Evans Mrima remains one of the most iconic Pentecostal leaders from the 1980s era of the Newer Pentecostal Charismatic Churches (NPCCs). His charisma, innovation and pragmatic approach to Pentecostal ministry contributed to a new wave of youth focussed Pentecostal ministries.
Mrima was the last child of Nzivo Kosholo and Nimwande Nzivo born in Kilifi county Kenya on September 14, 1948. They belonged to the Chonyi community among the Mijikenda people from the coastal region. Their family home was in Mbuyuni, less than ten kilometers from Ribe where the first Methodist mission to Kenya began. This would explain his initial affiliation with the Methodist church. He eventually left the Methodist Church early after his conversion in 1968.
His formative years spanned the infamous Emergency period of the independence struggle. The coastal region where Mrima grew up did not suffer the brutality of the colonial government in the same way as Central Kenya. Nevertheless, in his early life, Mrima experienced racial prejudice and condescension. He spoke against this later in life.
Mrima’s conversion and exodus from the Methodist Church coincided with the rise of the student movement in the country. Students in high schools and colleges formed groups within a multi-ethnic setting. Mrima joined the Christian union at Kenyatta University College during his high school years. It was there he had a quiet conversion experience on his own in his room. His initial socialization into energetic Christian expressions occurred during membership at the Christian Union in Kenyatta University College (KUC). During the 1960s, as Kenya gained independence, student movements like the one at KUC rose to prominence as an important factor in the development of Christianity in the country.
Student movements were characterized by vibrant volunteerism and aggressive evangelism among young people—features which became hallmarks of Mrima’s Pentecostal ministry. After serving in several churches, he eventually settled, if only briefly, in the newly formed Deliverance Church in 1974. Joe Kayo founded Deliverance Church (DC) in Nairobi in 1970 after his abrupt exit from Uganda in the late 1960s. Kayo brought together a community of young people who coalesced around his evangelistic ministry initially under the name Young Ambassadors Christian Fellowship (YACF). The ministry attracted young people in high school and college and young adults in Nairobi. A passionate Kenyan Christian young adult like Mrima would have naturally gravitated towards such a ministry. Groups likeYACF provided an interface for young people in the cities and continuity with the charismatic experience for those in student movements.
His pastoral ministry began in the Deliverance Church in 1974. During that time the church had already secured a meeting venue in Nairobi and was meeting regularly under Kayo’s leadership. The church’s vibrant ministry took them to colleges, universities, and high schools around the country.
During his tenure at DC, Mrima married Fanny Mwakachola (1953-2021), a young nurse-in-training in 1975. Fanny came from the Taita community in the coastal highlands, south west of Kilifi where Mrima came from. The Mrimas went on to have five children, Joel, Jimmy, Joy, Joses, and Jerry. Fanny focused on raising the children, and later on joined active ministry.
Mrima was asked to leave Deliverance Church in July of 1976. His exit from Deliverance Church left him without a job. Under pressure to provide for his young family he found a job placement as the head of accounts in a department within Bamburi cement factory company. The assignment did not last because, in his words, he could not lead an accounts department if he wasn’t good at mathematics. Later in 1977, he left Bamburi to lead his church.
Gospel Outreach, Mrima’s new church, received its registration in January 1977. Mrima became the bishop of the church. Through his itinerant evangelistic ministry he gained notoriety as a passionate communicator. During this period he recruited Robert Mdzomba as his assistant. Mdzomba would frequently be seen by his side as his translator. Other young passionate leaders joined the fledgling church. They include the Joshua Mulinge who left the Salvation Army to join this new church.
Mrima cast his ministry as a vibrant, Spirit-filled alternative to historic mission churches. While he did not disparage these denominations, his view was that his Pentecostal Church had more to offer the young people within the city. He argued that Pentecostal approaches to prayer were crucial to winning the cosmic struggle that affected people’s lives in the urban context he operated in.
