Various news outlets are reporting on the story of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former taxi driver turned televangelist who started out as a gifted evangelical preacher but who gradually drifted away from a message of salvation through faith in Christ into an increasingly apocalyptic one. The charismatic Mackenzie drew many followers into his church, which he called Good News International, and preached against the education system which he believed was “not recognized in the bible” and was promoting homosexuality.
"They know education is evil. But they use it for their own gains" he said in one sermon, according to the BBC. "Those who sell uniforms, write books…those who make pens… all kinds of rubbish. They use your money to enrich themselves while you become poor."
He also encouraged mothers to avoid medical doctors during childbirth and to refuse to vaccinate their children. He claimed that doctors “serve a different God” and that vaccines were not necessary.
He promulgated other popular End Times conspiracy theories such as the New World Order which he claimed was being brought about by the Catholic church, the UN, and the United States. His skepticism of modern technology found him claiming the Kenyan government was planning to establish a numbering system for citizens to access government services which he referred to as the “mark of the beast.”
In 2019, he purchased 800 acres in the Shakahola Forest which is located in a remote section of southern Kenya which he set up as a sanctuary for those wishing to escape the apocalypse.
Eventually, the Kenyan government began cracking down on Mackenzie and even detained him for his anti-government positions, but he was never prosecuted.
“That is when he said that God had told him to close his church and that he was no longer a pastor,” says his former assistant pastor to CNN.
He began selling patches of land in the forest for $80. More than a thousand people purchased land, which amounted to about 300 families. These were either intact families or gatherings of people who heard Mackenzie’s preaching and simply “disappeared” one day after fleeing to the forest.
Francis Wanje told CNN that he learned earlier this year that his daughter and her family were living inside the Shakahola forest with cult members and wouldn’t believe it at first.
“I could not even believe it. I was told something bad was happening in the forest. But I couldn’t understand how she could be there,” he says.
He said both his daughter and son-in-law both had decent jobs and although he knew they were attending Mackenzie’s “church,” they simply told him they were relocating to a different part of Kenya.
According to an affidavit obtained by CNN, inspectors reported that Mackenize told his followers sometime early this year that the end of the world was no imminent and they should prepare for it by fasting.
“He stated that fasting would start with the children until the last child died then followed by the youth, then women and lastly men and that he would be the last to die and ascend to heaven,” the affidavit read.
One survivor, known only as Salema, told the BBC she fasted for seven days before she heard a voice from God telling her to stop, that it wasn’t His will. But all around her, people were dying. They called it “going to sleep.”
"When the child cries or asks for food or water, we were told to take a cane and beat them so that they could go and eat in heaven," Salema explained. "So I thought about it and I said I cannot go on with this situation, I can't eat while my child is starving. I told myself, if I feel this bad when I fast, how about my child?"
Salema managed to sneak herself and her children out of the forest and reached a main road where a “good Samaritan” picked them up and drove them to safety.
When investigators finally raided the area, they found hundreds of remains, many of which showed signs of extreme starvation with dozens of children among the dead. Some were smothered, others bludgeoned to death. Thus far, more than 330 bodies have been exhumed.
Wanje confirms that only his oldest grandchild was found alive. The other two were dead, suffocated by their parents.
“It’s so painful, I could not even explain it because it’s something that I didn’t even think of in my life,” he says. “And I wonder how my child, my daughter, could change to be such an animal to kill her own children just because she wanted to go see Jesus.”
Police rescued 65 people from the forest, many of whom did not want to be rescued.
“When they got to the hospital some gave false names and others refused to be treated, they didn’t want to be helped, they didn’t want to miss out,” says Dr. David Man’ong’o, medical superintendent of the Malindi subcounty hospital.
Survivors are presently being held in a nearby rescue center where therapists are working to “deprogram” them in order to break the emotional and psychological ties to Mackenzie.
Meanwhile, Mackenzie and those aides who assisted him in the cult, are facing numerous charges.
Interior cabinet secretary professor Kithure Kindiki promised justice to those who lost family members at the hands of Mackenzie and said the government would see to it that he was put behind bars for a very long time.
“Those who urged others to fast and die were eating and drinking; telling people to fast and meet their creator while Jesus fed the hungry have a date with destiny, Kindiki told Base Radio. “We expect Makenzi will not get out of jail for the rest of his life.”
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