"My wife is loyal to another man"

Spouses torn apart as church loyalties clash.


B eneath Zablon Mukoshi's warm smile and bright face lurks extreme frustration -- his wife is loyal to another man, a pastor. Zablon says that his wife Alice cannot do anything without the clergyman's permission. She has to seek the permission of her pastor to travel with him to their upcountry home.

Zablon Mukoshi (extreme left) explains how he left the Gospel Assembly Church in Ruaraka, Nairobi, and seven months after wedding Alice (far right). Above is the couple's daughter, Deborah. (Zablon Mukoshi's picture by REBBECCA NDUKU)

It is not just Alice. The Rev. Alois Rutivi has a spell on many other women. Mukoshi claims Mukoshi himself used to follow Rev. Rutivi with a fanaticism he only discarded two years ago when he broke away from his mental captivity.

Mukoshi left the church seven months after their wedding in November 1997. He still lives with his wife, but feels that he has lost her to the church. Now, as he celebrates his escape from what he terms a manipulative cult, there is nothing he can do about the hold the man of God has on his wife.

Alice used to work for the Rev. Rutivi before she met and wedded Zablon Mukoshi. Mukoshi claims that like other men who have married in the church, he had to get the approval of the pastor before he proposed to Alice.

"There the pastor has the final word on whether you will marry a particular woman or not," he says.

He misses the company of his wife, as she is involved in church services most of the time. "But what is worse is that on Sundays, my wife leaves a three-month-old baby at home in the morning and arrives back well after 8 PM."

Alice says her husband wants to drive her out of the church she has been part of since 1986 when she was in Standard Eight. She will not let it happen, she vows.

"There is no way I will leave church and backslide (fall back) from salvation. My husband backslid six months after our wedding and left the church, I will not do the same." she said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Alice says her husband should not use the excuse of their domestic problems to besmirch the church.

But what kind of marriage does the couple have?

Couples are not issued with marriage certificates when they tie the knot in the church. Those who have defected claim this is a scheme by the leaders to maintain control over the couple.

"Without the marriage certificate, your marriage is not legally recognized and you are at the mercy of the minister," says Matthew Musau, who was a missionary with the church. He has since left and started his own church.

This and differences over matters of doctrine are what made me leave the church, says Mukoshi.

The Gospel Assembly Church has a vice-tight grip on its 800-member congregation, so tight that the worshippers are cut off from family and relatives. Musau says the church programmes at the church are tailored to ensure that people are so involved that they have no time to see friends, relatives or visit other churches.

"This is one of the many ways used to have a hold on the lives of the members," he claims.

There was no freedom to mix with other people, he says. You had to call and inform the pastor who you wanted to visit and why. The pastor had the power to veto any visit, which he deems not good for the member's spiritual well being. Mukoshi gives the example of a couple which disagreed, the church recommended that the wife goes and lives with a church elder and the man ordered to pay for her upkeep.

George Ongoro, who was a member of the Gospel Assembly for 15 years before he quit two years ago, says: "We were taught and we believed that we were the only people of God in the whole world. To us, there was no salvation in any other church."

And for one and a half decades, Ongoro regarded other churches and religions as destined for hell and took pride in the fact that his denomination of 3,000 people worldwide were the chosen people who would go to heaven.

At what cost?

Members are encouraged to make heavy financial commitments. People have sold off property and taken loans to give money to the church because the leadership says so.

Ongoro had to take a Sh50, 000 loan to donate towards the construction of the church located in Nairobi's Ruaraka area. He took two years repaying it.

"When the construction work began, many people were financially stripped bare.

Others sold houses and cars to give money to the church," he adds.

In this church, says Ongoro, people are ruled by fear of what can happen to them if they leave. "I know of two women who became mad after leaving the church in the mid-1980s. If one is not properly counseled, he or she can die after quitting."

The faithful are taught that God will judge them if they abandon their faith in the church.

Ongoro says he is all celebration for having finally broken free of the church and its teachings. "I thank God that I left and I continually pray for those still there."

But Ongoro says having been in the church for all those years, he has realized that the level of deception runs deep and the current leaders may not even be responsible for it.


What does the church leadership say about the accusations of high-handedness leveled against it?

"It is all lies," says the Rev. Rutivi. These people have left the church and you can expect them to justify their departure.

The fact that Musau has started his own church, says the Rev. Rutivi, is clear testimony that he left because of other ambitions and not because something was wrong with the church. The Rev. Rutivi says it is not true that his church claims to be the only one sheltering the people of God.

"Even the Rev. Rutivi needs help. He joined the church like anyone of us and was taught the same doctrine, I thus cannot point an accusing finger at him."

Another former member of the church who left last year is grateful that he was able to leave. "It was one place where the teachings were so systematic that you did not realize that you were a captive until you quit," says the woman who did not want to be named.

Yet another past member, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he quit the church last year after 13 years. He has vowed never to attend any organized church service, which is led by a pastor.

"I will only participate in a church led by elders as required by the Bible and not by a single individual," he said in a telephone interview.

"We have never said so and we cannot preach it because God has called different churches for different reasons. Each church is called to fulfil a particular purpose," the clergyman says.

Clement Kaula, the spokesman for the Gospel Assembly, is firm that the church has no unseemly practices.

"You have talked with me for the last half-hour, do I look or sound brain-washed?" he asked after an interview at Utalii Hotel.

He admitted that people have sold property and even taken loans to give money to the church "But out of their own persuasions and conviction and not coercion of any nature.

"We tell the members to pay their tithe (10 per cent of their income) which is compulsory according to the Scriptures. They can also give a free-will offering of whatever amount they desire," he says.

Kaula says each time there is a need in the church, which requires money, like the putting up a building, members are asked to make donations.

On allegations of doctrines, which have destroyed marriages, Kaula says a woman has an equal right to determine her place of worship as a man. "If a husband decides to leave the church for whatever reason, the wife should not be forced to abandon her faith to follow him."

Kaula says they do not match-make for those who want to marry. "Unless, of course, someone is shy and asks a church elder to assist in approaching a young woman in the church, then that will be at a personal and not official level."

The claims that the church is out to wreck marriages is false he says, because sustaining strong marriages is at the core of the church's teachings.

Gospel Assembly does not control people, cutting them off from relatives, according to Kaula. All that the church does is to give them spiritual nourishment. The strong attachment they have to the church is a show that they are happy, the spokesman says.

He admits, however, that marriage certificates are not issued on time due to administrative flaws in the church.

"We normally do not issue them on the wedding day because we like to type them nicely, so we tell people to come for them after a week. Sometimes they come and find them not ready."

He says it is not true that the church uses the absence of certificates as a way of controlling marriages.

Couples who have since left the church are free to collect their marriage certificates, Kaula adds.