Tanzania: Church Head Disowns Sect in Airport Drama

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - The Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) yesterday dissociated itself from a breakaway sect, which has mobilised its members to abandon their jobs, farms and even school to visit countries in East Africa and beyond to preach their gospel in anticipation of the supposed second coming of Jesus Christ. The president of SDA in Tanzania, Archbishop Joshua Kajula, said the church had no links with the sect calling itself the SDA remnants.

This follows a bizarre incident in which some of its members have been camping at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, expecting to fly out to foreign countries without passports and air tickets. As the church denounced the group, reports from Mbeya, a region where many of the sect's members are based, indicated that some 50 people had left on foot, reportedly headed for Kenya and Zimbabwe for their strange mission.

Speaking to The Citizen in Arusha yesterday, Archbishop Kajula said: "Our church respects the laws of the country and cannot tell people to stop working or students not to go to school because of the alleged second coming of Jesus."

Several other top church leaders also denounced the rising number of cults in various parts of the country and urged the Government to take stern action against those violating the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution.

Those who denounced the activities of the so-called SDA remnants were Archbishop Methodius Kilaini of the Catholic Diocese of Dar es Salaam, the Reverend Nyambuge Brown of the Gospel Ministry of Pentecost (GMP), the Rev Wilbert Ngowe of Nuru ya Ulimwengu Church and Pastor Christopher Mtikila of the Full Salvation Church.

Meanwhile at the airport in Dar es Salaam, the 17 people who had caused a stir by clutching bibles and praying since last Monday, vanished yesterday after the authorities reportedly threatened to arrest them if they did not disperse.

"Some policemen and officials believed to be from the Immigration Department came on Thursday night and gave them up to today (yesterday) to go back to their homes," a gardener at the airport, Mr Abdallah Msichoke, who had housed some of the women and a child, said. Mr Msichoke said the sect followers told him they had nowhere to go as they had sold all their land and property back home before setting off on a journey they hope would take them across the world to preach.

They told him that they believed they had been directed by God to spread his word. In Arusha, Archbishop Kajula said that some pastors had rebelled against the church after "failing to realise their ambitions of enriching themselves". He said the rebel group was led by a former church leader in Mara Region.

He said the rebels were behind the airport saga and accused them of misleading some church members, including schoolchildren, to abandon their normal activities and pray for miracles to fly abroad.

He said the sect had tarnished the image of the entire SDA church, one of the oldest in the country and which has millions of followers. "We want the public to understand that we do not have any business with this sect although it is led by our former pastors," the archbishop said.

He was speaking at the church's head office in Arusha. He accused the sect of being behind the incidents in Mbeya and Mara regions early in the year, in which children deserted schools, which farmers abandoned their farms.

The situation was particularly bad in Kyela district and parts of Mara Region, where followers had camped in the mountains and forests, expecting to witness the purported second coming of the Messiah. He said there was "not truth whatsoever" in the information and pledged to cooperate with the authorities to offer useful information to check the spread of the sect. "They are abusing our name. We want the public to know that.

They are not part of us," he said, urging the Government to investigate the sect and take appropriate action. Archbishop Kilaini said that the Government should always carry out investigations before approving or registering any religious groups.

He said the mushrooming of such sects may be as a result of laxity by the authorities. The Rev Mtikila said the emerging sects' activities amounted to breaking the law and endangering the lives of its own people.

The Rev Brown accused the sect leaders of misinterpreting the Bible to "engage in acts of self glorification". He warned the public against falling prey to false prophets. Yesterday, the police said they could not arrest and charge the people, as they had not evidence of any crimes they may have committed.