|Church environment Photo: Courtesy|
Freedom of worship has led to the proliferation of cults and religious sects in Kenya. This has been worsened by the fact that starting a church in this country is as easy as starting a self-help group.
Actually, all you need is a duly completed application form, a constitution and a registration fee of Sh2,000. Submit these, wait for three months, and you will be in ‘business’.
According to the registrar of societies, Kenya has more than 10,000 registered churches, with close to 100 new ones submitting applications — daily.
Some of these churches, sects and cults have esoteric names — which this newspaper chooses not to mention — that are as strange as the ‘religious’ activities and rituals that go on in their places of worship.
PASTOR PAIRS COUPLES
In some sects, the leader pairs couples. Oriedo, a journalist, remembers that eight years ago, he covered a mass wedding that turned out to be shocking.
“The mass wedding was one of a kind. Padlocks and keys corresponding with the number of couples to wed were put on the table. Husbands-to-be were asked to pick Keys and wives-to-be picked padlocks,” he narrates.
Once everyone had picked a padlock or key, those whose padlocks and keys matched the wife’s were declared husband and wife. We could not establish whether these marriages lasted.
In Kisumu, for instance, there is a church whose pastor chains members during worship. He claims those who are chained are mentally unwell and can be violent. Thus, they have to be leashed to restrict their movement, lest they become wild when the Holy Spirit comes over them.
“The pastor claims to have supernatural powers that enable him to heal mentally challenged people. He fears that these individuals might beat him up if they are not chained,” said a guard at the church, who requested anonymity.
Attempts to reach the pastor for a word were futile, and there is heavy security at the church. Our tipster revealed that this is because three years ago, when the story about the crazy things that happen at the church leaked, area residents attacked the pastor, demanding that he release the chained church members.
The pastor has never married. Allegedly, the women who cook his food must have reached menopause. Younger women are forbidden from touching his food.
Seven years ago, another sect hit the headlines when it sensationally announced doomsday prophesies that never came to pass.
Sect members were urged to sell their property in readiness for the end of the world. They dug underground bunkers, where they hoarded food and hid themselves — complete with protective gear such as gas masks and nylon clothing — fearing impending nuclear bombs.
When the day the sect’s spiritual leader had claimed the world would end — September 12, 2006 — came and nothing happened, angry villagers chased the group away for threatening them with a fake prophecy, as they laughed their heads off.
HUGGING AND KISSING
Ndichu had to stop his wife from attending a church (name withheld) in Nyahururu, where strange rituals were being performed. For instance, during the ‘sign of peace session’, when congregants are expected to shake each other’s hands, members of the sect hug and kiss each other.
“I never go to church, but I remember in 1998 when I had just married my wife, she used to go to a church where bizarre things go on. An acquaintance shocked me when he informed me that in that church, members peck and hug each other as a ‘sign of peace’.
“I stopped my wife from going to that church immediately. One is better off not going to church, than attending such churches to insult God,” he says.
Then there are beliefs about natural biological processes. Menstruation, for instance, is an occurrence that no human has control over. But in some religions, women are deemed impure at this time of the month. Thus, they are forbidden from stepping into the house of worship, lest they desecrate it.
Call it sexism or what you will, but this topic is such a sensitive matter among some religious groups, that wedding ceremonies can only take place when the bride and her best maid are not menstruating. How they would bust a woman who breaks this rule on her wedding day is a puzzle.
It sounds bizarre, but the truth is that mankind can go to the extremes of weirdness in the name of religion.
Four years ago, faithful of Kingdom Seekers Fellowship International Church in Nakuru spent days fervently praying for the resurrection of their two pastors, who had perished in a road accident.
They pleaded, rather hysterically, with their Maker to bring back the departed men of the cloth. Unfortunately, the much anticipated resurrection did not take place, and the burial went on — albeit grudgingly.
But, although the Nakuru spectacle stands out among many in the realm of bizarreness, the reality is that strange and hilarious beliefs and practices abound in many churches, sects and cults in Kenya.
From human deification, stage-managed miracles and killing in the name of their supreme being, it seems nothing is off limits when it comes to meeting religious requirements.
Otherwise, how else does one explain a situation in which a man of God would insist on having an ‘act of the rod’ with a barren faithful, in a bid to ‘sanctify’ her, and enable her bear children?
That is exactly what Jennifer, 29, from Kariobangi Estate in Nairobi, went through. Her tribulations, she told Crazy Monday, begun when she approached her pastor to pray for her to get a husband.
The supplication went on for a while, but reached a point where the man of the cloth invited her for a ‘glorious session’ to ‘bless her inner soul’ in readiness for her God-given husband.
He claimed his semen comprised of ‘holy oil’ that would vanquish the ‘evil seeds’ of infertility’ the devil had planted in her.
It is two years since she began having those private sessions characterised by ‘horizontal acrobatics’ with the man of God. And she has a child to show for it. Apparently, her husband is impotent, but has no idea.
“I began feeling guilty about what I was doing, but when I attempted to end things with the pastor, he threatened me with excommunication for offending the man of God,” Jennifer explains.
Religion, sages said, is the opium of the people, and rogue pastors have been using it to exploit their naïve flock.
The leader of a church in western Kenya, for instance, purports to be ‘God’. He insists he is the father of Jesus Christ. He claims to have sent Jesus into the world, but earthlings rejected his son. This prompted him to come to the world personally to liberate human beings from the bondage of tribulations and sins.
The octogenarian is on record threatening to curse Kenyans if the Government failed to give him Sh3billion to feed his dozen wives and children.
“If he and his followers are not crazy, then we are. I am surprised he has a fanatical following and veneration. They heed and supplicate him religiously, without question,” Pius Mungoma, who lives in the locality of the church, says.
CHRIST’S THIRD COMING
And when it is not about the father, in comes the son. As Christians await the second coming of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the followers of a Nyanza church believe Christ already came again, and are now waiting his third coming. They say this messiah was buried 26 years ago at the ‘Calvary’ in Suba, Migori County.
“They expect him to come and take them to heaven, where they believe he resurrected and lives with God,” explains Leonard Olack who is familiar with the sect.
Other sect adherents prefer to pray themselves hoarse than access modern education or seek medical assistance from hospitals. Two weeks ago, during the national polio immunisation drive, many members of sects in parts of Kisii, Busia, Nakuru and many other places across Kenya were arrested for stopping medical officers from immunising their children. Reason? Their religion prohibits the use of modern medication.
Some see evil in everything under the sky. Such religious sects do not allow their members to own electronic devices, read newspapers, or own title deeds — they consider buying land sinful — and many other earthly possessions, saying they are evil incarnate.
Have you ever wondered why some sects’ members do not join the disciplined forces? These sects are against earthly oaths, even in courts.
Monicah Wanjiru, a university student, says, “My aunt is the devotee of a certain faith. If a non-member of her church enters her house, she dusts the seat and sprinkles ‘holy water’ on the ground after he or she leaves to get rid of evil spirits”.
Well, that is religion made in Kenya. Metaphysical stuff that is hard to understand.