Inside the Pokot church that ‘baptised’ Ruto, Raila with ‘holy’ names

Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole Ya Afrika

Jerusalem Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole church at sook village, in west Pokot County, on February 18, 2021.

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

This campaign period, political leaders are flocking churches to seek blessings and hunt for votes.

Among the most popular churches for such politicians is the famed Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole ya Afrika Church in West Pokot.

Sitting prominently on a high point between the Tamugh and Sook hills, the church has over the past decade been giving special names to politicians who go there.

Dini ya Roho is a majestic church with fine finishes, with no comparable building in the vicinity dotted by mostly traditional Pokot homes.

This is the headquarters of the church, which has more than 60,000 members in West Pokot, Baringo and parts of Uganda. It was registered 10 years ago.

Followers call it their "Jerusalem” – the place where they believe the Messiah, Jesus Christ, died and was resurrected.

The church building has two doors. Men enter through the right door and women through the left.

Before stepping into the church, believers must remove their shoes to show respect for their God. They always wear white gowns during prayers.

On the door are the numbers 777. Church leaders explain that it is a recognition sign for the church as directed by the Holy Spirit.

The organisational structure has three levels: the Jerusalem, the highest level; the Zion, the regional headquarters or diocese in charge of between 10 and 25 congregations/bomas; and the Boma, representing the individual congregation as the lowest unit.

Various leaders from the county and across Kenya have visited the church to seek blessings and make contributions to develop the region.

The latest to visit was Kapenguria MP Samuel Moroto, a member of the church who visited on Saturday and donated motorcycles to pastors to help spread the gospel.

Deputy President William Ruto visited the church in 2018, ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2020, and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi in 2021.

When Mr Odinga visited with a host of high-profile leaders, including Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, it rekindled memories of the resilient journey of a traditional African church whose pioneers stood up against the colonial regime, culminating in a massacre some 70 years ago.

The clerics prayed for Mr Odinga and DP Ruto on various dates and interceded for blessings for them from their God.

DP Ruto was named Rimmon, Mr Odinga became Loisa, and Mr Moi was called Steve Stiko.

Other leaders also received special names: West Pokot Governor John Lonyang’apuo was named Andika Zion; former Governor Simon Kachapin (Anzem); Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio, who is also the West Pokot senator (Laifon); Mr Moroto (Restam Lambai: and Woman Representative Lillian Tomitom (Cheanzem).

DP Ruto’s Rimmon is a name for a man of the tribe of Benjamin in the Bible. Benjamin was one of the 12 sons of Jacob.

Mr Odinga’s Loisa was the name of an angel, which Bishop Risti Kapel said was revealed to him in a dream.
Bishop Kapel says every member of the church is given a name derived from the dreams of the apostles or senior members of the group.

“The names we give to leaders came from the Holy Spirit through the church clerics as it was done by the founder of the Church Lukas,” he told Nation.Africa.

He said the church put up a monument in Kolowa, Baringo County, to remember their founder Lukas Pkiech, who died there. Every year on April 24, the church visits Kolowa to mark his death.

Bishop Kapel explains that the church preaches the Holy Bible, but blends it with Pokot culture and traditions and modern Christianity.

Ali Mari, a worshipper, says politicians like to visit the church to seek blessings because they eventually succeed in getting the seats they aspire for.

“When they visit the church, the religious leaders apply anointing oil on them and bless them, and when they leave here, they eventually succeed in their ambitions and dreams,” he said.

Every year, on November 3, members of the influential church converge to thank God that their church was recognised after decades of alienation.

The celebrations are also used by the church to raise money for various projects to help develop Jerusalem.
Dini ya Roho was founded in 1940 by Lukas Pkiech, a blacksmith who lived in Keringet village near today’s Kapenguria town.

The church was founded by Pokots who were against European colonial rule.

But it was sidelined by successive governments because it was believed to be anti-government.

Local leaders had long pushed for the church's legalisation in vain, until 10 years ago.

After years of pressure, the Justice minister at the time, Eugene Wamalwa, handed over the certificate of registration to Apostle Aristi Kapel, the head of the church, in Tamugh, Kapenguria constituency.

Despite being regarded by many as a sect, its members have always insisted it is a church that follows the biblical story of Christianity.

Founder Pkiech, who had links with Elijah Nameme, a Luhya “prophet”, was a strong political leader during the colonial time. He led the Pokot community against European colonisation, which led to the famous Pokot resistance of the 1950s.

Pkiech said the Holy Spirit had renamed him Arususu and told him to start a church that would accommodate Africans.

He used the opportunity to mobilise Pokots to organise anti-government campaigns and fight the Europeans.

The resistance led to the deaths of Pkiech and more than 1,000 other Pokots in 1952 at a battle with colonialists in Kolowa.

After independence, the group was declared a proscribed society and its members went underground.

Others carried on Pkiech’s vision and assumed leadership, such as Rosti Lakuny, who fled Kolowa and continued with the church.

Despite many hardships and under the ever-watchful eye of suspicious authorities, Dini ya Roho has developed its fellowship, built local churches and established a leadership structure and administration. Rosti died in 1997, and the current leader is Aristi Kapel.

Apostle Kapel told Nation.Africa that the group's doctrines are entrenched in the Bible and guided by the Holy Spirit.

He said the church supports good morals among members and doesn’t allow anything that is against the Holy Book.

Krop Kilekwang, a member, says the church instills strong values in its faithful.

“It is not just about our beautifully designed headquarters. It is about great values and beliefs. We are guided by the Ten Commandments in the Bible,” he says.

Mariao Krop, another faithful, said: “This was the church that existed (in West Pokot) before missionaries and colonial masters came to interrupt our faith.”

Pkech returned to West Pokot from Kabete in Kiambu County in the late 1930s. He had been trained as a blacksmith and upon his arrival, he started making jingles in his Keringet village.

The Pokot loved traditional songs and Pkech skillfully delivered the most crucial instrument – the jingle – making him popular.

Pkech was arrested for the second time and taken to Nakuru. He escaped and walked all the way to Kapenguria.

He took his gospel to Kolowa in Tiaty, where he was allegedly assassinated by colonialists on April 24, 1950.

Several worshippers were also shot dead in the carnage.

Stephen Kodingura, a church member, says since its inception, the church has been on the frontline promoting peace, fighting retrogressive practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early forced marriages of young girls.

"FGM is an outdated practice in this region. Early marriages are no longer experienced,” Mr Kodingura said.

He said the church has helped restore peace among warring communities in the region.

"The government should fund such churches in our county for long-term peace, especially on our borders with neighbouring counties.”

Speaking in Tamugh during a meeting on Saturday, Mr Moroto, the Kapenguria MP, said the church has played a key role in restoring peace.