James Ng'ang’a, popularly known as Pastor Ng’ang’a, must be one of the most controversial preachers of our times.
He has been filmed, severally, bullying and abusing his congregation, even once ridiculing a female worshipper who dared go to his church wearing old, torn shoes.
She is not the only one of his followers he has belittled. In August this year, male congregants from his church accused the pastor of “knowingly using abusive and demeaning words” to refer to them.
In a demand letter through their lawyers and which was widely circulated on social media, they gave Ng’ang’a a two-day ultimatum to apologise.
Apparently, the preacher referred to them as cows, insinuating that they were foolish.
Three years ago, the televangelist was charged with dangerous driving after his car collided with another at Manguo, Limuru, killing Mercy Njeri, a passenger in the vehicle.
Ng’an’ga, who denied culpability, would later be acquitted, sparking anger among Kenyans who accused police of bungling the case.
That same year, his estranged wife, Ms Loise Murugi, sued him for full custody of their child, citing infidelity, drunkenness and abuse.
In the court documents, Ms Murugi stated: “He was a drunkard and very abusive towards me, to the extent of insulting my parents. I also later learnt that he was adulterous, sleeping with staff and even bringing married women to our matrimonial bed.”
For “a man of God”, he certainly exhibits ungodly behaviour, and yet every Sunday the Neno Evangelism Centre, located in Nairobi’s CBD on Haile Selassie Avenue, is packed to the brim with worshippers eager to feed on his sermons.
Just what keeps Kenyans trooping to this man’s church? Is it the theatrics or do they really believe that he is a man of God with all the answers to their problems?
Last Sunday, the Nation team attended his service, which turned out to be a day-long ceremony where worshippers are not allowed to leave before the service is over. And certainly not before the offering.
POMP AND COLOUR
The entrance opened into a wide building with two floors, a kind of auditorium.
It was evident that the place was still under construction because there was concrete on the stairs leading to the upper deck, and the floor surface was uneven.
Inside, the place was brightly lit, and there were seven TV screens facing every direction, ostensibly to ensure that no one missed the sermon, which was ongoing.
Along the walls were huge banners written “the holy spirit is on duty now” in bold letters and bright colours.
Both floors, which could easily hold 400 people or more, were filled to the rafters, with men and women sitting side by side like obedient pupils during a lesson.
Pastor Ng’ang’a himself was already on the pulpit, and was preaching with fervour.
He was confident, brash, perhaps a little cheeky, and showed a mastery of bible verses, which he interpreted to fit every statement he made.
As we lingered a few steps away from the entrance looking around, wondering where to sit, a young woman, one of the many ushers, approached us and gestured up the stairs.
When we asked her to help us find a seat on the ground floor, preferably close to the pastor, she made a tight fist with her right hand and brought it against her left palm. The lower deck was full.
Left with no choice, we walked up the stairs to the upper deck near two well-dressed middle-aged men, each with a Bible sitting on their laps and a pen and paper in their hands.
“Last Sunday niliwaambia muje na elfu moja. Leo nataka kuona ni wangapi wamefanya hivyo. Watu hapa wanataka kuwa matajiri na hawawezi kuletea pastor elfu moja. Ngoja tutaona,” Ng'ang'a said, preparing them for the offertory session. (Last Sunday I asked you to come with Sh1,000. Today I want to see how many have done so. Some of you want to become rich but can’t spare Sh1,000 to give to the pastor.)
For some reason, the crowd clapped heartily at this.
He continued to preach for about an hour or so, his sermon a good balance of tales from his personal experiences, updates on his future plans for the church, the messages that God had “revealed” to him, and brilliant albeit debatable interpretations of certain bible verses.
Through it all, he was brash and even a little abrasive, many times referring to the unbelieving as stupid or mad, or if you like, crazy.
At one point, he declared that he was a “mad person”, which explains why, he said, he has been able to convert even the most obstinate of men.
The crowd cheered at this, and many other nuggets of his sermon which, although engaging, were long and winding and seemed to have no specific structure.
He took time to praise his congregants for being steadfast. “Lakini nyinyi watu. Yaani munamulikwa na ma TV, na magazeti, na bado munakuja tu kila Jumapili. Kweli nyinyi munajua Mungu,” he said to yet another round of applause. (You people have been written about by the media, yet you still come here every Sunday. You truly know God.)
Before long, it was time for testimonies - 11 men and women walked to the front.
All of them, including a pregnant woman, wore reflector jackets, an indication that they had been pre-selected for that purpose.
One by one they gave their accounts, shocking details of who they had been before Pastor Ng’ang’a rescued them.
Getting through that session was like being the only outsider in the midst of an occult group, where you have to try really hard not to gasp or scream in shock lest loyal congregants find out that you are not one of them.
Those testifying spoke of unimaginable things. One declared that he had previously been enabled by the devil to command a snake with seven heads, and could make women fall for him just by speaking to their shadows.
Another could speak death upon her relatives by simply wishing them ill, while another one was constantly having nightmares of being pursued by a huge snake.
Those giving testimonies on the raised altar were all barefoot. We later learnt that nobody, apart from Pastor Ng’ang’a, is allowed to step onto the altar with shoes on.
During that session that lasted a good two and a half hours, Pastor Ng’ang’a asked them leading questions, ensuring that they gave all the details of their “dark” pasts.
He made fun of some of them, and made remarks that suggested that they were to blame for their own problems.
“Eti ulishindwa kulipa karo ya elfu nne? Kwani uilikuwa na shida namna gani? Kwani hauna mzee? Elfu nne inakushinda kulipa?” he asked a woman who narrated how her children had been sent away from school for lack of school fees. (You couldn’t afford school fees worth Sh4,000? You don’t have a husband? You were unable to pay Sh4,000 only?)
After this session, we decided to leave, but Ng’ang’a’s soldiers would not let us leave until the end of the service, which ended at 4.30pm.
The offertory time is an entire session by itself ,which lasts about an hour.
The ushers, all female and wearing matching outfits, go round with big bags collecting the offerings. They linger in front of your seat until you have given.
And no, coins are not allowed, only notes, and if you give a Sh50 note, like we did, the usher stoops down and whispers: “God is watching you. You are stealing from the Lord.”
This session marks the end of the ordinary service, and paves way for the “Deliverance Service”, which starts daily at 5.30pm and ends at around 7.30pm.
This one is specifically for exorcism. As we prepared to get into this session, we were informed that it would cost us Sh3,500 to have him pray over us.
Those that could not raise that amount were asked to give whatever they had and then come the following Sunday with the balance.
Those who had paid up were led to the front and made to line up along the altar after removing their shoes.
Ng’ang’a then laid hands on them, asking the devil in them to come out or to say his name. Many of them fell on their backs.
We could not determine whether it was a result of the pastor’s forceful thrust, or the power of the Holy Spirit. Others convulsed fearfully on the ground.
It was a truly frightful session, especially when the Pastor kept saying: “Come out! Come out! You have nowhere to hide!” to which the crowd responded with loud screams.
When one of us tried to take a video of the proceedings using a phone, a hawk-eyed usher quickly asked him to put away the gadget, before informing us that all sermons are recorded and can be obtained from the church office.
Next Monday: Inside Pastor Peter Manyuru’s church, Jesus Teaching Ministries, where congregants buy ‘anointing’ by the bottle.