Fasting to ‘meet Jesus’: Kilifi sect survivors ready to perish in faith

Wycliffe Waimoi,

Wycliffe Waimoi, one of those rescued by police in Shakahola village, Kilifi County, speaks at the Malindi Referral Hospital yesterday.

Photo credit: Alex Kalama | Nation Media Group

When Wycliffe Waimoi got the opportunity to travel from Kisumu to Kilifi in 2017, not even the thought of leaving behind his wife and three children could stop him from embarking on the more than 850km journey.

His dream of attending Pastor Paul Mackenzie’s sermons in person at his Good News International Church in Malindi would finally come to pass.

The 43-year-old says he never missed any of Mackenzie’s sermons as he had subscribed to his online Times TV YouTube channel and whenever a video was uploaded, he would receive a notification on his phone. 

Pastor Paul Mackenzie

Good News International Church Pastor Paul Mackenzie during an interview with the ‘Nation’ in Kilifi County on March 24, 2023. He claimed that he closed his church in August 2019 and no longer preaches.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

“I was excited that I was going to see him (Mackenzie) face to face. It was a one-time opportunity. I was to attend one or two sermons and then head back home," Mr Waimoi told Saturday Nation yesterday at the Malindi Sub-County Hospital.

When he arrived at the church, he was healthy, full of energy and glowing with optimism. But yesterday as he spoke in a frail voice, Mr Waimoi was a shadow of his former self, all skin and bones with a protruding belly and visible ribs, pointing to a case of severe malnutrition.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the Good News International Church during his arrest in Malindi 

Photo credit: Alex Kalama I Nation Media Group

Mr Waimoi had fasted for 21 consecutive days before a team of detectives from the tourist city of Malindi invaded their Shakahola village hideout on Thursday and smoked them out.

Saturday Nation found Mr Waimoi taking tea and chapati. “Nothing can discourage me, I will remain a follower of Pastor Mackenzie until death," declared a weak Mr Waimoi.

He is just another victim of Mackenzie's extreme religious teachings, which have also become popular with children. A 17-year-old boy was not spared.

Allan Obiero left his home in the suburbs of Majengo, Vihiga County, a month ago with one goal: To attend a prayer session in Kilifi then travel back home. However, his long journey did not turn out as expected.

“I am a prayerful person. I learnt about Pastor Mackenzie through a friend who did not manage to join me. I had to travel alone," Obiero said in an interview.

He had fasted for six days before police came to his rescue.

“I want to go back home. I wanted to escape but we were being manned all the time so that we did not eat or drink anything," says Obiero.

During the raid, police rescued 15 people, out of whom four died of suspected starvation. The deceased, three men and a woman, were reportedly followers of the controversial Good News International Church of Pastor Mackenzie.

Police had identified those hospitalised as Obiero, Wycliffe Waimoi (43), Mercy Aoko (35) from Kisumu, Paul Karisa from Kilifi, Jane Nyambura (38) and Alfred Shitemi (32) from Vihiga. There's also Felix Wandera (37) from Busia, David Abuhaya (49) from Vihiga, Collins Kabaye (22) from Busia, Monica Masika (36) from Kakamega and an unknown adult female.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie

Good News International Church Pastor Paul Mackenzie during an interview with the ‘Nation’ in Kilifi County on March 24, 2023. He claimed at the time that he closed his church in August 2019 and no longer preaches.  

Photo credit: File | Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Police had received a tip-off from the public about the alleged 'prayer session' and planned the raid for the following day. Their report reads: “We have received reports of ignorant citizens starving to death under the pretext of meeting Jesus after being brainwashed by a suspect, Makenzie Nthenge, a pastor of Good News International Church.”

The fingerprints of the dead were taken for identification as most of them had neither identity documents nor mobile phones.

By last evening, we established that two women among those hospitalised had refused any food and medical assistance, claiming they were ready to die for their faith.

Earlier this month, more than 10 people from Shakahola and Msimba villages in Kilifi were seriously injured after neighbours attacked them for being followers of the controversial church.

Delayed exhumation

Meanwhile, the bodies of two children allegedly starved to death by their parents have yet to be exhumed, two weeks after a Malindi court ordered it. The delay is due to the absence of a government pathologist.

Investigations suggest that it was at Mackenzie’s home that he shaped the beliefs of his followers, some of whom are now being investigated for alleged horrific crimes, including starving and killing their children and burying them in shallow graves.

The state accuses Mackenzie of manipulating locals through distorted, extreme religious teachings and fear of the unknown in the pursuit of salvation, leading to the deaths of many.

Mr Mackenzie, whose known phone numbers remained unreachable yesterday, has continued to divide opinion on who he is and what he stands for. In an earlier interview, he said he believed he had spiritual and prophetic powers and claimed to have seen apparitions of Jesus.

The father of seven claimed this was the basic tenet of his brand of Christianity, adding that he had stopped preaching in 2019.

He was released on a Sh10,000 police bond in the case of two children suspected to have been starved to death by their parents. He defended himself, saying his detractors are out to frustrate him and his sect.

Malindi police boss Charles Kamau said detectives were also probing reports that there could be a mass grave in the area where the villagers were worshipping.

“It is said there are graves of Mackenzie believers believed to be in the forest, while more believers claim to hide in the forest to continue fasting until they die. We have taken steps to conduct an operation to determine the truth of the allegations," said Mr Kamau.