How Hundreds Of Cult Followers Starved Themselves For Jesus: A cult leader who instructed his followers to starve themselves in order to see Jesus caused more than 200 individuals to pass away. The massacre known as Shakahola is the outcome.
In southeastern Kenya, the senseless annihilation of families is being linked to the deceptive End Times preaching of pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who convinced the gullible to abandon their homes and take up residence in the Shakahola Forest.
Mackenzie, a former taxi driver turned televangelist, preached that the world was about to end and claimed Shakahola to be the perfect evangelical Christian sanctuary to escape the rapidly approaching apocalypse.
But it was anything but safe.
The 800-acre wasteland is now a crime scene full of shallow graves holding the remains of once vibrant men, women, and children desperately wanting to see Jesus face-to-face.
Mackenzie, 50, who was arrested in April, set free, and then rearrested, denies that he ever ordered his followers to starve. He maintains that he merely preached about the End Times prophesied in the Book of Revelation, but officials are investigating him over accusations of murder, terrorism, and other crimes.
According to a New York Times report, the government’s chief pathologists concluded that starvation caused many deaths, but not all of them. Some of the bodies showed signs of death by asphyxiation, strangulation, or bludgeoning, and some had organs removed.
Currently, hundreds of cult followers are still unaccounted for and are believed to lie dead in undiscovered graves.
Since widespread news of the massacre broke, people have been asking, How could this happen in Kenya, among Africa’s most modern and stable nations? In search of answers, some are pointing the finger at the Kenyan Constitution’s enshrinement of religious freedom, arguing that it makes it easy for evangelical churches run by independent preachers with no oversight to lead the unsuspecting astray.
Victor Kaudo, an activist in Malindi who visited Shakahola in March, said, “I wanted these starving people to survive, but they wanted to die and meet Jesus. What do we do? Does freedom of worship supersede the right to life?”
Kenya’s president, William Ruto, a staunch believer whose wife is an evangelical preacher, has advocated for religious freedom. But this latest tragic occurrence pushed even him to ponder ways of regulating Kenya’s chaos-filled faith sector. Otherwise, more men like Mackenzie may wield undue influence and take advantage of those easily manipulated.
Mackenzie’s switchover from taxi driver to cult leader with his own television channel began in 2002. He preached in a stone courtyard belonging to Ruth Kahindi, a woman who met the preacher at a nearby Baptist church. The two connected and clicked, so Kahindi invited Mackinzie to preach at her house.
The home-based church became known as Good News International and was “normal” at the onset, said Kahindi’s daughter, Naomi. Mackenzie preached salvation through faith in Christ alone and touted the Bible as the ultimate spiritual authority, which is his standard evangelical teaching. But in 2008, after Kahindi and Mackenzie parted ways, his preaching turned more extreme and apocalyptic.
Mackenzie is said to have cast himself as a Christ-like figure and lived in a section he called Galilee—an area of Palestine where Jesus lived most of his life. Then Mackenzie shared his diabolical plan for mass suicide through starvation, which was designed to claim the lives of children first.
“People are very angry and blame Mackenzie, but I blame the government,” said Damaris Muteti, an itinerant preacher and member of a different evangelical church. “Mackenzie is a good man, but the devil used him.”
Elizabeth Syombua, whose brother is starving in the wilderness after falling into Mackenzie’s deceptive trap, said, “You get addicted to what he says. He is like an evil spirit with this strange power to lure people into his trap.”