made any sales, so unable to buy us what to eat.”
Born on August 22, 1982, in Bende Local Government Area of Abia state, Eze tells CNN his education was funded by a benevolent couple who had noticed his active engagement in a church in his early years.
“I was just doing things in church like sweeping, singing, and reading the Bible — doing what most of my mates did not want to do. I had just finished junior secondary school at the time before they took me in,” he says of the couple.
Eze excelled in his studies and obtained a degree in history and international relations from Abia State University. He also went on to complete a master’s in human resource management.
Before venturing into ministry, Eze previously worked with a local TV station before joining the World Bank project for HIV/AIDS and later worked as a communications specialist with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
“I was very excited about the job (at the UNFPA), but my mum wasn’t. She said it wasn’t what God told her.
According to her, God told her I was going to be a preacher,” says Eze.
“I never shared those aspirations (to be a preacher). I wasn’t even listening to her. She and I lived in poverty, so I always asked why God didn’t first help us out of poverty before asking me to quit a job that was giving us money to be a preacher. The money I was giving her was coming out of the job (with the UN), so it didn’t make sense.”
He eventually quit his job and entered full-time ministry but sadly his mother died of heart failure before he fulfilled her ambition for him, he says.
“It was when she died that the reality of my assignment began to dawn on me,” he adds.
Entering into full-time ministry has come with huge sacrifices and Eze says he spends long hours praying into the night to prepare.
“I don’t have friends, I don’t hang out, I don’t have spare time. I can’t tell what my hobbies are anymore because there’s no room for hobbies,” he says.
Eze has two children with his wife Eno, who is also a pastor. He said his marriage hasn’t been perfect due to the demands of ministry.
“It hasn’t been 100 percent, but because my wife and I do the same thing (ministry), we bond the same way. The things that matter to other people don’t matter in our family. Our conversations are about ministry and how next we’ll fulfill God’s will for our lives. If I had married the wrong woman, I’ll be boring the person.”
An accidental fame
Eze may have become an internet phenomenon, but insists his fame is accidental.
He had started livestreaming hoping to inspire his congregation when the pandemic shut down all church services and attendance at his fledgling ministry, Streams of Joy International, dwindled.
“It wasn’t a goal to reach the world,” Eze says. “During the (peak of) Covid, there was a palpable fear everywhere and I noticed that a lot of my church people were very scared of coming around the church. So, every morning, my wife and I will come online, spreading encouragement to people,” he tells CNN.
“I just wanted to speak hope,” he adds.
Eze’s daily messages of encouragement later morphed into a daily online prayer network every weekday on YouTube and other video-sharing services.
The live streams proved a hit and now in its third year, Eze’s YouTube channel has 880,000 subscribers as of this publication, and his broadcasts have garnered more than 122 million views over a three-year period, according to figures from his channel.
Viewers from the UK and the US jointly make up 25% of his live streams on YouTube, with more than one million views from the UK and over 700,000 views from the US between July 20 and August 16, 2022, according to figures from the platform.
Nigeria has the highest with over two million viewers. His broadcasts are also viewed in other African nations and countries such as Italy, Germany, Canada, France, Spain, Ireland, and the Netherlands, the chart showed.
Digital analyst Edward Israel-Ayide tells CNN Eze’s success can be linked to the “recent boom in digital churches and online religious movements.”
Israel-Ayide says this is because of the fallout from Covid-19.
“With lockdown restrictions in place, the need for community and a sense of belonging drove Nigerians at home and abroad to seek digital platforms that could provide them with direction and hope,” he says. “Post-Covid, many people are still seeking purpose and direction due to the socioeconomic challenges brought on by Covid-19 and the ongoing global economic crisis. This is one of the main reasons why religious movements like Pastor Jerry Eze’s NSPPD thrive.”
While many people now know him because of his online platform, “that’s not where it began,” Eze says. “There was a physical church before the online one.”
Eze founded the Streams of Joy International church in the suburbs of Nigeria’s eastern city of Umuahia many years before he shot to prominence
Eze is now based in the Nigerian capital Abuja and his church has expanded beyond Nigeria to include branches in the UK, US and Canada.
Attendance in his Abuja church has also risen. But it is with the online community he has gained the most traction, and it is here to stay.
“People all over the world are accustomed to waking up and finding Pastor Jerry online,” Eze says. “It’s like a virus that has come stay.”