Owiti, Silas Javan Aggrey

c.1924-2018
Voice of Salvation and Healing Church
Kenya

Family Background

Silas hailed from Kano plains of Kochogo in Kano location, in the western part of Kenya. His father was Jowi Oiko and his mother was Mariam Dede Jowi, from Kodumo in Kabondo, near Kadongo Market in southern Nyanza. Silas was Miriam’s third born. His parents lived in a small village called Apondo situated on the southeastern side of Kisumu town and on the eastern side of the Lake Victoria. Jowi was wealthy and honored by ancient standards of living. He was a polygamous elder among his people, and was married to five wives. Owiti was Silas’ ancestral name and Javan Aggrey Silas were baptismal names that he received in the church during his dedication. Though the exact date of his birth is not clear even to him, most of his documents suggest that he was born in the 1920s. [1]

Education

During his school days, most of the schools were maintained and run by missionaries. To join one of these denominational schools, one had to be a member of that denomination or possess a Christian name. Children were required to learn Scriptural messages and catechisms in order to gain a pass for baptism.

Silas joined an African Inland Mission (A.I.M) School called Kagimba Elementary School in their home area where he learned basic arithmetic and reading. His brilliance and intelligence convinced his teachers to recommend him for further education thus earning himself a place at Onjiko Primary School where he performed very well in his final examination. This gained him admission at the Maseno School, a prestigious institution in the 1930s that was managed and maintained by the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S). Although he was a member of the African Inland Church due to its dominance in their area, Silas had to change to Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) to enable him to gain easy entrance to Maseno School. At Maseno School, Silas joined the baptism class and was later baptized by the late Archbishop Festo Olang’, the Anglican bishop of Maseno Diocese.

Employment

Silas got his first job with the Maize Control and Produce Board in the town of Kisumu as a clerical officer. He was posted to Butere in Kakamega District. Because of his good work, he was later transferred to Bungoma after being promoted to Depot Manager. After about three years, he was again transferred to Kisumu. In 1952, he terminated his services with the Maize and Produce Board of his own volition. [2]

Marriage and Family Life

Silas was married in an African customary way in January 1953 to Phenny. Their first baby was a girl named Edith Akinyi after the nurse who helped during the delivery. Edith is married to Steven Oduor of Gem, Sawagongo. Besides Edith, God gave Silas four other children. Three of these were promoted to glory while they were still young. The last-born, Eva Atieno Owiti, is married to Mahulo of Samia and God has blessed them with six children. The Owitis also adopted a grandson, Bob Derrick Omondi Owiti.

In 1984, Silas and his wife Phenny were involved in a tragic road accident near Naivasha on their way from Nairobi. Unfortunately, Phenny Resley Owiti passed away in the accident and was laid to rest on December 31. In God’s mysterious way, Silas later met another young lady who was a student of agriculture at Bukura Agricultural Institute (1983-1985). Silas married his second wife Winnie Julia in the late 1980s. They were blessed with one son whom they named Tommy Lee Osborn.

Conversion and New Life in Christ

Silas received salvation miraculously. It was his first wife Phenny who wanted to be saved first but Silas, was reluctant since he did not understand what salvation was all about. One day, as Phenny was coming back from the ante-natal clinic for their first born, she met some people preaching the gospel of salvation in a market place. She listened to them and longed to give her life to the Lord. However, because of the attitude Silas had, she had to go home to ask for his permission. Silas only gave her one condition; for her to be saved they had to get a divorce. [3]

One evening, in their house, Silas heard some people praying in English in the neighborhood. This was from the home of his cousin, ex-chief Washingtone Owiti Omori. Omori had not gone to school hence could not speak English well. Therefore, Silas and his wife argued over this, doubting that it was his cousin praying in English. The following day, as Silas was heading to his work place on a bicycle, he passed by his cousin’s place to inquire which guest they had the previous night who was praying in English. His cousin told him that they had not had any visitors. He and his family had been having evening prayers and were praying in the Holy Spirit. It turns out that, by this time, Silas’ cousin had been saved and belonged to the Kutendereza movement (East African Revival). Silas inquired if they could have another prayer so that he could join them just to confirm that indeed Omori was able to pray in fluent English. However, Omori told Silas that because it was the Holy Spirit who directed their tongues in prayer, he could not promise him that it would happen again. But Silas insisted that, even at another prayer session, the Holy Spirit would be present. They agreed that he would join them the following evening.

