An Australian religious organization is battling allegations of being connected to the leader of a doomsday cult responsible for a mass starvation event in Kenya.

A parliamentary committee report in Kenya has revealed that a Christian cult, which caused the deaths of over 400 individuals due to lack of food and physical abuse, was influenced by an Australian religious organization.

The investigation into the Shakahola tragedy, presented to the Kenyan Senate on October 19th, determined that the alleged leader of the organization, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, was influenced by Australian couple Dave and Sherry Mackay. The Mackays are known for founding a cult called the Voice in the Desert.

According to the report, the impact was primarily made through online connections and social media. It was also noted that a person associated 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: “We are saddened by the recent tragedy that occurred at a church in Kenya, which we were affiliated with. It has been reported that over 100 members of the church have died from starvation.” The post included a link to an article that has since been taken down from the group’s website.

Dave McKay firmly denied the conclusion of the report, stating that neither he nor his spouse had ever communicated with Mackenzie. He also denied that his group’s connections had any connection to the tragic event.

“I had knowledge of him based on articles I read in the Kenyan media, and I also received information second and third-hand from a member who attended his meeting in Kenya in 2019,” McKay explained to the Guardian. “That was the extent of our connections. We had no communication with anyone from Mackenzie’s group until the news of the massacre in April of this year.”

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Based on the report from the Kenyan Senate committee, which can be found on the parliamentary website, a colleague of McKay gave a speech in 2019 that expressed opposition towards the government, specifically regarding a national identification program known as Huduma Namba (also known as Huduma Number), referring 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 following accusations of discouraging individuals from registering for the Huduma number in Malindi. Dave McKay posted multiple comments in response, expressing disappointment that Mackenzie had not been exonerated in the matter. In one of the comments, McKay shared a link to a now-deleted YouTube video titled “Kenyan government targets pastor over huduma 666 claim”.

The next day, an individual associated with McKay (whose name he did not disclose) spoke at Mackenzie’s Good News International church in Makongeni, located outside of Nairobi. A recording of the event was shared on YouTube. The speaker gave a sermon and discussed the alleged ties between the rise of a cashless society, 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 from YouTube videos about brother Mackenzie’s experience in Malindi while preaching about the Huduma card.

“My siblings from various parts of the globe also share the belief that the Huduma card is bringing us closer to the concept of the mark of the beast.”

After the sermon, the speaker invited anyone who was interested to check out A Voice in the Desert’s YouTube channel. Following this, a video from the channel was shown. In the video, the narrator discussed how the Huduma card in Kenya is seen as the closest representation of the mark of the beast that any government has achieved thus far.

According to the book of Revelation, the mark of the beast is described as a symbol that will be used to brand a false prophet associated with the antichrist. Some groups that focus on the End Times, like A Voice in the Desert, believe that advancements in technology, such as RFID chips, will be utilized by followers of the antichrist as the end of the world draws near.

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

He stated that our interest in Mackenzie was solely focused on the Huduma Namba and how it relates to the mark of the beast.

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

McKay stated that he had not been reached out to by Senate investigators and was surprised by the mention of him and his spouse in the committee’s report.

After the report was released, A Voice in the Desert uploaded a video on YouTube refuting the committee’s accusations and citing supposed factual errors in Kenyan news articles as the foundation for the claims in the report. It explicitly rejected the label of being a cult.

The forest was filled with terror.

The initial revelation of tragedy within the Good News International Church was in March, but the true extent of the horror was revealed slowly over the following months.

In May, the Kenyan Senate formed a committee with the task of investigating the increasing number of deaths in the distant forest in the southeastern region of the nation.

The findings of the report stated that Mackenzie used agents in various areas of Kenya to attract vulnerable individuals to join his church. These agents employed deceitful tactics to recruit followers, which were amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were already experiencing uncertainty and anxiety.

The report discovered that as of October 13th, 428 bodies had been unearthed from the forest. In addition, over 600 individuals were reported missing to local authorities earlier in the year.

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A mass grave in the Shakahola forest

The report discovered that followers were told to give up their material possessions and relocate to the Shakahola forest. This resulted in them severing ties with their family members, leaving them vulnerable and without support.

Upon arrival, Mackenzie instructed his followers to fast in preparation for the end of the world and their meeting with Jesus.

According to the report, individuals who did not follow his directions were put through simulated trials. It was discovered that an armed group was used to enforce these orders, with Mackenzie utilizing violence to uphold his belief in starvation as a means of dying. This resulted in attacks and deaths of those who decided against starving themselves.

The report revealed that children experienced a “painful and slow death due to starvation,” and that lactating mothers were prohibited from breastfeeding their babies.

In March, Mackenzie was taken into custody for his alleged involvement in the death of two children who died from a combination of starvation and suffocation. Despite being released on bail, the report revealed that upon returning to the forest, Mackenzie continued to enforce strict orders of starvation.

He was arrested again in April and is still in jail as investigations continue. However, he has not been charged for any deaths in the forest.

There has been a lengthy history of debate.

A group called A Voice in the Desert, previously known as the Jesus Christians, has always sought out media coverage through various stunts such as burning money, walking through sewers in India, and conducting whipping trials for their members.

Established in 1981 by the McKays, who are both Americans but now living in Australia, this organization promotes the idea of undergoing extreme challenges and committing to a life of poverty for its followers. It has created branches in various countries such as Australia, the UK, the US, Mexico, and Kenya.

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

The McKays advocate for the belief that there is a hidden group actively trying to impose the mark of the beast on society, and stress the importance of salvation as Jesus’ return is imminent.

This group differs from other End Times groups in their belief in celibacy and staying unmarried. Marriage is seen as a last option for those who want to engage in sexual activity. Instead of pursuing wealth, members are urged to give up their possessions and rely on free food sources. The group also shares limited funds and assets for the collective use of its members.

The McKays became well-known after being featured in a 1985 ABC documentary about a community of Jesus-following individuals, including minors, who embarked on a journey across the Nullarbor desert without any supplies. In 2003, journalist Jon Ronson released a documentary titled “Kidneys for Jesus” which explored the group’s custom of giving their kidneys to strangers.

In 2005, members of the Jesus Christians group alleged that they had provided bail money and a bribe in order to secure the release of Roland Gianstefani, an Australian member who had been arrested in Kenya on charges of abduction.

In 2000, a court in Britain sentenced Gianstefani and his wife, Susan, to six months in jail, which was suspended, because they refused to disclose the location of Bobby Kelly, a teenager who had left home to join the Jesus Christians.

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

The report presented to the Kenyan Senate suggested that officials should look into the possibility of removing any non-citizens who promote the beliefs of A Voice in the Desert and Jesus Christians from Kenya, and also prohibit them from entering the country again in the future.

Senator Mungatana Danson Buya, who led 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 acknowledged reports about deaths linked to the Good News International church. However, they have not been contacted by Kenyan authorities regarding this issue.