Tag: miracle healing

‘Con’ pastors thrive as Africans become increasingly desperate for miracles

Ugandans participate in a massive preach of the Born Again Church in Mbarara, western Uganda's largest town, on August 23 2008. (Pic: AFP)
Ugandans participate in a massive preach of the Born Again Church in Mbarara, western Uganda’s largest town, on August 23 2008. (Pic: AFP)

At a South African church rightly called “Incredible Happenings”, the pastor believes that he can exorcise demons from his female followers by sticking his fingers in their private parts in full view of his congregation.

In a popular church based in Nigeria – where 84 people died after the collapse of one of the church buildings – the presiding pastor has convinced many followers that the tragedy was the devil’s work, a manifestation of a spiritual warfare between God and Satan.

The sighting of a plane on the overfly ahead was offered as justification, even as an official (if earthly) probe found the building flouted basic construction standards. Many followers agree with this rationale, and back the thinking that those who died needlessly are martyrs.

In Pretoria, at the aptly-named “End Times Disciple ministries”, the pastor regularly serves up snakes to his congregants to eat, pledging they will turn into chocolate. Many oblige and lap it up. In Kenya a flashy “pastor” on national television admitted swindling his congregation, with the defence that they were not coerced. He is now a celebrity of sorts.

Such happenings are to be found all over Africa, where congregations often blindly act on the leadership’s instructions, few challenging them. They faithfully queue to buy miracle oils, and the women even sleep with pastors so that they may be impregnated with the Holy Spirit.

Desperate for miracles

Have we Africans become so desperate for miracles, that any odd John can introduce himself as a “man of God”, patent it and have no one question him or her at all?

Religious and spiritual beliefs on these shores tend to be personal and very subjective, which should be no surprise. It is one of those topics that most give a wide berth, for fear of offending people or the deities they feel they owe their existence and good fortune to.

Like the rest of the world, Africa has seen its beliefs systems and religious practices evolve over time, be it African spirituality in the form of ancestral beliefs and worship, to Islam, Christianity and many others.

In many instances, though not in all, the church has contributed in building healthy societies, including through advancing education for both the young and old, offering  healthcare and in developing skills.

They have also supported community building and social cohesion in many African countries, where they tend to be big players. The church is further seen as the custodian of morality, ensuring that human conduct remains on the straight and narrow.

But there is the downside. Human rights have been, and continue to be, abused in the name of religion. One example is the marginalisation or abuse of women, children and homosexuals, with Bible scriptures invoked as justification of such injustices.

It is interesting to watch how the structure and the function of the church has changed so dramatically over the past few years, especially within black communities. The Catholic, Anglican, and Apostolic faith-based churches historically enjoyed a large following within African communities. That has to some degree changed, with an explosion of evangelical churches across the continent.

“Born Again” eruptions

Evangelical or “Born Again” churches have sprouted everywhere in Africa, some well structured and headed by solid leadership, others run as highly profitable enterprises by self-proclaimed prophets, who to their congregations still qualify as “Men and Women of God”. Many are run almost as if they were insurance companies owning sanctimonious spiritual powers, playing on the hopes and fears of their followers, in exchange for generous tithes.

It would be wrong to tar all with the same brush, but some of the practices their followers are subjected to in the search for miraculous healing and prosperity pose the question: Are their adherents still able to independently think for themselves outside of the indoctrination that goes on in some of these churches?

The evidence is that the greatest beneficiaries of these miracles are the owners, who get richer as their poor and desperate congregations continue to await the promise of healing, prosperity, and blessings, in forms ranging from husbands to miraculous conceptions.

Question then is, at what point does it all end? Where exactly does God feature? Has strife and suffering reduced we Africans to a people that willingly abandon all logic and sense, and allow ourselves to be stripped of our dignity by our “Brothers and Sisters in Christ”, all in the name of miracles and quick fixes to life’s challenges?

It is overly simplistic and patronising to assume that the suffering and poor are lazy and only seek quick fixes – on the contrary, people of all inclinations toil daily to put some put bread on the table.

But let’s face it, life is tough and can be cruel. And the real reason people suffer is due to the myriad of social ills and the venal leadership of many of our governments. Africans have lost faith in many of our religious and political structures and are now seeking solutions from alternative sources. Those that claim to be connected directly to God are very conscious of this fact, capitalising on the increased hopelessness.

How can we see this manipulation for what it is, and stop the perpetuation of our own misery? For those that believe in a God, at what point do we do a one-on-one conversation to get the answers we seek, or does He only hear the prayers of a select few?

The truth is that self-proclaimed “prophets” or “men and women of God” also want better lives for themselves and will continue to happily milk people’s hopes and fears.

