Samuel Otieno met Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time over a decade ago, when they knocked on his door in Donholm Estate, Nairobi, and asked to be allowed in to share their faith with a view to converting him.
The two women of medium build appeared to be in their mid-thirties and wore full-length dresses. He said their humility was contagious, which was a good thing as he believes it is a virtue all Christians should possess. Although he had heard about the organisation, he knew very little about it.
“When I saw their pamphlets, I knew they were not the usual Christians. My wife and two sons were inside the house but I lied and said they were not as an excuse to get them to leave,” he says.
Before they left, they gave him three tracts. One was titled Jesus Christ, Who He Is, another,Would You Like to Know More About the Bible? and the last,What do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe? The tracts were well-written and very convincing, and Mr Otieno says had it not been for his sound grounding in the Christian faith, he would have been swayed to join the denomination.
Four years ago he was visiting a friend in Lang’ata Estate and came across two Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unlike his first encounter, this time he decided to engage them in a conversation because he had since gathered some basic information about them and remembered that the Bible encourages Christians to boldly share scriptural truths.
As one of them stretched out her hand to give him a tract, he asked: “Do you know Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” They replied, “Yes.”
“Well,” Otieno continued, “You should know why he left the true Christian faith around 1872 at age 20 – because he could not reconcile the idea of an eternal hell with God’s mercy. In your New World Translation (NWT) of the Holy Scriptures Bible, doctrines about hellfire, the deity of Jesus Christ, His death and bodily resurrection, and the Trinity referring to Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been removed or reconstructed.”
They were taken aback and excused themselves to leave but Otieno was not done yet. He told them about the new birth experience in Christ and they listened attentively until he commented on why hellfire is real, at which point they resisted and took off.
Pastor Geoffrey Kimani of the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) Huruma Church in Nairobi also remembers the first time he encountered Jehovah’s Witness followers many years ago, when he lived with his grandparents.
He came home one day to find two women witnessing to his grandmother. “I was irritated and because I knew some facts about the denomination I ordered them to leave immediately. My grandmother was illiterate and I was concerned they could easily indoctrinate her,” he says.
Apart from knocking on people’s doors, they are easily spotted in city or town streets distributing tracts or talking to passers-by Isaac Kasili, Dean of the School of Education at KAG EAST University and senior pastor of KAG Komarock in Nairobi, has had several encounters with them and even invited some to church for Bible discussions.
“Because they don’t like contrary opinions, they often ask to leave when they realise they are losing an argument. They promise to return but they never do. Some have even invited me to attend their services at Kingdom Hall but I cannot go to be taught a lie when I know the truth,” he told the SHEPHERD on phone on July 29.
He has also noticed when they visit that they don’t believe in prayer – when he asks them to close their eyes for prayer before a conversation, they just stare at him.
He says the organisation derives its name from Isaiah 43:10, and followers consider themselves the only true witnesses of God. Their folly is in the notion that calling themselves by God’s name automatically means they belong to Him.
Prof Kasili teaches educational and theological courses, including Apocalyptic Theology and Textual Criticisms, which deals with Bible translation and how one can discern that the Bible one has is the original Word of God.
Benjamin Musyoka , another Christian leader, told of how his uncle, who was a Jehovah’s Witnesses leader, refused to abandon the denomination even after he was convinced about its heretical beliefs. In a phone conversation on July 29, Prof Musyoka shared how he reasoned with his uncle about what it means to be a born-again believer in Jesus Christ and how to know the true faith.
His uncle responded: “I’ve been an African Inland Church (AIC) member for many years and nobody told me these profound truths. I left AIC and joined the Akorino church where I was really disappointed with what they believe and how they conduct their services. When I joined Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found the true fellowship and support I had longed for. Where were you all this time?”
That really hurt Musyoka but he still couldn’t win his uncle over and he died soon afterwards while still a member and leader of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This experience is one of the reasons Musyoka came up with a pamphlet disproving the denomination’s beliefs and explaining how believers in Christ can stand for the truth.
“That was many years ago and it is sad that I cannot trace the pamphlet now,” he says.
