If it takes armed policemen to protect my flock, so be it

PHOTO | FILE Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Africa Spiritual Leader Father John Pesa.

What you need to know:

  • Father Pesa says that many politicians go to him for blessings and prayers and even ask him to predict the outcome of elections in which they want to run.
  • Father Pesa says he is taking care of about 50 orphans and widows.
  • Father Pesa says he was forced to seek high-level security following an incident in 2010, after a journalist made a “malicious” claim that he chained his followers.

Father John Pesa I, who heads the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa, is used to controversy. A few weeks ago, the clergyman triggered heated debate on social media after he was photographed surrounded by more than six armed policemen.

DN2 sought him out for an explanation at the church compound where he lives in Kisumu. It is clear from the entrance that the cleric takes security seriously.

A visit to the compound reminds one of visiting the residence of a head of state. There are several armed policemen manning different corners and tens of security guards stationed within the compound, which has more than 20 doors.

But Father Pesa says he was forced to seek high-level security following an incident in 2010, after a journalist made a “malicious” claim that he chained his followers.

Following the report, Pope Pesa says, he was confronted and beaten by angry Kisumu residents, who killed some of his followers and raped some women.

“I did not wish to see any more of my followers die or get divided because of people who were misinformed about what goes on in my church,” he says.

“So I said to myself, if it takes armed policemen to scare away potential attackers, so be it,” he adds.

Pope Pesa says the report was completely off the mark, insisting, “I have the power to spiritually cleanse people with mental illnesses, and even the sick and the needy.”

“The individuals who were chained were mentally ill and would become violent; they would beat anyone who  came to church for Bible study,” he explains.

“The message that I chained my followers spread very fast, – but not as fast as the word of God. Within a short time, residents had barricaded the road leading to the church compound, demanding that I release the “chained” followers. They would scared away anyone approaching the church compound.

Since then, he says, he has been forced to hire armed policemen when he conducts religious marches in Kisumu.

“I could not walk into town unaccompanied by armed policemen to keep the angry residents at bay. That’s how I came to have the armed men you see around me whenever I leave the church compound,” he says.

“Every Friday I would go to the top of Nandi Hill Range to pray alone,” he says, adding that since he was attacked, he rarely goes there.

“Instead, I lock myself in my room and pray but if I really must go to the hill, I need at least six armed escorts,” he says.

Besides the policemen, Father Pesa has about 16 body guards, all of whom he says are volunteers out to ensure that he conducts his business in peace.

Asked where he got the money to build the impressive altar and the houses in the church compound, he responds that he has never conducted a harambee.

According to Father Pesa, the Bible forbids harambees. However, the church has a way of collecting offerings from its adherents.
Every church memeber is  required to pay only one Kenya shilling every Sunday.


“We collect a shilling each from all the 1 million plus members in all the branches throughout the country ever Sunday. No one is allowed to give more than a shilling, and the money is put in the church’s account,” he says.

As if to convince us, Father Pesa opens several wooden boxes filled with coins, which he says are ready for banking.

Curiously, they are all one-shilling coins. “This is what we use to buy all church property, build what the church needs, and even feed the poor. Everything belongs to church,” he asserts.

Asked why he does not have property, Father Pesa says that is against the church’s Constitution.

“I am not a wealthy man, the way people out there seem to think because all I have belongs to church. I do not even have a wife. It is my sons and daughters in the church who will inherit all this when I die,” he says.

Asked about the common practice where clerics ask their church members to plant a seed (contribute money) in order to receive God’s favours, he replies: “There is no single day I have asked any of my followers to give money as a condition for me to pray for them. They donate money and pay tithes purely out of their own volition,” he says.

Father Pesa says that many politicians go to him for blessings and prayers and even ask him to predict the outcome of elections in which they want to run.

“I have predicted many election results and they all turned out to be accurate. I have done predictions for many politicians and even warned some against joining politics because they would only waste their money and lose the elections,” he adds.

The controversial clergyman says none of his followers is allowed to drive into the church compound on Sundays because he believes they are all equal. Those with cars are advised to park them some distance away and then walk to the church compound.

Father Pesa says he is taking care of about 50 orphans and widows.

“It is not because I am wealthy. It is because I made an agreement with God that I would take care of his needy people,” he explains.

The cleric acknowledges that a lot has been said about him and his church, including accusations that he is a devil worshipper, and that he feeds his followers with blood.

