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Daily Nation : January 29th 2014
2 coverstory DAILY NATION Wednesday January 29, 2014 If it takes armed policemen to protect my flock, so be it BY ANGELA OKETCH AOketch@ke.nationmedia.com @angieoketch F ather John Pesa I, who heads the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa, is used to controversy. A few weeks ago, the clergyman triggered heated debate on social media after he was photographed surrounded by more than six armed policemen. DN2 sought him out for an explanation at the church compound where he lives in Kisumu. It is clear from the entrance that the cleric takes security seriously. A visit to the compound reminds one of visiting the residence of a head of state. There are several armed policemen manning different corners and tens of security guards stationed within thecompound, which has more than 20 doors. But Father Pesa says he was forced to seek high-level security following an incident in 2010, after a journalist made a “malicious” claim that he chained his followers. when he conducts religious marches in Kisumu. “I could not walk into town unaccompanied by armed policemen to keep the angry residents at bay. That’s how I came to have the armed men you see around me whenever I leave the church compound,” he says. “Every Friday I would go to the top of Nandi Hill Range to pray alone,” he says, adding that since he was attacked, he rarely goes there. “Instead, I lock myself in my room and pray but if I really must go to the hill, I need at least six armed escorts,” he says. Besides the policemen, Father Pesa has about 16 body guards, all of whom he says are volunteers out to ensure that he conducts his business in peace. Asked where he got the money to build the impressive altar and the houses in the church compound, he responds that he has never conducted a harambee. According to Father Pesa, the Bible forbids harambees. However, the church has a way of collecting offerings from its adherents. Every church memeber is required Father John Pesa, head of the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa, has beefed up security around him, with the church compound where he lives manned by armed policemen and private guards. But he is unapologetic, saying he must protect his followers following a ‘malicious’ report by a journalist in 2010, which saw him and his church members viciously attacked Following the report, Pope Pesa says, he was confronted and beaten by angry Kisumu residents, who killed some of his followers and raped some women. “I did not wish to see any more of my followers die or get divided because of people who were misinformed about what goes on in my church,” he says. “So I said to myself, if it takes armed policemen to scare away potential attackers, so be it,” he adds. Pope Pesa says the report was completely off the mark, insisting, “I have the power to spiritually cleanse people with mental illnesses, and even the sick and the needy.” “The individuals who were chained were mentally ill and would become violent; they would beat anyone who came to church for Bible study,” he explains. “The message that I chained my followers spread very fast, – but not as fast as the word of God. Within a short time, residents had barricaded the road leading to the church compound, demanding that I release the “chained” followers. They would scared away anyone approaching the church compound. Since then, he says, he has been forced to hire armed policemen to pay only one Kenya shilling every Sunday. One-shilling offering “We collect a shilling each from all the 1 million plus members in all the branches throught the country ever Sunday. No one is allowed to give more than a shilling, and the money is put in the church’s account,” he says. As if to convince us, Father Pesa opens several wooden boxes filled with coins, which he says are ready for banking. Curiously, they are all one-shilling coins. “This is what we use to buy all church property, build what the church needs, and even feed the poor. Everything belongs to church,” he asserts. Asked why he does not have property, Father Pesa says that is against the church’s Constitution. “I am not a wealthy man, the way people out there seem to think because all I have belongs to church. I do not even have a wife. It is my sons and daughters in the church who will inherit all this when I die,” he says. Asked about the common practice where clerics ask their church members to plant a seed (contribute money) in order to receive God’s favours, he replies: “There is no single day I have asked any of my followers to give money as a condition for me to pray for them. They donate money and pay tithes purely out of their own volition,” he says. Father Pesa says that many politicians go to him for blessings and prayers and even ask him to predict the outcome of elections in which they want to run. “I have predicted many election results and they all turned out to be accurate. I have done predictions for many politicians and even warned some against joining politics because they would only waste their money and lose the elections,” he adds. GROUP EDITORIAL DIRECTOR: Joseph Odindo GROUP MANAGING EDITOR: Mutuma Mathiu FEATURES EDITOR: Bernard Mwinzi REVISE EDITOR: Mary Wasike SUB-EDITOR: Naliaka Wafula PHOTO EDITOR: Joan Pereruan CHIEF GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Roger Mogusu GRAPHIC DESIGNERS: Nzisa Mulli, Andrew Anini, Dennis Makori, Alice Othieno, Michael Mosota, Ken Kusimba, Hassan Ibrahim, Benjamin Situma, Joy Abisagi, Virginia Borura, Teddy Murimi, Linus Ombette REPORTER: Joy Wanja COVER GRAPHIC & CONCEPT: Hassan Ibrahim Mwera The controversial clergyman says none of his followers is allowed to drive into the church compound on Sundays because he believes they are all equal. Those with cars are advised to park them some distance away and then walk to the church compound. Father Pesa says he is taking care of about 50 orphans and widows. “It is not because I am wealthy. It is because I made an agreement with God that I would take care of his needy people,” he explains. The cleric acknowledges that a lot has been said about him and his church, including accusations that he is a devil worshipper, and that he feeds his followers with blood. “That has not is published every week by Nation Media Group Limited. It is distributed free with every Daily Nation. Unsolicited manuscripts, artwork, transparencies are submitted at the sender’s risk. While every care will be taken on receipt of such material, the Nation Media Group Limited cannot accept responsibility for accidental loss or damage. ©Nation Media Group Limited, 2009. All rights reserved. TOM OTIENO | DAILY NATION Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Africa spiritual Llader Father John Pesa holding a bag of coins collected from church members.
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