Religion on the rise in Nairobi
Economic hardship has spurred much of the growth in congregations as Nairobi residents seek comfort for their struggles.
Woodley, Nairobi, Kenya
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Congregations are growing across all beliefs in Nairobi. Mike Pflanz explores what faith means to religious leaders and their followers in a fast-changing world.
The main hall, brick-built with a high tin roof, is packed. The tents outside, three of them, are packed. And still people are streaming in.
Welcome to Winners’ Chapel, early on Easter Sunday morning. As the choir, smartly dressed in white shirts and black skirts, take their seats, a compact man in a charcoal suit jumps to the stage, beneath a sign promising “Financial Fortune Is My Heritage: Deu 8.18.”
This is Senior Pastor David Adeoye, a Nigerian ministering here in Nairobi to what claims to be one of the fastest growing churches in Kenya, an evangelical mission preaching prosperity through sacrifice to Jesus.
The congregation, maybe 2,000-strong, is mixed, as would be expected in this middle-class area lying on the fringes of the city’s largest slum, Kibera.
But everyone is electrified when Pastor Adeoye begins his exhortations for the “spirit of financial bareness” and “aborters of opportunity” to “die by fire in Jesus’ name.”
Phyllis Andanja has been coming here each Sunday for two years. Her eldest son, admitted to hospital with a severe eye infection that doctors said might steal his sight, walked out fit and well days later after she prayed at the Winners’ Chapel, she said.
“This is a place that brings me hope of a better future,” she says, after the 9:30 a.m. service finished. Jemimah Kianga, a retired secretary who said she moved to Nairobi after God told her that her destiny lay in the capital, agrees.
“Everyday I feel that my faith is growing stronger,” she says. “What is faith? It is the trust that you are not alone in your struggle, that with sacrifice and commitment, good will eventually come to you.”
Worship in Kenya, whether to Christian, Islamic, Hindu or African gods, is on the rise.
Christians – mostly Protestants – make up 83 percent of the country, a total of almost 32 million people, according to results from the 2009 national census. Muslims are the next most populous, at 11 percent, then African traditionalist at 1.6 percent and Hindus (heavily concentrated in the main cities) at 0.1 percent.
The listings for Churches and Church Organizations covers 20 columns over five pages of the Nairobi telephone directory. Hundreds of foreign missionaries – the majority from the US – arrive in the city each year.
Leaders from each religion told Daily Dispatches that congregations are expanding amid a failure of economic growth, trumpeted by the government, to trickle down into the wallets of ordinary Nairobians.
“Many, many people are turning to find refuge or seek solace in all religions,” said Ibrahim Lethome, a Muslim scholar, lawyer, and member of the organizing committee at Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque, the largest in Kenya.
“I would say – and this is the interpretation of our religious scholars – that that’s because of the many problems that people are facing out there.”