Pastor feeds sand to congregants
The Namibian Police yesterday ordered the pastor of the Fountain of Living Waters Ministries in Katutura to release church members that are allegedly held captive by the church.
The Police launched an investigation into the activities taking place at the church after it emerged that the church has become a popular ‘clinic’ of sorts for people with different afflictions who go to the church seeking ‘divine intervention’.
Church owner Jacques Sumpi from the Democratic Republic of Congo said he felt the police were misinformed because he held no one against their will.
At the centre of the controversy is a practice whereby the church allegedly hold naked prayer and fasting sessions, HIV/AIDS patients told to stop taking medication – a practice that is said to have been going on for years.
The Patriot understands one of the followers bought Sumpi a car.
“People are told to stop taking their ARV medication, some suffer from tubercolosis but they do not go to hospital for medical treatment, they are just told to fast. When he[Sumpi] delivers people he throws them with bucket of sand on the church premises. Here people do not pray to Jesus, but rather in the name of JSK,” said one of the congregants who did not want to be named. It is further alleged that women are told to cut off their hair and all those pursuing their studies should abandon school and steer clear of any worldly activities and items. At around 18h00 yesterday, the police finished their probe at the church in Freedom Square and moved over to Okuryangava in a house rented by the church which is used to house congregants.
A number of parents descended on the church with the police to collect their relatives.
People were apparently been drawn to the pastor’s church after it was claimed that he performed miracles.
Sumpi has not responded to the complaints or queries but some of his followers have come to his defence.
The church activities are suspended until the police investigations have been completed.
In the midst of abject poverty and increased violence, Namibians have turned to religion for relief.
Subtle, effective and dangerously deceptive, religion and the worship of “men of God” has become widely spread acting as a substitute disguised as truth. But instead of spreading the message of love, churches are now infamous for its ability to lure followers into “cult” type arrangements clouded with secrecy and fragmentation. Where churches once were an agent to unite people, religious activities are fast posing a threat to family cohesion and dividing communities.
Over the years, some churches been labelled as troublesome by authorities harboring criticism for bedeviling the Christian faith. Rituals to access God or blessings now include congregants compelled to eat sand and live dubious lifestyles, pastors who allegedly exploit the female flock sexually, desperate members seeking wealth and prosperity and the sick refusing medical care preferring holy waters coming all the way from Nigeria.
This week, ‘The Fountain of Water’ ministry was raided by the Namibian Police after tip-offs that the church was holding congregants captive in addition to numerous yet-to-be-confirmed allegations. The raid stirred unrest in the Freedom Square’s Kenneth Kaunda Street with residents demanding the church to be closed down.
Although police investigations continue, the growing number of churches in the country continues to worry communities, with many accused of preaching a rather distorting faith.
Journalists and members of the community on the day found about 16 congregants at the church – these were mostly students, a foreign pastor and his wife (a former Namibian nurse). When questioned, the congregants repeat the same narrative which recounts their stay over at the church for prayers after an evening service which started at 17h00, only to be disturbed by the police who unlawfully entered the premises around 21h00.
Family members and the surrounding community have complained for a long time about the church’s activities, saying they have lost family members to the church who have since refused to return home under the pretext of ‘serving their Lord’.
Although the Congolese pastor was adamant that there was nothing wrong with his church, scenes that resembled heresy were very evident within the building. The church had fridges with food, mostly stocked with vegetables in the kitchen. In the offices, bathrooms and storerooms are hidden mattresses which provided evidence that indeed there could be congregants staying at the church.
In some of the rooms, we found heavily packed luggage bags of the congregants who initially said they just came to the church the previous day for prayers with the intentions of returning home, school or work during the course of the following morning. The bathrooms are equipped with showers, which is quite perplexing considering that the pastor’s stance that they do not house any congregants.
In another room, dubbed to be the pastor’s office or at least belonging to the church administrator, we found a bucket of sand, and in bathing dish with a brownish mixture. The congregants are said to have been feeding the sand mixed with olive oil. This is so because it is believed the church is built on holy ground.
