Pastor Joyce Peterson has been to hell and back. She lost her two children and a husband in one year. She got neglected by family who accused her of sacrificing her family to the devil and lost everything to a fire started by her suicidal late husband. She spoke to CATE MUKEI
Who is Joyce Peterson?
I am a gospel musician, tailor and motivational speaker. I’m a mother of two children, a boy and a girl. I am also a widow.
What happened to your husband?
It is a long story and I prefer to start from the beginning. I met my husband in 1991 when I was living with a friend in Nairobi. We later got married in 1993.
He was a loving man who really cared about his family deeply. We had a few challenges, just like normal couples, but we managed through them. My husband was the type of man who took care of his family very well, the type of man who ensured we ate well every day.
He was an ambitious man and that’s where things started going south. We had serious money problems.
What exactly do you mean?
My problems began in 2009. My husband was interested in opening his own church. Before then, he had taken several loans to start his own business.
Unfortunately, these businesses were not successful. My husband still went ahead and topped up his loan in order to open the church. Before we could open the church, I discovered that I was pregnant.
How did you take the news?
I was shocked because I was not really prepared for a fourth child. I already had two girls and a boy. This news shocked me and affected my work. My workshop where I worked from was closed down since I couldn’t afford rent.
This was the source of our livelihood and school fees, since my husband’s salary serviced the loan and paid rent. My first son had just completed his KCPE exams and managed to get a place at Pumwani Secondary School. At the same time, I developed health problems and had to go through CS to deliver.
I gave birth despite developing high blood pressure. Fortunately, someone also volunteered to pay for my son’s school fees. Around May in 2010, my baby fell sick and I took him to Kenyatta National Hospital where she was diagnosed with diabetes, meningitis and pneumonia.
She died after a few hours of being diagnosed. My world crumbled and I started questioning God.
How did your husband handle the loss? With all the problems, my husband started losing interest in the church we had started. He seemed unhappy and a bit cold, but I was too caught up with my own problems to even notice. Things got worse when he started visiting his mother in the village.
What happened? I don’t know and I don’t think I will ever find out, but when he came back home he went silent and never spoke again. He even stopped going to preach in his own church.
I would wake him up and even iron his clothes in preparation for church service, but he refused. I did that for three Sundays and I finally gave up. The fourth Sunday, I decided to fellowship at a different church.
I remember vividly the pastor preached about Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego and how they survived being burned in a fire because they believed in God. Little did I know that God could have been speaking to me.
What exactly transpired?
I woke up at around 2am. My husband was not in bed and the whole house smelt like petrol. I decided to go and check what was happening and I met my husband at the door. He told me that we were all going and I asked him where.
That’s when I realised that he had petrol all over his body and a match box in his hand. He had also turned on the gas. He lit the matchbox and went up in flames.
What did you do? I ran towards the door and discovered that the house was actually locked and that we could not get out. The whole house was filled with smoke. My two girls were sleeping in the other bedroom and had started coughing. I called them to join me in the other bedroom where we screamin for help.
Luckily, neighbours came and broke the grills. I called my children to come closer to the window to avoid suffocating and that’s when I discovered that the younger daughter was not there. She had fainted next to her father.
Did the neighbours manage to save you? Yes, they came in and saved us. They rushed my husband and daughter to Kenyatta National Hospital. Unfortunately, my daughter did not even make it to hospital while my husband died a few hours later.
How did you cope with these deaths in one year? It was very tough. At the burial, I heard people addressing me as mjane and wondered whom they were talking about. After the burial, people even hired a counsellor to talk to me, claiming that the reason my husband committed suicide is because he was HIV positive.
Others, claimed that I had sacrificed my husband and child because I had joined devil worshiping. I decided to stay away from everyone including my own family because it was too depressing.
How did you get back to your feet? I had to do it for my children. My son was so affected that he had to repeat one class in high school. I moved from Kayole to Kasarani to start a new life.
I went back to sewing and also started recording music. People still gossiped claiming that it was too early for me to record music and that I got the money to do so from devil worship.
Did you ever get into good terms with your family? My mother asked for forgiveness before she died. I forgave the rest, but we all decided to mind our own business.
What do you do to encourage people in similar situations? I have a foundation called Woman of Steel, where we meet every second Saturday of the month. I encourage women to push on despite the situations they are going through. I have met many people who tell me that my story encourages them not to commit suicide.