An Australian Christian organization is battling allegations of involvement with the leader of a doomsday cult responsible for a massacre during a starvation crisis in Kenya.

According to a report from a parliamentary committee in Kenya, an Australian religious group played a role in the actions of a Christian cult responsible for the deaths of over 400 individuals due to starvation and beatings.

The investigation on the Shakahola tragedy, presented to the Kenyan Senate on October 19th, revealed that the alleged leader of the organization, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, was swayed by Dave and Sherry Mackay from Australia, who are the founders of a religious group called “Voice in the Desert.”

The report discovered that the impact was primarily made through online connections and social media. Additionally, it stated that someone affiliated with Dave McKay delivered a sermon at Mackenzie’s Good News International church in 2019.

On May 3rd, 2023, A Voice in the Desert’s X/Twitter account shared: “There was a tragic event in a Kenyan church that we were associated with. Sadly, over 100 church members have died from starvation!” The post included a link to an article that has since been deleted from the group’s website.

However, Dave McKay firmly denied the report’s conclusion, stating that he and his wife have never had any interaction with Mackenzie. He also refuted any connections his group may have had to the massacre.

“I became familiar with him based on my readings of media reports from Kenya. Additionally, I received information from a member who attended his meeting in Kenya in 2019. This was the extent of our connections. There was no further communication with anyone from Mackenzie’s group until news of the massacre in April of this year.”

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The Kenyan Senate committee report, found on the parliamentary website, states that in 2019, McKay’s colleague gave a speech with anti-government views, specifically regarding the national identification program known as Huduma Namba (also known as Huduma Number). The speaker referred to it as “the mark of the beast”.

On May 11, 2019, the Facebook page for Times TV Kenya, managed by Mackenzie, announced that he had been granted bail after supposedly encouraging individuals not to enroll for the Huduma number in Malindi. Dave McKay left a few remarks on the post, expressing his disappointment that Mackenzie had not been exonerated in the situation. In one of his comments, McKay shared a link to a previously removed video on YouTube titled “Kenyan government targets pastor over huduma 666 claim”.

The next day, a person working with McKay (whose name he chose not to disclose) gave a speech at Mackenzie’s Good News International church in Makongeni, located in Nairobi. A video of the speech was shared on YouTube. The speaker discussed the potential links between a society without physical currency, the Huduma identification card, and the concept of the “mark of the beast”.

Screenshot of a video posted on the YouTube channel of Paul Mackenzie’s Good News International Ministries, showing the unnamed ‘associate’ of A Voice in the Desert, right, at a church service in Makongeni on 12 May 2019

The man explained that he and his friends learned about brother Mackenzie’s experience in Malindi from videos on YouTube. Brother Mackenzie was preaching about the Huduma card.

Many people around the world, including my siblings, believe that the Huduma card is bringing us closer to the mark of the beast.

After the sermon, the speaker encouraged those interested to check out A Voice in the Desert’s YouTube channel. The video that followed discussed the Huduma card in Kenya and its significance as potentially being the closest thing to the “mark of the beast” implemented by any government.

The book of Revelation mentions the mark of the beast, a symbol that will be given to a false prophet representing the antichrist. Some End Times communities, like A Voice in the Desert, predict that advanced technologies like RFID chips will be utilized by followers of the antichrist during the final days on Earth.

When asked by Guardian Australia, McKay stated that the man’s speech was the only interaction his group had with Mackenzie.

He stated that our attention towards Mackenzie was focused solely on the Huduma Namba and how it pertains to the mark of the beast.

He stated that there was no communication whatsoever with anyone involved in Mackenzie’s group from 2019 until the news about the massacre in April of this year.

McKay stated that he had not been approached by Senate investigators and was taken aback upon learning that he and his spouse were mentioned in the report issued by the committee.

After the report was released, A Voice in the Desert uploaded a video on YouTube refuting the committee’s accusations and citing supposed misinformation in the Kenyan media as the source of the report’s claims. The video also explicitly rejected the notion that A Voice in the Desert was a cult.

