Three years ago, a group of young people from the Legion Maria of African Mission Church ventured into unchartered waters.
They decided to ask the church’s leadership to build a hospital.
The idea was inspired by the hospitalisation of Pope Raphael Otieno Adika at M.P. Shah Hospital in Nairobi.
The project’s strategic manager George William said: “We decided to construct a mission hospital and that is why we went on and hired a consultant to do a feasibility study so that we could build a facility like no other.”
And on Saturday last week, they kick-started the journey by laying the foundation stone for St Mary’s Legion Maria Mission Hospital in a colourful ceremony presided over by Pope Adika.
For a long time, people believed that Legion Maria adherents did not go to hospital or seek medical care and that instead they depended on prayers or spiritual water for healing, earning them the tag of a ‘cult’.
They have also been accused by authorities of preventing their children from going to school and not allowing them to get modern medical care and some vaccines.
To debunk the myth, the church is building a Sh200 million Level Four hospital in Marera, Kisumu West, where members of the church and non-members can get medical care.
The project has four phases and will take three years to complete, said Mr Paul Opondo, the contractor working with Cilneod Kenya Limited.
The hospital will be a three-storey 70-bed building, but in the first phase, they are putting up a community health centre, Mr Opondo said.
“This will be a simple structure to roll out the project comprising a pharmacy, consultancy room, waiting area and examination rooms,” he said.
The second phase will be setting up an outpatient hospital, female and male wards, a pharmacy and a restaurant. In the third phase, they will set up an accidents and emergency unit and maternity and paediatrics wards, and dental, optical and gynaecology units.
In the last phase, they will set up a radiology unit, including X-ray, cardiology, MRI, CT Scan and laundry sections.
The issue of health is important for the church and the public, said Archbishop Peter Onyango Abuto, the Legion Maria administrative secretary.
“This is an issue that made our founder father brush shoulders with the colonialists, who felt that we were against everything their administration was pushing,” Archbishop Abuto said.
“We had instances where people were concerned that patients could be removed from hospitals in order to attend church and be healed through prayer.”
The church has been fighting off claims that its members do not go to hospital when they fall ill.
Church leaders insist that the founder, Simeo Melkio Ondeto, himself was treated in hospital when he was allegedly poisoned.
He is said to have been at the forefront teaching people suffering from HIV and syphilis that they had to go to hospital for treatment.
Pope Timothy Atila is also said to have gone to hospital often and even died in a health facility, as did Pope Chiaji Lawrence.
“We know that we are prayerful, but there are diseases that no matter how prayerful we are, require physicians. What the Pope is doing today is making it clear that we support health institutions, and that is why we are building this hospital in line with vision 2030 and the Big Four agenda,” Archbishop Abuto said.
He said they were impressed with M.P. Shah Hospital, which they said occupies a small space but offers excellent services.
The project started with a contribution of Sh8 million from congregants, but church leaders plan to work with the county government and like-minded non-governmental organisations to raise more money to complete it.
They are starting small but will complete the project and change the public’s perception of the church, said Bishop Wycliffe Nyaperah of Lugari, the director of youth affairs.
“This was the brainchild of the youth in this church. We are only fulfilling the prophecy of our founding father, who believed that it was the coming generations who would build this church,” Bishop Nyaperah said.
The project is good for the community, said Pope Adika.
“With time, the project will pick up, I am very certain. Many people will be brought here for treatment,” he said.
He asked national government officials to ensure the project is protected.
He also hinted that the church may go further and build a home for orphans in future.
The area chiefs and the ward administrator asked the contractor to hire locals for unskilled jobs.
The church also asked the county government to include the hospital in the technical working group so that they can benefit from initiatives surrounding health.