• In the heart of Kayole, where gangs and guns rule, rises the House of Hope Church
• The church was founded 22 years by Pastor Godfrey Migwi, who doesn't charge for counselling
In the heart of Kayole, where gangs and guns rule, ushers in the House of Hope Church are former sex workers and 'reformed' gang members.
Founded 22 years by Pastor Godfrey Migwi, 38, the church has 2,000 committed and registered members.
The church, which has a capacity of 5,000, is in the middle of a low-income neighbourhood. But the architectural brilliance of the building overshadows the reputation of the area.
A red-carpeted pulpit, television sets at all corners, and well-arranged white seats and CCTV cameras for the congregants welcome you to the house of the Lord.
The walls of the two-floor building have cloth decorations and hanging portraits of Jesus Christ, portraying the life of the Lamb of God.
The controversial man of God is known for criticising women leaders, President Uhuru Kenyatta and other leaders. In an interview with the Star, he said his church will be one of the biggest in the region once it's completed.
"So far we've spent more than Sh50 million on this sanctuary. We will have spent Sh100 million by the time it will be completely done," Migwi said.
The father of four said apart from Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, area MP and MCA, no other politician has ever supported him in the construction of the church. But through harambees, where his congregation contributes, he has managed to build it.
Migwi said he is also a businessman, which is how he earns a living. He contributes to the church's growth and activities from his earnings.
The pastor claims he is Christ-like. "According to the money people have entrusted me with [like Sh50 million, the one we've used on constructing the church so far], I think I live like Christ," he said.
"If I wanted to use the money for my own personal gain, I would have done it. Also, I know several politicians but don't go around begging them for money."
GANGSTER'S PARADISE NO MORE
Kayole is characterised by dread gangs, which terrorise residents, but the Mathioya-born preacher said after he moved there seven years ago things are no longer the same.
"People have changed. We even have ushers who were once street kids, gang members and prostitutes. I counsel them about the spiritual path and in time, many of them come around," he said.
Faith Wangoi, 37, is a reformed sex worker who has ushered at the House of Hope since 2016. "I got to know about the man of God five years ago," she told the Star. "I was touched by his message while preaching on Kameme FM."
The mother of four, who was a streetwalker for nine years, got baptised in 2015, a few months after joining the church. "Life in Christ is better than anything else. Some of my ex-colleagues really envy me because my life has changed. I always advise them to accept Christ and everything else will follow," she said.
The church's goal is to give hope to the hopeless. "God told me to go and change the people of Eastlands, where I had lived for some time," Pastor Migwi said. "I want to prove to my God that Kayole and Eastlands can produce something great, and that's why I'm praying day and night for change."
Peter Mgunjiri, 30, a matatu driver and former criminal and member of a gang, decided to get saved after six of his friends were killed. "It was in February 2017 at around 2am when I was going for an operation. I saw Pastor Migwi's church. I told myself I'll go there one day," he said.
Peter, who was also into drugs, stays near the church. The following day, while walking around the hood, he saw the doors open and decided to go in. "I was directed to Pastor Migwi's office, where we talked for almost two hours, and it took me seven months to reform," he said.
"We used to do bad things. Rape and kill and steal. I used to be the driver of the gang whenever we went for an operation. I was wanted by the police and most of the time I used to work at night to avoid being arrested during the day."
Peter is now a member of the church.
Former street urchin Dominic, 31, now a security guard, heard about the man of God on radio and decided to visit his church. He underwent counselling and thanks the man of the cloth for supporting him.
"I was the first person to wed at his Kayole church. I wanted to do something just to show God I'm grateful and I decided to take a post as a security guard.
Migwi is mostly in the church and opens its doors wide open to the public to go and worship. He said after reforming, "some are given capital to start small businesses. We train them how to do business and how they can live a happy life with the little they get and through the counselling they’ve received."
Tough cops are posted in areas like Kayole and its surroundings, including Hessy. The fierce cop has for a long time been using Facebook to warn dangerous gangs in the city. He even shares gory photos of the thugs after they've been gunned down by the police, just to send a stern warning to those still involved in crime.
But the man of the cloth doesn't support Hessy's actions. "I don’t believe in killing young people. According to behavioural lessons, one can be transformed through the word of God and counselling in a professional way," he said.
"Killing is not the solution because some are young children in school being brainwashed. I have counselled primary school children from illegal gangs and they have changed completely."
