There is a story doing rounds on mobile phones believed to have been published in a Zambian newspaper titled “Some Lusaka prophet sells anointed underwear”.

The prophet is said to be targeting women with marital problems, telling them they are possessed by “spiritual” husbands. But these can be repelled by wearing these anointed underwear, which are selling at K100 (approximately $10) a pair.

A pair of underwear usually costs between $1 and $2. The prophet is said to have cashed in on many women in Lusaka, who later learnt that the individual was a dubious character that was not reachable on the phone.

The story also quotes a minister of religion, who complained that some prophet in Lusaka was also selling anointed straw brooms for K20 ($2), which followers are instructed to use to sweep out problems from their homes. These brooms are not to be shared with neighbours like what normally happens, particularly in high-density areas.

“We can use the broom to sweep in the mealie meal bin, the fridge, on the bed or anywhere you want blessings to come,” an unidentified woman was quoted saying in the article.

The concept has also resulted in congregants of this church selling bottles of anointing water, light bulbs and oil at inflated figures.

According to the Zambian story, “The water turns out to be ordinary mineral water, which costs K3, but shoots to between K20 and K30. Anointing oil then fetches K30 to K40 for a 100ml-bottle containing cooking oil”.

The newspaper notes that a 2-litre container of cooking oil that cost K32, would make more than K800 when repackaged as “anointing oil”.

A light bulb that normally costs K60 is sold for $60 as an anointed item that will illuminate evil in the home or building where it is lit. And when one attends some of these church services they will find that the message being projected all the time is that of prosperity.

Does this story sound familiar?

There is a mushrooming business at some Pentecostal churches in Zimbabwe, which are selling all sorts of items claiming that they are anointed.

The anointed items include caps, handkerchiefs, bracelets, oil or water, stickers and even clothing material and many other things.

I have no doubt that there are some fly-by-night Pentecostal churches taking advantage of people, especially women, for personal gain.

These people are taking advantage of religious freedom, which Zimbabwe has accorded its citizens, but I believe investigations into these unscrupulous activities must be stepped up.

For example, how do you explain the sale of anointing water, which is obviously ordinary water, at a cost ranging between $5 and $10?

Rarely do you hear these preachers talk about salvation or assistance of people in need. Yet these churches have become a platform for some individuals who want to amass wealth as fast as they can.

But we do have God-fearing men in our midst. I was told recently about a popular prophet in Harare who refused to accept a car that had been donated to him by a congregant and instead asked one of his pastors to investigate the donor and find out how his parents were surviving at their rural home.

The pastors returned and told the prophet that the man’s parents were living in abject poverty and hardly had any decent food to eat.

The prophet decided to sell the car, build a home for the elderly couple within a month and then asked the young man that had donated the car to accompany him to his village so he meets his parents as a gesture to thank him for the wonderful car gift.

He was a bit hesitant, but he had no choice, but accompany this prophet.

When they got to the village, the young man was shocked to find a new look homestead, now even had a borehole for his parents to draw water.

“When they got to the homestead, the prophet told the elderly couple that their son had built them the house and fitted solar panels for lighting the rooms and also gave them the cash.

“The elderly couple were visibly shocked because their son had long abandoned them and yet he was showering this prophet with all sorts of gifts. I wish all pastors and prophets could do the same,” a congregant from this local Pentecostal church said.

Gone are the years when church was refuge for the poor. A scan around Harare city centre shows that old traditional churches are heavily involved in projects or ministries that benefit ordinary people.

I have no doubt that Pentecostal churches too have assisted many people in dealing with evil spirits, miracle healing and so on, but a lot more has to be done to assist the poor by providing food, hospital fees, school fees and other necessities and not always squeeze money from congregants for their glorification or reverence.

Is it fair for the congregation to raise school fees for a pastor’s child to attend for instance a school which asks for $5 000 a term, when there are widows in that congregation failing to pay just $100 school fees a term for their children?

Why not spread resources equally among congregants and the community they are operating in?

There are prophets or pastors who have never visited homes of their poor congregants, but only focus on those that have means to generate cash for their personal use. Where is the love that they often preach about not being practiced?

I was so deeply humbled to learn about what the St Vincent de Paul Society that falls under the Catholic Church is doing for poor people in Harare and yet one hardly gets to know about their activities because they do not want any publicity.

In South Africa, reports say church leaders have vowed to clampdown on pastors cashing in on people’s desperation by feeding them petrol, snakes and human hair in the name of Jesus.

Malusi Mpumlwana of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) recently said his organisation had received numerous calls from exasperated people wanting intervention into the “unconventional practices”.

“It is not just unethical. There are people who are trying to make money off the desperation of people. That is exactly why you need some sort of mechanism for serving a standard on how churches are run,” Mpumlwana said.

Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Centre Ministries and his protégé Penuel Mnguni of End Times Disciples Ministries were recently filmed forcing devotees to drink petrol, eat grass, snakes and rats “in the name of salvation in Christ”.

Why are local church bodies not taking action on some of our local Pentecostal churches that are equally practicing “unbiblical” teachings?

This is just horrendous and unacceptable.