“That has not stopped me from taking care of the needy and spreading the Gospel. In fact, my followers keep increasing by the day, and to me, that’s a blessing,” he asserts.

“I have heard many negative things said about my church, but that won’t stop me from spreading the Gospel to those who want to hear it. The Bible says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear,’” he adds.

So how did he become a church leader?

“When my healing powers became evident when I was still a Roman Catholic, I was branded a rebel, a pariah and kicked out by the church leadership.

He says that in 1957, he was and detained for three years over allegations that he was deceiving Christians.
He claims that one day he was taken to heal a relative of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who had been sick for a long time, to prove his powers.

“They saw that, indeed, I was a true spiritual healer who was using only powers from God,” he says.

Thereafter, was taken back to prison, but the president ordered his release.

“Later, the president asked that I be taken to him for questioning,” he says, adding that they had a lengthy conversation, although he will not divulge about what, only saying he thanked the president for allowing him to start his church and get it registered.

“The president told me that the only way he could help me was get my church registered,” he says.

“I did not want to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but the church leaders said I should not be accepted back,” he says.


Following his rejection, he founded the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa. “Thereafter, I had a constitution written to guide my church, which had only nine followers at the time.”

Father Pesa says that after the formation of his church, there were many complaints from the Coptic Church in Egypt, which demanded that he drop the word “Coptic” from his church’s name.

“They brought up several issues which were merely intended to bring me down but I remained firm. I even changed the name from Coptic Church in Africa to Coptic Church of Africa but they still wouldn’t leave me alone,” he adds.

“After the death of President Kenyatta, I was arrested for having “stolen” a name and my followers became divided. But thanks to the intervention of retired President Daniel arap Moi, I was released and allowed to continue calling my church the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa.”

Pope Pesa says that his job leaves him little time for leisure, since he wakes up early and retires late.

“I wake up at 4a.m. and take a shower. Thereafter, I take two glasses of water, which is something I must do every morning before talking to anyone. I don’t take tea, so I just go to the prayer room. I talk to my children (flock) up to 1p.m., then I take a lunch break. The rest of the afternoon is dedicated to meeting visitors and at times I get overwhelmed,” he says.

Father Pesa is a vegetarian and his food should never be cooked by a woman who is still having her periods because the church forbids it.

“The only women allowed to cook for me are those who have reached menopause. If there is none around, a man can do it,” he explains.

Father Pesa says his church’s teachings are similar to those of the Catholic Church. Sundays are devoted to masses, and he conducts two.

“Whenever we are praying on Sundays, there must be two plainclothes policemen to protect my followers,” he says.

The church’s 3.5 million members are Sudan, Central Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya.


Origins of the Coptic Church

Coptic Christians are the native Christians of Egypt. As a denomination they originated in the city of Alexandria, one of the most faithful, respected, and fruitful cities during the Apostolic period. Coptic Christians recognise John Mark, (author of the Gospel of Mark), as their founder and first bishop.

The Coptic Church was involved in the first major split in the Church, well before there was such a thing as “Roman” Catholicism, and it was also well before the East/West split.

Copts rely heavily on the Gospel of Mark and believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. They believe in the resurrection, as well as Christ’s miracles. 

They believe in the bodily ascension of Christ and that He was the sinless Messiah and will come again to gather the body of believers worldwide and take them to the kingdom of Heaven.

The Coptic church also believes in eternal life.

Coptic Christians were originally well founded in theology, and other churches in cities throughout the Roman Empire looked up to them with great admiration and respect.

The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Copts to endure a major language and culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Over the centuries, especially after the Arab conquest in themid 10th Century, Christianity lost foothold and most Copts converted to Islam.


Today, there is a small population of Coptic Christians remaining in Alexandria, but most are located elsewhere within different states.

The current population of the Coptic Church is estimated between 10 million and 60 million worldwide. Theologically, Coptic Christianity is very similar to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The exact numbers of Coptic Christians is hard to determine because many worship in secrecy for fear of persecution and regular death threats in the more radical regions of the world where they are a minority.

They profess to be genuine followers of Jesus Christ and a part of His worldwide Church.

But, as with Catholicism, they tend to emphasise meritorious works together with liturgical ritual, as key to salvation rather than salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as taught by other Christian denominations.

John Pesa’s church is one example of a sect that fuses Pentecostal theology with Catholic ritual, even while including overt symbols of African traditional practice.

Father Pesa conducts his services with a combination of high Catholic pageantry and African dance.