The world of controversial televangelist Paul Mackenzie reads like a horror movie, with the man facing a religious scandal never witnessed in Kilifi County.
But those who know him say the Good News International Church pastor, whose followers are believed to have starved to death in order to meet Jesus, started life in Malindi as a taxi driver way back in 1997.
His former colleagues at the Pal Garden Taxis stage adjacent to the Malindi Police Station say when Mackenzie arrived in the town, he stayed with his sister, who was married to a foreign national and owned a taxi.
“He did not know even how to drive, but he learnt the skill here at Palm Garden,” said Japhet Charo, a taxi driver.
Charo says Mackenzie sharpened his driving skills using his sister’s car, where a hired driver gave him lessons.
Later when Mackenzie founded the church, Charo says he later became one of the followers.
He explained that at the beginning, he liked the preacher’s teachings back in 2003, but he abandoned the church when Mackenzie started preaching hatred towards other religions.
The father of five, however, allowed his wife and children to continue attending the church.
“Matters got worse when he started asking followers to burn their school certificates and was against children going to school. That is when I removed my family from the church and severed relations with Mackenzie,” he added.
“My children would come home and tell me they didn’t want to go to school, and that the pastor had said education is evil. I told my wife and the children to stop going to the church as such teachings were wrong. With time they agreed and left the church.” By then, Mackenzie had started rubbing authorities the wrong way over his harsh and extremist teachings, forcing him to “close” his church in 2019.
He however, maintained a fanatic following believed to operate discretely. He was arrested on several occasions and has many pending court cases at the Malindi Law Courts. Mackenzie would later claim that he closed the church after fulfilling his prophecy of end times as ordered by God.
Many people, including Charo were relieved knowing that Mr Mackenzie was done and dusted and that his radicalisation teachings were over, but they were wrong.
It started as rumours that Mackenzie had relocated to the Shakahola area in Magarini Sub-County and bought land, which his followers were tilling, waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ.
What started as street talk will later manifest into a cult where early this year, reports of people fasting to death first surfaced.
“I can’t believe what is currently happening that Mackenzie would one day wake up and order his followers to fast to death,” said Charo.
Another taxi driver, Julius Charo, who worked with Mackenzie, said that the preacher had nothing when he came to Malindi town, and it was his sister who engineered his economic life. “I have known Mackenzie for over 20 years. He came here after his sister had bought a car. I remember it was KAD, with a driver. It is the driver who slowly taught him how to drive, and later, Mackenzie ventured into the taxi world,” said Julius.
According to his former colleagues, Mackenzie was a talkative person, and he launched his ministry during the low tourism season when most businesses take a break.
“We were happy that one of us had seen the light, and some of us joined his ministry until he started preaching outside the Bible. When he closed the church in 2019, he came here and told us that he was done with the Bible, and ministry, adding that he had bought land in Shakahola for purposes of doing agriculture,” added Julius.
Mackenzie would later visit the Palm Garden taxi stage three weeks ago after being released on a bond of Sh10,000 and told them he was no longer a pastor.