Five years after the brutal death of her first husband, Kenyan Damaris Kioko remarried in Mombasa today (29 July).
Jackson Kioko was killed in May 2012 in the Jomvu area of Mombasa, only a week after their wedding in coastal Kenya. “We had a very colourful wedding. People said that they had never seen such a great wedding,” Damaris recalls.
The newlyweds spent three days honeymooning in the coastal town of Malindi, then returned to Mombasa.
But then, just a week after the wedding, Jackson’s first day back at work, Damaris’ husband left the house never to return.
Jackson, assistant pastor of Melchizedek Church in Mombasa, with Benjamin Juma, pastor of Nyali Baptist Church, started planning an evangelistic event. When Jackson did not come home on the evening of 7 May, Damaris tried to phone him but couldn’t get through.
“I could not sleep,” she said. “I was wondering what happened. Around 10pm, four of five people from our church came to our house. Gladys Juma, Ben’s wife, told me she had received a call from a stranger who said that while our husbands were trying to evangelise, people had started beating them. She told me they had been taken to hospital.”
Pieces of clothes
The next morning she was told that Jackson had died. An angry mob had lured the two men into a trap, then killed them and set their bodies on fire. “I heard that their bodies were so burned that you could not even tell them apart. The pieces of clothes helped to identify them. I had no strength to go to the mortuary. I was very helpless, I could not even stand,” Damaris said.
“Our gifts are still intact and we have not even received the photos which we took during our wedding,” she said in an interview with national newspaper the Daily Nation shortly after Jackson’s murder.
In the same interview, she called for a thorough investigation into the murders, saying: “I have so many questions since I was not informed about the death of my husband on time. It is only today, more than 24 hours after his death, that a senior church member informed me.”
Police in Mombasa questioned five people in connection with the lynching of the two pastors and “launched a manhunt for a witchdoctor in the area who was said to have invited the two clergymen for prayers at his home”, All Africa reported at the time.
According to the Daily Nation, “the two were lynched when they went to a home of Mr Mutana Nyandua, a Muslim said to have recently converted to Christianity. But Mrs Mapenzi Abdalla, a relative of Mr Nyandua, denied this, saying all family members were Muslims and none had converted”.
Other conflicting reports surfaced in the weeks after, one saying that the mob who burned the two pastors to death claimed that they were thieves; another that “initially police claimed they were criminals, but later said it was a case of mistaken identity after establishing that they were meeting church members in the area”.
“After we had buried Jackson in his home town and I returned to Mombasa, I spent many, very many, sleepless nights,” Damaris recalls. “I was alone and I couldn’t run from reality. Never before had I faced such a difficult situation. I could do nothing. I could not even pray. I just existed.
“I felt God had forsaken me. ‘How could God allow this to happen to me?’, I thought. ‘I’ve been in the church for all this time. Why can God allow this to happen to me’?”
“Thankfully, one friend reminded me that as a Christian I don’t have to mourn like somebody who has no hope. That’s when I remembered I’m a child of God and that He says He has great things for me and great thoughts about my life and that everything works together for good. That’s when I started gaining strength again”.
Eventually, as time moved on and friends moved away, Damaris started to feel isolated. “You go through a time when you feel everybody has rejected you. You feel that the whole world is against you,” she said.
Through an initiative of the charity Open Doors, Damaris started receiving many letters from people from all over the world: “They came from Germany, Norway, Canada, India… I realised there were people who were concerned about me,” she said.
Damaris applied for a job at another church and got it. She says she is grateful for “new beginnings” on many different fronts – not least with the fact that, after having to postpone her second wedding in 2014 due to financial constraints, she and her fiancée Steve can now finally marry.
Now, when Damaris looks at pictures of Jackson, she says “the pain is not as intense as it used to be”.
“I still have the memory that comes afresh, but it’s not as painful,” she says. “There is no doubt in my mind that Jackson is with the Lord and I’m very sure that we shall meet again.”
She has continued as a musician and singer, something in which Jackson had always encouraged her. And having had the experience of being encouraged by people, she has released her second CD.
The title, Kwango Kingine (New Level), sums up how she has come through years of grieving. “It has been a hard time, but God strengthened me and gave me friends who prayed for and encouraged me from all over the world. My faith is now stronger and greater than it was,” she says.
With them, Damaris is hoping to encourage others. “I want to encourage people who are going through fire, to stand firm and serve God, and He will help them to heal others,” she says.