Historic mission church hymns did not, in his view, inspire an engaged faith. Gospel Outreach Centre hosted a vibrant music group known as the Revival Flames Band. Like many Deliverance Church pastors, Mrima was a gifted singer who could play the guitar. His wife Fanny and his young children would also participate in the singing on occasion. His musical gift combined with his eloquence at the pulpit was an attractive combination that drew many young people at the time.
The Gospel Outreach preaching style combined vivid stories from life with propositional lessons drawn from the Bible. Mrima often repeated key words during sermons or prayer to emphasize concepts for his audience. Reminiscent of Joe Kayo’s preaching style, Mrima preached from the King James version. He held the classical Pentecostal view that tongues (glossolalia) were the initial evidence of salvation. Like his contemporaries he would model glossolalia from the public during his public prayer.
The church was also known for its healing ministry. Mrima encouraged prayers for healing for those who needed it during the service and at the end of the sermons. This commitment to faith healing became the trademark feature most associated with Mrima’s ministry, which distinguished it from other Newer Pentecostal Charismatic churches.
Like other contemporary preachers, Mrima spoke in his native language (Chonyi) and was also fluent in both English and Swahili. Mrima also made use of live translation during his services and evangelistic meetings. Offering his sermons in two languages made them more accessible to those in urban centres who could only speak Kiswahili. Live translation during sermons was a common feature in urban Newer Pentecostal Charismatic Churches. In the late 1990s and early 2000s live translation gave way to the presentation of separate services in English and Kiswahili.
The existing technology of the day featured prominently in Mrima’s passionate evangelistic campaigns. His messages were recorded on cassette tapes for distribution among the members and beyond. Mrima also gained access to radio broadcasting regularly on Kenya’s only station, the Voice of Kenya (VoK). This broadened his reach to the entire country before the liberalization of the airwaves in 1990.
The sermons featured a concrete approach often associated with NPCCs. He infused his sermons with stories about the challenges of living an urban life. Narratives about struggles within relationships formed the context in which much needed encouragement was drawn from scripture. Conflict among people was cast as part of the cosmic battle which Christians needed to confront. He explained that conflict in his own life and ministry was part of what God wanted him to experience in order to come out victorious.
Gospel Outreach was one of the early pioneers of the idea of adopting places of entertainment for churches. He rented Shan Cinema as the base for his ministry. Shan Cinema was in Ngara, an area zoned in the colonial period for Asians from the Indian subcontinent. The cinema originally served people in the Ngara area. Mrima repurposed the hall for services on Sundays. He held two services on Sunday mornings when the cinema was not in use. Mrima so prioritized evangelism that after the morning services he dispatched the congregation to do outreach. His members would go to hospitals and prisons to preach. In addition to these places, Mrima conducted his prolific outreach meetings in any place where people gathered. These included Eastleigh market, Mathare, Juja Road, Kariobangi, and Kamukunji grounds.
On Sunday afternoons he held gatherings for young people at Shan Cinema. He famously invited a young dancer who had converted to perform a routine while the band played. The mixing of “secular” popular dancing with gospel music was unheard of at the time and this invitation caused a stir among other churches, both historic mission and Pentecostal churches. Mrima’s outreach innovation along with his charismatic preaching bore fruit among the hundreds who attended the services at Shan Cinema.
Mrima was cautious about the intellectualism he saw in the society and the historic mission churches. Together with his peers he valued the personal call to ministry over theological training. His ministry influences came from diverse sources, largely outside academic theological training. These eclectic influences came from Joe Kayo, some televangelists of the day, and assorted works of literature. He brought these together with his sharp intellect, expressive style and pragmatic approach to outreach to create a highly effective ministry.
Although somewhat anti-intellectual, Mrima recognized the value of theological training to enhance outreach effectiveness. He enrolled in Bethel College in California in 1988 to pursue theological training. With characteristic pragmatism, he reasoned that it would help improve his outreach initiatives on the continent. In the short time he was there he challenged Bethel’s training material, suggesting that it was outdated for the needs of his day.
