Infighting in West Pokot church causes friction between two factions

Redeemed Gospel Church, Chepareria, protesting against Pastor Timothy Siamoi on January 21, 2024

A section of the congregation of the Redeemed Gospel Church, Chepareria, protesting against Pastor Timothy Siamoi on January 21, 2024.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai | Nation Media Group

The Redeemed Gospel Church in Chepareria, West Pokot County, is embroiled in internal conflicts that have led to physical and verbal clashes between two factions.

On Sunday, chaos broke out in the sanctuary and quickly degenerated into physical fisticuffs, bringing the service to an abrupt end. Police were called in to guard the premises and all worshippers were asked to leave.

The infighting threatens the church's long-standing reputation as a symbol of spiritual harmony.

The genesis of these disputes can be traced back to 2017, when the church's founder, Dr Charles Otipo, moved to the United States, leaving Pastor Timothy Siamoi in charge as senior pastor.

Pastor Siamoi is now facing strong opposition from a section of the congregation, who accuse him of acting unexpectedly and outside the traditional teachings of the church.

Long-time members cite recent changes in preaching and teaching styles as a departure from the traditional values that have defined the congregation.

Elizabeth Kagia, a member, accused Pastor Siamoi of interfering in people's family affairs, citing unsupportive and biased handling of issues.

"We don't want him, let him pack and go. We sacrificed to build this church, but he is telling us to follow the founder of the church in the United States," she declared, expressing a desire for the pastor's departure and the subsequent renaming of the church.

Church's membership

Kagia said the church's membership had dropped drastically to a quarter.

“Which kind of pastor takes what you have told him to the market? When you tell him about your marriage woes, he goes to backbite you. We have taken loans and our children failed to go to school because of contributing to the church building. We need another pastor,” she said.

Amid this ideological clash, financial matters have also become a major point of contention, with allegations of mismanagement and lack of transparency in the handling of church funds.

Some members allege that funds intended for community outreach and church development projects have been misappropriated.

This unexpected turn of events has plunged the church into a struggle for unity.

Elder David Leleywa, a respected member of the church for over 30 years, expressed his concern, saying that local church leaders and elders are increasingly worried about the impact of these internal conflicts on the wider community.

"We have always embraced a conservative approach to our teachings, rooted in the principles that have guided us for generations. The recent shifts in the pulpit messages and worship style are causing a rift among the members," he said.

Locked the church

Church member Josephat Mwaka said Pastor Siamoi had locked the church early last week to prevent some members from attending Sunday service.

"He should move elsewhere. How can a church leader engage in physical fights? We aren't going anywhere," he said.

Another worshipper, Rotich Ketale, said the Redeemed Gospel Church, once a pillar of support and guidance, was now facing a crisis that threatened its positive influence.

"We contribute our hard-earned money with the expectation that it will be used for the betterment of our community and church. However, there seems to be a lack of accountability in the financial matters of the church, leading to mistrust among the congregation,” he said.

Contacted for comment, Pastor Siamoi said he had sought refuge at the Chepareria police station and decided to record a statement following Sunday’s events.

In an interview with Nation.Africa on Monday, he said the tussle was about competition for the leadership of the church.

“I was chosen by the senior pastor, Dr Charles Otipo. Due process was followed and I have worked well for five years now,” he said.

Denied the allegations

Siamoi denied the allegations against him, saying some church members did not support his appointment and were now sabotaging him so that they could take over.

“We have some people who want to topple me. They closed the church,” he claimed.

Siamoi said that he had all the church's financial records available for scrutiny and that not a single cent had been embezzled as alleged.

He also defended his teachings, saying they were based on the Word of God.

“I don’t understand what they are saying concerning my teachings,” the pastor said.

Nation.Africa understands that efforts to mediate and reconcile the opposing factions have proved challenging.

However, a committee of representatives from both sides has been formed to facilitate dialogue, although deep-seated differences remain.