Ten years ago, when Virginia Saoke received an invitation to join her husband who had been working in England for a while, she was elated. The separation their marriage had suffered when her husband went to look for greener pastures and left her with their four children in Nairobi was coming to an end.
From the stories her husband had shared with her, England was going to be different. She was ready for the cold, snow, crazy working hours, ‘bland food’ and everything in between that she had been told defined diaspora life.
“I did not imagine finding a church to fit into was going to be my biggest headache,” she says.
On arrival, she started going to the Church of England located in her neighbourhood. Within a few months, the building that housed the church was bought, bringing an end to what she imagined would be her church community.
She wandered into churches, trying out even small individual owned outfits that preached more about prosperity and fires that would descend upon those who do not give money to the church.
“One day, a pastor sent us a message at night that we should report to church with 200 pounds (approximately Ksh 30,000) in our next meeting. I knew I was not going back,” she says.
She went far and beyond her Gatwick home, taking train rides that took hours in search of a church. She found none. And after making inquiries to other Kenyans on where they worship, it dawned on her that they too struggle to find a church that has the charisma and discipline she had experienced back home.
“I decided to start preaching online. For people like me who are looking for a Kenyan preacher who can speak their language and understand their experiences as they try to connect with God,” she says.
It has been about two years since Virginia, or “Evangelist” as she is commonly known on social media started preaching online. She mostly preaches in her vernacular Luo, claiming that she wants to attract attention of people in her community who are obsessed with politics and rarely get time to nourish their souls.
Her first appearance in a Live facebook video was disastrous. She was coming with a bible to a group predominantly visited by people who are seeking for stories on sleaze, sex and scandal.
“I got thumbs down and was bullied. Some people thought I am a party pooper who is ruining fun for young people,” she says.
They poked on her mannerism, dressing and body, saying if she was serious about God, she should cover her whole body.
She donned a headscarf to hide her mane and pressed on. The more she talked about morality and pushed the infamous bible verse that commands women to submit to men, the more people told her off.
In no time, she had built a following of both friends and foes.
Her popularity has since grown, and some of her videos attract more than 10,000 views, something she admits is no mean feat.
“I get many inboxes of people disclosing things about their families, and asking me to pray for them. Youths in the country and diaspora are silently crying for spiritual guidance,” she says.
Besides preaching, Virginia says it took her a while to find her bearing in England. She has experienced racism, saying she has lost count of the number of times someone yelled at her to return to her country.
She admits that England has its advantages. She now has a job, working in a mental health institution and appreciates the attention and love people give patients.
“In Kenya, people would assume you are either bewitched or a drug addict when you suffer from mental illness,” she says.
She also loves the education system and how it rewards those who work hard. She thinks her children are favored to be schooled in England.
She misses the social nature of Kenyans, and the taste of unprocessed food.
“I survived on soup and bread, because everything tasted strange,”she says.
When she is free, Virginia enjoys hanging out with her children, and maintains that she talks to them in vernacular lest they forget their roots.
Her preaching is always laced with childhood anecdotes and the struggles they went through when they were growing up. She also talks of her marriage, constantly saying her connection with her husband has grown stronger over the years because she acknowledges the different roles a man and woman have in marriage. Her husband does not mind that she spends a lot of time preaching on social media.
“When your spouse knows something gives you satisfaction, and it is not something immoral or something that can ruin you or the marriage, they should support you,” says Virginia.
Her eyes are on setting up an altar in her house. She often preaches from her bedroom, but with her growing online congregation, she feels she should make things more professional.