He also talked about the good side of Kayole, saying "people misjudge Kayole but it’s like any other estate in Nairobi. I pass through Kayole with a big machine, a Toyota V8 Land Cruiser, and I have never experienced any threat. I think as a Nairobian, Kasarani is more dangerous in matters of security than Kayole."
He added, "The good thing about Kayole is that you can live in here without going anywhere to find services. Many banks have branches here, matatus, and supermarkets and food stores operate 24 hours."
The church is involved in different charity activities, and the man of God said he is occupied mostly during holidays. "We attend children’s homes. We have a new programme to help the widows and widowers from Eastlands because many don’t even afford daily meals. We use the offering we collect," Pastor Migwi said.
"We have another programme where we connect singles who are not able to talk to the opposite sex."
One beneficiary is Elijah Mutitu, who shared his testimony. "In 2015 when I started going to the church, I opened up to the pastor about my problems and kept going for prayers and counselling," he said.
"He hooked me up with a woman who was in the same situation as mine. We started going out and even went to VCT for tests as requested by the pastor. And after that, we visited each other's parents and tied the knot. We got married in 2017 and have been blessed with a child. We've happily married thanks to the man of God."
MOST PASTORS 'FAKE'
Migwi has been teaching Bible study on Kameme FM for close to nine years. He is a psychologist from Mount Kenya University. He is also a religion and political analyst at BBC News Swahili Radio.
Just like most Pentecostal churches, he baptises his congregation in water, a sign that one has accepted Christ.
"I baptise new believers in a flowing river following in the steps of Jesus Christ, who was baptised in River Jordan by his cousin Joh. I do it in any clean river in the country but not swimming pools as many churches do in Kenya," he said.
Jackson Kamau, 68, a man we met a few blocks away from the church, praised Pastor Migwi for doing a commendable job in Kayole. "He is a true man of God. I've seen a few men who were once part of deadly gangs here and in Dandora change after joining his church."
Migwi lashed out at his counterparts who pocket offerings. "There are some pastors who've been in the ministry for more than 20 years but squander offerings, buy flashy cars, hire security personnel to protect them everywhere they go instead of building their churches," he said.
"Why would you let your congregants worship God in a tent instead of building a nice church for your Father?"
False prophets are on the rise, with many stage-managing miracles. Pastor Migwi said most do it for clout and to make money.
"In 100 prophets, it's only two who are right, and Kenyans need to know that. The problem we have in Kenya right now is that when someone gets saved, they want to become prophets, claiming that they're God-sent," he said.
"People get healed when prayed for but most of the local pastors are fake. When Jesus used to heal people, he used to tell them 'go and don't tell anyone'. Also, while healing people, he never gave the devil a chance to speak, unlike our pastors who give congregants mics to speak during deliverance. Why do you give Satan airtime on TV to speak? These are jokes being mixed with Christianity."
He added, "Those are jokes and it's business, to sell fear to people so you can get followers. However, manipulating or brainwashing people isn't easy and to do it, you need to be smart."
Church business is booming across the continent. Advising Christians on choosing a house of worship to attend, Migwi said, "If the pastor of a church you're interested in loves money, like how much you contribute; loves themselves so much more than any other person; you need appointments and have to pay to see them — then that isn't a true man of God."
Of late, Kenya has been topping East Africa in terms of flashy pastors who live a luxurious life. We have seen worshipers of different churches clean roads for their prophets, others even lay carpets for their 'Mums and Dads' to step on while addressing their congregations.
Migwi said, "I condemn such men and women of God. Any pastor who asks his congregation to plant a seed and give tithe is not a man of God. Jesus fed 5,000 and why would you force your congregation to feed you?
"Some of these Christians address their pastors as Mum and Dad yet they've neglected their parents back home. Some are even planning to pamper their pastors with gifts this Christmas and maybe their biological parents are suffering."
He explained the sad reality of such clerics, saying, "Some of them, all they think about is building posh houses in leafy suburbs. If you think you will manipulate people and build mansions using their hard-earned cash, you'll never have peace in such homes."
Various city pastors have been put on the spot for demanding too much from their congregants. Pastor Migwi said, "Pastors and their congregation should be equal. Whatever benefits the pastor gets, each and every member of their church should, too. From throwing birthdays to contributing to hospital bills, all are equal in the Kingdom of God."
Pastors face a lot of challenges, among them rejection and temptations. "At times we're tempted by skimpily dressed women who come to church to make advances to us in the name of counselling. We are human beings and have feelings," Migwi added, quoting Ruth 3:7-1-0 and Genesis 38: 2.