Musyoka was ViceChancellor of the International Leadership University (ILU) in Nairobi for three years until August last year, when he resigned to start the African Mission Training Institute, which already has three branches – in Nairobi’s UtawalaEstate as well as Mwingi and Juja towns – and offers diplomas in Christian ministry, theology, biblical studies and other courses.
He says Christians should not shy away from engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses in mature biblical discourse.
“Often when I meet them, I ask where they’ve been all these hundreds of years when the gospel was being preached using the Bible they’ve now altered. That’s why they usually walk in pairs – when one is almost persuaded by biblical truth, the other can step in.”
Musyoka says their arguments that Jesus Christ is a created being and not one with the Father contradict clear biblical teaching in Colossians 1:16-17 that says: “For by Him (Jesus) all things were created… through Him and for Him. And that He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”
Musyoka advises that if a Christian is not well versed in biblical doctrine, he should simply share his salvation testimony. Something like: “I may not know what you believe in but what I know is what Jesus Christ did for me, which you can’t take away,” he says, while admonishing church leaders for not having regular Bible studies with their congregants, starting with who Jesus Christ is.
“When you know the truth, you will easily discern a lie, just like when you know genuine currency, you will easily spot the counterfeit. Jesus is light and truth and once you know Him, satanic lies are easy to notice.”
Kasili gives one way of identifying a cult – the members’ focus is on the founder rather than on Jesus Christ. “Almost all the belief systems, worship and lifestyles of the followers are centred on the teachings of the founder, who calls all the shots. Some even have their own bibles that are different from the one we use.”
He adds that Jehovah’s Witness teachings about Jesus Christ being Michael the archangel, and that He didn’t die on the cross or resurrect from the dead, make them very dangerous. And like Musyoka, he says believers should not dread evangelising to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I know some pastors warn their church members to ignore or even refuse to welcome them into their homes. I partly understand them due to the gullibility of most Christians today who are shallow in biblical doctrine and can easily be hoodwinked. However, that is not the best model. We should not shy away from sharing true faith with everyone, including Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Kasili stresses.
“When they knock on your door, please don’t be hostile. Welcome them in and as they open their bible, open yoursalso. Always, they will start from passages they have altered to try and win you over. As they read theirs, also insist on reading your Bible. Once they realise you are no pushover, they will excuse themselves and leave. But before that, if you can, share some biblical truths that will leave them scratching their heads,” he says.
At KAG Komarock, the first hour of every Sunday and Wednesday service is dedicated to Bible study. The same is repeated in home cell groups every Friday evenings.
“Currently I’m handling a topic titled Transformational Christianity and am already on the eighth series. A single series normally takes three weeks and my intention is that when I get to the tenth one, I write a book,” Kasili says, adding that they are a Bible-based, Christ-centred and Holy Spirit-led congregation with a vision of reaching out to family members, neighbours and the community at large with the good news and making them true disciples of Jesus Christ.
His prayer is that if someone in the community wants to know the Bible and those who can accurately explain it, they should be directed to the church members.
About Jehovah’s Witnesses
According to Wikipedia, Jehovah’s Witnesses was started in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. After his death in 1916, the movement split into several rival organisations, with one led by Mr Russell’s successor, Joseph ‘Judge’ Rutherford, retaining control of both his magazine, The Watch Tower, and his legal and publishing corporation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
The group grew rapidly, mostly in the mid-1930s, with the introduction of new preaching methods. In 1931, the name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted. In 1950, a new translation of the Bible was commissioned and published as the complete New World Translation (NWT) of the Holy Scriptures in 1961. As of September 2019, more than 220 million copies had been published into 187 languages.
One of the passages for which the NWT has been criticised by Christian scholars is John 1:1 where Jesus Christ is referred to as “a god”. The NWT version reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
The denomination goes to great lengths to explain why theirs is an accurate rendering of the Greek, citing grammatical rules and misquoting Greek scholars to support their belief that the Word is “godlike, divine, a god,” but not co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
Among other beliefs, they also claim that the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth was an invisible spiritual event that occurred in 1914. That is incompatible with scriptural teachings that it will be physical and visible.
In Kenya, Jehovah’s Witnesses number 28,681 out of over 8 million in 240 countries.