Religion alone will not lift us. We need to build educational and financial institutions that will allow us to reach our true potential individually and collectively. Maybe in this way we can have faith in ourselves and stop looking to others to intervene on our behalf.

Palesa Thinane-Epondo for M&G Africa

Kenya’s self-styled Prophet David Owuor

His website’s name is Repent and Prepare the Way; his radio station is called Jesus is Lord Radio. He claims humanity is on the brink of the apocalypse and must be ready for the second coming of Jesus. He also claims to have the gift of prophesy and healing, and draws thousands to his “Revivals” and “Crusades” at the three main centres of Christianity in Kenya: Kisumu, at Lake Victoria; Nakuru, in the great Rift Valley, and the capital Nairobi.

His name is Dr David Owuor but he’s also called “The Luo Prophet”  by some (he’s from the Luo tribe in Kenya), the “Man of God” and “Prophet of Jehovah” by his followers, and a sham by others. Like many other celebrity pastors, he has flamboyant style – he  rides in a Benz and wears long-tailed white suits. Owuor is overtly critical of the Church, orthodox or otherwise, for its corruption and money-making concerns. In turn, religious leaders have raised questions about his “activities”, called for him to be investigated and dubbed him the “prophet of doom”.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and Raila Odinga (C), attend a prayer meeting on February 24 2013 led by David Owuor (R). (Pic: AFP)
President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and Raila Odinga (C), attend a prayer meeting on February 24 2013 led by David Owuor (R). (Pic: AFP)

Videos of him on YouTube include prophesies, made at distant locations about distant locations. He’s been hosted in Venezuela, South Korea, Oslo and Paris.

In July 2009 he reportedly had a vision at OR Tambo International Airport of the Pale Horse coming to earth, thus breaking the Fourth Seal of the Apocalypse.

A year and a half later, on February 8 2011, as Egyptian demonstrators were crossing the bridge to Tahrir Square, something strange seemed to appear in the news footage of the day – a phantom horse.  Owuor saw it and hailed it as his prophecy fulfilled.

His other self-proclaimed successes include summoning rain on June 5 2005 in front of a stadium crowd (video here) and predicting, back in 2004, the full scale and extent of Kenya’s post-election violence that occurred three years later.

While I am not a practising Christian myself, I am wont to believe that prophesies can come true, that miracles do indeed happen. So I thought it might be interesting to interview the man and see what he had to say about prophesy, healing and celebrity.

I tried to reach him on the numbers listed on his website and filled out a few ‘contact us’ forms, but received no reply. I dialled a  number that a well-connected friend got for me. My calls were cut. Eventually I managed to get a separate email address for the ‘Repentance Office’ and sent my request there again.

The next day, I received this reply:

Blessings Brian,
The Man Of GOD The Mighty Prophet Of JEHOVAH has just returned from THE ITALY NATIONAL CONFERENCE, and HE has ACCEPTED to set time for your interview. However, please get in touch with the ARCHBISHOP Dr. PAUL ONJORO who schedules THE MAN OF GOD’S MEETINGS, that a date my be localized for you. This is very important because THE MAN OF GOD will soon go into a seclusion of prayers and Total Dry Fast for the upcoming HEALING SERVICE and as the guests pastors from abroad begin to arrive, HE will be really tied up timewise.

Pastor Muthoni
Repentance Office

Sent from my iPhone

I replied immediately via email, asking for the Archbishop’s contact details. No response. My repeated SMSs to the number I had already went unanswered. I gave up.

A few days later,  I received a call saying that I could indeed interview The Prophet in a few hours, just before he left Nairobi for his Nakuru ‘miracle healing crusade’ held on 9 – 12 August. As I got ready to meet him, I received a text message cancelling our appointment.

I ended up watching most of the first day of Owuor’s event on television. I saw people claiming to have been healed of various diseases, including HIV. A ‘medical expert’ was on hand to testify to the HIV cures. He was holding what I assume were medical records so it’s not clear whether these miracles happened at Nakuru or before. Another man claimed to be healed of his blindness. He reported seeing “a blue sky with bits of white” for the first time. A woman in a new and impeccable suit had already removed her tatty back harness by time she got onto the stage. She jumped and down in joy, saying that previously she couldn’t even sit. She sat now, beaming. There were others who gave testimony too during that first day and each of them were rewarded with a bottle of Fanta, handed out by The Prophet himself.

The three-day event made the headlines not only for this, but because two people died while waiting to be healed. Whatever the case, about this incident and other things, it’s clear that the good doctor and his people don’t want to answer any questions.

Brian Rath was born and raised in Cape Town. He now lives and writes in Kenya, and recently had a novel published.

