HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL OF GOD CHURCH
It is a story that is hard to tell without first looking at the scriptures. When Enoch the seventh from Adam saw these times, he was overwhelmed and shed tears (Enoch 90:41-42). He saw the coming of the LORD God, the most high, in the southern quarter of the earth: And said: May he who is blessed forever descend there (Enoch 77:1-3). As if it was not clear enough, he was shown Jerusalem, the holy city, being lifted and placed in a place south of the land (Enoch 90:28). He saw lots of sheep with white fleece, and among them emerged a lamb with great big black horns on its head, and the LORD rejoiced over it.
This history is also vividly illustrated by the prophet Isaiah and others. For just like Enoch saw the coming of the LORD in the south, Isaiah saw the LORD God coming to Egypt riding in the clouds (Isaiah 19:1) which is exactly what the world still awaits. He also saw the presence of the LORD manifest itself in Egypt (in Africa) though a mighty savior or redeemer (Isaiah 19:20), the same lamb that Enoch saw. We could go on and listen to the other prophets but let us first see how it unfolded in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1914 and in 1932 in particular.
For in was in September 1932, an 18 year old called Shoniwa was cycling to Norton Railway station near Salisbury (now Harare) when he remembers being struck by the lightening from the east and fell off his bicycle losing consciousness. Consequently, he fell ill for a period of three months.
This episode of hearing the earlier unconscious Shoniwa speak to the overwhelming voice was strange but it was no less dramatic than his birth in 1914 or the events which were to follow. Once again since his birth in that year, Southern Rhodesia was going to be shaken to the core. On that day great wonders were seen across Rhodesia where the sky roared and stars soared as the earth shook and winds surged as animals left the wild and went into homes. Hardly anyone understood what was happening probably except a European goldmine owner at Kadoma (Gatoma) who called his workers on the next day and he told them that A man of God would be born and he would begin his mission 18 years later - when they would once again witness great signs and wonders.
Samuel Chinyanga who was then 16 years old saw the mysteries of 1914 as he herded family livestock but as they meant nothing to him, and they skipped his mind for years. Marufu Murwira was working in a shop cycling to a convent to supply goods. He had innocently and curiously wondered aloud why women were being confined in the convent, when he testifies as having been told that the second coming was anticipated to take place in their midst. When the strange events of 1914 did take place, the particular convent was closed.
All that was history and it was now 1932, in the last days of September there were a lot of episodes of near death experiences by Shoniwa – which he later narrated as his encounter with the Ancient of Days or his Father. He went through a baptism in heaven where he reported experiences mirroring Revelations 10:2-6. They remember it as an episode in which Shoniwa (or Sixpence as he was popularly known) was being instructed to serve God. He was given instructions to return to the world where he would henceforth be called John (Father John), and teach people the Ten Commandments, as well as baptize those who believed.
When John returned his was a mission of preaching and drawing crowds. People were attracted by his singing – notably Hosanna, and what appeared to be stars falling from the sky. He went preaching in many places speaking in languages including Latin to Catholic clergy and amazed many. It is from this point that his many arrest episodes began. Some attempts were foiled by miracles such as police dogs developing multiple heads. He however agreed to be handcuffed to go through the persecutions he was pre-destined. These arrests were several and took place in Norton, Chegutu, Kadoma, Salisbury (Harare), Marondera, Rusape and Buhera. Beyond the arrests Father John’s (or Baba Johane’s) legacy grew in Southern Rhodesia because of paranormal occurrences. They included escapes from prison walls in Salisbury and the dramatic occurrence at Marondera where tools worked in a quarry unmanned after he had asked fellow inmates to abandon them. This is the same place where his artifacts robe, staff, and bible were confiscated and taken to England. Consequently, he vowed that they would one day be returned.
All these hardships did not deter Baba Johane’s ministry. He went back to work every time – repression notwithstanding. The reasons for his acrimonious relationship with the Rhodesian authorities were many – including civil disobedience such as the burning of passbooks and withdrawal of labor from Europeans – whom his followers were dissuaded from working for. His prophecies about the end of colonial rule through a liberation war originating from the East (Mozambique) dating back to the 1930s were also ominous to the regime. However, it would be dishonest to blame all these arrests on the colonial government because some were instigated by native Zimbabweans including chiefs and African church leaders. He also faced torture during one of his prison terms courtesy of African prison wardens. For this reason, he prophesied that the liberation of Zimbabwe would come late through bloodshed.
Having been sent to redeem the descendants of Ham (Isaiah 19:4) at a time of great repression, he stayed true to his course and consequently the contribution of Johane to liberation of Zimbabwe is well known. Johane did not spend much of his time ministering in Zimbabwe, but his legacy there includes what would later become the largest Church in the country, known as Johane Masowe Ye Chishanu which emerged as an offshoot from some of the earlier church membership.
