Right Reverend Samuel John Chege was the Secretary General of the African Christian Holy Ghost Church from 1968 to 1995 and played a decisive role in the foundation, growth and unification of the AHCC.
Samuel John Chege was born on October 4, 1927, the year the first Akurinu churches were founded. His parents, Chege Gichuhi and Monicha Gachoki, are from Koimbi village in Murang’a [then Forthall] district in Central Province, Kenya. According to the Gikuyu community naming system, as his father’s eldest son, he was named Chege after his father and Gichuhi after his paternal grandfather. He received the name John when he was baptized at the African Inland Mission in Nyahururu.
At age three Chege became crippled and could not walk for the next four years. His parents took him to the mission hospitals in the area but when no cure was found, tried a medecine man in the area, even though his mother who had recently become a Christian opposed the idea. Chege learned to walk with the medecine man’s help.
He began his primary education in 1936 at Githunguri in Kiambu, then continued at Alliance High School, graduating in 1943. Unable to attend Makerere University for lack of money, Chege went to the Kenya Teachers’ College at Githunguri and graduated with a certificate.
He became a teacher in 1945 and taught at Kwambega Primary School in Kiambu and then at Marmanent Primary School in Laikipia.
He was married to Esther Wairimu in 1946 and they had two daughters. Shortly afterwards, he left his teaching job to be a clerk for a European settler who dealt in timber in Nyakhururu. After one year, he left to start his own business locating, cutting and processing timber from a certain hardwood tree for railway construction. He transferred his business from Nyahururu to Elburgon in the Rift Valley Province in 1949 but just a year later he returned to Nyahururu and started a bar named “City Breweries Limited.”
At Nyahururu he had become a convert of the African Inland Mission. However, in 1951 he traveled to Kiambu where he heard a group of Akurinu evangelists preach. Afterwards, Chege left the African Inland Mission to join the Christian Holy Ghost Church of East Africa who re-baptized him and gave him the name Samuel. He underwent a tremendous moral transformation, sold his bar and gave the money to the poor and the church. He teamed up with the group to evangelize in Kiambu and Nyahururu [Nyandarua district].
The Akurinu churches preached a form of liberation theology, refusal of all missionary teachings and modern medical treatment as well as the necessity to be morally upright and practice certain cleanliness rituals. The government saw these teachings as subversive, causing unrest and harassed Akurinu members, sometimes jailing them. After being discovered without a passbook, Chege was arrested and jailed from 1953 to 1956, accused of spying for the freedom fighters. While imprisoned, he suffered severe beatings which later caused paralysis in his limbs and confined him to crutches after 1971.
He re-joined the group after his jail term in 1956 and was appointed a deacon in 1958.
In 1957, all organizations were required to register with the registrar of societies. For lack of a centralized church government and due to internal divisions, the Akurinu church splintered into several different groups which registered under different names. Chege belonged to the group led by Joshua Mburu which called themselves the Holy Ghost Christian Church of East Africa.
In 1963, his wife Esther Wairimu died. Instead of allowing the elders of the church to choose another wife for him under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Chege married a wife of his own choosing, Miriam Wanjiru. Together they had 11 children and 24 grandchildren. But his initiative had insulted the elders: he was considered a backslider and was forced to leave the church.
Consequently, he decided to start a more liberal branch of the Akurinu and, in 1965, he and Daniel Nduti, who had broken away from another Akurinu group, founded the African Christian Holy Ghost Church. They established their headquarters at Gichagi-ini in Muranga district. Chege became the secretary-general while Nduti became the leader of the Church. Chege was only able to register the church three years later after meeting with top government officials.
In response to the need for church buildings in most Akurinu churches, Chege formed an alliance with the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) to locate much needed funds for the buildings. Under Chege’s leadership as chairman, the alliance completed four church buildings by the early 1990s. The alliance also developed into an ecumenical cooperation between the churches, with members meeting once a month for prayer. After securing land from the government in Igwamiti township for his Silibwet church in 1971, the Silibwet African Christian Holy Ghost Church was officially opened in 1980. The church compound also included houses known as gaarus containing twenty beds for the full-time elders, members in need of housing or visitors. In 1975 Chege was appointed a bishop of the church and continued to acquire sites for church buildings and oversee many construction projects.
When tensions between the government and the Akurinu churches escalated in 1976 on issues such as school attendance for children and their lack of involvement in development projects, a series of meeting was held between the government administration and the Akurinu leaders in Nyandarua district. As Secretary General of the African Christian Holy Ghost Church, Chege negotiated with the government to allow certain Akurinu practices such as the wearing of headscarves in public and their refusal to use doctors and hospitals. The Akurinu resolved to form an association under the chairmanship of Samuel John Chege to clear all the differences among the Akurinu community and unify the churches.
In 1980 Chege was appointed Right Reverend Bishop. The same year, inspired by the example of the Nyandarua Akurinu Association, a national association, named the All Akurinu Churches Assembly, was formed with Chege as chairman. The association unified the Akurinu churches, improved their members’ living standards and encouraged them to have interest in trade and industry. Membership to the Assembly was open to all other Christian denominations.
Chege became secretary general of the Akurinu Farmers Company established in 1981 in the wake of the Assembly, to provide investments and help members purchase farms. The company was financed by the members’ contributions, fund-raising harambees and donations especially from political leaders.
Chege was appointed the chairman of the Board of Governors of Silibwet Secondary School which was started in 1985 and flourished under his two terms from 1985 to 1988 and from 1992 on.
In 1990, Chege revolutionized the concept of ministry in the Akurinu churches by underlining the importance of theological training for pastors formerly believed to be led by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of the Bible. He furthered this cause by choosing the first two candidates for ordination and finding funds for their education both from sources outside the denomination and from the Akurinu churches themselves.
Chege was taken ill on August 4th, 1995 and he passed away three weeks later. He was buried in the Silibwet African Christian Holy Ghost Church compound.
Simon Maina Githua
N. Ndungu, The Akurinu Churches: With Special Reference to Their Theology, Ph.D Thesis, University of Nairobi, 1994.
Philomena Njeri, The Akurinu Churches: A Study of the History and Some of the Basic Beliefs of the Holy Ghost Church of East Africa 1926-1980, M.A. Thesis, University of Nairobi, 1984.
J. Murray, “The Akurinu Spirit Churches” in the Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol.V, 198-235.
This story, submitted in 2000, was researched by Simon Maina Githua, a student at Kenyatta University under the supervision of Dr. Mary Getui, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and DACB Liaison Coordinator at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.