You would not notice anything out of the ordinary about Joseph Njoroge, or his wife, Margaret Nduta when you first meet them.
They take their children to school, use modern technology, dress and behave normally and, to outsiders, appear like any normal family.
All this changed, however, on February 17 when one of their daughters went through a terrible ordeal. With the help of neighbours, the couple traced their daughter to the riverside.
The next logical thing was to take her to hospital for urgent treatment, but the parents would hear none of it.
According to them, simple prayer would take away the terrible tragedy. Their church does not believe in any form of medication.
Members of ‘Kanitha wa Ngai’ (Church of God) follow a strict kind of Christianity.
Women members have a unique dress mode — ankle-length long-sleeved dresses and a head scarf (it is sinful for their menfolk to see their hair, they believe).
They engage in normal activities, including business and farming, all days of the week except Sundays when they converge on the house of one of their members for a church service.
The members believe there are no ‘special’ places of worship. The members are not allowed to visit a hospital for medication, and are often ready to face the law for their stance.
On this particular day, Joseph Njoroge insisted he would not take his 14-year-old daughter to hospital for treatment following serious injuries — a position that landed him in a court of law. (READ: Court jails man for denying child medical treatment)
Take away tribulations
Njoroge and his wife refused to bow to the demands of their neighbours. Six of their children joined them in beseeching God to intervene and take away their tribulations.
They also refused to the person suspected of inflicting injuries on the 14-year-old, who lives next to their house.
It is the insistent neighbours who took the girl to hospital for treatment before apprehending the suspect and handing him over to the police.
For refusing to seek medical treatment for his daughter, Mr Njoroge was handed a two-year jail term by a Nakuru court on Wednesday this week.
He will serve his prison term at the Nyahururu GK Prison. Mrs Njoroge, too, supported her husband’s stance and is awaiting her fate in remand custody at the Nyahururu Women’s Prison. (READ: Raped child’s mother charged with neglect)
What shocked neighbours, however, is the fact that the injured girl, too, supported her parents. She refused to co-operate with the health workers when she was taken to hospital.
“She could not even agree to take drugs despite us trying to offer her counselling,” a volunteer children’s officer, Edith Nyaga, said.
It is a belief that has left even Njoroge’s family members in Bahati Village of Nyandarua West District baffled. Many are wondering if the couple has the best interest of their children at heart.
“I am equally shocked like the rest,” says Esther Mukami, Mr Njoroge’s step-mother.
“I know they don’t go to hospital, but I can’t understand why they are doing this to their daughter.”
The elderly Mrs Mukami, said to be over 100 years of age, says she knows very little about her step-son who returned to his ancestral land in 2008 after he was displaced from lower Subukia area by the 2008 post-election violence.
At Njoroge’s house, the Saturday Nation found Njoroge’s son, David Wahome, 21, and his sister, Mercy Nungari, 19.
Mr Wahome lives at Maili Saba area near Nyahururu Town, where he has a tailoring shop. He has been forced to abandon his business to come back home to assist Ms Nungari in looking after their younger siblings
The family has three children in primary school, including the one who was attacked. They also have a brother who is studying at Ol Jororok Secondary School.
The family, however, has a three-year-old boy whose growth appears stunted. The last-born, a one-year-old girl, is with her mother in remand prison.
Wahome and Nungari, however, have no regrets that their father is in jail and their mother is facing charges of child neglect.
“Whatever they did was the right thing and we are praying for them. They have to stand firm,” Wahome said.
His sister has the same opinion. She insists that even if she is summoned by court, she would follow her parents’ path.
The two say their parents joined Kanitha Wa Ngai in 1994 in lower Subukia, where the church enjoys a large following from members of the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and Kisii communities.
The church also has a large following in rural areas of Nakuru, especially in Njoro, Molo and Subukia.
Other members are spread across Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Kiambu and Murang’a counties in central Kenya.
According to its members, the church is not even registered. They do not need government approval of their faith, they insist.
Mr Ngigi Njoroge, a Kanitha adherent, says unlike other Christian denominations, their church does not have a pastor or even a leader.
“We don’t even have a specific structure we call a church,” says Mr Ngigi Njoroge.
“We conduct our services either in an open space or in one of the houses of our members. This is how Jesus himself used to operate.”
Ngigi sells second hand clothes and shoes, popularly known as mitumba, at Kasuku shopping centre in Nyandarua.
Any of the members is allowed to preach whenever they gather on Sundays for worship, as long as the member is inspired.
The trader, who is seen by other faithful as a key pillar of the church, joined it in his childhood.
“I was in class seven when I was seriously injured by a piece of a broken bottle, and when I went to a local dispensary I was referred to Njoro Health Centre for the deep wound to be treated,” he said.
They lived in Nishi Village, 20 kilometres from Njoro, and his mother could not afford to raise the required bus fare.
“After failing to get fare, my mother told me, Mungu atakuponya (God will heal you),” he recalled, adding: “Eventually the wound miraculously healed.”
“Those days we were members of the Baptist Church, but later I met members of Kanitha Wa Ngai who had visited one of my elder sisters. I told God that this was the true church and I became one of them.”
Mr Njoroge keeps an old Bible at his place of work. He was quick to read for us Mark Chapter 16: 16-19, which he said made him believe in the power of healing:
“He who has believed and has been baptised shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
“These signs will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Mr Ngigi Njoroge believes it is a sin worse than prostitution for an elderly man to expose his nakedness to a young doctor. “God does not allow this,” Njoroge says.
The church has been in the news before. In November last year, Ms Isabela Wanjiru, 43, was charged before a Wang’uru court in Kirinyaga for failing to take her children for immunisation.
The woman, who is still in custody, was charged with exposing her children to danger by refusing them access to medical care.
One of her children, a four-year-old boy, as the court found out, is paralysed in the legs and hands as a result of suspected polio.
In February last year, another faithful of the church, Susan Cherono Lang’at, 46, also found herself in court in Nyahururu after she decided to destroy drugs prescribed for her daughter, who had been diagnosed with meningitis.
Neighbours had taken the girl to hospital after her condition worsened. Mrs Lang’at was jailed for eight months after pleading guilty to the offence.
Upon her release, the sect members met to celebrate saying she had fought the good fight, kept the faith and defeated powers of darkness.