South Africa, Bulawayo and Bechuanaland (Botswana)
After Zimbabwe, the next major mission was in South Africa the journey was on foot in the company of some of his followers who were: Prophet Solomon Bwanya, Pastor Lohrence Muhlanga, Sailos Muregerera, and singers among others. The highlights of the mission in South Africa include the formation of the youth group known as Join together with the establishment of the House of Covenant, which is the institution of Church Sisters. In the 1943, Father John received a warm welcome from the Bulawayo church membership. He later decided to travel to Leighwoods, the home area of key church leaders in the region including: Evangelist Ernest Maposa, and Richard Mpofu an influential prophet in the whole of Matabeleland. The spread of the church in that area shows how early this church crossed both ethnic and national boundaries. They travelled to the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (Botswana) where Chief Muroka warmly welcomed them, and provided the requisite testimonials and documents that enabled the journey to South Africa. Together with Evangelist Saizi Sithole, Evangelist Titus Muchuchu and Prophet Samuel Chinyanga and others they travelled by train. On arrival to Johannesburg, Father John joined church members already there. They journeyed to Cape Town, Durban, and reached Port Elizabeth in 1948 where they spent 15 years. Some important milestones in the formation of the church were as follows:
- The procurement of books for religious instruction
- The formation of schools for church members with emphasis on practical knowledge enabling students to become metal workers, carpenters, tinsmiths, electricians, mechanics, embroiders, tailors as well as become cloth and basket weavers
- The delegation of tasks increased with the assignment of roles.
At this point, key appointments saw some historical figures being assigned as follows:
- Saizi Sithole was now responsible for overall coordination of the church and announcement of proceedings and assisted Father John in baptisms together with Mativera. He unfortunately died in Port Elizabeth and would be replaced by Pastor Robinson Sichaya
- Evangelist Cyprian Nedewedzo Nyati coordinated work of prophets and recorded prophetic proceedings
- Evangelist Titus Muchuchu taught the Bible and spiritual books to all Evangelists, Pastors, Prophets and Teachers
- Evangelist Lazarus Chipanga was responsible for external preaching beyond the church.
- Evangelist Ernest Maposa deputized the above
Pastors were also assigned key duties with:
- Nicholas Dzwairo Moyo becoming the senior pastor
- France Matika became senior pastor in Bulawayo.
- George Marondera was responsible for teaching of women and deputized Nicholas Moyo as Senior Pastor
- Next in seniority was Pastor Muwani to whom the task of training carpenters was delegated
- Enoch Gawaza was responsible for teaching men to obey Gods commandments and church regulations
Similarly, the hierarchy of prophets was as follows:
- Samuel Chinyanga was the head prophet and a key confidant to Father John who oversaw the well-being of the House of Covenant.
- The second in seniority was Pastor (& Prophet) Dzwayiro Moyo
- Prophet Kefas Harunawanwe was third in seniority
- Richard Mpofu was the head of all prophets in Bulawayo and issued travel clearance to all members from the region who wished to visit Father John
During this period there were a few brief visits by Father John and key leaders to Rhodesia and back. It is also in South Africa that a system of regular contributions from members (including clergy and ordained servants) ensured that the Church was able to finance its operations even in the event of emergencies. As a result, the apostles of Baba Johane were able to sustain their missions across borders at a time when such was the preserve of western missionary churches enjoying donations from overseas that came alongside preferential status and treatment from the colonial authorities.
For those members (especially elders) unable to fend for themselves, the Join (youth group) earlier mentioned came in handy. This was also one of the key mandates of the women’s group known as welfare. It looked at the wellbeing of the less fortunate as well as supported the Join and others in the upkeep of the House of Covenant (or church sisters). It is also in South Africa where the administration of the Church through supreme councils was institutionalized Council of Petros. It was first formed there while Jeep was formed later around the 1960s. At that time however they did not have fixed membership as later became the case. Members were sometimes reshuffled by Father John who was the appointing authority.
In the 1950s Baba Johane asked his people to leave South Africa for Zambia not everyone left immediately. They were asked to go to the Copper belt area – the region around Ndola. The delays to march northward were to have consequences on many. These came in 1950s by way of an incident around a marketplace where the apostles carried out their many trades, as violence erupted in a xenophobic fashion: It was about apostles who were classified as foreigners as opposed to locals or natives. There was violence and both sides suffered causalities – even fatalities. This automatically brought the intervention of the South African authorities who unknowingly did God’s will as they asked the Church members to leave for Rhodesia which was closer to the prophesied destination of Zambia. The wrath of God did not fall on the South African government who had actually footed the cost of this movement and waived custom duty on goods on transit. On the other hand, Johane the Liberator (Isaiah 19:20), prophesied that liberation would come to Africa, and South Africa would be the last country to be liberated from white rule.
Zambia, Tanzania, Zaire (DRC), Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, Kenya
The bulk of apostles from South Africa acted as directed and moved to Northern Rhodesia which was soon to be the Republic of Zambia. They also met others from South Rhodesia who had journeyed directly to Zambia earlier. Members organized themselves and registered their congregation as Africa Gospel Church. This was a very successful era in the spread of the church regionally. Living in Zambia, church members for the first time enjoyed the benefits of working in an independent African country – with supportive leadership. Through outreaches, the Church had a presence in Tanzania, but also began to establish itself in Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and Kenya.
