Pastor “Prophet Dr” Victor Kanyari of the Sh310 “Plant a Seed” scandal has bounced back after an investigative story in 2014 exposed the deception behind the miracles in his Salvation Healing Ministry.
Before that, he had gained notoriety as the preacher who asked for a Sh310 offering, taken from the biblical verse in Malachi 3:10, which exhorts believers to give to the Lord.
After the scandal, he quietly reinvented himself with a programme on Radio Jambo, going by the name Bishop Samwel Maina.
He still asked listeners to give a “seed offering” for powerful intercessory prayers, but had reduced the amount to Sh250.
After a local newspaper exposed him, he went off-air. He now has a television station, Maajabu TV, which broadcasts sermons from his ministry, now based in Njiru, Nairobi.
Tucked between incomplete houses on a former expansive quarry, the blue-roofed building is still new, and undergoing finishing touches.
A small but vibrant congregation of 100 people or so is in church on the Sunday we went there.
But the church also holds prayer services on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and miracle services on Fridays.
All visitors are welcome and led to a tent set aside for them, where they are interviewed and their phone numbers and occupations recorded in a visitors’ book.
Pastor Kanyari’s silver-grey Range Rover is parked in the compound, and hawk-eyed ushers use walkie-talkies to coordinate security and other activities.
A casual glance at the car reveals paintwork at least three places just below the door handles.
But appearances can be quite deceptive. On May 16, 2019, he shared a photo on Instagram of what seemed like a party for his followers at a newly-built house.
The church has three services, from 7am to 11 am, each lasting about an hour. The main service begins at 1 1am and runs until 2.30 pm.
And only members of his worship team are allowed to record the services.
Before he enters, the prayer and song sessions are overseen by a woman preacher known only as Pastor Baby, an energetic singer and dancer with a powerful voice.
She tells the congregation to trust in the word of the “prophet”, and that he can heal the sick and pray for the jobless to get jobs.
Referring to his lifestyle, she tells the congregation to see for themselves just how blessed he is.
“I hope you all know how blessed the prophet is … He is, indeed, a blessed man of God, and he can pray for you to also receive blessings,” she says.
The session is also graced by 12 dancers from the praise and worship team, who sing a few songs, among them one praising Pastor Kanyari as the father of the faithful. It ends with an offering.
As soon as he steps into the pulpit, marked by shiny aluminium poles, he starts preaching about the importance of giving to the Lord, based on Malachi 3:10.
“Without faith, one cannot please God. You cannot be blessed if you do not follow the Lord. That is what defines faith,” he says.
He then regales the worshippers with a tale of a miraculous encounter at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on a trip to China.
He says a woman he prayed for to get a job actually got one at the airport and not only helped him when he had trouble with his travel documents, but also gave him Sh30,000 in appreciation.
“It is good to always bless others as you never know when the blessings will return to you, even though some of you here never return after your prayers are answered,” he says, to thunderous cheers.
He reminds the congregation that the rich are blessed because they know how to give, adding that God is no respecter of persons, and can bless even those who do not believe in him.
Pastor Kanyari then preaches about betrayal, saying the most painful thing is to be killed or let down by a loved one.
He warns men about the futility of fighting with women. “You saw the man assaulting a woman in a supermarket on camera and now he is jobless and facing a court case over the offence. Fighting a woman is a lost cause,” he says.
He insists that women have more money and other blessings, including healing and victory over their challenges, because they are more inclined to believe his prophetic messages, compared with men.
“Some even send me money for offering secretly, away from the prying eyes of their husbands, and then call to tell me not to inform their spouses. And they will be richly blessed. But men hesitate when it comes to parting with their money for offerings,” he says.
He makes no reference to his estranged wife, the gospel singer Betty Bayo, but says his three children are not present because one of them was celebrating a birthday.
The service is peppered with calls from him for “offerings” for special handkerchiefs and bottled water.
He reminds the worshippers about the pledge they made to come for the service specifically dedicated to the sanctified handkerchiefs, and seeks to confirm by a show of hands those who came with the money.
The water is “given as a gift” for Sh500, but the amount progressively goes down as the service continues, to Sh200, Sh100, and finally Sh50.
With the assurance of a suave salesman, he says the water is not being sold, but is a gift he prayed for.
“I spent time praying for the water and I can assure you that it will protect the person who takes it from demonic attacks and open the door to all kinds of blessings,” he says.
The handkerchiefs are going for Sh1,000, but only four people take up the offer. He halves it to Sh500, which drives up the number to 12.
“If you made a pledge to come with the 1,000 and failed to do it, know that you are mocking God. One cannot expect to get blessings for free. There must be a sacrifice, like Abraham, who obeyed the Lord’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac, and was richly blessed as a result,” he says.
Testimonies during the service range from the bizarre to the comical.
One woman, Catherine, claims she used to see her husband’s hand resemble a snake while sleeping at night; while another, Irene, claims she no longer takes medicine for diabetes after the “prophet” interceded for her.
Yet another woman claims she was cured of HIV after using anointing oil the pastor had prayed for.
Pastor Kanyari then engages selected worshippers in prophetic revelation. He calls an individual to the front, using leading questions, and gets them to agree with his “vision” for their lives.
The session is punctuated by the “casting out” of the demons said to be behind the worshippers’ problems.
The preacher commands the demons to leave the victims through the powerful microphones, and the worshippers almost always drop to the floor.
If the victim is a woman, she is immediately assisted by church ushers, who cover her with khanga to protect her modesty as she rolls on the carpeted floor.
He then orders the demons out, an action punctuated by a spate of shrieking and jerking movements by the prostrate individuals, after which he pronounces them healed.
Pastor Kanyari then goes into a session of special prayers for people with particular needs, from those infected with HIV to the jobless.
The rush of congregants to the front when he asks for people without jobs to come forward is both touching and puzzling.
Among them are the four women he claims to have healed of HIV, a divorced barmaid, and the woman troubled by snakes in her dreams.
As the congregation streams out at the end of the service, the bottles of “holy water” and “sanctified handkerchiefs” have sold out.