Religion battles medicine in Kenya

Capital News, Kenya/September 22, 2009

Nairobi, Kenya - Achieng is a five-year-old girl who has for the past two weeks been lying in bed suffering from malaria. Her parents and other relatives don't believe in modern medicine, saying that it opens doors for evil.

Achieng's condition gets worse and she slips into unconsciousness. Instead of her parents rushing her to hospital, they kneel beside her and pray. By the time they figure out that God also works through people (read doctors), it is a tad too late. Achieng dies.

The above scenario depicts a real life situation in one part of the country. Religious fanatics exist everywhere in the world and Kenya is no exception. The extent they go to vary from digging underground chambers as escape from nuclear gases to using prayers in place of medicine.

"We do not take our sick to hospital because it amounts to putting the doctors before our Lord. We believe that our faith will cure the sick," says Njoroge Mwangi.

He is an Archbishop with the African Mission of Holy Ghost Church in his late 60s or early 70s. He agrees to give us an interview after a little persuasion; he accuses the media of tarnishing his church's name.

"Our Bible demands us to have faith that can move mountains. We pray, anoint and read the Word for those who are sick. The family is also required to fast so that their sick can get better. We protect ourselves by fulfilling God's commandments," he says.

Archbishop Njoroge states that their values and principles should not be questioned saying that their church should be respected.

"We have had instances where some of our people have succumbed to illnesses, but that does not mean that our prayers don't work. It just means that we should increase the intensity of our prayer," he adds. "People criticise us and portray us in negative image; but they should not judge that which they do not understand."

Bishop Njoroge's church is not the only one that does not believe in conventional medicine.

An exclusive interview for Capital News takes us to Barasa Makokha, who belongs to the Dini ya Msambwa sect. He believes that medicine and hospitals undermine God's power.

"We end up bowing too low to mortals every time we go to hospitals. We bring God down to our level. We cannot therefore seek doctors when we fall sick.

Churches are only answerable to God; not to man," he explains.

The Dini ya Msambwa sect has controversial doctrines. They do not believe in Jesus Christ or the Holy Trinity and the lack of belief in the power of modern medicine is just icing on the cake.

"God is our Father and Healer and we can always reach Him through prayer not through other people such as doctors," Mr Makokha reveals.

He adds that Msambwa sect members are just like Jesus because they are all children of God.

Other religious leaders especially those from the mainstream churches strongly disagree with the sentiments of these two religious fanatics.

Pastor Ochieng is a leader with the Nairobi Pentecostal Church who says that religion and God should not be abused and wrongly contextualised.

"What these people are essentially doing is misinterpreting God's Word. Most of these religions were formed during colonial times when they were rebelling against the colonialists," he says.

"During that time they would refuse to use what they referred to as ‘white medicine' as they were rioting against the colonialists' leadership tactics. So when they refuse to take their sick to hospital it has little to do with Godly faith and more to do with being rebellious," observes Pastor Ochieng.

Police officers have the right to arrest people who allow sick people to die in their hands in the name of prayer. In such situations, the law does not take into consideration any religious principles. Such persons are usually charged with homicide due to neglect.

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