One major challenge that arose in this time is that many the individuals trusted with fundraising in the church (mostly youth) began to disrespect authority - which was centered on Baba Johane and his cabinet (the council of Elders) and on the ordained servants. This resulted in a mutiny, taking place over years in slow motion.
Growth of the Church in KenyaIt is hard to pinpoint when the Gospel of God Church entered Kenya – as it was not a one day affair. However, a good number of church members were present during the 1963 independence celebrations which they attended personally. The first Kenyans joined the church in the year 1966/67. They were Timothy Joseph Muiruri and Joshua Waweru Kiarie. They were also the first Kenyan pastors. Consequently, the church entered Kenya at a time when it had a presence in Tanzania. So while the church passed through the difficult era especially with the disharmony in Zambia, it actually managed to venture into Kenya at the same time.
The legal status of the Church in Kenya was formalized in 1968, when a certificate of exemption from registration bearing the name Gospel of God was issued – a name that was first used in Kenya because the earlier name African Gospel Church conflicted with the name of an already registered church.
The Church was able to access land in Ngong and other places such as Karen for prayer meetings The present Church headquarters was an administrative block and Convent for the church sisters. This location was nicknamed Allen after the neighboring Allen Grove School, was pinpointed by the Church founder as the home of the nuns. It was also named Ranga, after Lange Street in Port Elizabeth in South Africa, where Baba Johane resided. Kenya was also identified as the center of global evangelism and the permanent residence of the evangelical council from where the gospel would spread from.
The handing over exercise was symbolic. One day the founder accompanied by elders drove towards Nyahururu a town near the equator in the Central Kenya Region. They stopped a stone’s throw from the equator line where he asked them to read the signage and they did. He then asked them to cross over to the other side – still watching from a distance. They confirmed that those were indeed the zero degrees equator markings. He reminded them that he had been directed not to cross. Consequently, as far as evangelism was concerned, they would carry on together with the House of Covenant.
Although the church in Kenya continued to grow in membership, the rebellion down south continued. The renegades came to Nairobi on 5th August 1973 and demanded that the founder join them for a journey to Zambia. It turned out to be his last moment in Kenya as he died in Zambia under their custody on 13 September just over a month later. His body was airlifted to Southern Rhodesia for burial at Gandanzara, Rusape District. The immediate challenge for years to come would be coping with the loss of revenue from the renegade youth or “wakomana”. Further divisions emerged over the years as the church evolved – which should have been no surprise to those familiar with the founder’s prophecies.
The year 1976 was unique as members of the Church caught the attention of the founding father of Kenya, His Excellency President Jomo Kenyatta during an intercessory prayer occasioned by drought. This led to a meeting at state house Nakuru at a venue named “Thingira wa Iregi” (House of Iregi) – where the president welcomed the Church into Kenya and a historical photograph was taken.
The years that followed led to the establishment of branches across the country. Those familiar with the old 25 year Palestine (Israel) prophecy will recognize why in 1998 became the year when pilgrimage to Israel took place (since September 1973 to September 1998 is 25 years. Out of the 7 pilgrimages evangelical journeys six took place between that year and 2006 - that is Israel 1998, Britain 2000, Ethiopia 2001, Germany 2003, USA 2004 and India 2005 (and 2006) the seventh journey to Australia remains pending business.
The question therefore arises: Why the seven countries? To understand why, it is important to remember that the seven countries were specifically prescribed – with varied reasons – that at times make it hard to generalize whether they were evangelical journeys or pilgrimages. They however do not describe the geographical scope of the gospel. The quoted words of the architect were: “All over the world including South America”. This means that although no country on that continent was even considered for a journey among the often mentioned 7, it was to be visited like any other part of the world.
This fulfills the words of the angel in Revelations 14:6-7, one of the angels of the last days who tells us that the last (or everlasting gospel) is to be preached to every tribe and tongue, people and nation.
In the last decade or so, Kenya has been gradually awakened to the plight of the stateless Shona people – who were the original missionaries in this gospel, and have suffered the consequences of having no country to call home. This situation is comparable to the one faced earlier by the Nubians and the Makonde – whose citizenship has now been regularized. The use of the name Shona which is the dominant ethnic group in Zimbabwe where the gospel originated could be in a way misleading. While it is accurate to the extent that it is the language adopted in the entire group from Southern Africa, mostly Zimbabwe, not all were ethnically Shona – as there were also Ndebele from Zimbabwe and other nationalities. The same people have also been called “Zambians” – a name which probably arose out of the fact that Zambia was the biggest mission of the Church in its earliest days.
The issue of Shona citizenship was finally resolved on December 12 2020 during the Jamhuri (Independence) celebrations. His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta ended the issue of Shona statelessness by presenting the community with citizen certificates – alongside some stateless Rwandese living in Kenya. The whole church and the Shona community in particular are grateful for all the support they received from the Government of Kenya, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), other organizations, various leaders and citizens for their support during this difficult journey.