A family member to one of the congregants says her sister who is named Munee Hengari at birth by her biological parents has changed her name to Maria. It is believed the congregants have been made to get rid of their ‘satanic’ names and told to take on new names.
Munee’s story is that of a young women who left her family and abandoned her three-year old daughter for the church. She left her flat in Okuryangava and job with the then Polytechnic of Namibia to serve the church. The family has since tried to get hold of Munee for three years, at times bringing the three-year old to the mother but they were never allowed to enter the church premises.
“We are apparently evil and that is why she does not want to come home. On the side, she asks me to run errands on her behalf saying they are not allowed to get leave the premises.”
The younger sister says they are told that no one is allowed to enter the church and no children are allowed in the house of God. Munee recently had sight of her 3 year old through a window when her mother brought her child to her for a visit.
When approached for comment, Pastor Jacques Sumpi said no congregant is held against their will at the church.
“The people only sleep here when we have prayer nights. There is nothing shady going on at the church and I don’t understand what the police are doing here. We allow everyone to enter the church but not during the feast,” said Sumpi who was at the time in handcuffs. With bruises evident in his face, he claims he was attacked when the police claimed he took long to put on his socks.
“People are saying there is Satan here and I’m killing people here but I have never done so. I don’t know of any member who died here. The members who died from the church died in the hospitals,” added Sumpi.
The church that started from a classroom in Windhoek in 2001 has grown tremendously over the years, managing to build a well architected building now situated in Freedom Square. Many professing Christian churches today are at best actually private ministries that have assumed the mantle of a church in order to gain a ready-made audience and regular financial support. Teachers, or worse, clever businessmen, often start ‘churches, for these and other often selfish reasons. This far, the police found bags of money stashed in the church premises to the amount of N$52 740.
A nation desperate for salvation at all cost
Community members, who tip off police about these churches, say Namibians should stop running to churches to solve all their problems. Students are said to have dropped out of school while many have abandoned their jobs.
“Our people are desperate to be saved, we don’t know from what. It is mostly women and young girls who are victims. Some are fondled by these pastors and you later hear that they are pregnant. How does your family all of a sudden become evil? It is so bad that these people are brainwashed to the fact that they believe that what they are doing is right. Some of these people are mothers and home owners who have abandoned their families. What type of God tells you to not speak to your own family,” said Mee Nangula, an elderly woman from the surrounding.
Another resident from the location who asked the police to shut down ‘shenanigan’ churches called on Namibians to wake up and see that foreign pastors are destroying society with churches.
“We have our churches where most of these people are baptized. Why is it that all of a sudden our churches are bad or boring? These churches are just here to collect money and enrich themselves at the cost of desperate Namibians.
Even matured people are being fooled to follow stupid things. Who gets saved by eating sand with olive oil? Who gets saved by abandoning their family?
If these churches were true, they would encourage the congregants to fix problems at their homes and communities. But no, what we now have is our own brothers and sisters who have turned against us,” said Brandon Ujama whose sister has also run away from home to join the church.
Call for strict regulations
The growing nature of these incidences has cause unrest in societies, with the authorities being asked to narrow the entry gates.
Acting Secretary General of the Council of Churches Namibia Ludwig Beukes said the revelations of these incidences demonstrate the flaws in the regulatory systems. Beukes said the freedom of worship and association is one that needs to be regulated to prevent shenanigan churches who masquerade as churches.
“All this shows that we do not have a regulatory framework. People come and set up something, calls it a church and what they do inside is only known to them. They register their establishment under Section 21 with the Trade ministry, but at the same time they make so much money from the same society they are supposed to serve,” he said.
“We will only hear of what has happened, but how the establishment was registered and what they do inside closed doors, nobody knows. And no one can question until we have a basic criteria with which we can hold these establishments to account,” Beukes added.
The City of Windhoek Mayor Muesee Kazapua also weighed in on the matter city the City is called on to revisit its policies on institutional land.
“We are going to reinforce clear requirements and go an extra mile before we allocate land. With regards to what is happening now, we are going to be very strict because the communities are crying.
Also, we need to do thorough investigation on the funders of these churches and find out their intentions. Such schemes where our people are now brainwashed should not be allowed to continue,” said Kazapua.