Back when I worked for a short stint as a clerk in the Ministry of Public Works before going back to school to become a juggler of words, a fellow villager worked as a mechanic in the same department. At that time, government mechanical garages under that ministry were some of the best managed and my friend was one of the best vehicle spray mechanics in and out of the ministry. When I left he remained there for many years before he either retired early or was retrenched.
I do not remember what he immediately did after the early retirement but the next time I met him, he had an Akorino-like drum on one hand and a bible on the other. He and a few others had rented a shop next to the only bar at the sleepy rural trading centre near my home and ‘opened’ a church. He was the pastor.
At the beginning one could tell the group was struggling and this persisted for years. But when I met him again late last year my village mate looked much healthier and I daresay, even younger. He had not risen to the status of the Kanyaris of this world with their Ranger Rovers and all, but he was using a good race bike for exercise, had a better house, his outfit had bought a piece of land in the prime Kikuyu area and ‘they’ were putting up a permanent church structure.
I do not recall the man ever going to any theological school (from the beginning, his formal education was wanting) or having a mentor with a theological background. So without any training or knowledge of the Bible, the mechanic became a ‘man of God’ and started ‘leading’ his flock towards the promise of eternity. Today my mechanic friend has graduated from a sinking early retiree to a thriving church owner complete with followers, land and church building.
But then he is not unique and neither is his church. Most emerging churches, apart from the mainstream, have been formed by people of poor educational backgrounds, no exposure to or interest in religion and dubious backgrounds, including ex-convicts, house helps, former matatu touts, and professionals. People who do not have the patience to build a career and wealth and instead choose to make a quick buck by exploiting poor Kenyans who ‘plant seeds’ with their suspicious church organisations. They give opium to the masses and the masses do their bidding.
These ‘leaders’ have become the envy of many pastors of the mainstream church, with the weak ones either joining them, going into side hustles, including land brokerages or simply embracing their immoral way of life. When a ‘pastor’ with no theological training or even in-depth knowledge of the Bible forms a church and lures a congregation with ‘miracles’ or unconventional preaching that supposedly give hope to churchgoers, he is bound to make wealth that even bishops of the mainstream churches can only dream of.
Most of the mainstream pastors go through thorough training, leading to first and subsequent degrees, while those in the alternative come from all manners of backgrounds and have absolutely no training. The new draft rules by the Attorney General are therefore welcome and will hopefully ensure that, among other things, these mushrooming churches are led by trained and qualified people. How does one expect a tout who receives the ‘calling’ while banging the door of a matatu to interpret the Bible?
Leaders of these informal institutions use their congregations to climb out of poverty and, while living in extravagant bliss, use church members, including married women, as sex objects and labourers at their behest. They do not believe in anything they say in public. They preach water and drink wine. The government is therefore right in wanting to keep them in check through registration, declaration of wealth and in encouraging self-regulation.
It is also common knowledge that most of these churches are ran by man-and-wife management teams that are essentially the boards of management, the CEOs, managers and accountants. They are also the only signatories to the church bank accounts. The organisations are therefore private entities that acquire assets on behalf of their families and the congregations are only used to create the wealth.
It is clear that most of these church leaders, including some well-established ones, are resisting the rules because they know they do not possess the qualifications to be the leaders of their churches. They take advantage of their flock and have made money through unconventional means by mostly exploiting their poor followers. The government should however not legeza kamba.
I urge AG Githu Muigai to stand his ground and ensure the rules are gazetted and are followed by religious organisations.
Njonjo Kihuria is a freelance journalist. [email protected]