When Kenyans first heard of Joseph Hellon’s Finger of God Church in 2010, reactions were mixed.
Some thought it was perverse, while others were excited due to the scandal that led to its hitting the limelight.
Former KTN news anchor Esther Arunga, Hellon’s cousin, had resigned from her job to focus her energies on the church and pursue a career in politics as Hellon’s presidential running mate under the Placenta Party.
In February of that year, Hellon was arrested on charges of operating an illegal society, only to be released a week later after the case was thrown out for lack of evidence.
In an interview with Jeff Koinange on K24 shortly after his release, Hellon dismissed claims that Finger of God was a cult.
“A cult means that it is an esoteric organisation, or a hidden or secret organisation. Finger of God has been holding meetings publicly,” he said.
In the same interview, he said the church was registered in 2007, after rigorous vetting by the Criminal Investigations Department over the course of five years.
Everything was smooth sailing with the “public” ministry until, he explained, he fired a few people who he thought “were not doing the right thing”.
Following the scandal around Finger of God, Hellon changed the name of the church to Kingdom Embassy International in March 2019.
His new church is part of a larger group called Christlove Ministries International, led by a US-based Nigerian preacher, Apostle Charles Ndifon, a self-proclaimed “pastor of pastors”.
A brief description of Hellon’s church on its Facebook page says it is “a church that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ with tangible demonstrations of God’s power. Miracles are the order of the day with us.”
The church congregates at the Kenya School of Law, Gate C, from 9am on Sundays.
A report in The Standard newspaper on July 21 indicated that the church had about 300 members.
But when the Nation visited on November 9, there were only about 25 people. Most were women, some middle-aged, with a few young women leading in the praise and worship.
There were only four men, including Hellon. One was his “personal chef”, one of the technical staff, and the third a pianist.
Hellon knew almost every member of the congregation by name and their contribution to the church.
What came as a surprise was that, during the service, Hellon asked the congregants to bring their dead during an event to be held from December 12-15, which will be presided by Apostle Ndifon, assuring them that they will be resurrected.
“If you know somebody in your family who has sickness — diabetes, cancer, cataracts, the lame, blind, even the dead — bring them. Okay?”
“I’m telling you, the dead are raised. I’m not just talking, they’re raised for real! So if somebody’s about to go bury their child, tell them “nah-uh”- on your way there, to the burial, just pass by... and you’ll see resurrection, I’m telling you!”
He then narrated the story of a resurrection he claims he witnessed while ministering in Uganda last year.
He made this proclamation way into the service. When we arrived at 9am, they were still setting up the sound system and bringing out the books they were selling, authored by Apostle Ndifon and his wife, Dr Donna Ndifon.
GIFT OF TONGUES
The service started at 10.05am with a session of personal prayer. A woman worshipper directed the congregation to pray in tongues.
She also reminded the members that the prayers should take 45 minutes. At about 10.36am, Hellon joined the service, engaging in his own prayer in tongues.
The sermon posted on Facebook from the previous week focuses on the gift of tongues, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 14:2: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.”
Hellon began the service by inviting five children — all of whom seemed to be below 10 — to the front of the church and asked them, “When you grow up, what would you like to become?”
One of the three girls replied that she would like to become a great singer, to which Hellon said, “Singing is called a mystery, it’s hidden inside you. So when you talk in tongues, it begins to come out of you. And your voice gets better and better, sweeter and sweeter, nicer and nicer, and the anointing of the power of the Holy Spirit in you also comes out. So this is how you become a successful person, when you talk in tongues, alright?”
His wife, Kuyu, then went on stage to usher in the rest of the service.
She talked about their week of fasting and prayer in tongues, which the congregation was advised to set an hour aside daily to practise.
It turned out that the congregants, also pray in tongues between 8pm and 9pm on weekdays.
Then came great news: Apostle Ndifon would be coming to their church specifically.
At that point, Hellon took over the service to discuss the preparations for the apostle’s visit in mid-December.
He informed the congregation that he had “pruned” some members of the church leadership for not showing up for two services without apologising, adding that those left behind were “faithful, available, teachable and obedient to the church”.
He explains some of the ways in which Kingdom Embassy International differs from other churches.
“We’re not going to do church the traditional way, where the church is burdened by ‘give, give, give’. No, we’re going to cause you to work, create the money and then out of your own free will, you’ll find yourself able to give, in Jesus’ name. You cannot give what you don’t have. Amen? So we’re going to build you up in that way in Jesus’ name.”
To host Apostle Ndifon, he added, he required money to ensure everything goes according to plan.
“When the man of God comes to fight our battles, he should not come at his own expense. We are supposed to reach out according to our means, you understand?” he said, adding, “And when you do that you become more open to receive from the word of God. Glory to Jesus! Is that clear?”
He went on: “ … at the end of the service, go to my wife, and tell her what sacrificial gift you’re going to give in terms of finances so that we can take care of the man of God and give him a good reception. Good transport, good meals, you know — we treat the man of God as a king. Amen?”
“Go into your coffers, dig deep inside your pockets and look for something substantial and say, ‘because of my finances, some blind person will see before Christmas this year’,” he continued, emphasising the contribution and its direct influence on the miracles that will take place during the festival with Dr Ndifon
But in the same breath, he castigates those who go directly to Dr Ndifon, “circumventing” his authority as the church’s representative in the country. He also warns against “apostolic tourists” who jump from church to church.
WIND OF GOD
The sermon is sprinkled with biblical stories and verses. He claimed in a previous interview to have mastered the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
His vast biblical knowledge and personal flair during his sermons make him a special leader to his flock.
One could tell that every person felt valued by their pastor, and this is perhaps what keeps them going back.
He then revisits the need to learn how to pray in tongues. The church erupts in prayer in tongues on his instruction, as he joins them.
“(speaks in tongues) As you speak those tongues, the Spirit of God is filling you, in the mighty name of Jesus! You are being filled! Your businesses are being blessed! Those problems are cancelled! Court cases — you’re winning! As you speak in tongues, that sickness, is gone! That pain you’re feeling on your right ear, is gone in the name of Jesus.”
As the prayers die down, he starts to mimic the less complex tongues. “That’s too little. Talk! Talk, Talk new things. The Bible calls them new tongues.”
“You know, sometimes you guys pray, and you might not know what happens when you pray. You know, some of you, when you pray for me, you’re there thinking, ‘Oh God, bless apostle, he’s been so wonderful to us, protect him’ and then you start praying in tongues. Do you know what happens to me? The wind of God begins to blow around me. I’m telling you, actual wind.”
He explains that these prayers are usually subconscious, wondering just how immense this “wind” would be if they were praying consciously.
The sermon is available on the church’s Facebook page, apparently to prove that he does not hide anything that goes on in his church. He insists on the need to attend church services but warns against moving from one church to another.