How Pastor Ezekiel Odero rose from fisherman to wealthy preacher now accused of mass killing

How Pastor Ezekiel Odero rose from fisherman to wealthy preacher now accused of mass killing

Detectives escort Ezekiel Ombok Odero, the Head of New Life Prayer Centre/Church in Kilifi County, at the police headquarters for investigations into the Shakahola killings linked to pastor Paul Mackenzie, in Mombasa, Kenya April 27, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

To his followers, Ezekiel Ombok Odero is a gifted spiritual leader who can cure HIV with "holy water."

To his detractors, he is little more than a sophisticated conman preying on Kenya's poor.

Kenyan police arrested Odero on Thursday over the "mass killing of his followers" and closed his New Life Prayer Centre and Church, just days after the discovery of dozens of bodies linked to another church.

Born into poverty on an island in Lake Victoria in western Kenya, Odero struggled with school and worked as a fisherman before taking to the pulpit 15 years ago.

Now a wealthy televangelist who draws huge crowds, his church south of the coastal town of Malindi can seat 40,000 people and comes complete with a hotel for followers "from across the globe."

"People crowd my church because I am the chosen one," he told the NTV news channel last December.

Popularly known as Pastor Ezekiel, he is building a helipad, restaurant and an international school on his expansive church grounds.

Odero did not attend any theological school but spent years as an understudy and keyboard player at the church of renowned televangelist Pius Muiru in the coastal city of Mombasa.

He rose through the ranks before later branching out to form his own church.

"I have been trained on the job," he told NTV.

Known for his commanding baritone voice and signature all-white garb, he is rarely spotted without a huge Bible in his hand.

Odero claims that "holy" scraps of cloth and water that were sold at his mega-rallies for Ksh.100 (75 US cents) can heal any disease, including HIV.

But there is a rider: these remedies will only work on people "with strong faith."

His YouTube channel boasts nearly 450,000 subscribers and is filled with testimonies of Kenyans who claim to have been healed by Odero -- from cancer patients cured through prayer to blind people regaining sight.

Odero himself claims to have never visited a hospital or fallen sick for two decades.

Though casting himself as an ordinary man without political connections, Odero has shared the pulpit with prominent figures.

They include Dorcas Gachagua, the pastor wife of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who joined him at a service that filled a 60,000-seat stadium in Nairobi last December.

His rising profile and ballooning wealth have captured media attention, forcing the preacher to take journalists on a tour of his church last year and insist that he had nothing to hide.


Citizen Digital Citizen TV Kenya Fisherman Paul Mackenzie Kilifi Cult Pastor Ezekiel Odero

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