The number of independent churches is growing in many parts of Kenya, especially in low-income areas. These are usually started by people who promise healing, salvation and other rewards, often in exchange for money. With names such as the Maximum Miracle Centre and Winner's Chapel, these churches draw people who used to belong to mainstream congregations. Cathy Majtenyi files this report for VOA.
It's Sunday morning in Nairobi's bustling slum, Kibera.
At Calvary Evangelistic Fellowship Church, Pastor Humphrey Jamwaka tends to his flock. When he started the church five years ago, it had five members. Now it has more than one hundred.
The preacher says he used to belong to a mainstream Pentecostal church, but left. "It was not my will," he said. "It was God's will because I had a call and when God called me, He told me to come and begin a church."
Independent churches are proliferating in Kenya, where about 80 percent of the population is said to be Christian.
With names like Maximum Miracle Centre and Winner's Chapel, the churches attract first-time worshippers as well as those who used to belong to mainstream congregations.
Paul Kasili was a Catholic but joined Calvary Evangelistic Fellowship Church. "When the Catholic catechist is preaching, he really does not move you," he exclaimed. "But you will find that Pastor Humphrey really moves me. He tells me things that make my blood boil. Here you are told the reality. "
Many people who attend independent churches say they admire the charismatic preachers and sermons, which seem muted in mainstream churches.
Catholic missionary Father Paulino Mondo says many people like the fact that worshipers are less accountable in independent churches. "They [independent churches] are very accommodative in that the commandments," said Father Mondo. "The rules, the guidelines of mainstream churches and mosques may not count a finger among them. That is why they are flourishing."
The promise of salvation and, in some cases, healing are another big draw.
Lucy Nduta is a self-proclaimed prophetess of the Salvation Healing Ministry Church in Nairobi. She told VOA that she has healed hundreds of people suffering from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. She showed VOA laboratory results of blood tests taken before and after healing. Speaking passionately, Nduta professed, "HIV can be healed. I would like the Kenyan government to know that God can heal."
Nduta was taken to court last year and accused of defrauding people living with HIV/AIDS. The case is still pending.
Independent churches often charge a fee for healing and other services that are traditionally free. All churches have some form of tithing. The contributions are meant to fund programs for the church and community.
But many leaders of independent churches keep the money for themselves, says Father Mondo. He says this exploits the poor. Father Mondo says the government should set up a commission to regulate churches.
In Kenya, there are more than 8,000 churches registered with the government.