Home-grown Christianity spreads the Word in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya - A man breaks into a cold sweat. He falls to the ground then comes up to kneel. He sways with his hands clasped, his eyes shut and his lips quivering.

The fervor of African drum beats dies down. The pastor gives the man a chance to speak. Still sweating, still shaking, but calm and soft-spoken, the "possessed" man stands and shares his revealed prophecy with the congregation.

"There is a problem with the dioceses. Many problems must be clarified. There will be a power struggle," he says.

Some 60 people in the Holy Ghost Church in east Africa's largest slum, Kibera, nod, stand up and start to clap.

The tiny church is one of Kenya's myriad of denominations that mushroomed after independence in 1963, and are still growing at a dizzying rate.

"Our following began when Alfayo Odongo left the Anglican Church in Ruwe, Lukukenya. He had been having visions. He was possessed by the Holy Sprit," said Daniel Ochieng, standing outside the Holy Ghost Church.

"He believed that people should be given more freedom to experience the Holy Spirit and be guided by it. When he formed his own church many people began to follow him."

Such a message has resonance with many Kenyans, who see the Western churches as a symbol of British colonial rule.

The runaway development of home-grown Christianity is a movement to break away from that legacy or to incorporate more African experiences into religion, experts say.


Shafts of light permeate through tiny holes in the dilapidated church in Kibera. In a cool, clean enclave, cuttings from evergreen trees are hung for decoration.

Nearby, between two churches, there is a poster on a street lamp advertising a rally: "Attend this revival and feel the difference."

Other signs read "Githembe for Jesus, come and get your miracle now," and "Redeemed Gospel Church, affecting souls for eternity."

Counting the number of local churches -- some jokingly referred to as "salvation shops" for their locations in small shopping centers -- is a daunting task.

"I don't know if anyone knows how many denominations exist. Just by the railway line here there is a new group that follows a Nigerian leader whose focus is on gaining material prosperity through worship and Christ," said James Kombo, a theology lecturer at Nairobi's Daystar University.


The Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), an umbrella group of independent denominations, says 20 percent of Kenya's 35 million people belong to independent churches.

"We have approximately 120 denominations registered with us. Each has their own history, unique beliefs and practices. There are problems with these divisions. There is a tendency toward cultism. This is why the OAIC formed," Reverend Father Michael Ng'ong'a, director of the OAIC, said.

Back in the Holy Ghost Church, the entire congregation has entered the tin shack and removed their shoes, greeting each other in Luo and clapping their hands twice with the exclamation "Murembe Murembe" or "Praise God."

They wear white robes, and the women have red crosses on their headscarves.

Over the next hour almost every member of the congregation gets up and starts to preach. Some talk very fast. Others read directly from the Bible.

"We believe in God's word from the people. We encourage people who have been granted wisdom to stand up and preach," church-goer Margaret Ologi said.