Amidst volunteers wearing white suits and masks, Titus Katana He has been clearing ocher soil from the Chakhula Forest in eastern Kenya for several days, where more than a hundred adherents of a sect who fasted “to know Jesus” died.
The 39-year-old knows Paul Mackenzie Nthingi well, the ‘priest’ at the center of what has been called the ‘Chakhula massacre’.
“We used to worship (God) together,” he told AFP. Katana prayed and even preached, along with Mackenzie, a taxi driver who ended up declaring himself the “pastor” of Good News International Church, which he had set up himself.
“I don’t know what happened to him,” laments Titus Katana, claiming that he stayed “for a few years” in the group, but without giving specific dates.
“In the beginning, the intentions of the Global Good News Church were good. We had the impression that we see God in this church,” said the man, who generally works in the informal economy and is a native of Malindi, a city on the Kenyan coast, about 80 kilometers from Chakhula.
But in the end, she distanced herself because “a lot of laws were enacted obliging women not to braid their hair, preventing them from going to the hospital and preventing children from going to school,” she explains. “It was going too far for me. I had no choice but to leave and look for another church.”
Arrested in 2017
Paul Mackenzie Nthingi was arrested in 2017, charged with extremism for preaching not to send children to school because, according to him, education is not recognized in the Bible. He was released on bail and acquitted by justice in 2021.
At least 109 people, most of them children, died after following Paul Mackenzie Nthingi’s teachings of fasting in order to “get to know Jesus”.
Titus Katana visits the site where the searches take place every day. For a week, not a day goes by without digging up the corpses.
One of his friends told him that the death fast had been established. “Paul Mackenzie put the calendar in January. Babies and bachelors were to die first, then mothers and then fathers, ”explains Titus Katana. “The priest and his family had to fast last,” he adds.
According to Hussein Khalid, executive director of the NGO Haki Africa – which alerted the police about the actions of “Priest” Mackenzie – “They were told that the end of the world would come in June.”
As of Wednesday, 39 of the worshipers had been found alive wandering the woods. Some refused to accept the water and assistance provided by relief services.
There are also those who continue to flee from the rescuers, determined to end the fast they have begun.
Under the “pastor’s” influence, many believers sold “property, houses, and businesses to await the arrival of Jesus” in Chakhula Forest, says Titus Katana. “I feel bad about what happened because I knew many believers who are now dead,” he confirms wistfully.