Full of curiosity, Silas attended their prayer meeting. When the prayer session started, miraculously, this time it was the wife of Omori who was singing a hymn in English. It was number 259 in The Golden Bells Song Book [4]:

Lord I hear of showers of blessings Thou art scattering full and free; Showers the thirsty land refreshing; Let some drops now fall on me, even me, even me, let some drops now fall on me.

The sweetness of this illiterate Luo woman singing this beautiful English hymn broke down every barrier in Silas’ heart. God is surely in their midst, Silas thought as tears ran down his cheeks. Silas was incredulous because the hymn the woman was singing was exactly the one they used to sing when he was a student at Maseno School. The miraculous part of this was the fact that the woman was more illiterate than her husband. Silas was dumbfounded and saw that there was something in this salvation. He was invited to attend their Sunday service.

At the Sunday service Silas made a dramatic turn in his life. During the sermon, he began to cry. To him, the tears seemed like a big crowd going forward to be prayed for. He did want to be left behind, so he went forward to be prayed for in order to be saved. As he looked up, he saw a flash of light. Then he saw Jesus on the cross, and the blood was streaming from His side and dripping on Silas’s head. It seemed cold, penetrating to the core of his being, and as it did so, it cleansed every sin and then vaporized. He tried to confess his sins, but fell to the ground weeping heavily. When he got up, Phenny had joined him. They both accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior that day. This took place at the home of Edward Osako in Apondo. Later he learned about the Holy Spirit and was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The Call into Ministry

After his conversion, Silas said, “Everywhere, I saw an opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On many occasions, I went out of my house at night and preached. Those within the reach of the sound of my voice heard it. I preached to relatives, friends and even to the enemies, as well as to my superiors at work. Both my parents accepted Christ.”

The call to step out into full time evangelistic ministry came to Silas when he was already busy winning souls to Christ. Therefore, his call was not so much the beginning of a new ministry as such, but rather the continuation of a ministry that had already begun. Silas’ passion for souls and love for Christ was such that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to perform both his clerical office duties properly as he desired and, at the same time, satisfy the urge to proclaim the Good News of the Savior of the world.

One time, Silas decided to pray and fast. At three o’clock, God gave him a vision in which he was preaching to a large crowd of people completely unknown to him. A more clear confirmation that God had a plan for Silas came during an evangelistic meeting conducted by Joseph Ochieng’ (Ja Muma) who was an anointed servant of God with a gift of prophecy and the gift of the word of knowledge. In 1956, he stood up in one meeting and gave a prophetic utterance about the life of Silas. He said God was calling Silas to serve Him and that He would take Silas to many places around the world and cause him to mediate between their church and the government. He prophesied that God would take Silas before great leaders of the world and that He would make him to be one of his blessed people around the world. [5]

Obstacles to the Call

Though the call was very clear to Silas, it was not easy for him to step out into the ministry and to leave his well-remunerated job. This was even more difficult as he was not affiliated with any established church denomination. Despite all these circumstances, Silas still felt God was calling him to take a step of faith. He had to face difficult questions such as where would he live and how he would provide for his family.

Silas did not go to Bible school or theological seminary to prepare for the ministry. Instead, he attended short courses offered by visiting evangelists like T. L. Osborn, Oral Roberts, Morris Cerullo, Mattson Boze, John Vick, Charles Weston, and others who also influenced him in his faith. Before and after their crusades, these evangelists conducted courses for rising African evangelists.

To Silas, the most important training came as he lived a life of faith entirely dependent upon God for his needs. He called it “the school of hard knocks.” He came to realize later that nearly all the powerful servants of God went through that school in one way or another. Silas did not have any sponsor when he stepped out in faith to serve God. Living by faith to him meant exactly that. [6]

It is probably this style of rugged faith that made Silas’ ministry stand out from other ministries in Kenya and other parts of the world. His ministry called for a closer walk with God and close communion with Him. Silas admitted that from the time he had met the Lord, it had always been his desire to preach and live the New Testament faith to its fullest extent.

