The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Bishop T.D. Jakes - As a youth, Bishop T.D. Jakes was known as "Bible Boy." He earned the nickname from his habit of toting his Bible to school every day and preaching to an imaginary congregation. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter's House, a multi-racial, non-denominational church with 17,000 members in Dallas, has now become "Bible Boy" for a real audience that numbers in the millions. His T.D. Jakes Ministries, founded in 1994, produces his famous conferences - some 52,000 went to hear him at his Woman Thou Art Loosed conference in August 1998 - as well as a dynamic television ministry. His riveting show, The Potter's House, airs four times a week on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). And his television ministry is reaching as far as Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and England.

Jakes was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia, to solid, loving parents who taught him the work ethic. His mother, Odith, a home economics teacher, taught all three of her children how to cook, sew and clean; and his father, Ernest, started his own janitorial company with a mop and a bucket, and grew it to 42 employees. Young Thomas Jakes worked hard as a boy, selling vegetables from the family garden, throwing newspapers and selling Avon products door-to-door. When his father lay dying of kidney disease, Jakes helped his mother tend him, mopping blood from the floor around the dialysis machine.

At 17, Jakes was called to the ministry. After preaching part-time while he attended college, he eventually founded his own church in Montgomery, West Virginia, with just 10 members, and began preaching fulltime. He became so popular with his charismatic message of restoration, reconciliation and healing that he relocated to a refurbished bank building in Charleston, where the congregation was 40 percent Caucasian - a testament to his powerful, universal appeal. The congregation grew to 1,000 before Jakes moved to Dallas. Since 1996, he has held forth from The Potter's House to an increasingly international crowd, some of who haven't previously attended church.

Although he's compared with the Rev. Billy Graham - Time magazine dubbed him "Oprah-in-a-pulpit" - many consider Jakes to be the most gifted preacher on the globe. Charisma Magazine's Ken Walker wrote that Jakes' message "is about God's supernatural ability, bestowed by a Lord who is color-blind and cares about each person. [Bishop Jakes] delivers the Word in such a lightning-rod fashion that he makes you believe that all things are really possible with God."