God works in mysteriously convenient ways

“The anointing has stopped the camera from working,” a burly man in sunglasses, a dark pinstriped suit and driving a white BMW X5 told Mail & Guardian photographer Oupa Nkosi.

In fact, the “anointing”—the Pentecostal movement’s buzzword for God’s enabling power—had to be supplemented by mechanical and human muscle. As Nkosi continued shooting, the driver reversed as if to run him over.
Earlier, he and his flashily dressed 10-person entourage had tried to seize the camera.

The godly suspects and their retinue then left in two top-of-the-range BMWs, a Mercedes SLK and Chrysler PT Cruiser. Kenneth Oyakhilome, who had briefly appeared in the Newlands Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg on corruption charges, swept off in a BMW 530i.

Oyakhilome, leader of Christ Embassy church in Randburg, and another of the church’s pastors are accused of offering Solly Mabelane, the SABC’s head of religious services, a $7 000 (R50 000) bribe to renew a TV advertising campaign the corporation had canned.

The money allegedly came from Oyakhilome’s brother, Chris, the church’s Nigerian-based pastor, as “a gift”. Oyakhilome insists he had no idea what was in the plain envelope he handed the SABC executive.

The aggressive court antics of “Pastor Ken”, as his followers call him, were in marked contrast with his low-key sermon at Christ Embassy’s evening service, which the M&G attended.

His text was Genesis 13:2, which tells us “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold”. He explained that the “very” in the sentence was an “intensifier that shows you the great extent of his wealth”.

In wailing tones that suggested the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Oyakhilome moved on to the importance of hard work. “Nobody ever regrets working hard,” he sagely advised.

No mention was made of his court appearance—unless it was in code: “Today is a result of yesterday, and tomorrow a result of today”, and later “things shall come that shall try to weaken your faith, but you should soldier on”.

Abruptly he returned to his theme, declaring: “If you’re coming here for the first time, this is a message you’ll hear many times: I hate poverty.” Indeed. The blue-carpeted auditorium, with its raised pulpit and ceiling beams decked with yellow lace, artificial flowers and yellow lights, was most comfortable.

Packed into it was a congregation mainly comprised of well-heeled young people, more women than men, who had parked their expensive vehicles outside.

The four or five whites, one in a wheelchair, stood out. A source who has quit the church claims its leaders plant “disabled” worshippers so that when the pastors lay hands on them, they leap ecstatically to their feet claiming to have been healed.

Later Oyakhilome told the faithful to “bring their tithes to the house of the Lord”. An assistant announced a conference on the weekend of August 4—registration fees would be R250, members of the “Haven Convention”—apparently a church sub-group—would pay R1 000.

Before going our separate ways we said grace; congregants then put their tithes into large canvas bags.

Christ Embassy is not registered with the South African Council of Churches, said general secretary Eddie Makue, who bemoaned the mushrooming of churches that were “abusing the faith of ordinary people”.

The case against Pastor Ken was postponed until August 18.

Percy Zvomuya

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