Fred Ondiek leads four priests through the steep and rocky Givavei Hills of Tambua, Hamisi sub-County in Vihiga. Their destination is the holy Sinai rock situated two kilometres from the foot of the hills.
Thousands of pilgrims, mostly from the African Israel Nineveh church, throng here every year to pray. On Christmas Day last month, scores of worshippers dressed in white hats and dresses with red and green stripes congregated at the hill they believe has mystical power.
“During this day the worshippers move uniformly in one direction headed to the Givavei hills religiously known as Sinai,” says Ondiek.
The Sinai rock, which is believed to be a holy and sacred place. In fact, worshippers believe it has powers to hear prayers, heal ailments and end drought among believers of African Israel Nineveh Church.
At the foot of the hill, the chief priest makes a prayer: “Dear God, protect us as we seek your presence. This is a prayer to repent and ask for spiritual guidance as we climb to the hill of faith.”
The senior-ranking priests say the African Israel Nineveh Church was founded in 1941 after breaking from the Pentecostal Assembly Church of Canada. The hill is important to worshippers as the founder of the church, David Paul Kivuli, is said to have prayed and performed a miracle there.
“Baba Daudi Paulo, the founding father was shown this hill by God. It’s here he would perform miracles and that was the beginning of our faith,” says Ondiek.
In comparison to the Biblical Moses who was handed the ten commandments by God, the church’s founding spiritual father is also said to have prayed on the hill and commanded water out of a rock.
“The founding father of this church performed miracles here at the rock. The major one was that water came out of the rock and that was a covenant between God and him, hence God and the Nineveh church,” says Ondiek.
The chief priest narrates how in 1940, Bishop Kivuli is said to have started his miracles that have never been easily witnessed or done by priests and religious leaders of the modern generation.
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“A spirit guided Bishop Kivuli to Sinai where our faith is based. One can get the spiritual power that saw Kivuli pray and fast until water came out of the rock on the same hill,” says Ondiek.
Soon after Kivuli performed the miracle, the African Israel Nineveh church was born. The church headquarter is located at Jebrok on the foot of the hill and is currently headed by Archbishop John Mweresa Kivuli II.
The chief priest says the journey to the hill needs faith and not everyone who starts makes it to the top of the holy ground. But before making the journey uphill, one needs to fast for three days so as to sanctify himself in the eyes of God.
“Fasting for three day signifies the trinity of God the father, God the Son and God the holy spirit. One has to be spiritually clean for him or her to make the prayers,” says Reverend Ezekiel Salamba, a senior priest at the church.
On the journey uphill, one has to make three stops at three points. Each stop is accompanied by a prayer.
A few metres to Sinai point, pilgrims remove their shoes to honour the holy ground. Only then can they enter the holy place, a small, quiet and tranquil field overlooking villages.
“When you get here you sing worship songs as you go around the field three times to signify the holy trinity,” says Salamba. “From the top you can see as far as Kisumu county. Here you are at peace and you can make your prayers and worship God.”
The church members say that at one point water streams out of the rock where Bishop Kivuli performed the miracle. The water miracle was also repeated in 1983 by his grandson and now Archbishop John Mweresa.
“We came 17 of us here when Archbishop Mweresa performed the water miracle. He came and as we watched he prayed and water came out of the rock just like his grandfather and grandmother did,” says Ondiek.
It’s after the current Archbishop Mweresa performed the miracle that he was ordained as the leader of the church which had stayed for over ten years under a caretaker team.
When founding Bishop Kivuli died in 1974, his wife Rebecca Jumba guarded the religious throne for her grandson Mweresa until 1983.
Recently, leadership wrangles have threatened the strong unity left in the church by their founding father.
In 2014, the church broke into disputes over leadership, hence a rift that has seen the church being led by two opposing bishops; John Mweresa who inherited the throne and Evans Chadiva who was constitutionally elected by the members.
Church operations are on hold with a pending case at the Court of Appeal and a court order closing the headquarters until matters are settled.
“We have not used our church for years, but our faith is still strong as we look on the holy hill of Sinai to guide us,” says Rasoa Alivitsa, a member.