Horror in the forest

The devastating events within the community of Good News International Church were initially revealed in March, but the true extent of the tragedy gradually emerged over the following months.

In May, the Kenyan Senate formed a committee with the task of examining the growing number of deaths in the isolated forest in the southeastern region of the nation.

The study discovered that Mackenzie used agents in various regions of Kenya to entice vulnerable individuals to join his church, ultimately leading them to their demise through deceitful recruitment methods. These tactics were particularly heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were experiencing uncertainty and anxiety.

According to the report, 428 bodies were unearthed from the forest by October 13th. In addition, there were over 600 individuals who had been reported missing to local authorities earlier in the year.

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A mass grave in the Shakahola forest

According to the report, followers were told to give up their material belongings and relocate to the Shakahola forest. This led them to sever ties with their family, leaving them vulnerable and without support.

Upon arrival, Mackenzie instructed his followers to commence fasting in preparation for the apocalypse and their meeting with Jesus, according to the information found.

According to the report, individuals who did not follow his commands were put through fake trials. The report also revealed that an armed group was used to carry out his extreme beliefs, resulting in attacks and deaths of those who decided against starving themselves to death.

According to the report, children experienced a slow and agonizing death due to starvation. Additionally, mothers who were breastfeeding were prohibited from nourishing their young.

In March, Mackenzie was taken into custody for his involvement in the deaths of two children who died from lack of food and air. However, he was later released on bail and upon his return to the forest, he increased the orders for deprivation of food. This information was revealed in a report.

He was arrested again in April and is still being held while investigations are ongoing. However, he has not yet been charged for any deaths in the forest.

Extensive past of debates and disagreements

A group called A Voice in the Desert, previously known as the Jesus Christians, has consistently sought out media coverage by engaging in attention-grabbing activities such as burning money, trekking through sewers in India, and subjecting members to whipping trials.

Formed in 1981 by the McKays, both US-born Australians, the group encourages followers to subject themselves to extreme trials and take vows of poverty. It has established branches in Australia, the UK, United States, Mexico and Kenya, among others.

Cherry and Dave McKay, founders of the Jesus Christians and A Voice in the Desert groups

The McKays promote the belief that a covert group is attempting to implement the mark of the beast in society, and that salvation is of utmost importance as the imminent return of Jesus approaches.

Unlike many End Times groups, they believe in celibacy and remaining single, with marriage as a last resort for those seeking sexual activity. Rather than seeking money, members are encouraged to give up their possessions and find free sources of food, with limited funds and assets pooled for use by the group.

The McKays gained notoriety in a 1985 ABC documentary about a group of Jesus Christians, including children, who set off to walk across the Nullarbor desert with no provisions. In 2003, a documentary by the British journalist Jon Ronson called Kidneys for Jesus reported on the group’s practice of donating their kidneys to strangers.

In 2005, members of Jesus Christians alleged that they had provided bail and a bribe in order to secure the release of their fellow Australian, Roland Gianstefani, who had been arrested in Kenya for accusations of abduction.

In 2000, Gianstefani and his spouse, Susan, were handed suspended jail sentences of six months in Britain’s court for refusing to disclose the location of Bobby Kelly, a teenager who had left home to join the Jesus Christians.

It is believed that the group went underground for approximately ten years before reemerging on YouTube as End Times Survivors and A Voice In The Desert in 2016.

The Kenyan Senate received a report suggesting that authorities look into expelling any foreigners who promote the beliefs of A Voice in the Desert and Jesus Christians from the country. It also recommended banning them from returning in the future.

Senator Mungatana Danson Buya, who headed the committee responsible for the report, did not provide a comment in response to the request.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia stated that they are aware of reports regarding the deaths connected to the Good News International church. However, they have not been contacted by Kenyan authorities regarding this issue.


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