Missionary Journeys

In his ministry, Silas presented the unchangeable gospel of Christ in a changing world. He planted many Voice of Salvation and Healing Churches (VOSHC), and facilitated many conferences and seminars. He led numerous local missions in various parts of the country. He preached in many learning institutions from high schools to colleges and universities in Kenya and overseas. Moreover, Silas led many overseas missions in Finland, Norway, England, Scotland, and the United States of America where many people gave their lives to the Lord. Many experienced miracles.

In addition to the apostolic ministry, through the grace of God, Silas also possessed the spiritual gift of performing miracles. Just like the apostles in the early Church, God used Silas mightily in praying for eight dead individuals who came back to life. Innumerable people were healed from all kinds of ailments and physical disabilities. Those whom the Lord brought to life through Silas included: the lady at Nyamware, Risper Ajwang’ Agango; the lady at Nyamonye in Bondo, the boy from Siaya District, a boy raised to life in Nakuru, Silas’ own father, John Okech Oriawo, and Silas’ own daughter Eddith who is still alive. [7]

Owiti went to be with the Lord on January 14, 2018 at the Agha Khan Hospital in the western city of Kisumu, Kenya.

The Origins of Voice of Salvation and Healing Church (VOSHC)

The origins of VOSHC can be traced back to revival movements. In East Africa, the revival that greatly influenced Christianity was known as the East African Revival, commonly referred to as the Kutendereza Movement. The movement is also described as Ruandism since it started in Rwanda (known as the Ruanda-Urundi territory from 1916-1961).

The Christianity that came to sub Saharan Africa was very fragmented and this divisiveness influenced African society as a result. Africa adherents of one denomination mistrusted and were alienated from fellow Africans who were followers of other denominations. In addition, this Christianity tended to be too intellectual mainly because of the way Africans were being Christianized. [8] The majority lacked any real commitment to Christianity and its values because they were Christians only by name. The Christianity presented to Africans was so clothed in Western cultural garb that it was hardly recognizable. The result was a marked dryness and lethargy in the church at this time. The church seemed to be asleep for lack of zeal. There was a need for revival!

Revival Reaches Kenya

By the time of the Rwanda revival (Gahini 1929), the missionary church was well established in Kenya. Though its administration was good, the Kenyan church lacked spiritual zeal and fervor. Thus the dryness of the missionary version of Christianity could also be felt in Kenya and a certain restlessness began to develop among Kenya-African converts. In 1937 and the following year, when Rwandan revivalists visited Kenya they found the stage already set for the revival. [9]

In their preaching, the revivalists from Rwanda put great emphasis on sin and all its various manifestations as stipulated in Galatians 5:22. Sinful behavior was exposed and castigated. The confession of sin was often combined with restitution. [10] The revivalists did not bring with them any normal ecclesiastical structures. There were no officials, no executives, no salaried workers, no headquarters, no bureaucracy, no paperwork, no budgets, no membership lists and no annual subscription fees. The fellowship was informal, unstructured. and spontaneous. [11]

However, the revival was not unanimously accepted. In some cases, the mainstream church regarded it as a disruptive movement. Its members came to be known for their dedication and vehemence—particularly, for their refusal to acknowledge the established churches as the only vehicle through which one could be saved. They often appeared to be overzealous—even mentally unstable at times—as they went round denouncing sinners from treetops, housetops, and market places.

By 1914, the Bible in Kiswahili language had been completed. By 1926, the Kikuyu and Luo New Testament had been published. This had a significant effect on the direction Christianity was to take in Kenya. The mainstream churches became uncomfortable with the revivalists.

