What you need to know:
- Pastor Ezekiel, who personally to Mavueni to scout for the land, was lucky when villagers welcomed him with open arms and offered him their lands, which he bought at double the market rates as a reward.
After preaching for more than 15 years at Majaoni in Mombasa County with over 500 congregants, Pastor Ezekiel Odero decided to look for a bigger piece of land to accommodate more worshippers after his congregation grew tenfold.
The preacher moved to Mavueni, an unknown village in Kilifi County.
Pastor Ezekiel, who personally went to Mavueni to scout for the land, was lucky when the villagers welcomed him with open arms and offered him their lands, which bought at double the market rates to reward the owners.
After acquiring the land, he slowly began to build his New Life Church Centre, which sits on 65 acres.
Today, the wealthy televangelist, who has a huge following in East Africa among adherents of all faiths including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, is being investigated on a raft of charges including fraud, money laundering, murder, assisting suicide, kidnapping, radicalisation and child abuse.
Also Read: Court freezes Pastor Ezekiel's bank accounts
Last Thursday a Mombasa court released him after the state failed to show how his freedom would affect the collection of evidence, including DNA samples from the bodies of victims of the Shakahola massacre. The televangelist was released on a Sh3 million bond with a surety of the same amount. Alternatively, he was to pay a Sh1.5 million cash bail.
But his prosperity has drawn mixed reactions from Kenyans who questioned the source of his wealth after the Kilifi-based preacher went to court to stop a bid by the government to freeze some 15 bank accounts linked to his church over allegations of fraud and money laundering.
His spiritual father, who is also the founder of Maximum Miracle Centre, Bishop Pius Muiru, has defended the embattled preacher, saying, he has come a long way to amass his wealth.
Speaking exclusively to Nation, Bishop Muiru revealed how he met Pastor Ezekiel when he was still poor and rescued him during one of the crusades he held in Tononoka, Mombasa City in 2000.
Religious leaders, Bishop Muiru insisted, are allowed to acquire wealth legally, citing Apostle Paul in the Bible, who was a preacher as well as a tent maker.
“Apostle Paul used to receive offerings in church but he was also a businessman involved in tent making. He used to get profits from his tent business and he could plough it back," Bishop Muiru told Nation.Africa.
Also Read: Raila visits Pastor Ezekiel, pledges support
The megacity built by Pastor Ezekiel has a helipad, a lodge with a bed capacity of over 200, a high-end restaurant, a petrol station, two financial institutions, a mini-market and an international school. He has also built an apartment block for his staff.
“The issue of being a wealthy evangelist is not a problem. If the security agencies are investigating the wealth of religious leaders or churches in good faith, then there is no problem because we have nothing to hide. But if it's done to harass or pin down religious leaders, then it's wrong. But the issue of declaring our wealth or poverty is welcome," he said.
Mr Jonah Alwiga, the principal of Pastor Ezekiel’s Kilifi International School, said the institution has started offering an international curriculum. It charges Sh250,000 per term for tuition. The school has seven students and more will be enrolled in September when the new academic year begins. It offers nursery, primary, secondary, and A level studies.
“The school started in February. It's an international school with a difference; we want our students to reach their potential and learn other things besides exams. We will have aviation as one of the courses. We will specialise in foreign languages such as French and Chinese," said Mr Alwiga, who has over 30 years of teaching experience in a number of schools including Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed and Jeffery Academy.
The school will have a capacity of over 2,000 learners. It will offer Cambridge and Pearson.
"We will be sourcing students from the East African region. Each class will have a capacity of 20 students. At the moment we have 14 teachers and seven students. We charge Sh250,000 for tuition. We offer both day and boarding facilities but the seven are day students," he added.
He said the school will be the biggest international school at the coast with an airstrip under construction.
Pastor Ezekiel has planted maize and vegetables while raising goats, cows, chicken, ducks, turkeys and sheep for his guests at the hotel.
"We get all our food from our farms. We have a borehole and a dam for agriculture and domestic use," said one of the farmhands. The pastor plans to use the dam for fish farming.
A caretaker, Mr Edward Chiroch, said the two-storey guest rooms would be ready in a month.
But, with the church still closed, villagers in Mavueni and the wider Kilifi County are suffering from a lack of business, according to Pastor Ezekiel.
According to sources, the cleric has employed more than 10,000 people in his compound working in the farm, in construction, at the school and in the hotel. The area has become desolate after security agencies ordered everyone to vacate the premises, leaving thousands jobless.
"I used to earn Sh10,000 a day providing transport services from the Standard Gauge Railway to Pastor Ezekiel's church and another Sh10,000 for accommodation services in my guest rooms, which I built from the proceeds of my transport business. I wish the government knew how this man has changed our lives," said Mr Josephat Bahati.
The more than 100 businesses, including kiosks and eateries, that had sprung up outside the mega church have closed due to lack of business. The more than 100 boda boda drivers who used to ferry people from Mavueni Junction to his church, some 10 kilometres away, are also crying because of lack of income.
In an earlier interview with Nation, the preacher said he moved from Mombasa to Kilifi after his congregation grew.
"I wanted a big place. I started building the church, which sits on six and a half acres and has a capacity of 45,000. I also built a four-storey apartment block that can accommodate 64 families, including bedsitters and one and two-bedroomed apartments for our staff," he explained.
The preacher has also built his home in the compound.
"I decided to live in the church compound to serve God. I live inside the church headquarters. We are building guest rooms to accommodate about 700 guests," he said.
He is also building a supermarket, a hospital, a rehabilitation centre and a university.
"Most of my followers come from all over the world. Those from the coast are less than 100. On Sundays, this place is always full, you cannot even park a car. I had to build the petrol station to serve guests. I don't think a church is just a place of worship," he said.
"A church has to have facilities to help people. If you are waiting for someone from the US to come and invest, why is the government giving you the Hustler Fund?" Pastor Ezekiel posed.
His church sells "living water" and handkerchiefs. It is a controversial issue that some social media users have raised, claiming that he and other preachers are exploiting their followers.
The preacher says he sells handkerchiefs and water because he also spends money to buy them. He sells them for Sh100 and uses the money to run the church, including paying electricity bills.
The pastor says he does not advertise his church, but up to 50,000 people attend his services every Sunday. The capacity of the church is 45,000. He has guest rooms that are always full of congregants, including foreigners.
The pastor told Nation he works from Monday to Monday without a day off. Asked why, he said he will rest when he dies.
Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung'aro said the preacher had been instrumental in developing the area.
"I will defend Pastor Ezekiel, during the long period of famine and hunger, the preacher gave us food donations amounting to more than Sh13 million," he said.
Mr Mung'aro said the preacher had helped about 110 bright Kilifi children with four-year scholarships. Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga, who also visited the area, was impressed by the massive development after being shown the school, restaurant and lodges.