Titus Katana has been digging through the ochre earth of Shakahola forest in eastern Kenya for several days. Over 100 members of a sect who had fasted to “meet Jesus” died there. The 39-year-old man knew Paul Mackenzie Nthenge well, the “pastor” at the center of what has been called the “Shakahola massacre.” Katana prayed and even preached with Mackenzie, a taxi driver who proclaimed himself “pastor” of the Good News International Church he created.
“At first, the International Good News Church had good intentions. We felt like we could see God in this church,” Katana said. But he distanced himself because “too many laws were introduced that required women not to braid their hair and prohibited going to the hospital and school for children,” he explains. “It went too far for me. I had no choice but to leave and find another church,” he said.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge was arrested in 2017 and accused of radicalizing followers by preaching that children should not go to school because education is not recognized in the Bible. He was released on bail and cleared by the court in 2021. At least 109 people, mostly children, died after following Paul Mackenzie Nthenge’s precepts of fasting to “meet Jesus.”
Titus Katana visits the search site every day. For a week, bodies have been unearthed every day. One of his friends told him that a fatal fast had been scheduled. “Paul Mackenzie established the schedule in January. The children and singles were to die first, followed by the mothers, and then the fathers,” Titus Katana explains. “The pastor and his family were too fast,” he adds. According to Hussein Khalid, executive director of the NGO Haki Africa, which alerted the police about Mackenzie’s actions, “they were told the end of the world was coming in June.”
As of Wednesday, 39 faithful were found alive, wandering in the forest. Some refused to accept the water and aid offered by rescuers. Some continue to flee from rescuers, determined to finish what they started. Under the influence of the “pastor,” many faithful sold “properties, houses, and businesses to wait for the arrival of Jesus” in the Shakahola forest, Titus Katana said. “I feel bad about what happened because I knew many faithful who are now dead,” he said, saddened.
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