The Birth of a New Church is Imminent

Many revivalists were sent away from their mainstream churches. However, they were still zealous. Nevertheless, some aspects of Christianity were not real to them. The Rwanda revival group believed in salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, but not in the divine healing of the sick and infilling by the Holy Ghost. They believed divine healing had ceased with Jesus and speaking in tongues had ceased after the apostles in the early church were filled with the Holy Spirit. [12]

Nicholas Bhengu in Kenya

The major turning point came in the early 1950s when a visiting missionary, Nicholas Bekinkosi Bhengu (1909-1985) from Zululand (South Africa), came to Kenya. Around 1952, Bhengu was invited by the church that is currently known as Pentecostal Assemblies of God (P.A.G) stationed in Nyang’ori. Evangelistic crusades and revival meetings were organized for him. In the Luo Nyanza region, he held a crusade in Awasi town in the present day Nyando District, Kisumu County. [13]

Bhengu’s message contradicted the teachings and beliefs of the revivalists who believed in salvation but did not believe that a person could be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Remarkably, some of the revivalists who attended his meetings embraced his teachings. [14]

Excommunication from the Mainstream Churches

After returning to their respective home churches, those who had attended the crusade by Bhengu spread the message they had heard. This did not go well with the leaders of the mainline churches who excommunicated them. From that point on, because they did not have a church they could identify with, they took turns holding prayers in their homes and had weekly fellowships. [15]

Up to this time, the group also did not have any organizational structure nor any form of leadership. The members of the group argued that leadership positions and titles would derail their spirituality, which was most important.

Under Police Surveillance

By the early 1950s, the Mau Mau fighters for political independence in Kenya were brushing shoulders with the British colonial government for control of Kenya, especially the central region. The police, under the colonial government suspected that the meetings of this independent Christian group were just a front for back door Mau Mau activities. They were considered suspect because they could pray and fast for as long as a month in the forests and then come together behind closed door for overnight prayers. In many instances, they were reported for making noise in the surrounding areas due to the way they preached and prayed using traditional megaphones. [16]

The Idea of Registration

The C.I.D. (Directorate of Criminal Investigation) could be sent to their meetings whenever they gathered. One day, an agent made this report to the police commissioner: “This is the best group of Christians I have ever met. They have only two faults: They sing their choruses over and over again, and they pray too loud and cry like babies.” The conclusion of the report was: “They need to have this group officially registered as a church with the government. Then they will no longer be under suspicion and this will bring to a close frequent arrests and harassment based on rumors.”

When the suggestion of registration was floated to the group, it was not easy to embrace. [17] They argued that there was no scriptural record that the apostles in the Early Church were registered. For the registration, it also meant that they had to have proper and functional leadership. But they believed that any form of leadership would take away the anointing of God. However, after a long deliberation, they agreed to have the group registered. The District Commissioner of Kisumu District invited their perceived leaders to his office and explained to them how to go about the registration.

As a result, a meeting was held on May 16, 1956 and application for registration was made. Silas Owiti was given the mandate to draft the by-laws necessary for the registration. The group was thus registered as one of the first few indigenous Pentecostal church movements by the British colonial government in Kenya under the name “Voice of the World Wide Salvation & Healing Revival.” [18] However, the name has gone through several transformations. In 1964, a new name was decided: the Voice of Salvation and Healing Church (VOSHC) with Silas Owiti as the overall leader of the church.

Wilson Okonjo Adongo


End Notes:

  1. Eve Owiti, interview by author (8/8/2010). She is the last daughter of Silas Owiti from his first wife.
  2. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011). The author visited and did personal interview with him at his home in Ahero.
  3. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  4. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  5. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  6. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  7. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  8. Hinga T. M. (1980). “An African Understanding of Salvation.” M.A Thesis, Nairobi, Kenya: Nairobi University.
  9. Hinga T. M. (1980).
  10. Hinga T. M. (1980).
  11. Barrett, D. B. (1968) Schism and renewal in Africa: an analysis of six thousand contemporary religious movements. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.
  12. Angura Vitalis, interview by author (3/7/2010). He was the first treasurer of VOSHC and one of the pioneers. The author visited him in person and interviewed him at his home in Muhoroni Scheme.
  13. Angura Vitalis, interview by author (3/7/2010).
  14. Angura Vitalis, interview by author (3/7/2010).
  15. Angura Vitalis, interview by author (3/7/2010).
  16. Angura Vitalis, interview by author (3/7/2010).
  17. Silas Owiti, interview by author (4/1/2011).
  18. Allen Ojwang’ Iro, interview by author (14/7/2010). He was one of the pioneers. The author paid him a visit at his home in Rae-Nyakach and interviewed him.

This article, received in 2018, was written by Rev. Wilson Okonjo Adongo, a Ph.D candidate in Religious Studies in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.