Kenya: A Kenyan Family Searches for Answers Amid Cult Deaths

Mombasa, Kenya — At the home of James Tole Mwambela, the family says a prayer for their brother Nelson Kimbichi Mwambela. They say it is all they can do. It has been months since they saw him.

It all began when the family noticed he had stopped taking his children to school. His unusual behavior led them to wonder about his well-being, his brother James Mwambela said.

“By that time, people didn’t know about [Pastor Paul] Mackenzie’s teachings, many would assume, but my brother kept saying that the world is ending, and Jesus is coming back,” James said. “We all differed with him, including my mother and father.”

Mackenzie, leader of the Good News International Church, offered doomsday warnings, calling life in the West “evil,” and medicine, education, food, sports and entertainment as “useless.”

Nelson then quit his job and secretly moved his wife and six children to the Shakahola farm owned by Mackenzie. His whereabouts were a mystery. Nelson’s mother, Janet Mwambela, noticed earlier that something was wrong.

“It seems like they started training the kids slowly on how to fast. At one point, I asked my son if he was eating — he had lost a lot of weight,” she told VOA.

Officials say Mackenzie told his followers to starve to death in order to meet Jesus. Investigators are still trying to determine how many people lost their lives while following the cult-like sect. As they continue to unearth shallow graves on the property, the death toll has risen to more than 300.

They also found personal belongings, including a Bible belonging to “Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Kimbichi Mwambela.” It is the only proof the family now has that Nelson and his family were in Shakahola. No remains have been identified as theirs.

Mackenzie is currently in police custody facing charges of preaching dangerous beliefs that led to the starvation deaths of hundreds of his followers. One of his aides, Joseph Juma Buyuka, died this week in police custody after a hunger strike.

Last month, Kenyan President William Ruto said his government took responsibility for the deaths.

When news broke about the discovery of mass graves in the town of Malindi in Shakahola forest, James made his way there to search for Nelson and his family. What he learned was shocking.

“One of the survivors told me about my niece Janet and [the survivor’s] brother called Sylvester, who was later baptized to be called Paul,” James said. “He said that this family was said to be living very close to Pastor Paul Mackenzie and unfortunately, all six children including, their mother, had died.”