By Simon Kobia
It is a fine morning and worshipers at a church service in Igembe Central are preparing to make their offertory as is practice.
One by one they line up and file past the pews to the front to deposit their offering in the baskets.
Most make monetary donations but some are carrying huge bunches of miraa which they place on the table The pastor picks up the bunches of miraa and blesses them, to illustrate the church values and accepts the stimulant as a ministry tool.
These bunches are then auctioned and the highest bidder in the congregation takes ownership.
Miraa has always been part and parcel of offertory in churches in the miraa growing region.
It is not unusual for a pastor to extract a miraa twig from his coat to nibble or to espy an old woman chewing it, fully concentrated in catching every word of the sermon. James Mutwiri, a worshipper from Kangeta, says miraa is an important offertory item and it is totally accepted during church services.
“We attach great value of its role in raising money for the ministry,” said Mr Murithi.
In fact, Murithi says, miraa is regarded by the community as a ‘sacred’ crop that has sustained the spread of gospel in the area, the reason most of the churches in the area had heavily invested in farms.
The church-owned farms generate a lot of revenue to fund church operations.
At Methodist Church in Kenya (Ncunguru), they have a miraa farm and the income is used to pay ministers and other workers serving in the circuit.
The church’s elders Kobia Mwirichia and Stanly Murungi said the income had enabled them to fund various operations.
“We have seven churches in the circuit. Miraa is also an offertory item. Members of the church tithe from miraa sales,” said Mr Murungi, who has a miraa farm and chews the stimulant, which he termed as a ‘mild drug’.
Many churches and schools in the miraa-growing region of Igembe have miraa farms which sustain church operations, and which is also accepted as an offering.
They ‘disqualified’ the studies that linked the product to mental problems and sexual dysfunction, saying it actually strengthens libido.
To illustrate their argument they said the people in the miraa growing region who chew it on a daily basis work hard at their farms, and take their children to schools overflowing with children in the region.
“I am a miraa farmer. I chew it and sleep well. It is better than beer, a very mild drug,” said Mr Murungi, and rubbished claims it causes infertility.
“It actually enhances (sexual) performance,” Murungi said.
At Burieruri High School in Igembe Central Sub County, the Principal, Musyoka Moshe says the institution’s miraa farm earns it sh40, 000 to sh120, 000 fortnightly.
The money, Mr Moshe told The Mashariki News, is partly used to pay salaries and to assist students from poor families.
Moshe said the farm is a major source of income to fund activities, including paying sh720, 000 in monthly salaries.
He said teachers employed by parents are paid from the miraa account.
“We have 15 teachers employed by parents who are paid at least sh15, 000 per month. Miraa funds enable us to motivate teachers through trips and buying gifts for students who excel,” Moshe added.
Miraa, he said, had also enhanced retention and thus improved academic performance.
“There are bright students whose parents cannot afford to pay school sometimes. But because of miraa sales the students are assured of remaining in school to study with the others,” he said.
It is Igembe Central MP Cyprian Kiringo who while contributing in the National Assembly said miraa is ‘’sacred’.
“When we look for votes and travel at night we carry some (miraa) in our pockets to give us energy to keep on moving during the campaign period,” said the MP.
He said if a man is not able to pay dowry but takes miraa to the girl’s father he would be ‘given’ the girl.
Speaking to, The Mashariki News, Archbishop Peter Miriti of the Voice of the Healing Salvation Church said the bible supports the issue of offering Miraa in church At the altar and gifts to church ministers.
‘In the book of Mathew we read the story of Jesus receiving various types of gifts from his followers’ the Kimeru version of the Bible say He received Miraa’ Bishop Miriti said.
The Bishop added that for many years Miraa has been used to cultivate peace in times of misunderstanding and war.
He added that churches and the entire clergy will have an easier time in resolving differences and conflicts among their followers if they embrace Miraa as a tool of reconciling people. He said his church receives Miraa at the altar as an offering and also bless it.
Bishop Miriti is a Miraa farmer and he uses most of his time blessing Miraa farms owned by the members of his church. However, some churches still believe that Miraa is a drug and allow their followers to neither consume nor engage in Miraa business.