A Longreads Member Exclusive: 
The Miracle Man

Our latest Exclusive comes from Andrew Rice, a contributing editor to New York magazine whose work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Bloomberg Businessweek. He's been featured on Longreads many times in the past, and we're excited to feature "The Miracle Man," a story that Andrew explains below: 

"In 2002, I quit a staff job at the New York Observer and moved to Africa, a continent I had never visited before, spending two years in Uganda as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. The ICWA fellowship is like no other grant program I know of: specifically intended for young journalists, academics and other inquisitive types, it covers all your living expenses, and all it asks for in return is a monthly newsletter, on any subject. The institute encourages its fellows to roam, following their curiosity toward subjects that are often missed by harried correspondents on deadline. During my stint, I wrote about newfound democracy on radio talk shows, a brawling soccer match between Uganda and its real-life archenemy, Rwanda, and a local neighborhood dispute over the opening of a funeral home, which revealed traditional African beliefs about the afterlife. I also wrote a series of newsletters about a cold-case murder trial and the legacy of Idi Amin, which became the basis of my book, The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget.

"This piece, 'The Miracle Man,' is one my all-time favorite articles. On one level, it's a small tale of scandal--the sort of colorful story that you only pick up on if you actually live in a place, and one you'd have a hard time selling to a New York editor. But I think it speaks volumes about an enormous transformation of African society: the rise of a new brand of evangelical Christianity, which doesn't always conform to American expectations."

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The Miracle ManBy Andrew Rice | Institute of Current World Affairs | May 2003 | 39 minutes (9,750 words)

Illustration by Sarah Merlin

Pastor Simeon Kayiwa often saw angels. They brought him messages from God, he said—sometimes good news, sometimes bad. A relative would die if he didn't forsake wickedness. The relative didn't listen, and was mysteriously shot dead. Lightning would strike a woman from his congregation if she didn't pray. She prayed, and on the fourth day came a bolt from the blue. It missed.
"My relationship with God," Kayiwa liked to say, "is due to the fact that I actually met Jesus." Kayiwa claimed that in 1977, the son of God appeared to him in a waking vision and told him he was a chosen man. That he would be a miracle worker. Since then, Kayiwa had always taken it for granted that God was looking out for him.
So when, in 1994, an angel came to him in a dream, saying he would soon receive a white envelope in the mail, the minister listened closely to God's instructions.
"Do not reject what's in that envelope," the angel said.
Sure enough, a letter arrived three days later via Federal Express. It was from someone named Rochelle Gibler. An American businesswoman in her thirties and a devout Catholic, Gibler had traveled the world, investigating reports of the miraculous. Someone had told her that Kayiwa was using the power of God to cure people of AIDS. Could he prove it, she asked?
Kayiwa called Gibler up. Come to Uganda and see for yourself, he said.
Gibler came. She talked to people who said their HIV test results had gone from positive to negative after praying with Kayiwa. She interviewed doctors who confirmed their stories. She met Kayiwa, and came away convinced that he was indeed "the genuine article," as she would later write in her book The Power of Miracles.
"I have made a judgment call," she concluded. "Simeon Kayiwa does not lie."
When he met Gibler, Kayiwa was already a prominent man within Uganda. At 38, he was one of the progenitors of his country's Great Awakening, perhaps the most important single social movement to arise in Uganda during the past 20 years. His Namirembe Christian Fellowship was born in the dying days of President Idi Amin's regime. Kayiwa liked to tell visitors like Gibler that when he was starting out, preaching in his living room, he had just 12 followers—a number with scriptural overtones. Now he led a congregation of thousands. Many of his original apostles became pastors themselves, starting their own churches all over the country. Kayiwa claimed that over 2,000 churches are affiliated to his own in this way, and estimated that he was responsible for saving two million souls. He was the chairman of the National Fellowship of Born Again Churches, a powerful interest group.
Then Rochelle Gibler entered his life, and offered him entrée into an entirely different world—one of money, fame and encounters with movie stars. (Or at least Steven Seagal.) She took him on trips to London, where he gave interviews to the BBC and the Daily Mail. She gave him money to expand his church, and improve his lifestyle. She introduced him to affluent friends in the United States, who showered him with even more gifts and cash.
"He was my closest friend," Gibler now says.
At the time, it seemed to Kayiwa that God had blessed him once again, by bringing such a generous American into his life. "When I met Rochelle," he told me, "I said to her that she was going to do something by her writing that would boost the kingdom of God."
Gibler did write about him, first for a magazine she published, Miracles and the Extraordinary, and later in her 1998 book. There, she titled the chapter devoted to Kayiwa: "Miracle-Worker Extraordinaire."
But then something changed. On April 21, 2003, nine years after their initial meeting, Gibler published another article about her friend, this time in the Uganda daily newspaper The Monitor. Under a headline, "Kampala Pastor Lied To Us," Gibler recounted another side of her relationship with Kayiwa, telling of a man who demanded pornographic movies delivered to his hotel room, and boasted that God had given him power over life and death. She suggested the minister had stolen money from her. And, most disturbing to many readers of The Monitor, Gibler said Kayiwa had used witchcraft and curses, the tools of Satan, to punish—and sometimes kill—his enemies.
"He's not a miracle worker," Gibler said in a recent interview with Andrew Mwenda, a popular local radio talk-show host. "I view him as a spiritual terrorist and a serial killer."

From the Institute of Current World Affairs, 2003.

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