As the bewilderment that has engulfed Kenyans following the starvation to death of four cult members in Malindi, Kilifi County persists, more families and those lucky to survive are now coming forward to narrate their ordeal.
The families accuse Pastor Paul Mackenzie of Good News International Church of initiating their children to Satanism.
Benson Omari from Mwitoti village in Mumias East constituency, a father of five, is still in mourning having buried one of his sons, Ian Mukumbu, some two weeks ago after he refused to eat and rejected education.
The Form Two student was introduced to Pastor Mackenzie’s fellowship in 2019 by his elder brother Felix Mutimba when he was in Standard Eight.
“Last month teachers called me that my son had started acting and behaving strangely. He refused to eat and termed education as useless. The starvation made his health deteriorate until his death and he was buried two weeks ago,” said Omari.
Omari adds that Mutimba, who was a First Year Bachelor of Finance student at Kibabii University, was introduced to Mackenzie in 2019 by one of his agents who also happened to be a student at the university. He took him and 10 other students to Malindi in the guise of a university tour.
He says, according to Mutimba, they ate and drank and immediately got converted and started opposing education and hard work.
“My son was introduced to the cult-like church where he became one of the agents and started recruiting other students. He later declined studies and travelled to Malindi and came back. When he came back, he managed to brainwash his four brothers who also went to Malindi and when they returned they started being radical and were against learning and eating,” said Omari.
Omari says in 2021 with the help of the police, they raided Mackenzie’s place and he was able to rescue his three sons but the elder one and his younger sibling, Peter Malechi, escaped and their whereabouts are not known to date.
“The three other siblings were put under guidance and counselling and two of them were able to heal and get out of the sect but Ian refused until his death. During guiding and counselling, they revealed that they were told by the pastor that one can be rich without going to school and working but rather through starvation while praying and recruiting more followers,” he said.
Omari says his elder son was instructed to vie for the student leader post and that he will get funding for his campaigns from the church. He was then later told to convert his brothers into the sect for him to prosper.
Mackenzie on Monday was arraigned in court after he surrendered himself to police following the death of his four followers. The four died of starvation, alleging that it will save them from the pain and suffering of the world.
Elsewhere in Lurambi constituency, parents of three children who travelled to Shakahola village in Magarini constituency are yet to come to terms with how some of their well-educated children were convinced to travel all the way to Kilifi and be subjected to starvation under the guise that they will get saved from the pain and suffering of the world.
The Nairobian also found Tabitha Mukhulu sitting pensively outside her muddy house in Ebukondi village in the same constituency.
Mukhulu, a widow, does not yet know the whereabouts of one of her sons who also travelled to the Malindi church. Two were rescued alive by police but in critical condition and are still in custody.
Mukhulu says on April 1, 2023, she left to look for food and left her two sons at home, James Lusekha and Kevin Musalakani. But upon returning, she found the two missing. She was informed by a family member that her sons had left to attend prayers in Nairobi led by their elder brother Ferdinard Muhanji but under the direction of someone and that they would come back home.
The mother of five says she tried to call her three sons but their phones were not going through apart from the older son’s, which was on and off until they were found unconscious. “I was shocked and I am still devastated that my sons whom I left at home found themselves in Malindi,” she says.
The 55-year-old widow says she had invested her hopes in her son, especially the older one, Ferdinand Muhanji, 32, who had just secured a job at a local secondary school after graduating with a Bachelor of Education (Arts) degree in Geography and Kiswahili from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in 2016.
Muhanji left with his wife whose whereabouts are still unknown. Also missing is their two-year-old niece with whom they lived. Muhanji was among those who died.
“I do not know how my sons got in touch with Pastor Mackenzie whom I do not know because they have never travelled even to Nairobi for prayers beside the usual prayers they normally attend within Kakamega and come back home,” said Mukhulu.
Another victim is James Luseka, 27, who graduated from Sang’alo Institute of Science and Technology in Bungoma County with a course in Agriculture.
Kevin Musalakani, 21 who is under police custody in Malindi together with Muhanji, had just finished Form Four education a year ago but due to his poor background, he was unable to further his education.
Geoffrey Muhanji,27, a twin brother to James Luseka, says his three brothers left two weeks ago stating that they were going for prayers in Nairobi.
Went for prayers
Geoffrey, however, says as brothers, they knew Pastor Mackenzie but only through social media though they appeared not keen on his teachings.
“They left here on April 1 and told me that they were going to Nairobi for prayers and they would come back which I knew was normal for them and even for me where we normally go for prayers within Kakamega and we normally come back for this one it was different and never the same,” said Geoffrey.
However, on Friday, his sister Lornah Mwaro called him informing him that she had seen one of her brothers on TV being rescued and arrested by police from Mackenzie’s church.
“We had no idea of their whereabouts since their phones were not going through until our sister on last Friday informed us about the matter. One of my brothers is still missing. He is my twin brother but our first and last born are weak and under police custody,” said Geoffrey.
Geoffrey said life has not been easy since the incident and they are calling upon the government and relevant authorities to intervene and have his two brothers who are under police custody be released and the missing one be searched and found and those responsible to be held responsible.
“We are from a poor family we have no idea of what Kilifi looks like besides that we have no money to look for our missing brother the government is to intervene and help us and ensure as much everyone has a right to worship People misleading people to the extent of death are held responsible,” he said.
Kenneth Otieno, a Psychology professor at MMUST, says most graduates are being converted due to desperation and lack of jobs after being promised power and bigger roles.
“Graduates are really becoming prone to manipulation due to unemployment and when they are convinced of jobs, a place to sleep, and responsibility, they tend to fall into the trap.
“That is why you are seeing many finding themselves in various sects like devil worshipping and cult-like churches because they have been offered hope which they have not seen during their time of suffering,” said Otieno.
He adds that most of them are willing to do anything due to the offer they have been given because no one likes suffering and that these graduates will influence the entire family because they are educated and the illiterate in the family look upon them in terms of direction where some even interplay scripture to the family.
Otieno, however, blames the church for what he termed advocating prosperity and wealth gospel instead of the spiritual gospel.
“Besides people yearning and praying for wealth, our churches and religion have lost their bearing because their teachings are all about wealth and those in need are ready and willing to do anything for the sake of prosperity,” he said.