Were it not for wine, humanity would have been lost, Evangelist Josephat Shijenje of Jesus Power of Nazareth Ministry, Kakamega, argues. He is on a holy mission to win stray souls for Christ. His style of doing so, however, is unconventional. He is a philanthropist, businessman, realist, and cleric, all rolled into one. At some point, however, the roles threaten to clash, but that doesn’t faze him.
Shijenje is determined to return to the Lord his lost sheep, especially those given to the tipple. He is in the process of opening a church that, by design, will share an entrance with a restaurant that will serve beer, wine, and spirits in a five-storied building that he is constructing opposite the Kakamega Prison on the Kakamega- Kisumu Highway. He intends to relocate his church, founded in 2015, to the new building that is about two kilometers away from the current location once it is completed. “To catch fish, you must set camp by the riverside,” he says. Even as he argues that liquor is not the best of things, he credits the continuation of Adam’s generation to wine.
Biblical accounts show that after the great flood, only Noah and his two daughters survived. “The daughters got their father drunk on wine and slept with him in turns and got pregnant for him. That is how Adam’s generation continued. Where would we be today but for that act and wine?” he asks with a grin.“In Matthew 4, Jesus did not start his mission in a church. After the devil tempted him in the wilderness for 40 days, he headed straight to the river where he met those who later became his disciples. I want to emulate him and I would rather keep the company of 1000 drunks, preaching to them than keep the company of 10 Bishops. We can only correct or convert sinners, especially the drunk, by keeping them close, not away from us” he says.
Shijenje knows that you cannot just walk up to a drunk person or a group of foul-mouthed touts and ask them to get saved. It is a gradual process that calls for tact. The very first time he set out to preach to a group of touts at the Amalemba bus stage, he was alert to the fact that they would not be receptive to the idea so readily.
“I approached the group, had a chat, and invited them to take tea and chapati with me in a nearby hotel. They followed me willingly and before we started eating, I called for order and offered a brief prayer. Over the cup of tea, I spoke the word of God to them and at the end of it all, I donated a bible to each of them. At this encounter, I won some,” he said.
It is a strategy he later employed at a drinking joint in town and converted a number of patrons. His urge to distribute bibles to drunks put him in bad books with a bible society that gives free bibles to churches. On learning that Shijenje gave out its bibles to touts and drunks, society stopped giving him free bibles.
“I was disappointed by that attitude but did not give up. I approached the Bible Society of Kenya to sell to me bibles in bulk at a discounted price. To my surprise, the society gave me a 50 per cent discount on bulk purchases and I have been giving out free bibles since”. It is ridiculous, Shijenje points out, to give a bible to a pastor or church member who can afford it. It is the sinners out there who need the bible most.”
“But even as we set out to be close to drunkards and win them for Christ, God is against church leaders taking alcohol. The pulpit must be kept holy as outlined in 1 Timothy 3: 3. Notably, everything is good, but not everything is desirable according to the bible. In fact, anything you eat or drink is good before God as long as you pray for it,” Shijenje argues.While not advocating for people to take beer, he is philosophical enough to say that any restaurant or hotel business that does not sell alcohol is a non-starter. He also says he is a businessman and money comes from all sources, good and bad.
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“All the hotels and boarding houses that were set up under the ‘Christians only’ tag here in Kakamega over the years never took off. Show me any” he challenges us.