Life and times of Ezekiel, the pastor who fills up stadiums
“Who is this Pastor Ezekiel?”
That is the question Kenyans on social media and households have been asking after Pastor Ezekiel Odero of New Life Prayer Centre and Church pulled a jaw-dropping show at Kasarani stadium, Nairobi, at the weekend.
While some might have downplayed the posters and TV adverts on the rally, the public went gaga after images and video clips of the crusade surfaced, showing mammoth crowds filling Kenya’s largest stadium to the brim.
Many Nairobi residents were surprised when they encountered droves of worshipers flocking to Kasarani — a sea of humanity like no other. Not even political rallies witnessed such numbers during the electioneering period in the run-up to this year’s General Election.
“I live near the stadium and I encountered huge crowds; I could hardly drive through,” says a Nairobi-based journalist.
Like safari ants on a victory march, believers travelled from far and wide to Kasarani to listen to the man of the cloth and tap a blessing.
Pastor Dorcas Rigathi, wife of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, was in attendance, and she later stated that Kenyans are starving for the word of God.
So who, exactly, is Pastor Ezekiel?
Odero’s journey in life has not been smooth. His testimonies depict a man who has had a bumpy ride, having worked as a fisherman in Kisumu, as a casual labourer in construction sites and a hawker in Mombasa. Then he affirmatively heeded a call to spread the gospel.
His evangelical story began in Majaoni, near Shanzu, Mombasa county, where he started his fellowship ministry after relocating from Kisumu.
It is here that news of a crowd-pulling evangelist started spreading like bushfire. Soon, his popularity grew internationally.
Ezekiel’s charisma, capped by a mastery of the Bible and great ability to encode and align messages to his followers, have been a glittering gem.
His main themes are miracle healing and salvation, which attract congregants like moths to light. He is said to have the ability to perform miracles, where the lame and the crippled walk, and an ability to heal diseases such as cancer.
This has piqued the interest and faith of people across religious beliefs and denominations.
A couple of years ago, he shifted base from Shanzu to Mavueni in Kilifi county, about 57km north of Mombasa where he recently acquired huge acres of land to expand his ministry.
This seems to have paid off handsomely as the church has continued to expand, with ballooning congregations.
Every day, the faithful, many cumbered with harsh realities of life, flock to Ezekiel’s church in Mavueni for solace.
As a result, Mavueni — which was just a small shopping centre popular for roasted cashew nuts and peanuts — has rapidly flourished into a 24-hour economy, with booming business in every sector since he moved there.
Yet, still, the religious leader says more mega projects are on the way; and that it’s just a tip of the iceberg.
“On December 13, we will have the ground-breaking ceremony for New Life University on 300 acres of land. It will be major,” the pastor told his congregants in Kasarani at the weekend.
The university will add to an upcoming international school set to be officially opened in January.
Agnes Kadzo, a resident of Mavueni, says: “Accommodation facilities are under construction to host guests at the daily prayers … It’s about a year since he moved here and we have seen wonders”.
She says the pastor attracts congregants from as far as DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and the US.
As you approach New Life Prayer Centre and Church in Mavueni, you are welcomed by colourful flags of various countries where some visitors come from.
In Mombasa and beyond, ripples of the pastor’s mission are concentric. A number of taxi termini have cropped up to ferry passengers to his church.
“From Mwembe Tayari to Lights-Kengeleni and Shanzu, there are new bus stages to ferry people to Ezekiel’s church. If you alight at Mwembe Tayari, there are touts ready to direct you to Pastor Ezekiel’s stage. Most of the people who go there are from upcountry.
“In fact, there is a bus which normally ferries people from Kisumu to Mavueni to see the pastor,” explains Daniel Mwangi, a resident of Likoni.