Stephen Mwiti’s wife trusted Pastor Mackenzie, the leader of the Good News International Church, when he predicted that the world would end in June 2023.
He is now certain that she and their six children perished from starvation.
The 45-year-old man, who makes his living selling mandazi—also known as fried bread—holds up a torn photo of his wife and four of his children to inquire whether anyone has seen them.
Since she vanished from the town of Malindi in southeast Kenya in August, he has been doing this repeatedly.
Mr Mwiti has additionally been to search for them in the Shakahola woods, where individuals from Minister Mackenzie’s congregation had disconnected themselves.
Bahati Joan, his wife, was pregnant when she left with their children the previous year: Hellen Karimi, nine years of age, Samuel Kirimil, seven, Jacob Kimathi, three, Lillian Gatumbi, year and a half, and Angelina Gatumbi, seven months.
Later, Mr. Mwiti learned that his wife had given birth to a son who also passed away.
Since 2015, she had been a fervent follower of Pastor Mackenzie. In 2021, she went to Shakahola for the first time, but she kept coming back.
He learned recently from other children who had escaped and were being held by Kenyan police that his own children had died after repeatedly alerting the police and personal attempts to rescue them failed.
They were able to recognize them from the pictures. “They knew their names and where Jacob and Lillian were buried,” he reminisces while trying to hold back tears.
I was advised not to attempt to locate my children once more. All of them were dead. I arrived too late.
Although their remains have not yet been identified, he believes that they were buried in the forest.
The term “a place where worries are lifted” is loosely translated from the Swahili word “shakahola.”
It is settled in the broad 50,000-section of land (20,000-hectare) Chakama Farm in the beach front province of Kilifi.
Minister Mackenzie is accounted for to have possessed 800 sections of land of the timberland region.
From Malindi, the nearest major town, it takes a two-hour drive to reach the forest’s entrance, which is down a rough track off the main road.
The landscape is dotted with thorny bushes and thickets, making it difficult to get into Shakahola. The heat is almost constant throughout the year, and elephants occasionally wander the area.
It becomes more isolated the deeper it goes inside. There is no portable organization, no web association.
However, this is where a brand-new Holy Land was established.
Each village in the region had been given biblical place names.
In Judea, some of the followers of Pastor Mackenzie led lives of poverty. Others sought refuge in Bethlehem. Nazareth was ano
Mr. Mwiti states, “I learned that my wife and children lived and died in Jerusalem.” However, since officials began exhuming bodies from marked gravesites, he has not been there.
In the woods, analysts had at first delineated 65 locales where individuals were covered. Each had a number of shallow graves where the bodies were grouped together.
“Children were the first to die”: Those who exhumed the bodies say they are haunted by the sight of people buried without respect. Up until this point 110 individuals have been affirmed dead, however there are fears the loss of life could ascend as a greater amount of the backwoods is looked.
Police and state prosecutors say that in addition to starvation, some members may have been strangled, suffocated, or beaten to death with blunt objects. Post-mortems still need to be done.
Previous individuals from the Uplifting news Global Church have said they had to keep as part from their adherence to its lessons.
Those who attempted to leave the cult, according to Titus Katana, were branded traitors and subjected to violent attacks, he claims.
He additionally proposed there was a request where individuals should pass on in front of the apocalypse.
“The children perished first. Then, at that point, after the youngsters, they went for the unmarried. Then later, the moms and the old were next.”
The leaders of the church were supposed to die last.
Mr. Katana said that he thought Pastor Mackenzie was “charismatic and preached God’s word well” when asked what attracted him to the church.
The fact that “Mackenzie was also selling land to his followers” added to the attraction. I found that appealing. I purchased 15 acres. I chose to leave, however, when I realized his preaching was strange.
Mr. Mwiti claims to have heard of only one instance in which his infant son was breastfed. He then died of suffocation.
He claims, “I heard that when my son was killed, they clapped and rejoiced that he had ascended and met Jesus instead of the cult members grieving.”
A BBC analysis of Pastor Mackenzie’s sermons on video does not show him directly telling people to fast, but there are many references to followers giving up things they value, like their lives, for the cause.
The Kenya Red Cross reported that 410 people, including 227 children, who were thought to be connected to Pastor Mackenzie’s church were missing at the end of last week.
In the meantime, their loved ones’ relatives are waiting for updates at Malindi’s hospital and police station.
Patrick Ngumbau is one of them, but they were unable to persuade mom to leave.
He went looking for his mother in Shakahola after she went missing two years ago, but despite finding her, he was unable to convince her to leave.
I inquired as to her willingness to return home. She let me know she was there for one mission, to track down Jesus,” Mr Ngumbau says as he lines up among hundreds hanging tight for data about their family.
I was devastated when I left Shakahola in 2021 because I believed we had already lost our mother.
To learn more, he had traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) from Makueni County. In Malindi, relatives of the missing have gathered from across the country and even further afield, including Nigeria on the other side of the continent and neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.
Christine Nyanchama traveled nearly 800 kilometers from Nyamira to Malindi in search of her sister, brother-in-law, and six other relatives. Ms. Nyanchama believes that other children may still be alive, despite the fact that her sister’s nephew and niece have already been found dead.
Before she passes away, my sister must be assisted as quickly as possible wherever she is. She says, referring to the most recent text message she has received, “I understand that she has already fasted for 22 days.”
Some seemed to resonate with Pastor Mackenzie’s teachings on the internet and on television. In addition to other things, he taught against formal schooling and current medication.
He had said that he had shut down the Uplifting news Global Church a long time back after almost twenty years of activity, yet his lessons, some still accessible on the web, seem to have been recorded after that date.
Some of his fervent followers refused to vaccinate their children, quit their jobs, and tore up their education transcripts.
Dr Susan Gitau, a directing clinician accepts that the vast majority who followed Minister Mackenzie – including college graduates and a world class cop – were looking for comfort, trust, strength and backing.
When two children were found dead in Shakahola in March, Pastor Mackenzie was taken into custody. It was alleged that he and their parents starved and suffocated them before burying them in the forest.
However, there was insufficient evidence to release him.
He is currently back in custody, but he has not commented on the charges against him of threatening public safety, radicalization, or murder.
President William Ruto has vowed to set up a commission of investigation into what happened yet the actual specialists face intense inquiries. Not the least of which is why it took them so long to realize that something was wrong.
According to Hussein Khalid, executive director of Haki Africa, the organization that raised the alarm regarding the deaths, “there is no excuse for the authorities not to have noticed this.”
“We are determined and want to ensure that every victim receives justice,” the statement reads.
Mr. Mwiti attributes the failure to act to Malindi’s government, police, and local authorities.
I’m 45 years old already. I felt like I had passed away as soon as I heard that they had passed away.
In the hopes that his children can be identified, he has now provided the authorities with a sample of his DNA. He won’t be able to grieve until then.