Churches Sow Miracles

Nairobi, Kenya - The sprouting of countless charismatic churches in the country has heralded a new breed of church leaders and worshippers with strong faith in the power of miracles.

An increasing number of Kenyans are turning to 'sowing the seed' (giving huge sums of money for offering and tithe) at the prompting of church ministers who promise them to expect prosperity.

However, it appears there are 'men and women of God' who are out to take advantage of the unwavering faith and ignorance of worshippers. These are people who hide self-interest under the cloak of religion. They quote biblical verses to suit their intentions and convince the congregation of the need to give more in order to receive more.

Indeed, many Kenyans have sad tales to tell after being convinced to 'sow seeds.' A woman who only wanted to be identified as Evelyn said last year she sold her property and took a bank loan at the prompting of her pastor.

"He told me to invest in the work of God so that he could miraculously secure me a job within a month. In total, I gave him Sh120,000," said Evelyn, 35, who is still jobless even after the promise of a miracle.

Evelyn said she realised that the preacher was conning her after she discovered that there were many members of her church who the pastor had promised instant miracles, but are still waiting. Some have been waiting for five years.

"I am distraught and confused. I don't know whether to sue or confront him in public," lamented Evelyn.

Miracle merchants

Stella Wanjiku told Crazy Monday earlier this year that she saw a white man preaching in Spanish on Aga Khan Walk, Nairobi.

"His lunch time sermon was then translated into English and Kiswahili by two other people," said Wanjiku.

"I was perplexed when he said that he could cure people living with HIV/Aids by just touching them," said Wanjiku, a secretary with a Nairobi company.

For Jonathan Wambasi last year provided a moment of disbelief when he saw a former schoolmate on TV getting 'healed' after suffering a 'lifelong' physical disability.

The man on crutches had 'healed miraculously' after being prayed for by one of the well-known preachers in Nairobi. "I grew up with the man and he was born without any disability," Wambasi says.

He met the former schoolmate later on the streets of Nairobi and asked him about the 'miraculous' incident.

"Wachana nami. Hapo ndipo nakulia. Usiamini miujiza yote ya kanisa," Wambasi's friend retorted (Let me be. That is where I get my daily bread. Do not believe in all church miracles).

From that day, Wambasi has been doubting church ministers who claim to perform miracles.

Many men and women of God have paraded people they claim to have been previously suffering from HIV/Aids, who they claim to have healed. Mid last year, Prophetess Lucy Nduta of Salvation Healing Ministry appeared in a Nairobi court accused of defrauding people living with the scourge.

Many people claimed that they had paid her for the healing. Nduta was charged with obtaining money from HIV/Aids patients in the pretext that he could heal them.

In May, the wife of Kenyan evangelist Gilbert Deya, Mary, was sentenced to two years in jail by a Nairobi court for stealing a child.

Mary claimed that one of her two accomplices had given birth to the child, but the court proved the woman was not the biological mother.

"The actions and claims of miraculous birth deserve no mercy," said the magistrate who made the ruling.

Deya runs a number of churches in UK cities and says he aids infertile couples by prayer. Kenyan police allege the Gilbert Deya Ministries is an international baby-snatching ring, allegations Deya denies. Some children were taken into care when DNA tests showed they were not related to women claiming to be their mothers.

Conversion strategies

The men and women of God have given themselves titles such as archbishop, apostle, prophet (or prophetess), evangelist or bishop. Others call themselves 'Dr' yet nobody can tell which university gave them the title. The names of the churches are equally amazing, with most of their titles promising miracles and predicting doom for non-believers or the second coming of Jesus.

And perhaps due to stiff competition, some have taken to spreading the word of God in buses. Despite prohibition of preaching in public service vehicles, the practice is still rampant.

However, some passengers usually take offence, maybe due to the disruption of their efforts to take a nap. Justin Okeya told Crazy Monday that last month he boarded a bus from Nairobi, destined for Kisii town.

"A few minutes later, in Westlands, a man boarded the bus and immediately started preaching. What was intriguing was his testimony: That he had left a well-paying job in Gaborone, Botswana, where he worked as an engineer, to serve God and preach to the poor in spirit," said Okeya.

The man of God told the bewildered passengers that he had forfeited a well-earning job of Sh400, 000 a month.

"After preaching he asked us to give generously to God, since pastors too have to eat because they spend a lot of energy spreading the word of God," said Okeya, adding that the man introduced himself as Bishop Steve overtly stating that he could not lie about the offering he was asking them to give as it was his source of income.

Some religious groups have predicted doom and the end of the world. For instance, the House of Yahweh sect predicted that the world would end before September 12, last year.

Members of the sect in South Kinangop sold their belongings, after predicting the end of the world as a result of a nuclear war.

They built mud bunkers, where they stocked dry food and water to survive on once the 'Armageddon' began. Besides, the members said they would also withdraw their children from school.

The sect's leaders were arrested and bailed on condition that they stopped inciting fear in local people. The sprouting of many churches, some operating like business enterprises, continues to worry authorities.

Recently, the Attorney General, Mr Amos Wako, said the Government was overwhelmed by the work of registering the many applicants for churches.

There are more than 8, 000 registered churches in Kenya, with over 6, 000 waiting for registration.

It appears many of the people seeking registration may be out to satisfy their greed for money.

Wako's reservations were shared by the Chairman of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Bishop Eliud Wabukala, who urged the Government to scrutinise the applicants.

Prof Zablon Nthamburi of Kenyatta University's Department of Religious Studies was quoted in a section of the media saying the megastar lifestyles could be behind the proliferation of churches in the country.

Nthamburi said it is tragic that church has been turned into big business, with the leaders flaunting their prosperity.

But Nthamburi's qualms about many churches do not deter preachers from coming up with ingenious ways of collecting offerings and tithe from their followers.

Sarah Wasike, an accountant, says preachers play with the psychology of people, who prefer an easy way out of their tribulations.

"They print envelops with various amounts of money written on them, some indicating Sh1,000. They then insist that God does not like people who give Him coins," argued Wasike.

"Why would a preacher tell his followers that they do not have to work, but can only prosper through miracles?" she posed.

Erick Maina, a university student, says he attended a crusade a few months ago, and the preacher urged the congregation to plant a 'bigger seed'.

"Since the crusade was near campus, many students attended. The pastor said that if we wanted to pass our examinations, we had to take the envelop with the highest amount," explained Maina.

But it seems many gullible Kenyans are taking things a bit too far, to the joy of bogus preachers. Some people go to the extent of giving their house rent to pastors in the hope of planting 'seeds' that they believe will grow and make them prosper. The only problem is the landlord might not believe in miracles.