African agency was important to him. He emphasized independence of African churches from Western funding, especially for ministry. He taught that Africa had everything it needed to be self reliant. Mrima held a high view of the African continent and what Africans could achieve. “Africa is blessed,” he said. He advocated for self-reliance for African economies, and even more so for African Christian evangelistic ministries. In the last conference he addressed, he taught that Africa could sustain itself and run its own Christian missions independent of the Global North.
Mrima died tragically in a road accident on September 5, 1989. Controversy surrounded the grief-stricken members of his church. At the time of his death he was referred to as the bishop of Gospel Outreach. The local news reported that various members of the congregation kept a three-day vigil to pray for his resurrection.
A lack of clarity regarding his succession saw key members of the church establish new communities with loose affiliations to Mrima’s church. Stephen Macharia took up leadership of Gospel Outreach. In 1991, Robert Mdzomba founded the Gospel Revival Centre. Joshua Mulinge formed God’s House of Miracles International Church. Mrima’s son Joel became a pastor at Gospel Outreach World evangelism where Fanny Mrima was a bishop.
Despite the fractious aftermath of his ministry, Mrima left a lasting impression among leaders in Nairobi. These include Kinoga of Bible Way Restoration Ministries, Allan Kiuna of Jubilee Christian Centre, and Teresia Wairimu of Faith Evangelistic Ministries. Mrima’s charismatic preaching had few parallels in his day. His use of cassettes and radio to attract young people gave him a wide reach. The peak of his ministry just before his death coincided with a season of televangelist crusades in Kenya. Mrima’s outreach focus on young people along with the crusades served as catalysts to evangelism-oriented ministries that eventually morphed into churches in the late 1990s. These churches continued to focus their outreach on young people in the 2010s.
- Nthamburi, “A History of the Methodist Church in Kenya: 1862-1967,” 45–73, 255.
- Bishop Evans Mrima’s Teachings: The Mountain of Sacrifice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vKViRzoVEc
- The Emergency period refers generally to the decade before Kenya’s independence, 1950 to 1960 when freedom fighters in the Mt Kenya area mounted an armed resistance to the colonial government. The term derives from the state of Emergency declared between 1952 and 1957 when movement was restricted and the colonial government used force to clamp down on African freedom fighters. See Mugambi, A Spirit of Revitalization, 45 ,57.
- Daniel Mutungi, interview.
- Mrima, interview.
- See Karanu, “Fellowship of Christian Unions: University Based Revitalization in Kenya”; Mugambi, A Spirit of Revitalization, 72–87.
- The Mountain of Sacrifice; Mrima, interview.
- Kayo, “Fathers Day Sermon”; Manana, “Joseph Kayo, Kenya, Deliverance Church.”
- See Mugambi, A Spirit of Revitalization, 98.
- Gichinga, interview.
- Masinde, interview; Gichinga, interview.
- Married in 1975 Fanny Gibson Koronge Mwakachola (1953 – 2021).
- The Mountain of Sacrifice.
- The Mountain of Sacrifice.
- The Mountain of Sacrifice.
- Mrima, interview.
- As a student of Kayo, Mrima’s strategy to integrate a band in evangelism is similar to Deliverance Church’s Deliverance Explosion band. See Mugambi, A Spirit of Revitalization, 100.
- This is known today as Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).
- Mrima, interview.
- Mrima, interview.
- Africa, Arise and Occupy.
- The televangelists included Reinhard Bonnke, Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo, Joyce Meyer, Cecil Stewart, Emmanuel Eni, and Simon Iheanacho. See Mwaura, “The Role of Charismatic Christianity in Reshaping the Religious Scene in Africa: The Case of Kenya.”
- These include Jesus is Alive Ministries, Maximum Miracle Centre (also known as Kuna Nuru Gizani), Faith Evangelistic Ministries.
This biography, received in 2022, was written by Dr. Kyama Mugambi, assistant professor of World Christianity at the Yale Divinity School. He researches ecclesial, social, cultural, theological, and epistemological themes within African urban Christianity. He is on the International Editorial Board of the DACB.