When Joseph Hellon Onyango holds a saxophone, women shiver; or at least that is what he says they tell him when they attend his performances. When he plays the sax or the flute, what emerges is a vibration of sounds that he has now purposed into what he refers to as “his call.”
He calls his music godly, and is quick to add that he does not believe in what people classify as gospel music. For him, as long as music has a positive message and lifts people’s spirit, then it is right by God.
Hellon is a preacher. A different one. He believes a pair of coloured jeans and curls like the ones on his head have nothing to do with winning souls. His church, the one that landed former television star Esther Arunga into controversy, is up and standing.
He says the service is held every Sunday at Kenya School of Law and he has more than 300 members.
Back then, the church was called Finger of God, a name Hellon says he chose after carefully reading the bible.
“Finger of God is holy spirit. The Law of Moses was written by the finger of God. There is nothing dirty about that name as Kenyans were suggesting,” he says.
He says when his church was at the centre of bad Press in 2010, around the time when Esther Arunga had resigned from her job to be fully involved in church and become a politician, he contemplated changing the name.
In March this year, the church changed name to Kingdom Embassy International. He in partnership with an American preacher, run other churches globally.
“When I was facing the devil in 2010, my church was alone. I realised the importance of partnerships. I imagine things would have been different if I had support,” he says.
Hellon has mastered the bible. He says he has read Genesis to Revelation, and in between, he has learnt to forgive people, including the media who called his church a cult.
“There is nothing cultish about my church. I am controversial and I do things differently. Our messiah was controversial. Preachers who are not should ask themselves if they are really working for God,” he says, as he plays his golden sax at his Karen home in Nairobi.
On Thursday, a few hours after Arunga had been handed a 10-months suspended sentenced by an Australian court, social media erupted blaming Hellon for her woes.
“I met Esther at a church event. I was a singer and she was emceeing. We talked and decided to do business together,” he says, explaining the start of a friendship that many believe ruined Arunga.
He says she also wanted serious counselling, a task he was ready for since he was a preacher. The jazz maestro says he was contracted to work for the Famous Tusker Project Fame show and he says when Quincy Timberlake, his former schoolmate at Kokuro Primary School in Migori saw him on TV, he reached out and they rekindled a friendship that has since been severed.
“He came to my church and he is the one who helped in registering the Placenta party where I was vying for president with Esther as my deputy,” says Hellon.
Their relationship, church activities and mannerism became an issue of public concern.
It has been nine years since they made news, and his church put under police investigations. The case filed against the church was dismissed for lack of evidence. Hellon says he has grown even more.
A faithful, identified only as Bullah says he has never met a man wiser than his spiritual leader Hellon.
“When you talk to him, you realise he is different and he understands the bible better than most people,” he says.
Hellon’s wife Kuyu notes that no matter what was reported about her husband back then, nothing would have changed her mind from believing in him.
“I knew there was nothing wrong with his church. If you know your husband, there is nothing that people say that can shake you,” she says.
When conversations about religion and people losing their all come up, as they often do when the saga surrounding Hellon and his church spring up, he believes someday God will descend, and it is then that people will realise his church was genuine. Until then, he waits. And while he does, he takes the deepest breath, and blows into his saxophone. “They call me the maestro. That I am! Other things like cults are fragments of their imagination,” he says
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