The village that refused to buy Mackenzie’s teachings

Pastor Thomas Karisa

Pastor Thomas Karisa of the Grace Mission in Bungale at his home in Kwangezi village in Magarini Constituency on Friday, April 21, 2023. Inset: Cult leader Paul Mackenzie.

Photo credit: Maureen Ongala | Nation Media Group

It is sometime in 2015. Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the Good Life International Ministries opens a branch in Bungale, Kilifi County.

He assigns Pastor Peter Kyalo, now deceased, to lead the church.

However, things don’t go to plan for this branch as the community grows skeptical of the teachings of this church.

A pastor who witnessed this told the Sunday Nation that the doctrine against going to school was a hard sell.

Pastor Thomas Karisa, currently with the Grace Mission Kwandezi, initially bought into the church. It was “I did not know Pastor Mackenzie and his controversial teachings, or else I would never have joined,” said the 58-year-old.

Mr Karisa narrated that the late Kyalo, a friend of Mr Mackenzie’s, set up the Bungale branch that was located in Mulunguni village.

Mr Karisa said it was not long before Mr Kyalo died and Mr Karisa took up the leadership baton for a while.

During Mr Kyalo’s burial, Mr Mackenzie approached Mr Karisa and introduced himself.

“By this time, Pastor Mackenzie was referring to himself as bishop, but his teachings were contrary to our values,” said Mr Karisa.

“He used to tell us that going to school was a sin. It did not go well with my followers and they started to rebel.”

Mr Karisa said he faced the wrath of his congregants and they threatened to ditch him if he continued to support Mackenzie.

Mr Karisa said some of his followers had fallen prey to the “bishop” and did not want to leave the church.

He said the issue generated conflict and division among the followers.

“I asked my followers who were now embracing his teachings to either move out of my church or I would eject them,” he said.

In the process, Mr Mackenzie reported him to a lawyer for legal action.

“Since he could not defend himself, I told the lawyer that Pastor Mackenzie wanted to mislead and blackmail our people and encourage illiteracy,” he said.

“I got saved in 1972 and I’m conversant with the Bible. We could not allow him to mislead us,” he added.

Mr Karisa said Mr Mackenzie used to quote the Bible and even speak in tongues but would then ask the congregants to resist school.

“Shockingly, pastor Mackenzie is learned but he was telling us to read the Bible only and not go to school because we will go to heaven just as the Holy Book states. But this was misleading,” he said.

Mr Karisa said after the fallout with Mr Mackenzie, he abandoned the Bungale branch. Out he moved together with followers. That is how he started the Grace Mission Church.

He argued that the solution to Mr Mackenzie’s radicalisation of the community was to have him jailed “forever”.

Ms Priscah Shida, the chair of Sauti ya Wanawake in Bungale, said they had to fight to remove Mr Mackenzie from Bungale and end his teachings.

She narrated that after the death of Mr Kyalo, his wife continued to preach the controversial gospel and would tell members of the community to shun school.

“We wanted to stop the wife from brainwashing our people further because her children had stopped going to school,” she said.

“Pastor Mackenzie did not tell the community to fast, but he said he was preaching the gospel and people should not go to school,” she said.

She said it was “not easy” to push Mr Mackenzie out, though they were determined to oust him.

But there are locals who bought into Mr Mackenzie’s church and the results were fatal. Ms Esther Mkambe, a Bungale resident, fears that her sister is dead after going into the Kilifi farm where bodies have been found.

Ms Mkambe called on local leaders to financially support families there to ferry properties belonging to their deceased kin.

“Our people are dead (and) we are struggling to reach the forest to trace their houses and get their properties,” she said.

She said over 50 people had travelled to the infamous farm, hoping to access the houses of the deceased to get their belongings.

Ms Mkambe said her younger sister and three children joined the church in Malindi and later relocated to the wilderness in Chakama.

Her sister, she said, was among those who died then subsequently buried in the forest while her children returned to school.

“I met my sister in February this year and she was emaciated and weak. She said they were starving in the forest,” said Ms Mkambe.

She noted that her sister disclosed that she had broken a seven-day fast since she was sick.

“I asked her to take medicine, but she said it was against their beliefs. I am bitter with Pastor Mackenzie because he subjected our families to death,” she said.

Ms Mkambe said they pleaded with the sister to come home, but she always gave excuses.

At some point, the sister told her that she would only return home after harvesting crops from her farm in the pastor’s estate.

“We cannot tell whether she was telling us the truth, but we always hoped that she would come home,” she said.

It reached a point where she stopped picking calls.

“My sister said that Pastor Mackenzie told them that the forest was safe for fasting, away from public nuisance,” she added.

The family could not go to the forest due to tight security set up by Pastor Mackenzie’s church.