How miracles, testimonies are crafted by 'pastorpreneurs'

Another churchgoer shares a similar story. “I was made to believe that without the “man of god’s” blessings, I would never succeed. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The investigation revealed that these false testimonies are meticulously planned. Individuals are hired to act as though they have been healed from terminal illnesses.

Dar es Salaam. Amidst the questionable gospel rapidly spreading in Tanzania, individuals are being employed to fabricate miracles and testimonies, presenting a false image of divine intervention to unsuspecting congregants, The Citizen can report.

These orchestrated miracles involve a group of people, often brought in from outside the country to avoid detection. They claim to suffer from severe ailments like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions that are either costly or difficult to treat.

In a startling revelation, The Citizen discovered that some members of this group even fake disabilities such as deafness, paralysis, blindness, and mental illnesses.

“Most of us come from outside the area where the service is held, so it is not easy to trace us,” explains Timoth*, a former participant who quit after realising it was not profitable.

Months after receiving prayers, these individuals return to testify that they have been miraculously healed by the ‘prophet’s’ prayers. This cycle of deceit convinces many followers to place their trust and finances into these so-called ‘miraculous’ altars.

“The pastor normally discourages critical thinking and urges followers to distance themselves from friends and family who express doubts,” Mr Timoth adds.

The investigation revealed that these false testimonies are meticulously planned. Individuals are hired to act as though they have been healed from terminal illnesses.

“We’re hired to act like we have severe illnesses, and then pretend to be miraculously healed during the services,” says Beatrice*. “We also call through radios where the ‘man of God’, who already knows us and has our numbers, starts to prophesy about us.”

“When preachers of this kind go on the radio, they already have us prepared to call in. As soon as we call, they receive the calls and start discussing our situations, while unaware listeners are convinced and begin to follow their teachings,” Beatrice adds. The situation in Tanzania is worrying, although it hasn’t reached the extreme levels seen in Kenya and South Africa.

“I was brought in from Kenya to play this role. The church paid for my travel and stay, and in return, I gave a tearful testimony that convinced many people,” reveals another source working in Tanzania.

Some pastors go as far as using supernatural powers from countries like Nigeria to lure the faithful.

“These pastors often travel to Nigeria to acquire charms and other items that they believe will help them perform ‘miracles.’ They bring these back to Tanzania and use them to captivate their congregations.”

A growing concern

The practice of importing fake patients, particularly cancer patients, is a growing concern. “I’ve seen people brought in from as far as Uganda and Rwanda, all pretending to be on the brink of death, only to be ‘healed’ by the pastor during a service,” says a church insider.

“It’s all a show to draw in more followers and their money,” the source adds, hinting that they (church employees) were paid little compared with what they collected in a service.

Theological experts warn that the proliferation of these new denominations and pastors should be closely monitored by the authorities.

“The Tanzanian government needs to step in to protect vulnerable citizens from being exploited,” notes Rev Musa Danstan of the Lutheran Church.

The mushrooming of these churches not only preys on the desperate but also diverts much-needed resources from the community.

“It’s not that all churches are bad, but there are those that we have trusted and believed in for a long time because of what they do. However, now it is very difficult to know who is teaching the right things.

That’s why the government, through its intelligence services, must not ignore this issue at all,” says Mr Faustine Chacha, a religious leader in Dar es Salaam.

However, not everyone believes that all these pastors are fraudulent. Some followers genuinely believe they have been healed.

“I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and after attending the services and following the pastor’s guidance, my health improved significantly,” says one believer. “I don’t think it’s fair to label all these pastors as fakes.”

This investigation highlights the societal dilemma on true Christianity in Tanzania. While some pastors undoubtedly exploit their congregations for personal gain, others may genuinely help their followers.

The challenge lies in discerning the authentic from the fraudulent and ensuring that faith remains a source of hope and not exploitation.

The way forward

There is an urgent need for regulatory frameworks to protect the vulnerable from such exploitation, experts suggest.

“The government should introduce measures to monitor the financial activities of religious institutions. Transparency and accountability are key to ensuring that these institutions serve the public good rather than personal interests,” suggests Mr Job Mpalanga, a Lutheran churchgoer.

Empowering people to discern genuine spiritual guidance from exploitation is crucial. “People need to be empowered to discern genuine spiritual guidance from exploitation. Mainstream religious leaders and community organizations can play a pivotal role in this effort.”

The consequences of these manipulative sermons are severe. Families are torn apart, savings are depleted, and hope is eroded.

Holy books warn against false prophets and those who exploit faith for personal gain. Rev Danstan recalls Matthew 7:15-16, where Jesus cautioned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them.”

Bishop Anthony Njau of the Catholic Church remarks, “These modern prophets are not following the teachings of the Bible. They prey on the poor and desperate, promising them what they cannot deliver. This is not the way of Christ.”

Pastor Sarah John of the Tanzania Assemblies of God adds, “The focus should be on helping the community and uplifting the poor. These new breeds of pastors are doing the opposite. They are exploiting the very people they are supposed to help.”

Lessons from elsewhere

The world was shocked when in Kenya, hundreds of worshippers perished after being convinced to fast without eating for many days while praying, believing they would go to heaven.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the Good News International Church was held accountable after causing the deaths of many of his followers. He was found guilty of using unclassified films to advance his radical teachings.

“Let’s not wait until we reach that point,” says Dr Thomas Kileo, a psychologist. “These matters are best left to leaders to avoid acting like ‘promoters,’ as there are many things they are unaware of. If something happens, the public will not understand them.”

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame took a bold step to regulate the proliferation of churches. In 2018, he ordered the closure of over 700 churches in Kigali alone, citing safety concerns and the need for proper regulation.

This move aimed to curb exploitation and ensure that religious institutions operate within the law and contribute positively to society.

Registering procedures

In Tanzania, religious organisations must register with the Registrar of Societies at the ministry of Home Affairs on mainland Tanzania and with the Chief Government Registrar in Zanzibar.

They must have at least ten followers to register, provide a written constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from their district commissioner.

From July 2023 to April 2024, 213 communities were registered in Tanzania, compared to 371 communities registered in 2022/23. Of these, 95 were new religious communities, and 118 non-religious.

Once registered, the only time these religious institutions can be interfered with by the government is when they are required to renew their registration certificates or when they breach the terms of their registration.

The Office of the Registrar of Societies conducts verification and renewal of registration certificates, where religious leaders must present financial and performance reports along with a Sh100,000 fee.

Reverend Michael Muga of the Lutheran Church expresses his concern, “The church should be a place of refuge and support, not exploitation. We need to return to the core values of Christianity, which are love, compassion, and service to others.”

Bishop Emmanuel Kitulo of the Anglican Church adds, “It is heartbreaking to see how these modern prophets are misleading people. The government needs to step in and regulate these practices to protect the vulnerable.”