Jesus Inc: Paying for miracles to happen

A man wobbled across the podium leaning heavily on his crutches as the preacher beckoned to him with outstretched hands. The mammoth crowd at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi fell silent in anticipation. The preacher asked the man a few questions and then boomed into the mic: “In the name of Jesus I command you to walk!” The man immediately threw down his crutches and trod unsteadily around the stage. The crowd burst into delirium. Some people fainted.

My colleague who was standing besides me shook with quiet laughter. He knew the “disabled” guy, Joel, since they both live in the Kangemi neighbourhood. Joel is a hopeless drunkard. To finance his drinking habit, he takes on casual jobs – like this one.

Kenyan worshippers are seeking divinity in “miracle” churches and dubious pastors who’ve sprung up all around the country. They command a huge following and are raking in money – millions, even – through, among other things, their claims of miracle healing. One session can cost as much as R300. In addition to this and weekly donations from congregants, the pastors sell anointing oils which cost between R15 to R50 a bottle. The oils have a short shelf life – anything from a few days to a month – so believers have to stock up on them regularly to keep “miracles” flowing in their lives.  No wonder, then, that these religious leaders can afford posh mansions and Range Rovers – and that they make the news for the wrong reasons.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Take Pastor Michael Njoroge of Fire Ministries, who reportedly slept with a prostitute last year and then hired her for R200 to attend his Sunday mass service with a disfigured mouth. With a cloth covering her mouth, sobbing because of her shame, the woman performed like a pro in front of cameras. Njoroge, who has a slot on a Christian TV station, prayed for her at his service. The next day she was back in his church with a perfect mouth, giving testimony of the miracle in front of a transfixed crowd. Soon after the incident Njoroge was exposed by Kenyan news channel NTV but his loyal congregants stood by him.

Then there’s the billionaire businessman, politician and pastor Kamlesh Pattni, who was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government of Sh58-billion in the Goldenberg scandal. He was cleared of the charges in April 2013 but not of his notoriety.  Pattni has established his own church and provides a free lunch to his growing congregation every Sunday. Who doesn’t want a free meal?

Pattni could soon be receiving a hefty Kh4-billion of taxpayers’ money after winning a legal tussle over exclusive rights to duty-free shops in two Kenyan airports. The hefty award, however, is being challenged.

Let’s not forget Pastor Maina Njenga, the former leader of Mungiki, a criminal gang known for extortion, ethnic violence, female genital mutilation and other horrific crimes including the beheading and skinning in its strongholds in Nairobi and central Kenya.  He spent a long stint in jail and was released from prison in 2009. Njenga then became a born-again Christian, and set up Hope International Ministries. He professed that he changed his life around but few believe him

Like many Kenyan pastors, he was quick to enter business and politics too. Last year he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential race but quit due to a lack of funds.

Money troubles are not something Bishop Allan Kiuna and his wife Reverend Kathy have to worry about. The influential, doting couple run the Jubilee Christian Centre in Nairobi which has an ‘international media ministry’ with video and music production and book publishing. They’ve come under fire for their luxurious lifestyle on social media, but Reverend Kathy makes no apologies. “We serve a prosperity God,” Kathy said in an interview with True Love magazine. “God wants us to be prosperous in every single way. His desire for us is to walk in abundance. I am praying for church people to show the likes of Bill Gates dust!”

But the gold prize for the miracles business goes to Kenyan Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who was previously based in Peckham, UK. The evangelical pastor who has been photographed with European royalty, prime ministers and presidents engineered a miracle babies scam, claiming to be able to make infertile women fall pregnant. British women travelled to Kenya to “give birth”, but were actually given babies that the pastor and his wife Mary had stolen or abducted. Suspicions were raised when a woman claimed to give birth to three ‘miracle’ babies in a year, prompting an investigation. DNA testing also revealed that there was no genetic link between the women and the babies they’d apparently given birth to.

Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)
Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)

Mary was eventually arrested in 2004 for stealing a baby from a Nairobi hospital and passing it off as her own. She is currently in prison for child-trafficking.  Deya was arrested in 2006 in London and has since been fighting his extradition from the UK to face charges of child theft in Kenya. He has denied the charges, but this particular quote stands out –  of course, it was all God’s idea: “I have been judged by the media as a child trafficker, which is a slave trade, but miracles have happened. God has used me and I tell you God cannot use a criminal. They are miracles.”

Given the numerous scams orchestrated in the name of God, it’s no surprise that a generation of young Kenyans is becoming increasingly sceptical about religion. However, it’s a pity that there are still plenty of desperate and ignorant Kenyans around to keep the Jesus Inc industry flourishing.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at thepeculiarkenyan.wordpress.com